Ruth Manmiller liked to refer to the Northern Berks Regional Police Department as "my department" and the officers as "my boys."
After 30 years on the job, Manmiller felt a sense of ownership and motherhood in her role as the 13-member department's only nonuniformed employee.
As police secretary to five chiefs, starting with the original Maidencreek-Ontelaunee Joint Police Department, Manmiller handled everything from payroll, budget preparation and pension to ordering equipment.
She answered the dozens of nonemergency calls that poured into the office for routine matters such as residents' complaints about noisy neighbors or speeding on residential streets.
On Friday afternoon, her last day on the job, current and former members celebrated her retirement as full-time administrative assistant with a send-off party behind the Ontelaunee Township Building that houses the police station.
The Northern Berks Regional Police Department was formed in 1999 when Leesport joined the two townships.
Police Chief Brian Horner, who worked with Manmiller for 30 years and whose retirement from the department was effective Monday, described Manmiller as almost a second spouse because they worked so closely together for many years. He said she will be impossible to replace.
"She's an amazing woman," said Horner, a longtime detective sergeant in the department before being selected as its chief in 2017. "She was a good friend to me for many years. For all of the years we worked together, I think we only argued a couple of times."
Horner's predecessor, Scott W. Eaken, described Manmiller similarly.
Eaken, who retired in 2017 after 16 years as chief, was an officer with the Maidencreek Police Department in the early 1990s when Manmiller was brought in as part-time secretary. She split her time between that role and working as a secretary in the township office.
Eventually, as the merged department grew, Manmiller was offered the job as the department's full-time secretary.
"Ruth grew into the position," said Eaken, noting the operating budget grew from about $220,000 in 1991 to nearly $3 million in 2021.
"They're a little bit of the unsung heroes: secretaries," he added. "Ruth's steadiness, calmness was there throughout the whole thing. She regularly worked through breaks, lunches, came in early, always did what needed to be done."
He called his former co-worker a great confidant and a friend.
From her small office next to the chief's in the station at the Ontelaunee Township building, Manmiller heard every word from Eaken's booming voice during his phone conversations, but he said he had complete confidence that she knew what to keep under wraps.
Her impact extended beyond the official role.
"Our department is big enough to be really busy, but small enough that everyone knows everybody," Eaken said. "Everyone knew each other's wives and kids. Ruth was always an integral part of that. She calls us her 'boys.'
"I can't say enough about Ruth. She's not just a good secretary, she's an excellent person."
Manmiller said the job has changed a lot since the 1990s and 2000s, besides the department growing in size.
"Technology has really changed," she said.
For example, accident reports used to be filed alphabetically in the office on cards, but now officers do the report from laptops, upload them into the computer and print out a copy for the motorist on scene.
"The officer pushes another button and it goes right to the DJ (district justice) office," she said.
The other big change is the amount of calls that come into the office has dropped considerably, even before the coronavirus pandemic.
"I used to get 30 to 35 calls a day," she said. "Now we hardly get any."
That's primarily because there’s been a push for the public to make use of the non-emergency number in Berks (610-655-4911) as the go-to number for calls not appropriate for 9-1-1. Instead of calling the office and having the secretary forward the information to an officer, the calls are handled by Berks County Department of Emergency Services dispatchers who can directly contact an on-duty officer.
As her last day of full-time employment approached last week, Manmiller of Maidencreek Township said she was struggling to let go of "my department," even as the department is advertising for a new administrative assistant.
"I'm still worried about everything that's taking place," she said.
The regional police department was close to being dissolved this spring after votes late last year by Ontelaunee Township supervisors and Leesport Borough Council over simmering disputes with Maidencreek representatives over a variety of matters. The votes were rescinded after an agreement was reached calling for, among other changes, Horner to retire as chief.
Manmiller put in for retirement before the move to rescind the dissolution of the department was struck.
"I told them I'll come back part time until they have someone to replace me," she said.