First Selectman of Belmont

By Stell Shevis | Jun 02, 2016

Once a year a town meeting was held in Belmont and we first went to it in the beginning out of curiosity, as we had never been to such an occasion. We said "Hello" to the few people we had already met, as we moved about half way down the hall and sat down.

Looking around, I saw that all the men were seated on the left of the aisle, while all the women sat to the right of the aisle — we were on the women's side. "Should you move over there?" I asked Shevis. He gave me a look, but did not reply. The moderator up in front on the platform, was tapping his gavel, calling for quiet. Then he read out a list of items that needed decisions from the townspeople. He would read "Motion # 1. The School house roof needs repair. Should we allocate money to go ahead? All those in favor raise right hand and say "Aye." Everyone voted in favor. Some motions were voted to be tabled, or to be passed. Tabled meant to put aside for more consideration. Passed, we thought meant accepted, but later learned that it meant "passed over." In other words, "forgotten."

By the third year, we had become more familiar with the process, and Shevis usually stood up with some sensible suggestion. While he was speaking, one man shouted "You know so Goddamn much about it, why don't you do it?" "Second the Motion," yelled another man and the Moderator immediately hollered "All in favor of Bill Shevis for First Selectman, raise hands and say Aye!" Every single person in the room raised hands and shouted "AYE!" except us.

So my husband became not only First Selectman, but Fire Warden, Health Warden, Overseer of the Poor, and Fence Viewer! All this without a salary — it was supposed to be an honor. The Second and Third Selectmen were friendly and clued him in. He learned that, as Fence Viewer he was required to go once a year, with men from neighboring towns, to walk the boundaries and make sure markers were in the right place.

As Health Warden and Overseer of the Poor, he had to go to the homes of those people and find out what needed to be done for them. For example, there was an old man, living in a run down old shack, whose neighbors were complaining that he kept too many dogs who made too much noise, yapping and barking, day and night. Shevis went to see the old fellow who was living on welfare. He found him in his smelly kitchen, filling many pie plates with dry dog food. He himself looked frail and underfed. It seems he was spending more on dog food than food for himself. Shevis counted 11 dogs, of all sizes and breeds. None of them looked healthy —some were limping, one small terrier had only three legs. When asked if the dogs had  Rabies shots, the man said no, he couldn't afford the fee. Two neighbors had hurried over by then, and hearing the question, both said loudly, "them dogs should be put down." The man started to cry. "But they're my friends, my only friends. Why can't you leave us alone?" Shevis tried to calm everyone. He said, "I'll get a veterinarian to come and give Rabies shots even if I have to pay for them myself." But before he could contact the vet, those neighbors called the State Welfare Office to report misuse of funds. Their officials immediately showed up, shot all the dogs and removed the old man to a nursing home in Belfast. Shevis went to see him, feeling terrible that he couldn't help. The poor old man died, broken-hearted, within a few days.

Often there were phone calls from town folk, telling of potholes in the road by their homes, or of brush growing over the roadside. There was a list of townsmen who had signed up to do road work in lieu of taxes, or to help pay taxes. But when Shevis telephoned any of them there was always and excuse..." Oh, I can't do it ya know, I gotta bad back...it's killin' me." or "Sorry bud, I just gotta get my hay in today, call farmer Coggins!" So in the end Shevis had to go and do the work himself. He had to buy tools and work gloves, and put in time away from his own work which we needed to earn our own living. Shevis realized that they were giving him the run around.

He called State Sand and Gravel Co. They came promptly, did a good job, and were cheaper in the long run. After two years of this, Shevis told the other two selectmen that he really couldn't afford to continue any longer. When those men got together with the several other self-designed leaders in town, they offered to pay Shevis $300 a year! He refused, said, sorry...but I know they all felt a lot more respect for this man whom they had thought of as a "sissy type" who just played around with paper and paint."

In fact they asked his opinion when a new two-room school was to be built. When he looked at the plans and saw that the building would be parallel to the road he suggested that the building should be placed at an angle so as to get more sunshine into the classrooms. "Who ever heard of such a thing? Why, what would people say? Every other building in town or even in the whole state, was always parallel to the road!" Well, when Shevis pointed out that more sunshine in winter would cut way back on the heating bill, those thrifty Yankees saw the point, and agreed to follow his suggestion.

When it came time to paint the interior walls, they asked if we would choose colors. I made a cardboard model of the building: entrance hall, corridor, kitchen, two classrooms, two bathrooms. Painted most walls in off-white, with one wall of each room in a bright yellow, blue, or red...the corridor was yellow on one side, red on the other, as was the entry. This I finished just a day before we left for winter in Mexico, so I didn't see their reaction 'til the next spring. Then we were invited to the new school to see how well they had followed my scheme. And they had! And it really looked terrific. We heard that most of the students loved it.

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