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June 7, 2012

R.I.P. Stanley Ruchlewicz

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Stan Ruchlewicz, the Westminster administrator of economic development and the town’s Main Street manager died suddenly on Tuesday.


The news spread quickly that he had suffered a heart attack earlier in the day.


I had the sheer pleasure to have known and worked with Stan ever since he was brought to town by the Westminster mayor and Common Council in the spring of 2001. I considered him to be a dear and trusted friend.


Mr. Ruchlewicz came from Havre de Grace, where he had been hired in 1989 as the town’s director of planning and zoning. He was also appointed to the Maryland governor’s Save the Lighthouse Commission. For many of his 12-years or so at Havre de Grace, he worked with my good friend, then-mayor, now Harford County Executive, David Craig.


Mr. Ruchlewicz had previously worked for Reading, PA.


On May 17, 2001, Westminster Mayor Ken Yowan announced Mr. Ruchlewicz’s appointment to shore-up the city’s economic development initiatives.


In the press release, Mayor Yowan “expressed appreciation for the strong efforts of Thomas Beyard, director of Planning and Public Works and the rest of the committee consisting of Council President Damian Halstad, GWDC officers Ethan Seidel and David Max, downtown business owner Sandy Scott and Maryland Main Street coordinator Cindy Scott for their efforts in this endeavor…”


Westminster Councilmember Greg Pecoraro, a statewide economic development expert himself, also played a key role in bringing Mr. Ruchlewicz to town.


In the 2001 announcement by Mayor Yowan, he also said, Mr. Ruchlewicz “brings many other important credentials to the position. First, Stanley Ruchlewicz has served as president of the Maryland Downtown Development Association since 1997. He also has served on the Main Street Maryland Main Street Review Committee since 1997...”


Mr. Ruchlewicz was recognized by many as a leading authority on planning and economic development for small communities. Because he was also an artist, he understood the value of a vibrant arts and culture presence in a community and he was good at thinking outside of the box.


Not only was he considered by many in the mid-Atlantic region to be an expert on zoning, planning and small business issues, he was also known internationally for his expertise.


In the fall of 2001 when I made a presentation for Westminster for an Economic Development Roundtable and Seminar at the Russian Embassy, “Small Towns in Russia,” Mr. Ruchlewicz was key and critical in helping prepare Westminster’s excellent presentation.


In the fall of 2002, a few short years just after the northern European nation of Estonia escaped from Russian rule, Mr. Ruchlewicz went out of his way to help counsel Paide Estonia Mayor Tonis Koiv and council chairman Andres Jalak on economic development issues for Estonia.


Right after Mr. Ruchlewicz came to town, local writer – later Commissioner Dean Minnick – wrote about Mr. Ruchlewicz, “If it’s true that Main Street is any town’s heart and soul, then it might be argued that Stan Ruchlewicz is at the very least Westminster’s spiritual advisor.”


Mr. Ruchlewicz was also an artist, photographer, writer, and avid reader, who literally absorbed art and culture. On a number of occasions I would meet him at Tournament of Band events where he served as a judge for Drum Corps Associates and the high school marching band circuit with the National Judges Association.


Several years ago, local arts, and culture columnist Lyndi McNulty wrote about Mr. Ruchlewicz’s critically acclaimed photography. “He said his first love is teaching and judging high school marching bands and drum and bugle corps. Through traveling as a judge, he said he visited many interesting places.


“So, I took pictures… Back in the dark ages, I was using a small Instamatic. Eventually, I grew out of the Instamatic into a 35mm camera…,” said Mr. Ruchlewicz.


According to Ms. McNulty, “Casey Willson, retail industry manager for the Maryland Small Business Development Center, uses some of Ruchlewicz’s pictures for his presentations to small business owners around the state.


“Ruchlewicz’s work is everywhere in town. The postcards of downtown Westminster, such as the view of Main Street from the roof of the old fire house, the downtown mural, the McDaniel College entrance, City Hall and the train passing in front of Johansson’s are all his work…”


Mr. Ruchlewicz was a walking encyclopedia on scholarly, academic, and intellectual approaches to what made small towns run on all cylinders. He had a unique ability to translate and explain complex mathematical economic formulas, planning protocols and design paradigms.


Whether engrossed in a conversation about the theatre with me, arguing with Mayor Yowan and me about the use of the word “paradigm” and “stakeholder,” or disagreeing over esoteric aspects of Euclidean Zoning with me and the late Westminster City Clerk, Laurel Taylor, Mr. Ruchlewicz was always approachable, pleasant, compelling and engaging.


When brainstorming about urban planning and small business with me, Mr. Beyard, Westminster City Planner Shawn Siders, Dale Taylor from the finance department, or Jeff Glass, the director of public works; Mr. Ruchlewicz was always friendly and fun.


And when it came to defining periods of historic architecture or discussing the latest in digital photography, Mr. Ruchlewicz was always on top of his game, and could explain complicated topics in common sense, easy to understand terms – all with a smile that reminded me of the cat that ate the canary.


During the Christmas season, Mr. Ruchlewicz was a perennial fixture at the Locust Lane house at the North Pole where he was “Stanta” Claus to the delight of children and parents alike.


He had a wonderful sense of humor and he clearly understood that it was not good enough to be the best, you had to be nice, and Stan was one of the nicest public officials I have ever worked with in my 40-years of working with the public.


Rest In Peace, my friend


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