‘Hands-on guy’ prepares to take handoff from veteran

Dan Himmelberg and Leon Roberts check out the outside structure of St. Joseph Church in Topeka. Roberts will be handing over some large projects to Himmelberg when he retires at the end of this year. 

by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The bar has been set high, and Dan Himmelberg knows it.

“The first words that come out of everyone’s mouth when I say, ‘I’m the new Leon,’ is, ‘You have really big shoes to fill,’” said Himmelberg. 

“I’ve probably heard that no less than 100 times since [I arrived] July 22, and I agree,” he added.

The “Leon” is Leon Roberts, archdiocesan consultant for real estate and construction for the past 20 years. But he will retire on Dec. 31. That’s why since July, he has been working to ensure a smooth transition for Himmelberg — his successor — and for the archdiocese.

Roberts has left a huge legacy — not only as founder of his office, but also his involvement with every major and minor property and construction action of the archdiocese since 2000.

He knows he’s leaving the job in good hands — and feet.

“I was asked who I might know who might be interested,” said Roberts, “and I gave (chancellor) Father John Riley three resumes of people who might be interested and had the skill sets needed to take over the position without having a huge learning curve.”

One of the three, the one who was hired, was Himmelberg.

Himmelberg and his wife Cindy are both graduates of Kansas State University and members of Holy Cross Parish in Overland Park. He earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1985, and she is a graphic designer. They have two adult children.

Himmelberg has 35 years of experience in architecture and construction, and is a licensed architect in Kansas and Missouri. After graduating from KSU, he worked for FCO Architects of Kansas City, Missouri.

“I was the designer who worked on a lot of Kroh Brothers stuff and AMC Theatres,” said Himmelberg. “My big project I worked on as a designer was the AMC Theatre at Disney World. It was the first privately owned building ever built on Disney property. I left there in 1989, to work at Gould Evans Architects. I was there for 12 years and left as a vice president.”

While at Gould Evans, he developed the firm’s “charrette” process. This is sort of a brainstorming session, an intense period of design or planning activity to generate solutions and integrate interests of a diverse group of people. 

 When he began his own firm Xpress Ideas in 2000, he specialized in leading charrette processes for a variety of clients, as well as doing other kinds of architectural work.

One notable project he has already worked on for the archdiocese was the renovation of a former Lutheran church in Johnson County into a chapel for the St. Rose Philippine Duchesne Latin Mass Community. He has also worked on the project to replace windows at Holy Cross School, and the new adoration chapel at the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park.

So far, Himmelberg has enjoyed the transition. A big part of the job is managing relationships with all sorts of people — from the fix-it guy with his pickup truck to construction giants like JE Dunn. 

Therefore, he and Roberts have been having lots and lots of meetings and visits with a lot of people, transferring relationships. Roberts is also handing over some big projects: the new St. John Paul II School in Olathe, and the Curé of Ars School addition in Leawood.

It’s a really hands-on kind of job, which suits Himmelberg, who considers himself a “hands-on” kind of guy — always willing to get his hands dirty and unwilling to administer exclusively from behind a desk. 

The church has the greatest mission of all time, he believes, and his job is to help parishes and other archdiocesan entities see how their projects must be guided by a sense of mission.

“The first question to be asked when a parish wants to do something is: ‘How does it fit in your mission?’” said Himmelberg. “You’d think it would be: ‘What is it?’ or ‘How much money do you have?’” 

But it’s mission that drives the process — and that comes from the top. 

“To get approval from the archbishop,” said Himmelberg, “the first thing they have to answer is: ‘How does it fit in your mission?’ 

“If they can’t answer that question, it isn’t going to happen.”

Leave a Reply