Manager Mary Samuels Retires from the Mason County Road Commission
Mary Samuels will be greatly missed after serving 24 amazing years at the Mason County Road Commission. She has worked hard for this community and also with love. If you see her in your passing congratulate her on her retirement!
County roads boss leaving office
BY STEVE BEGNOCHE
SPECIAL TO THE DAILY NEWS
SCOTTVILLE – Mary Samuels retires as manager/director of the Mason County Road Commission December 21 when newly hired Steve Wessels settles in the post.
Samuels is looking forward to enjoying time at home and watching grandkids while figuring out what comes next.
She’s leaving the job she’s held since October, 2019, happy with the road MCRC is on. MCRC’s 40- member staff works well together taking care of 1,024 miles of roads, representing more than 2,000 lane miles, in Mason County, Samuels said.
Samuels joined the Road Commission as finance director in 1999 after being told about the job opening by clerk Shirley Anthony. Gary Dittmer, whom she went to school with and knew, was engineer/director then. She was second choice for finance director, but landed it when the first choice couldn’t take it. Anthony helped her the first couple months get familiar with MCRC ways, she said.
When Dittmer retired, Samuels applied for the manager/director job. It went to Wayne Schoonover who served in the post for four years. Samuels filled in as interim managing director when Schoonover
left for a similar position in Grand Traverse County. The interim label was removed several months later and Samuels was awarded the post in October, 2019.
“I have just loved it,” Samuels said from her office in the front of the MCRC facility on U.S. 10 at the eastern outskirts of Scottville. “It’s
something new every day. The camaraderie with all the other Road Commission personnel is amazing … It’s like one giant, big happy family.
“I just worked with really great people. There’s a lot to learn here when you get here.”
Samuels and her first husband had an excavating company that she took over upon his death. She said one learns a lot when involved daily in such a business.
She brought that knowledge of materials, tonnage and the like with her to the road commission which helped as she learned the ways and work of MCRC.
As a clerk for Summit Township for 26 years, she also brought knowledge of township matters to the MCRC. It’s a good fit because the road commission contracts with the 15 local townships on local road projects from graveling and dust control, to local bridge repairs and replacement, paving, drainage and more. County primary and state highways may include state and federal funding, too.
There’s a bit of crossover her in roles at MCRC and the township.
“One really complemented the other,” Samuels said. “I knew a lot of the township personnel already. Being at MCRC I have got acquainted with everybody including all the people at the courthouse. That has been amazing. I have developed a lot of friendships with them.”
There have been many changes over the years, not the least of which was moving to a new computer system while finance director, “You kind of just grow into everything, which is really nice,” Samuels said.
She said she had a lot of ideas when offered the manager/director position.
“Everything has been on a real positive note since then … even contract negotiations,” Samuels said.
She continued learning, too, as manager/director.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t have experience with. Road abandonments, that was a big learning experience.”
She said she has tried to stay on top of road abandonment requests that sometimes had languished at the MCRC “As far as projects go, they seemed to come together. We have a great team,” Samuels said. “Our fellows go out and get the information from the townships. We check them over and send out agreements.”
It’s gone smoothly. She credits road superintendent Jeff Loeser with bringing a lot of ideas that have been implemented to improve road maintenance. Shoulder pulls in which dirt is pushed back from the edge of the road and ditching have improved drainage.
“We have a great crew right now,” Samuels said. “You send them out and they do a great job. It means something to them that they do a good job. They just make me smile.”
MCRC also reopened a gravel pit in Riverton Township that had not been used in years. Crews have processed many tons of gravel from the site including screening stone by size. Some is subsequently crushed and mixed with dirt for road gravel.
They’ve uncovered “lots of really beautiful boulders” which they put out for sale for use in landscaping, Samuels said.
Perhaps her excavating background comes out a bit as she described the work there. “Every time I go out to that pit and see how much they transformed it … I really enjoy that.”
Interactions outside of the office have increased.
“We’ve done a lot more with the public,” Samuels said.
MCRC staffs a booth at the Mason County Fair answering many questions from fair attendees. MCRC also participates in the recent spring “Prepare Fairs” in the parking lot at Wal Mart as well in the Freedom Festival Fourth of July Parade and the Christmas parade.
“People see us out there. They ask questions. We talk about potholes, road repairs, cost per mile,” she said. “People are interested and kids like blowing the truck’s horn.”
MCRC has more than 2,000 lane miles of primary roads, 703 miles of local roads, 165 miles of state highway MCRC maintains via contract with the state) and 39 bridges 20-feet in length or greater under its care.
Bridge work is especially expensive. Bridges more than 20 feet long are eligible for federal and state funding assistance. Bridges less than 20 feet in length are considered local bridges.
“What we really need is funding for our local bridges,” Samuels said. “We get no federal or state funding for those.”
Culverts can be expensive, too. MCRC has updated 40 culverts deemed critical that had failed.
“That’s a lot.,” she said. Recently in Eden Township, MCRC put crane
mats across one as a temporary repair. It could cost $250,000 to repair.
A new culvert for the channel at the South Bayou of Lower Hamlin Lake on Lakeshore Drive in Hamlin Township is slated for replacement in 2024 at a cost of about $500,000. MCRC shares costs with local unites of government on culverts more than 34 inches in diameter.
Changes to state funding have proven sufficient to get ahead “Costs have gone up so much this past year,” Samuels said. “The Michigan Transportation funds have doubled, but so has the cost of fuels, parts (and materials). It still doesn’t keep up with costs.
“It would be nice if we get a little boost. Bigger metro areas got a boost in funding… but we keep plugging along and we are making progress.”
One project Samuels had hoped to push over the finish line before retirement is having the funding obligated to build a new MCRC facility a few miles east in Custer. A structure has been built there to store the equipment that has been parked outside plus a sheriff’s office response vehicle and emergency services barricades and fencing.
Planning for the new MCRC main facility continues.
“It’s going to be about 88,000 square feet. We’re really close, but we didn’t quite make it. I know it will keep going,” Samuels said “I was just amazed how many things they are to get through,” she said of the new building and answering concerns of the State Historical Preservation Office about the existing building because of its architecturally notable Art Deco facade. The local USDA staff has proven a great ally in the process, she said.
“It will come, but it probably won’t start until 2026,” Samuels said.
MCRC is working to retire debt and fully fund its employees’ retirement before constructing the building, she said. “That will allow us to have a mortgage. We have been working pretty diligent on getting it done.”
Once the new structure is built, MCRC won’t need the current site which is too small to accommodate modern road commission trucks and will look to sell it.
She said the MCRC will be in good hands with Wessels as manager/director.
“Steve Wessels was a great choice. He comes from Michigan Department of Transportation. I think he will be a nice change. I think you will see more and more improvements all the time. He has his own ideas and will be great working with the public,” Samuels said.
“I’m just going to really enjoy being home for now,” Samuels, who soon will turn 69, said of her plans. “It’s been a lot of years. I’ll visit the kids a bit more.”
She’s also looking forward to watching a grandson wrestle during his senior year in high school, describing him as a beast of a wrestler. “He’s so fun to watch,” she said.
But don’t be surprised if she keeps active in other ways.
“I don’t want to not do anything,” she said.
She said she enjoys the challenge of helping people and offbeat challenges, but admits that upon leaving the manager/director job sleeping at night will be more enjoyable without those matters on her mind.
The time at MCRC was good, she said.
“There are just hundreds of different things that go on. It’s just exciting. I would do it again. It’s a blast.”
STEVE BEGNOCHE PHOTO