Entrepreneurship People

Eau Claire Hadn’t Given Out a 'Key to the City' for Decades ... Until Tuesday

Tom Giffey |

January 15, on stage in the RCU Theater at the Pablo Center on the Confluence: Jamf Software CEO Dean Hager (left), Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters (center, holding key to city), and Jamf's Jason Wudi (right).
January 15, on stage in the RCU Theater at the Pablo Center on the Confluence: Jamf Software CEO Dean Hager (left) and Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters.

In Medieval times, receiving a key to city was a great honor, signifying that the recipient could come and go from a walled fortress at will. Eau Claire has no walls – only a couple of rivers and a now-famous confluence – and it hasn’t given out ceremonial keys in decades. That changed Tuesday when City Manager Dale Peters handed an oversized wooden key to Dean Hager, CEO of Jamf Software, the Eau Claire-born firm that is holding its annual SubZero employee conference in town the week.

SubZero has drawn about 800 Jamf employees from 15 countries for a mid-winter confab at the Pablo Center at the Confluence (the arts center built, in part, through the generosity of Jamf’s co-founder, Zach Halmstad, and his business partners, Jason Wudi and Julia Johnson, also early Jamf-ers). The annual gathering has traditionally been held in Minneapolis, site of Jamf’s headquarters and largest office, but the company decided to return to its roots this year, in part because the Pablo Center provides a spacious enough home for the all-employee gathering.

Peters gave key to Hager, the CEO, in a Tuesday morning ceremony in the RCU Theatre. In an interview, Peters said he didn’t recall such a key being given out before during his 30 years with the city. The sign of civic respect was the brainchild of City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle and Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism promotion agency.

“The presenting of the key is a traditional ceremony in many international communities,” Peters said, “and we thought it was appropriate to develop a key that could be used for this very large, very unique, very international event.”

Jamf was honored in a uniquely Eau Claire fashion: Peters said the key was made from reclaimed ash wood from city trees. “The community is very proud of Jamf, and the community is very proud to be part of Jamf’s history,” Peters added.

Can we expect the city to begin giving out more keys? Perhaps, Peters said, although before that happens we can expect the city to develop procedures and guidelines on the who, when, where, and how of such civic honors.