City officials have called today a sad day. But for Ralph Seward, today is quite a happy birthday.
Today is Seward's first day of retirement and his 65th birthday, having served the city since February 1976.
He has been a staple of consistency amidst a flurry of changes in the last 30 years.
Starting as the city's construction inspector he outlasted: eight city engineers from 1976 to 1988 (when the city eliminated the position until 2007); seven mayors (six, if you only count Louis Frey once); and 10 safety-service directors.
Seward took on his current role as public works coordinator in 1984 and additional duties after the elimination of the city engineer position in 1988.
"It's been a good ride," he said Friday, his last day in the office.
Seward's duties are not always the most glorious roads and sewer construction but they affect many people in the city.
Work on water line replacements help provide residents with better fire and water service. Seward said he is most satisfied with the work the city has done to get many sewers separated, specifically the Milan-Chatman sewer because Cline Street residents' basements used to flood every time it rained.
"It was a great good for a great many people," he said.
People are what Seward will miss the most not just other city employees, but contractors as well.
"If you talk to contractors what they'll say is, 'I don't always agree with Ralph, but he's fair.' That's the key to working with people," he said.
Marvin Ott, field operations coordinator at Janotta & Herner, said he has never had a problem with Seward and he has indeed, always been fair.
"He's always been very helpful," Ott said. "He's always gone along and helped us and tried to make things happen."
Seward's replacement, city engineer James Sawyer, said he was sad Seward was leaving and had come to regard him as a "dear friend."
"I want to aspire to be as good as he's been for the city," Sawyer said. "Ralph's known throughout the community and outside everybody thinks very highly of him."
Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch, like Sawyer, said she considered today a sad day and counted Seward as a friend.
"It scares me to have him out of here," she said. "He's come up with some creative solutions to difficult problems. But I'm happy for him. He deserves to retire."
Seward said he decided to move on when he turned 65 after he retired for the first time five years ago, staying on in the same position but as a "new" city employee.
"I want to do something else," he said. "But what that is I don't know."
One thing he will continue to do is play Santa. Seward, who grows a real, Santa-like beard every year, said today starts the beginning of his retirement and the end of his shaving at least until Dec. 26. "It gets full by Christmas time, but by then I'm so tired of it, I'm ready to get rid of it. But, it's all about the children," he said, adding while the beard will come back, the 38 pounds he dropped in the last two years will not.
Seward began playing Santa in 1997 for 600 children while on a medical mission with his wife, Penny, to the Philippines.
Penny, herself retired from Fisher-Titus Medical Center, owns a small business called Piano 42. The reason for the name: Both she and her husband were only children born in 1942, and he recently bought her a baby grand piano made in 1942.
Norwalk Finance Director Diane Eschen has helped Seward make plenty of purchases for the city. And while Seward has taken some good natured ribbing because of the expense of some of his projects, officials were quick to point out that they have all saved the city money in the long run.
"I just can't say enough about the wonderful job Ralph has done," Eschen said. "His knowledge and experience will be greatly missed."