BOWLING GREEN - Bill Clifford strolled through Wood Lane Industries yesterday, greeted by hoots and hugs.
"I'm going to miss you, Bill," said Rick Evans, who paused at his work station to say good-bye to the longtime Wood Lane superintendent.
David Schult, who has worked at Wood Lane Industries for 42 years, agreed with Mr. Evans that Mr. Clifford is, in a word, nice. "He was a joy and a half," Mr. Schult said.
Mr. Clifford, who turned 54 Sunday, is retiring next Monday after nearly 26 years with the Wood County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, the last 10 as superintendent.
He said he happened into his career quite by chance after taking a job at a summer camp for mentally retarded children in his hometown of Dover, Ohio, one summer during college.
"I was really lucky," he said. "I fell into it and loved it, so I never saw it as being tough."
He taught for mental retardation boards in Allen and Marion counties for four years before getting a master's degree at Bowling Green State University and taking a job with Wood Lane Industries in 1982. He worked as adult services director from 1987 to 1990, director of operation from 1990 and 1998, and took over as superintendent when Doug McVey retired in 1998.
He said he's most proud of the community employment program he launched in 1985. About 200 disabled adults now are employed in community settings in the county.
"I would say we were one of the pioneers in the state of Ohio no doubt in the area of community employment," Mr. Clifford said.
Tim Harris, president of the mental retardation board, said Mr. Clifford also is to be commended for partnering with BGSU and the WSOS Community Action Commission to build an addition to the Jordan Family Development Center to provide children with early intervention services. He also was instrumental in the construction of the Dolores A. Black gymnasium at the Bowling Green Community Center that is now home for Wood County Special Olympics and other recreational programs for youth and adults served by Wood Lane.
"We have one of the best programs in the state and it's been because of good leadership," Mr. Harris said. " Wood Lane is family to a lot of the consumers who have no other family, and that goes through the whole organization. It's a job but a lot of the employees really care about the people they serve."
The mental retardation board has retained Huron County MRDD Superintendent Dee Zeffiro-Krenisky as interim superintendent and hopes to have a successor to Mr. Clifford in place by Sept. 1.
Mr. Clifford said he has no immediate plans but just felt the time was right to retire.
"The people I've talked to - staff, friends - keep saying, 'What's the rest of the story? There's something going on.' There isn't," he said. "Except that I wanted to go out on top. I'm a perfectionist and I have a lot of pride regarding Wood Lane, a lot of respect for Wood Lane. My goal is to leave on top and leave Wood Lane in great shape."
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