BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Bill May moved to Whitehouse in 1972, he didn’t give much thought to public service.
In his 20s and starting a new job delivering snacks to area accounts, he was just glad to settle down after a previous job had him transferring often.
One day, he was riding his motorcycle on Providence Street when police officer Lyle Phillips pulled May over to suggest that he use his headlight even during daylight.
“Then he said, ‘Young man, where do you live? Have you ever thought about joining the fire department?’” May recalled.
May, a Detroit native, had never heard of becoming a volunteer firefighter, so he went to a meeting to learn more.
“I got in on a fluke,” said May, who served as a volunteer firefighter, captain and assistant chief during his 48 years with the department.
In 1985, May began his first of seven – although not consecutive – terms on council for a total of 28 years.
On December 7, members of village council and the administration surprised May with an engraved plaque and words of praise.
“Bill is the longest-serving member of council,” said Louann Artiaga, who looked back at Lucas County Board of Elections voting results and didn’t find anyone else who has served so many terms.
She remembers May being sworn into council for his second term when she joined council in 1994. “I had all sorts of questions. Bill offered advice, support and friendship,” she said.
Mayor Don Atkinson and administrator Jordan Daugherty both said they have appreciated May’s guidance and knowledge.
“You are the epitome of what a council member should be: You spoke your mind and you spoke the truth. Whitehouse is forever indebted to you,” Daugherty said.
Being a member of council is very rewarding, but it involves more than just showing up at a Tuesday meeting and voting. Preparation involves reading through packets of material, making phone calls and asking questions to understand an issue before having a discussion in a public meeting.
“You don’t always agree with the other five people. Sometimes I was the only one voting yes or no, but when you walk out of that room at the end of the evening, it’s a feeling of accomplishment,” he said.
Over the years, he’s seen plenty of changes, starting with the location of the village hall itself.
For years, the hall was located at the corner of Providence and Maumee streets, with just two rooms for the administration and police. While the new village hall was being constructed, council meetings were held at the Whitehouse Inn for six months. A dedication of the new building was held in 2003, and a plaque inside the hall shows the names of those involved: administrator Randy Bukas, Mayor Stanley Wielinski and council members Debby Curry, Angela Kuhn, Herb Little, Beatrice Ludwig and Daniel Toepfer, along with May.
The village’s first administrator, Mike Czymbor, was hired in 1989.
“It was a big deal. A lot of people said, ‘What do you need an administrator for?’ It was a change,” said May, who joined council when the village population was about 2,100. It is now 4,998.
As the village has steadily grown, council has worked to ensure the needs of the community are met, he said. The police department grew from one officer on duty to two on duty 24 hours a day. For years, one water tower served the village, and now council is considering a third one on the west end of town. The big quarry went from a popular swimming hole to a fenced-up, off-limits location to a beautified Blue Creek Metropark.
“We added a roundabout, and we just became a one-traffic-light town,” he laughed.
As a council member, May has also seen improved relations with the school district, businesses and neighboring communities.
In 1977, one of the village’s largest employers, American Can – now the Ardagh Group – donated five acres of land so the fire department could move its operations out of the same tiny building used as the village hall.
In that old station, if the grass truck was needed, firefighters would pull the engines out onto Providence Street and park them there – often blocking traffic for an hour.
“Our rescue truck was an old bread truck, and our water truck used to be a milk truck,” May said. Often, the firefighters would ride on the back of the fire truck to get a ride to the scene – no matter the weather.
“Firefighters routinely put themselves in danger to save others. Think of what Bill May did for 48 years – he answered the call to save others, even when it was 2:00 a.m. and the temperature was below zero and the wind was blowing,” Mayor Atkinson said.
May spent six months, from September 2005 to February 2006, serving in the McMurdo Station in Antarctica as a fire captain with the department. Even during the summer months, it was below zero most of the time. He received permission from council to take a leave, but he received his council packets in the mail and spoke on the phone to the administrator to keep up with what was going on.
“It was a chance of a lifetime,” he said.
And so was serving his village for so many years.
“I’ll miss it all,” he said.