12/10/07 — Ritt puts down gavel in Walnut Creek

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Ritt puts down gavel in Walnut Creek

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on December 10, 2007 1:56 PM

Ken Ritt has spent more than half his life taking care of his community or country.

In his younger days, he spent 22 years flying F-4 fighter jets.

And for the last 12 years, he has served the Village of Walnut Creek as mayor.

Add four more years as a council member, and he has a total of 16 years experience at making Walnut Creek work.

And it all started with the village's last mayor -- Russell Prys -- who pulled up in Ritt's yard one day and asked him to take a ride with him.

What Ritt expected to be a short trip around the village turned into a trip into Goldsboro.

Prys took Ritt to the Wayne County Board of Elections, where he gave $5 to the elections staff, looked at Ritt and said, "You're running for council."

The rest was history.

Ritt admits he was always interested in public service.

Before he retired from the military in 1990, he was what is now known as a combat support group commander, which means he took care of most of the public relations.

"I took care of everything that didn't include fighter jets and the flight line," Ritt said.

With the military, Ritt and his wife, Penny, in 25 years have moved 17 times all around the world. They say Walnut Creek is the best.

"It's a special place," he said.

And he should know. He has owned a home there for 23 years.

But the village has grown over the years, he said as he recalls when the town went without a town hall, without a police department and without a village administrator.

"For years, we had one park ranger and a clerk who worked out of her house and kept the books," Ritt said. "I mean she really kept the books. She didn't have a computer to use. She had these huge books that you'd have to go through."

He remembers when all the checks had to be signed individually by the mayor.

"I would go to the clerk's house every Sunday, and we would write checks," he said.

Once Sandra Allen took over and "brought them up to the technology age," she jumpstarted the village's progress.

"We would just hire a part-time person then move them up to full-time, and we just kept doing that until we are where we are now," he said.

Ritt is so glad to have had Ms. Allen, who will soon be retiring, Cathy Woodson, the new clerk, and Lou Cook, the village administrator.

"They have made my and the council's job so much easier," he said.

There were days, he said, that being mayor wasn't easy, though.

From neighbor disputes to phone calls he had to hold the phone a foot away from his ear to take, he has seen some negative aspects of the village residents.

But he said he has seen many more good things than bad.

When hurricanes Fran and Floyd hit the village, Ritt said people didn't complain.

"The ones who could stand to lose things, the ones with the most money, they were the first ones out there helping everyone out," he said. "Everybody came together to help out. Sandy (Allen) was out there with a chainsaw."

Ritt has seen the village change, too, for what he believes is the better.

"When we first moved here, almost everybody knew everybody," he said. "It's not that way now. It's bigger, but it still has its own personality."

Younger families have started to move in among the once older residential crowd.

But that's a good thing, he said.

"We never had to think about putting in a playground before," he said.

Ritt sees the village continuing to grow, and he just wants it to keep the intimacy that comes with a small community.

You won't see him at council meetings for a while.

He is trying to relax -- something he admits won't last long.

"I can't do nothing for long," he said.

So he will golf, something he says he seems to be getting worse at.

But he won't have to worry about calls from complaining residents anymore.

He won't be responsible for village disasters, whether they be large or small.

And if someone has a problem in the village, he will tell them the same thing he tells his wife with a chuckle, "you need to call someone about that."

"I'm not mayor anymore, remember?" he said.