Gail Martin, Independent Editor
It will soon be the end of an era at Wellesley Township.
That’s because township executive director/corporate clerk Susan Duke will be retiring at the end of June, after 31 years with the township.
Duke has taken on almost every possible role in Wellesley Township — including a brief stint as fire chief, among other duties.
“I have my fingers all over this township,” said Duke.
Duke came to the township on May 12, 1981, after working for seven years with the Region of Waterloo. Prior to that, Duke worked at the provincial level, dealing with subdivision applications.
While working at the Region, an opportunity came up for a position in Wellesley.
It didn’t take Duke long to jump at the chance.
She was already familiar with Wellesley Township, through her work at the region. Duke and her husband Errol, had also purchased a farm in the township in 1978, making the new position as senior planner even more enticing.
“Since I was already here, it seemed like a good fit,” said Duke.
“I’ve always been attracted to the agricultural life,” said Duke. “We lived on a farm in Oakville, as a teenager. I’m pretty sure I drove my parents crazy until they bought the farm.”
Duke’s passion for rural living is largely influenced by her love affair with standardbred horses, which she and her husband raise, train and breed on their Wellesley Township farm.
And, upon moving to Wellesley Township, the Dukes have never looked back.
“I have a huge soft spot for the township,” said Duke. “There isn’t much I don’t like. It is a diverse, well-stewarded, agriculturally rooted community with an incredible volunteer spirit. It’s amazing.”
Over the years, Duke has come to appreciate more and more the sense of connection that can be found in Wellesley Township.
What’s more, she’s proud of the fact that she has been able to connect with the local Mennonite population, in a way that has worked for both the Mennonites, and the township.
“Generally speaking now, they ask (before doing something),” said Duke. “In the past, they’ve often been accused of doing first, and asking for forgiveness later. It’s been a huge opportunity for use to develop connections and understanding.
“They’ve been great stewards of the land.”
Duke is also proud of one of the more controversial accomplishments during her time at the township — the creation of the mixed-use rural clusters, a new form of development that takes into account the needs of the horse and buggy Mennonites within the township.
The development, which allows houses and small shops to be located together in a small, rural “subdivision” of sorts, allows for conservative Mennonites who don’t farm, but are still contributing positively to the rural community through their businesses.
At the time, it was very controversial, with other residents accusing Duke of favouring the Mennonites.
Duke said that the motivation, however, stemmed from a real problem that she started noticing in the early 1990s. When she figured out how many David Martin Mennonites, Amish, and Old Order Mennonites were currently living in the township, she quickly realized that the township did not have enough land to accommodate the next generation, of roughly 900 children.
“We were not meeting the needs of this group,” said Duke. “All the clusters were to do was to address that need.
“If anyone says that I did it on a religious basis, or that it is discrimination because they were different, I’ll say again that it was simply not that.”
Duke launched the mixed-use cluster plan in 1992. It took until 2003 for the pilot project to go ahead, and and now, 20 years after the work first began, the township is finally ready to prepare a report on how the first cluster, on Powell Road, has fared. A staff report reviewing the cluster’s success was presented to Wellesley council on June 4.
“The purpose is to see if we got it right, or if we got it wrong,” said Duke, who admits to feeling a sense of completion, now that the report is coming forward.
While Duke’s final day at the township is still a few weeks away, the transition is already beginning to take place, with staff taking on new assignments as Duke hands over more and more responsibility.
Willis McLaughlin, who serves as executive director of operations will be taking on many of Duke’s duties in the interim, as will other key staff members.
For township mayor Ross Kelterborn, it will be difficult to see Duke leave.
“I will miss the sense that anytime I gave her anything to do, from the time she came to this place, it was done on time, done professionally, and I never had to double-check whether it was correct or not,” said Kelterborn. “It gave me a feeling of confidence. She did a good job, and was a dedicated worker to the constituents of Wellesley Township.
“Her stamp is all over Wellesley Township, and as far as I’m concerned, someone’s going to have pretty big shoes to fill.”
Duke said that she is looking forward to have some extra time, once she officially leaves the township.
“When you come to a job, you put a lot into it, and it sort of makes you push other things aside,” said Duke. “I have a whole list of things like that.”
Duke’s last day with the township will be on June 24.