By Chris Herzeca
This blog’s focus is community building and community engagement in New Lebanon. How each of us can become a more active part of the New Lebanon community.
This blog’s animating belief is that our community is, primarily, its people and the stories that they bear witness to, and only secondarily the bricks and mortar that we have built. After all, BEHOLD! New Lebanon is a museum without walls. We are the museum’s muses, in the flesh, not on the wall.
So, the best way for this blog to encourage community building is for us to tell and hear the conversations that are our stories.
There is no better person for this blog to start this process with than Colleen Teal, New Lebanon Town Supervisor.
Colleen Teal’s journey begins with loss. Her father passed away when she was six years old.
Colleen remembers him as a 6’3” man, a former marine. But most of her memories are in fact stories, told to her by others. Colleen’s grandmother would recall how he would go to grade school with new shoes, but return home barefoot, since someone else needed shoes more than he did. Colleen heard another story about how when he was doing carpentry, he heard a girl’s distressed cries, and saved the girl’s life from drowning.
With her father’s death, Colleen’s childhood was necessarily shortened by the need to grow up a little more quickly than normal, in order to help take care of her younger sister with more of a parental than sibling responsibility. “After my Dad had passed, I was more the Mom than the child, even at that young age.” “So taking care of others was something that I,…” and Colleen’s voice catches and pauses, as she moves on with her tale.
Beginning at age 14, Colleen worked at New Lebanon restaurants that no longer exist. Colleen graduated from New Lebanon high school and obtained a college degree with a concentration in business. Colleen is a longtime New Lebanon resident who before her daughter was born had worked in banking, and after her daughter was born was a part-time elementary school teacher, PTA leader and Sunday school teacher, never exactly finding that round hole for her round peg…until some 14 years ago.
The then Town Clerk of New Lebanon contemplated retirement, and asked Colleen whether she might want to replace her. Smart people choose their replacements, rather than leave such things to chance. As Colleen recounts it, this was an opportunity for Colleen to find the job she feels she was most suited for: officially Town Clerk, but unofficially, Den Mother, for her hometown; a job that Colleen relished, working unofficially 40 hours per week, while being paid officially for 18 hours per week.
“I found that I loved it, it just touched who I was. Any resident who had a problem, they could call me and I could help them…that was meaningful. ”
Here’s one example: “I had one of my senior residents who had received a phone call that her grandson who was in the service was in jail, and she needed to send money. I stayed, I’d say until 7pm, and finally got the MPs around Virginia on the phone, they couldn’t tell me anything except I could give them a message to tell him that he needed to call his grandmother immediately. [edit: this was all a scam, as the grandmother’s daughter was finding out independently] I stopped at her house on the way home and she had the $6,000 cash sitting, she was going to wire it, and she felt very bad. [at this point, the grandmother had learned that it was a scam, and she was feeling more shame than anxiety]. I said I need to explain something to you, and she felt bad, and I said to her, if that was my daughter, and even if I was 99% sure it was a scam, if I thought I really had to do it, I would have wired it in a heartbeat. Don’t beat yourself up over it. I was just glad that I was able to do that.”
Now, New Lebanon’s den mother has become Town Supervisor, and her business management skills supplement her people skills. Colleen is very focused on building up New Lebanon’s commercial vitality, in general, and on the most glaring New Lebanon need, a new supermarket, in particular. Colleen is in constant contact with a developer and the NY DOT, but these things move slowly and, as Colleen notes, there is only so much the town supervisor can do. Colleen’s other important project is to improve broadband internet access in New Lebanon, but this is a Columbia County-wide endeavor in which Colleen is working with all Columbia County town supervisors [seeking to compel broadband access in remote “uneconomic” areas as a condition to the Time Warner/Charter merger], and there is only so much all of the Columbia County supervisors can do.
Colleen Teal is an approachable, concerned and thoughtful representative working on our behalf. She deserves our thanks, and our help.