Basking in baseball, apple pie – and awards

Chester County’s top administrative official typically takes pride in being in charge and knowing what’s happening.

Displaying his Outstanding Chief Clerk Award, Mark Rupsis credits the people around him for any success he's had.

Displaying his Outstanding Chief Clerk Award, Mark Rupsis credits the people around him for any success he's had.

But that pattern got interrupted last week when Chester County Chief Operating Officer Mark Rupsis attended the 130th Annual Conference of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.

Rupsis said the announcement that he was the recipient of the statewide “Outstanding Clerk Award” caught him completely by surprise. CCAP recognized him as a “champion of county government and the people it serves,” noting that Chester County has earned many awards under his leadership.

In an interview this week, Rupsis acknowledged being blindsided on multiple fronts. “They got me good,” he said of his conspirators, who not only included the county commissioners and staffers, but also members of his own family. “I was totally shocked.”

He said the fact that Ellie, his wife of 36 years, had wanted to accompany him to the conference didn’t raise any suspicions because she had recently retired and thought it would be fun to visit Split Rock Lodge. Plus, she had attended other conferences. Similarly, it wasn’t odd when Lauren, one of the couple’s three grown children, wanted to tag along: She works as a teacher and had time off.

On the evening of the awards banquet, Rupsis said his wife and daughter left before he did, expressing excitement about trying a particular Italian restaurant. Instead, they were hiding in the back of the room when Rupsis got called up to the podium, prompting the commissioners to whisper and point in their direction: surprise number two.

Rupsis said when he returned to work the following week, he was greeted with a congratulatory banner and lots of well wishes and thought things had finally returned to normal. Then office manager Janelle Swab approached him with what seemed to be an urgent need: Could they talk privately?

“Janelle had this really serious look on her face,” Rupsis said, explaining that he was braced for some sort of crisis. But when he opened the meeting room door, another ambush awaited: This one involved apple pie – his favorite – and ice cream.

“They got me twice,” he said. And even though he’s not a fan of relinquishing control, he said the recognition represented a heartwarming and humbling experience – and not one he could have ever predicted when he began working for the county 36 years ago.

“Any success that I’ve had is due to the great commissioners and the great employees who have worked with me or for me over the years,” he said. “It’s been quite a journey.”

Mark Rupsis says he has thoroughly enjoyed his nearly 39 years as a Chester County employee.

Mark Rupsis says he has thoroughly enjoyed his nearly 39 years as a Chester County employee.

The odyssey began in 1977 when Rupsis was hired as a program analyst by the late J. Larry Boling, who served as the county’s director of finance and administration. At that time, the job had nothing to do with computers, Rupsis said. His responsibility was to monitor programs to determine whether they were running at peak efficiency, a skill that would stick.

What also endured as Rupsis worked his way up the ladder was empathy for all employees. “Since I started at the lowest level, I always felt that I could identify with everyone,” he said. He added that the “servant-leader” description has become clichéd, but he always viewed his role that way.

Rupsis, a 1975 graduate of Saint Bonaventure University, received a master’s degree in public administration from Penn State in 1977. Shortly thereafter, he accepted the county position that would lead to nearly 39 years of employment.

He was promoted to chief administrative officer in 2006 and assumed the post of chief operating officer in 2011 – a position in which he oversees the operation of all county departments and serves as liaison to the Court of Common Pleas, county elected officials, and all county authorities and boards.

During his tenure, Rupsis served 16 different commissioners through 10 general elections in scenarios that he could never have imagined when he first walked in the door.

“I remember being asked during my interview what my goal was, and I think I probably said I eventually hoped to have some sort of leadership position,” Rupsis recalled.

Rupsis, who also works as an adjunct professor at Widener University, said he was always mindful of balancing multiple roles: carrying out the mission and direction of the commissioners, addressing the needs of county department heads, and serving the taxpayers.

Asked about the highlights of his career, Rupsis said several came to mind. One centered on the many lasting relationships he’s forged with his co-workers over the years. Another dates back to 2006, the first time the county received its first Triple-A bond rating from Moody’s Investors Service.

“That took a lot of work from a lot of people,” Rupsis said, crediting the commissioners for making the right fiscal decisions.

The distinction, which has benefitted taxpayers by making the county eligible for low interest rates, was a prelude to Triple-A ratings from Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s. In February, all three agencies reaffirmed the county’s economic well-being with Triple-A bond ratings, a 10-year stretch of maintaining the highest possible rating status.

Chester County is the only county in Pennsylvania that holds the three Triple-A rating distinctions, and is one of just 43 counties nationwide, county officials said.

Another proud moment happened in 2012 when Rupsis, who serves on the boards of the Southeastern Pennsylvania March of Dimes and the Chester County Economic Development Council, received the J. Larry Boling Innovation and Excellence in Government Award. “He was my first supervisor so that was very special,” Rupsis said.

Last week's honor was also extremely gratifying, Rupsis said.  In addition to being nominated by the commissioners and current co-workers, he said he was told that letters endorsing his selection came from six former commissioners and colleagues. "I am truly appreciative of all the support," he said.

A photo gallery in his office features a shot of the historic courthouse, where he once worked; an assortment of family images, most of which feature Rupsis, his wife, daughters Lauren and Lindsay, and son Matthew; one that depicts Rupsis with Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard – yes, he really is a fan of baseball and apple pie – and one that shows him jamming with Bruce Springsteen, another of his idols.

Regrettably for Rupsis, the rock ‘n roll picture provides an example of his colleagues’ Photoshop skills. But regrets are not something Rupsis has accumulated on the job.

“If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t hesitate,” Rupsis said. “It’s been great.”

At 63, Rupsis said he doesn’t have his eye on retirement. “I really like what I’m doing,” he said. “As long as the commissioners think I’m doing a good job, I have no interest in leaving.”



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