SEARSMONT, Maine — Claudia Mercer, who served for 30 years as the Searsmont town clerk with quiet dedication and a stickler’s attention to detail, loved her rural community.
But the magnitude of that dedication stunned those who attended Saturday’s annual town meeting. That’s when they learned that Mercer, a frugal woman who shopped at Goodwill, had made bequests totalling $120,000 to three town organizations.
She died of cancer in February at the age of 69.
“The response when I told about the bequest was gasps,” said current Town Clerk Kathy Hoey. “It was quite amazing.”
Of that money, $100,000 will be given to the Friends of the Searsmont Library Endowment Fund. Separate gifts of $10,000 each have been made to the Searsmont Fire and Rescue departments.
The money reflects Mercer’s appreciation for Searsmont, where she moved in the 1970s as part of the back-to-the-land movement. She and her then-husband bought a farm on Muzzy Ridge Road, where they raised chickens, goats and a cow.
“She loved it up here,” said Jack Walters of Searsmont, who was her best friend.
When Mercer, who originally was from Long Island, N.Y., first began working for the town of Searsmont in 1976, she worked out of her home. Walters said that Mercer remembered how her family would be sitting down to dinner at night and townspeople would be waiting in the driveway for her to attend to their business.
Although the town office eventually moved out of her home, she kept on working as clerk until her retirement in 2006, which was precipitated by health problems, Hoey said.
“She was somewhat quiet. She didn’t consider herself a people person. But she was skilled at the job,” she recalled. “She was a stickler for detail and for following the rules. She was very ethical.”
Mercer also was involved in the town library from its beginning in 1990, serving on the founding board of directors, according to head librarian Tom Neely.
The library was just one of her many interests, Walters said, along with gardening, writing poetry, travel and more.
“She was a multifaceted individual,” he said. “She had an endless curiosity. She was interested in politics, world affairs, and spent a lot of time in the library.”
After retirement, her lifelong habits of thrift paid off, her friends said, as she was able to go on several cruises.
“That’s what she saved up for,” Hoey said. “Up until she got sick, she was very active and very energetic. We have some amazing people in Searsmont, who are older and just very active. She was like that.”
At one point she had decided to be a snowbird and live with a sister in Florida for half the year, but changed her mind, Walters said.
“Eventually she decided that she’d rather be in Searsmont,” he said.
He knew that she was making a bequest to the Searsmont Town Library, but said that he, too, found the amount to be “eye-opening.”
“That’s out of her caring for the library. She just wanted it to succeed,” Walters said.
Mercer’s library bequest will be added to the $40,000 that already has been raised for the endowment fund.
“I think it’ll be wonderful for the library,” Neely said.
He said the library, which is in the Searsmont Community Center, benefits greatly from community interest and support. It’s open 22 hours a week and hosts children’s activities, an adult book group and more. Every July, “scores” of volunteers prepare for the annual book sale fundraiser, he said, adding that the bequest will greatly help get the endowment to the point where it can start generating income for the town.
“It’s just an incredible thing she’s done for us,” he said of Mercer’s gift.