Farewell and Thanks for the Memories

(from Maine Townsman, February 2010)
By Mike Starn

Mike Starn

This issue of the Maine Townsman will be the last one where I will be listed as editor. Eric Conrad will be taking over this title and responsibility starting with the March issue.

This is my farewell column.

When your job has been such a big part of your life, it’s hard to figure out what you want to say and where to start. But, here goes.

I started working for Maine Municipal Association in January, 1975.

Thirty-five years is a long time to work for one employer. I am honored and humbled to be in that select group of individuals who have dedicated their working careers to Maine municipal government.

When I first started, I knew nothing about MMA, the Maine Townsman or Maine municipalities. One of my first days on the job, I remember a veteran MMA staffer laughing when I bungled the pronunciation of “Penobscot”.

It didn’t take me long though. I was amazed at how quickly and naturally the lexicon and facts about Maine local government came to me. With this job, I was a “fish in water”. That’s probably why I lasted so long.

Being the editor of the Maine Townsman for such a long time was a real privilege and I have a lot of great memories.

I moved to Maine from West Virginia in 1974.

MMA was looking for a staff writer and I had a college degree in journalism, so they wanted me and I needed the job. I had no idea at the time that I would be spending the next 35 years working for this organization.

John Salisbury was MMA executive director and the person who hired me. My job was to write articles for the Townsman and help Ethel Kelley with the production and advertising. Ethel had been at MMA since the organization was founded in 1937 and was trying to fit in publishing a magazine with her full-time receptionist duties.

MMA was a small organization back then with about 20 staff members. Everyone pitched in and helped out with the Townsman.

In the summer of 1975, I took over as managing editor of the Townsman and continued in that role until now. Like any job, the road has been bumpy at times, but MMA and local government for me were like the family I left back in WV.

I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s in a little coal mining town in WV called Catawba with three brothers and a sister. We were poor, but so was everyone else in Catawba. Some were much worse off than our family. Like most families, when we get together we like to tell funny stories of our childhood. There’s one that I think is reflective of West Virginia humor.

My sister, Sandy, was showing our new indoor plumbing to her friend, Donna, who came from a very, poor family. My sister was only 4 or 5 years old. Sandy was proudly showing Donna the new bathroom when Donna, curious about the bathtub, asked “who uses it?”. Sandy responded, “we all do”. To which Donna replied, “doesn’t it get kinda crowded?”

MMA has provided some memorable, though probably not as funny, stories for me as well. Here are a couple of them:

One of my first and fondest memories is going to the Town of Stockton Springs in the late 1970s to interview a gentleman who had been town clerk there for 67 of the prior 68 years. His name was Walter Trundy. He was 97 years old, still town clerk, and he told me that he had spent his entire life in Stockton Springs, except for one short trip to Boston. “When I got back and smelled those flapjacks, I knew I’d never leave (Stockton Springs) again,” he told me. I wrote the story about Walter in the January, 1978 Townsman, and I believe, it was the only media interview that Walter ever granted. Then Congressman Bill Cohen asked to reprint the article in the Congressional Quarterly and I agreed. Walter died less than a year after the Townsman article was published.

Bob Garland, a selectman in Anson for 47 years, was another municipal official and friend who brings back pleasant memories. Bob was President of MMA in 1975, the year I was hired. I was the MMA Convention Coordinator for most of my MMA career. Every year around the end of September, I knew I would be getting a call from Bob asking me to make sure he had an overnight room reserved for the convention. Bob always shared a room with Elery Keene, who headed up the Northern Kennebec RPC. Many times, I wondered why Bob didn’t just make the hotel reservation himself, but now I’m glad he felt he needed to call me. Bob died about 10 years ago. I don’t remember Bob ever missing an MMA Convention during those years at MMA.

Maine local government and MMA will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve met and worked with a lot of great people. Early in my career at MMA, I established some close friendships that have continued to this day, and I found a few other friends along the way.

Looking back, I am feeling pretty lucky.