In Rehoboth Beach, the sight of Mel Craig in his red ball cap and pickup truck is almost as familiar as the Dolle’s sign.
Craig, the city’s longtime public works director, is set to step down Friday, June 27, after 16 years on the job.
“I’m getting old. I’m 72 years old. It’s time to get the hell out,” Craig said with his typical blunt sense of humor. “I should do it while I’m still breathing.”
Mayor Sam Cooper said of Craig, “He’s just done an outstanding job. I think he knows what people want in Rehoboth in terms of cleanliness. We’ve gotten a lot of compliments the last few years as far as the cleanliness of town. He’s going to be missed.”
A native of Howard County, Md., Craig first came to Rehoboth in 1995 after retiring from a career as a property assessor in Maryland. He started working in the city’s building and licensing department under then-building inspector Susan Frederick in 1997. Cooper and then-City Manager Greg Ferrese recommended him for the head of the Public Works Department in December 1998. He now oversees 27 employees who keep the city in tip-top shape: collecting trash, storm cleanup and maintaining the beaches and streets.
Craig said he is retiring in part to help care for his cousin in Ellicott City, Md., who has health problems and is among the only family he has left.
“I guess the first couple of weeks will be strange,” Craig said of retirement. “That will wear off quick.”
Craig said he enjoyed working with Ferrese, who retired last November.
“I miss him,” Craig said.
He also spoke highly of Cooper, who has been mayor for all of Craig’s time on the job.
“If I knew 10 percent of what the mayor knows, I’d be intelligent. That guy remembers everything right down to a percentage that happened 10 years ago,” Craig said.
He said he liked working with Cooper and Ferrese because they allowed him to take responsibility and trusted him to get the job done. Craig said he won’t miss the day-to-day grind of the job, but that he plans to keep busy.
“Stay home and play with the dog,” he said.
Craig said he will also miss interacting with the citizens of Rehoboth.
“I had a guy on the Avenue, he said, ‘Hey Mel!’ I don’t know him, people know me, I’m big I guess (Craig stands at 6’5). He said, ‘I didn’t recognize you without your hat on.’ I went back in the truck and put it on,” Craig said. “I’ll miss talking to them. It’s like an extended family.”
Craig grew up on a dairy farm, but he quickly decided the farm life was not for him.
“Guys I went to school with, I started looking at their fathers and thinking, ‘God, they look old.’ I guess it’s the outside weather,” he said.
Craig said he has no regrets and is proud of his time as Rehoboth's public works director.
“I couldn’t have come to a better town,” he said.