THOMASTON, Maine — Pete Surek recalls his first job working the 6 p.m.-midnight shift at a small convenience store in Rockland.
Surek was 12 years old at the time.
The 78-year-old Thomaston man has held a job ever since, but that will end next week when Surek retires as the code enforcement officer for the town. Thomaston officials have scheduled a retirement party for Surek at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at Watts Hall on Main Street.
Surek’s mother died when he was a baby and he became a ward of the state.
He said he got his first job because the people who ran the convenience store-gas station-garage were familiar with him.
“I used to hang around the place a lot,” Surek said. “They came to me and asked if I would help out.”
Surek would wait on customers, pump gas and change tires. He lived that summer in a back office of the store, sleeping on a cot at night. He said that ended when he awoke one night to find a burglar crawling across the floor of the room.
He then decided to find a place to board and moved in with an elderly couple who lived across the street from the store. He paid $5 a week to board there.
The pay at the store, located at the intersection of Main and Crescent streets, was $29 a week. He saved up his first two weeks’ pay to buy a new Schwinn bicycle.
Surek continued working as a teenager at the Endicott Shoe Store. Then when he was 17 years old, the owner of the Senter Crane department store in Rockland asked him — during a job fair at the school — to come down to the store to talk to him about a job. Surek passed on that opportunity but a short time later he was presented another. He had skipped school one day to go to a movie, but before reaching the theater, he ran into the vice principal who told him to go meet with Crane. Crane offered him a job at a Senter Crane store in Skowhegan but Surek declined because he wanted to finish school in Rockland. Crane persisted and offered him a job at the Rockland store.
This would be the first of several times in which Surek’s deep-rooted work ethic would lead him to be recruited for jobs.
He remained in school while working and graduated from Rockland High School in 1952.
He worked at Senter Crane until John McLoon approached him while he was at the department store and asked Surek to come and work at the McLoon filling station at Park Street and Broadway.That job jumped his pay from $29 to $50 a week.
Surek worked at that job until 1954 when he went to work at the cement plant in Thomaston.
Shortly afterward, he began what would be his longest career — working in hardware stores. His first job in that business was in Thomaston after the owner of the D.R. Call hardware and lumber store on Maverick Street in Rockland approached him and asked him to become manager of the store. Surek accepted and served in the post for more than 20 years, including after the store was bought out and became Passmore Lumber. He remained as manager for six months after it was bought by E.C. Hart and then retired from that line of work and entered the real estate business.
He sold real estate during the 1980s for Union Realty.
“In the early ’90s, the market went to hell and I got out and applied for the code officer job in Thomaston, and got it,” Surek recalled.
He has been at the helm of the code office during a time of significant commercial growth in Thomaston. The Route 1 section of Thomaston that abuts Rockland has seen the greatest growth in Knox County during the past 19 years. In those years, a movie cinema has been built, a Hampton Inn, an Applebee’s restaurant, Lowe’s home improvement, a minimall and, just a few months ago, a convenience store, gas station and McDonald’s restaurant.
Surek said the growth has occurred because Thomaston has considerable undeveloped land and Rockland has nearly all of its commercial land developed.
He said he expects to see more commercial development in that section of Thomaston.
“Absolutely, there’s still a lot of land left to develop,” Surek said.
On Monday, he signed the building permit for the $28 million, 150,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter that will begin construction later this year. Surek said a tractor supply store has contacted the town and wants to build adjacent to the pending Walmart development.
Surek lives in Thomaston with his wife of 57 years, Sonja. He has five children, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
He said he has no specific plans for his retirement.
“I plan to keep active,” he said, stressing that is how he has managed to remain working at his age.