March 11, 2011

Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce honors Clark, Sugden as Rising Stars

BY COLIN HICKEY, Correspondent

They are young people who came back.

Two well-educated professionals who decided they wanted to raise a family and pursue a career in the area they grew up.

Matthew Clark, 29, a lawyer who practices in Waterville, and Sarah Sugden, 37, director of the Waterville Public Library, make plain they have an abiding love for their home state and are determined to do their part to make it better.

In recognition of this commitment, as well as their accomplishments, Clark and Sugden are the winners of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce's Rising Star award.

Clark, a partner with the law firm Weeks & Hutchins, earned a degree in political science and history from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.

He is an Erskine Academy graduate and later earned a law degree. By his own admission, he could have gone anywhere for that education, but he said what he wanted was to return home for his law degree at the University of Maine, where he graduated in 2006.

Clark faced another major decision when he entered the work world full time. He was unable to find a position with an area law firm, a situation that could have convinced other young professionals to leave the state.

So Clark created his own job here: He opened his own law office.

"The days of people graduating and having a job lined up are essentially over," Clark said. "You need to put a great deal of time and effort into securing a job."

He joined Weeks & Hutchins law firm in 2007 and became a partner there last year.

Before he graduated magna cum laude from Wheaton, Clark took a leave of absence from the school to serve as deputy political director for the Maine Republican Party during the 2002 elections.

He also has donated hundreds of hours to the Maine Volunteer Lawyers Project and Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a free legal service for the state's low-income population.

Clark is also a Shriner, Waterville Rotary Club member and one of the directors for Kennebec Messalonskee Trails, the community group that has created a series of recreational trails in the region.

He is also a direct descendent of Revolutionary War Veteran John Clark, a member of the Maine Society of Sons of the American Revolution and helps to promote Revolutionary War and genealogical education.

He lives in Vassalboro with his wife, Jessica, and their first child, Keegan, who was born Feb. 28. He is the son of Charles and Susan Clark in South China.

"It is essential to get involved with your community," he said. "You cannot expect to take from the community without giving back to the community."

Sugden needs no lessons on that score. She is deeply involved with the community, volunteering for a number of area organizations, including Waterville Main Street, KV Connect, Waterville Arts Council and Greater Waterville Communities for Children and Youth Coalition.

But Sugden is best known for her efforts in spearheading the successful $3.1 million renovation and expansion of the venerable Waterville Public Library.

"It has been a lot of great work from a lot of great people," she said of the campaign. "I'm forever grateful that I wasn't the one who had to initiate this project. It was our board of trustees."

Sugden, too, could have elected to pursue a bigger paycheck far from home. A 1996 Dartmouth College graduate, Sugden went on to earn a master's degree in library and information science from Simmons College in 1997.

Yet she could not resist the pull to return home and raise a family in the community where she graduated from Waterville Senior High School in 1992. Before she became Waterville's library director in 2005, she worked in the Mesquite branch of the Phoenix Public Library in Arizona. She began as a teen and adult services librarian and was promoted to a youth services librarian in 1998.

"I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have come back to a community I adore," she said, "and to have my family nearby." Her parents Jeffrey and Valerie Sugden live in China and Margi Hayes lives in Winslow. Sugden and her husband, Matthew Hankey, live in East Vassalboro with their two children, Jack, 8, and Madeline, 2.

The people in the Waterville area, she said, are open, friendly, encouraging and nurturing.

Sugden said she remembers her childhood fondly, especially her many excursions to downtown Waterville, where she became friends with many of the merchants.

"I always felt the community loved me as much as I loved them," she said.

That mutual fondness continues today. Chris Gaunce of Central Maine Motors has worked with Sugden for many organizations. He has been impressed by what's he seen.

"Sarah is the real deal," he said. "She has been a leader on many levels. Sarah's ability to motivate people toward a common goal is evident. Her forward thinking combined with her ability to communicate effectively about positive change make her a real asset to the region."

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