Ready to retire

Published 10:57 am Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Julian “Jay” G. Jessen went to work for the city of Austin 41 years ago and never left … that is until now.

His last official day of work will be Friday, Feb. 27.

He has been on vacation or using up accumulated sick leave since Jan. 6.

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After four decades of employment with the city of Austin, he has earned six weeks of vacation a year.

Jessen is a study in loyalty and longevity.

His biggest fan is his son, Thomas E. Jessen, who lives in Fredricksburg, Va.

“He has had a hand in almost every major and minor construction and improvement project for Austin’s infrastructure during that time,” the son said.

“In the summer, he would spend long days surveying and supervising the excavation, construction and completion of construction projects. In the winter, it would be drafting and planning preparing for the summer season of planned work.

“He has seen the evolution of technology from pen and pencil to Computer Aided Drafting (CAD), blueprints to computer data files,” the son said.

“During all this, he has been actively involved in local veterans groups,” the younger Jessen went on to say. “He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, having served in the U.S. Navy. He is a past Commander of American Legion Post 91 and a long-time member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 1218.”

When the son called his father earlier this year to congratulate him on his retirement, the elder Jessen was getting prepared to serve with a Color Guard at the funeral of a veteran.

That’s one measure of his loyalty.

Four decades of draftsman and surveyor work for the city of Austin is a measure of his longevity.

“I love it,” Jessen said of his work for the city of Austin, still speaking in the present tense. “I had other part-time jobs as a kid, growing up in Winona, where I did electrical work, but this is the only full-time job I’ve ever had.”

“My first annual salary was $5,500 when I started work June 3, 1968, and I got a big raise right away the next year,” he said.

“Nope. I never thought about taking another job. This was good enough for me,” Jessen said.

“Jay was a very valuable employee for the city,” said Jon W. Erichson, city engineer and director of public works. “He did all the things that needed to be done and he did them well.”

The next most senior employee of the city — unidentified because of data privacy rules — will reach the 40-year mark in 2010.

One life, one job is no longer the norm in the workplace as more and more people try one job and then another and still another.

Also, today’s workers live in a more mobile society, where planting family roots is for only a few years or until discovering greener career pastures elsewhere.

Jessen stayed put and found his career choice satisfying.


Jessen was born in Bremerton, Wash., the son of a U.S. Naval Reserve warrant officer.

He grew up in Winona along the Mississippi River.

There were five sons in his family and no daughters.

He is the oldest of the boys.

After graduating high school in Winona, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, where he served as a radarman above the heavy cruiser, USS Canberra, before earning an honorable discharge and returning to civilian life.

He attended a new technical college, which had opened in Winona after leaving the Navy and studied engineering draftsman courses.

He graduated and Roger Nelson came calling.

“He was the Austin city engineer at the time,” Jessen said, “and he came to Winona to interview 4 or 5 of us students for a job in the engineering department. I was the lucky one to get the job offer.”

Nelson (now deceased) was his first city engineer boss and Erichson, the last. In between was Richard Murphy.

Assistant city engineers and other co-workers have come and gone.

“I really enjoyed the people I worked with,” Jessen said.

Joe Stenger was a good friend of Jessen’s through their work in local Color Guard activities.

Many of his other friends were co-workers.

He and Keith Kunze took fishing trips in their off-duty hours.

Ed Hanson showed him “the ropes,” Jessen recalled, in sidewallk work.

Gene Nelson, also retired, worked side-by-side Jessen.

Now, he leaves behind Denny Bissen, Gerald Wilkinson and Tim Brady as well as others in the department.

“The single biggest change I noticed in the work came with the computer. That changed the way we did everything in engineering,” Jessen said.

The other change Jessen recalled was the switch-over from concrete streets to the dependence upon asphalt and bituminous.

Whatever the area of the city, Jessen had a role in the important street, sidewalk and other infrastructure improvements that have made Austin what it is today.

All done with stakes and flags, at the drafting table, behind the scenes.

Through all the years, Jessen said he was never tempted to seek another job.

“No. I liked the work and where I was at,” he said.

Now, he and his wife, Nancy, have time on their hands. Time, that Jessen said he relishes.

“That’s what retirement is for,” he said.