Anyone born in Pennsylvania after 1975 has a connection with Charles Hardester -- his name is on their birth certificate. He has been a state registrar and director of the Pennsylvania Department of Health's bureau of vital records for more than 30 years. He decided to retire July 21, he said, because it was time to move on in his life. The 59-year-old New Castle resident noted he began working for vital records in January 1975. The bureau had moved from Harrisburg to New Castle two months earlier when then-Gov. Milton Shapp decided to decentralize state government by moving offices to different areas of Pennsylvania. "The unemployment rate was high," he explained. "Shapp felt that it would help New Castle's economy. It started with 144 jobs, which was a nice boost." Hardester explained that vital records is the central depository for birth and death certificates. New Castle's site is the main office, but there are also branches in Erie, Scranton, Philadelphia and Harrisburg. In a year, Hardester said, the New Castle branch issues more than 550,000 birth and about 500,000 death certificates. Hardester said vital records provides a valuable service because birth certificates are breeder documents. That means one is necessary to obtain other forms of identification -- such as a Social Security card or a driver's license. Although he believes vital records has helped boost New Castle's economy, he said, residents tend to neglect it. "We do a great deal for the community," he said. "Every day, at least 100 people come into the office to get a birth or death certificate. People come from out of town and will stay overnight at hotels in the area. We tell people it'll take an hour to get his or her certificate, and we'll tell them to go uptown for awhile." After Hardester retired, Frank Yeropoli became the director. "It's nice seeing the transition," Hardester said. "Services won't be affected with Yeropoli -- putting him as director was one of the best moves vital records has made." Thanks to Hardester, Yeropoli said, the transition into the director's position has been smooth. "I have to give Charles credit," he said. "He was such an excellent director and left with a seamless transition for the next team. I was fortunate to be mentored by him, and I'm confident we'll continue to carry on the success story he created." Now that he's done working, Hardester said, it still hasn't hit him that's he's retired. "Right now, it's like I'm on vacation," he said. "I think a little later I'll start to realize it. But as of right now, I'm enjoying myself. I've been doing a lot of odd jobs and spending time with my granddaughter." Although he said he's ready for new life adventures, Hardester said, he will always remember the people he encountered through his work at vital records. "I'm going to miss dealing with people in Pennsylvania," he said. "I've met people in all major towns and various organizations. I'm also going to miss my staff -- they were always very loyal." Although the number of employees has dropped from about 140 to 75 during his time as director, Hardester said, they all have helped make vital records a successful agency. "The staff is tremendous," he said. "They have taken what was considered to be a poor operation and turned it into one of the best in the country. It's easier to lead an operation with a lot of great people."

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