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Big shoes to fill

Keene honors five citizens with a combined 140 years of service to the town

January 19, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF - Correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

KEENE - Five people were honored earlier this month for their nearly 14 decades of combined public service to the town and people of Keene.

Topping the list is Paul Martin with 36 years of having served on the town board. Close behind is Connie Hickey and Gary Manley with about 33 years each; Hickey first as a member of the town board then serving as a town judge, and Manley working for the town finishing his career as the highway superintendent. Rounding out with 20 years of service each are Donna Reed Austin, tax collector for the town and Keene Central School, and Keene librarian Marcy LeClair.

All five will be tough shoes to fill. In this day and age when it seems that people's attention spans are shorter and shorter, many go through multiple career changes, coupled with an economy that's attracting fewer young families to the region and encouraging those here to seek better economic opportunities elsewhere, who will take their place?

Article Photos

Honorees Connie Hickey (town board/town judge), Gary Manley (highway department), Donna Reed Austin (tax collector), and Paul Martin (town board member) pose at a reception Sunday, Jan. 7 at the Keene firehouse. Missing is Marcy LeClair, Keene librarian.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

What Keene residents can do and did was celebrate their achievements Sunday afternoon, Jan. 7, with a well-attended thank-you reception held at the Keene firehouse. For anybody who has ever balanced their checkbook, consider that in 20 years of collecting school and town taxes, Austin was accurate to the penny for both institutions for all 20 years.

They all gave that level of attention.

For Manley, that meant heading out the door at all hours of the night when the weather was at its absolute worst.

"He was on call whenever he needed to be," said his wife, Carol. "My dad did the same sort of thing so I guess you could say it's been a family tradition."

"I just like helping people," said Manley, who plans to continue assisting others as a caretaker, mowing lawns, plowing jobs, and similar activities that keep him busy in a manner that he enjoys. "The difference now is I can make plans to go to a ball game with my grandsons and know I won't be called away."

With 20 years serving as the town judge, Hickey often ruled on people she knew, some for all her life. You can be sure not all were happy with her decisions, but her reputation as a good listener and as a firm and fair judge served her and the community well. "The hardest part was keeping up with changes in the law, which have quadrupled since I started," said Hickey. "I take classes every year to stay current. I've enjoyed experiencing the different ways people see things."

LeClair, who was out of town and not able to make the reception, was a walking encyclopedia of what was in the library and able to recommend reading and resources to meet the broad needs and desires of the library's patrons.

In many respects, Martin was the emotional center of the town board. For more than 36 years, he developed a deep appreciation for the complexities of local government coupled with the need for taking a collaborative approach to solving problems.

"I'm so appreciative that the people of the community felt I was worthy enough to have represented them on the town board for 36 years," said Martin. "Obviously, it was a great experience for me. I've always been impressed by the members of our town boards through the years and the lack of the role that politics plays in the decisions - zero politics. It all has to do with what you can do to help solve a certain problem through drawing upon the sum of everyone's experiences. It's a team effort."

All of them have helped or are helping mentor their replacements.

"Donna taught me well," said Ellen Estes, who has taken over collecting taxes for the town.

"And Ellen's going to do a great job," said Austin. "I loved the independence of the job. I was responsible. I didn't have to wait for someone else to do their job before I could do mine. Nobody likes to pay taxes. Twenty years ago, I decided I'd try to make it less painful for people, so I came up with the idea of putting smiley faces on their receipts and having a bowl peppermint patties on my desk for those who paid in person."

"This group of retirees has contributed several lifetimes of service to the town of Keene," said town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson. "It's remarkable to have this many people who've been around for their whole life who have consistently given of themselves for very little compensation to make Keene the community that it is. I wonder if we will see a generation of public service like this again."

"This community is fortunate to have a cadre of individuals like them who have given so many years of service," added Tom Both, a former town supervisor who worked with all five. "In today's crazy world when our national government is in turmoil we have a high measure of stability here because of these great people."



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