Ellen Dupont retires as Griswold town clerk after 25-year career

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Fri., Jan. 3, 2014
Retiring Griswold Town Clerk Ellen Dupont sits at her desk on her last day in office after 25 years. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

The new year heralded the changing of the guard at the Griswold town clerk’s office, where Ellen Dupont ended her 25-year career as town clerk, handing over the office reins to her assistant, Valerie Pudvah.

Pudvah is far from a new face in the town clerk’s office, however. She was hired just after Dupont was elected in 1988 and completed the state’s town clerk certification almost in tandem with Dupont. She ran for the town clerk position on the ballot last November unopposed.

“Valerie has 25 years under her belt,” said Dupont. “Who else but Valerie could get that job? She should do fine.”

The town clerk is the unofficial gatekeeper and “go-to” person for any local government-related questions or issues. From birth, marriage and death records, to notarizing documents, to dog licenses and land records, the clerk and her assistant field a variety of questions every day. “We’re supposed to have the answers to everything,” said Pudvah. The one thing the office no longer handles is hunting and fishing licenses – for that, residents must travel to Lisbon or Voluntown, she said.

Dupont first ran for the elected office in 1988 when her predecessor, Alice Stradczuk, decided to run for selectman. She had been working in the office as Stradczuk’s assistant clerk for just a year and a half. “I was scared. I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ But she said, ‘Yes, you can.' She was my role model,” said Dupont. Stradczuk opted to retire when her bid for selectman fell short, and Dupont plunged into her new role.

In her quarter-century tenure, Dupont ran unopposed in all but one election. “It’s political, but it’s not. I just try to stay neutral,” said Dupont, a Democrat. “One time the Republicans put someone up against me, but she backed out. I don’t know why. I said, ‘Bring it on!’ It’s a Democratic town, but the town is changing. The whole office is changing.”

Chief among the changes she’s witnessed is the transformation of office procedure to electronic format. Everything from election record-keeping to land records is maintained via computer; the office even accepts credit cards. “All the title searches are online now. So 24-7, you can look up land records online. We just roll with the punches,” she said.

Dupont said that she and Pudvah continued their training through the Secretary of the State’s ongoing course, making connections with other town clerks and getting updates on new procedures. There have been plenty of ups and downs over the years. Dupont recalled one contentious year in which the town dragged through five referendums before voters approved a town budget. “That was really frustrating,” she said.

And she has been asked plenty of mystifying questions. Recently there has been a surge of vampire-related questions, in the wake of an article in Smithsonian magazine about a local 19th-century burial site excavation that indicated belief in vampires. But the most memorable question came from a resident who wondered if he had to buy a dog license, since he claimed his dog was an “inside dog.”

“I told him, ‘You open your door and let him out, now he’s an outside dog,’” said Dupont. “He said, ‘Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.’ You get all sorts of questions.”

Town Hall hosted a celebration for Dupont just before Christmas to mark her retirement, but she insisted she’s “not as far as the rocking chair. I’m not ready for that. I like to travel, I like hiking and I like the outdoors. After 25 years, I just said, ‘That’s plenty.’”

Pudvah said she expected that an assistant town clerk would be hired soon after the start of the new year.

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