Hardwick Native is New Town Manager

by Doug McClure
photo by Doug McClure | Hardwick’s new town manager David “Opie” Upson, Jr. started work on Monday. Upson is a Hardwick native.

HARDWICK – Hardwick has a new town manager. David Upson Jr., or “Opie” as he likes to be called, started work on Monday.

Upson has work experience particularly pertinent to the challenges Hardwick now faces. He is leaving a position as a Vermont State Trooper, experience that should help him support the Hardwick Police Department through the challenges it faces in recruiting (a nationwide issue) and budgeting (due to the loss of the contract with Greensboro). He also has experience with water and wastewater systems, another issue with which the town is wrestling.

One challenge Upson will not face is familiarity with Hardwick. He grew up in town and will be the first Hardwick native in the town manager position in fourteen years.

Upson graduated from Hazen Union in 1999. He carries memories with him of being a child in Hardwick, and a special love for its “very, very friendly people” which he described as one of the town’s biggest assets. Upson described Hardwick as a town “always transforming.” 

He noted that “I went to elementary school [here], went to high school here, and it’s was a great place to be, if you live here. A lot of people [have] Hardwick jokes, and I’ve defended Hardwick. Always, my response is, well where are you from?”

Speaking about the Yellow Barn, Upson brought up Jasper Hill and that he used to milk their cows after graduating college. Further back, he remembered when he was in fifth grade and Mer-Lu’s burned, particularly because of a very personal loss of his own that day.

“In the space of a couple of days, the Mer-Lu’s fire happened and I lost a friend who got hit by a car sliding into him [when] we had a day off from school, and he died. He got ran over, and a friend of ours went through the ice. So, I remember those, and I remember coming down after [the fire]. I was at a friend’s house. We heard the siren. The Hardwick Fire Department had a siren, you could always hear it from all over. 

“Of course, word gets out that [there was a fire], and we came down, and there was everything covered in ice because it was freezing cold, and the firefighters were all covered in ice.”

Upson said that, and the loss of his mother at a young age, taught him about dealing with loss and that proved very important to his work as a state trooper.

“I’ve helped others deal with loss. I was on the scuba team with the state police, and it was always important when we did a recovery that we take a moment to meet with the family, if they wanted to, and just give them condolences. Recovering their loved ones, it felt good to be able to do that for them, because it’s a tragic event when somebody drowns, and that was an important piece of being on the team.”

He described his work in the state police as “community oriented” and “very rewarding.” Upson’s patrol covered the Northeast Kingdom.

He said that “the police are a very important part of a community” and said some of the burden placed on police is fallout from things such as the housing crisis and unaffordability. 

“We need to address that, we need to figure out a way for everybody to have a warm place to live, a safe place to live, and be fed. If you can do that as a society, as a community, then some of those problems you see, drug addiction, assaults, retail thefts, those things go away because people are satisfied. You lessen the need for so much enforcement.”

Before working for the state police, Upson worked for a wastewater operations company after college. His first majors were from Southern Vermont University in Bennington for environmental studies and criminal justice, but that proved expensive and too far away from home for his liking, so he returned to Hardwick and then went to Johnson State for environmental science.

His role in the wastewater contractor was as a project manager. 

“We got town contracts to run their water and wastewater systems, the facilities, not really collection and distribution, just the facility.”

He worked with Barton on a major wastewater upgrade, and “helped out with operations at a couple of other ones, daily testing, stuff like that. I obtained licenses to run those plants.” 

Upson said of Hardwick’s in-process wastewater treatment plant upgrades that “a lot [of residents] don’t see it. It’s not a freshly paved road, or a shiny stop sign, but the wastewater plant is an aging facility and those cost a lot of money. We’ve got to be able to grow and have our infrastructure support our growth.”

He said he wants to re-engage with his community. 

“[As a trooper] I spend all day running around the back roads and streets of all the other towns. I’ve kind of missed out on what’s happening [in Hardwick] and I want to get back into the Hardwick scene. I have three children, and I’m raising my kids here. It’s time to focus on my community, to try to help my community with what I’ve learned in my life. I feel like the things I’ve done until now have prepared me to be an effective town manager. There’s definitely things that I still need to learn. I just want to bring people together for the greater good of Hardwick. There’s a lot of people here that are just proud to be a part of this community and part of Hardwick. There’s [some from] generations [of families] that have lived here, and there’s people that have moved here and grabbed hold of the idea of community and ran with it.

“There’s a lot here and we need to exploit it a little bit and get people to come here and spend money here. Our downtown is really great. I remember when there were empty storefronts.”

Upson said he welcomes residents’ input.

“I encourage people to reach out. My door is always open for a minute to talk to me and give me your ideas.”