Sheetz on Sheetz: Retiring supervisor reflects on his private and public life

By on March 23, 2016

Last week longtime West Cocalico Township Supervisor Terry Sheetz announced at the township meeting that he is retiring as a supervisor after decades of service.

Sheetz, 74, was a former Republican member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1982 to 1994. He was preceded by Noah Wenger and succeeded by Leroy Zimmerman.

Photo by Michele Walter Fry Retiring West Cocalico Township Supervisor Terry Sheetz with his faithful companion Canyon at the old family farm.

Photo by Michele Walter Fry
Retiring West Cocalico Township Supervisor Terry Sheetz with his faithful companion Canyon at the old family farm.

He has served as a West Cocalico supervisor since 2004.

He sold his preserved family farmland a few years ago to an Amish family. Recently, he sold the attached house on Short Road in Stevens.

The farm originally belonged to his grandfather.

“I fattened hogs,” Sheetz said. “I bought hogs at 40 pounds and eight weeks old and took them to market at 230 to 240 (pounds).

“I also raised ringed-neck pheasants and farmed corn. We roasted our own pigs.”

Sheetz has extraordinarily large and roughhewn hands from a life-time of farming.

“I just really wanted to farm, it was in my blood,” Sheetz said. “You’re close to the land. It’s a type of life that’s off the fast track. As far as making money, that’s something you don’t do a lot of, and it’s a lot of hard work, very, very hard work.”

Sheetz talks on the slower side, with a heavy Pennsylvania Dutch accent. You almost expect his wife will be Caroline Ingalls.

Think more in terms of Nancy Reagan.

She stood a few feet from the conversation and quietly paged through a magazine. It was half expected the conversation could be ended if she deemed necessary. She’s articulate, coifed, confident, and seemed protective.

Growing up in the Cocalico area in the 1950s, some kids did not go to school past the eighth grade, and it was more unusual for a Pennsylvania Dutch farm boy to continue with schooling because he was often needed on the farm.

Sheetz graduated from Cocalico High School in 1959 and from Delaware Valley College in Doylestown in 1963 with a bachelor of science degree.

“That’s where he played football,” Sandra said.

“I wasn’t terribly interested in going more after high school, but my football coach, Galie Weidman, convinced me that I ought to be doing that,” Sheetz said.

He played four years on the varsity team as a center and then went straight back to farming after graduation.

Sheetz says he was an outcast in the “fraternity” of the House of Representatives.

“My Pennsylvania Dutch accent was quite noticeable in Harrisburg,” Sheetz said. “I certainly am not the typical politician. I used to come home and be so, so depressed by how things were up there.

“Everything is geared toward self-perpetuation and re-election.”

Sheetz did “not feel I have to belong.”

“One of the first things is being subject to all kinds of indoctrination,” Sheetz said of his time in Harrisburg. “What you have to do to get re-elected, how to conduct your local offices. You’re given a writer to put out weekly, slanted columns and it’s very, very political and controlling. I wanted to be myself.

“I caused some real problems for my other colleagues when I introduced things that weren’t popular. It was obvious to me way back when that term limits were a must because of how leadership dominates. I promoted that every year. Not popular at all with my colleagues. I didn’t care.”

Sheetz did not want to name names or reveal to this wide of a readership “nasty” stories, of which he had many.

Sheetz talked of a “play-along-to-get-along-concept” where the representatives were given $100,000 of “walking around” money. They were given this money to give out in the community to “control votes.”

“I did not participate in one dollar of this walking around money,” Sheetz said.

Because of this, Sheetz rarely had his picture in the paper in grip-and-grin check presentation shots.

“By seeing these in the paper, my colleagues were hoping people in the community would forget about your bad vote that in one-way shape or form would hurt them,” Sheetz said.

Sheetz attended a lot of events and had to cover the “rubber chicken banquet circle.”

“When he was in office, we had to ride the parades &tstr; three of them &tstr; Ephrata, Denver, and New Holland,” Sandra said. “In the back seat of a convertible, waving. Oh, we hated that! It wasn’t us.”

In at least one parade, he was positioned at the very end due to not “giving away walking-around money.”

“The politicians in parades are up front,” Sheetz said. “I was the last person in the parade; they put me there.”

The politicians in Harrisburg may have made fun of his Pennsylvania Dutch accent, but he always “felt in tune with his constituents.”

“There were a lot of people who were embarrassed by me because I did not come from, well, I was just down-to-earth,” Sheetz said. “I still felt that the common ordinary citizen was backing me. I didn’t have the gift of speech and I can’t snow anyone, so I think they may have trusted me more.”

While in office, he instituted a bill to call for a limited size of legislature.

“That was very unpopular, but it was so obvious to me,” Sheetz said. “Now, finally it’s being considered.”

Sheetz learned from his political career.

“You don’t let others make decisions for you because they are concerned for their jobs,” he said.

Sheetz described his time serving on the West Cocalico board of supervisors with Jacque Smith and James Stoner.

“The three of us would often sit down and ask ourselves if we are doing the right thing here,” Sheetz said. “Do we have alternative motives for making decisions? I was always comfortable of being above board.

“J.J. (Stoner) has a strong personality. He’s a wizard when it comes to numbers and it was amazing to me how he recollected them. He was always confident in himself and it sometimes came across as arrogant. He was an honest individual doing what he thought was right. I really respected him on taking the blunt of the heat from all the residents.”

Sheetz was asked his opinion on the current presidential candidates.

“I’m positively a Cruz man,” Sheetz said.

He was asked about Donald Trump.

“There’s just too much instability there,” Sheetz said.

He and Sandra will move in a few weeks to a house in Shillington, Berks County. They will still attend St. Paul’s Evangelical Congregational Church of Reamstown, and they have their name on a waiting list at a retirement home in Lancaster County.

They have a daughter, Penny, and granddaughter, Laurel.

Michele Walter Fry welcomes your comments at michelewalterfry@gmail.com.

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