The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Two: Representative Steve Kulik

Note: This transcript is from a series of interviews conducted by Harold Anderson of Valley Eye Radio during Worthington’s 250th anniversary celebrations, which took place from June 29 to July 3, 2018. Valley Eye Radio, based in the Pioneer Valley, provides local news, interviews and other content to those with vision loss or other disabilities.

Harold Anderson: Steve, are you a lifelong resident or did you move here?

Steve Kulik: I moved here in 1976 from the Boston area with my wife. We were looking for a rural lifestyle, which was not uncommon in the 1970s. We were in our mid-20s and a lot of people were looking to move back to the land, build a house and so forth. We had first thought about northern New England, but then realized that we really loved Massachusetts, and Massachusetts seemed like a better prospect for work.

Steve and Suzanne Kulik in 1976, the year they moved to Worthington.

So we started coming out to the Hilltowns. We really loved the Hampshire County Hilltowns that Worthington is about in the middle of geographically. We were looking for land to buy, with the idea of designing and building our own house. Not really finding anything right away, we did find an apartment for rent in Worthington, which is very unusual. The folks who owned the Corners Grocery, our general store in town, had recently purchased a large, old colonial home next to the store in Worthington Corners, and converted it into some apartments. There was this little three-room apartment, perfect for two people, so we decided to take the apartment and continue our search for land.

Steve building his house in Worthington.

We did find some property in Worthington a few months after we moved here, on Thayer Hill Road. We bought a parcel of 11 acres that was part of a much larger holding that had been subdivided. And we proceeded the following year to do some clearing, put in a driveway, put in a well, figure out the house, and essentially build it ourselves. We had some help with a hired carpenter from Chesterfield, but it was a great experience. Made a lot of mistakes, some of which we’ve corrected since then.

There were a lot of people our age who were moving in as well at the same time. People could get involved in town government and come to town meetings if they wanted, get involved in town committees, which I did after a few years. Eventually that little cohort of people our age who were moving into Worthington in the mid-to-late ’70s, early ’80s, all started having kids. Our son was born in 1982, which was part of a baby boom in Worthington, which actually received national attention.

HA: Really?

SK: It did. In 1982, Worthington was probably somewhere between 900 and 1,000 people – it’s a little bigger now. Typically there would be somewhere between five and ten children born in a town that size, and in Worthington, in 1982, there were 29. I think a whole bunch of people our age had moved in recently and started raising families. We got to know a lot of those folks and trade childcare.

Yankee magazine, October 1983. Photo by Michael McDermott. A follow-up in the October 2000 issue, with an updated photo, noted that all but one of the 1982 Worthington babies still lived nearby.

HA: What kind of activities did you get involved in once you moved to Worthington?

SK: I started going to open town meeting, which just blew me away – the most direct form of democracy and citizen government. That everyone could come to town meeting and have a voice and a vote, debate things. It made me a junkie for the New England-style government in small towns. So after being here for a few years and going to town meeting regularly, I decided to run for the planning board. There was an open seat, and I was elected. Then a few years later there was an open seat on the board of selectmen, and in 1983 I was elected to that.

It’s not an easy job being a selectman. You do have controversy even in a small town, and disputes about spending the town budget or maintaining roads, but I learned a lot. I came to really appreciate this community even more. I learned a lot from people I served with, and the citizens who would contact me with their complaints or suggestions. Again, it’s just so direct and grassroots in a small town like this. I loved Worthington town government.

Steve Kulik during his 1993 campaign with his children Liz and Sam.

Then in 1993, the state representative seat opened up when my predecessor decided to take a job in the Weld administration as the commissioner of agriculture. I thought about it and decided, “You know, I really think I have something to contribute in the State House.” So I ran for the State House of Representatives and was elected. I’ve been there since 1993, and that’s thirteen terms. I’m just retiring at the end of the current term in January of 2019.

HA: What kind of transition is it going to be for you?

SK: I don’t think it’s going to be a difficult transition. I really have enjoyed this work. It’s been an amazing experience to be a people’s voice and to represent them in Boston. What makes it so special is that I love my district. It’s 19 small towns that are just great communities, each one of them. But I particularly love Worthington, and I’ll be able to spend more time in Worthington and less time traveling back and forth to Boston on the turnpike.

HA: When you’re out in Boston and you’re talking to fellow legislators, what do you tell them about Worthington, and how do they react?

SK: It’s really funny – my colleagues in the legislature have a hard time wrapping their heads around a town like Worthington. They really do. They tease me about it, or they ask me questions like, “Are there more cows than people in Worthington?” The answer to that is no. They like to ask, “How far do you have to go to get a pizza? How far do you have to go to get Chinese food, or gasoline, or buy groceries, or go to the movies?” The answer for almost everything is half an hour, and the people who live in the suburbs or the city are just amazed that routinely you drive half an hour.

Left to right: Paul Sena, Melinda Hodgkins, Kyle Challet, US Rep. Richard Neal, Kulik, Kevin Porter, Mike Dondiego.

There are so many people who live in Worthington and towns like it who travel 45 minutes to an hour to work. These towns are largely bedroom communities now. A hundred years ago they were much more self-contained. There was more agriculture and small manufacturing, so you could have a sustainable life in Worthington and be employed and live here. That’s not really that possible anymore. I think that will change a little bit when we get broadband into Worthington. More people will have professional lives working from home, whether it’s a lawyer, an architect, a graphic artist, or what have you. I’m looking forward to a resurgence of people being able to work and live in Worthington at the same time.

HA: So what kind of things do you like to do here in your free time?

SK: I just really enjoy the outdoors, the open space of Worthington. One thing that sets it apart for me from a lot of surrounding communities is the large expanses of open fields. Much of the town is kind of up on a plateau, and there’s just so much sky, particularly near the Corners portion of town, with the so-called Jones Lot and the big open agricultural fields up there. You just feel like you can see sky for miles, and that you’re on top of things. I love the climate in Worthington, even in the winter, which can be pretty harsh.

HA: What’s your favorite season in Worthington?

SK: I would say fall. The air is so crisp and clear, and it smells good. There’s just something about the seasonal cycle that really hits home in the fall. I also like the real deep part of winter. Mud season is a pain when we get around into March and April. That transition between winter and spring is not my favorite.

Kulik visits Snowshoe Farm, a Worthington sugar house, with Massachusetts Agriculture Commissioner John Lebeaux. Left to right: Lebeaux, Paul Sena, Kulik, David Gage.

HA: Do you ever invite any of these legislators or any friends or family up here, and what’s their reaction when they meet Worthington?

SK: I do and people are somewhat surprised at how rural and isolated it is, how long it takes to get here, how long it takes to get anywhere else. In the winter people realize it is kind of a harsh climate. We’re at an elevation where very often we’ll get snow or ice when it’s raining in the Valley in Northampton or Amherst. We have a little bit of our own microclimate up here due to elevation and proximity to the higher hills to the west and the Berkshires. But I appreciate seasonal change, and we really experience all the seasons in Worthington.

Kulik and the Conwell School welcome Matthew Malone (far right), who served as Massachusetts Secretary of Education from 2013 to 2015.

HA: So have you looked into Worthington’s history? I know this is the 250th anniversary. And what’s your impression?

With son Sam Kulik at his Eagle Scout ceremony, 2000.

SK: Well, it’s a great history, and I have looked into it over the years. My kids, who are now in their 30s, each have a copy of the Papers on the History of Worthington, and they enjoy reading it. Things were very, very different when small, rural New England communities were settled. It took large families and a lot of hard work to earn a living off the land. I think it’s important that we understand what came before us, and the people who have made this community great. There are still a lot of people whose families have been here for many generations, and I appreciate that continuity. I’ll never be a native of Worthington – I guess my kids are, which is great, even though they don’t live here.

HA: So you were the Grand Marshal in today’s parade. How was that?

SK: It was a great honor. I was surprised when I was told this a few months ago. I really appreciate it very, very much. I guess it was a way for the town to say thank you for the time I’ve put in. It’s been almost 40 years. Almost the whole time I’ve lived here I’ve been in town government – the planning board, then the selectboard, then the legislature representing Worthington. I’ve done it because I really love the town. And being recognized as the Grand Marshal was really one of the special things that I’ve experienced in my life.

Kulik as Grand Marshal of the Worthington 250 parade in 2018. Left to right: Steve Kulik, Suzanne Kulik, Jim Dodge.

HA: So no Kulik for Selectboard signs coming up anytime soon?

SK: No, I don’t see myself going back to the selectboard. There’s plenty of very capable people on the selectboard now. That’s the wonderful thing about a town like Worthington – people do eventually step up and fill these jobs that it takes to run a town. Worthington has around 1,200 people these days, and there’s probably about 150 people involved in town government in one way or the other, whether they serve in the Council on Aging, or volunteer, or serve in the police department, or the selectboard, whatever. It takes a huge amount of input and volunteerism to make a town work.

HA: You’ll probably show up at the town meetings, though.

SK: I never miss it. I love town meeting, so I’ll be there.

Kulik with Town Clerk Katrin Kaminsky, holding Worthington’s early voting certificate, 2016.

HA: Any other final comments or reminiscence about Worthington?

SK: It’s hard to describe how special a place it is. It’s a beautiful town physically, with some great architecture. The natural surroundings are great, and yet we’re near a lot of other attractions, art museums, concerts. It was a wonderful place to raise two children, and they’ve made a lot of friends that they stay in touch with. I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity at the 250th year to sit back, appreciate what Worthington is, celebrate it, and hopefully make it even stronger going forward.

Posted August 15, 2020. The interview transcription was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

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