MONTPELIER — Sandy Pitonyak, a longtime municipal employee with the city of Montpelier, worked her last day as executive secretary to the city manager June 30. Filling her position is Jamie Granfield, who had worked as office assistant and accounts payable manager. Granfield sounded excited and honored to be named to the post. “Those are hard shoes to fill,” Granfield said, expressing admiration.
Pitonyak started working in City Hall part-time as a clerk while still in high school in 1971. Her mother, Arlene Houghton, also worked for the city. After graduation from Montpelier High School, Pitonyak started full-time as a ‘clerk-typist I’ in the department of public works. Her supervisors must have noticed her hard work and promoted her to clerk-typist II. Then she was promoted to clerk-typist III. In 1977, she became a secretary-stenographer I in the lister’s office. Each promotion brought with it a higher work level and pay grade.
One of her first tasks was to help Beryl Ingersoll, secretary to the city manager, proofread the code of ordinances. They typed final copies on a typewriter and duplicated them using a mimeograph machine. But soon came the technological revolution. Computers showed up one day and the workers had to transition from using typewriters and Wite-Out.
“We all went to a work-related class in Burlington,” Pitonyak said. They returned to find computers on their desks. “We had to teach ourselves the word processing program. I remember trying to get council packets out with that thing, and it was like, ‘Help!’.” But she managed and now marvels at how far technology has come in City Hall. “Now we livestream our meetings. We download things. That is how far it has come,” Pitonyak said.
Pitonyak, then Sandra Houghton, was first hired by Michael Pitonyak, then public works director (and much later, her husband). But Michael Pitonyak left City Hall after around a year to take a position with a construction company, leaving Sandy Pitonyak to work for Public Works Director Steve Gray. William B. Hayden, who was then lister, asked Sandy to work for him when there was a vacancy in his office. Hayden brought her with him when he moved to the city manager’s office. She worked for Hayden for nearly 10 years and won his appreciation.
When Hayden left his post as city manager in 1982, he left a parting letter to “The Honorable Charles B. Nichols, Jr., Mayor of Montpelier” that read:
“As time grows short and I only have one more day to serve as Montpelier’s City Manager, I find that there are many loose ends that need attention. One of the items that I feel I must comment on is the job performance of the City Manager’s secretary, Sandra Houghton. The City is fortunate to have many excellent employees, but Sandy is the best I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my career with the City or anywhere else. I’m sure that Sandy’s excellent performance is no news to you or the other members of the Council, but I don’t think any of us realize the amount of extra time and effort that she puts into her job. There are many times that I’ve left with Sandy still at her desk to work ‘just a few minutes more.’ There are many other times she’s come in on weekends or evenings to ‘catch up.’ This is in addition to the outstanding work she does during the week and the fact that she is perhaps the City’s best ‘Public Relations Officer.’ …
“I would like you to read this letter as part of your Mayor’s report and will close with a friendly word of warning. I hired Sandy away from Public Works to work with me in the Lister’s Office, I hired her away from the Lister’s to work in the Manager’s Office; and although I feel a certain amount of allegiance to the City, I’ll hire her away from the City if I ever get the opportunity.”
Pitonyak has weathered some challenges as well. Most memorable was the flood of 1992. Water filled the bottom floor where the planning, zoning and development offices were located. Pitonyak remembers being told to stay home the first day of the flood, but returning the next day to an unpleasant environment. The basement had flooded through a tunnel connecting the Montpelier Fire and Ambulance Department. Pitonyak helped with the emergency recovery.
“We were right back here the next morning. They needed us in here to start helping and get things cleaned up. We were in the hall with tables. It smelled like gas from the generators — it was awful. Cold and damp. When that was all done I said, ‘I hope I never have to go through that again’,” Pitonyak said.
Pitonyak had also developed long-term friendships, such as with Jane Aldrighetti, administrative assistant to the Assessor’s Office and others. Pitonyak mentioned, on a personal note, how they have gone through life experiences together. First they were young and single and hung out together at night at popular stomping grounds in the 1970s and 1980s — Van Horns (now the abandoned Trading Post) or Jack’s Back Yard in Barre.
Aldrighetti had this to say, “She has been a wonderful friend and co-worker and I will miss her very much. The office will not be the same without her. We are like family and I truly wish her the best as she begins this new chapter in her life!”
Longtime co-worker Tom McArdle, director of the Department of Public Works, recalled the “old days” as well. McArdle said, “I’ve just started my 36th year on April Fool’s Day.” Pitonyak and McArdle remembered businesses that used to line State and Main, such as Seivright’s Pharmacy and City Boot. They also remembered the smell of coffee at the A&P and the delicious treats at Paul’s Home Bake Shop. “A lot of stores have come and gone,” McArdle said.
McArdle further mentioned the void Pitonyak will leave when she departs. “It is hard to part with her institutional knowledge, that hard working work ethic . . . I don’t think the work ethic is the same.” And, although he is in public works and she is in the city manager’s office, they all work together. “There is a lot of collaboration in a small town. A lot of back and forth between departments in the manager’s office.”
Throughout this time came the many unexpected life events through which longtime city workers supported and helped each other. “We’ve been through a lot as a family here. If it wasn’t for these people …” Pitonyak said, trailing off.
Pitonyak has worked with 10 mayors, 56 council members and five city managers. However, she has worked the longest with City Manager William Fraser.
A quietness fell over Pitonyak when The Bridge asked about working with Fraser, as if, perhaps, there was too much to say, or not a good way to characterize a professional relationship that spans more than two decades. “I’ve worked with Bill 22 of my 44 years with the city — half of my employment here. He’s been awesome,” she said.
Fraser had this to say of her, “What can I say about Sandy? It’s almost unthinkable that she held down the fort at City Hall for 44 years! During the 22 years that I’ve worked with her, she has maintained her nice disposition, steady work ethic and dedication to the city. The residents of our community have been fortunate to have been greeted and served by someone as professionally competent and personally warm as Sandy. She made going to work a great experience for me each day, I will miss her, the entire city staff will miss her and the residents of Montpelier will surely miss her.”