Williams retirement marks the end of an era in Grundy Co.

After more than 40 years working with Grundy County Conservation, Executive Director Kevin Williams is set to retire at the end of 2021. Williams is pictured in front of the prairie exhibit he worked to build along with several other educational displays featured in the Ag Hall at the Heritage Center in Morrison. Williams was also a regular contributor to the Reinbeck Courier newspaper, writing a regular column to keep readers informed and updated on local conservation topics and activities. Photo by Darvin Graham

One of Grundy County’s longest-tenured employees will soon be celebrating retirement.

Grundy County Conservation Board Executive Director Kevin Williams formally announced in November his intentions to retire from the position at the end of 2021.

Current Operations Supervisor and Conservation Technician Nick Buseman has since been named as the next Executive Director beginning in 2022.

Williams grew up on a farm near Colfax in Jasper County. He said outdoor activities like hunting and trapping were a part of his life from a young age and were experiences that helped draw him into conservation work as an adult.

Williams went on to study fish and wildlife biology, graduating with a degree from Iowa State University

In 1979 he and his wife married and a year later they moved to Grundy County where Williams took a job as a Park Ranger with the County Conservation Department. The family put down roots in the area and would go on to raise three kids, all who are adults and parents to a number of grandchildren.

Following the retirement of his predecessor, the late Samuel Gooden, in 1994, Williams was promoted and appointed by the county as the second-ever Executive Director of Conservation.

Over a 40-year career with Grundy County Conservation, first as a park ranger, then naturalist and finally director, Williams has come to be synonymous with the department and will leave a lasting legacy for future generations to build upon.

Williams said he appreciated the opportunities working in Grundy County has afforded him in learning new things and taking on responsibilities that might not fall under the same purview in a larger county organization.

“I’ve always enjoyed the naturalist party of this job and the environmental education work that we do,” Williams said. “Educating people about wildlife has made me learn something new about wildlife every day. There is just so much to know and so much to learn, and then you can pass that on. That’s a good feeling.”

Classroom nature walks have long been an educational activity the conservation department has offered in partnership with the local school district.

Williams said it’s been fun and interesting leading these walks in recent years as he’s seen some former students who attended nature walks in Grundy County years ago come back as parents and pass that experience on to their kids.

For many years the county conservation department operated out of facilities at the Grundy County Fairgrounds in Grundy Center. Williams recalls the annual process of vacating their space each summer to make way for the county fair to be held.

In recent decades however, the conservation operation has been headquartered out of facilities in Morrison where the department has been able to grow and establish an identity as a keeper, educator and promoter of both the natural history and cultural heritage of Grundy County.

The Heritage Center and Ag Hall where the Conservation Department offices are located was constructed in 1999 as Williams was in his first few years as director.

Williams then worked to build and design the historic and educational display area in the Ag Hall which features a 90-foot long exhibit depicting the transformation of Grundy County prairie to farmland.

Buseman, who was hired in 2001, recalls the painstaking efforts Williams would put in to utilize cost-effective materials like painting and customizing artificial plants and flowers from Hobby Lobby rather than those specifically designed for museums.

As funding through grants and outside programs could be acquired, Williams added additional displays including a life size farm house, barn and a country store.

The early 00s was a busy time for Williams and his department as construction on Highway 20 near Dike led to the development of what is now Grundy County Lake.

The lake and park was developed from bare farm ground and turned into a 255-acre natural resource amenity. The man-made lake came from an excavated borrow pit where dirt was removed to use for grading of the new highway. Nearby groundwater filled up the basin and today it is able to support large mouth bass, bluegill, crappie, walleye and channel catfish that are regularly stocked for fishing recreation.

When Williams took over as director he was one of a two-member staff that, along with help from seasonal employees, managed eight conservation sites throughout the county.

Almost 30 years later the Conservation Department’s footprint has grown from eight sites to 18 that include parks, trails, a lake, the museum and heritage facilities in Morrison and a number of wildlife areas used for hunting and fishing. Full time staff also increased and now include Williams as Executive Director, Buseman as Operations Supervisor and Naturalist/Conservation Technician Cole Anderson.

Williams said he is looking forward to spending time with family in retirement. His wife BJ also retired earlier this year.

A long-time hobby of his has been bottle digging and repairing stoneware. Williams plans to spend more time investing in those hobbies along with hunting and fishing with his grandkids.

“I have been fortunate to work under and learn from Kevin for the last 20 years,” Buseman said. “I’ve always admired and appreciated how he’s kept our staff involved and engaged in decision-making and project planning while still offering leadership in challenging situations. Most of what people think of when they think of Grundy County Conservation is a direct reflection of his work. He will be missed.”