Sewell reflects on decades of development in this great, growing community
(Talk of the Town photo by Jennifer Zartman Romano)
David Sewell has lead the building and planning activities within Whitley County for decades. Looking back over his long, exciting career, he's seen great growth in all areas of the community, but his proudest accomplishment was his role in creating what is now known as the Whitley County Farmers Market.
By Jennifer Zartman Romano
As the evening hours fall, looking across Whitley County, the glow of neighborhoods reflects on the night sky with porch lights twinkling -- light cast from neighborhoods that didn't exist and businesses not yet built before David Sewell began work here.
Indeed, in the decades of Sewell's leadership in building and planning, our community has expanded in so many ways. Neighborhoods have been planned, communities have grown, entrepreneurs have built their dreams here and the community has grown carefully and thoughtfully with Sewell's guidance.
Last Friday, Sewell left his position as executive director of the Columbia City and Whitley County Planning and Building department, but not before quiet reflection on what he had seen during his career here.
Sewell began work locally in 1987 and eventually became the first executive director of the newly created Columbia City and Whitley County Planning and Building department. He served for eight years in Community Development for the City of Columbia City under the late Mayor Jim Teghtmeyer and returned to lead the Columbia City and Whitley County Planning and Building Department for 18 and a half years as executive director.
"A lot of things were happening...annexation, downtown streetscape improvements and the redevelopment commission was created," Sewell recalled, but quickly added, "I just happened to be in the position that was involved in this in the city jurisdiction and here in the county."
In his role, he oversaw the development of busy, bustling neighborhoods like Eagle Glen, Deer Chase, Irish Glen, Chardonnay, Fox Run, Lincoln Pointe and portions of Brookwood Estates. While neighborhoods saw to the growing need for housing, the businesses and industries built during Sewell's years brought jobs.
"The biggest, in my opinion, was SDI," Sewell recalled. "Rezoning property, inspections...it was a major, major project to oversee all of that."
Ever so humble, Sewell's fingerprints have been on so many projects over the years, but he refuses to take credit. One project, however, rises to the surface as something he will remain very proud of: the present day Whitley County Farmers Market.
"I am relatively proud that I was involved in starting up the farmers market," Sewell said. Sewell was instrumental crafting the ordinances needed to create the market and all of the early work required to make it happen locally -- navigating the political process and moving the initiative forward.
"I've always loved gardens and growing plants," Sewell said. Born and raised in Columbia Township, he fondly remembers helping in the family vegetable patch and has gently nurtured plants and tilled the soil most of his life. On a three acre parcel of land, they grew sweet corn and he helped his dad sell it to co-workers at the Weatherhead plant. "Having a big garden...potatoes...an orchard...it's in my blood."
In the early years, he participated as a vendor on Saturdays around the courthouse square and in recent years, he's become a frequent supporter of the market, strolling the square on weekends.
"As you know, you get busy," he said of his eventual decision to grow fruits and vegetables for his family's consumption alone. Still, his love of the market has remained. "It's just wonderful. I'm so impressed with how the community has embraced it. I hear said it is one of the best (farmers markets) in the region."
Soon, Sewell will move to Niles, Michigan, area to take on a new adventure -- working for the Pokagon Band of the Potawatomi tribe. "They have tribal lands in several communities. They are building homes for tribal members and doing some commercial developments," he adds.
"It will be a very interesting, creative opportunity," he said. "I'm looking forward to it...it will be a change." At the same time, Sewell's wife, Connie, is retiring from her position as a speech therapist with Whitley County Consolidated Schools.
While the couple will be enjoying building a new life together in Michigan, they'll still be making frequent visits to the area to visit family, including their three sons and their families.
"I have many friends and acquaintances I'll miss and hopefully we'll be able to stay in touch," he said. Many of those friends and colleagues came to wish him well at a farewell reception Friday at the Whitley County Government Center.
Sewell has lived and worked in many places during his career, but Whitley County holds a special place in his heart.
"I'm really impressed by the spirit of community in Whitley County and the cities and towns I've worked in and for," he said. "I see a lot of good effort going into trying to improve both the physical structures as well as the economic and social aspects and developments."
Sewell said he's pleased to have helped with the creation of comprehensive plans for South Whitley and Churubusco and that a comprehensive plan for Columbia City is well on it's way too.
"I don't believe my leaving will be a setback in any way. There are a lot of good things going on here," he said. "There are good things on the horizon and I'll look forward to coming back and seeing the progress. Whitley County will always be home."