Two decades of service: Ken Zander retires from community service – The Dickinson Press
DICKINSON — After serving on the Stark County Commission for 20 years, Ken Zander announced his upcoming retirement last year. In an exclusive interview, he sat down with The Dickinson Press to reflect on his public service career with the commission and some of the accomplishments he is most proud of.
Zander’s journey began in politics after a few personal friends approached him about possibly running for a seat on the Stark County commission.
“Two local community leaders approached me and said, ‘Hey, there will be a vacancy on the county commission in the next election cycle,'” Zander recalled. “And here we are 20 years later .”
Always an advocate for his constituency, Zander said he always felt he could make a real difference as commissioner.
“From elected offices, being a county commissioner is as close to the local people as possible and you feel like you have a real connection,” Zander said.
When he first took office, he did not expect to run for five consecutive four-year terms, but he stressed his pride in the issues he championed and the changes he helped bring about.
“I can’t take credit for all the success because it’s something you do as a board,” Zander said. “But I was very lucky to have many years with really dedicated and good people.”
During his tenure, Zander and his fellow commissioners created an employee policy manual and established a human resources department. Zander has been directly and actively involved in numerous construction projects across the county, including the county store, the office building that houses health and social services, and the courthouse expansion, among others. He said he was proud that all of these projects were completed without incurring additional taxpayer debt.
Additionally, Zander was instrumental in a partnership that made the Stark County Veterans Lodge a reality.
“I wasn’t a big fan of fairgrounds to begin with,” Zander said of another successful project of his. “But once it came true, I just said I was all in. I’m going to help make it a success.”
In the more than two decades of his tenure, Zander has held nearly every portfolio a commissioner can hold. Over the years, his direct responsibilities and focus have touched nearly every aspect of county governance.
“The cool thing about portfolios is that you build relationships with those departments and earn their trust, earn their respect, and develop a relationship with them,” Zander said. “These relationships can turn into friendships.”
Although he no longer holds some of the portfolios of years past, he was often seen visiting the courthouse or county shop daily for most of his 20 years as commissioner.
Zander’s roots in Stark County go back generations, a fact that made the longtime commissioner very proud.
“When I think of Stark County, I think of my family,” Zander said. “My family has been in Stark County for over 100 years. You know, my mom’s family grew up on a farm east of Lefor, my dad’s family grew up on a farm just east of the airport.
He and his wife, Chris Zander, were both born and raised in Dickinson, attended high school together, and would rediscover each other years later.
“When the first boom hit, Dickinson was kind of fun,” Chris Zander said. “There was a lot going on so we decided to stay here.”
However, after a few years, Ken Zander went on to study criminal justice in college, eventually graduating and working for the Billings City Police Department. Chris moved to Duluth, Minnesota. Ultimately, Ken Zander’s romantic saw him pack up and move to Duluth to be closer to Chris.
“After we left Duluth, we ended up in Barnes County, where I was deputy chief,” Ken Zander recalled.
Finally, after a few years away, the couple returned to their home in Dickinson following the grief of losing a child at birth.
It was in this difficult time that the couple found strength in each other. What started as a plan to visit home before venturing to Colorado, instead turned into a rediscovery of the beauty of their home county.
The couple officially returned to Dickinson and Ken Zander began his 30-year career in insurance. The Zanders raised three sons, who now live out of state. They are the proud grandparents of two children.
Looking back on his time as commissioner, Ken Zander said he felt better about the relationships he had built with community leaders, business owners and the general public.
“The guy on the corner who stops you and says ‘hey, thanks for doing this’ or ‘thanks for doing that.’ — which I think gives me the most satisfaction,” he said. “You know, if people have a problem, they’ll come up to you and say ‘hey, I don’t agree.’ I don’t recall these disputes ever being settled or resolved.
While the memories will always be something Ken and Chris Zander will treasure, the couple both say they can’t wait to spend more time away from the limelight. He on his wood lathe hobby, where he makes everything from lamps to tables in his home and her in his many passions and the church.
“As Commissioner and Chairman of the Board, I would like to thank Commissioner Zander for all his years of service to Stark County,” Carla Arthaud said of her retirement.
She and the other commissioners thanked the quiet-spoken official for his time and service during his final Stark County Commission meeting on November 1.