Linda Strickland wears one of her trademark holiday costumes around Christmas 2021. (TERRI SAWYER PHOTO)

Linda Strickland will retire at the end of April after 27 years of service to the town, mostly as the receptionist at the town office.

Townspeople know Strickland as the friendly and helpful woman who answers the phone and greets visitors, but she does more behind the scenes.

Strickland handles requests for general assistance, which helps residents with basic needs like food and shelter; and heating assistance, available to residents who are ineligible for general assistance but cannot afford to heat their homes.

When someone requests general assistance, Strickland invites them to the town office. She could just hand out applications, but she prefers to sit down with applicants and help them fill out the form. The process takes about an hour. She then uses guidelines for income and household size to determine if the resident qualifies.

She often receives grateful calls and notes from recipients. “It’s a good feeling when these people you know need help and you can help them,” she said.

Requests for heating assistance have poured in this year as the price of oil has reached record highs. As of March 18, 68 people had applied since Jan. 1. In the five-year history of the program, the previous high for requests from Jan. 1 through April 15 was 67 in 2018.

Community support makes the program possible. Cook’s Lobster & Ale House, of Bailey Island, raises about $10,000 for the fund every year with a December auction and dinner.

Donors give on a regular basis. “They just do it,” Strickland said. She receives about 10 donations a month that total about $2,000. Just recently, a woman walked in and handed her a check for $500.

Strickland loves her job.

“It’s a family feeling in here,” she said. “Everybody just works together. Everybody gets along with each other.”

Every year, Strickland dresses up for Halloween. Some costumes are traditional, like a clown or a cowgirl. Some were more creative — in 1999, she donned a one-piece silver suit and went as Y2K, the so-called “millennium bug” that had some fearing end times.

Strickland, born Linda Leeman, grew up on Cundy’s Harbor Road. She attended schools in Cundy’s Harbor and Dyer’s Cove before going on to Harpswell Islands School, which is now Harpswell Community School.

She finished elementary and high school in Freeport. Both parents worked in Freeport and their old farmhouse in Harpswell didn’t have heat, so they rented during the winter. She graduated from Freeport High in 1969.

During a 1971 visit to her sister in Georgia, she met Stan Strickland. He was in the Navy. They soon married. For more than 20 years, she moved with him to Virginia Beach, Hawaii, Key West and even Brunswick Naval Air Station, minutes from her childhood home.

She inherited her parents’ home in the early 1990s. To this day, she lives on land that belonged to her parents and grandparents.

Linda Strickland answers the phone at her desk in the town office. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)

In 1995, she applied for a job as the selectmen’s secretary, but the town hired another applicant, Kristi Eiane. “She and I both came and interviewed the same day for the same job,” Strickland said.

Days later, Strickland received a call from Debbie Turner, who asked if she was interested in a job as receptionist.

“I started the very next day,” Strickland said. “That was April 18, 1995.” She has served as receptionist ever since, except for a stint in an administrative role.

Eiane is now town administrator and Turner is assessing agent. Town employees tend to stick around, Strickland said.

“It’s the best job there is in town, as far as I’m concerned,” she said of working for the town.

Deputy Town Administrator Terri Sawyer has worked with Strickland for 22 years and called her “the spirit of the town.”

“I adore her as a person and a co-worker,” Sawyer said.

She described Strickland as a reliable colleague who will do whatever she’s asked — as well as one who is not hesitant to express her many opinions.

Strickland brings color and laughter to the town office. “She plans her outfits for every single holiday in advance, not just Halloween,” Sawyer said.

This St. Patrick’s Day, she was in full regalia from her jewelry to her sneakers, and brought cake and cupcakes for the staff. “We’ll miss her very much,” Sawyer said.

Kevin Johnson, chair of the Board of Selectmen, said that Strickland does a good job and will be hard to replace.  “I’ll be shocked when she actually walks out the door,” he added.

Strickland was going to retire in December, but with annual reports to complete and a town meeting to prepare for, she changed her plans. “I felt guilty about leaving,” she said, so she asked if she could stay until April and received an enthusiastic yes.

She said she would stay another 10 years, but her declining eyesight is making the work difficult. Her husband has wanted her to retire since she turned 65. He retired years ago, after 24 years with the Navy and a second career with Yankee Lanes, the bowling alley in Brunswick.

“I said, ‘No, I’m not ready yet,’ so I worked another six years,” Strickland said. She remembers her response to a question about retirement not so many years ago: “I’m going to work until the day I die and then I’m going to come back and work some more.”

But now, at 71, it seems the time has finally come. “I better get out of here while I can still walk out,” she said.

The Stricklands have three children and four grandchildren. For now, retirement plans include a trip to Florida for a granddaughter’s high school graduation.