BEACON FALLS — In November 1966, Ronald Regan was elected governor of California, Muhammed Ali beat Cleveland Williams to earn his third heavyweight title, and Helen Mis took office as the Republican registrar of voters in Beacon Falls.
More than 50 years later, Mis can still be found at her desk in Town Hall, helping residents register to vote and preparing for the next election.
“Whenever anybody comes by they always stop by to say hello to Helen Mis. I am like a part of the foundation,” Mis said.
Mis, 90, didn’t set out to become a registrar of voters. She was volunteering with the Republican Town Committee at the time and was asked to fill in for the registrar who just had a baby.
“That’s when I said, ‘OK.’ I wasn’t doing anything, so I might as well. That’s how it came about,” Mis said. “I was childless, I had time, and I wasn’t working so I just took on the responsibility.”
Though she didn’t know it at the time, Mis found a position she would fill for five decades.
“I was very interested in it and then I got very involved,” Mis said. “I don’t know where the years went by. Next thing you know it’s 50 years.”
During her time in office Mis has seen a number of changes in the town. The one she is most proud of is the growth of the Republican voter base.
Mis said when she took office there just over 300 registered Republicans and more than 1,200 registered Democrats.
“The Democrats outnumbered us four to one,” Mis said. “I can report now there is a significant difference. We are only 40 people away from being the top party in Beacon Falls.”
The process to register someone to vote has also changed.
Mis said during the 1960s and 1970s when someone came in to the office the registrar would interview the person and have the person take an oath before allowing them to register. Once the person was registered their paperwork was stored in a filing cabinet.
“Prior to us getting onto the computer system we vended out for an individual that would process a year’s work so that we would have a good voter list for the elections. Prior to that it was pen and pencil and eraser. That’s what it was really,” Mis said.
These days if someone wants to register to vote they come in and fill out a card with their name, address, preferred party affiliation, and whether they are registered in another town. That information is inputted into the computer database, which is updated automatically.
Mis said she has tried to stay on top of the new trends and technologies that affect the job.
“I remember back in the ‘80s they said they were going onto computers. So I went up to Briarwood College and took a course in computing so I was ahead of the game. I was ready to go when the change came,” Mis said.
Mis said her proudest moments include being recognized as an outstanding Republican registrar of voters by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, receiving the registrar of the year award from the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut, and serving on the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut Executive Board for 23 years.
However, her favorite memory of the last five decades is dealing with the friendly the people of Beacon Falls. Mis said the townspeople have always been respectful of the rules at the polling places and when registering to vote.
“I really, truly like the job. Otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed this long,” Mis said. “It was just a way of life for me. I got up, put on a face, got dressed, came to work.”
Mis said she has been told she is the longest serving elected official in the state, but has not tried to verify it.
“I don’t care. I’m not looking for fame or anything. It’s just a job that I did and I tried to do it to the best of my ability,” Mis said.
Her dedication to the job has been noted by many people.
“We are very proud of Helen,” said First Selectman Christopher Bielik, a Democrat. “Fifty years of continual service is unprecedented in the state. Having that level of experience we can bring to every election cycle makes events runs smoothly.”
Republican Selectman Michael Krenesky, who has been involved with the Republican Town Committee since the early 1980s, said it’s amazing to see someone dedicate that much time to a job, especially one that has gone through many ups and downs and changes over the years.
“Helen has been the rock and foundation for as long as I can remember for the Republican Town Committee,” he said.
Although Mis still enjoys her job, she is preparing to step down later this year. The main reason is that the state is requiring all registrars to become certified this year. The certification process consists of eight classes through the University of Connecticut and costs the town $1,600 per registrar.
Mis said she doesn’t want the town to spend the money to certify her if she is going to leave in the next few years anyway.
“I feel that, after 50 years, it is time for me to retire. I am not going to ask the town to spend $1,600 to send me and then I drop off the scene,” Mis said.
When asked if the town is going to miss her once she is gone, Mis dismissed the idea with a laugh.
“They say they are but I don’t know. You get used to things after a while, like an old shoe,” Mis said.
Mis said she’ll miss the people and the job when she leaves.
“After 50 years I think I deserve a rest. But I am going to miss it. I truly am,” she said.
Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.