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Spend time with Dale Kuhnert '68 and you might feel that, contrary to the prevailing sentiment, life actually is getting better.
Kuhnert, editor of Down East magazine for the past six years, has seen measurable improvements in the fortunes of the magazine in that time. And there's a similar upswing in all of midcoast Maine, Kuhnert's turf for more than 30 years.
After graduating from Colby, Kuhnert spent four years teaching in Searsport, a small town near Belfast. "As a teacher, you find out how a small community works. It's held me in very good stead ever since then," he said. He was teaching when he heard about an opening at Down East, went for an interview and was hired on the spot. Twenty-five years later he still considers the Camden-based magazine the perfect place to work. "A good magazine makes the job of producing it look easy," he said. "But we meet every morning and every night. Planning is what makes it work."
Under Kuhnert's watch Down East's circulation and ad revenues have risen steadily. Paid circulation is up from 70,000 to 100,000, advertising has grown by 60 percent, and the magazine has a 75 percent renewal rate--all figures that are exceptional for a general interest publication during a decade when most have struggled to stay even.
Readership continues to be about a third from Maine, two-thirds from out of state. But the latter aren't tourists, Kuhnert said. "They have some tie to Maine. They were born here, own property here, would like to return here or move here."
Kuhnert's hometown of Belfast, 30 years ago home to disappearing poultry barns and malodorous waterfront canneries, has been transformed by several thousand jobs from credit card giant MBNA of Delaware. MBNA's chief executive had a summer home in Camden and decided to do most of the company's expanding in midcoast Maine. To those who carp about the transformation, Kuhnert replies, "Is prosperity bad? My taxes are down, the neighborhood is nicer and the new people know their place. They came here to appreciate it, not change it."
Kuhnert is even more bullish about Maine's future. He surpasses even the optimism of Gov. Angus King by predicting "a tidal wave of retirees" and middle-aged professionals coming from Boston and beyond, attracted by inexpensive real estate, the quality of life and their ability to operate a business almost anywhere. "These are people who don't want to sit in a chair, who'll be involved in the community, who care about it," he said. Those who bemoan Maine's fate as an economic backwater aren't paying attention, he contends.
Who are all these prospective newcomers? "They're a lot like the people I knew at Colby," he said. "They're our readers. You can bet that they're reading in part because they're hoping to be here some day."
Of his Colby days he says being an English major "was hard, but I'm glad I did it. I'm one of the few people I know who's still using it." He took every Mark Benbow course he could find, both for the Shakespearean language and the disciplined study.
Magazine editors, he said, like liberal arts students, "get to dabble in everything. Everything you hear about or read is relevant to what you're doing." It pains him to have to cut articles for publication, but "at least I get to read it all," he said.
To those who might think that writing only about Maine is limiting, Kuhnert politely disagrees. "We take off on Friday and go to see Maine. When we come back, there's always something new to discuss," he said. "I still feel like we're at the beginning, finding ways to make it a stronger magazine." Retirement and getting away from it all aren't things he thinks a lot about: "There are still a lot of places in Maine I haven't been," he said.
--Douglas Rooks '76
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