Every year, Mark DeVries is one of the go-to people when the Northwest Herald writes its annual story about winter roads and winter driving.
Actually, he’s the go-to guy for a lot of people, nationwide and overseas. Under his watch, the McHenry County Division of Transportation developed a winter road mix of salt, calcium chloride and sugar beet juice that has the melting power of the minerals and the staying power of the organic.
Senior Writer Kevin Craver has tried umpteen times this year to get DeVries to sit still for an interview, but each time he was out of the state giving a lecture.
That demand is one of the reasons DeVries, a McHenry County native, is leaving after almost 30 years with the DOT. And Craver finally found a time they could talk.
Craver: When I asked you about your favorite food, I half expected you to say beets.
DeVries: [Laughs] I like that. Sugar beets – they’re my favorite. That’s a good take.
Craver: So you’re retiring from the DOT?
DeVries: In my opinion, it’s a change of jobs. I’m going to continue working, and I would hope for sure it would relate to snow and ice teaching, or presenting.
I turned in my notice, and May 23rd is my last day planned.
DeVries: A couple of different reasons. Let’s keep my ego in check. I can say I’m the most requested snow and ice speaker in the country. Trying to balance that with all the things I do at the DOT is challenging, and it’s getting more challenging.
I’ve gotten a lot of requests from companies wanting me to work for them. I don’t want to quit working. I love the DOT, and I love what I do, but there were some very nice offers. Change is good – it’s good for the DOT and it’s good for me. But it’s a hard decision.
Craver: Is there anything you won’t miss?
DeVries: Every job has its days, no doubt about that. I would say, like anyone, that there are always issues, always bad days. But even those days, you get through them and you’re fine.
I think it will be nice that the phone won’t ring at all hours of the night. I think my wife will appreciate that more than me. But at the same time, when it rang, it rang so we could go out and help people.
Craver: You won’t miss picking up roadkill?
DeVries: It probably was a bigger deal to me when I had to go and scrape it up. Now, I send somebody.
Craver: Tell me again how you guys happened upon that road mix formula.
DeVries: We were trying to fix a problem, and that led us to the blend.
We were buying the blend of salt and calcium chloride, and wondered why we couldn’t make what we were buying elsewhere. And people were starting to use organics. I just kind of wondered why we can’t get the best of all three worlds by blending them together and seeing if it works?
It became a real big deal. Even the name we came up with, “supermix,” stuck.
Craver: What do you do that’s not road-related?
DeVries: I love to fish. I live to fish. Fishing is one of the things I’ve always loved to do. I try to golf, too.
DeVries: I’m not bad, but I’m not great, but I don’t golf near as much. If I get a day, I fish.
The DeVries lowdown
Who is he? Mark DeVries, McHenry County Division of Transportation maintenance superintendent
Family: Wife, Cindy, grown son and daughter, three grandchildren with a fourth on the way
Favorite food: Italian
Last publication read: “Best Practices in Winter Maintenance,” National Cooperative Highway Research Program