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Northeast Kingdom Nonagenarian Vows To Keep Up Good Work

Charlotte Albright
Joe Queenin shows his unofficial "Mayor" business card before receiving award from the Area Agency on Aging.

A man known as the unofficial mayor of Derby Line has been named Northeast Kingdom Senior of the Year by the Area Agency on Aging for Northeastern Vermont. Joe Queenin accepted the award at the annual meeting earlier this month,

But he had to upset his daily routine to accept the honor at the Agency’s annual lunch meeting in Lyndonville. Generally on weekday mornings he can be found chatting with neighbors and strangers at the Irving Mini Mart, “holding court.” In nice weather you may see him riding on the back of the postmistress’s motorcycle. Queenin’s close friend, Scott Wheeler, noted at the meeting that Queenin has also been greeting visitors at the entrance to North Country Hospital for 25 years and, at age 90, still heads up the local Toys for Tots program. Plus, Wheeler noted, Queenin reaches out in less conspicuous ways to people in distress.

“Couple of years ago, when a young marine was stationed in Afghanistan, his parents had their marine flag stolen and Joe went to his closet and took out his own marine flag and hung it up on their flagpole. Joe is a class act,” said Wheeler.

Like most “class acts” Queenin insists he’s nothing special—just trying to give back to a community that was kind to him and his brother when they were orphaned as young men.

“The neighbors did so much for us and they were so good, everyone around us was so good, I think it kind of struck and I always felt,  whether I was in the grocery store as a kid and somebody needed help, you just grabbed the bag and helped them out, just automatically did it.  And I’ve done it all my life,” Queenin explained while waiting for lunch to be served.

Which may be why, even though he is not really a town official, he carries a business card that reads, simply, “Mayor.”

Queenin’s wife died two years ago, and he misses her, but says it helps to stay busy with all his volunteer work—even though he’s 90 years old.

“I’m not gonna stop, no, I’m gonna keep right on going. The longer I go the better I am,” he said.

After he accepted his plaque and his flowers, the audience—mostly older women—sang their gratitude, not just for what Queenin has done, but what he’s planning to keep on doing.

“Let me call you sweetheart,” they crooned, just a little off key.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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