FAYETTEVILLE — When Matt Diederich graduated from college, he started his 14-year career with the Kroger Company. Early in 2015, Diederich was named manager of the Oak Hill Kroger.
“It was my dream job while I was with Kroger,” he said, “manager of my hometown store.”
Diederich appreciates the company and the experience he gained there, but as he married and his family expanded, he realized he wasn’t spending nearly enough time with his wife and children.
“I was working 70-plus-hour weeks and I wasn’t seeing my family,” he said, so late last year, Diederich resigned from his position. Without a safety net.
“I worked for my Mom some,” Diederich said. “She owns the Custard Stand there in Oak Hill, and I did some painting for her and some other things, but mostly I just enjoyed my family.”
Diederich and his wife, Lyndsey, a Hinton native who works in ultrasound at Plateau Medical Center, have two children, 6-year-old Jace, a student at Fayetteville PK-8, and 4-year-old Reece, who hasn’t started school but is looking forward to pre-school next year at SonBeams in Oak Hill.
“She’ll have my kindergarten teacher,” Diederich said Thursday.
Although not a native of Fayetteville, he has lived in the county seat since he was 2 years old. When he heard about the availability of the town superintendent’s job, he jumped. He has a familial history there.
“My uncle, Cecil Gibson, was town superintendent back in the ’90s,” Diederich said.
“Bill (Lanham) left in July and I was hired in September,” he said. “It was a little different without anybody here to teach me the ropes, but Bill Hannabass (city manager in Oak Hill) has been great. I’ve got that resource there to rely on.
“It really has been great, though. I’m coming around a slow time of the year and it’s great for me to get my feet wet and learn the ropes.
“I’m very fortunate, too,” Diederich said. “Regulations in government are definitely different from retail, but (town attorney) Carl Harris, man, he’s great. Anything I need to know, he gets me the answer really fast. He’s a great asset to have.”
Diederich has spent time in his first months at his new job getting out of the office and talking with business owners.
“A lot of people think of the town superintendent as ‘the tax man,’ ” he said. “One of the biggest things I’ve tried to do is bridge the gap between business and the town and let them know, ‘I’m here to help you guys.’ ”
Diederich also is using this “slow time” to become acquainted with other aspects of running a town.
“There’s always something in the process, something in the works regardless,” he said. “You know, it’s a slow time for tourism, but there’s still end-of-the-year stuff that we’re doing, all the other things, different projects and everything” that he needs to learn about.
“There’s some training coming up that I’m looking forward to going to, you know, not only learning stuff, but learning people and networking,” Diederich said. “If I have an issue, maybe there’s a similar sized town and maybe they’ve faced it before and here’s how they’ve handled it or here’s how not to handle it. Maybe they’ve tried it this way and it didn’t work.
“That’s something I learned from Kroger,” he said. “You can not only figure out the right way to handle something, but also figure out the wrong way to do something and learn from that.”
Fayetteville is known primarily as a tourism town, Diederich acknowledged, and added that new off-season activities are being created to make it more of a year-round tourist attraction instead of just relying on the good weather months for outdoor recreation opportunities.
“We just have to build on the excitement and the tourism growth,” he said. “They do a really good job with some of the things they’ve done recently to kind of stir up some excitement in town … . We had Gnome November which was really neat. Of course, we had the Gingerbread Festival, which was successful at Christmas time and even rolling into this Harry Potter Wizards Weekend that we’re getting ready to do is just taking something that’s normally a dead time for the town and making it exciting and creating a buzz. Tabitha (Stover) does a great job down at the CVB on doing that,” he said.
“Of course, starting with the mayor and the council, we really have a forward-thinking and future-driven community.”
Looking to the future, the superintendent said one of the more important issues he’ll face this year is working with the newly created development committee to make plans for the two school buildings deeded to the town by the Fayette County Board of Education.
“The big thing we’ll focus on is the schools, doing something there so it’s not weighing us down where we’re paying constantly,” Diederich said. “We don’t want to spend all our money just sustaining it. We want to develop a plan.”
During a walk-through at the former Fayetteville Elementary School, Diederich stepped back into the past, recalling his own experiences in the building, including playing youth league basketball as a second-grader.
In a nod to family and generational continuity, Jace Diederich is now playing in the recently renamed Fayetteville Youth Basketball League and his father, who also serves as co-youth leader at Fayetteville Baptist Church, coaches in the league.
The buildings evoke memories, Diederich said, and he’s hopeful that future development of the properties allows for more success for the town and the creation of more memories.
“I just want to make a difference” as town superintendent, Diederich said. “I just want to be able to help people.
“You know, anytime you can help your neighbors and help make your community a better community, that’s what you hope for.”
Working in Fayetteville already has helped the Diederich family.
“We just had three major holidays and I was able to take my scheduled days off and spend them with my family,” he said. “It was great. I’m just so blessed.”
Diederich may just have found his true dream job in his second career.
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