GILFORD — For one of the last times in his career, retiring Public Works Director Sheldon Morgan leaned back in his wood-backed chair and look around his office.
His big wooden desk, the sides piled with neatly stacked folders, is his favorite thing.
"I love this desk. It came from a dumpster," he said noting that he found it about four or five years ago when the Lutheran Church place (in Laconia) that sells furniture was cleaning house.
"I like wood," he said, pointing to all the wooden bookcases and chests of drawers that adorn his office. "Most everything in here is free or hand-built. Wood is warm. It has character. Metal is cold and uninviting."
Morgan has made his 43-year career at the Gilford Department of Public Works everything but cold and uninviting.
Beginning as a surveyor/engineering aid in 1971, Morgan gradually rose through the ranks to become director in 1988, bringing to the top office his unassuming personality, his genuine love of his job, for his community and for his employees.
The Gilford Public Works Department didn't exist in 1971 when Morgan, an employee of the state and fresh from earning his Associate degree as an engineering aid first came to work for the town.
He said Gilford had just made the decision to go from a road agent to a director and Dick Howath picked him from the "kids" who applied for a job.
"I think I got (the job) because of my surveying and drafting skills," he said.
"It was Dick, me and Dick's secretary Lillian Maynard," he said describing the town's first Public Works Department.
Their office was on the second floor of a Gilford Community Church building on Belknap Mountain Road. He said the building is gone now.
He said the DPW employees (all five of them) would sit in the church and watch the farmers tend the asparagus field in the center of town. "And then they'd play horseshoes," he said with a grin.
"Almost all of our work was ditching and drainage," he said, noting that the oldest part of town (near Morrill Street) had drainage attached to the city of Laconia. "Everything else was cross-culvert."
Their first job was laying a new water line for Gilford Village. He said the population of the town was about 3,200 and most of them were farmers. There were some people concentrated in the village area and some people gathered over in the Morrill Street area just west of Laconia.
"The road were predominately public and made of gravel and asphalt or what we called "farmer's mix." He said most of the farmers took care of their own roads (often time with oxen) and the department itself had a few regular pickup trucks, one 4-wheel-drive big truck, and a roller that they pulled behind anything they could find to pull it.
Before the DPW, he said, the residents had "neighborhood road agents" and each was responsible for taking care of his or her little section of town.
Once Gunstock Acres won the battle for public roads, Morgan said the department and the population grew exponentially. The addition of a commercial district along Route 11 and regulations regarding septic systems added to the needs for more public works services.
As Gilford became more and more a residential community and less and less a farming community, Morgan said the public works department grew with it until today where it has 19 full-time employees, 2 part-time employees and performs road, drainage, plowing and maintenance as well sewer and water services.
Morgan has documented all of those changes — big and little.
"I have files for my files," he said, noting he uses a filing system taught to him by former Laconia Department of Public Works Director Frank Tilton that is a cross-fling system where everything is cross-referenced.
In 1977, the Department of Public Works built its current home which for a while they shared with the Planning Department.
"At that point we thought we had died and gone to heaven," he said.
Morgan was also one of the people who was charged with perambulating the town line. Back then, he explained, they never knew what they'd find. He noted once they came across a huge logging operation on the Gilford-Gilmanton line that nobody knew about.
He also said they use to do their own tests on the water at Gilford Beach. "We'd cook them and count the Ecoli on each culture," he said. "that was before the state stepped in."
One of his favorite memories was when the DPW got the town's first electric typewriter. He said one of the selectmen worked for IBM and was able to procure it for them.
"We were starting to get so many forms, it was just wonderful," he said laughing.
"It also didn't take that much to make us happy back then," he added.
For Morgan, his greatest feeling of accomplishment comes from his role in shepherding the town's infrastructure from practically nothing to modern-day standards while doing it in a cost-effective manner.
"We've done innovations to stretch the money," he said. "We done a good job of that."
"Gilford has done a good job of maintaining a high-level transportation system," he said. "I'm very proud of that."
When asked what his next chapter would be, he said he has a very long "honey do" list waiting for him at home.
He said he expects at some point to find something to do on a part-time basis.
"I'm not one to sit around and do nothing," he said, but said he's in no hurry and just wants some time to "decompose".
He said the thing he'll miss the most about the job is the people he serves and the town employees. "There's a satisfaction that comes with helping people," he said.
"I want to stay connected to technology and to people," he said.
"People need interaction with each other," he said. "I'm going to miss that when I'm gone."
Morgan's last day in December 27.
CUTLINES: Sheldon 005 - Retiring Public Works Director Sheldon Morgan shows a picture on his computer of an old Gilford Community Church building When he first came to work at the newly formed DPW in 1971, he said his department's offices were on the second floor of the building and the patch of land across Potter Hill Road was an asparagus field. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)