Water treatment operator, public works director retire

NEWTON, N.C. – City of Newton Water Treatment Facility operator Rick Sims and Public Works and Utilities Department director Wilce Martin retired Friday, Dec. 19.

Sims spent 34 years with the city, making sure Newton’s public water supply was as safe as it could be. Hired Aug. 11, 1980, he became known for his talent in making repairs and maintaining operations at the facility, which runs around the clock and consistently provides pure, high-quality water to Newton residences and businesses.

Sims was commended for his ability to operate the plant under extreme conditions, notably during the devastation that followed Hurricane Hugo in September 1989 and the flooding that ravaged Catawba County in July 2013.

At a luncheon to honor his service to the city of Newton, the bonds between Sims and his coworkers were demonstrated by handshakes, hugs and well-wishes.

“It’s that camaraderie, the friends, that I’m going to miss most,” he said.

Sims said he may take a part-time job in the future, but he coyly added he plans to spend some time “doing anything I want to” before he considers going back to work.

Martin, the man who oversaw daily operations of Newton’s Public Works and Utilities Department, excelled at getting to know his staff and ensuring their safety during his six years as director. Above all, Martin understood the value of public service and meeting the needs of citizens.

“The people here are just a really, really good bunch of people,” he said of his staff. “I learned a lot from them. They’re dedicated, passionate, and have a real desire to give good customer service to the people.”

Working with the Newton City Council, Martin tirelessly upgraded outdated and well-worn infrastructure. He oversaw the construction of a new electric delivery station that vastly improved the reliability of the city’s electric system. In addition to shepherding Newton through the flooding of July 2013, Martin directed his staff to quickly restore water service to residents and businesses after the disruption caused by a major waterline break in 2010.

“The city of Newton was incredibly fortunate to have someone on staff with the knowledge and skills of Wilce Martin,” Newton City Manager Todd Clark said. “He has been a good friend and will be missed.”

That Martin will be missed was evident at his retirement luncheon, during which coworkers presented him with a toilet plunger spray-painted gold and emblazoned with the words “Golden Scepter.” Martin laughed, brandishing the plunger, before he began opening four identically-sized packages, each of which turned out to be economy size boxes of Cheez-It crackers.

“That’ll get you through a week or two,” one of the dozens of employees surrounding him shouted.

Martin said he would spend time in the coming months working on projects at his home and looks forward to making a journey to Israel in May.

Martin joined the city of Newton on Dec. 15, 2008, after serving as public works director for the town of Stanley.

Newton Councilman John Stiver (right) presents Newton Water Treatment Facility operator Rick Sims with a retirement gift.

Wilce Martin, director of Newton Public Works and Utilities Department, shakes hands with Gordon Ross as Joshua Privette (right) looks on.

The city of Newton's Bev Ruppert serves water treatment operator Rick Sims at Sims' retirement celebration.

Newton Public Works and Utilities Director Wilce Martin received a "Golden Scepter" at his retirement luncheon.

Wilce Martin begins opening one of four giant boxes of Cheez-It crackers presented to him by his staff at his retirement celebration.