BELDING — Ernie Thomas has always been one to enjoy the outdoors, whether it’s patching a pothole on a hot summer evening or driving a snowplow in the early hours of a winter morning, his personal engine is always running with a goal to finish the job.
A lifelong Belding resident, he’s worked for the Belding Department of Public Works (DPW) for 39 years, having started in August of 1974, and has served as the department director since April of 1996.
And this past month, his efforts were recognized across the state as he was awarded the “Man of the Year” award by the Michigan Rural Water Association (MRWA) during the Management and Technical Conference Banquet on March 20.
With 365 community partners involved with the MRWA from throughout the state, Thomas was selected amongst his peers in the industry for “demonstrating leadership dealing with community concerns, primacy agencies, fellow workers and the public,” according to MRWA Board of Directors Vice President Bob Masters.
Thomas was selected by the board of directors for his merits after reviewing numerous candidates for the award.
Thomas himself said he was humbled when he was selected at the conference, shaking as he made his way to the podium to receive the award.
“Personally, I don’t like having all eyes on me, I don’t like attention drawn to myself,” he said. “In my opinion, I think there are people that do what I do that are well more deserving than I am.”
Though Thomas doesn’t enjoy the spotlight, often working behind the scenes whether it’s checking the city’s water levels or working beneath a city street on the city’s water lines, he performs the job as if the whole world is watching, making sure it’s always done correctly.
“Everyday is a new challenge. When the chips are down, everybody here has a lot of tenure and we all know what to do. If it wasn’t for the staff that I have, my job would be really tough.”
Thomas’ department has seven total employees, including himself, and the jobs range from working on the city’s water, sewer, streets, parks, cemetery, motor pool of vehicles, police vehicles and Dial-A-Ride vehicles.
Belding Mayor Ron Gunderson said he has always been proud of the work that Thomas does for the city, adding it was only a matter of time before he was recognized at a state-wide level.
“It is always a great honor for any city have an employee recognized by their peers, but even more so at this magnitude,” he said. “For our DPW director to be named the Michigan Rural Walter Association Man of the Year speaks volumes to his commitment to the mandates and requirements established by this organization. To have him at the helm forming such a positive rapport with the organization is a statement to his highest ethical standards. I personally am very please and proud of Ernie for this recognition and the city is fortunate to have him as the Director of the DPW.”
Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore said Thomas’ work is also greatly appreciated by the city.
“I am so proud of Ernie for receiving this award from his peers,” she said. “He’s been an incredible benefit to the organization and community for almost forty years and to be recognized at this level is such an tremendous accomplishment, he truly deserves this honor for his years of public service to the City of Belding.”
With nearly 40 years of service to the city under his belt, Thomas said he’ll continue to do his job as long as he can.
“The job has its ups and downs, but it’s outdoor work, and I love working outdoors,” he said.