DANNY KARTER TALKS about the old days and wonders aloud where all the time has gone.

Karter, 66, lies in his bed at Oak Grove Center on Cool Street in Waterville, recalling his many years working as an investigator for the U.S. Department of Justice and then as a Waterville police officer, detective, private investigator, hospital security guard and later as a special education teacher in Winslow.

Those were rewarding years, working with children and adults and helping to improve their lives, although in his modesty, Karter likely would not credit himself for making such a difference.

A friendly man with a thick shock of dark hair streaked with gray and a full beard, Karter has lived at Oak Grove, a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, for a year and nine months. He lost both legs — one as a result of an infection and the other from diabetes — and he has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that allows him to see only shapes and shadows. He also regularly goes to the hospital for his heart condition.

“They transfer me down to Augusta. They thought maybe my heart was acting a little funny and they’re trying to take care of it,” he said. “They usually take me in there four or five days at a time.”

Karter likes company, although he doesn’t get a lot of it outside of regular visits from his family, including his wife, Kelly, and father, Daniel, who is 90 and lives in the house Karter grew up in on nearby Francis Street.

Life is a lot different now than it was when he was working with lots of people every day in the city, walking the beat, driving a cruiser to accidents and investigating burglaries, thefts, homicides and other crimes.

Being a police officer from 1975 to 1991 was exciting, but it also could be exhausting working long shifts, getting some sleep in the afternoon and heading back to do a night shift.

Karter remembers clearly the moment he realized it was time to move on.

“I got up one evening ready to go to work, and it just drew me down,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to go anymore, so I knew that it was time to leave.”

His last night of police work would be forever etched in his memory.

“I was working downtown, and we got a call of a guy on the bridge that was going to jump. I pulled my cruiser onto the edge of the bridge and walked out on the bridge and stopped. He turned around and looked at me and he said, ‘You’re not going to do anything.’ He started to go forward, and just then I grabbed him by the shirt and held on to him.”

An ambulance worker also had arrived on the scene and helped pull the young man to safety, but Karter recalled he was not pleased to be rescued.

“He cursed me for it,” he said. “He was bitter.”

Karter worked as a private investigator for a while, investigating cases for insurance companies and other entities. Eventually he got a job as a special education teacher at Winslow High School, a job he held for many years.

“In that position, in the scope of things, you could be a father, a brother, an uncle, a friend,” he said. “You could be a lot of those things as long as you filled the right gap. If they needed a brother, you filled that brother gap.”

While retired from that job, Karter continues as a member of the board of directors for the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. He formerly served on the YMCA board of directors, as well as the Waterville Boys and Girls Club board.

Waterville, where he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, is in his blood.

“It was really quite different growing up then. There have been a lot of physical changes in the town. Main Street was going both ways then. It seemed busier. We used to ride our bikes a lot and play motorcycle cops and ride all over town. I’d say to my mother, ‘I’m going downtown for a minute,’ and we’d ride our bikes downtown to Reggie’s and get an Italian. It was, like, 50 cents, and we’d ride our bikes down by the river to Head of Falls, and we’d ride out onto the bridge and sit down in the middle and eat our sandwiches.”

Karter has good memories and he smiles often, a wide reflective smile that lingers as he pauses to remember more stories.

An only child, Karter recalled that his mother, Jacqueline, was a floor walker for C.F. Hathaway Co., checking the work of other employees.

“Dad was a hand cutter for Hathaway and became foreman of the cutting room. They sent him to school in New York City to learn technical design so when he came back he could do technical design of the shirts.”

Karter often went to the shirt factory when he was a young boy, strolling the floors and watching people make shirts.

“That puppy was humming,” he said.

At 16, Karter also found himself on the Hathaway payroll.

“I got a job on the fourth and fifth floor, lugging bolts of cloth off trucks.”

Later, in 1967, Karter graduated from Waterville High School where he played football and then attended American International College in Springfield, Mass., as well as Thomas College, studying history and government. He and his wife have three children, all grown, and three grandchildren, whose pictures hang on his wall. Karter also has friends at Oak Grove who are about his age and live in his unit. They listen to music together, talk about old times and when the weather is nice, go outside and stay until dusk.

At least one old friend, a former state fire investigator, visits Karter regularly.

Ken Quirion of Winslow knew all of the police officers when he worked for the state fire marshal’s office and remembers running into Karter all the time in their investigative work.

“Danny was just always smiling. He was the nicest guy. He’s got a very good sense of humor. I love visiting him. Sometimes it’s only for a few minutes. I just pop in. We laugh. We talk about things, and I’ll say, ‘Where the hell has time gone, Danny?’ He shakes his head. I shake my head. I think a lot of people don’t know he’s at Oak Grove. Everybody loses track of everybody.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 27 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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