After three of the "most rewarding" years in his long career in the healthcare business, Neshoba County General Hospital and Nursing Home Chief Executive Officer Lonnie Graeber is retiring in April.

Graeber, 66, submitted his retirement plan to the hospital's Board of Directors in September.

It is effective April 4.

His retirement will culminate 41 years in the healthcare business, 17 at Neshoba General.

A search committee for his successor has already been formed, headed by Board of Trustees President Oliver Jolly and board member Kenneth Posey, who is also administrator of Jasper General Hospital.

"Our strategy includes having a new CEO in place 60 days before Lonnie retires so that he can provide assistance during the transition," Jolly said. "Plus, Lonnie has offered to be available should the search run longer than anticipated."

Graeber has served two terms as CEO at Neshoba General, the first from 1993 until 2007, and the second from 2010.

"These past three years have been the most rewarding of my entire career," Graeber said in a letter to the Board of Supervisors read on Monday. "I will be forever grateful to each of you for giving me this incredible opportunity. It has been a true honor for me to work alongside dedicated professionals and to serve the people of Neshoba County."

Graeber told supervisors that he had accomplished what needed to be done during his time at Neshoba General.

"With your support and that of an outstanding leadership team, I have accomplished what you needed me to do: stabilize financial operations, construct a new hospital and maintain a strong cash balance," Graeber said.

"Although the environment is uncertain, I am confident that Neshoba General is positioned to do well for the foreseeable future."

He said the community should be very proud of the new hospital and the quality care available here.

"Unlike many rural facilities, we are in a growth mode," he said.

Graeber thanked the Board of Trustees, County Administrator Benjie Coats and the Board of Supervisors for their "unwavering support."

He plans to assist with the search for a new CEO to "ensure an orderly and effective" transition.

"You can also rest assured that my loyalty and devotion to duty will remain steadfast until my last day," he said.

Graeber and his wife Patsy plan to visit their grandchildren in North Carolina and Wisconsin and see other parts of "this great country" after his retirement.

Jolly said Graeber would remain a valued resource for the hospital.

"We celebrate Lonnie's desire to begin a new chapter of his life," Jolly said. "There is no doubt Lonnie will remain a valued resource even after he retires. His timing has been well thought out; as he has planned to have some 'overlap' time so that he can make the change easier for the new CEO, the staff and our patients at Neshoba General."

County Administrator Benjie Coats said Neshoba County was thankful for Graeber's legacy.

"When Lonnie got here the first time in 1993, Neshoba General was in danger of closing its doors," Coats said. "We only had a few doctors and patients. Since then, we have added 40 beds to our nursing home; begun renovations of the older section of the nursing home; moved into a brand new hospital; successfully operate seven medical clinics; and have over 500 employees.

"In July of 2011, Lonnie worked with Ray Humphreys, CEO of Anderson Regional Medical Center, and signed an affiliation agreement between the two healthcare systems. Lonnie has taken us from nearly bankrupt to a financially sound organization. He has definitely played an important role in Neshoba General's history."