VANDALIA — When Bruce Sucher passed away suddenly on Friday at age 70, friends and colleagues alike were shocked and saddened by the news.
Sucher, who was attending the University of Dayton’s tournament game in Pittsburgh, collapsed suddenly just before the game began. He died at a Pittsburgh hospital.
It is clear that Sucher’s death will leave a hole in the Vandalia-Butler community. However, it is also clear that Sucher’s life was one of service and dedication to the community as told by his friends and colleagues.
Sucher graduated from Fairview High School in Dayton and was well known as a star basketball player. He went to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and played on the freshman team – in those days freshmen were ineligible to play on the regular collegiate team.
His playing career was cut short due to injury, but Duquesne honored their scholarship and Sucher went on to get his Bachelor’s degree.
He began his professional career by heading up a program to combat chemical dependency in Montgomery County. He graduated from the Vandalia Police Academy and began a career in law enforcement as a Reserve Officer in Englewood.
In 1976 Sucher was hired as a police officer in Vandalia, and he spent most of the next 40 years as a public servant. That’s where he met Vandalia’s current Police Chief Doug Knight, a close friend of Sucher’s.
“We met in 1979 when I was hired as a patrol officer,” said Knight. “Bruce was one of the first guys to reach out to me when I got here.”
Larry Taylor, owner of Beau Townsend Ford, was a lifelong friend of Sucher. They met when Sucher came to buy a car.
“Bruce was a slender, young patrolman who wanted to buy a Ford Mustang,” said Taylor. “We met doing his paperwork and became friends. Bruce was a man of extreme integrity, extreme intelligence. He was one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever known. He always did his due diligence and I always listened to what he said.”
City of Vandalia
In 1981, Sucher took a position as the Assistant to the City Manager. Three years later he moved back to the Division of Police as the Deputy Chief of Police. Just nine months later he was promoted to Police Chief, a position he held until being named the Police Chief/Acting City Manager in June, 1987.
In 1988, Sucher was named the permanent City Manager, albeit somewhat reluctantly due to his love of police work.
He called his old friend, Knight, to offer him the job of Police Chief, and a lifelong bond was formed.
“I was blessed to work for a good Police Chief in Bruce,” said Knight. “What I learned about being the chief of police I learned from Bruce Sucher. We had a bond that surpassed the normal City Manager/Police Chief relationship.”
Knight said that he credits Sucher for changing his career – and life – trajectory.
“I would never have had the opportunity I had without Bruce inviting me back,” said Knight. “It was the most significant event in my career. More than anyone, Bruce was responsible for giving the Knights a home town. I am forever grateful.”
Sucher leaves mark
Sucher didn’t show much enthusiasm when first approached about becoming the City Manager. Mayor Arlene Setzer said Sucher loved the police department and only agreed to be the interim manager at first.
“A few weeks later we told him we really wanted him to be our City Manager, but that took some convincing,” said Setzer.
Once in the job, however, he took it on with his typical style.
“He was so enthusiastic about everything he did,” said Setzer.
Knight agreed and cited Sucher’s passion for others as a driving force.
“He was so analytical and could see multiple sides of an issue,” said Knight. “But he was absolutely passionate about serving people.”
Sucher would go on to serve as Vandalia’s longest tenured City Manager before retiring in 2004.
During his tenure, the city saw remarkable growth. Sucher oversaw the construction of the Justice Center and the Recreation Center as well as a remodel of the current Municipal Building.
“There were many ups and downs when building the Rec Center but he stayed the course,” said Setzer. “When we remodeled this building employees were scattered and in little cubby holes, but he kept the morale of employees top-notched.”
“I don’t believe we would have a Recreation Center if it wasn’t for Bruce,” said Taylor.
“He was Mr. Vandalia,” said Setzer.
Board of Education
Sucher decided to run for a seat on the Vandalia-Butler Board of Education in 2013 at a time when the district was reeling from multiple levy failures, a budget crisis that had led to the layoff of teachers and cutbacks in the classroom, and a crisis of confidence in the community.
Brad Neavin had just been hired as the new Superintendent and was tasked with bringing the community together to support the schools.
“When I first came into this community, people on both sides of the levy told me that Bruce Sucher needed to be on the School Board,” Neavin said. “They spoke about his common sense, intelligence, and wisdom.”
“I told Bruce he should run for the school board, and he finally agreed but only if I agreed to be his campaign manager and treasurer,” said Taylor. “I didn’t know anything about politics, but he ended up being the top vote getter and I don’t think he even put out a sign.”
Neavin said that Sucher was a strong leader on the Board and was good at channeling the Board’s energy in the right direction. Sucher became a personal friend and a mentor.
“Bruce is the guy that when disaster struck he was the guy I bounced things off of. Now he’s gone, and I’m going to miss that,” Neavin said. “He was incredibly wise and touched a lot of lives.”
Sucher spent his last days doing what he always did – serving others. He had just finished volunteering as a judge in the Optimist Club Essay contest just a few days before his death.
Knight said that shouldn’t surprise anyone.
“I can’t say enough about what he accomplished,” said Knight. “He lived life to the fullest. It is ironic, but perhaps fitting, that he chose to leave this world in Pittsburgh with friends doing what he loved.”
“He did it his way – he died at a basketball game, something he loved. If he was here today he would tell me to get it together because he did it his way”
Reach Darrell Wacker at 937-684-8983 or on Twitter @VandaliaDrummer.