What started as a bookkeeping job in the late 1970s grew into a 41-year career in town government, with 35 of those years in Waldoboro, for Town Clerk Eileen Dondlinger, who worked her last day Friday, Sept. 27.
Dondlinger first joined the Waldoboro town office in November 1978.
“I moved back to Maine from Connecticut. I had taken accounting in college and saw the town was advertising for a bookkeeping position. It was an opportunity to do what I was trained to,” Dondlinger said.
She left in October 1979 and worked in bookkeeping and finance for the town of Warren from 1979-1985.
In 1985, the Waldoboro selectmen were looking for a bookkeeper again and inquired with Dondlinger. Her daughter was starting school at Miller School, near the town office.
“It was the perfect move, so I took the opportunity to come back,” Dondlinger said. She returned to Waldoboro in October 1985.
Reflecting on her time with the town office, Dondlinger said what she will miss most is clear.
“I’m going to miss the people the most. I think that is why I stuck with this job as long as I did. I’m going to miss lots of people, even the prickly ones. A lot of times they just need someone to talk to, to vent,” Dondlinger said.
Dondlinger said the town office has seen many changes during her career.
“We used to do everything by hand and calculators, adding up numbers on spreadsheets. The amount of full-time departments has changed too. Now we have EMS, a planner, a code enforcement officer, additional front office staff, and growth in the town,” she said.
When Dondlinger started her career, the town operated on the calendar year and convened an open town meeting every March. Waldoboro is now on a July-June fiscal year and holds a town meeting by referendum every June.
However, some things, such as the location of the town office and the number of selectmen, have remained the same.
Dondlinger was the town’s finance director for most of her tenure, but recently moved to the position of town clerk. She had taken on both roles when former Town Clerk Linda Perry left in 2015.
When she first started at the town office, the position of finance director didn’t exist. “Over the years the job has changed, branching out to include human resources and risk management,” she said.
Dondlinger trained the town’s current finance director, Peg Tynan, for over a year until Tynan took over the role in July 2017.
“I took the job of town clerk so I could train the next finance director. You can’t train someone to do that job in two weeks. It worked out really well,” Dondlinger said.
Dondlinger has served as interim town manager on multiple occasions, following the resignations of Town Managers Lee Smith in 2007, Bill Post in 2011, and John Spear in 2013.
“You just try to keep it all going and attend select board meetings,” Dondlinger said of the interim work.
Dondlinger said her initial plans for retirement include a motorcycle trip to Moosehead Lake with her husband, Ken Dondlinger, and a trip to Caribou to spend time with their granddaughter. They would also like to travel out west at some point.
Town Manager Julie Keizer and Selectman Jann Minzy recognized Dondlinger for her decades of service to the town during a meeting of the Waldoboro Board of Selectmen on Sept. 24.
The town previously honored her by dedicating its 2010-2011 annual report to her.
“I’m one of those people, if you give a job to (me), I’ll try to do it the best I can, I guess,” Dondlinger said.
Longtime Selectman Clinton Collamore, whose experience at the town office dates back nearly 30 years, said Waldoboro has been lucky to have Dondlinger for so long.
“We were very fortunate to have her and I had a real good working relationship with her,” Collamore said.
Dondlinger was especially valuable to the town when there was turnover in the position of town manager.
“When something happened, we were fortunate to have the opportunity to use her knowledge and experiences. I mean, she has done just about everything over the years,” Collamore said.
Robert Butler, chair of the board of selectmen, emphasized her importance to the town office.
“Eileen has been wonderful, worked through many transitions and made herself available to answer questions others couldn’t answer but she could because of her experience,” Butler said.
Butler recalled working with Dondlinger as the town restructured its health insurance.
“I remember working on health insurance way back in the day and her willingness to work with us, as an employee impacted by the plan, was very helpful and it saved the town a lot of money,” Butler said.
“I hope she continues to make herself available. I know there are a lot of groups that would love to draw on her experience and expertise,” Butler said.