By Tim Krohn
---- — MANKATO — When Jon Rippke started as a civil engineer at Bolton & Menk 40 years ago, the firm had 15 employees in two offices.
Today the Mankato-based company is the 234th largest revenue-producing firm of its kind in the country with 315 employees and 14 offices in three states.
"We're proud of our ranking. A lot of firms talk about offering a lot of services, but until you have the volume and experience and expertise, it's hard to do that," said Rippke, who was president from 1995 until last year and is retiring this month.
The firm's meteoric rise from a local surveying business to full-service engineering, surveying and project management firm came as it honed a niche doing work for towns and cities, helping them build everything from sewage treatment plants and water towers to roads, parks, municipal buildings and recreation facilities.
For many of the 300 plus communities, Bolton & Menk serves as the city engineers under ongoing contracts. For larger towns with their own city engineers, the firm comes in on a project-by-project basis.
Rippke, until a few years ago, served as North Mankato's consulting engineer for 25 years. "It was a source of pride and involvement for me," he said. It also brought him one the most difficult projects of his career after summer-long rains in the mid 1980s caused Lookout Drive to slide down the ravine.
"Rebuilding that was the most challenging thing I've been involved in. I was proud of how that turned out."
Rippke was hired in 1973 by Martin Menk, who along with John Bolton started the business in 1949 in St. Peter. An Iowa farm boy, Rippke worked in the firm's Fairmont office until moving to Mankato in 1980.
He said complex environmental regulations and other federal, state and local building codes led the firm to add different specialties over the years to help provide a start-to-finish service for clients. The firm, for example, now has five landscape engineers who deal with everything from surface water drainage to design for building projects, parks, trails and downtown streetscape projects.
Rippke was also instrumental in getting the civil engineering program started at MSU in 2000. He and John Frey, head of the science, engineering and technology program, talked about the need to add civil engineering to the mechanical and electrical engineering programs at MSU.
"My concern was that without a civil engineering program, young people from southern Minnesota who didn't want to go to a big-city school were going to other states to school," Rippke said. Today the program graduates 25 civil engineers each year with Bolton & Menk hiring many of them and giving experience to many others as interns.
"It's wonderful for us and all the other engineering employers in the area."
Bolton & Menk began an Employee Stock Ownership Plan in the 1980s. A number of the longtime professionals working at the firm own more shares in the company while other employees earn stocks each year. Rippke said the firm created an ownership balance so that longtime professionals have a strong stake in the ownership — but not too big of a stake. Too much stock in a few hands, he said, can lead to those stocks —and effectively the company — being sold to another firm when top people retire.
Rippke's been involved in advisory boards at MSU and his alma mater of South Dakota State University, has served on several engineering related boards, as well as several local boards and commissions. In 2002 he was named Engineer of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Engineers.
Retirement, he said, will allow him to devote more time to his hobbies, including motorcycling, gardening golf and hunting.
"I hope to eliminate the coyote population in southern Minnesota."