After a career spanning more than four decades at the helm of town, county and city government, John Condrey is retiring on June 30.
One day before the 2019-2020 fiscal year begins, Condrey, 65, will bid farewell to his job at the Town of Forest City where he has served as town manager since 2012.
Before being named manager of the county's largest municipality, Condrey spent 11 years as Rutherford County manager from October 2000 to August 2011. His first tenure as county manager was from August 1986 to February 1995. Between his 20 years at the helm of county government, Condrey served as the first executive director of the Rutherford County Partnership for Children and was also a director of administrative services at Isothermal Community College.
He began his government career in 1978 as the Town of Rutherfordton's second Town Administrator, following his graduation from UNC Chapel Hill in 1976 with a BA in History and an MPA from North Carolina State University in 1978.
Although retiring, Condrey's influence in Forest City and across Rutherford County will be etched in the lives of Rutherford Countians for years to come, say those for whom he has worked.
There have been great strides during his career, but Condrey is quick to say, "I did not do anything. All of these were cooperative efforts of many people."
Condrey refuses to take any credit for progress made city and county government, but gives the accolades to all the boards of commissioners, and dedicated employees at all the organizations with which he has worked.
"His footprints are all over the county," said Benny Hendrix, former technology director for the Rutherford County Schools.
"He has been a quiet kind of leader, not a lot of drama but he's got things done," Hendrix said.
Forest City Mayor Steve Holland said recently, "John mastered the position of town manager. He demonstrated great perseverance and initiative."
Holland said Condrey was always interested in representing Forest City and the community in the best way possible.
"He enjoyed the same rapport with every day citizens," Mayor Holland said.
"No matter the person, the political party, the temperament, including ill temperament of the individual, John could put everyone at ease and make them his friend," Holland continued.
Holland said Condrey was a man of integrity and that fact sums up his life.
"He will be greatly missed, I wish him the best in retirement," he added.
Former Forest City mayor Dennis Tarlton said it was a "tremendous pleasure" having Condrey as the town manager during his years as mayor.
"Most people do not know how fortunate we were to get someone with experience in municipal and county government that would connect us with the county as in John," Tarlton said.
Tarlton said Condrey was the person who instigated the first conversation regarding the expansion of the Thermal Belt Rail Trail by reaching out to Rutherford Railroad asking about the possibility of purchasing the rights of the trails for the project.
At that time there was a six mile trail from Spindale to Gilkey. Parts of that trail were asphalt and gravel.
"He started the process to where it is today and the RHI Legacy Foundation made it possible," Tarlton said. RHI Legacy Foundation put more than $4 million in grants to fund the trail.
Terry Hines, executive director of RHI Legacy Foundation, agreed Condrey was a major player in the development of the expanded trail.
"He initiated the talks of the potential trail expansion with Forest City Town Council," Hines said. "He brought the proposal to us with the plan of what Forest City was willing to do and RHI Legacy Foundation agreed what it was willing to do and the plan was later approved."
The 13.5 mile trail from Forrest Hunt Elementary School to Gilkey Lumber is a cooperative effort between five trail partners -- Forest City, Spindale, Rutherfordton, Ruth and Rutherford County.
During the recent Memorial Day Ceremony in downtown Forest City, Rutherford County Commissioner Eddie Holland publicly thanked Condrey for his work in bringing the social media giant Facebook to the county.
Tom Johnson, economic development director agrees.
"John, along with Beth Miller, Julie Scherer and myself worked as a team for several months in 2010 on the Facebook Data Center project," Johnson said.
Condrey was the county manager at the time, Miller was county attorney and Scherer was finance officer.
"As the county manager, John was a key player in the negotiations and discussions with Facebook. It was his idea and at his insistence that a $200,000 grant program be established to support nonprofits in the area. Grant funding for nonprofits is presented annually to this day," Johnson added.
As county manager Condrey also helped to devise a financial plan to build much needed school facilities and county offices.
In the 1980s working with the board of commissioners, the board of education and state legislators, 2 one-half cent sales taxes were approved which resulted in over $100 million for construction projects.
Dr. Bob England, school board chair at the time, recalled the work that went into the sales tax plan and how the school board, county commissioners and local legislative representatives worked to get this approved.
Rob Bole, a former finance officer for Rutherford County, said the sales taxes netted in excess of $100 million with 80 percent for school construction.
A complex financial model was developed with finance directors Stella Womack, Bole and Scherer.
England said Condrey played a key role in the success of the plan after meeting with finance giants in New York to receive ratings for Rutherford County.
"John was instrumental in getting this plan," England said.
The tax money financed the new R-S Central High School; renovated Chase and East Rutherford high schools;
Chase and East middle schools were constructed and the former R-S Central was renovated to become R-S Middle.
New elementary schools, Sunshine, Ellenboro, Forest City Duncan, Forrest Hunt, Spindale, Rutherfordton, Mt.Vernon/Ruth, Pinnacle were also built with the sales taxes. Cool Springs Administrative Offices were renovated and the Rutherford Early College High School (REaCH) was also constructed.
Condrey was elected to Rutherford County Schools Hall of Fame in 2017 and was publicly thanked at that time for his role in the new facilities plan.
With the remaining 20 percent taxes, the construction of a new health department, senior center, cooperative extension offices, mental health/social services offices; court house addition, jail house addition, EMS stations and Mountain Branch Library were built.
"We were more than fortunate to have John Condrey as county manager," Bole said. "He stayed on course in good times and bad times."
Hendrix said Condrey also worked "tirelessly" with Golden Leaf Foundation and PANGAEA to get funding to extend fiber optic to all schools, libraries and fire departments in the county.
"Without his pushing and educating the county commissioners about this project, this would not have happened," Hendrix said. "He will be missed more than people realize, but he will stay involved in the county," Hendrix said.
Former county commission chair Brent Washburn, recalled the day he telephoned Condrey and asked what "things needed to be done," regarding expanding Emergency Medical Services (EMS) throughout the county.
Washburn said Condrey called him the next day and set up with meeting and Barry Davis, then Emergency Medical Services Director.
"He laid out a plan for EMS satellite stations that day," Washburn said. EMS stations were built in Lake Lure and Bostic.
"He had and still has an incredible vision for the county. He led us in the steps we could take," Washburn said.
"This is home to him and he wanted the best for everyone and he worked to that end."
"You look around everywhere and you see what he has touched," Washburn continued. "He is one of the smartest people I know."
Other accomplishments as county manager that came to pass during Condrey's tenure was the changes in solid waste collections. The department moved from single green box dumpster sites, to larger green box sites to convenience centers. He worked along side Buster Huggins to bring these visions to the board of commissioners and the projects were a success.
As County Manager, Condrey was also involved in expanding the transit system -- moving from transit vans that only served the Rutherford Vocational Workshop and Mental Health to a van shuttle -- to include a comprehensive county wide system that included things such as elderly and handicapped medical transportation, Medicaid transportation, and a fixed route service system all over the county.
Since his arrival in 2011 to Forest City, Condrey has worked steadily with the townspeople, staff, merchants to help improve the downtown viability with some streetscape, improved lighting and keeping tree lights on year round and park development. In addition to the $4.3 minion Pavilion on Park Square (POPS) that celebrated its grand opening in May, the Town is constructing a dog park, adult fitness area, kids slides, and trail restroom all boarding the Thermal Belt Rail Trail in front of the former Florence Mill.
The Town of Forest City has been named the number one small town to visit during Christmas for two consecutive years by Romantic Asheville.
As he leaves Forest City, the town will continue its work with the Florence Mill Redevelopment Partners to revitalize the historic building for apartments and commercial property. The Town has approved a Purchase Contract for Florence Mill that would include construction of over 80 apartments, a restaurant and other commercial space. Condrey has been a major advocate for bringing this project to fruition.
Condrey, a 32-year cancer survivor, along with a dedicated staff of volunteers led some of the most successful Relay for Life campaigns for the American Cancer Society in its history for a county the size of Rutherford. Hundreds of volunteers helped raise several million dollars over the course of 17 years he co-chaired Relays in the county.
After stepping into local government in 1978 in Rutherfordton, Condrey leaves Forest City next week, but he is quick to say he's not leaving the area.
Looking forward to a little more free time and less stress, he will continue his role as a trustee at Isothermal Community College, his work as the board director of the Robert and McNair Educational Foundation, serving on the RHI Legacy Foundation, Chairman of the Rutherford County Endowment and an active member at Cliffside Baptist Church.
Condrey is looking forward to his retirement and "not having to leave my house at 7 o'clock every morning."
"I am fortunate to close out my working career at Forest City. I have enjoyed all my stops along the way," he said.
At Condrey's final Town Council meeting Monday night, June 17, he thanked the town of Forest City for the opportunity serve the citizens and town staff.
After more than 900 meetings with Rutherford County Commissioners and Forest City Commissioners over the years, Condrey said at his final meeting, "maybe it's time to call it a day."