Re­tir­ing county COO ush­ered out with praise, hu­mor

The Phoenix - - NEWS - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han @21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com To con­tact staff writer Michael P. Rel­la­han, call 610-696-1544.

WEST CH­ESTER » It was up to Earl Baker, the one who was “there at the cre­ation,” to put the proper per­spec­tive on Aug. 29’s re­cep­tion hon­or­ing the long­time pres­ence of Mark Rup­sis, Ch­ester County’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

“Mark is the thread of in­sti­tu­tional con­ti­nu­ity,” Baker said as he walked into a crowded com­mis­sion­ers’ board­room on the sixth floor of the county’s Govern­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion Of­fice build­ing, where an es­ti­mated 150 peo­ple gath­ered to wish Rup­sis well in his re­tire­ment, which comes at the end of the week.

“He has helped each suc­ces­sive board of com­mis­sion­ers ac­com­plish their goals,” said Baker, who was in­stru­men­tal in hir­ing Rup­sis in Septem­ber 1977. “He al­ways gave the com­mis­sion­ers all the credit. But to­day is the day for the com­mis­sion­ers to give him credit.”

And so they did. Sit­ting in the au­di­ence and wish­ing Rup­sis well in the days to come were for­mer com­mis­sion­ers Ryan Costello, An­drew Din­ni­man, Colin Hanna, and Karen Mar­tyn­ick. Ear­lier this month, two-time Demo­cratic Com­mis­sioner Pa­trick O’Don­nell stopped by a com­mis­sion­ers meet­ing and paid trib­ute to Rup­sis. Five of the 18 com­mis­sion­ers for whom Rup­sis worked — Pa­tri­cia Bald­win, D.T. Mar­rone, Leo McDer­mott, Robert Stru­ble, and Robert Thomp­son — have died; oth­ers are in re­tire­ment.

“He is the quin­tes­sen­tial public ad­min­is­tra­tor,” said Costello, now a U.S. con­gress­man. “He han­dled the depart­ment heads, dealt with sticky per­son­nel is­sues, and pinch hit for us when we needed it. He was ev­ery­where.” Costello said. Rup­sis largely treated the com­mis­sion­ers he worked for equally, de­spite the dif­fer­ence in po­lit­i­cal par­ties, in or­der to make things run smoothly. “The rea­son why we are a county that is rec­og­nized for ex­cel­lence and ac­count­abil­ity is at­trib­ut­able to Mark.”

Hanna, who served as com­mis­sion­ers from 1995 to 2003, said Rup­sis was able to take pol­icy ideas that the com­mis­sion­ers would bring to him and ex­plain how they could be im­ple­mented. “He un­der­stood the sys­tem, and what it took to make it work. He un­der­stands the struc­ture and work flow of the county’s govern­ment bet­ter than any­body else.”

Cur­rent com­mis­sion­ers’ Chair­woman Michelle Kich­line led off the re­marks by guests in­clud­ing Din­ni­man (now state sen­a­tor), Dis­trict At­tor­ney Tom Ho­gan, and state Rep. Eric Roe, who once worked as an aide in the com­mis­sion­ers of­fice, by re­mark­ing how “bit­ter­sweet” the oc­ca­sion was.

“I am not sur­prised” to see so many peo­ple in the room, Kich­line re­marked, as Rup­sis sat nearby with his wife, El­lie. “Mark has had quite an im­pact on this county. He’s been so in­stru­men­tal in so many things that oc­curred in a pos­i­tive way in Ch­ester County.”

Nor­mally a staid, even hum­drum, meet­ing space, the com­mis­sion­ers board­room was lively for Rup­sis’ event. Bruce Spring­steen songs (Rup­sis’s fa­vorite) were piped in through the au­dio sys­tem. Bunt­ing and dec­o­ra­tions hung from the com­mis­sion­ers’ board ta­ble and the walls of the room. Snacks were avail­able for those who were busy say­ing hello to old friends, such as re­tired Com­mon Pleas Judge Howard F. Ri­ley Jr., or politi­cians with deep roots in county busi­ness, like for­mer GOP Com­mit­tee Chair­man Joseph “Skip” Brion. County elected of­fi­cials and depart­ment heads rubbed shoul­ders with re­tired county em­ploy­ees and a few “just folks.”

There were photos dis­played of Rup­sis over the years with var­i­ous col­leagues, in­clud­ing the two who worked side by side with him from the be­gin­ning un­til their de­par­ture, for­mer Di­rec­tor of Govern­ment Ser­vices Wayne Rother­mel, and for­mer Di­rec­tor of Pol­icy and Plan­ning Molly Mor­ri­son, who sat smil­ing in the au­di­ence.

The two who will take Rup­sis’ spot at the top county’s or­ga­ni­za­tional pyra­mid were also in at­ten­dance. Ear­lier this month, the com­mis­sion­ers unan­i­mously pro­moted county Depart­ment of Emer­gency Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Robert “Bobby” Kagel to the po­si­tion of county ad­min­is­tra­tor, and the county’s di­rec­tor of fi­nan­cial ser­vices, Julie Bookheimer, to the post of chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer.

Din­ni­man, Ho­gan, and Roe each pre­sented Rup­sis with honors from their re­spec­tive bod­ies and of­fices, while the com­mis­sion­ers is­sued their own procla­ma­tion to Rup­sis, who for many years had doled out the procla­ma­tions that each would read to de­serv­ing in­di­vid­u­als and in­sti­tu­tions. Those are mostly se­ri­ous in na­ture; Rup­sis’ was any­thing but.

“Mark will for­ever be re­spected for his love of Bruce Spring­steen, his air gui­tar and soft­ball skills, and his eter­nal ‘out­stand­ing and im­prov­ing’ op­ti­mism,” the procla­ma­tion, which des­ig­nated Aug. 31 as “Mark J. Rup­sis Day” read. “Be­grudg­ingly, the com­mis­sion­ers ac­qui­esce to Mark’s re­quest to re­tire from his many years of ser­vice, al­though in­form him that his phone num­ber will be kept on speed dial in­def­i­nitely.”

PHOTOS BY MICHAEL P. REL­LA­HAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

The line of those wait­ing to say good­bye and good luck to Mark Rup­sis, out­go­ing Ch­ester County chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, in fore­ground.

Mark Rup­sis, cen­ter, the Ch­ester County chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, greet­ing well wish­ers at his re­tire­ment re­cep­tion.

A cake mark­ing the re­tire­ment of Mark Rup­sis.

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