Facetime: Terry Karkos — 'Velcro Boy' on bears, Stephen King and making the most of gopher holes

The way Sun Journal reporter Terry Karkos goes around chasing outlaws and wildlife, you probably picture him as a big man with a wild beard. Congratulations, Kreskin. You nailed it.

Terry Karkos

Covering Rumford and the surrounding towns, Terry has one of the liveliest beats in the state.  In the same day, you might find him reporting the facts of a grisly murder, covering the action at town hall and hiking deep into the forest to uncover the secret mating rituals of the brown bear.

Where does he come from, this hirsute journalist and woodsman? We heard rumblings that he springs, not from the forest but from the deserts of the Southwest. We have no idea, really. So we asked.

Aren't you from Area 51 or Roswell or something? Funny you should mention this. My wife and I have a Native American friend who tells me that I am an alien. She also tells me I have the spirits of the Russian bear and the Russian gray wolf in me. This was all news to me, considering my dad's ancestors were from far eastern Slovakia (which is darn close to Russia) and my mom's were from England and Italy. I was born in Rumford, Maine, which sometimes feels like Area 51, and grew up in the Arizona desert town of Apache Junction. So, I was a mere state away from Roswell.

What brought you back to Maine? Well, several times in my youth, it was my dad's various vehicles. He took family vacations every August from his job as a geologist for Magma Copper Co., an underground copper mine in Superior, Ariz. He and mom would drive us five kids (and once or twice, the family dog and cat) 3,000-plus miles to Maine every August since the '60s to visit family and friends and stay with their parents. Then come September, they'd drive us all back to Arizona, going different routes each time, so we could learn all about history by visiting historic places, except Area 51 and Roswell. When I graduated Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff in '81, my mom asked me if I would take care of her parents and their place in East Dixfield, Maine. My mom's "father" was dying of cancer, and so I helped take care of him until he passed in '83, and then I helped my grandmother. Because I was the only kid in the family born in Maine, Mom thought I'd like to return, and I did, by way of a Greyhound bus from Phoenix to Lewiston (the second and last time I'd done that).

How'd you get into the news biz? Long story that involves being on the high school cross-country running team and a gopher hole in the desert. Prior to high school, I delivered Grit magazine during the '60s and bought a camera with my earnings. And then later in high school, while running a few miles in the desert at practice one afternoon, I stepped into a gopher hole, pulled muscles in both legs and would soon develop shin splints. Unable to run anymore, I took up photography to stay with the team and branched out into covering sports, and that led to taking high school journalism. Spent three years doing the school newspaper as cartoonist, photographer, writer, darkroom tech, copywriter and paste up.

Loved it so much, I went to Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz., to major in photojournalism, worked for the college newspaper from ’77-'79. Graduated from there and went to NAU for a bachelor's degree in photojournalism (’79-’81), still heavily covering sports and working for the college newspaper. From ’80-’81, I worked for Associated Press in Phoenix, Ariz., as a photographer.

Why are you getting so much more action in Rumford than reporters in the big city? Because Rumford’s a happenin’ place and I seem to have this knack of action-oriented stories and photojournalism ops gravitating toward me. Call it alien magnetism, call it years of journalism experience and news-hounding. While working for The Irregular (in Rangeley), I got tagged with the moniker “Velcro Boy,” because every time I went out into the countryside, stories and action stuff would latch onto me.

You have a big beard and you're always chasing critters around? Are you related to Grizzly Adams? The bear, yes, but not the Addams Family. I’ve always had a close connection with nature and wildlife, which explains my many adventures in the natural world. Getting a camera at a young age selling Grit, I took a lot of photographs of wildlife and nature, and then became an artist and painted or drew nature. I’ve had a handful of close encounters with bears and have this affinity for them, but as a kid, I would have nightmares about grizzlies for years. Don’t know if that stems from my sister getting lost in grizzly country in Yellowstone once as a kid during a family camping trip or something from an earlier life in the Old Country. Always wanted to be a park ranger though. Grew the beard because my wife asked me to, and to annoy my maternal grandmother. Besides, aliens look better with beards, don'tcha know?

Any truth to the rumor that you and Stephen King are kin? Yeah, though I’m no fan of his books and freaked out once while watching “The Green Mile” movie and have never watched it since; although I did like the series “The Dead Zone.” Horror is not my forte.

My mom’s real mother (my mom was adopted by her real mother’s sister) was a Pillsbury and Stephen’s mom was a Pillsbury, so we’re distant cousins on that side, going back to a couple of brothers in 17th century Massachusetts.

There is also a possibility that I might be doubly linked on the King side, because a Karkos ancestor married a King in Lisbon Falls, but I haven’t backtracked that genealogy yet like I have the Pillsbury side.

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Comments

The Very Rev. Daniel Beegan 's picture

Good Article Involving Two of My Sun-Journal Favs

This was a great interview by one of my Sun Journal favorites, Mark LaFlamme, of another favorite, Terry Karkos.

Good work guys.

 's picture

Nice Article About a Great Guy

Unfortunately, Mr. LaFlamme still managed to turn this interview into a slam on Rumford, by inferring that we have murders on a regular basis. What do you have against Rumford??? Aside from domestic abuse, we don't have much violent crime. However, through your constant references, your readers are lead to believe that we are the crime haven of Maine. SHAME ON YOU for misrepresenting our area!!!!

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