EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Pat Stanley comes from a papermaking family and was a machine operator at the Main Street mill for decades.
Dozens of people went to the Katahdin Region Higher Education Center on Monday to apply for work at the East Millinocket and Millinocket paper mills sold in escrow late Friday to Cate Street Capital of New Hampshire, but not Stanley. The 48-year-old town man was there studying for an exam and hoping to follow his daughter and two nieces into the nursing profession much the way he followed his father into papermaking.
He enjoys having changed careers.
“Every time they resold the mill, we lost something,” Stanley said. “It’s really stressful because the economy, the prices of things, is going up, and the pay is going down. If I were to go back, it would be for a lower rate of pay now than I made.”
“You go back,” Stanley added, “because you have a family to feed. You have got to survive. A lot of people have relatives around here and they can’t leave.”
Nursing wasn’t Stanley first choice for a second career. He tried trucking after being among about 150 people laid off when the Millinocket mill closed in September 2008, but found the long hours and icy roads unpalatable, he said.
Returning to school after 28 years “was hard,” Stanley said. “It was difficult to adapt to the change in scenery and to being the oldest in class.”
Papermaking hasn’t much in common with nursing, but Stanley found that his first work had imbued him with traits that served him well. A quarter-century of working a full-time job and raising a family gave him a powerful discipline that many high schoolers and college students lack.
Stanley also knew he had to change.
“I had already picked a path. It was easy for me to follow my family into the mill,” Stanley said. “I thought I had my career set for 30 or 35 years. I thought I was set. Everybody did back then. The mill had been going for 80 or 85 years.”
Stanley might have surprised himself at first, pulling a perfect 4.0 grade point average. His present 3.65 average leaves him confident of graduating but the study is difficult: seven to 10 hours a day. Stanley studies by recording his class lectures and listening to them repeatedly while following PowerPoint displays.
He plans to spend his next career as a traveling registered nurse, seeing the country and getting paid about $27 per hour, once he gets two years of experience.
“It’s been hard,” Stanley said, “but I have adapted.”