Franklin — When City Engineer John Bennett was first appointed in 1969, the City of Franklin didn't have a supermarket or a post office. The community, with a population of about 12,000, lacked a sewer system and apartment complexes. The police department operated in an old farmhouse.
"Franklin was a township until 1956, but it hadn't changed much (after)," Bennett said. "There was not a lot of development, and when I first started, it was a rural, blue-collar community, economically. I wouldn't say it's blue-collar anymore."
Bennett, who has served the city for 45 years, announced his retirement at a Common Council meeting March 31.
When Bennett first got started in Franklin, he hit the ground running.
"When I got there, there was only one other person in the Engineering Department and for the first 20 years, we didn't have an official City Planner, so I pretty much handled all the development until 1990," he said. And due to newly-elected city officials, "I was one of the old-timers in about my first 9 months here."
The city was in the process of installing a sewer system. Most of the residents still had septic systems, which often failed.
At 29 years old, Bennett was responsible for "the first sewer project Franklin had" — a project that proved to be his fondest; and then in 1977, Franklin's Water Utility Department was established. Bennett was the department manager.
About 80 percent of Franklin residents are now served by public sewer and water services, he said.
"It was a busy, busy time and it just seemed like we had one project after another," he said. "It never seemed to stop … and there's still more things going on."
Over the course of his Franklin career, Bennett said he probably worked on 100 projects.
In 2007, Bennett received a lifetime achievement award at the Milwaukee Public Forum’s 15th salute to local government presentation.
Mayor Tom Taylor referred to Bennett as the "unofficial mayor of Franklin."
"He is more than entitled to that description, because Jack has literally built this community," Taylor said. "The roads, the bridges, the sidewalks — everything is because of Jack Bennett and what he means to the community."
In his letter, Bennett accredited the city's staff for making his work so meaningful.
"Franklin has been a fantastic place to work," he said. "I enjoyed coming in to work every day and working with the public officials — that's why I stayed longer (than originally planned)."
Bennett's last day will be June 6, just in time for sailing season.
"My wife and I have a sailboat out on Lake Michigan, so I'm looking forward to that," Bennett said. "I also have grandkids to visit. I'd also like to do more traveling, woodworking and volunteer work. We'll keep busy."
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