By Keith Gushard
Dedicated, community-minded and caring, very special — those are the words Cochranton residents use when they speak of Fran McClain, Cochranton’s long-time borough manager, who retires at the end of this month.
“She’s just a caring person — not only about her job with the borough,” Cochranton Borough Council President Bill Shorts said. “She cares about anybody that deserves to be cared about. She’s taken care of a number women who were in failing health.”
“Fran has always had the answer to your questions,” said Deanna O’Polka, owner of the Market Place grocery store in Cochranton. “If she didn’t have it, she found the answer for you.”
McClain, who has been Cochranton’s borough manager for more than two and one-half decades, formally gave her retirement notice at Cochranton Borough Council’s monthly meeting April 1. Her retirement is effective April 30, with Barb Opatrny, the borough’s secretary, moving up to the borough manager position on May 1.
“I’ll miss it — I’ll miss the people because I’m used to being part of their lives,” McClain said in a recent interview with the Tribune. McClain said she has no real definitive plans in retirement other than enjoying life with her husband, David, and their family.
Cochranton, located in the south-central area of Crawford County, is a town of 1,136 that’s more like one big family, according to McClain.
“You see people around town all the time,” she said. “Some people even just come in and talk for a bit.
“When somebody has a problem — they call the borough office first — whether it’s big or small. If a dog is lost, we’ve even put out an APB (all points bulletin),” McClain said with a chuckle.
McClain said she’s liked everything about the job that she’s held since Jan. 1, 1986.
“When you do something for somebody, most people appreciate it,” she said. “It’s good to know you’ve helped them.”
McClain has seen a lot of major changes to improve the quality of life in the borough during her tenure.
During that time, McClain said the borough has seen replacement of a bridge over Little Sugar Creek; a multi-million dollar upgrade of the borough’s water system in the early 1990s to replace about 75 percent of the water lines and install a new water holding tank; and installation of a $10.4 million municipal sewage system in the late 2000s.
“There have been lot of accomplishments, but they’re (Borough) Council’s,” McClain said. “I cannot take credit for the accomplishments. The vision for the community was from Borough Council.”
McClain said an example of the vision by Cochranton Borough Council was in planning for the replacement of the old borough building by 2000. In the mid 1990s, a savings plan was put together for a new borough building.
“Borough Council only had to borrow $50,000 — the borough paid cash for the rest,” she said.
When McClain started as borough manager, she was just a part-time employee.
“It was just two filing cabinets and a door,” she said of her initial office.
A few months later, when the then-Cochranton Borough Council voted to have the borough take back the water system billing duties from the former First National Bank of Cochranton, council made McClain’s position full-time.
She has been overseeing the day-to-day government operations in Cochranton ever since — including a staff of nine employees, six full-time and three part-time.
“They’ve been nice employees to work with — we all work together,” McClain said. “It’s going to be in good hands with Barb.”
Shorts, who has served on Cochranton Borough Council for the past 12 years, said McClain “has done a fantastic job. There’s been a lot of pressure on her because we’ve always run on tight budget, so there’s not a whole lot of leeway for us.”
Cochranton Borough Council has relied heavily on the expertise McClain has gained over the years, Shorts said.
“You have to have somebody backing you up on where you are (financially) in order to make those decisions you have to make (as a Borough Council),” Shorts said. “She’s a very able person and well-respected in the community.”
O’Polka, who, along with her late husband, Drew, has owned Market Place since 1986, agrees with Shorts’ assessment.
“The community has really profited by her experience,” O’Polka said. “The community really is going to miss her.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.