Fred Bennett has been the Belmont County Engineer for more than four decades, but at the end of the week he is hanging up his hat.
On Wednesday, he looked back at his career that he called more than fulfilling.
Bennett has been responsible for 280 bridges and 308 miles of roads. He built four new county garages, torn down bridges that were dangerous and rehabbed bridges that were historic. Now, he said it is time to relax.
When he worked for the Ohio Department of Transportation, Bennett built the first Marion Street Bridge.
Upon taking office as county engineer, he inherited a lot of old, dangerous bridges. “So started out with, within the first couple years, three bridges collapsing,” he said.
In the 40-and-a-half years since, he has closed and replaced hundreds of bridges, dealt with historic snowfalls, floods that were the aftermath of hurricanes, and the worst: the Wegee and Pipe Creek flood that killed 26.
“Took out a lot of the bridges and the roadways and we had to get the roads reopened in those areas so the people could get back to their houses if they were still there. A lot of ’em weren’t,” Bennett recalled.
He has a lot of honors and awards to pack up, including serving as state president of the County Engineer’s Association.
His son Keith is also a county engineer in Stark County. They are the only father-son county engineers in the state of Ohio.
Over the years, Bennett said one thing in the job has remained the same. “You never have enough money to do what you need to do,” he said.
In terms of changes, he said the biggest of all has been the public, calling them more angry.
County officials have the ultimate respect for Bennett. County Commissioner Mark Thomas said Belmont County is a better place because of him.
Bennett has a wife of 57 years, three children and four grandchildren. When he hears someone wants to become an engineer, he smiles and says it’s a wonderful choice.
After his retirement, Bennett said he plans to volunteer at OVMC at least one day a week.