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Retiring Town Clerk reflects on career

With the retirement of Town Clerk Stephanie Mackenzie (right), positions will shift at New Durham Town Hall. Donna Young will become acting Town Clerk and resident Shannon Feger (left) has joined the Town Hall team as Tax Collector. (Photo by Cathy Allyn) (click for larger version)
December 02, 2020
NEW DURHAM — "I feel great," Stephanie MacKenzie said on her first day of official retirement from Town Hall. "I want to do different things now and spend more time with my grandchildren."

MacKenzie has been a presence in the town for about 15 years, but the story of how she wound up in New Durham surpasses the story of how she wound up working in Town Hall.

The MacKenzie family, including husband Iain and three sons, was living in Europe and at one point vacationed in New Hampshire to visit her family.

"Iain is British," MacKenzie said, "and grew up in Alton, Hampshire, so he wanted to see Alton, New Hampshire."

They had lunch there and happened to pick up a real estate brochure. Glancing through it, a property on March's Pond caught their eye.

"We went back to Luxembourg, decided to build a house on the property, and moved here. That's it," she said.

When a job in Town Hall opened up, it was the perfect fit for MacKenzie.

"After living 26 years where I couldn't vote and was limited in things I could do locally, I could finally get involved in my community," she explained.

MacKenzie began her New Durham career as Deputy Town Clerk/Deputy Tax Collector, working with then-Town Clerk Carole Ingham.

The Humanities major was completely confident about being dropped into the position. "The job has nothing hard mathematically and I had worked for law firms in the past, so I was comfortable dealing with RSAs."

After holding that post for around eight years, MacKenzie moved into the Town Clerk/Tax Collector position following Ingham's departure.

Town Clerk is an elected position and covers a myriad of duties, including maintaining public records, issuing registrations and licenses, and elections. During her first days, MacKenzie said she was not nervous, but "I just knew I had to keep plowing on until I had everything figured out. Mostly it took working about twelve hours a day for a while."

Over the course of her tenure, she was elected twice for three-year terms.

MacKenzie also changed the paradigm during a time of flux in town. Many Town employees had left and a series of interim Town Administrators ended with the hiring of Scott Kinmond in that position.

"When I came to New Durham I found Stephanie to be very welcoming and helpful," he said.

Kinmond called MacKenzie "instrumental" in working with the Select Board and him to reorganize the Town Clerk/Tax Collector position into separate duties.

"I wanted a partnership with my deputy," she explained. "Stephanie was very helpful in the hiring process, which brought Donna Young to us."

MacKenzie became Town Clerk/Deputy Tax Collector and Young served as Tax Collector/Deputy Town Clerk.

"This working relationship has worked very well," Kinmond stated, "and they have been a great team over the past four years."

"I like the team, and so does Donna," MacKenzie said. "I like to share responsibilities in a team situation. Donna has a banking background so she was perfect for tax collector."

It takes five years to become a Town Clerk.

"We'd go away annually for a week of training," she said. "Laws, RSAs, and procedures are always changing and you need to keep up. For instance, the election was quite different this year because of the coronavirus."

MacKenzie and Young work well together not only as employees but also as volunteers.

"Donna and I heard a lot of older people in town talk about how much they liked the Senior Dinner in December and how they didn't see anyone all winter long. Three years ago, we had the idea of preparing lunches for our residents," she said.

They had the fire station Community Room "painted and fixed up, bought utensils and plates at the Dollar Store, and shared the cooking with other volunteers" to result in monthly Senior Lunches during the colder months.

MacKenzie makes it sound easy, but a lot of work went into the endeavor. They organized everything as private citizens and were joined by a host of other Town employees.

"Stephanie and Donna have a passion to assist our residents," Kinmond said, "and they hosted the luncheons prepared by volunteers at no cost to seniors. The events often also had guest speakers or light entertainment and were an overwhelming success."

As finance officer, Anina Soucy does not interact much officially with the Town Clerk, but in a private capacity she does.

"I thought holding Senior Lunches was a great idea and when she asked me to help out I said, 'Of course,' and immediately became part of it," Soucy said. "I've always enjoyed working with her."

"I'm so looking forward to restarting the luncheons," MacKenzie said, "once it's declared safe to congregate again."

And therein lies the reason for her good spirits about retiring; it's not adieu at all because she plans on still being a presence in town. Aside from taking the New Hampshire Master Gardener program, all of her other retirement intentions have to do with continuing volunteer work for the town.

"I'll help with the flower beds and Senior Lunches," she said. "I'm going to be a ballot clerk so I can see all of the people I've worked with for years; I like seeing people come in and vote."

Elections have always been a source of satisfaction with MacKenzie.

"I'm very proud of the integrity of elections and how they are run in New Hampshire," she said. "And I'm proud of the excellent work done by all of our election workers, ballot clerks, supervisors, and the moderator."

In fact, she considers welcoming children at elections so they are "comfortable about voting" one of the most interesting aspects of her job. She also took pleasure in making kids "feel easy" with local government by giving tours of Town Hall, which included bringing them down to the old jail in the basement.

"That was a big deal. They want their pictures taken in front of it," she said.

MacKenzie said she loved performing weddings.

"There was an increase of Town Hall weddings because of the virus," she said. "People will have their celebrations later when it's safe."

She noted that brides and grooms run the gamut, adding "We've had people come directly from their gardens in dusty jeans or all dressed up in wedding attire with their bridesmaids."

Kinmond recalled MacKenzie's efforts regarding the Town Report, noting "She has done a great job as editor-in-chief."

She said a past job at a newspaper prepared her for tackling the annual project.

"Her ability to assemble and organize the layout of the Town Report and the selection of a community photograph for the cover has been outstanding, and a great asset to our 'lean' Town Hall staff," Kinmond said.

For her part, MacKenzie said, "I was proud of the Town Report because the print used to be such a small font and now it's readable."

Looking back on the best part of working for the Town, MacKenzie can answer without hesitation.

"It was seeing all of our wonderful townspeople and wonderful children. It feels good to help solve problems and bring in money for the Town."

She said she would miss her colleagues and the townspeople the most, but she has teamed with Young, now the appointed Town Clerk who will run for election in 2021, for years, and trained incoming Tax Collector Shannon Feger.

"I know the Town is in very good hands," she said.

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