Gene Ashton had mixed emotions about retiring this week as Mt. Morris Water & Sewer Superintendent after almost 30 years working fulltime in that department.
Ashton, 67, who stepped down Dec. 31, said it’s a job he has really loved. He’s worked for five village presidents and four village trustees.
“They’ve treated me well and I hate to give it up,” he said. “It’s a good job and I’ve enjoyed it.”
Most of all, he said, he enjoyed the residents he served.
“I used to know everyone in town,” he said.
Ashton moved to Mt. Morris when he was in high school.
“I enjoyed the town and always wanted to work for them,” he said.
His career began in the village Street Department in May of 1979 working part-time with then Street Superintendent Art Carr.
Ten years later, on June 17, 1989, village officials asked him to go to full-time with the Water & Sewer Department.
“I thought I’d try it,” Ashton said. “I didn’t know anything about it but I went to school to learn it.”
After six months of classes, he had earned his Class C water license, and after a year he has his Class 4 sewer license.
His schooling continued until he also earned his Class 3 and then Class 4 sewer licenses.
“It’s hard to go back to school when you’re in your 30s,” Ashton recalled with a laugh.
He was put in charge of the department after six years on the job.
Ashton’s job entails checking the village’s four wells daily, testing the water, and keeping records on how much each well pumps each day.
He keeps records required by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and does the monthly and quarterly sampling the agency mandates as well.
The samples must be taken in several different places throughout the village each time they are required.
On the sewer end, the IEPA requires sampling twice a week. The four village lift stations are also checked daily.
Besides that, Ashton and his crew of two fix water and sewer main breaks — sometimes in the middle of the night or the dead of winter, clean sewer mains annually, and do needed maintenance on both the water and sewer systems.
Over the years Ashton has trained six new employees who then moved on to other jobs in the field.
The biggest change he has seen over the last three decades is that IEPA requirements have become stricter and more numerous.
The new sewer plant, completed in 2013, brought advances in technology.
“It’s mostly computer run,” he said. “The water end of it hasn’t changed much.”
Even though officially retired, Ashton will continue to work for the village for a while, helping out when his expertise is needed and doing the IEPA paperwork because he has the necessary licenses.
Water & Sewer Department employees Chad Stauffer and C.J. Ostrander are taking the needed classes to become licensed.
Ashton has no other definite plans for retirement but is considering getting a part-time job - “something where I can help someone,” he said.
He and his wife Deb have two grown daughters and four grandchildren.