CAMDEN — Keryn Annis is retiring after 23-plus years with Camden Public Works, but don’t for one instance think that he will sitting on the couch. It’s not in his genes, and he has places to go, people to see, projects to complete.
Last week, the town held a farewell lunch for him at the Camden Snow Bowl, when employees and family gathered to honor Annis, thanking him for his dedication to the town. They gave him a new jacket, a handsome blue Carhartt; embroidered on the front is the name of his business, Goose River Enterprises, and on the left arm, simply, “Keryn.”
That’s the name everyone knows him by, in Camden and Rockport, where, says his coworker Camden’s Deputy Finance Director Marlene Libby, he is highly regarded, especially for his heart of gold.
“He has been the public face of Public Works for 23 years,” she said. “And he’d do anything for you.”
The 11-member crew at public works, lead by Rick Seibel and David St. Laurent, includes Jeff French, Rodney Feltus, Tracy Harford, Carl Perkins, Dan Fuller, Clark Mason, Robert Nash, Jack Orestis, Mike Gagne, and Annis. These are the men who jump out of bed at 3 a.m. to clear the roads in unexpected snow squalls, or commit to days and nights working from the town garage when the long, hard storms descend.
They are the ones who clean up after gales down trees. They fix the potholes, put up and take down signs, flower boxes and wreaths, help Camden get ready for its endless progression of festivals and parades, and just generally keep the town in order.
Happiest working behind the scenes, they tinker on the large equipment and trucks at the John Street garage when the weather is quiet and community activity has simmered down.
For Annis, it has been a good ride, and he loves the community, but he is ready for life according to his own schedule.
“I realized it was time,” he said.
Tipping back in his chair in the public works break room, adjusting his baseball cap, he waxes philosophical.
“We are only here for a short time,” he said. “I’m looking forward to just enjoying life, and we’re going to go slow.”
It wasn’t that long ago, in 1954, when he was born at the town’s Mountain Street hospital, before the Camden Hospital was built (and subsequently torn down several decades later) and Pen Bay Medical Center was even a glimmer in a developer’s eye.
His parents, Bertha and Walter, had three children: Gerald, Keryn and Edna, who married Martin Cates.
Keryn grew up in Camden and Rockport, and eventually had his own family. His children grew up, with some living in the Midcoast and others scattered around the country, and Keryn wants to visit them: his daughter in Alabama, another daughter in Nebraska, “the pheasant lady who wants me to come hunting,” and his horse-training daughter in Tennessee.
In total, there’s six children: Lisa, Heather, Marci, Addie, Andrea and Aaron, plus nine grandchildren, and bonus children, “who have adopted Papa Keryn as family,” said his wife, Christine.
Then, he has his own business, Goose River Enterprises, which is a conglomerate of ventures: He cultivates micro-greens year-round in one the greenhouses at Goose River Greenery, the farm on outer Main Street in Rockport; does odd jobs, like digging sewer systems with his back hoe; and he bush-hogs fields, hays in the summer, moves earth, composts leaves, and grows vegetables for an appreciative customer base.
“I dibble-dabble around,” he said. “I’m an entrepreneur and farmer. And am not afraid of doing much.”
This is Keryn, the thinking businessman: “Keryn would make a regular visit to me inquiring about how much ‘vacation’ time he had left as he was always trying to calculate how he could make his time available work to his advantage,” said Marlene Libby. “It became a joke between us as when I would see him coming I always knew just what the question was going to be and he knew it which is why I think he liked to do it! I think he hoped additional time would magically appear for him!”
His coworkers at the garage are accomplished storytellers, like Annis, and they have no mercy in ribbing each other. They are their own breed, and the best time to understand that is in the middle of the night, when a snowstorm is raging, and they hammer back and forth on the radio, as they plow.
“Kerynnnnnn,” one will call out, “where you at?”
Others will weigh in, riffing off of each other, locating downed trees, describing road conditions and the type of snow, gently insult each other, and sometimes, outside certain bars, they will note the progress of patrons stumbling home on foot.
“Nope, she’s down.”
“And, she’s up, again.”
Their conversations are unique to Old Maine: salty, authentic, caring and careful. Safety for the community is their priority.
With Keryn, it tended to be two or three words when he’d call the others in from their sleepy slumber for storms or emergencies.
“It’s snowing out,” he’d say tersely, in the foreman’s call to arms.
Or, “It’s slippery.” Or, “tree’s down.”
No need for conversation; it was just time to get the job done, and the crew responded to him.
Then there was the time that they will never forget, nor will Keryn, when, during a snow storm just prior to a major downtown fire, he tipped a hydrant over.
“Yes, yes, he did,” said Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley, who also remembers well that fire.
Keryn had propped it back up and went on with his work.
“It was the hydrant on Main Street in front of Billy Dickey’s shop,” said Farley. “Mike Eugley drove up to the hydrant with a Lincolnville truck, put a line on it, and whoop, it fell over.”
“We went to the hydrant by the Village Green, and it all worked out,” he said.
“And we didn’t have to shut down Route 1,” said Keryn’s coworker Tracy Harford, who is also a firefighter.
Or the time, Annis recounts, when he clipped a utility wire on Bay View Street, prompting Rick Bresnahan to shout across the road, “Might as well go home, Keryn, you took out my T.V.”
Or the few telephone poles he’s bumped into, reported Marlene Libby.
“He can break anything,” shouted one of his coworkers, from the workshop.
David St. Laurent, who is assuming the role of director of public works when Rick Seibel retires, said Keryn: “is a knowledgeable tradesman and equipment operator that knows the area and local trivia history of Camden and Rockport better than anyone. He is also master with the asphalt lute rake and has a heck of a green thumb.”
Plus, Keryn is the one who is “a lot of fun, and lightens up the room,” he said.
“It's always sad to see employees like Keryn retire,” said Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell. “Anyone who has worked for the Town of Camden for a while has a funny story or memory about him. I greatly admire him for his years of service to the Town and recognize that after 23 years he's done his time and deserves the chance to focus on what's most important to him: his family and his farm.”
Keryn will miss Truck No. 3, a 1998 International with a diesel Cummins engine, with which he plowed the hills of Camden. (Read Late afternoon report: Snowplow ride-along with Camden Public Works’ driver Keryn Annis)
“I lost the four-wheel drive last winter coming down Hosmer Pond Road,” he said.
How did he manage the beast?
“I knew how it drove,” he said.
While Keryn says he will visit Public Works, and do the morning stretches with the crew that St. Laurent introduced as a regular daily routine, and which Keryn appreciates, he is not going to miss the “phone calls in the middle of the night.”
He is already busy, and after a conversation late in October, he was on his way to the store get grease for the backhoe.
“I’ve got plenty to do, believe me,” he said.
Christine Annis, Keryn’s wife, is excited that he is retiring.
“We are fortunate, and lucky, to get here,” she said. “He’s still upright and mobile, and with much to look forward to. I’m proud of him; he’s dedicated a long of energy to the town — loyalty, commitment and git er done attitude are strong virtues.”
But Christine is a pragmatist.
“That said, I’ll be lucky if he doesn't drive me batty with his smarty phone flubups and his culinary experiments,” she said. “But one really good thing about years of on-call duty as a plowman, he will jump awake at the mere mention of ‘it’s snowing.’ I’ll use it plenty.”
Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at firstname.lastname@example.org; 207-706-6657