Fighting for transportation
Over Bob Singer’s years of service in various public roles, the community has had its share of challenges.
“In 2002 as director of the chamber, in one year I was invited to four meetings where the theme was what was wrong with Fort Dodge,” Singer said.
After he was appointed director of the Fort Dodge Chamber of Commerce that year, Singer and the chamber had the chance to take stock of the town — “asking the question where has Fort Dodge been, why are we where we are today, and how can we effect positive change to get someplace else?”
This work led to Singer’s long tenure with the U.S. Highway 20 Corridor Association, which worked tirelessly to get Fort Dodge’s main east-west highway completed as a four-lane all the way from the Mississippi to the Missouri.
Singer and his wife, Janet, came to Fort Dodge in early 1973. He started his community service to the town by joining Noon Kiwanis in 1978, and was with the group until 2002.
Singer spent 28 years on the city Plan and Zoning Commission, three years on the school board, five years as chamber director, and eight years as a Webster County supervisor.
He was in the property casualty insurance business for 30 years, and said the town treated him well.
“The reason I give my time especially for the well-being of Fort Dodge is because the community supported my business and my family, and allowed me to raise a family in a positive, productive environment,” Singer said. “One of my three children came back here and lives here now. None of them have anything but good to say about Fort Dodge today.”
As director of the chamber, which later became the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance, Singer helped identify three areas where the region seemed to be lacking.
The town had once enjoyed a close connection with Washington, that was now lacking, Singer said. The area was lacking in recreational development and opportunities.
And there was a need for rapid transportation — better road access, in other words.
“We did have at that time a very busy airport, but we did not have rapid ground transportation. In fact we were located on a dead-end road, for all practical purposes,” Singer said. “Because at that time (the four-lane) stopped in Moorland.”
The chamber asked Singer to see what he could do about this.
“As a result of the study and as a result of companies coming to the chamber and asking us when our four-lane will be done over to Nebraska, we knew we were going to have to try to do something,” Singer said. “They said to me, go forth with Buck Boekelman and pursue completion of the four-lane.”
Boekelman was on the City Council, and Singer knew him from when they were both on the City Council. The two went into western Iowa, where the road was still a two-lane, and held a series of town meetings, using local chambers of commerce as stepping stones.
“What we found was there was very disjointed and very minimal support for the masses to get actively involved with the effort to complete the four-lane across northwest Iowa,” Singer said.
But in Okoboji, they found interest in completing both U.S. Highway 71 and Highway 20.
“Realize a lot of Des Moines people have property up at the lakes. The quicker they can get up there, the happier they are,” Singer said.
“It became clear we needed a strong association representing from Waterloo to Sioux City. That’s how the Highway 20 Association really blossomed. Because there became more and more pressure in Fort Dodge to actively promote, support and stimulate the Highway 20.”
Shirley Phillips, the current Highway 20 Association president, created Transportation Day at the capital, Singer said. This was both popular and effective.
Boekelman, Singer and Steve Hoesel started attending monthly Iowa State Commission meetings in Ames, to pursue getting the remainder of the four-lane development on the five-year plan.
Finally, Boekelman and the others helped push for the 10-cent gas tax increase, finally passed in 2015, which helped provide the funding needed for the road.
“Buck pointed out that in 1987 a law passed, and became law in ’88, the increase of the road use tax fund. That was the last increase,” Singer said. “And yet the commission reported the cost of building highways had gone between 6 to 10 times greater than it was in 1988. There was inadequate funding.”
After the gas tax was passed, the schedule for finishing Highway 20 was moved up. Today, the road is on track to be completed by 2018, and work is ongoing in all 40 of the last 40 miles from Early to Moville.
Singer was elected to the Webster County Board of Supervisors in 2007. Serving in a political, elected position was different from serving on the chamber, but both were primarily about doing more for the county, he said.
“A significant part of the job description was different,” Singer said. “I saw being director of the chamber and being a supervisor as a chance to move our county and city along.
“One thing about being a supervisor of Webster County is you have to be prudent with the taxpayers’ dollars. Whether its investing in the future, or spending money on services and salaries. You only have a certain amount of money to do what you need to do, and I think it’s fair to say in modern times Webster County has done a pretty good job of looking after the dollar but yet investing in the future.”
Being supervisor comes with numerous other boards and committees needing attention.
“These boards and committees coming out my ears. I think at one time after I joined the Webster County, I was on 10 different boards,” he said.
Creating the ag park west of town, now home to Valero, Cargill and CJ Bio America, was a collaborative effort between the city and the county.
“It had to be. The city had to figure out a way to get water out there and sewer back,” Singer said. “And it was in the county. So the city and the county had to work cooperatively to make that work. And I think because we did some oversizing of the sewer, it is well suited for a new company to come in.”
Singer left the board after the 2016 election. After so many years in public positions, Singer now has more time with family.
“I have grandchildren now. Children are one thing, but grandchildren are a whole different matter,” he said. “I have a family that likes to get together. … I can’t leave a post for long periods of time when I’m being paid, and go on vacation. It’s just not right. You expect me to be on the job. Now I can come and go as I want.”
“I’m still adjusting a little bit to not being called frequently for assistance,” Singer said. “The opportunity to help isn’t as readily available.”
He keeps busy though — between family trips, working in the garden, and everything else, Singer said his to-do list only gets longer.
“Plus from 6 to 7:30 you’ll find me at Hy-Vee at the coffee shop yet, giving out and receiving abuse,” Singer said. “I haven’t broken that habit yet.”
He may be looking through rose-colored glasses, Singer said, but he sees great improvement over the decades in Fort Dodge, and believes things are still getting better.
The attitude has changed, he said, from when he attended those meetings about “what’s wrong with Fort Dodge.”
“Not once (at that time) did I attend a meeting titled, what’s good about Fort Dodge, or how do we improve Fort Dodge?” Singer said. “If I attended the same kind of meeting today, the theme would be how can we further improve?
“That’s the subtle change that’s come about.”