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Phil Bosse retiring after life of service to Caribou, county and state

CARIBOU, Maine — In his 66 years, Phil Bosse has seemingly done it all, from working at the family owned Funland amusement park as a child and later opening his own hobby shop, to doubling the Chamber of Commerce’s membership in half a year, and spending nearly 22 years helping County residents as a local staffer for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. Now, Bosse is set to retire on Aug. 3.

At age 10, Bosse promised himself two things: to own a business before he hit 30, and for that business to be a hobby shop.

Two years later, his father Lawrence asked him to take over golf club rentals at the family owned Funland for a day. When he returned home, his father asked him how much money he’d made.

Bosse said this was such a significant memory, because it prompted his father to quit his other full-time job as a plumbing shop supervisor at Loring Air Force Base. He recalls his father saying, “When a 12-year-old boy can earn more in one day than I make at Loring in two weeks, then it’s time for me to quit.”

The next day, his father tendered his resignation at Loring and began working at Funland full time.

Then, in 1980, just two years away from his self-appointed deadline of 30, Bosse opened a hobby shop in Caribou, which he ran for close to 18 years. The shop sold over 400 comic book titles, nearly 5,000 books, materials for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and even had an indoor race car track on the second floor.

Shortly before the store closed, Bosse decided to go back into the workforce, but at that time Loring Air Force Base had shut down, significantly limiting his job prospects. Nevertheless, he soon found work as the executive director of the Caribou Chamber of Commerce in the mid 1990s.

Bosse explained that he was hired to renovate the building and to increase membership, both of which he accomplished in just six months.

“When I started, members were leaving,” he said, “by the time six months had passed, we were over 300 and were able to fix the building, get new computer systems, and get the Chamber’s budget back in the black.”

Those six months were not easy, and Bosse said he “took some grief” for some of his changes, like the decision to promote Caribou instead of focusing only on existing members.

He also took a risk by creating a website for Caribou and its chamber in 1996, a time when the internet was not only cutting-edge for Caribou, but for the rest of the world.

These decisions, along with the growing popularity of the Department of Defense Finance and Accounting Services and Job Corps on Loring Air Force Base, brought significant growth to the chamber and nearby businesses.

“People were moving to the area for DFAS and Job Corps,” he said, “and they were looking for homes. Chambers didn’t have websites in 1996, but anyone could go online and find all real estate in the area.

So he included real estate information on the Chamber website and “even gave a listing of available hotels so people could find a place to stay in the interim.”

Bosse soon found himself searching for another job later that year, claiming the work “became boring” once the problems were fixed, and the job was paying so little that he and his wife began purchasing groceries with their credit card.

A fellow board member suggested he apply to work as a State Office Representative for Sen. Collins, and he was soon contacted by an official from Washington, D.C., asking if he’d be available to interview with the senator on Dec. 20.

“It was a complete surprise for me,” he said, adding that many in the area assumed he must have worked on her campaign in order to land an interview so quickly, but that, truthfully, he had no involvement and “it really came out of the blue.”

Washington officials took note of Bosse’s improvements to the Chamber, which led to a somewhat unconventional interview with Collins.

Bosse’s three hour long interview with her was “more of a conversation,” in which they discussed their individual beliefs, political or otherwise, and life in Caribou.

While Bosse and Collins were only a year apart at Caribou High School, they’d never formally met, but learned during the interview that they ran in the same circles.

“Some of the friends I had in high school were also her friends,” he said. “We even had camps at the same lake, but because I was working at both Newbury’s and Funland during the summer, I didn’t interact with a lot of people, otherwise I would have met her.”

From there, they began talking about “the kind of issues that would be discussed in Washington or Augusta,” from veterans, politics, business, and health care.

“The conversation came to a natural end, and it really surprised me that it had been three hours,” Bosse said. “It felt like 20 minutes.”

Afterward he said this simultaneously felt like a “good sign” and a “huge question.”

“My wife asked how it went and I said, ‘I don’t know, we just talked,’” Bosse recalled.

But he did get the job, and when Bosse began work for the senator, he likened the experience to “drinking out of a firehose.”

“If there is a federal agency,” he said, “we interact with them.”

The position also requires close involvement with people, businesses, and organizations within Aroostook County and determining the best way to assist them on a federal level.

While Bosse couldn’t possibly list all of his notable accomplishments throughout two decades in the post, he is particularly proud of helping in the creation of satellite clinics throughout The County for veterans, negotiating aid for dislocated St. John Valley residents due to the 2008 flood, obtaining a new port of entry for Van Buren, and assisting in obtaining irrigation funding for local farmers.

Concerning the latter case, Bosse noted that while regularly attending Maine Potato Board meetings, he had been hearing about local farmers facing issues getting federal money for irrigation.

“It was particularly frustrating because Colorado and western states all have federal money for irrigation,” Bosse said.

This information soon came in handy, as Collins was about to hold an interview with the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

“She called me to see if I had any questions to ask,” Bosse said, “so we talked about irrigation and I talked about the research we’d done with the potato board. The senator was able to put together two really direct, pointed, questions about why County farmers aren’t getting irrigation dollars when the West is.”

Bosse received a call not after, but during Collins’ conversation with the secretary, from an office in Maine responsible for irrigation funding.

“They asked what we wanted while [U.S. Sen. Collins] was still speaking to him,” Bosse said, “and they dedicated money to Aroostook for irrigation right there. So, years of work and research led to a 30 minute conversation, which led to irrigation money that is still coming to the state of Maine today.”

Reflecting on unexpected surprises from the job, Bosse said he didn’t expect the people working for the myriad bureaus and agencies in D.C. to be so kind, responsive, and helpful.

“I always thought bureaucracy was a long four letter word,” Bosse joked, “but the numbers and degree of people who are so anxious and willing to help has been phenomenal. It’s a great compliment to our country that we have people like that.”

From the Department of Labor to the Department of Defense, Bosse said the vast majority of officials he speaks to have been tremendously helpful.

While Bosse has grown accustomed to the sometimes chaotic and unpredictable nature of his career, he is optimistic about retirement, and plans to “go dating” with his wife.

“For my first year off,” he said, “My wife and I are going dating. Denise is from Syracuse, New York, and we’ve been married for 42 years. She’s always wanted to go to the New York State Fair in Syracuse, so that will be our first date, at the end of August.”

In the short-term, Bosse is looking forward to retirement and plans on getting back into woodworking, with his first big project being a cabinet for his wife.

In parting, Bosse said that while he’s received “a tremendous amount of support” from Collins and the various federal bureaus throughout the state, it’s really “the people of Aroostook County that truly helped me in this job.”

“They brought me back to reality on bad days,” he said “and helped me on good days. So, if anything, thank you to anybody and everybody out there in The County.”

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