Fresh out of high school, 18-year-old Gale Engles applied for a job as an administrative assistant in the soil conservation district in Carroll County government. On Monday, 42 years later, she retired as the bureau chief of resource management.
While Engles worked as an administrative assistant, she made an effort to learn more than what was in her job description, in time giving her the knowledge she needed to move up the ladder within the county government.
“I actually started looking at plans while I was working as a secretary just because I wanted to learn more about the job,” Engles said on Monday, her last day as bureau chief. “And by reviewing the sediment control plans, when the job came open for the inspector position, I applied for it and I got that because of, I guess, the knowledge I gained through reviewing the sediment control plans when they came in through the district office."
In 1988, Engles became a grading and sediment control inspector with the permits office. Three years later, she was promoted to chief grading and sediment control inspector. Working in a managerial position, Engles had to learn how to work with others in county government and oversee her program.
“That was not something I was used to. I was kind of used to following in someone else’s footprints,” Engles said. “And now I was involved in making policies and procedures and just managing staff and answering questions and making decisions basically.”
Engles remained in that role until 2008, when she became the bureau chief of resource management. The bureau protects and manages natural resources for the county, and, as its chief, Engles managed 19 staff members and helped oversee numerous budgets totaling about $5 million.
Some of those dollars revolve around the bureau running the Carroll County program for its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit (or NPDES). The NPDES permit is a federal program, run through the Maryland Department of the Environment, that serves to improve the water quality of local streams, according to Engles. Through this program, Engles has overseen the construction of 30 different ponds or retrofits of existing ponds for stormwater management, the planting of about 120 acres of trees, and treatment of more than 2,000 acres of impervious surfaces, i.e. blacktops or roofs, she said.
Engles said she’s particularly proud of the county’s management of its NPDES permit.
“We’re way ahead of what the permit requires us to be at this point,” she said.
To pay for NPDES projects and more, Engles made it a priority to keep the burden off the taxpayers as much as possible. In her time as chief, the Bureau of Resource Management has received $17.3 million in grants, according to Engles.
The most challenging part of the job for Engles has been keeping up with the policy changes set by the federal government and MDE.
“There is an adjustment period of bringing our program up to that standard of what they’re now requiring,” Engles said. “Once we get rolling in one direction, we seem to have to turn around and go in another direction just to stay in compliance.”
Regardless of the job’s difficulties, Engles said she felt gratified through her career.
“I have enjoyed working for Carroll County government," Engles said. “I have loved my job.”
Engles said the people she worked with and the opportunities for advancement, even without a college degree, made her want to stay for 42 years. She’s also a Westminster resident, and she said she wanted to serve the people of Carroll County.
In retirement, Engles and her husband Daniel plan to spend time at a house they had built in Delaware, but they will keep their residency in Carroll and visit their grandchildren. Daniel retires from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. next week, Engles said.
Christopher Heyn, previously Carroll County’s watershed restoration engineer, will be promoted to the bureau chief position, picking up from Engles, according to county spokesperson Chris Winebrenner.
The woman with answers
After spending decades with the county, Engles is held in high regard by her colleagues.
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, attended Francis Scott Key High School with Engles. He said their friendship was forged anew when he became commissioner.
“Quite honestly, [she] became the go-to person because of her experience and her knowledge," Wantz said. “It’s amazing how much she knew and we’re truly going to miss that person that knows that stuff like the back of her hand.”
Wantz praised Engles for her work with stormwater management and securing grants for the Bureau of Resource Management. He said it’s “amazing” to see a person who loves Carroll contribute to society in the way Engles has.
“She was very well respected by her peers," Wantz said. “She had most of the answers, and if she didn’t have the answer, she found it very quickly.”
Clay Black, the bureau chief of development review, shared nearly the same sentiment.
“If she doesn’t know the answer, she asks those people who know the answer," Black said.
Black has known Engles for more than 30 years. Their offices work closely together. When a plan for development comes to Black’s office it has to be forwarded to a number of county agencies to ensure it complies with policies. Through this process, Black has gotten to know Engles, he said.
“It has been a joy,” Black said. “When you ask her to do something, she just goes ahead and does it.”
Black recalled the times he saw Engles come to work early to meet a citizen with a concern, go out in the field to help find the solution to a problem, or stay late to attend a night meeting.
Like the dedicated employee her colleagues described, Engles did not spend her last day without purpose. On Monday afternoon, Engles said she was preparing to complete performance reviews before clocking out.
Engles said she reflected on her last day as she arrived to work Monday.
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“I thought about it when I walked in, and it was bittersweet,” she said. “Walking out is probably going to be more difficult knowing that I’m not going to walk back in as an employee again. But I know the time’s right. I know it’s time for me to move on and start another chapter of my life.”