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Huron Co. EMA 'pioneer' fondly remembered

Cary Ashby • Sep 1, 2017 at 9:00 PM

Bill Ommert died Thursday, holding the interim title for the local agency he led for about 18 1/2 years. But he remained enthusiastic about the Huron County Emergency Management Agency.

Ommert was the EMA director starting in January 1991 and serving the county until his Aug. 31, 2009 retirement. More recently, he returned as the interim director and took over after the resignation of Jason Roblin, who couldn’t be reached for comment. 

Commissioner Terry Boose knew Ommert for about 30 years. The two also were involved in the Huron County Farm Bureau.

“I knew Bill before I even got into politics. Bill was one of the reasons I got into politics,” said Boose, who also served as a state representative for eight years.

Ommert had lung cancer.

“He had it previously — a couple years ago. It went into remission. It just came back with a vengeance,” Boose said.

“I think Bill was one of the premier EMA directors in the state,” he added, noting that Ommert always worked for the betterment of the county.

Boose and fellow Commissioner Skip Wilde credit Ommert with stepping up to the plate by being the interim EMA director after Roblin resigned.

“We reached out. He was more than gracious to come here,” Wilde said.

Despite being in the hospital, Ommert informed the commissioners he wanted to be involved in interviewing the candidates to be the new full-time EMA director.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Wilde said. “He was a pioneer for many things. The state uses things he’s come up with even today.”

Given Ommert’s death, Boose said filling the EMA position needs “to be taken care of as soon as possible.” The commissioners earlier said they wanted to hire a new director soon.

Ommert once talked Boose into driving with him to Columbus for the weekend. Ommert eventually revealed he was going there to push for funding of the 9-1-1 system. Boose said they went to Columbus, often going door to door, “to speak to anybody who would talk to us.”

One person they encountered was the state senate president. Boose said Ommert talked to the man for 10 minutes and wouldn’t leave until he agreed to fund the 9-1-1 system.

“If Bill put his mind to it, he wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way,” Boose added. “He knew how to find money (for the county).”

Dane Howard worked with Ommert during his two terms as Huron County sheriff.

“Bill was a pleasure to know. He was a great public servant,” Howard said.

The retired sheriff and his wife, along with several other couples, spent a vacation with Ommert and his wife.

“I got to know him on a whole other level,” said Howard, who knew Ommert best on a professional level. “He was always driven and looking to do the next right thing.”

Gary Bauer, a former county commissioner, worked with Ommert for about five years. He also knew Ommert through their involvement with the farm bureau.

“Bill was very well respected by the safety forces of the county,” Bauer said. “Bill was a community guy,”

Knowing how important Ommert’s relationship was with first-responders, Bauer said the commissioners made that a priority when looking for a new EMA director. Roblin was Ommert’s assistant before he was hired as the director in about 2009.

As the EMA director, Ommert excelled at finding grant money. Bauer said the man brought “a huge, huge amount of money into Huron County.”

Ommert was a friend of local firefighters.

“Bill and I worked on a lot of projects together,” New London Volunteer Fire Chief John Chapin said. “Obviously, he was well liked. He did a lot of good things for my department and all of the departments in the county.”

After tractor-trailers were involved in Fitchville-area accidents on Thanksgiving two years in a row, Chapin and Ommert made it a running, inside joke between the two of them. Chapin said “it kinda ruined Thanksgiving for us” and he and Ommert always said they hoped for no crashes during the holiday.

“Bill was always there when we had a hazmat situation. He did a tremendous amount of good for the community,” Chapin said.

About once a month, Boose and Ommert met as friends for lunch.

“I consider Bill a colleague and a mentor, but most importantly as a friend,” Boose said. “We had very, very good discussions. I’m really going to miss Bill.”

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Staff writer Karlee Steffanni contributed to this story.

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