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Hofland embraced challenge of county government

Stevens County Commissioner Neal Hofland (left) was honored with a reception following his final meeting Wednesday. He spoke with Stevens County District Court Judge Gerald Seibel at the reception. Hofland is retiring after serving eight years on the board, and the board passed a resolution designating Dec. 31, 2008 at Neal Hofland Day.1 / 2
Retiring Stevens County Commissioner Neal Hofland (left) will be succeeded by Ron Staples (right), who won election to Hofland's 3rd District seat in November.2 / 2

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

When Neal Hofland first ran for a Stevens County Board of Commissioners seat, he vowed to serve a maximum of two four-year terms.

Given the State of Minnesota's current economic problems and how they filter down to county governments, it would seem that Hofland is getting out at just the right time. And happy about it, too.

But it was with mixed emotions that Hofland, the board chair this year, brought the gavel down on the final meeting of 2008 on Wednesday, and on his eight-year tenure.

"Now here I am," he said Wednesday at a reception in his honor, "thinking that maybe I should still be here, making decisions."

Hofland announced earlier this year that he would retire at the end of his second four-year term. Ron Staples won election to Hofland's 3rd District seat in November and will be sworn in at the board's 2009 organizational meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 9 a.m.

At Wednesday's meeting, the board's final resolution of 2008 was to praise Hofland's service and designate Dec. 31, 2008 as Neal Hofland Day.

After hearing Commissioner Larry Sayre read the laudatory words in the resolution, Hofland chuckled.

"That's way beyond what has happened, but thank you," he said.

"You're going to be missed, Neal," Commissioner Herb Kloos said.

"Yes, you will," said Commissioner Paul Watzke.

Hofland didn't get into county government so that one day complimentary resolutions would be crafted in his honor. He made the decision to run in 2000 so he could make more decisions.

"I always wanted to be involved in the county decision-making process," Hofland said. "I've always been interested in decision-making, at the county level or on the football field."

Hofland, a Veblen, S.D. native, arrived in Chokio fresh out of Huron College in 1963.

He and wife Jeanne will celebrate their 48th anniversary in April, and they have four kids -- Beth, David, Lynn and Amy -- and eight grandchildren.

Hofland taught English and physical education, and he coached football for many years. He still holds a lifetime teaching license and has told the Chokio-Alberta administration he will be available for substitute teaching and helping his son, Dave, the Spartans' head football coach, in addition to working as an insurance consultant.

He also plans to play plenty of golf.

"I've got a lot of things to keep me busy," Hofland said.

Coaching shaped Hofland's outlook on life and service, and he also shaped those who played for him.

"He and I have the same philosophy, somewhat," said Staples, a 1975 C-A graduate who played football for Hofland. "I'd call it conservative."

Hofland and Staples' father, Wally, who also served on the county board, share the same outlook on government.

"That's where I look at my dad," Staples said. "Thirty-plus years and he just couldn't give it up, he was so involved."

Hofland also felt that tug but held true to his vow to serve two terms.

"If the president can't serve more than eight years, why should I," he said with a smile.

County government is much more complex than he imagined it to be, he said, but he didn't shy from the challenge.

"It's hard, but he came in with his eyes and ears wide open," Kloos said. "He's a smart man and he caught on real fast. He was always right up front."

"I believe you approach it with integrity and honesty," Hofland said. "Vote with your heart, vote what you think is right, and I think that's what I've tried to do."

Hofland didn't feel the pull to get involved in county government as a younger man, but with age, came the desire to jump in, he said, and neither he nor his constituents can feel they didn't get his all.

"As I got older, it piqued my interest," Hofland said. "It's a great learning experience, and everybody should do it. It's like being a referee in a basketball game in overtime. Everybody should experience that.

"I appreciate the support I got, not only from my constituents but from all over the county."