Joe Skala has been with the Lake County Planning Commission since the beginning. Literally.
The commission started in 1972 due to state regulations regarding lakeshore management, and he joined the board.
As of Monday, Jan. 6, Skala officially retired from the commission after 47 years of service. Friends and commission members gathered at the Lake County Law Enforcement Center prior to his final meeting to celebrate and share their favorite stories.
"I was interested in it because I had a resort in the Fall Lake area," Skala said. "It was a little bit to protect myself because they were talking lakeshore management, and I had a resort on a lake."
Skala served as a planning commissioner and occasional board chair ever since he joined. Over the years, he made decisions regarding plats, zoning regulations, lakeshore management, sewer guidelines and more.
"And when we started, we didn't have any regulations," Skala said. "No setbacks or anything like that. The state promulgated everything, and we'd sit down with the regulations and guidelines to apply them."
A resident of Fall Lake Township, Skala would make the long drive once a month for the commission meeting. Sometimes he would carpool with fellow commissioners from the area, such as Jim Weinzierl. Other times, he'd make the long trip alone.
"It's a quiet drive," Skala said. "There have been times, like last month, where I drove home and didn't even see another vehicle on the road."
As for memorable moments over the years, Skala recalls some of the more tumultuous meetings. Once the sheriff had to be called to withdraw a particularly enraged resident. But Skala is known by his fellow commission members for his willingness to let people vent.
"I remember once in Silver Bay, there were people in the front row having an argument in the back row. Joe was just looking at them, waiting for them to finish," Weinzierl said. "And he just said, 'I think we’ve heard enough now.' And moved on."
Skala has one piece of advice for the current and future planning commissioners: "Don't burden the board with too many unnecessary regulations."
"That was one of the things I tried to do," Skala said.
Skala received an engraved lunch box and thermos set from the county as thanks for his service. The engraving read, "In recognition of Joe Skala for 47 years of service on the Lake County Planning Commission."
Skala wasn't the only planning commissioner retiring. Mabel Tarlton was recognized for serving nine years, Jim Weinzierl for 13 years of service and Nancy Mancini for 15 years.