Eagan loses another legacy builder

Gene VanOverbeke retires after 33 years as finance director

Gene VanOverbeke

After leading the city of Eagan down a path of financial stability for the past 33 years, Gene VanOverbeke will retire.

VanOverbeke has been semi-retired since February by taking a part-time role. But earlier this fall he announced he plans to retire fully at the end of December.

“I felt this was a good time,” the 66-year-old Eagan resident said. “We would like to travel, volunteer more in the community and visit our children.”

VanOverbeke is one of three directors to retire this year after serving in Eagan for more than three decades. Tom Colbert retired in May after 34 years as the public works director and City Administrator Tom Hedges announced his retirement in September after 36 years with the city.

VanOverbeke has been instrumental in obtaining national recognition of the city’s financial reports and improving the city’s bond rating. A good bond rating helps the city, among other things, obtain lower interest rates when borrowing.

“He’s an important part of our team,” Hedges said. “His ability to think strategically about finance and the budget has been great for the city.”

VanOverbeke has also played a vital role in ensuring the city’s receives clean audit reports and has a stable budget.

“With the exception of the Market Value Homestead Credit being taken away (and replaced by a market exclusion), we never had a deficit at the end of the year,” Hedges said. “The fact that the city is in excellent financial situation is the main part of Gene’s legacy.

Though Eagan has faced staffing reduction and other issues due to the recession, it has fared better than some of its neighbors, which VanOverbeke attributes to its “conservative DNA.”

“Starting with the township, Eagan has been conservative in terms of spending,” he said. Despite its frugal nature, the city, with VanOverbeke’s direction, has maintained city services to the satisfaction of residents, according to biennial city surveys.

VanOverbeke said he takes pride in helping the city build a reputation of properly handling its finances.

The most challenging times, he said, occurred early in his career when Eagan was rapidly growing during the 1980s and ’90s.

Gene VanOverbeke (right) was sworn in as Eagan’s finance director in 1981 by City Administrator Tom Hedges (left). VanOverbeke was instrumental in maintaining financial stability in Eagan over the past three decades. – Photo submitted

The city faced increasing demands on infrastructure and long-term financial planning, VanOverbeke explained.

“We were able to put it together without too much impact on the taxpayer, and that is rewarding,” he said.

VanOverbeke said he will miss working for the city of Eagan.

“I will miss the people and the challenges,” he said. “It’s been a rewarding place to work.”
Career change
pays off

VanOverbeke hadn’t always aspired to be a city finance director. He initially followed in his older sister’s footsteps by becoming a high school math teacher in 1968. A year later, VanOverbeke was drafted into the U.S. Army and deployed to Vietnam to fight in the war.

He resumed teaching upon his return in 1971 but within a few years he decided it wasn’t the career he wanted.

“I realized at 25 I was getting complacent and preferred to go to the school when students weren’t there,” he said.

VanOverbeke said he is grateful he came to that realization early in his career.

He decided to return to school and earned a bachelor’s in accounting in 1975 from Mankato State University.

Shortly after earning his degree, VanOverbeke took a temporary job as an assistant city manager at Brooklyn Center but decided that being a city manager wasn’t a path he wanted to take.

A few months later, VanOverbeke took a position in Brooklyn Park as an assistant finance director.

He quickly realized that finance was a much more fitting career path and stayed in Brooklyn Park for three years.

“I liked math and the analytical side of things,” he said.

In 1979, VanOverbeke earned a master’s in business administration and was hired that same year as the finance director in Eagan.

“Eagan was a great opportunity and Tom Hedges was known as a great person to work for,” VanOverbeke said.

Hedges reputation turned out to be quite accurate, VanOverbeke said.

Shortly after starting his new job, VanOverbeke and his family sold their home in Brooklyn Center and moved to Eagan.

The family fell in love with the southern suburb where they raised their three sons — all Eagan High School graduates.

Within a year, VanOverbeke took over the city clerk responsibilities after the clerk retired. Over the years, he has also been responsible for human resources and other administrative duties. Many of those responsibilities have since been given to other employees.

Much has changed since VanOverbeke was hired more than three decades ago. New regulations have created additional requirements, while technology has made filing accounting and administrative paperwork easier, VanOverbeke said.

Later in his career, VanOverbeke took up teaching again but this time at the college level.

He said he prefers teaching college students over high school students.

VanOverbeke served as a school board member in District 196 from 1995 to 1999, and briefly left the city of Eagan in 2000 to take a job as the finance director for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District.

He returned to Eagan within a few months after realizing he prefers city finances over education funding. Fortunately, for VanOverbeke, the city hadn’t yet found a replacement.

“It was a great experience but not a fit,” he said of his experience at the district.

After his retirement, VanOverbeke said he plans to stay in Eagan and find additional volunteer opportunities.

“Eagan is a great location with its proximately to the airport and St. Paul, and it has a great sense of community,” he said.

Tom Pepper, who previously served as assistant finance director for 20 years was promoted two weeks ago to finance director while VanOverbeke continues to oversee administrative duties until the end of the year.