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Sun August 10, 2014

Rural Town Needs Plumber, Hopes A Student Will Take The Plunge

Originally published on Mon August 11, 2014 8:31 am

If a pipe bursts or a toilet backs up, many of us might not give a second thought to looking up a plumber. In most areas, there will be lots of options for services nearby.

But in the isolated town of Jackman, Maine, which has a population of around 800, the local plumber recently retired. Now, the closest plumber is in the nearest town — 50 miles away.

To fill the void, one family has partnered with the local school district to create a scholarship. The 2015 Inza and Harry Hughey Memorial Scholarship will award $2,000 to a local graduate willing to become a certified plumber and come back to work in the town.

Sheryl and Larry Harth run the scholarship fund and decided to focus it on plumbing once the void hit them acutely. They moved back to the area about two years ago and built a house, hiring a plumber who lived in that town about 50 miles away to work on the project. Last year, they needed more work done and they were promised that that plumber would return.

"Well, it's been two years and we still have not seen that person," Larry Harth tells NPR's Arun Rath.

He says there are some folks in town who know the basics of plumbing, but they're not licensed. In emergency situations, they can only provide guidance.

Harth and his wife have had a scholarship fund through the high school since 1998. "We finally said, 'You know what, we have a great electrician and many carpenters, but we do not have a licensed plumber,' " Harth says.

The preference is to have a student or past graduate of Forest Hill High School receive the scholarship.

"With that, then we have somebody who is established, who knows the town, has a love for the Great [North] Woods," Harth says. "And we're hoping that this will entice them with the scholarship moneys."

Denise Plante is the principal of Jackman's Forest Hills Consolidated School District. The school is K-12, all housed in one building. This year's graduating class had only 12 students, and 168 students will start this school year.

About 1,000 people live in Moose River Valley, which includes the towns of Jackman and nearby Moose River. Plante says Jackman has actually been designated by the state of Maine as an on-shore island. Instead of water, they are surrounded by trees.

And the nearest town — which, again, is 50 miles away — is also very small. That means whoever receives the scholarship would have to go at least 70 miles away to find a school where he or she could get certified.

So far, Plante says they've gotten a lot of calls from people interested in moving to the town to be the plumber. One call came from someone who has snowmobiled in the region — one of Jackman's larger tourist attractions.

Plante says, "He loves coming here for that reason, and then could be the licensed plumber that this scholarship student could apprentice under."

The deadline to apply is March 1, 2015.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath, here at NPR West. What do you do if a pipe bursts or your toilet backs up? Well, you call your super or Google a plumber, right? It's not so easy in the town of Jackman, Maine - population approximately 800. Their local plumber recently retired. Now the closest is 50 miles away. So one family has partnered with a local school to create a plumbing scholarship - $2,000 for a young person who agrees to train as a plumber and work in the town. Larry and Cheryl Harth started this scholarship. Larry is on the line with the project from Jackman, Maine. Welcome to the program.

LARRY HARTH: Thank you kindly.

RATH: So, Larry, can you tell us the story of the day your family realized you needed more plumbers in Jackman?

HARTH: Well, approximately two years ago we built a new home here in Jackman. We moved back from the West Coast and we had a plumber coming approximately 50 miles away. We had a need this past year for that person to come to do some more work and we were promised that they would. Well, it's has been two years and we still have not seen that person.

RATH: Wow, most people would get annoyed with that you know, four-hour window, let alone having to wait for - for two years.

HARTH: Exactly. Fortunately, we have a number of people who can help us in the plumbing needs. But they're not licensed plumbers and so we've had a scholarship through the high school since 1998. We finally said, you know what? We have a great electrician and many carpenters, but we do not have a plumber.

RATH: So how does the application process work and are you looking for people in Jackman or people who might want to move there?

HARTH: Well, our preference is to have a student or a past graduate. With that, then we have somebody who was established, who knows the town, has the love for the Great Northern Woods, and we're hoping that this will entice them.

RATH: You're with Denise Plante, who's the principal of Forest Hills Consolidated School there in Jackman. Can I talk to principal Plante?

HARTH: You surely can, and thank you for your time.

RATH: Thanks, Larry. Principal Plante, I think a lot of people would assume that every town has at least one plumber, and I've definitely been through towns smaller than Jackman. Is it very remote there?

DENISE PLANTE: We're pretty geographically isolated. We have between us and the next really small town about 50 miles of trees. And those are winter roads and/or moose roads. We have been designated by the state of Maine and they call us in on-shore island.

RATH: Wow - and how many students are there at your school?

PLANTE: We have one building and it's K-12. And we have 168 starting this school year. This year's graduating class is 12 students.

RATH: Wow - What kind of applicants have you had so far for this?

PLANTE: We've had a lot of people interested in moving to town to be the plumber. We've had one very interesting call from somebody who has snowmobiled in the region, which is one of our larger tourism attractions. He could be the licensed plumber that the scholarship student could apprentice under.

RATH: That's nice - I imagine being an avid snowmobiler, you wouldn't mind so much going out on emergency plumbing runs in the dead of winter.

PLANTE: That's true.

RATH: Denise Plante, thank you.

PLANTE: You're welcome.

RATH: Denise Plante is the principal Forest Hill School in Jackman, Maine. She's working with Larry and Cheryl Harth on a plumbing scholarship for the town. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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