Eight years ago I started a part-time job as a per capita assessor for the First District of Meadville.
It sounded interesting when I first started.
The job involved going door to door and finding out the names of those living there who are 18 or older. That's all I need to do. I figured it couldn't be that hard and take too much time. It was only from August to the end of November each year.
When I told people what I was doing, most of the time the response was something to the effect of how nasty they thought people would be — and if I could really get all the names.
The people of the First District proved them wrong. At least 98 percent of the people have been wonderful — even it if took two trips to their home to get the information.
For those who weren't home, I could leave a green postcard asking for the information and leave a phone number for them to call.
The first year I got a lot of questions from people about what it was all about — and then they answered the question. I told them I didn't want their money, just their names.
By the third year I discovered I could call landlords and get the information form them. They saved me a lot of steps.
The landlords were either super nice (most of them were) or they thought I should just go door to door. I told one man (who is a developer and very successful) that I thought I was getting lazy. His response encouraged me. He said something to the effect of "No, you're working smart," and that made me feel smart.
On the other hand, there were some landlords who actually were ruder than the people on whose doors I knocked. One said something to the effect of "Who's going to pay me for my time? That's what you're getting paid for — not me."
I really didn't think it would take that much time, but I didn't say that. Instead I agreed he wasn't getting paid and I was. So I went and knocked on those doors — and was glad they weren't my landlord.
For the record, the first year I found 800 people whose names weren't on the list — they had moved into the district within a year. I thought it was just because I was new and they had been missed.
So, I continued. Each year most of the people now knew who I was and why I was calling. I was legitimate and only needed names. It takes about one minute of their time.
I found I started thinking of First District as "my people" and when I saw an obituary for one of them, I immediately thought of how they had been when I called at their home.
Over the years, I saw people's health start to fail, but I also got to see some old friends, some new acquaintances and did my job.
When the phones worked for some, it became harder each year as people went to call phones instead of landlines.
But I think I managed to track down every one — usually by the end of October.
This year due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn't finish by the end of October.
So, I have two weeks left — and as of Thursday as I write this, I have about 60 more houses and I would ask my sister, "Tell me again why I thought this was a good idea." She reminded me I thought it would be interesting.
I was right. It has been interesting. I also got a lot of aerobic exercise going up and down steps. On some I felt almost like a mountain goat because the steps were so steep and there was no railing. But I persevered.
I have found the job challenging to say the least — it's like being a detective since many people know someone's first name but not the last. The challenge is to find out the information any way I can.
Facebook helped some; other public records also helped.
Each year I have added almost 500 people who weren't there the previous years — that figure still astounds me.
In the past eight years, I have had maybe 10 residents give me a hard time. Some people thought the younger people might not give me their names. In fact, it wasn't the young people at all. It was older people who for some reason thought I was being too intrusive and didn't want to respond.
One woman said she was going to put the dogs away and would be right back. She never returned. I found the information somewhere else.
This is my last year as per capita assessor since the state is taking over next year.
As I'm winding things up — at least I hope I'm done — I saw an ad in the Tribune for the U.S. Census Bureau, which needs census takers.
My immediate response was "I could do that" and I thought about it — for about three minutes. I remembered back in 1970 — when I was much younger — I was a census taker. Believe me, a per capita assessor's job is much easier than the census taker — although the census taker makes much more money than the per capita assessor.
And then I remember why that wasn't such a good idea for me. The census taker asks a lot more question than just the name; it requires a lot of work, and going door to door is not quite as easy for me as it was almost 50 years ago.
I had one more reason for discarding the idea of being a census taker. I still want to believe that generally the people in the First District are very nice. As I said, in eight years to have only about 10 people be rude, I think is remarkable.
I want to keep that memory of cooperative people in my mind. They may be just as cooperative with the Census Bureau, but I decided not to even find out for myself.
Beside that, I have another project for 2020: helping compile a book for the 75th anniversary of the Crawford County Fair.
That's one thing I think people will be happy to discuss. And I won't have to be a mountain climber to do it.
Jean Shanley is retired from The Meadville Tribune where she was communities and society editor.