When Bill Brekken retired in 2002 after working for Herberger's stores for 30 years, his journey wasn't nearly over.
Saying he sees a need to change the definition of "retirement" as "no longer working," and that baby boomers have redefined retirement as people retiring to something else, Brekken went on to work for BlackRidge Bank (formerly Lakewood Bank) for more than 20 years, and for the past four years has worked at RE/MAX Lakes Area Realty, focusing on commercial real estate.
And that's not all. In addition to working with various nonprofit groups over the years, Brekken's most recent endeavour was to be elected to the Crow Wing County Board. He lives south of Nisswa and represents District 2, which includes Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Breezy Point, Crosslake and Jenkins, as well as area townships and Unorganized Territory.
Brekken grew up in Detroit Lakes, graduating from high school in 1969 and attending St. Cloud State University. He grew up in the family retail business - Brekken's Clothing in Detroit Lakes. The Brainerd Brekkens are cousins.
He started working at Herberger's in St. Cloud while in college, eventually becoming that store's manager for eight years. In 1985, he moved to Brainerd to manage Herberger's at the Westgate Mall when the store opened there.
"Herberger's was the Dayton's of a small town," Brekken said.
While working at Herberger's, Brekken was on the then-Lakewood Bank board. When he retired from the clothing store, he worked full time with the bank in business development. Upon retiring from the bank, Brekken said: "There had always been two reoccuring thoughts to me. I saw the need for employment services for people over 50, and how does a nonprofit support itself?"
He had volunteered for more than 20 years with the Salvation Army, and he joined the Bridges of Hope board, helping start the Common Goods thrift store.
"It's a funding source for Bridges for sustainability," he said.
Regarding the employment services for people over 50, Brekken met with business associates, friends and the Central Lakes College president at the time and started the Center for Lifelong Learning at CLC, which focused on enrichment programs.
Unfortunately, the center fell victim to college budget cuts after two years. Brekken still sees a need for its services.
Brekken also has been executive director for the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation.
"I had the opportunity to work in the profit world. I've worked in the nonprofit world. I've had the opportunity to work in education," he said, noting he considers this exposure to different interests as a journey.
Though he'd never been politically active, Brekken decided to run for county commissioner.
"I saw a need for some representation and thought maybe I could do this," he said.
He's learned a lot and admitted he was a bit naive regarding a county commissioner's responsibilities, though he's starting to get his feet under him.
"It's been such a learning experience," he said, noting he now looks at highways and health and human services differently. He's learned about mental health impacts and the asset the area has in water and what a driver that is for the area's economic base.
He's also enjoyed all the people he's met.
"I've just been lucky with these fascinating opportunities, the journeys I've gotten to go on," Brekken said.
As a commissioner, he listens to constituents but makes decisions with his heart regarding what is right. He believes all his past experiences in the profit, nonprofit, educational and leadership/management fields give him something to bring to the table, and he's engaged.
"I'm a connector," he said. "I'm a communicator and will use that to build relationships and get stories out."
Brekken admits to being surprised at all the committee meetings a county commissioner attends and the organizations the county is involved with, but said they are all important.
"We need to be involved with those - all bring value to the community," he said. "The more we can work with them and support each other - it just makes us stronger."
In any spare time, Brekken enjoys bicycling, boating, kayaking and hiking. He and his wife, Jane, have three children - two daughters in Colorado and a son in California - and two grandchildren.