Koenen reflects on nearly 40 years of 'wonderful days' serving St. Charles
Mark Koenen ends the phone call with a chipper "have yourself a wonderful day in St. Charles."
And you know he means it.
For nearly 40 years, Koenen has tried his best to create "wonderful days" in St. Charles in various capacities, including the last seven years in the integral role of St. Charles city administrator.
At 65 and with his contract expiring in May, Koenen feels the timing is perfect to retire in the spring. He's not sure what's in store for him and Marcia, his wife of 40 years, but he's looking forward to finding out.
"I think the first thing I need to do is get retired so I can take the time to re-create myself," he said. "I've been working full time since I graduated from college in 1977. I don't really know anything different than working."
Koenen announced his retirement the day after a St. Charles planning and development committee meeting that featured discussions on the First Street Plaza expansion, a proposed residential subdivision just north of Charlestowne Mall, another subdivision at Munhall Glen and the redevelopment of a gas station on Main Street.
It's a busy time in St. Charles regardless of the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic has created. An Audi dealership is coming to Randall Road, and McGrath Honda is shifting locations to fill a parcel at the former Pheasant Run Resort property.
And only select communities like St. Charles merit a Wahlburgers restaurant.
The face of the city has changed during Koenen's tenure, which he began as an engineer and continued for 23 years as the director of public works. Thirty-five years ago, for example, he never could have envisioned a marijuana dispensary in St. Charles.
He's come a long way from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he earned an undergraduate degree in civil engineering before getting a master's degree at Aurora University. Koenen worked in the private sector for five years before being hired by the city in 1982 to work on streets, parking lots, water mains and other design projects.
Mayor Ray Rogina appointed Koenen as city administrator in 2013, a decision backed by unanimous city council approval. Rogina announced last month he won't be seeking a third term as mayor in April, which means Koenen and Rogina will end their careers around the same time.
"We've each made our own independent decision, obviously," Koenen said.
"It is convenient for me to retire at the end of my contract, which happens to correspond with the current mayor's term of office. And that allows the future mayor to have a clean slate to work with."
The population of St. Charles was about 16,000 when Koenen began working for the city. It's more than doubled in the last 40 years, and Koenen has watched St. Charles blossom despite recession challenges and a global pandemic.
"I call right now a really exciting time," he said. "There's a lot of economic development taking place in the city. The economy is strong in St. Charles, and we continue to march forward."
Koenen could talk for hours about the optimism he feels for the future of St. Charles, but he doesn't have time. At least not right now.
As always, there's another project to get done.
"The exciting piece for me has been getting to 'yes' on what we're going to build and then seeing it go up in the field," Koenen said. "I don't care if it's a building or a parking lot or a new initiative the city might be rolling out.
"The city has given me a lot of opportunity to advance forward and has been patient with me as I learned these jobs."