ROCHELLE — One of the last projects Sue Messer got to bring to fruition was the City of Rochelle’s Citizens Academy program.
The 10-week program offered the opportunity for residents to learn about the city and its various departments. Participants went behind the scenes to learn how the city works through hands-on activities, facility tours and more.
Starting Citizens Academy was a goal of Messer’s for a few years and she had attended conferences on similar programs. She enjoyed seeing it finally take place this fall. Messer, who works as assistant to the city manager and as city clerk, will retire at the end of the year after 22 years with the city.
"It was really cool to see Citizens Academy come together,” Messer said. “It was something where I didn't want to leave without having its inaugural year. I didn’t want our staff to have to start at square one. I could take that knowledge I had from different meetings I'd been in and kick it off and they can adjust. At least I helped get it started."
Messer started with the city as a supervisor for Rochelle Municipal Utilities customer service for a number of years before taking a position as assistant to the city manager. She had city clerk added onto her title four or five years ago. She also served as interim city manager for a time just over four years ago before City Manager Jeff Fiegenschuh came on board. She called that a challenge she was proud of.
She called her work with the city “really rewarding” and enjoyed being able to work on a lot of different projects with different city managers, community members and developers.
Among Messer’s favorite projects she worked on with the city were the Tech Park, improvements to the downtown area, new streetlights, the census and Citizens Academy.
“I kind of feel like I had my toe in a lot of things and then putting agendas together and seeing things through, it gave me a lot of self-satisfaction, that's for sure,” Messer said. “Feeling like I could make a difference in our community."
Messer plans to spend her retirement with her husband, who is also retiring. She wants to travel and spend time with her eight grandchildren and pursue her hobbies. She said it’s going to be bittersweet leaving her work at the city and her coworkers.
“It's just been a really great group of staff to work with and I grew up here,” Messer said. “To see so many other people that care so much for Rochelle, it's rewarding to work around them. Because they have a passion for taking care of the community. A great group of people work for the city and I don't think citizens necessarily realize how they take the service to heart."
When Messer moved from RMU over to city hall, she didn’t think she’d stay long. She wasn’t sure about working in government. But, she found interest. She found that she’d come in every day with a plan for what her day was going to look like, and that was rarely how things turned out. New challenges popping up made the job enjoyable.
In her work at the city, Messer tried to be “conduit of making things easier.” That’s what she enjoyed about being assistant to the city manager and city clerk.
"It's great when you feel like you can be of service,” Messer said. “That you can make things easier for people.”