A Carroll `institution' moving on

Westminster clerk retires after 37 years

January 28, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

In 1964, when Westminster spent about $1 million to acquire the Maryland Waterworks, the city got its own water system, miles and miles of pipelines, a reservoir. And John Dudderar.

"That was a great deal," former Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said. "The city bought the waterworks and they threw in John Dudderar -- who became an institution."

Dudderar, now 66, was a meter reader at the time of the sale, but it wasn't long before he was promoted to assistant city clerk and then to city clerk and zoning administrator. And as other city workers retired or changed jobs, Dudderar remained in his office on Emerald Hill, recording the goings-on at bimonthly Common Council meetings, processing building permits, running city elections and otherwise taking care of hundreds of details that help the city run smoothly.

After 37 years of working for the city, Dudderar is retiring. His last day on the job is Friday.

Current and former city officials, who praised Dudderar's institutional knowledge, his dedication and his attention to detail, are mourning his departure.

"He has this knack for working with people, this genteel manner," said Yowan, who became acquainted with Dudderar in 1979 when he ran for Common Council and lost. "He can be firm also, but not in a way that alienates people. I don't know anybody that doesn't love John."

To this, Dudderar replied: "Sometimes all you have to do is be a good listener."

"He's the Cal Ripken of Westminster," said Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff. "He'll be missed."

Dudderar's response: "It's a unique job. But anybody can do it."

Soft-spoken and reserved, Dudderar has always felt more comfortable working behind the scenes than being in the limelight.

But the knowledge he's gathered about the city and its people over the years has become increasingly more valuable to those in elected office who tend to be younger and serve shorter terms than their predecessors. And while Dudderar would never take a public stand on an issue, he is always willing to offer his thoughts to the people who seek his opinion.

"He has a read like no other city official on public sentiment," said Council President Damian L. Halstad.

Halstad discovered this firsthand when, as a newly elected councilman in 1993, he received a petition from a group of about 50 Webster Street residents asking that their road become a one-way street. Though Dudderar cautioned Halstad about proposing the change, the councilman did it anyway. Two weeks later Halstad received a second petition to keep the street the way it was, signed by 50 residents, 30 of whom had also signed the initial petition.

"John is an excellent judge of human character," said Halstad, who since has run ideas by Dudderar to get a read on them before making proposals in public meetings. "John never imposed his advice, but he was also more than willing to offer it. After a while it just became easier to listen to him."

Born in 1935 in Frederick County, Dudderar moved to Carroll in 1951 and graduated from Taneytown High School three years later. After serving a few years in the Army, he returned home and got a job making parts for metal drills on the production line at Black & Decker in Hampstead.

He lasted there three months. "I felt like a machine," Dudderar said.

His next job as the city's sole meter reader enabled him to walk through Westminster neighborhoods and get to know many residents by name. When the city bought the waterworks, Dudderar saw little change at first. "The boss was different," he said.

The opportunities for advancement soon proved to be different as well. He was promoted to assistant city clerk and zoning administrator in 1969 and to city clerk in 1972, each job change bringing with it more responsibility, more work, more details.

"That's good old American private enterprise," he said. "You work hard, you better yourself."

In his nearly four decades of working for the city -- Dudderar has witnessed Westminster's transformation from rural town of 7,000 people to a bustling bedroom community of nearly 17,000. Dudderar, who lives just outside of the city limits, doesn't know a majority of the residents anymore. "Instead of growing corn, they're growing houses now," he said.

His job has changed too.

As more people have moved to Westminster from outside the county and the state, Dudderar has spent more time on building permits and zoning issues. He's also found himself doing more explaining to residents unfamiliar with municipal government what the divisions are between the city and the county.

"Sometimes I have to explain to them how we operate and why we operate that way," he said.

He does his job -- and always has -- without the assistance of a computer. "I never learned to type," he said. Instead Dudderar prefers to use the 16 file drawers and his own system for tracking the reams of paperwork that pass through his office weekly.

"He doesn't have a computer on his desk, and he's still efficient," said Ronald J. Schroers, Westminster's director of parks and recreation. "He doesn't miss a beat."

Retirement will give Dudderar more time to travel with Shirley, his wife of 44 years, and to visit his two grown daughters and four grandchildren.

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