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Web gives Dexter woman second chance at career
By Diana Bowley Of the NEWS Staff - A loud crash in her office closet on a recent day prompted Judy Craig to investigate. When she opened the door, boxes came tumbling down, and out popped an unflustered George, her almost-human cat.

Good-naturedly scolding her furry companion, and shoving the boxes back into the closet, the 44-year old Dexter woman appeared as unflappable as the feline with the minor interruption during her busy workday single-handedly running an online newspaper and designing Web sites for towns and dozens of businesses ranging from a moccasin maker to a maple syrup producer.

Two years ago, Craig never thought she'd be operating a business after losing a job she'd honed for years. But through sheer determination, the single mother has returned to the professional world through the Internet.

"You've got to make up your mind that what you want to do is something you like or love to do," she said.

For more than a decade, Craig had worked for a local radio station, advancing through the ranks from a part-time saleswoman to general manager and sales manager. She was living her dream, and even hosted a popular talk show, when the station was sold and the new owners announced they were bringing in their own management team.

"I immediately found myself without a job," Craig recalled.

The blue-eyed blonde says her self-esteem sunk and the contents of her wallet became so sparse that the few dollars she possessed were used to keep her in oatmeal. But she didn't give up. Perseverance and the support of her daughters and friends gave her the push to change careers.

"There just aren't a lot of jobs for professional women in central Maine and I was determined to make a living somehow, someway," she said.

Craig had used her own computer in her work at the radio station. When she lost her job, she began playing around with her PC at home. A friend, Kym Brown, who operates an Internet business in the Guilford area, set her up with Internet access so she could chat with others.

"She knew that I was devastated and that it would keep me in touch," Craig said. "I had no social life, you know, I was working all the time, literally six, seven days a week until 10 or 11 p.m..

Chatting on the Internet provided Craig with constant company. A Rhode Island man, whom she met in a chat room, designed a Judy Craig Consulting Page during his lunch hour.

"It was just kind of a gift thing," she said. But the gesture touched a chord with the Dexter native, who said she'd been contemplating opening a consulting business since her departure from the radio station.

With little else to do, Craig poured herself into learning everything she could about the Internet, computers and Web page design. "There's no excuse for not learning," she remarked.

While she didn't purchase any costly books, Craig gleaned what she needed. She began designing a Web page for her 75-year-old father, Dana Wilbur, and his sewing machine business. It seemed to take forever, but she persevered and fine-tuned it. She went on to create a Web site for the town of Dexter, making her business official.

In her home on No. 10 Road, she turned a small bedroom into an office to accommodate Matilda, her PC, and a laptop computer that she's affectionately named Luther. A weight machine serves better as a coat rack. Photos of George and other pets, which include two dogs, another cat and three kittens adorn the walls. A bumper sticker proclaiming, "Real women don't have hot flashes they have power surges" seems fitting.

A mother of two adult daughters, Craig's success is no surprise to her friends, who call her a driven woman and inspiration to others. She, herself, is amazed that she managed to pull it off.

"This year is going nuts. I don't think I've called a single person; they've called me to design pages," she said. She already is thinking of building on to her home to expand her office space and to add an employee. "I am so psyched about everything."

Craig supplies a lengthy list of customers throughout Maine with Web sites. She combines colors, pictures, graphics and text to create eye-catching pages.

Twisting her long hair into a bun as she talked, Craig said she works closely with customers and charges a nominal monthly fee. For those who are not computersavvy, she'll provide some startup lessons.

In addition, Craig runs a nonprofit, online newspaper, The Daily Me. It's an effort to keep her hand in the news. "I think it's the radio thing I couldn't give up," she says.

Working 16 to 18 hours a day, Craig finds she doesn't mind the long hours as much because she's in her home. Between telephone calls, she can do a load of laundry or clean the dishes.

"I have been running on a shoestring budget," she conceded, but added with a hearty laugh that her diet no longer is limited to oatmeal. "My budget has been very tight, but it's loosening up."

Craig says many Dexter residents are worried about the future of the local shoe industry and the possible ghost town any closures would create. She believes there are opportunities for home-based industry, noting the Internet has created a whole new way of life.

"I think it's how we're going to survive," she reflected. "It will benefit people in rural communities more than anyone can suspect. Look at me; I created a job and I now have a career again."

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