38 years and one month: County employee has seen many changes over the years

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — When Shenandoah County’s sanitation efforts faced financial trouble, Sandra Rinker wrote the nation’s president for help.

That happened more than 30 years ago and the letter made its way to the desk of President Ronald Reagan.

Rinker still keeps a copy of the letter as a reminder of the help the county received from the federal government. The Board of Supervisors also would become more involved with the sanitary district as a result of the government’s response, Rinker recalled.

Rinker, now 60, is retiring this week after working 38 years and one month for Shenandoah County. Rinker received recognition earlier this month from the Board of Supervisors as the county government employee with the most work experience. As accounts technician, Rinker handles the accounts of approximately 500 customers.

“I enjoy coming to work every morning,” Rinker said in her office Tuesday. “I was shooting for 40 years. I think I got a little burnt out.”

Rinker said she wants to travel and she’s already taken some cruises and other trips through the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation. She also has two trips planned for next month and said she looks forward to taking up offers from fellow church members to travel. Rinker said she also wants to spend more time with her grandchildren.

Rinker was raised in the Mount Jackson community of Mount Clifton, and now lives in Toms Brook. Her son and his family live a few houses south of Rinker and her daughter lives with her family in Maurertown. Rinker’s husband Steven died in 2004.

“I know over the years I’ve seen an awful lot of changes, most of them for the good,” Rinker said.

Manual typewriters and carbon paper made way for computers, software and the Internet, all of which have helped Rinker and other workers in the department provide services for customers.

When Rinker began her career in the late 1970s, the county and Toms Brook established a sanitation authority to handle the water and sewer needs of area residents. She worked in the administration office while her husband worked at the treatment plant. Rinker began working part time for the authority doing work that involved putting addresses on postcards sent to customers. She estimated the authority had less than 100 customers at that time.

Soon Rinker moved to full time.

The Toms Brook-Maurertown Service Authority had a board of directors that, as Rinker recalled, faced a number of difficulties in the early years, including the threat of bankruptcy.

“I know we went for like six weeks one time without a paycheck even,” Rinker recalled. “We knew the money was coming eventually.”

As Rinker explained in her letter to President Reagan, the county created the Service Authority in the early 1970s and a $100,000 grant from the federal Farmer’s Home Administration helped the county construct a water supply and distribution system in 1972. The federal agency also provided loans totalling $360,000.

But, as the letter indicates, the Service Authority fell behind in its payments by about $100,000 and the local agency had not met requirements under the bond. The authority raised monthly water rates in order to catch up – from $5.50 to $10.25 per 1,000 gallons.

“I just kinda sent a letter to [President] Reagan in saying, you know, who’s responsible here? The local community, the people for wanting basically a sewer system …,” Rinker recalled. “Then I asked was it some of the government agencies by not checking on all the statistics. In other words the project was blown way out of proportions, guessing on more users than what you were actually going to have.”

Rinker interpreted the situation as one created by a combination of entities and agencies. Rinker’s letter prompted the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency to look further into the problem.

“As a result of that letter, it ended up with me having an FBI record, number one,” Rinker recalled. “Then there was a study that was actually done by EPA and they not only picked our community but they picked six other communities, too, in the area.”

The result of the letter also involved the Board of Supervisors as well as Director of Public Utilities Rodney W. McClain.

“Trust me, Rodney was the best thing that ever came to us in Toms Brook and Maurertown,” Rinker said.

Eventually the Board of Supervisors established sanitary districts, a move that has helped the county department meet its debt obligations.

“I was proud of it,” Rinker said. “I was just frustrated because you didn’t know day to day if you were gone, whether you had a job or not.”

Now, years later, Rinker sees the county agency as always busy and changing.

“There’s always something to do in the water and sewer industry,” Rinker said.

But as for the county’s next step, Rinker deferred to McClain.

McClain said he’s relied on Rinker over the years, especially for her institutional knowledge of the department. McClain lauded Rinker and said she deserved the recognition given by the county supervisors.

No plans are in place to find a replacement for Rinker. The sanitation department is undergoing an organizational analysis and the consulting firm has collected information and interviewed staff. The results have not yet been released.

As Rinker explained, different people in the same office handle matters with the Toms Brook-Maurertown and the Stoney Creek sanitary districts. Linda J. Suter works as the accounts technician for the Stoney Creek Sanitary District. Suter will handle Rinker’s responsibilities until the analysis is complete.

Rinker said she’ll “miss the routine of coming to work” and her co-workers once she retires.

“You are a family because you’re together eight hours a day,” Rinker said.

Rinker pointed out that throughout her life she lived and worked near a church. However, she doesn’t have that working at the county government center north of the department’s previous office in downtown Woodstock.

“I just found that interesting over the years how once the offices moved here there’s no longer a church to say ‘good morning Lord, be with me today, at home, at my work and at play,'” Rinker said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com