Rockwell, 64, who has served as the Milan mayor for six years, will retire Friday after 21 years of public service to the village.
Council president Richard Maloney resigned from the council immediately following Rockwell’s announcement to assume the position of mayor.
To say Rockwell’s been involved in the community is an understatement.
In addition to serving as mayor, Rockwell also spent 15 years a township trustee, 30 years as a firefighter, 18 years working for the local electric department, 10 years working part time in the school system and even another 16 years coaching youth baseball.
“I’ve been involved in one way or another,” he said with a laugh. “My roots are deep here. My family goes back a long ways. My father was a mayor from ‘62 to ‘71. He was on council before that.”
Things were different back then, Rockwell said, crediting his father as a “great big influence.”
“When I was a kid and my dad was mayor ... when a storm would come in we would go out and drive the streets and help the street department,” he said.
“My dad would drive and I would get out and pull the limbs out of the road. Or we would get that call on Saturday mornings and my dad’s name was Glenn. Someone would say, ‘Glenn, they forgot my garbage.’ So we would go get our old pickup truck from the farm, come into town and we would go pickup everyone’s garbage that didn’t get picked up.”
Rockwell said his father taught him “you want to take care of the people that live here because they take care of you” — a philosophy he kept while leading the community himself.
In fact, he thinks living and working by that value is what helped him avoid any “real drastic” challenges.
“I found out you get a whole lot more out of positive than you do with negative,” he said.
“That’s what I try to accomplish with all the people I have — show them what the good is in them and show them what they can do. It really worked out. It works well. That’s why I’ve got the respect that I do, I think too, is because I treat my people well.”
Rockwell said his favorite parts of his time serving were the “human aspects.”
“I think I feel my biggest accomplishment is to have helped the people that work here to feel good about themselves and to want to do the job they do and take pride in what they do,” he said. “It’s not like I had a statue built, or had this brought in or that brought in. It’s really the human aspect that I see that’s really (a blessing).
“I’m lucky I guess. You hear of horror stories of employees that are unhappy, but he men and women that work here, they feel good about being here. That’s important to me. I try to make sure that they’re recognized for what they do. They’re taken care of as far as a fair wage and insurance and that.”
He’s also taken pride in watching downtown Milan gradually become “better” as more businesses moved in and the community stepped up to care for it of their own initiatives.
“I think that as a leader just and showing everybody the real benefit of having a nice place to live, it’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s just trying to show people the good that you can have if you treat it right. “
Rockwell said little things like this make Milan “an oasis in residential living.”
“When I was old enough and got out of school I decided I just got to get out of here,” he said. “I traveled all over the U.S. and then I came back to Milan. I found out this is really a nice place. Two times I traveled the U.S. I saw a lot of communities — big and small — and Milan sure looked good when I got back. ... Milan is a great place.”
But Rockwell said it was just time to slow down a little and enjoy life before time slips away.
“I’ve watched too many friends that have gone by the way side, so I thought I better get out and do a little living,” he said, adding he appreciates his wife for her patience thorughout all the years he served the community. “For 30 years I’ve either worked two and three jobs, or I’ve been an elected official and worked a full time job. It’s time for me to slow down a little.”
That doesn’t mean the family tradition has to end though. Rockwell’s nephew Ben Smith became a councilman in January.
“I told him, ‘Ben, it’s you turn to carry the torch,’” Rockwell said.
Council is accepting applications for any who are interested in filling Maloney’s vacant council seat. Those interested should contact village administrator Brian Rospert.