Onaway mayor nearing end of productive run at helm

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
For the first time in two decades, Onaway city residents will have a new mayor. That will be Jan. 1, 2018.
Gary Wregglesworth is finishing his 18th year as the municipality’s highest-ranking official. It’s actually 18 years and two months. He already has been counting down the commission meetings at two-and-a-half months, or five regular meetings.
Taking over the gavel in 1999, he is believed to be the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history. He was never opposed during a regular election.
There was a recall election a few years ago when some residents were upset with the decision to no longer fund the police department, but voters showed confidence in his abilities and kept him on.

Onaway mayor Gary Wregglesworth
Onaway mayor Gary Wregglesworth

Well, why not? He is like any other person in town. In fact, if there was a country song that best fits the description of mayor Wregglesworth it is John Conlee’s “Common Man.”
He even downplays the role, calling the position, “A city commissioner with a fancy title. I think it is an Americana kind of thing. In other cities it carries a lot of power.”
Gary has great respect for the role he has played in the city’s direction. “A lot of people depend on the decisions you make here,” said Gary. But, in the next breath he will say he pays a $40 sewer bill at his home at the top of South Sixth Street, just like everyone else.
And a common man is what I’ll be.
He is a paramedic with Onaway Area Ambulance and previously was a security guard at the UAW Black Lake Conference Center, but his roots and love of the city run deep. He has family members that got off the train to make a life in northern Michigan at the turn of the 20th century.
“It’s been great, I have loved every moment of it,” said Gary of his time serving as mayor. “It’s a roller coaster with highs and lows. There are times when you hate it and want to resign and there are times you think…it’s been good.”
Among the greatest accomplishments that Gary has been a part of was the restoration of the historic Onaway Courthouse Building.
“The day we dedicated this building, that is the highest high,” said Gary. “We were able to pull off something that people said could never be done. It was a 100-year-old building that only had been heated just a few years of its lifetime. Everything was falling in. It was in rough shape.”
Gary said there was a lot of hard work by a lot of people.
Another major accomplishment during his tenure was construction of the new sewer system. He has become quite versed on defending it over the years. “I could tell the story for an hour about how it all got started. The thing that I have observed is people want to know is how does this affect me right now? Some people want to have a three-minute conversation that takes hours or years to understand.”
The recall election was the lowest of lows. “I survived the recall and there was one year to go on my term. I debated whether that was the best time to go. But we were in transition. We have a new city manager in place and there is a lot of stability here, and it now is a good time to step down.”
There is a lot to talk about from the last 20 years, and Gary is not afraid to talk.
“Is Onaway a better place?” he asked. “I think so, everyone should ask themselves.”
Gary believes the time is right.
“I’m 55, so I am winding down toward retirement. You need fresh perspective. We fought a lot of battles over the years and you get weary.”
Commissioner Chuck Abshagen is the only name on the November ballot for mayor.
Gary believes there is a need for youth and stability and that is the direction the city is headed.
“I walk away with a good feeling,” he said.