Retiring county COO ushered out with praise, humor
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.”
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.