When St. Francis City Clerk Barb Held began working for the city in January 1985, the city was much smaller.
The County Market development on St. Francis Boulevard didn’t exist, and the whole population wasn’t much bigger than that of St. Francis High School today.
“When I first started we were barely over 1,200 people, and now we’re almost 8,100,” Held said. “It’s pretty remarkable really. You get intrigued by all the new developments coming in. You think that will never get developed, and then all of a sudden it is getting developed.”
As St. Francis’ most senior employee, Held is retiring after 36 years of service, 30 of them as city clerk. Her last day was Thursday, April 1.
“She went out very much in a professional way,” Mayor Steve Feldman said. “I’ll miss her. I know the staff will miss her and the council will miss her.”
Not only that, but people around town will miss her, according to Feldman.
“A lot of people know her,” he said. “She’s a fixture.”
Over the years, Held has accumulated a wealth of institutional knowledge, and hardly a week goes by when someone in a staff meeting doesn’t say, “Let’s ask Barb about the background on this,” according to City Administrator Joe Kohlmann.
“She’s absolutely a pillar of the city,” Kohlmann said.
Held grew up in Pearl Lake, Minnesota, now called Marty, and attended Rocori High School in Cold Spring. She began her career in the banking industry.
In 1983 she married and moved to Anoka with her husband, who taught in St. Francis. The couple moved to Oak Grove for a few years and ultimately to St. Francis in 1992.
When Held started working for the city, she worked the front desk but also had many other responsibilities behind the scenes.
“There was only two of us: me and the city clerk,” she said.
When the city clerk resigned in 1991, the City Council appointed Held as interim clerk, and the role became permanent.
Held said she enjoys dealing with the public and considered it a privilege to serve the community and its residents, many of whom she got to know over the years.
“I didn’t have a problem living in the community I work in because I always kept work and private separate,” she said. “But I would be happy to answer anyone’s question if they would ask at the grocery store or out shopping. If it got too in depth, I’d just say, ‘You’ll have to call me Monday.’”
Held’s many responsibilities included overseeing elections in the city, a job that sometimes came with significant pressure.
“That last election was probably the election with the most pressure on it,” she said, mentioning the pandemic and political tension as factors.
She heard her share of personal attacks, not only last year but during the course of her whole career.
“You have to have thick skin to work in government for a long time,” she said. “They attack you personally, but I don’t think they mean it, a lot of them.”
Instead, she recognized most people were simply unhappy with a circumstance or a system. Often people who complained didn’t realize the city was simply following laws set by the state and federal governments.
“Sometimes local government takes the brunt of things happening federally too, because you’re available to them,” she said.
Although she has both good and bad memories from her career of service, Held said the good outweigh the bad. She has especially fond memories of working with the Pioneer Days festival and seeing people’s happy faces during the event.
“I just want to thank the community for allowing me to work here that long,” she said.
After retiring, Held plans to spend time with her new granddaughter and take the summer off. Then she’ll consider volunteer work or other part-time responsibilities.
The city is in the process of narrowing down candidates to fill Held’s position. Kohlmann said he hopes to have someone start by the beginning to middle of May.