Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Memory Filled Send-off: Honoring Cliff Aichinger

By Sage Passi and Carrie Magnuson

Cliff and his wife, Anne, at his standing-room-only retirement party.

It was a quite a celebration in the Sky Box at Grumpy’s on December 2 in Roseville where we honored the achievements of Cliff Aichinger, our recently retired Watershed District Administrator whose last day at the office was on November 28. After 26 years of dedicated fulltime service to the District, we hoped to throw him a retirement party worthy of his legacy.


The room was at capacity with people from all over the state who had been positively affected by Cliff’s tenure. His entire family was there as well, some having flown in as a surprise a few days before. The air was thick with conversation, joy, laughter, and well wishes.

Cliff’s friends and colleagues presented him with beautiful and creative gifts, both physical pieces of art, and with their words of gratitude and encouragement.

There was even a musical tribute.  Feeling inspired a week or so before Cliff’s send off party, a creative cadre of Watershed staff (Carrie, Tina, Sage and Paige), and interns Zola and Wyatt teamed up under the direction of Erin Anderson-Wenz with some of her other talented cohorts at Barr Engineering (Greg Nelson, Nathan Capeau and Cory Anderson) to craft a musical send-off. Several Barr staff met secretly behind closed doors to write a clever lyrical version of the Creedence Clearwater Revival song, “Who Will Stop the Rain?” Then we converged in a couple practices to ramp up our musical talents in order to perform this tribute song for Cliff at his party. A few of us had to dust off our instruments after a long hiatus since high school, but it was jolly good fun and it was all good!

The musical tribute composed of BARR Engineering staff and RWMWD staff and interns. 
Watch a video of the performances for our customized version of "Who Will Stop the Rain" by CCR
by clicking HERE, and our more casual cover of "Take it Easy" by clicking HERE.

For those that want to sing along with the video links (see the caption above), or just to hear what happens when you mix CCR with CLIFF, here were the creative lyrics:

 Who’ll Stop the Rain?
A song for Cliff Aichinger, on the occasion of his retirement

Long as I remember, Cliff's been comin' round.
Fighting runoff washin' pollution off the ground.
A good man through the ages.
Tryin' to lead the way.
Cliff's retiring, we're inquiring..
Who'll stop the rain?

Many times I've stood out, watchin' water from the storm
Running down to lakes and streams, sure to do them harm.
Nonpoint source pollution,
Bound to have its way,
But Cliff never quitted, he retrofitted...
He stopped the rain.

Cliff, he never rested, there was so much to do
Parking lots and roadways, and carp evictions, too.
His 10-year plans and CIPs
Stop runoff before the drains.
Cliff never abated, he collaborated
He stopped the rain.

Heard the singers playin' down at the WaterFest,
Celebrating water, the District at its best.
Celebrating nature
Celebrating change
Cliff's retiring, but he's inspiring...
We'll stop the rain.


Paige Ahlborg offered this commentary on the event:
“As staff, we all knew how important Cliff was to our organization. He kept things running smoothly, was always available to discuss anything no matter how small the issue, and offered new ways to challenge us. Cliff’s enthusiasm, persistence, and proactive thinking made RWMWD what it is today.
During Cliff’s retirement party, it was apparent that we were not the only ones who noticed these qualities over the years. Many stories were shared as we gathered to reflect on his career. The stories were told with laughter and a few tears but always with a fondness for the man who has been the face of RWMWD for 34 years. 
Left: In lieu of a 'normal' guest book, folks signed their well-wishes into an illustrated book of golf courses.  Middle and Right: Listening humbly as people applauded his work.

"Cliff has inspired so many people in the industry from college students who worked as summer interns to administrators of other watershed districts to directors of state agencies. It was wonderful to see all of these people come together to celebrate Cliff as he begins his next journey into retirement. Anyone who has ever had the honor of working with Cliff knows we all have big shoes to fill as we follow in his footsteps to carry on his legacy. “

-Paige Ahlborg, RWMWD Project Manger

Here are some other testimonials from people who have worked with Cliff over the years who offered their vantage points during the retirement party program. There are also some photos we’ve included from some memorable moments during the evening.

Bob Johnson, RWMWD Board Member

Bob Johnson, long time Board Member, presented Cliff (and his wife, Anne) with a framed "Round-To-It" to help them keep track of all of those pesky tasks and projects that Cliff just hasn't 'gotten around to' before his retirement. Bob also presented Anne with her own color of post it notes to write on and attach to the Round-To-It, and insisted that those were priority. 

Glenn Skuta, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Surface Water Monitoring Manager

“Cliff and the RWMWD have always been fantastic partners to work with. On the professional level, I knew I could always count on Cliff to lend a hand when I needed him. For example, when EPA was coming to town and wanted to tour some Section 319 project sites, I called on Cliff and he set it up. 

When I wanted my staff to see what were then somewhat newer stormwater technologies like rain gardens, pervious pavement and green roofs, I brought them to the RWMWD office where Cliff got those BMPs implemented. When the State Fair Eco Experience staff wanted to do a display on watershed management including a map of a real world watershed, we contacted RWMWD and worked it out. Cliff and his staff have made RWMWD one of the top water management organizations in the state.

On a personal level, our family moved into the District in Oakdale in the mid-1990s. We’ve been beneficiaries of Cliff’s work ever since. I remember our family going to Tanners Lake in 1996 and the lake being pretty green and not very good for swimming. We did not go back for years until I heard that the District had been working to improve the lake with near shore wetlands and the stormwater alum treatment system that continues to operate today. The lake rebounded incredibly well thanks to the work of the District. Cliff also implemented good education events that our family participated in over the years – like Waterfest at Tanners Lake and later at Lake Phalen, and the Maplewood Mall project celebration.

All these successes are in large part due to Cliff’s vision and hard work. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to work with Cliff as a partner over the years. Thanks, Cliff! Well done!”

Sharon Lotthammer, MPCA Environmental Information Section Manager

"I had the good fortune to meet Cliff early in my career. He showed me what a talented and committed individual -- and a great local organization -- can accomplish, and he has been a mentor and a resource to me ever since.

As I was listening to the many comments during Cliff's celebration, it struck me that I am not at all alone in seeing Cliff as a role model and a mentor. He has encouraged and supported so many of us! Beyond all the fantastic work Cliff has done for the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, and Minnesota's water resources as a whole, is his legacy as a mentor and role model. Which means that any success that we have as individuals or collectively is Cliff's success, as well!"


Virginia Gaynor, Natural Resources Coordinator, City of Maplewood

Ginny Gaynor and staff member with the City of Maplewood, expressed gratitude for the great partnership Cliff fostered between Maplewood and RWMWD.

“I feel very fortunate to have been working for Maplewood when Cliff was District Administrator. Cliff brought so many innovative projects to our city, which helped Maplewood move forward on environmental issues. For myself and many of my colleague, it’s been personally and professionally rewarding to work on cutting edge projects with the District’s talented team.”


John Jaschke, Executive Director, Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR)

"From my perspective - and from that of many other state leaders - Cliff’s excellence was always evident where it mattered most, leading the RWMWD. However, his role in improving, pushing and leading at the regional, state and even national levels progressed the science and the art of watershed management in many other places. Cliff was a model of purpose and effectiveness and his many contributions will live on via his influence on so many others."

There were many other touching presentations including 
  • Ray Bohn (Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts, MAWD), Mark Doneux (Capitol Region Watershed District), Matt Moore (South Washington Watershed District), and Mike Kinney (Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District) who on behalf of MAWD, presented Cliff with a beautiful desk clock. 
    Tracey Galowitz
  • A subset of Minnesota MAWD, the District Administrators Group from Metro MAWD also presented Cliff with stunning glass raindrop sculpture. 
  • Tracey Galowitz, RWMWD Attorney from Lawson Law Firm, joked that Cliff's relentless ability to find compromise and speak with diplomacy made for a lack of billable hours for her and her team.
  • Tina Carstens, Current District Administrator at RWMWD, presented Cliff with a new set of golf clubs on behalf of the staff at RWMWD, staff at BARR Engineering, and staff at Lawson Law Firm.
  • Dana Larsen-Ramsay added to the sentiment and to the golf club set by gifting Cliff a driver on behalf of the RWMWD Citizen Advisory Commission and Landscape Ecology Awards Program (LEAP).
Left: Ray Bohn presenting Cliff with a desk clock on behalf of Mn MAWD.  Right: Mark Doneux presenting Cliff with a glass raindrop sculpture on behalf of Metro MAWD Administrators Group.

Left: A set of new golf clubs was gifted by staff at RWMWD, staff at BARR Engineering, and staff at Lawson Law Firm. 
Right: Dana Larsen-Ramsay presents Cliff with a new driver to go with the set of clubs. 

From the Watershed Team Cliff Put Together

Prior to this larger retirement party, the staff at RWMWD threw a pot luck lunch in the office as Cliff's last day of work approached.  Their words spoke volumes of how appreciative and inspired they were by his leadership.  Here are a few excerpts from the card he received.
"It has been a privilege for me to be part of the District staff serving under your direction. Thank you for all the support you have shown me through the years. I sincerely wish you and Anne ALL THE BEST!"

"You leave a legacy of encouragement, achievement and work ethic that will always be a part of us – us a team and as individuals. Thank you for always having an open door and a few minute to spare. Wishing you happiness and health in your next big adventure." 

"Thank you for all of your support at RCCWMA and of me personally. I feel you have been a visionary champion in the fight against invasives in the district. You’ve always been positive, helpful and friendly, a great calming influence during times of stress. Best wishes for your retirement!"
Cliff's retirement pot luck lunch.
"Thank you for your great leadership and for always having time to discuss any issues that have come up over the years…no matter how busy you are. I have learned a lot! Good lock and enjoy!"

"Congratulations on an outstanding career! The water resources of the area are truly better because of your vision and leadership. Thank you for allowing me the privilege to work alongside and for you for the past 25 years. I appreciate all you’ve taught me and the fun we’ve shared together too. You are a great mentor, colleague and friend."

"It’s been an honor to work with you. I have learned an immense amount over the years. I am proud to be an RWMWD employee. I am proud of all The District has accomplished and a huge part of that is because of you. Enjoy retirement!"

"You have given me my first professional position out of college and for that I feel extremely grateful and lucky. I’ve gotten to know you over the last couple years and have benefited immensely from all you have to teach and the knowledge you possess. Congratulations on such a successful career! You will be very missed." 

"It is quite an accomplishment how well the Watershed District has developed under your leadership. I am sure I will use my experiences here as a model for how an organization should function throughout my career. Enjoy every bit of your retirement!"

"Congrats on such a truly amazing career. It is obvious of how you have made the Watershed a better place. But in addition, you have set an example of how “a watershed” should function in the state of Minnesota. Your leadership has, no doubt, significantly improved water management on a state level. You did this in a way that made staff contribute, learn, and have fun! – The trifecta! Thanks for your leadership, friendship and just being such a quality person.'

"Wishing you the brightest time of your life! I’m glad to have had these months to get to know you. It’s been an honor!"

"You will be missed each day you are not in the office. I have truly been blessed to have been hired here and be under your leadership. I have learned so much from you in so many ways. I also thank you for your open door policy … no matter how much you had on your plate, you always took time to listen. Congratulations!"

"I hear stories reverberating out of all corners of our Watershed singing your praises and I join in that! What a chorus and a concert you have generated over the nearly 30 years of your work here. This time together with us has been such a rich blend of learning, growing and casting a wide and varied net to reap so many blessings for our community with you at the helm to guide, inspire and encourage us. I feel so blessed to be able be able to work together to put our resources and ideas to work toward the resolution of problems and the empowerment of the community with your guidance and inspiration. I am always amazed at the wisdom, courage and creativity you bring to so many of the challenges and consider it my most valuable gift to be able to have worked with you and learned from you. May your next part of the journey give you great satisfaction and the inspiration you truly deserve."

"It has been such a privilege to work as a part of this amazing team you have assembled and nurtured through the years. Your clear vision and focus on significant achievements in water management is inspiring. Your compassionate flexibility as a manager has informed a wonderful atmosphere of collaboration in the District. Thank you so much for your excellent leadership and being an example we can aspire to. Enjoy every moment but please don’t be a stranger!"

A Thank You Message from the Man of the Hour

Following the retirement party, we received a message from Cliff:

"I can't thank you enough for the party and the fantastic retirement gifts. I was blown away by the turnout of staff, Board, colleagues, and friends.

I was very humbled by the comments and well wishes. The number if people attending just blew me away. The gift of the music was absolutely unbelievable. It was very creative and fun.

I can't thank you enough for the generous retirement gift of the golf clubs. It was totally unexpected. I will think of all of you every time I play or practice.

I will cherish the memory of the party forever. You will all experience this someday, but I always thought about my legacy. I wanted to leave a mark as a result of my work. I knew we did some great things, but this gathering made the extent of my career impacts apparent and it was very gratifying.

Thanks for giving me the send off and allowing me to see the people who valued my time with the District and my accomplishments. It was particularly humbling see the response to Shannon Lotthammer’s request for people to raise their hands if they felt I had served as a mentor to them.”

-Cliff Aichinger, December 3, 2014

Left: Laughing with guests.  Right: Board members Pam Skinner, Paul Ellefson, and Bob Johnson. 

Left: Some of Cliff's family that came to the festivities from near and far.  Right: Cliff, Paul Ellefson (RWMWD Board President), and Tina Carstens (RWMWD Administrator)

Watch for an article in upcoming Ripple Effect blog entries with more of Cliff's thoughts and reflections on his career.

Cliff has passed on the baton to Tina Carstens who is now the District’s new administrator. We wish her the best and look forward to working together as a team under her new leadership. As we reminisce on the celebration and on the sentiments said, we have much to praise and thank for Cliff’s longtime visionary leadership!

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