June 07, 2017

Keith Johnson: Longest Active City Employee Retiring After 44 Years

Keith Johnson is retiring from the City after more than 44 years of service, all with the City's Engineering Division. Keith Johnson is retiring from the City after more than 44 years of service, all with the City's Engineering Division. (City Photo)

Keith Johnson began work just months after 1972 Flood

RAPID CITY--In 1973, the average income was $9,572.  Gas was 40 cents per gallon, eggs cost 45 cents a dozen and a postage stamp was eight cents.  That same year in Rapid City, the southern edge of the City didn't extend much past Texas Street, the City had three drive-in theaters and a dog track and the only Rushmore was the four faces carved in the granite mountain 23 miles from town -- there was no Rushmore Mall, no Rushmore Crossing, not even a Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

            For Keith Johnson, the year 1973 marked a time in which he was getting a feel for the Rapid City community.  After graduating the year before from Lake Area Vocational Technical School in Watertown with a degree in drafting technology, the Ipswich native had been working for six months as a surveyor in Rapid City, which was in the midst of recovery efforts from the 1972 flood.

            Johnson applied with the City for a full-time position in the engineering division.  He was hired, took an immediate liking to the position and thought he'd stick around for awhile.

            For Johnson, "awhile" meant working parts of five decades with the City, all in the City's engineering division.  He will officially retire Friday after more than 44 years of City service.  Ironically, his final day is the 45th anniversary of the 1972 Rapid City Flood.

            "Rapid City has gone through a lot of changes," Johnson said.  "Texas Street was about as far south as you could go.  There was no Mall, no Civic Center and when I came here, the town was working through flood recovery.  A lot had been done by the time I arrived in September 1972 but a lot still needed to be done with cleanup and rebuilding."

            Throughout his City career, Johnson has seen tremendous growth in the community.  In the mid-70's, Rapid City had about 45,000 people and the City's footprint was less than 20 square miles.  Today, Rapid City has 73,000 people and the community's footprint spans 55 square miles.

            Point out a particular landmark and Johnson is quick to recall what was there previously -- perhaps a vacant field, a drive-in theatre, an old trailer park -- and where today stands industrial parks, greenways, city parks, townhomes and numerous businesses.

            "Keith has been a very dedicated worker and has served the residents of Rapid City well," said Dale Tech, City Public Works Director.  "He's very detailed and thorough in his approach and has been right in the middle of much of the City's growth during the past 40 years.  He's been a great constant in the engineering division, seen a lot of changes and has always taken a quiet, steady approach to projects.  We wish him all the best in his retirement."

            Johnson remembers one of his first detailed projects was in 1974 working on the roads and parking lots at Canyon Lake Park, which had been heavily damaged from the 1972 Flood.  He also remembers working on burying the Kepps Water Reservoir off Skyline Drive.

            Johnson is definitely a graduate of the old school of engineering.  "I remember when all the work was done with a pencil and into the early 90's, work was still being done on drafting tables."

            Along came computers and the digital age and Johnson successfully worked through those transitions despite some challenges.

            "On the drafting tables, you'd lay out the plans and you could see everything," remembers Johnson.  "On the computer, you'd have to zoom in and it would foul up your perspective because you weren't able to see everything."

            At a retirement picnic, coworkers pulled out some of the old project plans from the 1970's, complete with the original pencil drawings and markings.

            Johnson plans to take some small trips and work on home projects and may offer his time to the City's parks department in the future.


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