Family ties bring city engineer to Brookings

Jodelle Greiner/Register: Charlie Richter was looking for a challenge and to get closer to family. He found both when he took the job as Brookings City Engineer. His wife, Molly, is from Brookings and still has family in the area, and Richter is getting some new duties.

BROOKINGS – Charlie Richter was looking for an opportunity to move closer to family and found it when he took the job of Brookings city engineer.

Coming from Massachusetts, Richter is getting acclimated to the slower pace of his wife Molly’s hometown.

“The people have been wonderful,” Richter said.

He started his new job Aug. 23 and is enjoying it, especially some of the “unique” aspects.

“I’ve never been in charge of an airport,” Richter said.

Background

Richter grew up in Vermont and graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He learned early that’s what he wanted to do.

He worked for a private firm on Nantucket for about a year before moving on to Wakefield, Massachusetts, where he was the assistant town engineer for about six years.

“I took a job with the town of Wakefield as a way just to branch out and get more experience as an engineer. I grew to enjoy it. I liked working with people. I loved solving problems for people. I liked being on that side of the fence, the side of the fence that helps people and is not only representing one client, but the entire community,” Richter said.

“I took a job with the town of Lynnfield for 16 years as the town engineer there,” Richter said.

The only difference between a town engineer and a city engineer is “the size and the make-up of the government for the community,” Richter said, adding the responsibilities would be the same.

Looking to come home

Richter and his wife, the former Molly Hogan, have two kids; Charlie, 12, and Katie, 9.

COVID-19 made the couple rethink their situation.

“Where we lived in Massachusetts, we were quite a ways away from my family in North Carolina,” Richter said. “My wife grew up here. She still has family in the area.”

“When COVID hit, it became obvious that the distance between our families was a struggle for us. … My in-laws, I didn’t get to see them for nearly two years,” Richter said.

When told some people would think not having to see the in-laws is a good thing, Richter laughed.

“I have in-laws that I get along with very well,” he said.

“We missed seeing them, as well as my side of the family, so we had to choose which side of the family to be closest to. This opportunity came up, and it seemed like a great fit,” Richter said.

Along with wanting to be closer to family, the couple had both grown up in areas with a slower pace and “realized that we wanted a different pace in our lives, so we appreciate that pace of living here,” Richter said. “That’s what we wanted to have our kids experience.”

People have reached out to welcome him and his family.

“I appreciate everybody that I’ve run across, the hospitality that’s been extended,” Richter said. 

“We really enjoy Brookings,” he added.

An outdoorsy family, they enjoy biking and camping, and had been getting into skiing.

“All those things we want to experience out here, as well,” Richter said.

He said Massachusetts has more snow, but Brookings has more wind, and he expects it “gets a little trying in January and February,” but his family is no stranger to either cold or snow.

City engineer

As the new city engineer, Richter is in charge of all the roadwork and sidewalk work for Brookings.

“This office reviews plans for drainage and development. We’re responsible for developing plans for city jobs for drainage to improve flooding situations around town, stormwater situations around town, then whatever general expertise, engineering expertise is required around town,” Richter said.

Another thing he’s done already is talk to school kids.

“I had a presentation with Hillcrest kids (Oct. 7), and it was a hoot. It was a good thing for those kids to learn what the engineer’s office is among the other government agencies or departments that they visited,” Richter said. “Gave ’em a little taste of what the engineer’s office is responsible for.”

“It’s been a great experience, so far,” he said.

Richter figured the job would be a good fit when he applied for it.

“I had a good feeling about it,” Richter said.

“In my previous position as town engineer for Lynnfield, this is what I focused in on: drainage, roads, and then the miscellaneous stuff that falls … in the engineering division’s lap,” Richter said.

A new thing in the mix is the Brookings Regional Airport, which doesn’t scare him.

“The airport manager and the airport are under my guidance, which is unique,” Richter said, adding he’s “getting to learn – slowly – about what’s required of that position.”

In many ways, his new job is a lot like his previous jobs, but with differences.

“Here, we pave with concrete more often than we did over in Massachusetts,” Richter said, adding there are different challenges with stormwater than in New England.

“There’s a lot of difference in the way that South Dakota looks at things versus the way Massachusetts looks at things. Massachusetts is more heavily regulated; here it’s less so and you’re able to do a little bit more,” Richter said.

“It’s kind of funny, people are shocked by how little land is left here, but it’s a lot more than what’s offered over in New England and Massachusetts,” Richter said. “There isn’t as much opportunity to grow in communities in Massachusetts as much as redevelop. And here, there’s more straight growth, farms getting changed over to housing developments.”

Brookings has South Dakota State University, a lot of manufacturing plants, and residential opportunities other communities don’t have, he said, “which makes it exciting, the variety of things to balance. … There’s more development going on here than where I was from, so it keeps things interesting.”

Challenges and all, he’s enjoying his new job.

“I’m really happy. It’s a nice change of pace,” Richter said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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