BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Maintaining Monclova Township’s 267 roads, two parks, two cemeteries and several buildings is a role that requires knowledge of operating and fixing equipment, reading blueprints, watching the weather and planning for the unexpected.
For the past 17 years, Ken Bucher has led a lean team of five employees whose shared goal is providing the best service to the township.
“We’re here for the residents. Our residents are everything,” said Bucher, who is retiring on January 20.
A search is currently underway for a new road superintendent and cemetery sexton to take Bucher’s place.
“I’ve been working for 47 years. It’s time to be with my family,” Bucher said.
Growing up outside Whitehouse, Bucher’s first job was working on a chicken farm owned by his parents, Norman and Loretta Bucher, and on the farm owned by his grandparents, Daniel and Clara Bucher. What is now Bucher Road was once a farm lane to his great-grandparents’ property, and many of his ancestors are buried in Mennonite Cemetery on Finzel Road. The Anthony Wayne area is full of their descendants.
“I’ve got a lot at stake in this community, so I take things seriously,” Bucher said.
After graduating from Anthony Wayne High School in 1976, Bucher moved to Monclova Township and became an operating engineer, then a production manager for Johns Manville before landing the township job in 2005.
Sitting in his office inside the Keener Road complex that includes the maintenance department, Bucher is surrounded by bulletin boards and files with details of the many jobs that are underway: plans for maintaining the equipment, road projects and routes for picking up leaves and plowing roads. He also oversees the yearly road construction and other projects done by outside firms.
“Every day is different,” he said. “I plan ahead two to three weeks, but I know by the time I get here every morning, everything might change.”
On call 24 hours a day, Bucher might receive a call about a request to schedule a burial, replace a downed stop sign or remove a tree blocking a road.
The weather is always a factor, and Bucher constantly keeps watch on predictions for severe summer storms or winter snow and ice. When it comes to winter weather, he monitors road and air temperatures, expected storm longevity and timing.
“We have five snow plow routes, five trucks and six of us,” he said.
When a huge snow event occurs, the response will include three men working at once to keep the main roads clear for emergency vehicles while giving the other three a rest – such as during the 2013 and 2014 winter storms that dumped up to 90 inches.
Taking care of a 25-square-mile township of 15,000 residents might seem a lot for just six employees.
“We can do this because our guys know their business and we take good care of our equipment, so we don’t have any surprises of anything breaking down,” he said.
Building in efficiencies has made the job easier, he said. For example, crews regularly take care of vegetation in the road right of way, so road mowing, plowing and leaf collection can be done without obstructions. When Bucher started with the township, crews headed to Toledo to pick up salt every time there was a snow or ice event. With the addition of a salt storage facility at Keener Road, however, trucks can now load up and hit the road. A fuel center on-site allows maintenance, the fire department and even the Lucas County sheriff’s deputies to fill up closer to home.
In addition to the expanded maintenance facility, the Keener Road complex has grown. What was once an empty field has been enhanced to include ball diamonds, soccer fields, a shelter house, pickleball courts, playground, restrooms and walking path. A new sledding hill was just completed and will sit for a year to let the grass establish.
Much of the work in the township is done by employees, such as installing the pads and bleachers at the parks, constructing the Keener Road walking path and planting 15 trees in Roth Cemetery and 25 in Keener Park this year.
One project that Bucher is particularly proud of is the restoration of an 1886 vault in Swan Creek Cemetery, with employee Todd Wilson doing masonry work.
As cemetery sexton, Bucher is in charge of Roth and Swan Creek cemeteries. That role includes keeping track of records, maintaining the grounds, selling plots and working with families and funeral homes.
“I spend a lot of time with families that have lost somebody,” he said. “A lot of people don’t plan ahead, so I help steer them in selecting a grave. It’s something I feel good about – helping take this piece off their mind.”
Records and maps are now updated, especially after the Lucas County Cemeteries Historical Association (LCCHA) spent six months researching and documenting the 2,327 burials in the township’s oldest public cemetery – Swan Creek. A fire in the 1930s destroyed many of the records for burials that date back to 1834.
“I’ve got to verify everything,” he said of the burial records and locations. “I triple check that there’s a spot there and probe the ground. Accuracy is everything.”
Bucher often gets calls from genealogists and family members from around the country, looking for gravestones. Now, he can tell them where each one is, and if they’re coming to see a grave, he’ll place an orange cone on it to make its location easier to find.
In retirement, Bucher plans to spend some time camping with his wife, Sharon, and spending more time with his three grown children and seven grandchildren, who are all township residents.