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Paralegal looks back on nearly 45 years of serving Aroostook County folks

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When Bonnie Steeves, a senior paralegal for Pine Tree Legal in Presque Isle, was preparing to graduate from high school in the late 1960s, she never imagined that one day she would be retiring from a lengthy career in the legal services field in which she advocated for numerous folks in central Aroostook.

“If you grew up in a rural family during that time, the sons would go into the military and the girls would get married,” Steeves said. “The careers available to women were teaching and nursing and I wasn’t interested in either one of those.”

The summer after she graduated, Steeves travelled to Rhode Island and found work as a nanny for a local family. She then decided to attend Johnson & Wales Business College in Providence, from which she earned her bachelor of science degree in 1973. After returning to Aroostook County, Steeves applied for a secretarial position at Pine Tree Legal but lost the job to someone who at the time had more professional experience.

But Steeves’ luck turned around in May 1974 when that secretary left her position at Pine Tree Legal and Steeves was hired soon thereafter.

“I was earning $100 a week and in those years that meant I could afford to have my own apartment in Presque Isle,” Steeves said.

These days, Steeves is looking forward to retiring at the end of December after 44 years at Pine Tree Legal. Over the years the exact work she has done has changed significantly at the a 501C3 nonprofit organization. As computer technology became more prevalent in the early to mid-2000s and the organization began to rely more on paralegals to assist with secretarial work, Steeves began to pick up more paralegal duties.

Being a paralegal means that Steeves has considered herself an advocate for all clients who walk through the doors, all of whom are low-income residents. She said her work can vary from making phone calls to connect clients to community services to educating people about their legal rights in various situations and communicating with state and local agencies to resolve issues on behalf of clients.

“Many times people who are of lower income can feel like they don’t have a voice and in a world that’s become so automated, there’s less opportunities for them to interact with a real person,” Steeves said. “I like being able to develop relationships with clients and help them feel that they’re important.”

Steeves’ own memories and lessons from childhood have further motivated her while working with clients. She grew up as the 5th of eight children of Lucien and Angeline Blair in the small town of Quimby near St. Froid Lake. Her father worked as a woodcutter and her mother stayed home until the youngest of Steeves’ siblings began school. The children attended a two-room schoolhouse — with one classroom for kindergarten through 4th grade and the other for 5th to 8th grade — until an elementary school was built in nearby Eagle Lake.

Though her family did not have much means financially, Steeves said her parents instilled a strong work ethic into their children and always strived to do their best in providing for them.

“We didn’t have much in the way of material things but we always had food, a roof over our heads and beds to sleep in. We never felt poor,” Steeves said. “I think that upbringing helped make me more compassionate for people who are in similar situations.”

Steeves and her husband David have been married for 35 years and raised their two children in Mapleton, where they still live today. Although Steeves successfully recovered from open heart surgery this past summer, she said the main reason she decided to retire is to spend more time at home and to fully relax after more than four decades in a rewarding career.

“Many people have told me that when it’s time to retire I would know,” Steeves said. “I like sewing and crafts, so I’m going to be cleaning out my sewing room and in the summer my flower garden will need tending. I’m looking forward to not having a set schedule every day.”

In looking back on her career, Steeves thinks that the best moments have been knowing that her assistance has helped ease clients’ worries and put them on track toward a more hopeful future. She said that she’s thankful for the support of her colleagues through the years and knows that she will leave the organization in good hands.

“I’ve truly enjoyed the work I’ve done here and I’ve worked with some of the best people,” Steeves said.

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