PENOBSCOT — If eight years of one president seems like a long time, try a quarter of a century with a town selectman.
That’s how long Stanley Shorey has served in Penobscot, though he didn’t plan to stick around so long.
“When I first got on in ’92, I planned on being here six to nine years,” said Shorey, who will not seek re-election this spring. “That’s all I wanted to serve.”
But part of what convinced him to stay — and what convinced him to become a selectman in the first place — were the townspeople he interacted with on Tuesday nights at selectmen’s meetings.
“They’re wonderful people to work for,” Shorey said. “If someone’s building a garage or something, all you have to do is ask for help. Sometimes you don’t even have to ask. It’s quite a community.”
Back in 1992, Shorey felt that that neighborly feel wasn’t evident in the selectmen’s office, where people often had to argue to make themselves heard.
“A lot of people get frustrated, and you can’t blame them,” he said. “It worked nice just talking with people. Invite them right in. It’s your office, we serve you. Before that it seemed like you had to argue all the time.”
Apparently most of the townspeople agreed with Shorey. When he first ran for office he won three times as many votes as his opponent.
Of course, winning the vote was only the beginning of the work. Over the next two decades Shorey, his two fellow selectmen and the rest of the town staff have made several updates to the town’s infrastructure.
Together they led the construction of a new firehouse and a new overboard discharge facility for Penobscot Community School. They initiated the paving of many of the town’s 15 miles of roads and updated the town’s trash disposal system.
“We’ve gone from a burning dump to a landfill,” Shorey said. “And we went from a landfill to a recycler, and now we got ourselves a compactor down there to compact all our garbage.”
Shorey said the town also is thinking about acquiring a compactor for its single-sort recycling stream. The compactor will condense the recyclable materials so that the town has to pay for fewer trips to haul the materials away.
All of those infrastructure improvements cost money, but Shorey thought of a way to reduce the amount of money the town borrowed every year. He came up with a plan for putting $1,000 every year into the town’s building and equipment funds, leading to gradual growth in those accounts.
That way “we didn’t have to go out and borrow money every time we had to do something,” Shorey said. “When I first came on board I think we were borrowing up to $300,000 to operate the town until the tax money came in. Now we haven’t borrowed money for 18 years or better.”
Shorey got that idea from his time working at the Penobscot Community School, where he became exceptionally skilled at driving the school bus.
In 1997, Shorey was chosen as Maine’s School Bus Driver of the Year. Shorey thinks the accolade had something to do with his other roles in the town. He also was a volunteer firefighter, a Boy Scout leader and a substitute teacher for fly-tying and physical education classes. Meanwhile, he made a living as a mechanic in Bucksport and in his own garage.
“Firefighting is probably the thing I feel most passionate about,” Shorey said. “To think that you can go to a house, put out a fire and save everything you can possibly save so that the family can move back in a week or so.”
The town has changed during Shorey’s long tenure. The 65-year-old said that when he first started driving the school bus in the late 1980s there were 168 students in Penobscot Community School, and he always had 15 to 20 kids on the basketball team he coached. Now there are only 67 students in the school, and Penobscot has to partner with Brooksville to field a basketball team.
“Goes to show you that the town has aged,” Shorey said.
Despite the town aging, Shorey said there are also plenty of new people who have moved in.
“I don’t know half the people in town,” he said. “I used to know everybody, but every person I don’t know that I see I go over and talk to them. All you’ve got to do is go over and say ‘hi.’”
Talking directly with people outside of the town office is Shorey’s number one lesson for his successor, whoever that may be.
Shorey spent countless hours speaking with lifelong residents such as Ralph Gross and Bob Grindle who, he said, possessed a “wealth of information.”
“You could go to his garage, put your feet up, ask him anything you wanted and he’d tell you the history of this town,” Shorey said of Gross. “Find the right people in town and you just go pick their brains.”
Now that Shorey is stepping down, he gets to spend more time with his five granddaughters, one grandson and two great-grandsons. But you can still find him around town driving trucks for a construction company in the spring and doing auto body work.
“You never know what I’m going to be doing,” he said.
Nomination papers are available for Shorey’s position at the Penobscot town office. They are due Jan. 31. The election for selectman will be held later this spring.