GALLIPOLIS — Since 1984, Karen Sprague has been a fixture at the Gallia County Courthouse, starting in the county auditor’s office and working her way to county administrator. She officially retired at the end of last month though she said she’s not sure if that has sunk in, yet.
Sprague was recently recognized for her service by County Commissioners David Smith, Brent Saunders and Harold Montgomery at a reception held in her honor and attended by fellow county employees and well wishers. In fact, Montgomery was one of three commissioners who hired Sprague in 1991 as an administrative assistant.
“Karen’s been a tremendous asset to Gallia County,” Montgomery said, stating her contributions were “difficult to put into words.” He also noted Sprague was the first county administrator for Gallia and among many achievements, instituted a grants program where there was none prior to her arrival.
According to Sprague, one of her first jobs was to complete a major Community Development Block Grant in seven days and over the years, she estimates she has assisted in bringing $70 million in grant money to the county from a variety of sources and agencies, benefiting citizens across the county in equally varied ways. Montgomery guessed that figure was even higher, considering projects Sprague has recently been involved with which have yet to come to fruition.
Sprague said she’ll miss working with the people in Gallia County, including county office holders and those from outlying townships and villages. She takes pride in having found funding for everything from turnout gear for firefighters, to fire trucks, excavators, paving money, shelter houses, sewer systems and the many necessities communities need in order to not only exist but to thrive.
“Sometimes you feel like a problem solver all day long,” she said, adding she will miss that aspect of her job which allowed her to connect people to resources.
Looking back over the years, Sprague said she was proud to be a part of building five sewer systems, as well as projects that benefited families in need of housing repairs, facilities for early childhood development and those that expand health care and mental health options for residents. The projects she has been involved in run the gamut when it comes to how communities define infrastructure and investment.
Sprague said though she has officially retired, in the future she will be assisting her successor, former Gallia Economic Development Director Melissa Clark, in an “as needed” capacity, as she learns her new role. Sprague supposed trying to impart 36 years of knowledge in weeks would be a challenge, so she will back in the court house periodically, eventually, just not anytime soon.
A graduate of Gallia Academy High School and Marshall University, Sprague left Gallia County for a job in Prichard, W.Va. and then moved to Arizona for a year before moving home. She said taking the job at the auditor’s office was the “best move I ever made and taking the job with the commission was the second best move I ever made.”
Prior to landing at the Gallia County Courthouse, when she was running track at Marshall, though she had never thrown the javelin, one day she was instructed to do so by her coach at a meet when the javelin thrower was hurt. Unsure if she was the right woman for the moment, she threw it anyway and broke the school record at the time. A similar situation came up when she was offered the job with the county commission, in a role she’d never previously held and definitely a javelin she’d never thrown.
She explained as with all things, she asked her father for advice.
She said he told her, “You’re a smart girl, you’ve got a college degree, take the job, trust me, you can do this.”
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Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publising.