Thursday, Dec 08, 2016
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Hoytville's mayor aims to reinvigorate tiny village of 300

HOYTVILLE, Ohio - With titles that range from Mom to Mayor to graduate student and social worker, Kelly Carpenter figured she was qualified to be part of a panel discussion on juggling school, family, and work for the Women Law Student Association at the University of Toledo this week.

She is, after all, a case study in time management.

"If I make it through a day, I'm really happy and I know I can try to make it through the next one," Ms. Carpenter, 37, said with a laugh.

Born and raised in the tiny southwestern Wood County village of Hoytville, Ms. Carpenter enrolled in a new master's program in social work at UT this fall - a decision that means she's on campus about 56 hours a week for classes, an assistantship, and an internship at the university counseling center.

The mother of five didn't plan on all that when she agreed to become mayor of her hometown last year, but she's managed to make it work.

A graduate of McComb High School and UT, Ms. Carpenter said she never intended to return to Hoytville, a town of just 300 people about 40 miles south of Toledo. She and her husband, Robert, were living in Houston, Texas, where she worked as a social worker for the Harris County Health Department when circumstances led them and their five children back to Ohio three years ago.

They bought the house next to her parents' home where she'd grown up, and Ms. Carpenter soon found out what most everyone else in town knew all too well: black sulphur had turned the town's water undrinkable.

"The water quality is horrible," she said. "It stinks. It stains and you cannot drink it."

Not long after settling back in Hoytville, some village council members approached Ms. Carpenter about becoming mayor.

The previous mayor, who had begun working on a plan to bring water to town, was moving out of state, and they knew Ms. Carpenter had some experience applying for grants. She accepted.

So far, Hoytville has secured $1.2 million through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Community Assistance Program, but the entire project will cost $2.7 million. Ms. Carpenter said the town's 300 or so residents can't afford high water assessments no matter how badly they need clean water.

"The majority of our people in town are retired or on fixed incomes," she said. "We have to get the cost down."

Northwestern Water and Sewer District Executive Director Jerry Greiner said he's impressed with Ms. Carpenter's dedication to getting the water project done.

"It must be difficult to be an elected official in any village," he said.

"There can't be a lot of satisfaction and pay that comes with it. She seems real conscientious and seems to have the interests of the village at heart."

Last January, she and her cousin started a food pantry that attempts to deliver food boxes to families in need once a month, and she's an enthusiastic supporter of the local youth and community center where her own children go after school to do homework and take part in supervised activities.

"I find myself bringing things I've learned from social work to my life in many facets," she said. "If I didn't have a social work background, I don't think I'd be as concerned about the needs of the people in town."

Hoytville Clerk-Treasurer Edna Johnson said Mayor Carpenter is learning as she goes, and the town needs her energy.

"We struggle but we're trying. If we get water, I think we can grow," she said.

"A lot of people do take pride. We love having our middle school here. I think we have a really good community. We all try to work together."

Ms. Carpenter said the support of the townspeople, including her parents, sister, cousin, and niece, are the secret to her success.

"I could not survive without my family, and no one could pay me to move anywhere else - even with the bad water," she said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-353-5972.

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