Gainesville city maintenance supervisor William Walrath is the 2018 Hootin an Hollarin Parade Marshal
William Walrath, the 2018 Hootin an Hollarin Parade Marshal, has seen a lot of changes since he first started working for the city of Gainesville in July 1975. Reminiscing recently, William, now Gainesville’s maintenance supervisor, said he’s worked for “a bunch of mayors and fill-ins,” including Ray Q. Smith, Frank McClendon, Bob Kruse, Kent Hannaford, Don Luna, current mayor Gail Reich and several others. He’s also attended more than 500 monthly city council meetings during his more than four decades with the city. “I haven’t missed many,” he says with a laugh.
Two years after William began working for the city, after then water commissioner J. O. Wood died, he also took over the responsibility for keeping the city’s water system, including four wells, in good repair. Now the city is building a sewage treatment plant to replace the two sewage lagoons that have handled the job since William began his career with the city. He will work with maintenance worker Connelly Dunnerman to manage the new system.
City Hall has operated in several different buildings in William’s 44 years, including what is now the Lions Club building, upstairs in the old hotel building on the northwest corner of the square, the basement of the courthouse, the building at Harlin Drive and Fourth Street that now serves as the 416th Bomb Wing Archive and finally in its current location in the former Amyx building. Another change is that the city limits have moved outward, expanding along Highway 181 and west on Highways 160/5 to include the Gainesville Medical Clinic and Gainesville Health Care Center.
Most notably, perhaps, when William started working in Gainesville’s maintenance department in 1975, “the city didn’t even own a pickup. I had to use my own,” he said. Later, the city had a Ford 2000 tractor. “That’s all I had to do anything with,” he said. When it snowed, he used the tractor with a 5-foot blade to plow the few streets that got cleared. Now, he said, the city has pickups, trucks and tractors, a backhoe and two snowplows. And, since City Hall is now in the former Amyx Ford building, all the equipment is stored inside, a big improvement over the outside-parking days, he said.
Not only has William worked for Gainesville most of his life, in 1953 he was also born right here in Gainesville in Dr. M. J. Hoerman’s office, now the home of the Ozark County Health Department. He was youngest of the 10 children – five girls, five boys – of Richard and Opal Walrath. He left school before graduating and began a career of hard physical work, first running a bushhog to clear land for the late Benton Breeding and cutting cordwood with his dad. Then he worked with Chester and Lester Strong doing carpenter work and later lived and worked at a sawmill for about a year in northern Missouri
In 1972, William married Jeannie Burks, an Arkansas native he met through mutual relatives. They have one daughter, Lisa Walrath, and two grandchildren, Austin, 25, and Ashley, 18. For several years, Jeannie has worked as the secretary at Mammoth Assembly of God, and – no surprise – Williams helps there when needed, mowing the yard, changing light bulbs and “doing different things,” he said. He has also driven the church van for more than 30 years.
Now 65, William often gets asked, “When are you going to retire?” but just as frequently, people tell him he can’t retire because too many Gainesville residents rely on him.
Gainesville mayor Gail Reich said, “You can’t replace the wealth of knowledge William has about everything that keeps Gainesville going. I don’t know how we’ll ever replace him when he retires.” City clerk Lisa Goodnight added, “When you think of the city of Gainesville, it’s only natural to think of William. There are few of us who dedicate as many years to a job as William has. I believe he tries every day to give the town his very best.”
Former mayor Don Luna said William knows the city water and sewer system so well because he was there when both were installed. “He can take you to any site and knows just about where the pipes are located,” Luna said. “He does his work during the day but is also on call nights and weekends if there’s a water leak.”
Luna’s wife, Barbara, appreciates William’s skill in operating the city’s front-end loader. When a city water line broke at their house, “We watched William operate the front end loader very carefully around a flowering Rose of Sharon tree. He said he might not be able to avoid hitting it, but it still blooms today.”
With 44 years of service to the city, William isn’t ready to retire – to residents’ relief. He says one of the things he likes about the job is, “You never know, when you start of a morning, what you’ll do that day,” he said. “We try to keep everything fixed.”