WINDHAM — Lane Hiltunen, whose career took him across the world before he finally settled in Windham, retires this week from his Lakes Region Weekly opinion column, On the Right Lane.

The column, which began about a decade ago, often took the Town Council and town departments to task and also dabbled in national politics.

Lane Hiltunen will retire from his weekly column this week at age 71. Courtesy photo

Hiltunen and his wife moved to Windham in 1999. He became passionate about town politics and wrote so many letters to the editor that he was eventually offered a position as a weekly columnist.

“Lane is the best council watchdog I’ve ever met, both back in the 2000s when he was attending meetings frequently, and now,” said John Balentine, who hired Hiltunen. “No one writes a column based on the previous council meeting for as many years as he has and doesn’t have a passion for local government. If everyone was as passionate about government as Lane, we’d have a better-educated electorate and better towns and state as a result.”

Balentine is now an opinion columnist for the Lakes Region Weekly.

“I never had any training as a writer,” Hiltunen said in an interview, so the column “certainly made me take a good look at the English language.”

He said the content of the column “really varies a lot,” and “it really depends on what our elected and appointed officials do.”

He has enjoyed hearing feedback from people in the community and said he was surprised by the “number of people that came up to me and talked to me about the column. I never thought about that happening.”

Not everyone is a fan of the column.

“I’ve always felt that he’s been extremely biased against the (Town) Council. What he writes he knows half of,” said Town Councilor David Nadeau. He said he stopped reading On the Right Lane. 

“A lot of the stuff he writes about is only half truths. … Good luck to him, and I hope he’s fine, but I’d rather see positive reporting, not everything being negative,” he said. 

Others enjoy On the Right Lane, especially Hiltunen’s writing style.

Town Councilor Donna Chapman said, “He’s going to be missed because of his writing style. You can’t tell Lane what to write.”

She continued, “He has his own mind, his own opinions. Whether we agree or disagree, he’s going to be missed. He’s not always one-sided.” 

“Lane definitely complains in his columns, as any political columnist would and should, and may sound like a grump to those who don’t know him,” Balentine said. “But he’s the nicest guy and would do anything for anybody.”

Hiltunen was born and raised in New Hampshire and spent 20 years serving in the U.S. Army. He was stationed across the U.S. and served one tour of duty in Vietnam and South Korea, along with two tours in Germany.

He also spent five years working at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as part of an intelligence agency at the end of the Watergate affair when President Nixon resigned.

“I was going to the White House during Watergate,” he said. “I just found that absolutely interesting, that I could be right there witnessing what was happening. It was quite amazing.”

Balentine added that Hiltunen is “a man of the world.”

“He has great stories from his foreign military travels. … He was eating at a bar once and a plane crash-landed in the street behind him. He met with Nixon in the White House. He served in Vietnam in the infantry. The man has seen a thing or two. But he is a good storyteller, so maybe he made all those stories up. I’m not quite sure. But I was impressed either way,” he said.

Hiltunen decided to retire from writing due to health issues. At 71, he has a number of disabilities, many of which are caused by high exposure to Agent Orange, he said.

In his retirement, he said he just wants to relax. While he loves living in Windham, he’s thinking about moving to a warmer climate in the future.

Wherever he lands, Hiltunen said he will continue to be an avid news consumer, a habit that he formed while he was in the military.

“With 20 years in the military and being involved with an intelligence agency, news was important to me because it affected me directly. If anything went wrong in the world, I might be there tomorrow,” he said. “So I’m going to pay attention to the news, and I never really lost the habit.”