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Dan Guers, retired Akron Borough manager, takes a look back
When Dan Guers retired as Akron’s borough manager Sept. 28, he retired from moving, too. The house he shares with his wife, Patricia, is the 13th home they’ve lived in and they don’t intend to put themselves through another move. They’re happy to stay in their Akron home — which is actually in Ephrata Township two doors away from the borough line — but they will be taking plenty of trips in their RV.
The 65-year-old Guers had been Akron’s top administrative official for 19 years. When he left borough hall after his last official day on the job, he capped a career in public service that spanned more than four decades.
It began at Willow Grove Naval Air Station, where he served four years as an Army lieutenant. He was assigned to Willow Grove after graduating from Lock Haven State Teachers College with a degree in physical education and an impressive athletic record. As a place kicker on Lock Haven’s football team, he set scoring records that stood for a number of years. He was one of the sport’s first soccer-style booters.
His goal after the Army was to become a high school coach or athletic director, but the Navy beckoned. With his college background, Guers was offered a full-time civil service job as the recreational services director for Willow Grove’s naval personnel, which led to a post as the MWR (morale, welfare, recreation) chief at the Kings Bay, Ga., naval submarine base, then to a similar job at the Earle, N.J., naval weapons station, which, after he took the job, closed.
By that time Guers had earned an MBA, and was thinking about embarking on a new career path. He also had 20 years of combined active duty and civilian service, which was enough to retire from the Navy system. So after the job in Earle ended, he sent out resume after resume after resume, for nine months, with no real prospects forthcoming.
A friend from Schuylkill County, where Guers grew up, learned of his job search and called him. The friend was Jim Rhoades, who would later become a Pennsylvania state senator. Rhoades told Guers that the borough of Frackville was looking for a manager. Rhoades felt there were a lot of similarities between a borough manager’s duties and what Guers had been doing — managing staff, keeping facilities in shape, and trying to keep the people who used the facilities happy.
He got the job in Frackville and quickly learned that it was a political hot seat. The seven Frackville borough council members were all Republicans, but there were two factions. It was always a majority of four against a minority of three. Borough managers work at the pleasure and behest of their town councils. Eventually, the Frackville minority faction became the majority, and Guers knew his days were numbered.
He heard about a job opening in Akron, came for a visit, and liked what he saw. He had also done his student teaching at McCaskey High School, so he was already familiar with Lancaster County. He was very impressed with Akron’s park system and with the condition of the roads. On a driving tour of borough streets with one of the town’s elders, his host kept apologizing for the condition of the streets. Guers was dumbfounded. He told his host that the worst streets in Akron were better than the best streets in Frackville.
Guers liked Akron and Akron liked Guers, and that’s how the 19 years began. There were ups and downs, of course. By the time he arrived, the water and sewer system infrastructures were pretty much in place. His main objectives were to work at holding taxes down, maintaining the streets and keeping the parks operating.
His relationships with Akron’s elected officials and with the town’s employees were, for the most part, cordial, he said. And, unlike his experience with Frackville’s borough council, he feels Akron’s elected council members over the years came on board without hidden agendas and with the desire to simply serve the community.
There were many challenges over the years, lots of late night and early morning phone calls (especially when it snowed) and countless completed projects, big and small. The biggest project, and the most satisfying for Guers, was one of his last. The rail trail from the borough’s east side to the west side was also the most hair-pulling frustrating project of his career. “It almost did me in,” Guers said.
The stickiest point was the trail crossing at Main Street, with very vocal support for a tunnel under the road. The project was paid for with state and local tax money. A tunnel would have added $350,000 to the local tax bill, which Guers and many others felt was way too much. Their point of view prevailed, which is why trail users now cross Main Street at street level. Guers said he’s very pleased with the way it worked out, and he’s proud to have played a role in getting the trail completed.
Guers was offered a number of jobs such as a part-time zoning officer after retiring, and actually interviewed for one of them. He went home after the interview, sat down and asked himself why he would want to do that? A significant number, if not a majority, of a borough manager’s headaches are caused by zoning issues, he told himself and he’d had enough.
His retirement plans now include time in the RV, time with family — he has a son in Reinholds and another in Hamburg — some tweaks to the man cave and lots of time on the golf course, where a scorecard in the high 70s is not unusual, and maybe some volunteer work.
One thing’s for certain. He’s not moving.