Rebecca Fricke of Amherst new district aide for state Rep. Ellen Story
AMHERST — Being a legislator often means dividing time between the communities served and the Statehouse.
While state Rep. Ellen Story, who represents Amherst, Pelham and a portion of Granby, is in Boston working on legislation, she depends on a district aide to be her eyes and ears back home.
In January, Rebecca Fricke started the new role, in which she will spend around 20 hours each week making sure that Story is aware of what’s on the minds of people living in the three towns and other happenings throughout the region.
“Ellen relies on me to be very proactive, going to meetings when she can’t attend, setting up meetings and doing research on topics,” Fricke said.
Fricke replaces Jan Klausner-Wise, who for 20 years was district aide but is easing into retirement to have more time for travel and visits to her grandchildren.
“When Jan was thinking about spending more time in North Carolina, I thought this might be something Rebecca would be interested in,” Story said. “She’s just very smart and has a lot of common sense.”
Fricke, 44, since 2007 had been part of Story’s “kitchen cabinet,” a forum where local women offer advice and insights while getting information from Story about events at the Legislature. Prior to taking the new job, Fricke was president of the League of Women Voters for 18 months and on its board for seven years.
Fricke said her experience as a waitress and then teaching in Chicago, Amherst and even during the time she spent at an American school in Honduras, prepared her well for being district aide.
“It’s tremendous variety,” she said. “It’s what I love about the job.”
Fricke said she will take notes at meetings and events and pick up materials so Story can be informed. These include this week’s Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast, where she heard about efforts at the University of Massachusetts to reduce binge drinking, a recent legislative breakfast sponsored by western Massachusetts librarians and a tour of the new Amherst Survival Center.
Fricke said she will also pursue her own initiatives that she believes will help Story in her work, such as going to the Franklin Hampshire Career Center in Northampton to get more information about unemployment and the jobs available.
Fricke, who was appointed to Amherst’s Agricultural Commission this week, has a background in agricultural economics and sees more opportunities for agricultural development.
“There’s a lot of potential for that in our district. I’ll be talking to farmers about what we need to work on,” Fricke said.
Fricke is also a part-time administrative assistant in the biochemistry and molecular biology department at UMass as well as an art quilter.
Fricke has put together contents for a new website for Story, at www.ellenstoryma.com. That includes constituent services and aide information, a list of bills sponsored by Story, as well as biographical information and articles about her.
Fricke is married to Thomas Fricke, a social studies teacher at the high school, and they have two daughters, Augusta and Ina.
The two first met in 2002 when the legislator sent Fricke a self-described fan note shortly after winning a fiction-writing contest sponsored by Hampshire Life.
She said Story is an amazing advocate for women and families, pointing to her work on postpartum depression and efforts to diagnose, treat and eliminate the stigma attached to it.
Fricke said she enjoys politics and the chance her new job gives her to develop insights into government. “This allows me to see how much work is happening that I never see as a citizen,” she said.