National Public Works Week: Little has changed in 42 years

R. Kevin Clark
Editor, APWA Reporter

An interesting thing happened on my way through our staff conference room the other day. As I walked through the room—which also serves as our library—I caught sight of a number of large binders sitting next to the "old" APWA Reporters (1980 and back). I knew what was in those binders—the predecessor publications to the Reporter—but had never found the time to peruse through them. Having just taken the February issue to the printer (at last), I thought this would be the perfect time to look at some of APWA's history, and how our previous publications presented it.

I enjoyed looking through the American Public Works Association News Letter (the publication immediately preceding the Reporter, lasting from 1959-1961), along with the very first Public Works Engineers' News Letter (Vol. I, No. 1 was published in July 1934). From 1934 until 1937, the monthly newsletter was published jointly by the American Society of Municipal Engineers and the International Association of Public Works Officials, until AME and IAPWO joined forces to create the American Public Works Association in 1937.

What I found most interesting in looking at the old newsletters concerns how things have remained fundamentally unchanged within APWA from the mid-1930s through today. For example, the "dissemination of information and experience upon and the promotion of improved practices in public works administration" and the "professional and social improvement of its members" were just two of the purposes of the new association, as set forth in its proposed constitution in early 1937. These objectives, along with others from the original constitution, are strikingly similar to several of the strategies found in the Strategic Plan approved by the APWA Board of Directors on September 22, 1999.

What really caught my eye, however, was an article in the July 1960 News Letter describing a "major public education program" being launched by APWA. In this article, our members heard for the first time about National Public Works Week. To illustrate what then-President Jean L. Vincenz, then-Executive Director Robert D. Bugher, and the rest of the founders of NPWW had in mind—as well as to view a bit of the history of our association—the original article is reprinted below:

APWA Launches Major Public Education Program
The American Public Works Association, through its Public Relations Committee, will launch within the next few months a very important public education program. The primary purpose of the program will be to foster a better understanding of the function and importance of public works in the community, to enhance the professional status of public works officials in government, and to help attract competent personnel to the field.

The week October 2-8, 1960, has been tentatively set aside as NATIONAL PUBLIC WORKS WEEK (proclamation pending) to recognize and publicize the outstanding work being done by public works engineers and administrators. It is hoped that the program being planned will help arouse an interest in the young people of this country to pursue careers in public service.

Through the cooperation of the Kiwanis International, activities are being planned for towns and cities across the nation to take part in the observance of NATIONAL PUBLIC WORKS WEEK. A complete kit is being prepared which will contain sample proclamations for mayors to issue, radio, TV, and press releases, sample editorials, articles, window posters, speech material; a list of suggested activities such as parades, open-house at local facilities, equipment displays, special luncheons featuring a public works speaker, etc. A public service film entitled "Headline for Harper" is also being produced for live and TV showings in connection with this program. This packet of materials will be available to all local Kiwanis Clubs, public works personnel, and others who wish to promote the observance of NATIONAL PUBLIC WORKS WEEK.


The wrongdoing of public works officials is frequently reported by the press because it makes a "more interesting" news item and gets more attention. This, however, gives the public a distorted picture of the public works profession. For this reason NATIONAL PUBLIC WORKS WEEK and the ensuing publicity about outstanding accomplishments of public works officials can be of tremendous value to you in your profession. Here is what you can do to help the American Public Works Association publicize this outstanding event:

1. Search through your files and send to the APWA newspaper clippings, press releases, and other reports which are examples of accomplishments that reflect favorably on the public works profession.

2. Draw from your own experience and jot down public works accomplishments that tell of unique or outstanding service to the community.

3. If you have information on past local celebrations in which you used parades, open-house, films, and other methods of publicity, send it along.

It is necessary that the preparation of press releases and local programs start immediately. Help your Association and your profession by sending in the above material today!

Another very important part of the observance will be the selection of the "Top Ten Public Works Men-of-the-Year." Anyone can nominate one or more candidates for consideration. The persons to be selected are those whose work reflects the highest standards of professional conduct for public works officials; whose achievements are noteworthy in relationship to the manpower and financial resources available; and whose duties include discharging important responsibilities in connection with the design, construction, maintenance and/or operation of a major public works project or activity. The final selection will be made by a committee appointed by President Jean L. Vincenz, APWA.

The American Public Works Association is very proud to put forth this public education program in behalf of its many members and other public works officials who are doing outstanding work with little recognition. The APWA feels that the ability of government to attract and hold good men depends to a great extent upon the people's attitude toward their public servants. It is hoped this nationwide program will help in elevating the status of public works engineers and administrators in the eyes of their respective communities and in stimulating greater civic pride in our system of local self-government.

Kits containing full details and promotional materials are now being prepared and will soon be available from the headquarters office of the American Public Works Association and from Kiwanis International.

It's interesting to note that little has changed regarding the National Public Works Week program in 42 years. Sure, there have been some changes. While the inaugural event in 1960 was held in early October, for years NPWW has been held the third full week in May. And, as we know, what began as "Men of the Year" has been "Leaders of the Year" for some time. But the fundamental objectives of the program—to foster a better understanding of the importance of public works services in the community, to enhance the professional status of public works professionals, and to help attract qualified personnel to the field—have remained essentially the same since its inception.

This year National Public Works Week takes place May 19-25, and the theme is "Committed to Our Communities." This is your chance to tell the story behind your accomplishments and progress to the citizens of your communities-and conduct some celebrating with your staff, as well. If you have no plans as you read this, begin making them now-time is growing short, but it's not too late. For a "How To" guide for planning your National Public Works Week activities, please contact us at (816) 472-6100 or send e-mail to Jon Dilley, Manager of Marketing and Graphic Design, at We also have some terrific information on our website at

APWA instituted National Public Works Week 42 years ago as an annual reminder of the many ways public works contributes to our quality of life. Let's pay tribute to the founders of that original concept by promoting NPWW and honoring the everyday heroes engaged in the important task of providing public works services.