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Halifax County Service Authority water superintendent retires after 38 years

For 38 years former Halifax County Service Authority Water Superintendent Mark Wilkerson has worked to ensure the people of South Boston and Halifax County have had clean, safe, reliable drinking water, and after almost four decades of working in the water treatment industry, he has retired.

“I’ve worked there since I was 19 years old, and the plan I have is like the retirement with the school teachers, and it just looked like the thing to do moneywise. In all it was financially right,” Wilkerson said.

His last day was Dec. 31, and his co-workers at the Leigh Street plant hosted a small retirement party for him his last week at work. 

On Jan. 23 he was presented a resolution from the Halifax County Service Authority honoring him upon his retirement.

Wilkerson said now that he is retired, he plans to remain in Halifax County. The former water superintendent said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of getting a part-time job. He also plans to do some work around the house, take care of his parents, go on a few vacations and spend time with his children and grandchildren.

Wilkerson is the husband of Mickey Wilkerson and is the father of two and stepfather to one.  He also has three grandchildren.

Even though he is enjoying his retirement so far, Wilkerson said he misses working as the water superintendent.

“I enjoyed what I was doing because every day was different.  That’s what I liked about it. It wasn’t like a factory job where I was doing the exact same thing every day. With all those machines and equipment and the water changing, you changing the chemicals, running tests, going out pulling samples and checking water levels for people and stuff, it was something different every day, and it was interesting,” Wilkerson said.

The former superintendent said the people he worked with and the public are the things he misses most about the job.

Having to get up at 5 a.m. in the morning to be at work by 6 a.m. is what he misses  least.

Wilkerson said he learned patience and professionalism from working in that post.

“I learned you really have to have patience. You can’t just fly into something when something breaks or something goes wrong. You have to look at it and go through the problem-solving process and figure out the best way to do it that won’t disrupt service to the people. I’ve learned that you need to be professional at your job because we’re responsible for everyone’s health in South Boston who drinks water. You have to take pride in what you do,” he said.

He recalls his most memorable moment on the job.

“My most memorable moment was probably in 1996 when Hurricane Fran came through and almost completely destroyed our raw water house which is responsible for pumping the raw water from the river to the plant to make drinking water, and it just pulled all the electrical service out of it, and we had to scramble and find temporary wiring and  a generator and everything just to get it back in service,” Wilkerson said.

Over the years, Wilkerson said he has seen numerous changes in the water treatment industry.

“Paperwork has increased 10 times what it was. The DEQ and the health department, all these agencies you have to deal with, their paperwork has increased 10-fold. Their requirements for the water to be considered drinkable have changed. It’s gotten a lot harder to meet the standards over the years because they’re always finding something new they want to test for, something new they want to remove, and the process of treating the water has become much more difficult than it used to be,” Wilkerson said.

The former superintendent of water said he decided to work at the Leigh Street plant after his best friend’s uncle informed him of an opening at the plant.

“He said there was opening down there, and when you get out of high school you need to consider maybe wanting to work there. I said, well I’ve got to work somewhere, so I applied for the job and got it, and I’ve been there ever since,” Wilkerson said.

In 1975 Wilkerson began working as a water operator trainee for the City of South Boston at the Leigh Street Water Plant. He remained in that position until 1990 when he was promoted to chief operator managing the laboratory and daily operations of the Town of South Boston’s water supply system. 

When Halifax County Service Authority formed in 2007, he was promoted to superintendent of water.  As superintendent he was given the added responsibility of the operation and oversight of water for VIRginia International Raceway and Clover residents.

“I’ve been there, and it paid more, and I felt like I could do the job, and it was a promotion, so when it was offered to me, I accepted it,” Wilkerson said. 

For the past eight years under the leadership of Wilkerson, the Leigh Street Treatment Plant has been recognized by the Virginia Department of Health for the quality of its operations earning silver awards in 2006 and 2010 and gold awards in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2012.

A resident of South Boston, Wilkerson was born and raised in Halifax County. He graduated from Halifax County Senior High School in 1975 before going to work at the Leigh Street plant.

Although he didn’t attend college, over the years he has taken numerous training courses.

“We have to have 20 hours of training every two years to keep our license,” Wilkerson said. “I don’t have a degree, but I probably have enough hours to get one.”

Although his time as water superintendent has come to an end, he still has a few words of wisdom and advice he shared with the new superintendent, Clay Samples.

“You have to stay calm and be patient. Make sure you’re going to make the best decision you can possibly make. You have to be open-minded because there’s always someone who knows more about something than you do,” Wilkerson said.

He expressed his sincere gratitude to the people he worked with during his years working at the plant. 

“I just want thank everyone who I worked with and everyone who I had contact with while I was working with the water plant. I enjoyed being there. I enjoyed working with them, and I wish all of them the best. Those people at the water plant are very responsible and conscientious,” Wilkerson concluded.