After more than 22 years as mayor of Alma, John Ballentine is calling it quits.
Ballentine, who may be the longest running mayor for Alma, decided to retire this year rather than seek re-election.
Various health issues have plagued Ballentine during the past 10 years, including a heart attack and surgery six years ago, back problems that stem from a combination of an injury during his time in the National Guard and several car accidents, 70 percent hearing loss in both ears, gall bladder surgery, and carpal tunnel syndrome, for which he is awaiting surgery.
His poor health has taken its toll, and Ballentine said it is time to give his body a rest and give someone new an opportunity to serve Alma.
"It’s time to move forward and let someone new come in, new blood, new ideas," Ballentine said. "I’m going to miss it, I can tell you that."
Ballentine took office in October of 1992 after a special mayors election. After returning from a tour of duty during Operation Desert Storm, two Alma residents cornered Ballentine and talked him into running, he said.
"I thought I would stay in just for a few years and then go on to do something else," Ballentine said. "I just never have went on to do something else, until now."
Though documentation could not be located, Ballentine said a former resident doing a history of Alma informed him that he may be the longest running mayor since the city’s inception in 1872.
His love of the job is what kept him in office, even after his body was telling him to give it up, he said.
"I’ve always liked politics and I’ve always been around it, and I kept seeing things we could improve," Ballentine said. "It seemed like we were making a difference."
When Ballentine first became mayor, he brought the city out of debt and took favoritism out of the city offices by creating department heads, he said.
"By delegating authority down to your people and hiring good people, it took a lot of politics out of the office," Ballentine said.
During his time, Alma has seen a rise in the number of area parks; the building of the $4 million water treatment plant; street, water and sewer improvements; a fishing pier on Lake Alma; and the development of both a wildlife walking trail and natural hiking trail at the lake.
Local events conceived by Ballentine include the free Mayor’s July 3rd celebration and fireworks, and the annual flying disc golf tournament.
In 1996, while baling hay, Ballentine came up with the idea to build a water park in the city, he said.
"I presented that to the council, and I think they thought I was crazy," Ballentine said. "I took about two years to convince them it was the thing we needed to bring people into town."
Alma Aquatic Center opened in 2000, and had about 52,000 visitors in 2013, Ballentine said.
Ballentine started the Alma Advertising and Promotion Commission to help pay for the endeavor, and while the park itself does not generate a lot of money, park visitors contribute to the city’s economy by spending locally, he said.
With voters recently approving the continuation of a 1-cent city sales tax, Balletine plans to add some new attractions, such as a standing wave machine for surfing or boogie boarding, to help keep Alma’s water park competitive, he said.
For Ballentine, parks - and public facilities such as tennis courts and a basketball court - are important to provide family activities for city residents.
"No one enjoys fire or police until you need it," Ballentine said. "Almost everyone enjoys parks."
Before becoming mayor, Ballentine was one of the first to serve on the Alma City Council from 1978-1982, and was an elected Crawford County Justice of the Peace for 10 years, he said.
Ballentine said he may consider a run for state representative in two years if his body will allow it.
Though he will miss working with other city officials and personnel, Ballentine plans to spend his retirement relaxing and spending more time with his wife, Marilyn, he said.
"I have a fishing boat I got about six years ago that hasn’t even been out of the shed," Ballentine said. "If my back will let me, I’m going to try to do a little more hunting, a little more traveling and enjoy time with my wife."