DARKE COUNTY — On the verge of relinquishing her seat on the Darke County Board of Commissioners after eight years in office, Diane Delaplane appears happy and humble.
In her own self-effacing manner, however, Delaplane doesn’t come across as someone who toots her own horn as a “pioneer” for women in politics, though it is an undeniable fact she broke ground for women locally, serving as the first female commissioner in the board’s history.
In 2015, after announcing she wouldn’t seek reelection to the seat in 2016, the Republican Delaplane told The Daily Advocate she was “honored, very humbled by the community electing, and reelecting me, to the position.”
She also added, “I’d love to see another woman run for the seat.”
However, none of the candidates for commissioner in either the 2016 primary or general elections were women. Republican Matt Aultman won the seat over Democrat Leon Rogers and will take Delaplane’s seat on the board starting Jan. 2, 2017.
In regards to her time in the spotlight of politics, Delaplane admittedly started off small, 20 years prior to being elected to the board.
“Basically I started an interest in politics and legislation because of being the wife of a dairy farmer,” she said. “So while with the Darke County Farm Bureau, and working with legislators there at the state level, I got interested in issues involving farmers.”
Her interest led her to first run for office in 1988, where she was elected as Neave Township fiscal officer. She has served the township in this capacity ever since.
From there, she also ran for the Ohio Township Association, becoming its secretary/treasurer.
However, it was her involvement in the Joann Davidson Ohio Leadership Institute, an 8-month program that encourages and trains women in business and civic leadership to assume more prominent roles in elected or appointed positions, which really pushed Delaplane to run for a seat on the Darke County Board of Commissioners.
“[Davidson] gave us a goal, which was to seek out higher goals for ourselves,” she said. “I told her I wanted to run for Darke County Commissioner, and she said, ‘Do it within five years and you’ll reach it,’ and I did.”
Delaplane was first elected in 2008, with her first, 4-year term commencing on January 2, 2009. She defeated Democrat Dave Niley 58 percent to 41 percent.
She sought a second term in 2012, and was reelected to the seat unopposed in the general election.
Delaplane says her first term in office came at a time the county was struggling economically.
“When I first came in, we were in a downtrend in the economy all over,” she said. “The commissioners had already done a budget cut in 2008. In 2009, we did two budget cuts, plus cut hours and had some personnel issues. It was a very challenging first two years.”
“I feel that we have accomplished, through the support of elected officials and employees, they were all very supportive in making sure we could meet our budget, pay the bills, and still serve the public the best we can,” she added, pointing out that the cooperation of county employees and department heads was instrumental in the turnaround.
Delaplane said pulling the county out of its financial funk was also a collaborative effort between government and local organizations, including Darke County Community Improvement Corporation (CIC), Main Street Greenville, and local Chambers of Commerce.
“I think all worked together in some fashion to help support our companies and our schools and our general public to make us a better community and guide us successfully through those changes,” she said.
“I think that’s been the best achievement — that we all worked together. I’ve been proud of that process and being a part of that,” she added.
When pressed for what she felt were her own accomplishments on the board, Delaplane showed reluctance to take personal credit.
“What I accomplished separately? Being a voice, being a presence, being available. To serve your public, you need to be in the public,” she said.
Delaplane’s availability and presence in the county is readily observable. She serves, or has served on, a vast number of community organizations, including the CIC, Main Street Greenville, Darke County Visitor’s Bureau, OSU Extension Advisory Board, Darke County 4-H, Greenville Business & Professional Women, among many others.
When asked what advice she would give to the new commissioner, or those seeking public office, Delaplane said, “God and family come first, but serving the public is very important. The main thing is that you learn what it’s about, stay involved, and you serve your people.”
Delaplane also emphasized the importance of keeping your voice and making it heard.
“When you have a situation come in front of you, you have to be able to keep your own ideas in that discussion,” she said. “You don’t want to give in to anything and everything. If you don’t feel right about something, you need to make it known.”
Delaplane’s fellow commissioners, Mike Stegall and Mike Rhoades, expressed their appreciation for her commitment to the board.
“Diane’s been fun to work with,” said Stegall. “She truly cares about her job and cares about the county. It was a tough row to hoe as the first female commissioner.”
“I’m sure dealing with Rhoades and I was a trip, but she handled it with grace. We’ll miss having her on the board,” he added.
Rhoades said, “We enjoyed having her on the board and thank Diane for her service here.”
Delaplane said post-board plans include spending time with her husband Don, seeing friends, and traveling, particularly to see her two grown children and their families. She will also continue to serve as Neave Township fiscal officer for the foreseeable future.
“It’s just been a pleasure,” she said. “I’m humbled by the fact that Darke County has elected me twice to be commissioner, and I’ve been proud to be able to serve to the best of my ability. And hopefully they’ve appreciated it and I’ve served to their expectations.”