BROOKSTON — “How do you sum up 40 years?” asked the president of Brookston’s town council.
“It’s been quick,” Joseph Butz said.
Butz, a self-described born-and-raised Brookston resident, has served as town council president for the past 41 years. He was appointed at age 28 — a year after joining the council.
With four decades now under his belt, Butz has seen the town grow and change for the better, though he doesn’t want to take all the credit.
“It’s not about you,” he said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the town.”
With a population of about 1,500 people, Brookston is what Butz calls a “bedroom community,” a town in which many people live but few work. Jobs in nearby Lafayette employ many of Brookston’s residents.
This doesn’t mean Brookston is just a sleepy, stereotypical community. Butz describes the many changes that have taken place in the local business scene.
“We got a brewery,” he laughed. “(I) never dreamed of that.”
The town has grown and Butz sees more young people around than in the past, something he attributes to the work of those around him in the town government.
“You put the right people around you, you hold them accountable, you get things done,” he said.
Butz is no stranger to managing people. Before he retired about eight years ago, he worked as an operations manager in construction, at hospitals and at an ethanol plant. Butz said he never went to college and instead went into trades. A five-year apprenticeship immediately followed after he graduated high school.
Decades later, the retired manager realizes the link between his work in his career and his role as town council president are connected, as he always liked managing manpower.
“That’s everything in life,” Butz said. “(It’s) like managing a town.”
Through his work and the support of his colleagues, Brookston has seen several changes, many for the better.
Butz noted that when he was appointed council president, the town had $180,000 in the bank.
Now, Brookston stands at more than $2 million.
“We’re a pretty solid town,” Butz said. “Financially solid. We don’t have excess.”
Butz attributed much of Brookston’s financial growth to Ken Smith, the town engineer. Butz said Smith writes many grants for the community, totaling somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million.
“We own all of our utilities,” Butz said. “Some of the lowest (utility) rates in the county.”
Another one of Butz’s colleagues has been with the town since 1979, before Butz was even council president. Town attorney George Loy said over the past few decades, he’s seen all the good Butz has done for the town and has become friends with him in the process.
“He’s become a very good friend,” Loy said. “He’s just done an outstanding job (for) the town of Brookston. He just knows so much. Joe has been so effective in leading the town board.”
Beyond his role leading the town council, Butz is proud of other positive changes in the community. He noted how the town decided to put on a fireworks display one summer around the town’s sesquicentennial and garnered interest from many local families.
“That went so well,” Butz said, adding that families from beyond Brookston now visit to see the annual summer show around the Fourth of July.
Butz is quite proud of those fireworks and how they bring the community together. He said he thought it was “cool” seeing families bring their children together to spend time with each other for one night.
“I take pride in that,” he said.
Decades later, Butz sees his time as town council president coming to an end, though not anytime soon. Though he feels the town will be fine after his retirement, he has some concerns about ending such a long tenure.
“I guess the unknown is, ‘Who’s going to step up?’” he said. “You hope that they still continue to think of, ‘What next?’ We’ve made some of the changes, but there’s more out there.
“I will definitely do it for a few more years … as long as I have my health, I guess, and feel like I can be a value, but I know it’s coming.”
Sitting on his back porch and leaning back in his chair, Butz thinks for a moment.
“I think Brookston will be fine,” he said.