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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

CHAVENELLE, Gilbert D. (Detroit, MI, Sept. 28, 1911--Dubuque, IA, Feb. 26, 1988). Chavenelle graduated with a liberal arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1933 and then attended law school for a year before beginning a career as a salesman. He served as a Marine Corps officer during WORLD WAR II and was appointed defense counsel for Japanese during the war crimes trials in Tokyo in 1946. (1)

Chavenelle entered college again in 1947 as a freshman in engineering at the University of Michigan where a professor encouraged him to study public administration. He worked for the Michigan Municipal Association for several years before taking a position as city manager in California and then Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1955. (2) He served as the city manager of Dubuque for nineteen years from June 14, 1960, until his retirement effective June 30, 1979.

In 1962 Chavenelle prepared a fifty-page booklet outlining major municipal problems. Among the issues was the status of the police station which he believed should be separate from the city-county building and contain court facilities. He believed a new city garage with space for all public works services except the Water Department was needed. Chavenelle also supported a city dump as an alternative to CITY ISLAND. The area should be large enough to provide service for fifteen years with substitute dump locations in the northwest, southeast and western sections of the city. As an alternative to a museum, Chavenelle supported a civic center containing a museum, art enter, women's club area, and small auditorium. Instead of remodeling the Ninth Street fire station which he believed was too small, a new site should be considered. (3)

Chavenelle's tenure as city manager saw the development of countless municipal services including the development of a twenty-year plan for solid waste and sewage disposal; construction of one of the first secondary sewage treatment plants on the upper MISSISSIPPI RIVER; twenty-year plans for water service extensions and improvements; a twenty-year transportation plan; and revision of the 1934 zoning codes. (4)

His years of service will also be remembered for the construction of a new municipal public works garage, central fire headquarters and westside fire house; establishment of a Human Rights Commission; founding of a Low Rent Housing Commission; revision of the municipal budget system from departmental or program budgets; updated municipal codes; construction of the first two city parking ramps, and start of construction on a FLOODWALL. Chavenelle's financial stewardship led to the maintenance of balanced budgets in the city while maintaining the highest rating for bonds issued by the city. (5)

After retiring as city manager in 1979, Chavenelle worked part time at the East Central Intergovernmental Association. In 1981 the city named Chavenelle Road in the Dubuque Industrial Center in his honor. (6)

Chavenelle stayed away from the DUBUQUE CITY HALL after his retirement, but kept a keen eye on civic issues. In 1984 he opposed the city's plan to finance the DUBUQUE GREYHOUND PARK AND CASINO calling it a threat to the city's taxing power.

Among many awards received by Chavenelle, he was presented the 1971 FIRST CITIZEN AWARD by the TELEGRAPH HERALD.

He was succeeded as city manager by Kenneth GEARHART.


1. Shively, Neil. "Meet the Chavenelles," Telegraph Herald, July 17, 1960, Dubuque News, p. 1

2. Ibid.

3. Shively Neil, "Mayor Outlines Problems," Telegraph Herald, March 18, 1962, p. 1

4. "175 Years" Vol. II Telegraph Herald, p. 109

5. Ibid.

6. Kirchen, Rich, Former City Manager Dies of An Apparent Heart Attack," Telegraph Herald, February 26, 1988, p. 1