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Marion City Engineer Dan Whitlow retires
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · January 4th, 2018


Despite nasty weather, a good crowd of people showed up on Friday, December 29, at the Council Chamber in Marion's City Hall to pass along their well wishes to Dan Whitlow, who is retiring as City Engineer.

Dan spent 39 years in public service, the first 16 with the City of Muscatine and then seven as Public Works Director for the City of Washington, IA, before coming to Marion in January 2001.

One of Dan's responsibilities here in Marion was implementing the Capital Improvement Program, especially construction and reconstruction of streets, sidewalks, bridges, traffic signals, sewers, and new subdivision development.

Dan and his department consistently focused on improved safety and efficiency. Even though many don't particularly care for them, roundabouts were part of that focus, as are traffic signal video detection, new materials, and new construction techniques.

The department was also tasked with enforcing ADA and storm water requirements.

What made the biggest impact on his career over its length? Dan said it was technology, no doubt. "I started in 1978 as an engineering technician/draftsman using T-squares, Mylar paper and Leroy ink pens to draw project construction plans after weeks using basic calculators and slide rules." Today, computers and design software have replaced those tools.

We asked Dan a bit about his background and how he ended up here in Marion. He said he is one of four kids, three boys and a girl.

His family has been in Muscatine for many generations. His parents were married for 70 years and lived there most of their lives until passing recently.

When asked about what he liked to do as a kid, Dan told us that his mom would have said "get into trouble." He and his siblings liked to run the neighborhood and have fun. (Isn't that the ideal life any of us would want as a kid?)

Dan played some little league baseball in the early years and tried his hand at track. He was a wrestler in both junior high and high school.

So what headed him toward engineering?

Dan remembers attending a professional day his freshman year of high school. He went to Stanley Consultants and "That day I decided to become a civil engineer." And he progressed from there.

That freshman year was an important one in another respect, too. It was then, while attending Muscatine High School, that he met his future wife Tammy in German class.

Next came a stint at Muscatine Community College. Dan and Tammy decided to marry and then they headed to Iowa State at Ames to continue his education. However, he didn't really like college as a married student despite making good grades, so after three-and-a-half years, he took a job with a surveying company and continued to work on becoming an engineer.

Dan said although it was probably the hardest thing he ever had to do, one of the special accomplishments he achieved was to pass the required state exams to become a licensed Professional Engineer as a non-graduate. Only 0.5 percent manage to do that, so he should be proud of that victory.

Among those who attended the reception and celebration for Dan and Tammy were son Joshua and wife Kari Whitlow and their children Blake, Ella and Logan. Their daughter Ashley and her husband, Adair Cuevas, and their children Eva and Alana were also there. And of course, lots of city staff and local friends honored Dan and his family. The bad weather prevented out-of-town friends and family from coming to the party.

Dan has done lots of volunteer work over the years. He mentioned Habitat for Humanity and being the building chair for three large church expansion projects.

Dan and Tammy left town Monday morning to go to their condo in Venice, Florida. They have owned it for six years and they plan to spend part of the year there. They will travel all across the country as much as possible, too, Dan said. They love to bike, fish and kayak, so they will be able to indulge themselves in those pursuits. There will be some time for woodworking and gardening as well.

In closing, we asked Dan what advice he'd give residents of Marion, in general. He said, "Communities have to change to stay the same; otherwise they will die on the vine. Marion needs to continue to change and grow smartly."

We also asked Dan what he'd tell the person who replaces him. He said it very succinctly: "Be proactive, aggressive, thoughtful and always be willing to listen."

He said the same goes for the Council if it were to ask for his advice.

What would he like to see fulfilled that is really important in Marion? He responded, "Tower Terrace Road and the Alburnett Road Extension."

Our final question was "If you could give anyone some advice that would enhance their life, what would it be?"

He had the perfect answer: "Work hard but smell the roses so you don't burn out. Find something that you are passionate about."

Thank you, Dan, for your service to Marion and for sharing your insights.
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