John Elmlinger has been in public service since 1973 when he became a Sherman Township trustee. Except for a short time he spent working at Pioneer Rubber Co. in Attica, Elmlinger has spent his entire career in public service, elected Huron County recorder in 1976 and Huron County auditor in 1986.
He has always run with a "D," as in Democrat, attached to his name. But if you didn't know what political party he belonged to, you would not have been able to tell by the assorted crowd who gathered to wish him good luck Thursday named by the county commissioners "John Elmlinger Day."
"The thing that I'm going to miss the most is the people I met along the way," said the auditor, who is retiring Wednesday.
Elmlinger said he has made friends with both Republicans and Democrats because, at the end of the day, party politics is put aside in order to serve the people.
"You have to use politics to get elected, but once you're elected you become a servant of the entire county and you all work together for the public good," he said, fighting back tears. "It's been fun working with the different county officials. People don't realize what a good group we have."
Elmlinger said he first realized what a "big family" county government was during a winter storm after he had just been elected county recorder. Elmlinger feared he would be stuck in the office because he could not drive home. However, a highway worker asked him: "You think we'd let you get stuck? We'll get you home."
"After that, I stopped worrying about the weather," Elmlinger said.
It was evident that, as much as Elmlinger loved and cared about the people with whom he worked, they felt the same way about him.
"It's a day of mixed emotions," said commissioner Mike Adelman, also fighting back tears. "I'm happy for John, but it's like losing a brother in county government."
Adelman said he often turned to Elmlinger for advice, especially when he first started in county government.
"What have I done?" he recalled asking Elmlinger. "I'm in over my head." But, Elmlinger calmed Adelman down and helped show him the ropes.
Republican commissioner Gary Bauer said the 51-year-old would be missed.
"You've done a tremendous job for Huron County," he said.
Elmlinger also has a great connection with his staff.
"He's just been the best boss you could ever ask for," said deputy auditor Dennis Steiber. "He's just a good person good at heart, compassionate, kind. That's not superlative, that's just how he lives his life."
Former Erie County Auditor Jude Hammond, now the Margaretta School treasurer, said Elmlinger was a mentor and a resource for him. However, Elmlinger, wearing a broad smile, said he had never quite forgiven Erie County from seceding from Huron County.
The thing Elmlinger is most proud of during his 20 years as auditor is the advancing technology he has helped usher in.
"When I first got started, everything was in big, bound books and we used fountain pens," he said.
Specifically, Elmlinger said using computers to do reappraisals has cut down on the man power needed and eliminated many potential mistakes, leading to better, more accurate and more efficient appraisals.
However, that does not mean Elmlinger relies solely on the computers.
"I'm a big believer that you need to know how to do stuff," he said, because computers can make mistakes, though often because information was incorrectly entered. "If you know how to do it manually, you'll know if its right or wrong."
Elmlinger said part of being in public office is knowing when to step aside, adding he could have been "carried out of this office," but that wasn't fair. He expressed great confidence in Roland Tkach, who will move from county treasurer to auditor on March 1.
Even though he's riding off into the proverbial sunset, Huron County residents can still expect to see a lot of Elmlinger. He is president of the United Fund, treasurer of the historical society and added he might find some part time work just to "stay in contact with people."
Of course, this will all take place after Elmlinger catches up on 33 years worth of housework.
"My wife, Donna, has a big list of things for me to do around the house," he said.