Violet Township Director of Operations Bill Yaple, only four days from retirement, said he had an inkling a surprise party might be in the mix, but he envisioned a small gathering in the Township Administration Office on Rustic Drive.
To say Yaple was surprised a packed house full of friends and family awaited him March 27 at the Pickerington Senior Center is perhaps an understatement.
"I was flat overwhelmed with the turnout," Yaple said.
"I didn't expect that at all," he said. "To see that many people take time out of their day, I consider that a 'Thank You' to me."
The party was a fitting tribute to a man described by those in attendance as a tireless advocate for local government.
"Bill, look at this crowd, this is a real testament to you," said state Senator Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster).
"Bill is one of those people we send to get the straight story," Schaffer said. "He cares about where we live, he cares about neighborhoods."
Yaple became the Violet Township director of operations in 1997. He also has spent the past 16 years as a member of the Fairfield County Regional Planning Commission, including two years as president and 10 years on the executive committee.
Additionally, he's been active in the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and the Ohio Township Association and won MORPC's William H. Anderson Award in 2010 for his leadership and devotion to regional planning.
"That is not easy to come by," said Terry Dunlap Sr., a Violet Township Trustee.
Dunlap recalled when he first met "the guy in the Carhart (jacket), plaid shirt and worn out ball cap" at the Wigwam Restaurant in Canal Winchester and was told by someone "he can help" (the township).
"It turned out to be a good choice," Dunlap said.
Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray, who proclaimed March 27 "Bill Yaple Day," said Yaple "knows so much about our community, you can't replace that institutional memory and all the relationships that have been built over the years."
Violet Township Fire Chief John Eisel teased Yaple about his patented "Yapleisms" in describing "terms that are unique to Bill."
Eisel and Township Engineer Greg Butcher compiled a list of some favorites over the years.
Yaple routinely used words and phrases such as "permanentized, categoryized, 'all the I's and T's are crossed' and my all time favorite -- 'that's going to be a real bugaboo,' " Eisel said.
On a serious note, Eisel thanked Yaple for working "tirelessly as an advocate for the township. He worked to make this a better place."
Butcher said a review of Yaple's long list of accomplishments and projects completed included attendance "at 400 township meetings, 500 Fairfield County Regional Planning Commission meetings and 300 MORPC meetings."
"Bill is a mentor to me," Butcher said.
"One phrase (he used) is 'we'll get there,' and we usually did. He will always have a special place tattooed in my heart.
"Bill, I will say 'you got there,'" Butcher said.
Yaple's replacement, Benjamin King, said "looking around here all I can say is, 'man, these are big shoes to fill.' "
Pickerington Area Chamber of Commerce President Helen Mayle described Yaple as "honest, fair (and) non-judgmental, he's an enormous mentor to me because he keeps me grounded."
Township Trustee Gary Weltlich thanked Yaple "for putting up with (the trustees)." "I've worked with Bill since I became a trustee," Weltlich said.
"I never heard a bad word said about the man," he said.
Trustee Harry Myers Jr. said it was an added bonus to get Yaple to come back for another year in January 2013 and again when he stepped in as deputy fiscal officer in January this year.
Myers said it has been a pleasure to know Yaple and his wife, Jan.
"I wish them good health in their retirement. Congratulations," Myers said.
Yaple, who lived on a farm in his younger years, will now focus on his passion, restoring his three Oliver tractors, the oldest one a 1952 "Super 88."
He will also continue to serve on the FCRPC, the Pickerington Senior Center Board of Directors and the Fairfield Medical Center Board of Directors.
"I'm not going to be a stranger," Yaple said. "That's not my style."