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Lake: keeping things moving as Public Works Director

By Tony Hooker
While growing up in Fairland, 1989 VGHS graduate Randy Lake didn’t have an eye toward a life in public works for the city of Villa Grove. Not by a long shot.

But, after serving in the US Air Force and working for nearly two decades in a business with his father, that’s exactly where he finds himself now. I recently caught up with the Director of Public Works, to talk to him about his career arc, his dedication to his craft, and so much more. 

So, you’re sitting in Mr. Mikeworth’ s math class your senior year, and you’re thinking to yourself “Someday I’m going to be the public works director for the city of Villa Grove,” right?

<laughs> No. Not at all.

How did you come to fill this role? You didn’t start working for the city right away after high school, right?

No. After I graduated, I went to work for a company in Champaign for a while. Then I joined the Air Force, and after I got out, I came back to Villa Grove and went back to work for the same company. My dad and I had an opportunity to buy a business here in Villa Grove, and we ended up buying it and running it for about 20 years. He was ready to retire, but I knew he wouldn’t retire if I stayed in the business, so I went ahead and got out and came to work for the city of Villa Grove. 

And then you stuck with it and made your way up, eventually being offered the role of Public Works Director?

Yes. 

What would you say has been your biggest challenge as public works director?

<long pause> Manpower. With the projects we have going, and the manpower that’s available, it’s tough to get things done in a day’s time.

Speaking of projects, we recently had an 8-inch water main break. How many hours did you work on that?

I went to work on that at 10 o’clock Sunday night and went home around 8:30 Tuesday morning and was back at it around 11. 

So, you got roughly 2 hours sleep in 3 days?

Basically, yes. 

Is that the worst break you’ve had to deal with?

One of them, yes. 

We recently sold our water and sewer plants. Once the sale is final, how do you see your responsibilities evolving?

With the community building and the streetscape projects pending, we’ll be getting rid of some responsibilities involving the utility and taking on more in areas like those. Realistically, our level of responsibility will remain the same, but those duties will be different.

Are you looking forward to new challenges?

Yes, to a degree I am.

What’s been the most pleasant surprise to you as public works director?

Working with Jackie. She has helped me along, a lot. I feel like we have excellent communication, as I do with the city council. The guys that work with me may not always agree with my decisions, but they definitely give me their best on a daily basis. 

What kind of training does it take to do what you do?

I think you have to pretty much be a jack of all trades. You have to have at least a little bit of experience in just about everything. 

What did you do in the air force?

I was in fuels, working with liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen, that sort of thing.

So, pipe work and working with pressurized gasses like you do here is kind of a natural slide off of that, right? Where did you learn how to drive a backhoe?

It’s just something I’ve done. I’ve always been good with my hands. From the time I was a teenager I was building cars and trucks and motorcycles. It’s just something that comes naturally to me. 

When you were running a small business, I’m sure you had to wear many hats as well?

Absolutely.

Who’s a better welder, you or your dad?

He would say he is! <laughing>

He’s pretty good with the old stick welder?

He is, for sure!

You’re a young man, so it’s probably too soon to be thinking about retirement, right?

I’m only 50. My plan is to retire from here. 

How about your life outside of work? Do you have children?

I do. I have three kids and two grandchildren. As far as personal life, I really don’t have much of one. My wife has pretty much resigned herself to the fact that I’m on call 24/7.

Do you like to hunt or fish?

I don’t do too much of that anymore. When we have down time, we just like to go somewhere where it’s quiet!

What do you think your role will be with the completion of the community center and the streetscape?

I really don’t know. We’ve been throwing around a lot of ideas, but I’m not 100 percentsure of what our roles will be.

Last Question. How do you really feel about the Christmas tree? <laughing>

I despise that tree! <laughing> It is a lot of work because we want it to reflect well on our city and it takes a lot of time.

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