By Linda Andersen
In January of 1987, Joe Bouvette began his work as a county commissioner, representing District 3 of Kittson County, which covers the city of Hallock. Having chosen not to run for reelection, he will conclude 32 years of service in December of 2018.
Asked what motivated him to initially seek the position, he responded, “Politics was in my blood.” He explained that his father, Calvin Bouvette, had been on the city council and his uncle, Clifford Bouvette, had served in the Minnesota Legislature.
Joe’s roots in the county go way back. His paternal grandfather, Joseph Bouvette, bought the Kittson County Enterprise in 1883. His father and uncle continued the newspaper until selling the business around 1970.
In speaking of his uncle Clifford’s connections in politics, he told the story of Clifford flying to Washington, D.C., and speaking with Sen. Hubert Humphrey. The meeting resulted in Kittson County receiving a grant to fund the beginnings of the court house. He was also instrumental in getting the Lake Bronson State Park started.
“I’m an Eagle Scout,” Joe said, mentioning an accomplishment from his youth in Hallock that he is still proud of today. He spoke of Vendell Holmgren as being a “real good scout master” and instrumental in helping him achieve the honor. Joe has since sat on the Eagle Board of Review.
Not interested in the newspaper business, Joe attended the University of North Dakota for two years where he “played some sports” and then went on to the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, from which he graduated in 1965. He served as a dentist in Hallock until 2003.
He said serving as a county commissioner was a “natural progression” after he had served Hallock on its city council and as mayor. “Local government is way better,” he commented, as he explained that, in the past, he had been asked to run for the state legislature, but declined. A highlight of his time on the city council was the building of the local airport which he said “became a major economic development tool” for Kittson County.
In his role as a commissioner through the years, he served on “probably every committee there has been in the county.” He became chairman of the commissioners in 1993 and remained in that position until December of 2015. In his role as chairman, he led meetings, signed papers and was occasionally asked to give a speech at an event.
He admitted that he’ll miss his work as a commissioner. What did he enjoy about the job? “Service to the people…making the county better.”
He feels success in the job the commissioners have done. “I pride myself in hearing that local government is run pretty well here.” He noted that they’ve been able to keep their budget such that Kittson County has had “the lowest taxes around” for a number of years. He added that the staff at the court house is “tremendous,” making the commissioners’ jobs easier.
In reviewing some of the accomplishments of the county board over the past few years, he mentioned their negotiating land for the landfill, being involved in grant work and tax abatement work for the canola plant, and facilitating having the land given to veterans for their memorial in Lake Bronson.
Asked if there are frustrations involved in being a county commissioner, he responded, “The state of Minnesota puts some restraints on us once in a while.”
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Joe has seen changes in county government over the years. For one, the State of Minnesota took over the court system so Kittson County is now associated with the Roseau County court system, limiting the Kittson County Board of Commissioners involvement. Other changes included the hiring of a court administrator and a reduction in the number of elected officials.
On the subject of challenges the county board will face in the future, Joe mentioned the age of the courthouse, increased security issues, finding qualified people to replace retiring staff and lack of experience on the county board. “We’re dealing with an aging courthouse,” he noted, saying the building was built around 1957 or 1958. Though he does not anticipate a new courthouse, he said there will be “increased costs to keep it up.”
On the subject of retiring staff, he commented, “Qualified people aren’t always in your back yard” and it’s “hard to attract people from out of the area.”
Regarding experience on the county board, he noted that current chairman, Leon Olson, has served for 16 years and will be the longest-serving board member when Joe leaves the board. Joe said that two “very good” candidates, Jim Johnson and Loren Younggren, are seeking his position.
On a personal note, Joe is married to Sandra (Swenson), formerly of Kennedy. They have two daughters: Angela Pioro is a teacher in Duluth and Rhonda Berger is a licensed social worker who is currently an at-home mom. Joe and Sandra have six grandchildren.
He will not be idle after retirement from the county board. He hopes to continue to be a part of the North Kittson Rural Water Board and the Mar-Kit Landfill board.