Charles Stenner was not completely sold on the idea of being Mayor of Fennimore when he filed his nomination papers in 1972.
“I was 21 at the time,” he said. “When I first filed papers, yeah, I wasn’t serious about it. But as time when on I went to Council meetings and started talking to people and everything. It got more serious.
“Actually, by the time the election came around I really was interested in having the position.”
Stenner became so interested he finished his 18th and final term as Mayor of Fennimore on Tuesday.
Clarence Trankle sought his fourth term as Mayor when he was challenged by Theran Dempsey and Stenner in April 1972. Stenner garnered 337 votes to unseat Trankle, who received 311 votes. Dempsey was the choice of 171 more voters.
“Probably an all-time record turn-out for a spring election,” applauded the Fennimore Times in its April 6, 1972 edition.
Stenner did not have lofty aspirations as a rookie mayor.
“Just getting to learning and knowing what was going on,” he said. “Chuck Leuck and Ralph Moen were fantastic. During the Council meetings, Chuck would explain things to me. Outside of the Council room they would explain things to me."
Leuck served as the City’s Director of Public Works and Moen its City Clerk at the time.
“After I did win, I had a great Council of nothing but businessmen. Everybody was real supportive and real helpful. It couldn’t have been a smoother transition than what it was.”
Maynard Behncke, Maynard Cullen, Harold James and William Rubin were among the alderpersons in 1972.
“It was busy back then because we were getting ready to build the sewer plant. So the first few years were filled with that,” Stenner recalled. “Zoning, we were just setting up zoning. There was no zoning before I came into office. Apartment houses for the elderly were starting to become a thing. There was a little bit of disagreement as far as the parking spaces [at the apartments].
“The Council wanted a whole lot more parking spaces than really were needed. So I went out personally getting signatures on petitions to get that changed.”
It wasn’t until late in his first term that Stenner decided he would seek a second term in 1974. He won re-election and did so six more times before not seeking a ninth term in 1988.
“The reason I chose to step away was Kevin being born. I wanted to be able to spend more time with Kevin,” Stenner said. “I did not want to go through his school years with me being mayor, I thought that might be a little tough for him in some respects. I thought that was the time to get out.”
Stenner looks back on his first stint as mayor fondly.
“I just enjoyed being with the Council. After a Council meeting we would go down and play cards and everything,” he said. “Those things made being on the council very enjoyable because you were working with a great bunch of people.”
David Everson was 22 years old when he was elected to the Council in 1972.
“Back then, things were changing a little bit,” he said. “I had nothing against the person I was running against. I just went out door to door and that is why I won.
“Chuck is just an even-keel guy. He just keeps his calm and doesn’t go over the line. He controls himself pretty well. What he tells you is what he will do.”
Everson also fondly recalls the comraderie of the Council.
“Nobody was mad at one another,” he said. “[Rubin], Chuck Leuck, Maynard Cullen and Harold James would come out and play some cards, Steve Briehl maybe. Everybody kind of got along.”
Stenner admits it was difficult to step away in 1988.
“The first six months I was pretty depressed. I took it pretty hard. It wasn’t easy,” he said. “That is why I think this time around it will be maybe a little easier, but it is hard walking away. Extremely hard. Not that I know anything or I’m going to tell people what to do or anything, I just have always enjoyed being involved. And I think I have been a pretty easy person to work with.”
City Clerk/Treasurer Margaret Sprague has worked with Stenner for several years.
“He clearly has an interest in Fennimore and its success. He is very conscientious from a fiscally responsible standpoint,” she said. “It was a real pleasure working with him. His passion for Fennimore and its residents was very obvious.”
After his father passed away in July 1972, Stenner operated the filling station his father ran, which was located where Subway now stands. In 1978 he married Mary Ann and took a job at Fennimore Roller Mills. Stenner opened a jewelry store in 1984, and he and Mary Ann welcomed Kevin in 1986.
Stenner was re-elected mayor in 2006. He recalls taking the Council to task for the financial state of the City at the time.
“We were $360,000-some in the hole with no way to pay it other than borrowing,” he said. “I just totally lost it. I was shaking and I was yelling at them. That set a very bad tone for the start for the first few years because there were a lot of the Council people that were really ticked off at me. Probably some have never gotten over it.”
Stenner and the Council persevered, and he was re-elected in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Much like his first terms, his last terms have dealt with decisions for the wastewater treatment plant and the City’s Business Park.
“I think there are a lot of things, we have done a lot of talking with people – there are going to be more things going on out there,” Stenner said of the former Industrial Park. “I think it has a bright future. A lot of things seem to be going on right now as I am getting out – it looks really good for the community. I can’t discuss any of them, but things will be coming out as time goes on, this summer probably.”
Stenner said the work of those on the Fennimore Economic and Industrial Development Committee can be a blessing and a curse.
“For people involved in economic development, that is the hardest committee to serve on because it is so frustrating,” he said. “There are so many things you want to do, but things are totally out of your hands.
“If people don’t want to sell you land or if they don’t want to do this or that, there is not a darn thing you can do, no matter how hard you work on it.”
Is there an accomplishment(s) that Stenner is particularly proud of during his tenures as mayor?
“It is hard for me to sit back and think of things like that. It is not an ‘I’ thing,” he said. “There are so many people involved with everything to make something happen, that none of them are my accomplishments. They are the City’s accomplishments.”
Stenner also shares the credit with one he feels is often overlooked – a mayor or alderperson’s spouse. In this case, it is his wife, Mary Ann.
“The one person that is never given any credit and takes a lot of the ups and downs and everything is the wife, or the spouse, however it might be,” he said. “Mary Ann has taken a lot of mood swings that I have had and stuff like that and has been there to back me. She has been my sounding board a lot of times. I think she will be very happy I am no longer mayor.”
Stenner will be succeeded by Ryan Boebel, who ran unopposed for mayor in the April 5 election. Boebel joined the Council in 2014.
“I have known Ryan all his life. I haven’t been close to him, but I knew his dad and mother. Actually, we are related,” Stenner said. “When I ran back in 2006, actually Ryan was going to take out papers because he was going to run. When he heard I was going to run, he decided not to.
“Since then, I have talked to Ryan and I thought since he was interested enough to run then – and I know Ryan is a level-headed, intelligent person – he could do a really good job. That was when I started pursuing Ryan to try to persuade him to run. He ran for Council and has been excellent on the Council. It was a good stepping stone for him.”
Stenner was at a loss for words when Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Travis Tranel presented him with a citation during the Council’s April 11 meeting.
“I don’t like people doing things for me,” he said. “I love doing things for other people, but I don’t like people making a fuss or doing things for me. But, I greatly appreciate everything everyone has said and done.”