FREDERICKTOWN – Every small town has someone who keeps it running – who does the dirty, often thankless work that allows residents to go about their lives unbothered.
In Fredericktown, for the last 21 years, that person was Irl Ruhl.
Ruhl was honored for his service to the community on Monday night when Mayor Jerry Day presented him with the 'Key to the Village.' Ruhl, 66, retired on Aug. 31 after 21 years with the village – serving as a maintenance worker for six years, then street foreman for the last 15.
If something needed fixed – or built – in Fredericktown, Ruhl was typically the first person called.
“He knew everybody. He literally knew everybody in the town," Village Administrator Bruce Snell said. "He helped everybody out, usually when they were in a really stressful jam, like with a sewer backup or a water break or something like that. When you’re really just absolutely stressed out and ready to come unglued, Irl was the one you’d usually get ahold of."
Snell said Ruhl developed lasting relationships with many village residents, having helped them during stressful times.
"He doesn’t have an enemy in town. He’s really well-liked by everybody that knows him," Snell said. “He lives above reproach, he really does.”
Ruhl was Fredericktown's street foreman, but was also its do-it-all man. He repaired broken water lines and clogged sewer pipes, and he also read and replaced water meters. He plowed snow, picked up leaves and mended sidewalks. This time of the year, he was typically busy hanging Christmas lights around the village's downtown.
“I was the street foreman. But honestly, in a small town like this, you do everything ..." Ruhl said with a laugh. "It’s just running the town. Whatever needed to be done, that’s what we'd do.”
Ruhl typically worked alongside three or four other village employees in his department. He led several major village projects, including the construction of the downtown gazebo (at South Main Street and West Sandusky Street) and the Fredericktown Community Library. He and other volunteers laid the foundation for both structures.
"I was in charge of getting guys to lay the foundation together," Ruhl recalled proudly. "It took a lot of work, but we had a lot of fun ... Just having a good time and getting some work done for the community. That’s what it’s all about.”
Ruhl's job was demanding, and he was always on-call for emergencies. But looking back on it Monday, he said the feeling he got from helping others made it all worth it. Ruhl grew up in Fredericktown, and he took pride in the fact that his work helped better the community.
"Everybody knows everybody," he said. "And if somebody needs something, people fall in line and they help people out. That’s what a small county, a small village is all about: helping one another out.”
Snell said Ruhl's absence has been felt in the village since his retirement. His institutional knowledge – after decades of service – is irreplaceable.
"We have really noticed Irl’s absence. We noticed it with plowing, we noticed it with leaves. We notice Irl’s gone about every day," Snell said. "There’s just a lot of stuff only Irl knew."
On Sunday, Snell said he received a call from a resident about a busted water line. He and other village staffers were trying to locate the residence's water shut-off, but they struggled to do so. The yard began to flood.
"Times like that are when we really just think, ‘Gosh, wish Irl wouldn’t have gone and retired after 21 years,'" Snell said with a laugh. "Irl would have known automatically where the shut-off was."
The village's current crew had to learn anew.
"But it was high time Irl retired. It was good for him," Snell added. "It was time, but we sure miss him.”
Ruhl did his best to mentor the village's younger staffers, Snell said, particularly during his final months on the job. Ruhl said he felt confident about the direction the village is heading.
"You guys have got a great bunch of guys working for the town, and I’ve taught them as much as I can," he told Village Council Monday. "They’re gonna learn. There’s gonna be things that they’re gonna have to learn. But the town’s in good shape.”
According to Day, who has worked for Fredericktown in various capacities since 1977, Ruhl is just the second individual to receive the 'Key to the Village.' The first was Mary Lou Hannan, who received the honor upon her retirement in 2019, following a 28-year career as the village's deputy clerk and fiscal officer.
In other business, council:
- Passed a resolution establishing the time and place of next year's meetings (the next council meeting will take place Jan. 4 at the Municipal Building).
- Passed an ordinance amending the 2020 certificate of estimated resources for the village. This will allow for the redistribution of $51,173.34 in CARES Act money, which will be used for Fredericktown Police Department wages and benefits, according to Snell.
- Passed an ordinance amending appropriations for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2020. This will allow the village to spend its total amount of COVID-19 relief funding ($189,041.65), with the addition of the $51,173.34 mentioned above.
- Passed a resolution to withdraw from the 2004 Emergency Management Agency Organization Agreement. Gambier and Centerburg recently took similar action. This will save the village roughly $500 per year, Day said, and it will allow the Knox County Emergency Management Agency to disband and reorganize under the oversight of the Knox County Commissioners. It will not impact services for village residents, Day said. Read more about this decision here.
- Passed a resolution to provide temporary appropriations of funds to meet village expenses in 2021.
- Gave first reading to a resolution establishing membership in the Knox County Regional Planning Commission.
- Renewed its annual agreement with the Mount Vernon Law Director's Office to provide legal services in 2021.
- Issued a proclamation designating Friday, Dec. 11 as "Food For The Hungry Day" in Fredericktown. Food For The Hungry will be holding its annual countywide drive that day.