County engineer’s role has evolved over years

When one looks at any successful business or organization, the first person the success is attributed to is the leader of the group.

Over the past 100 years at the McHenry County Division of Transportation, successful leaders have helped build an effective organization.

As McHenry County has grown over the past 100 years, so has the complexity of the office of the county engineer. Let’s take a look back at the six individuals who have held the office.

The first was Charles L. Tryon. He began in 1913 and literally started from scratch. As this new idea of building roads took off, there was no state or national guidance. Tryon created notebooks full of articles from across the nation and world about things that highway authorities were doing.

Highway equipment was stored on farms through agreements with farmers up until 1927, when Tryon negotiated a part of the County Fair Grounds property at the corner of Illinois Route 47 and Country Club Road, where the Panera Bread now stands. Through his tenure, his responsibility was to build all the county highways from the ground up. No small task for sure that kept him busy during his 45 years in office. He retired in 1958.

The second person to fill the office was Wayne H. Mentzer. He worked under Tryon before becoming county engineer. While continuing to construct roads within the county, he built an office building at the yard in Woodstock for the staff that was needed as the county grew. His final year in office was in 1969, when he was recognized by the County Board for 42 years of service.

The third person to take on the leadership role was James R. Rakow in 1969. A monumental change occurred under Rakow’s leadership. Up until this time, all road construction was done with county equipment and labor. As road standards became more prevalent and construction techniques were highly specialized, it was determined that the county would be better served to have this work done by private contractors.

By using a bidding system, this helped get the best product for the lowest cost. The Highway Department evolved into more of a planning, inspecting and highway maintenance organization. He remained in office until 1993, when his 24 years of service would later be recognized with a new road named in his honor.

The fourth county engineer was Michael P. Magnuson in 1993. It was under his leadership that a new “connector” road between Illinois Route 31 and Randall Road was completed. As you might have guessed, this new road was named James R. Rakow Road in honor of his predecessor.

Planning for the Western Algonquin Bypass began at this time also. The county’s first long-range transportation plan for the year 2010 was started. Magnuson left the office in 1998, having worked at the county for seven years, with the last five as the county engineer.

In 1998, James A. Stahlecker became the fifth county engineer. The Highway Department began planning to move the equipment yard and offices to the corner of Nelson and Hartland roads outside Woodstock. Also, major planning efforts took shape to rebuild and widen Algonquin Road as the growth in the southeast portion of the county was well underway. He left the office in 2001, having been with the county since 1996.

In 2001, Joseph R. Korpalski Jr., the current county engineer, took office. The Highway Department completed the move to its current site and was renamed to the Division of Transportation to reflect the evolving responsibilities beyond highways by providing greater opportunities for transit and pedestrian travel within the county.

Staff was expanded to help cope with the growth. Algonquin Road was widened during this time, as well as the recently completed Rakow Road project.

Innovation in winter maintenance took off, as MCDOT is now looked upon nationally and internationally as leaders in this field, which includes pretreatment of roads before a storm and using technology to minimize salt use to improve the environment.

The latest long-range transportation plan is being developed now for the year 2040. All stakeholders can give their input to help guide the future of transportation in McHenry County. To learn more about this and all the other projects the county is working on, visit

Let us hear it for the fearless leaders of MCDOT over the past century. They helped pull Illinois out the mud, and lead us into the future. Happy and safe travels.

• Jeff Young is the assistant county engineer.

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