65 years and counting….
It’s simple: 82-year-old City Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart likes the work
SALEM — A good wife and a desire to work – that’s the secret to longevity according to city Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart.
And yes, he drinks the water he’s been responsible for overseeing almost his entire 65 years with the department.
“I just like the work,” he said recently while reflecting on his milestone work anniversary.
The 82-year-old graduate of Goshen Union High School, the precursor to West Branch, had just returned home from his senior trip to Washington, D.C. in 1952. Harry Truman was president of the United States, Queen Elizabeth II was in her first year as ruler of the British Empire and the Cleveland Browns had lost the NFL Championship to the Detroit Lions.
Weingart saw a friend of his, Howard Covert, who worked for the water department, and told him he was looking for work. The rest, as they say, is history. His first day on the job was June 2, 1952 as a laborer.
By August, he was given the task of inspecting and gathering samples from the 15 wells scattered throughout the city which pumped water directly into the system for people to drink.
The Salem water treatment plant and manmade Salem Reservoir, both off of Gamble Road, had been under construction and started operations on Dec. 1. Weingart was asked to work at the new plant as an operator, right from the get-go, and started studying to earn his Class I Operator classification, then eventually Class II. He worked under chief operator Bob Stanley.
About a year after high school, on June 12, 1953, he married his high school sweetheart, June, and they bought their first home in Salem in November 1953. By 1959, Weingart had passed his certification as a Class III operator and was part of a three-man team operating the water plant.
He became chief operator in 1963 after Stanley’s retirement. He and June had started their family and decided to build a bigger home in 1964, still in the city. They had a son and daughter and since then the family has grown to include four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Weingart remained at the water plant until Feb. 1, 1985, the day he became the utilities superintendent. His successor at the water plant, Larry Sebrell, remains in place, but now the position is referred to as the plant manager. He has the second longest tenure in the department, 44 years.
“It’s been an interesting trip through time with different equipment produced and different technology,” Weingart said.
He’s had to keep up with continuing education, 12 hours each year for the water side and 12 hrs for the wastewater side, for a total of 24 hours each year. On his bookshelf, there’s an old book called “Water Supply & Treatment” which he said was the Bible for water treatment. The original author was Charles Hoover, with Merrill Riehl as the second editor. W.D. Sheets, another pioneer in water treatment, was very active in the health department, which oversaw water and sewer before the Environmental Protection Agency.
“They really inspired me,” he said about all three men.
Unlike the water treatment plant, the wastewater treatment or sewer treatment plant dates back to the turn of the century and had its first major upgrade in 1928. The first major improvement after that came in 1972 and the city has been working on more improvements in the past few years with more work planned in the near future, almost all required to keep up with regulations and EPA rules.
Even though the water side has been his area of expertise, Weingart has also earned state certifications for wastewater treatment and attended short schools by the state. Over the years, he’s done technical supervision for other entities, too.
Since he’s been superintendent, the city has gained two additional water tanks, the tower on Stewart Road and the second tower on Roosevelt; a water line which skirts the west side of Perry Township to bring more water to the north side of the city; the Spring Valley Reservoir; a larger main going to the wastewater plant; a major overhaul of the wastewater treatment plant; the new billing office behind city hall; the new headquarters for utilities maintenance; upgraded equipment; water lines to serve Washingtonville and Leetonia; and, a water supply contract to provide water to some Columbiana County entities along state Route 172 and County Home Road. There have been numerous water and sewer line extensions.
“There’s been a steady period of construction since I’ve been here,” he said.
He called the many construction improvements his legacy, but hasn’t mentioned retirement. He’s still working on improvements to the system and said “source water will be one of our biggest challenges in the future.”
“Nothing works better for a community than a good water supply and good wastewater treatment. Both of them are very important,” Weingart said.
He said there’s a better quality of water going to the customer now but “it has not been without cost and we still have a lot of work to do.”
In talking about his wife, he said a lot of emergencies come up, not always on a day when it’s convenient. The household has to put up with a lot. He recalled one time when he was chief operator at the water plant, his wife had to physically track him down at someone’s house to let him know there was a problem at the plant. In their younger days, he said they traveled to other countries, such as Israel, Jordan, England, Egypt and Canada. His bucket list now consists of doing some repairs around the house.
For a youngster starting out, he gave this advice: get educated, take chemistry and engineering courses, desire the work. He said he has a good assistant superintendent, Matt Hoopes, and there have been some good commissioners over the years on the Utilities Commission.
Some serious situations have occurred, like the time no water came out of the water plant for 24 hours when the main lost pressure and they had trouble getting the valves open.
There’s been some funny times, too, though, like the time he had to swim to the reservoir shore when his boat capsized while trying to fight algae. The chemical being used got dumped, too, leaving a spot of blue in the water.