(Seguin) — Much has changed in the city of Seguin over the last eight years. It has seen job and population growth, the housing market is beginning to explode, and a number of new private and public facilities have opened in recent years. Many of those changes have occurred during the tenure of Seguin Mayor Don Keil, who officially ends his time in office today. Keil, who could not seek reelection due to the city’s term limits, says he has fond memories about his time in office.
Keil reflected on his service during an interview with KWED radio and the Seguin Daily News on Monday. Keil says Seguin is his hometown, but he spent 25 years living in San Antonio. Despite his departure, he was able to reconnect with Seguin in a big way when he moved back in the ’90s after the death of his first wife. He would later marry his current wife, Marty Keil, and that helped to bring him even closer to the community. He says that’s when he decided to devote more of his time to public service, which set him on a path that eventually led all the way to the mayor’s office.
“I decided that I’ve got the time to do this, and there were some things in Seguin that were really sort of disappointing to me when I moved back. So I said, ‘man if I’m going to do something, I probably ought to do it now.’ I was in my ’50s by the time I finally go into the public service end of it. It was about time for me to start doing something along the public service line. It was something I felt I needed to do, one way or another. It just kind of evolved from boards and commissions to city council and then into the mayor’s thing. It wasn’t something that was entirely planned. It’s just something that kind of happened organically,” said Keil.
It’s hard to look at Keil’s public service and not talk about his connection to the city’s Walnut Branch restoration project. Keil was part of the original committee that was tasked with looking at how this once pristine space along Walnut Creek, could be brought back from the ruins.
“I went to St. Joseph’s, which is now St. James (Catholic) School, and that creek was always down there. I always found it fascinating. It was a much different place during the 1950s. When I was growing up, we would go down there — sneak out of school and go down there to catch crawfish and things. There was this beautiful arch bridge down there, right at the bottom of Convent Street. There were these walkways and things, that eventually just had been destroyed and washed away. At that point, we didn’t really understand the history and the importance of it all until later in life. As I grew older, I started learning about Walnut Branch and its importance to the city and how we wouldn’t even be here if not for that. So I got to thinking that this is something that needs a lot more reverence than just being a neglected overgrown ditch,” said Keil.
Keil says Seguin owes all of its history to Walnut Branch (Creek) and the springs that feed it. He that’s why the work that they’ve done to restore the creek — and to bring back linear park space and walking trails — is such an important part of Seguin’s future. He says once the Walnut Branch project is all done, it will provide nearly four miles of linear park and trail space for the community to enjoy.
“We just broke ground on the last extension that’s going to actually take the trail, that is there now, all the way from just below the library all the way into Starcke Park, and all the way to the Guadalupe River. It’s going to be exciting. As the city grows, they are going to need more recreational areas like that. I think it’s only natural that it expand that way,” said Keil
The creek expansion project is one of the many quality of life projects that have been worked on and completed over the last decade or so. Things like the construction of the new Seguin Public Library and creation of Park West also have to be added to that list. Mayor Keil says it helps to make Seguin a more attractice place to live and work. He says all of these improvements go hand in hand with the city’s economic development work. He says Seguin has a rich history of bringing manufacturing jobs to the city, and he says that work continues still today. He says over the last year, we’ve seen even more companies choose to set up shop in Seguin. He says it speaks to the climate and culture that has been created here in Seguin by city staff and by the Seguin Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) Board of Directors, on which Keil also serves. He says the city’s job creation and retention efforts will continue to help the city grow in a positive manner.
“We’ve gotten Caterpillar and Niagara and all these other companies have come now. We’ve got all kinds of things that are happening. The industrial (plants) along I-10 are being brought in by these things. It’s kind of an amazing sight to see all that happening. All these great companies are coming to town and saying nice things about our city when they see it. It’s just, overall, exciting to see it all happen. You know if we don’t have jobs for people, then we are not going to be able to grow,” said Keil.
One particular sector of the local economy has really flourished during Keil’s time in office. The city of Seguin continues to set records with the number of residential developments that are being built inside and around the city limtis. The housing boom, includes large scale subdivisions and multi-family units — like apartments, townhomes and duplexes. Keil says staff has worked hard to help residential developers discover Seguin, but he says the city’s commitment to expanding its sewer system has also been a big part of the reason why developers are looking to build houses here in the community. He says sewer systems are not always the kinds of thing that seems important to growth, but he says it has made a real difference for Seguin.
“That (sewer) system, which we have luckily been able to expand and improve on, on a regular basis — has been really one of the key driving points of why these developments are coming to the city of Seguin, and voluntarily annexing into the city. Otherwise, they would be out in the suburbs, probably either on large lots with septic (systems), or doing these little package plants that really are inefficient for the treatment of sewer. So in some odd kind of way, the fact that we’ve been able to increase and improve our wastewater treatment facilities, has been a big, big factor in bringing these developers to Seguin and making it all happen,” said Keil.
Keil has served as the city’s top elected official for the last eight years, but the day-to-day operations have all been handled by the city manager. For most of his time in office, that job was held by Doug Faseler, who retired around this time last year. That opened the door for new City Manager Steve Parker, who started the job in January of this year. Keil says he remains thankful for the talented team that Faseler helped to build in Seguin, and he’s already seeing how Parker has hit the ground running. He says Parker has exceeded all his expectations, and he knows that Seguin City Hall continues to be headed in the right direction. Keil says he knew city staff was a dedicated and talented group, but he says that was further confirmed when Parker took over as city manager.
“When (Steve Parker) came here, he was completely amazed about the culture within our city staff and how well it worked together and how well our city staff respected each other. And how they really looked towards the overall goals of the city as a whole. He was pretty impressed by the way that they respected each other, and each individuals’ ability to do what is right to make the city work. You can see that in the staff meetings. It’s really impressive,” said Keil.
Keil’s time in office ends in a way that he, nor anyone else could have imagined. It ends during the worst pandemic that this country has seen since 1918. Keil says the COVID-19 pandemic has indeed been a challenge, but he says it has been made easier thanks to the team approach taken by local officials. He says Guadalupe County officials and representatives from Guadalupe Regional Medical Center (GRMC) were key to helping the community stay safe over the last eight months. He credits people like Guadalupe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patrick Pinder and the leadership team at GRMC for helping to keep the community informed and protected from the virus.
“Working with the county has been really good and (also) working with GRMC and their staff, who just mobilized incredibly well and came up with (some) amazing plans. They had some people that were real troopers. They just worked day and night — some of them to the point of exhaustion trying to get this thing done. We are so lucky that we have that facility and that dedicated group of people in the community, that kept us going during that time,” said Keil.
The pandemic didn’t just force people to stay home. It has caused real suffering for some people in this community. People have lost loved ones to the virus. Some businesses may not be able to recover from the virus mitigation efforts that have taken place over the last several months. Keil says even with all those real challenges facing this community, he has seen a spirit of cooperation and support that he thinks will push us all back towards a place that feels more normal.
“Our small businesses, a lot of them, the retail and restaurants have been able to at least adapt to some degree. I don’t know, but it’s probably going to be years before they recoup most of what they may have lost to some degree over the time. But downtown is still thriving (and) still going. I think as we adapt to the face masks and the distancing and so forth, they are going to find ways to work around them and make things happen,” said Keil.
Keil says he feels like he was able to help accomplish a great deal as mayor of the city of Seguin. He says he had a number of goals when he got started. One of those goals was to change the perception that some had about the city. He says sometimes negative things were said about Seguin, and too often those negative comments can from people who lived here. He has said over and over again how much he “loves this town,” and he says he hopes that message has started to seep into the hearts and minds of others who call Seguin home. He says this is a great place, and he thinks more and more people are starting to reach that conclusion.
“The main thing that I wanted to do as mayor was to change that negative attitude that so many people had about their hometown. Because I know for a fact, that this is really a great place to live. Yes, we have our problems. Not every street is perfect, believe me. But for the most part, we have a very cohesive population that works together to make things happen,” said Keil.
There have been tens of millions of dollars invested in local facilities in the Seguin area. This includes major upgrades over the years to the city’s parks system, to private businesses, to the hospital, to the Guadalupe County Courthouse and other county facilities, and to a number of new facilities in the Seguin ISD. Mayor Keil says it’s a good time to be in Seguin, and expects great things from new Mayor Donna Dodgen, who officially takes office after being sworn-in during tonight’s council meeting.
“So many things are improving with our facilities and with everything. When you look around, every single day you can see something that is better than it was (before). We have so many opportunities here. The education system, with the schools here, has really come alive. We have new facilities, great administration now and a whole new attitude with the school systems. That’s really going to help propel us into the future as well. There’s just great growth and as we grow there will be more retail opportunities for everybody, better entertainment facilities and things such as that. There’s nothing but, I think, good things on the horizon,” said Keil.
Keil says that serving as mayor of the city of Seguin has been the honor of a lifetime. He says he encourages people to find ways to serve their community, and help to make a difference. Meanwhile, he says he’s looking forward to the end of the pandemic, so that he and his wife, Marty, can spend more time traveling.