After many years of public service, Mayor Larry Henkelman is taking time for himself.
First and foremost on Henkelman’s mind was gratitude to residents of the Town of Ponoka. “I definitely would like to thank the community for the support they’ve given me,” he said.
Henkelman first became a councillor in 1980 and was part of the town’s growth and decision-making process for Ponoka for three terms. In 1989 he moved to Red Deer to help his daughters and wife through college but still operated his business, Home Furnishings, while they finished their post-secondary education.
He returned in 2001 after a 12-year hiatus and later won the top seat as mayor in 2004. A quick review over the years helped Henkelman realize that change in Ponoka came at a slow pace. Sometimes projects one council worked on saw the light of day only after new councillors had stepped in.
“Some things you won’t see change for a couple of years,” said Henkelman.
Through past councils the town has seen an economic development board organized, an economic development officer and an active chamber of commerce. Industrial land was made available after the town invested and developed a large area in the Southwest Industrial park and more annexed on the Highway 2 and Highway 53 intersection. There were “a lot of projects that I was privileged to see happening.”
“The town will continue to grow but it needs the positive support of the community, not the negative,” he added.
Service clubs such as the Kinsmen and Kinette clubs, the Rotary Club and the Lions Club and others have been a big part in helping the town grow, said Henkelman. He feels their contributions have made the Town of Ponoka a better place to live.
“A lot of organizations work really hard in our community,” said Henkelman.
Sometimes growth comes from individuals, too. He referred to late Don Laing for his vision of an industrial park on the Highway 2 corridor; Laing’s wife, Inger, continued that vision and the industrial park has seen significant growth in recent years. “The growth out there has just been tremendous.”
Henkelman’s toughest job: “The biggest challenge was trying to maintain a sustainable community with growth.”
Despite empty buildings in the downtown core, new commercial industrial companies have set up shop in Ponoka. He feels council will have to decide whether it wants to develop more land for commercial use if developers are unwilling to.
Things have changed for today’s local politicians. “At one time people had a lot more faith in council.”
Henkelman feels the community would stand by a council’s decision but there are more groups who advocate their needs.
“They are more vocal and demanding a lot more transparency and sometimes, as transparent as a council would like to be, sometimes they can’t,” he explained.
There are times a council must make a decision in camera; usually when dealing with land, personnel or legal issues, according to the outgoing mayor.
For the near future however, Henkelman intends to take time for his family and his business and looks forward to semi-retirement. For new councillors and the new mayor, he advises people get oriented with the Municipal Government Act and what council’s responsibility is. “Be prepared to commit your time.”
He recommends councillors consider the benefit to the whole community and what the public wants. And despite differences of opinions during discussions, support council’s decision.
“Once a decision has been made they have to get behind that decision and back it. And hopefully the community will back their decision,” offered Henkelman.
He expects strong growth in Ponoka in the next few years and looks forward to a positive environment. “As a community and as a council we have to get over the negative in the community that has lasted the last 20 years…Because it does wear on councils and does wear on the community. And it’s something that has to move forward.”