PARIS — Counties, and towns, often run smoothly often not only because of the faces you meet when tending to business but because of the ones you don’t see.
At the Oxford County Courthouse complex that face is Hazel Paakkonen’s.
Twenty-eight years ago, Paakkonen came to work as the custodian for the complex, which consists of four buildings plus the Fryeburg Register of Deeds, and last week she retired.
“I grew up in Windham and ended up working at the shoe shop [factory] – Norway Footwear – in the early ’80s. That’s where I met my husband, Jimmie, and we were married in 1989 and have been together ever since!
“I used to know Mack McAllister who worked in the county maintenance department and then for the shoe shop and he asked me if I would apply for the custodian’s job.
“I did and got the job.”
In 1987, she says, she worked part time/full time. In other words, as many hours a week as was needed. In 1989 she went full time. “It was just me and I loved it!”
She says it has been an “awesome job,” as well as a challenge.
Paakkonen, of Paris, is a spry young thing who, at age 55, is thrilled to have put in her time and be able to retire with lots of time to do things with her husband and Jasper.
Jasper is their dog.
Responsible for the maintenance of the entire complex – which houses superior, district and probate courts, the Registrar of Deeds, Treasurer’s Office, Emergency Management Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the clerks of the courts, the Sheriff’s Office, the County Jail, the Commissioners’ Office, County Assessor’s Office and Oxford County Regional Communications Center – she leaves home at 2:30 a.m. to arrive at work a little after 3 a.m., she says. That way she can have three of the buildings – the courthouse, district court and sheriff’s office – ready for an 8 a.m. opening. After that, she focuses on dispatch and does the jail only if her partner Eddie is off. In addition to the jail, Eddie handles the outside maintenance.
She also has to travel to Fryeburg every other week to tend to the Register of Deeds offices. On Mondays, she makes two trips to the post office to collect the weekend mail and then Monday’s mail.
The challenges are usually unexpected.
“You never know what you’re going to find … what you’re gonna come in to.”
She recalls one 3 a.m. Monday morning back in 2014.
“I came in and all of a sudden found the hallway flooded and two ceilings in the restrooms had collapsed.”
She says she ran to the cellar and shut off the water. Then she called Eddie and woke him up.
They discovered a toilet had cracked. “We got all that cleaned up and opened on time,” she exults.
Then there was the time the sump pump in the basement stopped working and “we had to dry all the records … .”
Oh, and the bats in Superior Court she had to catch.
So what dirt can she dish on the habits of the county complex workers?
“Most employees are pretty clean!” she laughs.
The only time she can recall when it is really messy in the courthouse building is Grand Jury time when there are usually doughnut sprinkles left behind.
“But,” she says, “you just never know … I am always busy, and I love helping people.”
She is proud that every morning employees can walk into their offices and find the lights on and their workspace ready for them.
She says she has made a lot of friends over the years with local business such as Nason’s and Hannaford because she calls on them often for furnace issues or for catering for the Budget Committee’s annual work sessions.
She cleans up after parties and prepares for others’ retirement parties.
In fact, she is so in tune with the heartbeat of the complex, her coworkers found it a real challenge to plan a surprise party for her.
“We think she thinks it might be Thursday or Friday,” said Geff Inman, deputy director of OCRCC last Wednesday, July 26, minutes before they called Hazel over on the pretense of a malfunctioning toilet.
Alas, try as they might, she knew what was happening.
“I saw a sticky [note].”
But it mattered not to her, she was thrilled. “They put on a fantastic retirement party!”
(The thanks for that go to the staff of the Oxford County Regional Communications Center. They sneakily organized, cooked and set up the surprise party.)
In fact, she says, the very best thing about her 28 years with the county has been the people.
“They are wonderful to work with and I will miss them,” she says sighing. “The years went by so fast I don’t know where they went.
“I’m going to miss the people the most. For some reason, I came to work [here] and fit right in. I’ve worked with three sheriffs, one of them – Skip Herrick – gave me Employee of the Year in 1999!”
Eddie, she says, has been her co-worker for 13 years. “I enjoy working with him.”
She and her husband work with wood in the workshop behind their home. They make hummingbirds and loons, she says, to sell at flea markets.
“We will probably end up working in our wood workshop,” she says of her retirement plans. “And goof off, do whatever we want. My husband’s more excited than I am [about her retirement]!”
Her husband is already retired.
And as far as the county is concerned, who can replace her?
“I think they have hired two men to replace me.”