Harvard city administrator to retire in 2023 after 30-plus years of service

City administrator Dave Nelson (left) and newly appointed mayor Mike Kelly talk Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, after a morning meeting at City Hall. The Harvard City Council selected alderman Kelly to replace Mayor Jay Nolan who resigned from his post Tuesday after more than 11 years to start a distillery in town.

After more than 30 years in the role, Harvard City Administrator Dave Nelson is planning to retire.

The Harvard City Council accepted Nelson’s letter of retirement at its meeting Tuesday, as well as his date of leave. He will vacate the role a little less than a year from now on Jan. 6, 2023.

Nelson, who said he first took on the position in 1988 at the age of 25, said working as the city administrator was his first and only full-time job. On the cusp of 60 years old, Nelson said he felt it was his chance “to live a little life after this.”

“I’ve been around for a while,” he said. “It’s my time.”

During his tenure, Nelson said he’s seen six different mayors, which means “six different directions, six different bosses, and six different jobs,” he said. He said he’s worked for more than 50 different aldermen and hired north of 90% of the staff who work for the city.

Nelson said his proudest achievement came with building the new police station, which officials were able to move into in April. Nelson said discussions to build the station had been in progress for nearly two decades.

“Another thing off my checklist, right?” he said. “We really had been talking about it for that long.”

The new Harvard Police Department is seen on Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Harvard. The building has been operational since April and has been waiting for all of the finishing touches to be completed before being showcased to the public.

Even with his letter of retirement being approved, Nelson said there’s still a while before he leaves. He said with how long he’s been in the position, his hands are in everything. The goal of the next year will be to unwind his involvement in various projects and give the city time to find a replacement and train them, he said.

However, even once he’s out the door, Nelson said he doesn’t have many concrete plans. He said he hopes to continue volunteering in the community and will be looking for things that are “a little less stressful.” He said while that has kept him going over the years, it will nice to not have people yelling at him so much.

“My skin’s like alligator,” he said. “Say what you want. …. Sometimes you just kind of let that roll off.”

Mayor Michael Kelly, who has been in his position since 2016, said replacing Nelson will be a difficult feat. He called Nelson a staple of Harvard and said he’s been outstanding in running the city. Nelson leaving will create a “hole,” Kelly said, which he’s not looking forward to replacing.

“I’m struggling to figure out how we’re going to replace him,” Kelly said. “His wealth of knowledge, his ability to work through issues, the relationships he’s built … it really will be [irreplaceable].”

With him leaving, Nelson said above all else, he’ll miss the people.

Harvard City Administrator Dave Nelson announced his intention to retire in the first week of 2023, leaving his position after more than 30 year of serving as the city's top government employee.

Coming from the small community of Lemont, Harvard at the time was pretty similar in size, Nelson said. The small-town feel and the community embracing him when he first arrived has made Harvard his home, he said.

“When you’re working in local government, you’re working retail with better hours,” Nelson said. “I’m going to miss the interaction with all kinds of different people every day. Whether they’re nice or nasty, it doesn’t really matter.”