Just minutes before the party began, Columbia County Commissioner Frank Spears announced to the crowd that County Administrator Steve Szablewski would be surprised.
The scheme, as Spears explained it, involved sending Szablewski to dinner with Commissioner Tommy Mercer and then directing him to a reception in his honor.
''Steve's a good administrator, but the ladies (who work with him) say he has no idea," Spears told a group gathered at the Evans Government Center on Tuesday.
Then came the entrance.
''Surprise!" shouted the group of former and current Columbia County commissioners, area judges and other county officials.
''I know you're surprised," Spears said to Szablewski.
''And shocked," the county administrator said with a smile.
It was a gathering in honor of Szablewski's 11 years as the county administrator - a job that he says involves ''picking the top priorities" and then leaving the vote up to county commissioners. The event was pushed by county resident Ernie Blackburn.
''Steve's work for this county has meant a lot to the community, and it's on their behalf that I'm here to say thank you," Blackburn said.
Officials also took the opportunity to express their gratitude for his work.
''We have the privilege today of honoring our most valuable worker," said Barry Fleming, chairman of the Board of Commissioners. ''It makes my job easy to have somebody like Steve."
County Commissioner Dianne Ford - who has represented the county for nine years - said she, too, has valued Szablewski's presence.
''Steve kind of took me under his wing when I first started and tried to help me as much as he could."
Szablewski was later presented with a gift certificate to an outdoors store, and a proclamation was read naming the day Steve Szablewski Day. ''This is overwhelming," said Szablewski.
Szablewski, Columbia County's first county administrator, served the county from 1976 to 1979 as its first planning director. He then left the area for government jobs in Augusta, Aiken and Thomson. He later returned after working as a consultant for the county's growth management plan in 1990.
The things Szablewski said he is proudest of during his tenure include an increase of the county's staff and special local option sales tax projects, such as Patriot's Park and the current work on the new county jail addition and courthouse.
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