When Ward I voters placed Steve Carmichael on the Bellevue City Council Oct. 15, they chose one of their own.
Carmichael, son of a retired Air Force major, grew up in what is now Olde Towne but was then simply Bellevue. He has lived in Bellevue 47 of his 56 years, attended Mission Junior High School, the old Bellevue High School, shopped at the long defunct Kousgaard’s Super Market and watched movies at the Roxy Theater that today houses the Bellevue Little Theater.
There was, he recalls, very little west of Galvin Road, nothing west of Fort Crook Road, and Bryan and Gross high schools were specks far off beyond the distant countryside. His childhood haunt consisted of a few blocks north of Mission Avenue.
“When I go down the street, I see people I grew up with. I see their kids, I see their grandkids, I have grandchildren of my own, and they live in Bellevue,” he said. “I wasn’t born here, but it’s a part of me. It is me, and I don’t ever intend to leave.”
While Carmichael has spent most of his adult life in government, having served as chief building official for the cities of Ralston, Bellevue and Council Bluffs, it didn’t start out that way.
He tried college but decided it wasn’t for him, joined the Army National Guard, and started framing houses in Gretna during the great construction crash of 1977-78 when, he said, “you couldn’t get a job building a deck, it was that bad.”
From there, it was three years in a beef packing plant in Council Bluffs, boning cows and lugging beef, where he reached the rank of foreman.
Another three years followed boning pigs at a South Omaha packing house called Omaha Porkers.
Severe carpal tunnel syndrome put an end to life in a packing house, and pretty much any other form of manual labor, and pushed Carmichael back to the University of Nebraska at Omaha where he studied construction engineering technology.
From there it was a fairly straight path to being hired in 1984 as a part-time engineering technician with the City of Bellevue, a code enforcement officer, and, in 1989, plumbing inspector.
Those years involved long hours of intense late-night study on Carmichael’s part as he amassed the licenses, credentials and certifications that enabled him, in 1994, to be named Bellevue’s chief building official with responsibility for overseeing and inspecting all building projects in the city.
He served in that post until 2010 when he took the same position in Council Bluffs, a position he still holds.
The night of Oct. 15 — when the people among whom he was reared entrusted him with their civic affairs — was an emotional one, Carmichael said, and it brought tears to his eyes.
These are people he knows, he said, and who know him.
“There are not many people in this town I have not had contact with,” he said. “If you’ve lived here any amount of time, I have either met you personally or in a professional role.”
That is equally true, he said, of west Bellevue, the area, that during his youth, consisted of farms and cornfields but now contains housing subdivisions, retail centers and four-lane divided highways.
As Bellevue moved west, its two-mile extra-territorial jurisdiction advancing ever before it, Carmichael’s official role enabled him to know the people, the issues and the nooks and crannies of new Bellevue, experience he believes will enable him to vote knowledgeably on issues throughout the city.
But his focus, he said, will inevitably be on Olde Towne, that “land of lost content,” as the poet A.E. Housman once wrote, on “the happy highways that I went.”
Can Olde Towne recreate its former idyll?
Carmichael doubts it.
“I would like to make Bellevue what it was once,” he said. “I don’t think I can do that, though.
“I don’t think we have the ability as a community to bring Mayberry RFD back to downtown. That’s what I grew up with. I would love to see that happen, but I don’t think it’s realistic.
“But I won’t fault myself for trying.”