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Washington city maintenance employee retires at 80 years old

Dennis Colman believes in the value of hard work, love for his community

Union photo by Grace King

Dennis Colman is retiring from the City of Washington’s maintenance department after celebrating his 80th birthday on Monday, Aug. 12. Colman has been working for the City of Washington for 18 and a half years.
Union photo by Grace King Dennis Colman is retiring from the City of Washington’s maintenance department after celebrating his 80th birthday on Monday, Aug. 12. Colman has been working for the City of Washington for 18 and a half years.

WASHINGTON — Dennis Colman always told himself and his wife he would retire when he was 80 years old, but he can’t believe how quickly all those years flew by.

“I said I would work until I was 80, and all of a sudden I’m 80,” Colman said from the City of Washington’s maintenance office, where he’s worked for the past 18.5. His last day working for the City of Washington is Friday, Aug. 16.

Retirement was a tough decision, Colman said. But his wife Sharon Colman told him as he neared his 80th birthday on Monday, Aug. 12, “You told them 80. You’re 80. It’s time to come home.”

Colman said Sharon has a “Honey-do list” of chores for him that will keep him plenty busy in retirement. She told him he wouldn’t have to worry about finding things to do.

Colman celebrated his birthday on Monday with his four children, six grandchildren and a dozen great-grandchildren, he said. While Colman said he played the part of a surprised father and grandfather, he’s the one who booked his family hotel rooms at the casino where they stayed.

“My wife kept telling my daughter, ‘No, I didn’t tell him,’ but I had arranged the rooms,” Colman said with a laugh.

Even though the surprise wasn’t quite a surprise, Colman said when he saw his children, he cried. It was the first time in a long time all four of his children — who live across the U.S. from the west coast to the east coast — were able to gather together with him.

From coast to coast to Iowa

Colman grew up in Southern California and moved to Iowa in the 1970s to get away from the city before moving to New Jersey. He worked in New Jersey for 15 years before moving back to Iowa with his wife in the late 1990s.

“My children will tell you that we moved a lot,” Colman said.

Colman moved to Washington around 1999 after he retired from working at AT&T in the corporate accounting department in New Jersey. After he retired, his wife Sharon said she didn’t like living close to “metropolitan New York City,” so the couple packed up their belongings and moved to Washington to be closer to Sharon’s family.

“We decided on Washington because of my wife’s family, but I was happy,” he said. “When you live in the metropolitan areas like California or New York City, the stress is horrible. You get here and it’s relaxing. That made it easy.”

After spending a little over a year getting to know his new community, Colman began working for the City of Washington in 2001.

Working for Washington

The years have brought many a lesson learned, Colman said. He enjoyed working alongside the maintenance crew and getting to meet the residents of Washington as he helped maintain the streets, sewer and water systems, street signs and keep the city clean.

Colman couldn’t think of a single part of his job he didn’t enjoy.

“They decided not to let me jump in a hole to repair a water line break or a sewer main break,” Colman said with a smile.

Some of his co-workers have worked for the City of Washington since they were in high school and are now 50 and 60 years old, Colman said. Others have come and gone over the years.

Colman said the City of Washington is almost 200 years old, and there are a lot of repairs to be made. With only 12 maintenance workers, he asks residents to be patient as they work to maintain and fix broken infrastructure.

Colman has enjoyed working for the City of Washington because it has kept him active. He believes the younger generations need to learn the responsibility of earning their keep.

“Don’t expect it to be given freely,” he said.

Colman loves Washington. It’s comfortable and convenient, he said. He and his wife live two blocks from their dentist, six blocks from the hospital, and a few blocks from the city square, the post office and the newspaper office. There’s no “metropolitan hassle,” no crowds and no long lines, he said.

JJ Bell, superintendent of the maintenance department, has worked with Colman for his entire 18.5 years. Bell said he hopes he’s as healthy as Colman when he’s 80 years old.

“We never have to keep him busy. He always stays busy,” Bell said. “He keeps things going around here.”