On Jan. 17, Carbondale will welcome Lauren Gister as the next town manager. Gister currently resides in Chester, Connecticut, where she is serving her fourth term as first selectwoman.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sopris Sun: Congratulations!
Lauren Gister: Thank you. I’m so excited to come to Carbondale.
SS: We met briefly a few weeks ago. What were your first impressions of Carbondale?
LG: One of the things that immediately attracted me to Carbondale is that all of the things I love about where I am now seem to be present, plus some other things that I’m excited about. Additional diversity, more sunshine, big sky. The artistic bent of the town is fantastic. I love the fact that it’s a really good mixture of people, ethnic diversity, ranchers, artists, hippies, professionals, ski bums. It just seems like a really vibrant, vital community full of really accepting and interesting folks with diverse backgrounds.
SS: What is Chester like?
LG: Chester is a town of about 4,200 people. Chester was originally a factory town started in the 1600s and incorporated, I believe, in 1836. We have a lot of waterways, a lot of creeks and rivers and streams. So that provided the power for all of the factories that were here. Those factories, most of the original ones, are not functioning anymore.
Somewhere between the 1970s and the 1990s, people from elsewhere discovered Chester. So, a lot of people came and had weekend houses here. Some people retiring from show business in New York came here because of the theater scene. It’s got a very vibrant downtown, very artistic, full of writers and artists and lawyers and teachers and, you know, just runs the gamut. Although we don’t have any ranchers, we do have some farmers.
SS: What are you most proud of having accomplished as first selectwoman?
LG: I’m very proud that we have really been communicating well with each other in times of crisis. We had a couple of hurricanes, we had a flash flood that took out roads and bridges. Of course, we had the pandemic. So, communication with the public, especially in a small town without a daily newspaper or a radio station, has to be creative for the government to connect with residents.
We also have been updating a lot of infrastructure. I did not start the process. It’s been going on for 15 years, easily. But the most difficult piece of what we call the Main Street project here, I would say, occurred in the middle of the pandemic. We had to completely redo our roads and drainage and water main and sidewalks and lighting and everything downtown. And to try to juggle the pandemic and get that job accomplished was difficult, but it is absolutely beautiful.
I really feel like, along with my team, we’ve done some really, really good work in Chester. But, just like Carbondale, Chester is not a broken place that needed to be fixed. It just needed to be, and still needs to be, cared for and paid attention to and maintained.
SS: How does your experience as a Marine inform your leadership?
LG: When I joined the Marine Corps, I did it out of desperation, because I didn’t have any money. My family was going through some turmoil and it was time for me to grow up and go away, find myself in the world and figure out where I fit. Never in a million years did I dream that I would stay! I thought I would do my four years and I would get out and I would go back to college and take my educational benefits, what have you. They just kept giving me really, really great opportunities, fascinating jobs in interesting places. I think the best thing that the Marine Corps did for me was it made me grow up. It gave me a good sense of who I am and what I can accomplish. And that is extremely valuable. You can’t put a price on that.
SS: So, after you received your education benefits, you decided to study Spanish?
LG: While I was in the service, and I was married to a Marine, we had a fabulous opportunity to be posted in South America. And that is what really got me fascinated by Latin American studies and Spanish.
I’ve told my kids this, knowing or learning another language opens up a part of the world that you would not otherwise experience. I used to have a goal that I would speak four languages by the time I was 75. I’m far behind.
SS: What are you most looking forward to?
LG: Well, I’m always ready for a new adventure. I am excited to get back to the West and I’m very excited to get to know Carbondale better. I was so impressed with the staff at Town Hall and also the residents and business people that I met.
Again, I didn’t apply for this job because I thought Carbondale needed to be fixed. I applied for this job because, in fact, Carbondale was doing just yeoman’s work in the aspect of being a real community and having a personality and vitality. I’m excited to become a part of that.
For the extended interview, tune into KDNK on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 4 p.m. Or, look for the archive at KDNK.org