Terry Kelley, who will retire later this year as executive director of the Mount Desert Island and Ellsworth Housing Authorities, visits with some of the residents at Malvern Belmont Estates in Bar Harbor on Tuesday. PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Kelley to end 41-year housing career

BAR HARBOR — Public housing residents didn’t tell Terry Kelley he should retire as executive director of the Mount Desert Island and Ellsworth Housing Authorities. But the thoughts they often express about missed opportunities in their own lives were a factor in his decision.

He plans to leave the post in September after 41 years with the housing authorities.

“When you talk with the residents, almost all of them say, “I wish we had done so and so. We always talked about traveling or doing something else, and we just never got around to it.’”

Kelley said a large majority of public housing residents are elderly women, many of whom lost their husbands years ago.

“And they all say, ‘Don’t wait until [it’s too late] to experience all the things you have always talked about doing together.’ That’s probably a major reason I’m retiring at the age I am.”

He is 61. His wife, Linda, worked for the housing authorities for 37 years before retiring two years ago.

Kelley said he looks forward to spending more time with his children and grandchildren and pursuing his many interests. He is an avid gardener and has “a passion for fly fishing.”

He is a registered Maine guide, a ham radio operator and, as of this winter, an amateur astronomer.

“I pick a new hobby every year to get through the long winters we have here,” he said.

He enjoys hiking, camping, four-wheeling, snowmobiling, scuba diving and woodworking.

Kelley was born and grew up in Bar Harbor. When he returned following service in the U.S. Air Force, he got a summer job as a member of the dock crew at the then-Bluenose ferry terminal.

Then he saw an ad in the newspaper that the new public housing authority had an opening for a maintenance man. He started work in August 1975, about two months after the opening of Malvern Belmont Estates in Bar Harbor, the first public housing complex on MDI. The Maple Lane Apartments in Northeast Harbor and Ridge Apartments in Southwest Harbor opened the same year.

In the late 1980s, Kelley became director of operations for the MDI Housing Authorities, which included the public housing agencies in all four of the island’s towns. He was named executive director in 1995. By then, the organization included the Ellsworth Housing Authority.

There are now 136 public housing units in Bar Harbor – at Malvern Belmont, Rodick Lorraine and Prospect and Eden Apartments. There are 18 in Northeast Harbor, 32 in Southwest Harbor, 22 at Birchwood Apartments in Tremont and 50 at Union River Estates in Ellsworth.

In addition to managing the public housing units, the housing authorities administer the federal rental assistance program. That program currently assists about 400 low-income families.

Kelley said that when the program started about 30 years ago, most of the rental assistance recipients lived on MDI. Now, very few of them do because there are so few year-round rentals on the island.

Asked what he is most proud of in looking back over his career with the housing authorities, Kelley cited the tenant services programs that have been developed for elderly or disabled public housing residents. Those services include transportation and housekeeping assistance.

“I don’t think we as a society take as good a care of our elderly as a lot of other cultures do,” he said. “I think we provide a [wonderful] service to the older generation here. Our staff does a great job.”

With Kelley, it seems to be more than a job; it’s personal. That is reflected in his speech, as he refers to public housing tenants as “my residents” and “the people who live with me.”

Kelley said he thinks the housing authorities will need to provide even more assistive services for residents in the future.

“That program has grown a lot since we started it, and I see it just expanding and expanding,” he said.

He noted that when the first public housing units were built on MDI, there were several nursing homes on the island. Now, there is one.

He doesn’t foresee the housing authorities providing skilled nursing care, but he can envision offering assisted living services so that residents can remain in their apartments as long as possible.

“That’s something I think they’re really going to have to look at hard,” he said. “It’s a real challenge keeping someone living independently on this island.”

Kelley has served on Bar Harbor’s Warrant Committee and Harbor Committee and as the town’s representative on the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission. He was a volunteer firefighter for nearly 30 years.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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