After more than 40 years working for the town, nearly all of them as the town's first director of the Conservation Department, Thomas Steinke was enjoying his last day on the job Tuesday -- but still wasn't quite ready to let go.

When Steinke noticed that most of his office staff had assembled Tuesday morning in the Sullivan-Independence Hall conference room for a party, he had to ask, "Who's minding the store?" He was quickly reassured that everything was under control.

Then employees stopped in to say their goodbyes, reminisce and share a bite to eat.

Asked if he has plans now that his retirement has arrived, Steinke said, "Yeah, not come to work. I'm going to have to remind myself not to do that."

Steinke was hired in 1973 by then-First Selectman John J. Sullivan to serve as the first director of the fledgling Conservation Department. Prior to that, he began working for the town in 1971 as its open space manager.

"I have some projects at home to finish up," the 70-year-old said, "and I'm hoping to get to see the grandkids more."

Steinke said also he will likely end up doing environmental consulting work "to keep busy" and plans on riding his bike past the Mill River to check up on the cleanup of lead being done in the river by Exide Corp.

He has bachelor degrees in forest management and wildlife biology, and a master's in wildlife ecology. "I have some reports to do on some things in town," Steinke said.

A replacement for Steinke has not yet been named.