County Face: Susanne Sandusky of Mapleton
Susanne Sandusky of Mapleton remembers exactly what she was doing when she and her husband, Terry Sandusky, first arrived in Aroostook County after moving to the area from Bangor in the last week of October 1977.
“I was knitting my 3-year-old daughter’s Halloween costume and when we got to Houlton it started to snow. And it kept snowing all the way up to Mapleton,” Sandusky said. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? It’s October.’”
Before living in Bangor, the furthest north Sandusky had been in Maine was to Bar Harbor on vacation. She admitted that before coming to Aroostook County, she was skeptical about moving so far north in the state where her husband, a child and family psychologist, had taken a position.
“I made a deal with Terry that I’d only move up here if we stayed only two years and I got a microwave oven,” Sandusky said, laughing. “And we’ve been here ever since.”
At first, living in Mapleton was an adjustment for the young couple, as neither knew how to use a wood stove or the water well that was outside their home. But community members soon offered to help and over time Sandusky embraced the closeness that comes from living and working in a small town.
For Sandusky, Aroostook County became the first place where she could place permanent roots. While growing up her father was a career naval officer and pilot and the family had lived in around 10 places from Maine to California by the time she was 17. Eventually her father was promoted to captain and became the commanding officer for Brunswick Naval Station in Brunswick, Maine during the Vietnam War era.
After Sandusky’s father’s work at Brunswick, the family remained in Maine but he was employed at the Pentagon for a couple of years, where he did “top secret” work. His work was so top secret that the family never found out much other than his unique travel arrangements.
“We found out that my father would leave Brunswick Naval Station every day and commute to the Pentagon by plane,” Sandusky said.
As a young adult, Sandusky lived briefly in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky, where she met Terry. During her early years in Aroostook County, she worked a series of part-time jobs, first as a Weight Watchers lecturer and later a Weight Watchers supervisor. But it wasn’t until the Maine Yankee Referendum recruited her as their Aroostook County coordinator that she found a job that completely fulfilled her.
The Maine Yankee Referendum ballot initiative aimed to keep the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant in Wiscasset open. Central Maine Power, who had campaigned in support of the referendum, hired Sandusky to work in their public relations department after the referendum passed. For a year she lived in Augusta five days a week and commuted home to Mapleton on the weekends.
“My son was in college at the time and my daughter was in high school. Terry and I talked about it and we both thought that it was a job I couldn’t refuse,” Sandusky said.
Sandusky held two of the most rewarding positions of her career after leaving Central Maine Power in 1990. As executive director of United Way of Aroostook, she met with various social service organizations across northern Maine and was in charge of the nonprofit’s community fundraising efforts. In the early 2000s, she became director of special projects for Aroostook County Action Program, where she focused on strategic planning and capacity building for different programs until her retirement in 2012.
These days Sandusky stays busy with volunteering at the Grant Memorial United Methodist Church in Presque Isle and as a member of the board of directors for Seniors Achieving Greater Education at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. She is glad to say that the people of Aroostook County have long since pushed away her early opinions about one of the most rural, and often cold, regions of Maine.
“I think my experiences have showed me how unique people in Aroostook County are and how they come together to help make life better for others,” Sandusky said. “That’s how I learned to be my best self.”