Frost Farm Manager’s Dismissal Leaves Unanswered Questions

The dismissal of the manager for the Robert Frost Farm has both the manager and some trustees scratching their heads, while the state remained mum on what it calls a “personnel matter.”

Bill Gleed, longtime caretaker for the historic site, was dismissed from his post about a month ago.

He had managed the site for 10 1/2 summers, and said in a phone interview Monday that his July 22 dismissal came as a complete surprise.

“It came out of the blue,” Gleed, a poet and college professor, said. “The summer was going great.”

Gleed said he was going along as he had for 10 summers, giving tours, arranging events and introducing tourists and schoolchildren to Frost and poetry in general.

“I got a call from Ben (Wilson, Gleed’s supervisor at the State Division of Historic Resources) on a Wednesday morning,” he said. “He told me we didn’t have our paperwork in, and ‘we’re all going to get fired.’”

It was news to Gleed, who had not been aware that his responsibilities included employee paperwork. It may have been somewhere in his contract, he said, but it was a requirement he’d been unaware of for 10 1/2 years. Most of his part-time workers are adults, Gleed said, and it’s been his practice to have them fill out their own paperwork and submit it to the state.

He said, “I thought my job was to present the farm to the public.” And he did so, Gleed said, even bringing his poetry students from Northern Essex Community College to hear Poet Laureate Richard Blanco. Under his management, he said, the historic site went from 700 visitors a year to 3,000 to 4,000.

The letter from Wilson, which Gleed received a week later, cited his “unwillingness and inability to perform,” which he called “outrageous and not true. Was I perfect? No. But who’s perfect?

“The farm has been run the same way ever since I’ve been there,” Gleed said. “I did everything I was told to do.”

And more, Gleed said, noting that in events like the ice storm a few years ago, he was asked to “check on the farm” during the off-season and drove three hours, in inclement weather, from his home in Danville and three hours back. “It was more than a job to me,” he said.

“I got shoved out,” Gleed said, “to save Ben Wilson’s job. Someone had an agenda.”

He has talked to a couple of attorneys, but the legal counsel told him that the state was within its rights to dismiss him.

“I did a good job for the people of New Hampshire,” Gleed said. “I introduced thousands of school children to poetry, and hosted everyone from tourists to an Oxford professor.” He was also instrumental in starting the Hyla Brook poetry series, he said.

Richard Holmes, Derry town historian and one of the Frost Farm trustees, said, “I know nothing other than what Bill told me. I wish I knew more.”

Holmes said he considered Gleed a friend, and had been on at least a dozen tours guided by him. “He always seemed professional,” Holmes said.

Charles Dent, also a trustee and vice-chairman of the trustees, said, “I have no idea. I think the only people who can tell you are the state.”

Dent explained that while the farm has a Board of Trustees, it is also a state historic site and the state handles personnel. “We oversee the operation and maintain the endowment,” Dent said. “We don’t have anything to do with the staff.”

Dent’s wife, Marilyn, is also a trustee, and Dent said she is also in the dark as to the dismissal.

Dent said “a couple of people” on the board got an e-mail from Gleed describing the change in his status, but the Dents did not. There was later an official notification from Wilson.

Dent said he was surprised at the move, but he declined to comment on Gleed’s performance, noting, “I was not that involved in the day-to-day operation of the site.”

Amy Bassett, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Historic Resources, wrote in an e-mail that the Bureau does not comment on personnel matters. Gleed’s immediate supervisor, Wilson, did not return calls for comment.

For Gleed, a college professor whose focus is poetry, the farm was more than a summer job – it was a calling. When Richard Blanco came to visit the farm and gave a presentation during the Hyla Brook series, Gleed brought a contingent of his students from the Lawrence, Mass., campus of Northern Essex. One young woman approached Blanco regarding his reading at President Obama’s second inauguration and told him, according to Gleed, “When you were reading the poem, my father had tears in his eyes. He was so proud to see a Hispanic man up there.”

Gleed said, “Blanco immediately went over to his briefcase, took out a copy of the poem, inscribed it to her father at the top and autographed it at the bottom.”

“That,” he said, “is what the farm was about for me. It’s not a bureaucracy, fitting Tab A into Slot B.”