The city lost a longtime servant Wednesday when former police chief and city manager Gerald Lechner died at age 70.
Lechner, a Sandusky native, joined the police department in 1965 and was chief from 1982 until 1998, when he was appointed interim city manager. He continued as city manager until retiring in June 2004.
Local leaders past and present recalled Lechner as a professional, honorable man who cared deeply about making Sandusky work for its residents.
"Jerry was someone who was very soft-spoken, but when he spoke people really keyed in on his focus on issues, and he was just a tremendous leader," Erie County prosecutor Kevin Baxter said.
Mike Kresser, who worked with Lechner both on the police force and in city government, said he was "very honest, very conscientious, very straightforward. I think that's why he rose up to be the police chief."
Lechner was friendly and easy to work with, Kresser said.
"I don't think I ever saw the man lose his temper," Kresser said. "He was just always very even about everything. When things got tough, he didn't fly off the handle or go berserk -- he dealt with the situation."
Interim police Chief Charlie Sams joined the force shortly after Lechner became chief. He credited Lechner with modernizing the department by bringing in computers and enhancing the detective bureau.
The department also hired its first female officer during Lechner's tenure, in 1985.
Lechner stepped into a tense environment in April 1998 when the Sandusky City Commission appointed him interim city manager after Rick Finn resigned under heavy criticism for his leadership style.
"Jerry was the person that came in and really calmed the waters, so to speak, because he had the confidence of a cross-section of the community," Baxter said.
The appointment was supposed to be a short-term fix, but Lechner took the helm full time in January 1999 and managed the city for six years.
Commissioners at the time praised Lechner for working well with department heads, taking initiative on ongoing projects and generally improving attitudes among city workers. During his time as city manager, Sandusky built a new central fire station, and the Cold Creek Crossing development got underway.
But by 2004, some commissioners were pressing for new leadership. Lechner stepped down, and he and his wife, Sue, later moved to Florida.
Lechner has one daughter and two grandchildren.
One of Baxter's lasting memories of Lechner is a photo he kept in his office of himself and his young grandson, both dressed in police uniforms.
"I just remember that image of how proud he was of his family and, of course, of his work," Baxter said.
Lechner received treatment in 1992 for throat cancer. Associates said he was ill for some time before his death.