Outgoing Columbia officials reflect
At the May 3 Columbia City Council meeting, Jim Agne, Gene Ebersohl and Wes Hoeffken were recognized for their contributions to the community – nearly a century of service combined – as they stepped down from their respective posts and the latest city council was seated.
Agne had been a Columbia alderman for Ward I since 1997. Before serving on the city council, he was also a member of the Columbia Plan Commission for 20 years and also served on the city’s street graphics committee. He has also served on the Monroe County Planning Commission for 20 years and was previously on the board of directors for the Monroe-Randolph County Transit Authority.
During his time as an alderman, Agne helped develop Columbia’s comprehensive growth plan, which he credits as part of the “quality growth” Columbia has experienced in the past couple of decades.
For example, Agne noted that the location of auto dealerships along Route 3 and I-255 has been effective for “convenience” and to “draw sales to Columbia.”
The quality growth Agne described is throughout the city. He believes the comprehensive plan, along with city ordinances regarding zoning and building material standards, led to subdivisions, commercial and light industrial areas as well as business parks to grow the city without diminishing Columbia’s visual aesthetics.
Agne, a professional architect, has shown through his career a desire to “promote saving the architectural heritage of Columbia.”
As such, Agne said he was proud to have been part of the revitalization and renovation in and around Main Street and the downtown Columbia area.
Other growth that has occurred during his service includes creation of new parks and walking and bike trails.
Agne said he is also proud of “listening to citizens to help them solve their problems,” including being part of two surveys of Columbia residents that helped shape the future of the city through input to create the comprehensive plan.
Memorable events from Agne’s time of public service include the Flood of 1993, his involvement with the Illinois Municipal League and the many public events sponsored by the city and private businesses.
Ebersohl became a Ward III alderman in 1993. During his tenure, he also served on the Monroe County Economic Committee as a representative of Columbia and represented the city in coordinated discussions with Dupo regarding an I-255 interchange.
He is proud of the creation of the Metro East Municipal Joint American Water Agreement in 1998, a 30-year contract to “provide very reasonably priced water to the citizens of Columbia,” Ebersohl said.
He also named an ordinance providing masonry requirements for subdivisions in the city.
“Since our initiation of the masonry ordinance the quality of our new subdivisions has had a positive effect on the owners’ property values and the city’s as a whole,” he said.
Ebersohl also pointed out that during his time as alderman, the city accomplished “much needed street and infrastructure improvements” as well as adding to the city’s park infrastructure – including the purchase of the American Legion ball fields, development of the Admiral Trost Park wetlands, the upcoming Creekside Park project, and paving the GM&O Heritage Trail.
Other notable events that happened while he was in office was the City of Columbia joining a Sisters Cities program with Gedern, Germany in April 1993. Later that year, the city had to deal with the aftermath of the Flood of 1993.
On Sept. 24, 1994, he was a participant in the launching of the city’s namesake, the USS Columbia, SSN 771 attack submarine in Groton, Conn., hosted by Columbia native Admiral Carlisle Trost.
He was also on hand for the 1997 dedication of the Admirals Memorial Circle honoring two four-star admirals from Columbia, John Weinel and Trost, and he also saw the dedication of Admiral Trost Park in 2016.
Ebersohl served in the U.S. Army for two years, and was honorably discharged as a Specialist E-5 after completing a tour of duty in Vietnam. He is also a 48-year member of Columbia American Legion Post 581 and a member of the Columbia Turners organization
As a parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church, he sang in the men’s choir for many years at the church’s former Main Street location and served on the cemetery committee for several years.
He also coached in the Columbia Khoury League and Southwest Baseball organization for 10 years.
Ebersohl and Lucy, his wife of 51 years, have twin sons John and Jeffrey; grandchildren Zane and Sylvia; and daughter-in-law Aimee and son-in-law Bill Clark.
Hoeffken has also served in a number of public service capacities.
In addition to being Columbia’s city clerk for 23 years, he was a member of the plan commission for six years, Columbia EMA director for seven years and Local Emergency Planning Committee member for eight years.
He has also been a Monroe County Nursing Home Memorial Endowment Fund board member for 17 years.
Hoeffken said he’s proud of always being available to citizens and treating everyone fairly during his public service career as well as being involved in long-range planning for the city.
Other accomplishments he named include streamlining processes at the city clerk’s office by automating and digitizing tasks that were previously done manually or on paper.
He is also responsible for establishing a remote post office at Columbia City Hall, and he oversaw renovations at the building as well as installation of recording equipment for city meetings and updating city financial applications.
Hoeffken also mentioned the Metro East Municipal Joint Action Water Agency as a positive change for the city, as well as creation of several walking trails and an “expansion of commercial developments along Route 3.”
He noted that Columbia “has been able to hold the line on real estate taxes with constant controlled growth” the past 30 years.
Hoeffken also recalled the Flood of 1993. During that time, he would help fill sandbags for several hours after work, a situation he called “hard” but also “very rewarding.”
Other memorable events for Hoeffken include the swearing in of the first female Columbia City Council member, Karin Callis, and first female officer for the Columbia Police Department, as well as the retirement of longtime Columbia Police Chief Gene Henkler.
Another interesting aspect of Hoeffken’s time as city clerk was responding to federal subpoenas – something he had to do more than once in the past few years.
“Federal subpoenas include requirements that prevent you from speaking about them without risk of interfering with a federal investigation,” he explained.
Hoeffken retired from his professional career as an accountant, software consultant and software engineer in May 2020. He was a Columbia EMT for seven years, a member of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish Council for six years, ICS girls soccer coach for nine years and ICS dinner auction co-chair for four years.
More recently, Hoeffken has been a regular volunteer at the Monroe County Fairgrounds during the recent COVID-19 vaccine clinics.
He and his wife of 39 years, Yvette, have four children, Catherine, Nick, Amanda and Ariel – all former ICS students – and seven grandchildren.