AYER — Among them there is 50 years of service to the town of Ayer. And so it is no minor moment in town history that three key government leaders are slated to either retire or depart Town Hall this month.
They are Town Clerk & Tax Collector Ann Callahan, Treasurer Denis Callahan, and Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski. The three, armed with knives, cut into a sheet cake, covered deep with frosting, while posing for commemorative photographs and well wishes during a Monday lunchtime gathering to honor their collective work for Ayer.
Assistant Town Clerk Lauri Fritz and Assistant Tax Collector Roberta Chase together led the showing of thanks to Town Clerk and Tax Collector Ann Callahan, 74. The longest serving of the three honorees, Callahan, a Highland Avenue resident, is retiring from her elected posts at month’s end, capping 30 years of service to the town.
Callahan started working at Town Hall in 1980 as a part- time assistant to the treasurer. After working as an assistant to the town clerk and tax collector, she resigned to seek out the main elected posts themselves, clerk and collector.
Callahan won her first race in 1992 for the one-year balance of the unexpired tandem terms. Thereafter, Callahan topped both the clerk and collector races with wins in 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, and most recently in 2008.
When asked if her election record makes her feel special, like a hometown favorite, Callahan just laughed. “Yeah, well I did get hired all the time. It’s just a matter of knowing what’s going on.”
An Ayer native and the product of parents born and raised in Ayer, Callahan said, somehow or another, town residents have always traditionally voted to keep the clerk and collector posts in the control of the same person, “They were separate on the ballot, but they were together and they’ve stayed voted in together.
Her retirement plans include, “more or less staying put for the moment. I will go see a son living outside of Seattle.”
The informal Town Hall “Sunshine Club” employees gave Callahan an ornate jewelry box. Fritz and Chase gave Callahan a pair of earrings. Her sister-in-law gave her a Barnes & Noble gift card. Callahan laughed that she hasn’t had much time to read these days, but is looking forward to the chance to do more .”You go to work, go home and eat and go to bed. I’m kinda old now. I don’t go out so much anymore.”
At 74-years young? “Oh yeah, sure,” she jokingly scoffed.
Callahan and her late husband Thomas had eight children (“I only had five births,” she said casually, noting she had one set of twins and one set of triplets). Her offspring yielded her 13 grandchildren. That should help keep her busy, she said.
Asked if she’ll miss the Town Hall hubbub and work-a-day week, Callahan said, “I think I’ll get used to it. In the beginning, I’ll be wondering why I’m not walking out the door every morning.”
Callahan’s dual posts of town clerk and tax collector are both on the April 26 town election ballot, with the victor serving out the one year balance left remaining to her present three-year parallel terms. There are four candidates in the mix, with three looking to keep together the traditional clerk and collector roles.
Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig held high a cherry-stained wooden box, encapsulating a bottle of wine dated 2001, the year Treasurer Denis Callahan began working in the first-floor, left-hand side, front corner office at Town Hall. Doig joked, “We had a hard time finding this,” regarding finding a wine bottle nine years old. Callahan — no relation to Ann Callahan– is also retiring at month’s end.
When asked by Selectman Chairman Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan how he hoped to wile away his time in retirement, Callahan said his wife, Laura, has warned him to take cooking lessons. He joked and said he may learn how to use the rice cooker but that’s about it.
Callahan, a resident of Ayer since 1982 but a native of Arlington and a father of four boys, leaves the town’s service after nine years. Earlier he’d stated that one of the first ventures of his retirement this spring will be a warm-climate vacation now that he’ll have the time and travel rates are low.
Upon his return and scheduled for his 70th birthday on June 14 – hip replacement surgery to address the harm sustained when he fractured his pelvis in an auto accident some 40 years ago. “That’s first and foremost. I should be in shape in six-eight weeks,” Callahan said.
Callahan’s on the ballot in April – running unopposed for a rerun for the Board of Assessors seat he’s held since 1992. “I’ve never been opposed,” Callahan laughed.
It’s a crowded field, however, in the race to replace him as treasurer. There are four candidates in the mix to become the next treasurer on April 26. He’s maintained an open-door policy, offering to train potential successors for the post, limiting mentoring visits to the morning hours and leaving his afternoons free to push through the rest of the workload.
On April 27, the day after the elections, Callahan says he and his successor will travel to Bank of America in Groton and next door to North Middlesex Savings Bank beside Town Hall on Main Street to sign over access authorization to the accounts to the new treasurer.
Callahan is winding down from the busy months: December through March. “End of month, end of year, budget preparations, W-2s and 1099s, the Annual Town Report and other routine goodies” have filled Callahan’s weeks recently. Some paperwork is afoot to launch borrowing authorized from prior Town Meeting votes.
But it’ll come to a screeching halt in three and a half weeks. Asked if he’ll miss the routine, ”
Absolutely. It’s a nice job, generally speaking. I get along fine with the folks here,” but added “it will be a nice to get a taste of not having to get up at 6:30 or quarter of 7 to come in at 8:30 and work till 5.”
“Thank you for all of your hard work on behalf of the town,” said Sullivan to the selectmen’s outgoing town administrator, Shaun Suhoski. “Don’t make yourself a stranger.”
Suhoski, 45, leaves his post on Friday, April 9. He’ll immediately start work the following Monday as the town administrator for Sturbridge.
Doing some rough “Gardner math” calculations, as he’d once dubbed his quick number-crunching abilities gleaned from his hometown Gardner High School, Suhoski has spent a fourth of his life in the town’s employ – 11 years.
“Excuse me,” interrupted DPW Superintendent and friend Dan Nason before the Suhoski portion of the program rolled out. “We’re in a state of emergency. Gotta go.”
Nason then bolted out of the Great Hall, where the throng had gathered. It wasn’t entirely theatrics.
Nason, Suhoski, Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi, the selectmen and more spent a hectic Sunday the day before, bracing for added rainfall and the anticipated toll it was projected to take on the town’s drinking water supply midweek. That morning the group held a meeting with the town’s significant industrial water users, outlining the dire situation. Suhoski was still firing out press updates to his routine list of Massachusetts media outlets to provide information at 7 p.m.
The next day, Tuesday, was to be a marathon day as well for Suhoski and the selectmen, with various meetings set to go off all afternoon, hourly on the hour. A meeting to interview and hire an interim replacement for Suhoski was followed later by a budget workshop for the selectmen and an evening Finance Committee budget hearing.
In terms of dollars and cents, and in the face of the week’s weather emergency and the annual budget shuffle, the town was squeezing its last penny’s worth of service out of Suhoski.
So what emergency caused Suhoski to dive for his cell phone after Nason left the room? “Oh, it’s Mary Arata asking if this is a posted (selectmen’s) meeting,” Suhoski announced to the attendees, in a (playful?) jab aimed at yours truly. “Couldn’t resist,” he said. A former news correspondent, Suhoski is slick enough to know and feed quotable comments to his friends in the media.
Dealing with persistent press reporters and public inquiries was another Suhoski task – public relations officer. He’s held the town administrator post for four years now. In January 2006, Suhoski was elevated, or in terms of physical office space within Town Hall, lowered, from his third-floor economic development director job of seven years to his latest role managing town operations from his first-floor, right-hand side, front corner office at Town Hall.
Selectman Rick Gilles presented Suhoski with a framed copy of a Norman Rockwell black-and-white print entitled “In the Voting Booth.” A collective gift from his elected bosses, the Ayer Board of Selectmen, it’s a reminder that “all politics is local,” as the late House Speaker Tip O’Neil once famously said.
On a lighter note, Selectman Jim Fay presented Suhoski with a heavy stack of bound computer printout paper, affectionately labeled “Shaun’s To Do List.” Fay was quick to add, however, that Suhoski’s substantial list of accomplishments outweighed the prop gag.
Suhoski, and both Ann and Denis Callahan were all presented with citations signed and sealed from the House of Representatives. The citation wished each “good fortune and continued success in all future endeavors,” and was co-signed by House Speaker Robert DeLeo and presented by Groton state Rep. Robert Hargraves.
Selectmen Chairman Sullivan implored Suhoski to return for visits. “Sturbridge isn’t that far.” To all three departing leaders, Sullivan said, “it’s a great day to be celebrating longtime service from three employees. But you’re really three friends. Although we won’t be seeing you on a daily basis, please don’t make yourself strangers.”