From ‘Mayor’s Mansion,’ Opelt loved serving village

Press Staff Writer

            After traveling and living across the Midwest and elsewhere, the late James Opelt came home during his retirement years and took an interest in the place where he grew up — Pemberville.
        Before you knew it, Opelt, a 1971 Eastwood graduate, was voted in as Pemberville’s mayor in 2006.
        Opelt’s home faced Front Street and he comically referred to it as the Mayor’s Mansion. Why? Because he was the third village mayor to own and live in that very same home; because his front door and porch face the village’s main thoroughfare (Front Street); and because the home was the only home on its block — bounded by three streets forming a triangle and surrounding his property.
        He told The Press that he loved it when villagers passed him on the sidewalk and called him “Mayor.” Unlike most previous mayors, he got involved in ways they probably didn’t. Before becoming mayor, Opelt served Pemberville on village council and then as mayor for eight years over two terms.
        Opelt campaigned on a policy that said if elected he would hold “coffees”, which were informal sessions outside village hall so his constituents could voice concerns up front and personal. Of course, Opelt did not care when villagers approached him.
        “I’m always available, so I tell them don’t wait for a coffee to talk with me.” Opelt told The Press in 2007. “People should know that they are always welcome and that they should come to council meetings even if they don’t have a complaint or something, but just to be informed. They should know they can come and go if they wish — they don’t have to stay at the whole meeting.
        “Even though there are certainly things that I’ve changed, at least people have been there to tell me what has been done in the past. I don’t think I have any regrets (about running for mayor). When I took the job a lot of people said, ‘Oh, my God, you’re phone will ring off the hook with people complaining.’ And it hasn’t. The thing is while I have had situations where people needed something done; people have been very understanding, very patient.
        “Council has been working with me well. In any situation when someone comes to you its hard and you’re learning a different style and you’re learning a different situation. Have we always seen eye to eye? Of course not. Will we always see eye to eye? No. But the thing is I think that we’ve been able to leave the meetings as friends and still talk and work together and that sort of thing. Every day gets better.”
        Plus, Opelt was chairman of the Saturday Pemberville Fair Parade for seven years; member of the Pemberville Opera House Guild; Trustee for the Pemberville-Freedom Historical Society as well as church choir director and organist. James organized community events with Santa, the Easter Bunny plus Ghosts and Goblins! 
        While mayor, his touring company booked two buses and took 100 local residents, mostly World War II veterans and their families, to Washington to visit the memorial honoring the generation that fought the holocaust in Germany and the war in the Pacific.
        An Eastwood scholarship has been established in Opelt’s name. His estate left money for this Eastwood Foundation Scholarship plus for the Pemberville pool, Pemberville Police Department and Pemberville Historical Society.
        Janis Kleine, Jan Knape, Kathy McCann and Janell Vickers nominated Opelt for the Eastwood Alumni Association’s Eagle Way Hall of Fame. The induction banquet is set for September 25 at the Pemberville American Legion. Tickets for the banquet, which are $25 for the chicken or steak dinner and festivities, are on sale at the Pemberville Library, at the high school office, or from the officers and members listed at and click on Eastwood Alumni Association. (— from a Press file story by Press news writer J. Patrick Eaken and the hall of fame biography).


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