Searsport Assessor receives Spirit of America award
Searsport Assessor Bill Terry was interviewed by The Republican Journal Monday, Dec. 16, in the same office he's worked out of for the past 17 years. He sat at a large, uncluttered desk — good for spreading out maps. Behind him was a drawing of a fox perched on a rock, surveying an area out of frame.
Terry pointed out the artwork and said, "It was given to me by [the artist,] former game warden John Ford. I've taken it with me everywhere I've worked all these years."
Terry is retiring at the end of the month after 33 years of service in Waldo County government. He is the latest recipient of the Spirit of America award honoring volunteerism in Maine.
The Searsport Selectmen presented the award at their Dec. 3 meeting, recounting the trust Terry brought to the position of assessor, his involvement in numerous committees in Waldo county and the countless hours he dedicates to training and fundraising for Trek Across Maine as reasons for their selection.
“We made the choice of giving our Spirit of America award to Bill because of the time he’s spent dedicated to Trek across Maine for the past three years,” said Searsport Town Manager James Gillway, in a phone interview. “He got back on the bike, became an enthusiast and advocate and collects donations for it.” Trek Across Maine, in which participants bike 180 miles from Sunday River Ski Resort to Belfast, is the largest fundraising event for the American Lung Association in the county. More than 2,000 cyclists and 700 volunteers participated in the 2013 event, according to the ALA website.
“A lot of people do the Trek Across America and don’t get awards,” Terry was quick to point out during the interview. “If I were on the selection committee, I would have given the award to the whole town of Searsport.”
When asked why he got back into biking at age 64, Terry said, “A couple of friends from Unity came to visit and asked me to join them on a 7-mile bike ride around Cape Jellison. I told them I’d stay behind, but they dug out an old bike of mine.” After being persuaded to accompany them, Terry said it was like a light bulb went off and he knew he wanted to make biking a part of his life. “It’s good for your health,” he said, “and you get a good slow-speed view of what is going on in your neighborhood.”
About Terry's work as assessor, Gillway said, “Bill brought a lot of civility to the position; he had a very calming nature. People would come in about tax problems all fired up, but he has a good way of diffusing these situations. He's a guy who is always there to help when anyone needs a hand, and he's always trying to find solutions for people. We're very sorry to see him retire.”
This calming effect became evident through the course of the interview; Terry has the composure of someone who is truly happy and fulfilled in his work.
Terry said he moved to Maine in 1971 during the back-to-the-land movement and ran a dairy farm for a time. In 1980 his civic work began when he joined the Montville board of selectmen. There he served for about 18 years as selectman assessor and overseer of the poor. He served on the Waldo budget committee, economic development committee, a road renaming committee, and a volunteer committee which worked with the Montville Historical Society to restore a schoolhouse. (According to Gillway, he also served for a year each as town manager for Winterport and Searsport.) All this Terry described as “what people would naturally do if given the chance.”
Terry is looking forward to getting back to work on his small farm with his sons and on some of his own projects but says he will miss working with the “fine staff involved in the town of Searsport. I will miss the people. The taxpayers are like my extended family. I will miss them — but I’ll still be around.”
After "a year off" Terry says he plans to begin volunteering in town and county government again.
It is this type of everyday hero whom the award is meant to recognize. Bruce Flaherty, one of the founders of the Spirit of America Foundation, said in a phone interview, "[The award] is a beautiful opportunity to publicize what people do and encourage volunteerism.” Since 1991, the award has honored groups and individuals in Maine for their community service.
“100 Maine towns have picked their recipients for 2013,” Flaherty said. “There have never been that many before.”
Flaherty explained that the recipients are selected by participating towns and are honored first in a countywide ceremony — Waldo County's was held Dec. 7 — and then at an annual statewide event.
County Commissioner Amy Fowler said of the ceremony, “I was humbled and proud to be in the company of these amazing individuals. Volunteers are the silent backbone of our society. Without them many a job could not be done. It was my privilege to honor them for the service they do for their communities.”
The statewide event will be in held in April 2014 in Augusta.