Maine Education Association Retired
The initial step in the formation of a Maine Retired Teachers Association was taken by Dr. E. Ward Ireland, the Vice President of National Retired Teachers Association and Director of Region VII, when he communicated with Dr. Clyde Russell suggesting he come to Augusta and present a plan for creating a chapter in Maine. Accordingly, on June 2, 1952, a meeting of retired teachers was held in the House of Representatives, State House, Augusta. Twenty-five retired teachers attended this exploratory meeting.
Dr. Clyde Russell, Executive Secretary of Maine Teachers Association, called the meeting to order. After a few remarks as to the reason for calling the meeting, he turned the meeting over to Dr. Ireland who stated that 25 states already had a state association. (NRTA had been founded in 1945 by Ethel Percy Andrus.) Ireland commented that the main purpose for organizing is to work as a unit for pensions which retired teachers should receive, but do not. After much discussion he asked for a show of hands to ascertain the will of the group in regard to organizing a State Retired Teachers Association. It was a unanimous vote in favor and the Maine Retired Teachers Association was founded. Clara L. Soule was elected president of the new organization.
The first regular meeting of the MRTA was held October 30, 1952, in the Bangor Public Library at the time of the Maine Teachers Association Convention. Ms. Soule presided at this first official meeting. Seventy-five members were present. Retired teachers had been notified of the meeting through an enclosure in their pension checks. Dues were $1 a year, and Mrs. Elizabeth Pierce, the secretary and treasurer, had received over $300 in dues, representing 359 members, in advance of the State Convention. A tentative constitution was presented, discussed and accepted after a few minor changes were made. Plans for the coming year were discussed. It was voted to support legislation raising the pension for retired teachers under the old plan to $1200 for 35 years or more of service, $1100 for 30 years and $1000 for 25 years.
Dr. Ireland returned to Maine to speak at this first meeting. He outlined reasons why retired teachers should organize and enumerated the objectives of a state retired teachers association stressing that attempts be made to correct federal tax exemption inequalities, to prevent the absorption of state retirement systems by Social Security, to establish homes for retired teachers, and to offer ways for social contacts for retired teachers. He spoke of the two pension schedules of Maine and the need for increased pensions and emphasized the fact that the only way to achieve any success is to organize and stand united. He advised the affiliation of each state with National Retired Teachers Association by the payment of $10 and the affiliation of each member by the payment of $1, thereby receiving the Retired Teachers magazine as a member of the National Retired Teachers Association. Dr. Ireland stressed the need of all working for the betterment of elderly retired teachers.
It was agreed at a meeting of the Board of Directors following the first annual convention that local teacher associations should be contacted and legislative plans outlined. (The editor of this draft presumes by this it is meant retired local associations.) Instructions were given to write Senators and Congressmen relative to pending bills concerning retired teachers' welfare. The Directors also considered ways and means of emphasizing bills it disapproved and methods of enlisting earnest support of local teacher organizations and the Maine Teachers Association in a united effort to raise the pensions of the group on the low pension scale.
Notes for the years 1953-1962
In 1953, Legislative Bill LD 77 was introduced increasing by $100 those on low pensions. Pensions at this time were $800, $900, and $1000 depending on years of service.
At the annual meeting in 1953 it was voted to allow fifty cents of the $1 dues to be given for affiliation with MTA.
One of the issues considered in this time period was establishing a home for retired teachers (This idea was the downfall of NRTA as an independent organization. It was assumed by AARP which had also been founded by Ethel Andrus because of debt from a retired teachers home in California.) A home was offered in Thomaston as a Home for Retired Teachers, but acceptance was not deemed advisable. One of the objectives of home planning is not to move elderly from their home areas. However, throughout the decade the issue was continually discussed.
At the 1956 annual meeting $60 was collected as a fund to help needy teachers.
At this fifth annual meeting records say: "Miss Mary G. Worthley, Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the Maine Retired Teachers Association, gave an interesting and detailed report of the work in gathering material which is vital and necessary to intelligently present the request to the Legislature on behalf of retired teachers on low pensions. Her statistical report showed endless hours of effort, time and patience, and will be made public at a later date. Her figures were most convincing. Excerpts from letters from retired teachers in pathetic conditions were read. These brought forcibly to the attention of all present the fact that life is not easy for those of this group; that existence consists of bare necessities; that extra expenditures for care, doctors, and medicine are increasing. Their low salaries at the time of their teaching, even though they retired after 1947, do not permit adequate pensions. These older teachers are in greatest need. Miss Worthley closed her talk with the thought that teachers are not second class citizens and even now the teachers on the better pensions are using all effort to do for others and turning their attentions and interest to alleviate unfortunate circumstances of old colleagues and not accepting their pensions with self complacency."
Mary Worthley, a longtime activist for MRTA, reported at the 1957 meeting an increase in pensions of $250 for teachers on the old plan. Legislative focus of MRTA was on increased pensions. Progress was slow
By 1960 all counties except for Franklin and Somerset were organized.
Dr. Payson Smith was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of 1954. The afternoon speaker at the 1958 annual meeting was Rev. Margaret Hendrickson, author of Seven Steeples. Senator Margaret Chase Smith spoke in 1959.
In 1962 Blue Cross-Blue Shield representatives announced that retired teachers were participants in numbers large enough to qualify for group coverage. So retirees as of September would be in a group health insurance plan.
A new dues structure was set in 1961. NRTA-- $2.00 ; MRTA-- $1.00 ; Local Chapter-- $1.00; MTA-- $1.00. Dues were to be paid not later than November 1 and membership would be discontinued after two warnings. Membership by 1962 was 1200 from a potential of 2500.
Notes for the years 1963-1972
The more things change the more they stay the same. In 1965, 600 retired teachers and friends attended a legislative hearing on a bill which would give retired teachers the same pension increases as retired state employees. After discussion and amendment, retired teachers got almost as much as retired state employees.
MRTA also supported legislation establishing a retired teacher member as a trustee of the Maine State Retirement System. William Macomber was MRTA's first nominee to serve on the Board of Trustees. It will be years before a designated seat is established for a retired teacher member.
Efforts to incorporate MRTA began in 1963. New By-laws were developed in this period.
In 1963 the first of the annual Campus Days was held at Farmington State Teachers College. These sessions continued until 1987. A 1968 report on the session held at the University of Maine in Orono said: "From the registration and coffee hour to the last breakfast farewell, the days were filled with business and pleasure, the order of each day." Among the speakers were Mildred Thayer, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Edward Hinckley, Mrs. Clifton Eames, Rev. John Pickering, and Mrs. Jean Sigler who presented a musical program. The report continued: "Campus life, again, renewed pleasant memories of youth. All those in attendance declared the occasion, as in previous years, a valuable and invigorating asset to the overall program of the MRTA."
In 1966 MRTA offered a $250 college scholarship. In 1967 it was agreed to give two scholarships, one to a young woman and one to a young man.
Speakers at annual meetings in this decade included Ethel Percy Andrus, founder of NRTA; Mrs. William S. Jane, Maine author of mystery stories; Herbert Ross Brown of Bowdoin College; and Attorney James Irwin.
Maud Haines, former MRTA president, suggested the MRTA members have as a project going into the schools one hour a week to help fulfill the state law which required teaching of kindness to animals.
The MRTA leadership was much interested in a 1965 survey of Maine's 190 nursing homes. It was reported that since many did not meet standards for accreditation, NRTA insurance might not cover costs. But members were urged not to cancel insurance since it will coordinate with Medicare. (It isn't clear in the records if the MRTA or some other group did the survey. Anyone know?)
Seven men attended the annual meeting in 1966...a record!
Clara Soule, founding MRTA president, was appointed to the NRTA Advisory Council. She reported that her first national meeting was devoted to a discussion of pensions in the various states and a survey of state pension increases would be undertaken. (This is likely the predecessor of the Pension Round Table of which Tom Curran is presently a member.)
Clyde Russell, Executive Secretary of the MTA, regularly participated in the annual meeting of the MRTA. (He would later serve as president). In 1966, his successor, John Marvin, was in attendance and thanked retired teachers for long and faithful service.
It was voted to contribute $500 a year for four years toward the new MTA building where the conference room was to be designated as a gift from MRTA members.
MRTA members voted at a 1966 meeting to support the bond issue for a new state museum, library and archives building.
In 1969, support was given to legislation exempting retired teachers from the state income tax.
Governor Kenneth Curtis wrote to the MRTA in 1970 pledging his support for retired teachers benefits.
In 1971, MRTA contributed $1000 to FAIR, the committee to retain the income tax.
In 1972, at the suggestion of former MRTA president Leora Prentiss, MTA initiated a Retirement Education Day. (The predecessor of our pre-retirement sessions of today.)
At the annual meeting in 1972, 94 year old Mrs. Arlene Walton was applauded for her 60 years in the classroom.
Membership at the end of the decade was about 2100 of 3700 teachers eligible for membership.
Notes on the years 1973-1982
Once again in 1974 MRTA proposed legislation exempting state pensions from the state income tax. Will the time ever come when full exemption will be achieved??
During this decade the "55 Alive" program became popular with members.
On February 11, 1974, the MRTA room at the MTA headquarters was dedicated with the placement of an appropriate plaque.
At the annual meeting of that year, John Marvin received enthusiastic applause when he vigorously opposed gubernatorial candidate Longley's proposal to put control of the state retirement system in the state's Department of Finance rather than keeping an independent Board of Trustees.
By 1975, the MRTA was working on achieving state payment of health insurance for retired teachers. Successful legislation is still more than a decade away. Not until 1987 will legislation giving the first 10% of payment be passed.
In January of 1977, the pension check dues deduction becomes possible.
In 1977, LD 1075, which called for increases in pensions based on the consumer price index (COLA's), was passed by the legislature over the governor's veto. Later attempts to change the COLA from a maximum 4% to 6% were unsuccessful.
At the 1978 annual meeting candidates for governor, Linwood Palmer, Herman "Buddy" Frankland, and a surrogate for Joseph Brennan spoke.
In the 1978 legislative session, teachers who retired before 1942 were placed on the 1/50 formula; that is, the number of years taught over 50, times the average of the best three years. This resulted in increases in pensions for many of the oldest retirees.
In 1979 it was moved "to study the feasibility of establishing a political arm of the MRTA for the purpose of identifying for our membership those candidates for office who indicate their sympathy with MRTA programs." This was later tabled by the Board of Directors. (To the present, MRTA does not identify candidates; rather it relies on the actions of the MEA identifying candidates supportive of education issues.)
Registration for the 1980 annual meeting was eight dollars. Costs ranged from eight to twelve dollars in this decade.
In 1982 NRTA and AARP merged. MRTA affiliation with NRTA continued.
Also in 1982 a pension COLA of 4 percent plus fifty cents for each year of service was enacted by the legislature.
Annual meeting speakers during this time included officers of NRTA and AARP (merger of NRTA and AARP would occur in 1982); state Sen. Harrison Richardson; Dean Mark Shibles; state Sen. Samuel W. Collins, Jr.; and Dr. Hilda Fife. The 1980 speaker was unable to attend the meeting in Rockland because of foggy weather.
The MRTA treasury in 1982 was about $16,000. Membership was just over 3400.
Notes on the years 1983-1992
In 1982 MRTA leadership was much interested in a Class Action suit over the state income tax. Attorney Roger Golin lead the move. (Searching the record for more details was of no avail. It appears that it was a suit to get an exemption of pension income from the income tax.)
The Leora Prentiss Fund was closed in 1984. This fund had been established to provide a welfare program at the state level. It became difficult to administer, so the welfare program was turned over to the county organizations.
At the 1984 annual meeting Dorothy Clarke Wilson attended and received an honorary membership. She is quoted as saying "You have paid me a compliment--that my writings have helped mobilize children. Thank you for including me in the most important calling in the world."
Virginia Dogherty became The Clarion editor in this year, replacing Marion Cooper.
In 1985, unification of retired teacher associations with state associations and NEA was voted nationally. MRTA was chosen to be the NEA/MTA retired unit. The unification was required by September, 1986. In many states a competing state level retired teacher unit was created, splitting the retired teachers into two camps. At the 1987 annual meeting, with considerable debate, the By-laws were modified to make unification mandatory. MRTA retained its affiliation with NRTA/AARP. MRTA remains one of a very few states to have this dual affiliation.
Retirees received a 3.7 percent COLA in 1985.
In 1987 legislation was passed to have the state pay 10% of the cost of retired teacher health insurance. Legislative intent seemed to be to eventually pay 100%. Over the next three years, in 5% increments, state payment reached 25%.
In this year MRTA received a bequest of $6463.32 from the estate of Maud Haines, a former president.
A proposal to exempt retired teachers 65 and older from the state income tax failed in the legislature in 1989.
In 1990, 162,648 volunteer hours were reported by members.
By 1991, competing health insurance plans to that of the MTA had been developed in an attempt to reduce costs to local communities. Some of these plans were not covering retirees; and if the local active unit left the MTA plan, retired members had to be dropped. State Sen. Nancy Clark successfully sponsored legislation making coverage of retirees mandatory.
Also in 1991, the Board voted opposition to Gov. McKernan's proposal to defer the state's payment of 73 million dollars to the retirement system fund.
January 14, 1992, the Maine Retired Teachers Association is incorporated under the laws of the state of Maine as a non-profit organization.
August 3, 1992, the MRTA becomes a tax exempt organization.
At the 1992 annual meeting it was voted to ask the Maine Teachers Association Representative Assembly to add a retired member to the Board of Directors. By August, 1993, that decision had been made and Elizabeth Braley was elected our first director.
Speakers at the annual meetings of this decade included MTA President Tom Harvey; Elizabeth Miller; Frank A. Stredd, Executive Director of the Maine Medical Association; Barry Valentine, Portland Jetport Manager; Eve Bither, Commissioner of Education; and several folks from AARP.
By the end of this decade, membership topped 4800 and dues were MRTA, five dollars; MTA, six dollars; NEA, ten dollars.
Notes for the years 1993-2002
At a 1993 meeting it was voted to support legislation providing for an exemption for pensions from the state income tax which would equal the exemption for Social Security.
Vernal Finemore became MRTA's member on the MEA Board of Directors October 1, 1995. He served until August, 1999. He was succeeded by Phil Gonyar. In 1995 Perry Amsden became the new editor of The Clarion.
Lee Cabana began work on the MRTA web page in 1996.
In that same year, responsibility for planning and carrying out the pre-retirement days was returned to MRTA.
Delta Dental insurance, through a special program for persons receiving pensions from the retirement system, became available to MRTA members in 1996. This is a unique program for Delta Dental; it is the first time that insurance was offered on a voluntary basis. Always before every member of the group had to participate.
Long term care insurance through NEA became available to MRTA members in 1997.
MRTA's Volunteer/Leadership Recognition program was initiated in that same year. It replaced the long time scholarship program.
Action urging the repeal of the Social Security Offset and Windfall Elimination Provisions began as early as 1998. The opposition to these policies grew during the next years so that by 2002 there was a full scale national movement for repeal.
In 1999 the legislature passed legislation exempting $6000 of pension income, less any Social Security payments, from the state income tax.
In this same year state senator, Mary Cathcart, was voted a Special Friend of MRTA award for her work supporting increased state payments for retired educator health insurance.
The retired higher education faculty organized a unit in 2000 joining MRTA as a seventeenth unit, AFUM-R.
Renewed efforts to increase the state payment of part of retired educators' health insurance resulted in an increase to 30% in 1999, 35% in 2002, and a promised 40% in 2003.
In 2001, a Legislative Contact Team composed of MRTA members, matched with each state senator, legislative leadership, and Appropriations Committee members, was established. This action provided a greater presence in Augusta and closer contact with legislators and, along with other measures, brought more positive results. David Pillsbury was the Legislative Committee chair at this time. He followed a long line of active legislative chairs including Mary Worthley, Neota Grady, Grover MacLaughlin, and Charlene Thompson.
In the 2001-2002 year a series of regional training sessions for county leaders was undertaken. These meetings were in response to comments from the county leaders that training would be useful. The agenda covered officer and committee responsibilities, legislative organization, and membership development.
Volunteer hours in 2001 were counted as 138,400. All of this time was donated by retired members to community service.
The financial statements for 2001 showed income of $44,157.05 and expenses of $41,338.84. Included in the income was a transfer from savings of $14,845.00. MRTA investments showed the effects of the declining stock market and lower interest rates.
In this decade annual meeting speakers included Marion Conrad and Jim Sproul, presidents of NEA-Retired; Annette Norsman, Director of NRTA; Todd Crenshaw, NEA-Retired; Speaker of the State House of Representatives, Libby Mitchell; Dr. Joseph Gauld of Hyde School; Esther Wood; Maine Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky; and Gwilym Roberts.
By the end of the decade membership was nearly 5000 and combined dues were twenty-nine dollars.
(Information on the early history was edited from a typewritten history of the Maine Retired Teachers Association by Clara L. Soule. It is interesting to note how many of the issues of fifty years ago still exist. Martha Curtis updated the earlier history in 1990. Phil Gonyar produced this edition for the 50th anniversary of MRTA. Information on past presidents of MRTA can be found elsewhere on this website...Past Presidents of the Maine Retired Teachers Association.)