Saturday marked a “changing of the guard” in Stillwater village government as a “grateful” Rick Nelson took the oath of office as new mayor — replacing the longest running leader in village history.
Nelson, a lifelong Stillwater resident, was elected on March 18, defeating former Mayor Ernest Martin and ending the incumbent’s 23-year reign. Martin had been in office since 1992. Nelson will officially replace him on Monday.
“I find it fitting that our new journey begins the day after Easter Sunday,” said Nelson, surrounded by family and friends at a pack Stillwater Blockhouse. “Together we will walk this path of rebirth and new beginnings with faith that each step will bring us closer to our goals.”
With his wife, Catherine and son, Patrick by his side, Nelson promised during his 10-minute speech he will spend his first 100 days in office listening to what residents have to say.
“I’m reminded of when Charlie Woodman came to Stillwater to be our minister,” said Nelson, a member, deacon, and officer in the Stillwater United Church. “He spent the first few months just listening to people in the church and community. He took the time to learn and understand so that he could be a more effective leader. Listening helped him build the foundation for how he would minister to us. We will follow his example … then our board will review your ideas and concerns, and use a ‘can this work?’ approach as we move forward.”
Thinking back on how his “journey” to office began, Nelson said it started with a casual conversation at a comprehensive committee meeting with a group of village Trustees when the question came up: “Who would run for mayor when we all thought Mr. Martin would be retiring? At the end I asked who would be our next mayor. The answer surprised me. ‘Why not you Rick?’ The seed had been planted and over the next two years we went about the business of forming the framework that would grow into our campaign.”
He then went on to thank his team of advisor and family members, because he wouldn’t be “standing here today without their love and support.”
This included Margaret Rubin, his “moral compass that kept us above the fray,” former village Trusteee Ellen Vomacka, who consistently encouraged “us” from the sidelines, John Murphy and Town Supervisor Ed Kinowski, who brought the voices of experience and wisdom.” He also thanked his son Patrick, who handled media development, dealt with the press, managed his election website (with help from Tom Coffinger and his niece Kassandra), who chaired the committee meetings and “did whatever else we needed him to do.”
“A special thanks goes out to my wife Catherine, who helped keep everything in perspective with her smile, no matter the kind of day we were having,” Nelson added. “And she was quick to remind me that even mayors have to take the garbage out.”
In conclusion, before a cake and coffee reception at the nearby Stillwater United Church, just around the corner from his new office, Nelson asked his supporters to remember a phrase his cousin Michele Muzio shared with him.
“Change is different, not difficult,” he said. “Our goal in every situation is to find an accord and move forward with conviction. Together we will seek new ideas and not fear uncertainty. We will view challenges as opportunities and always learn from our mistakes. We will encourage robust debate, but never forget that, above all, we are neighbors, friends, and family.”