Blog Archives

Westport’s WWII Veteran Vera Cleaves’ Last Hurrah

Vera is celebrated in the Maine Historical Society’s Veteran’s Voices exhibit

On February 2, about 160 people turned out for the opening of the Maine Historical Society’s Veterans’ Voices exhibit. The exhibit highlighted first-person stories of 10 Maine veterans from World War II to Afghanistan — one of whom was Westport Island’s 102-year old WWII veteran Vera Cleaves.

Unfortunately, Vera died on January 23, about one and one-half weeks before she was to be honored at the exhibit’s opening. At the opening reception, Vera was also to receive medals from the State of Maine for her service in the armed forces and as a veteran of World War II. Her nephew, Brad Cleaves, and his wife, Patty Latham, received the medals and certificates on Vera’s behalf from Adria Horn, Director of Maine Veterans’ Services. They were sensitive to Vera’s pride in her military service and made attendance at the opening a priority to accept Vera’s honors on behalf of the family.

With an introduction from Brenda Bonyun, Tilly Laskey from the Maine Historical Society visited and interviewed Vera in December. Vera reviewed and edited the narrative from the 2-hour interview. She was honored and grateful to the Maine Historical Society for commemorating her WWII service. My last image of Vera was seeing her smile as she looked at the poster for the upcoming exhibit. Vera was looking forward to attending the opening on February 2 and speaking with fellow veterans. She died knowing her story will be remembered.

Read Vera’s story. The exhibit will run at the Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress Street, Portland through April 29.

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Westport Islanders Splash into the New Year

Taking the Penguin Plunge into Linekin Bay

Westport Islanders Edward and Lydia Kitfield have celebrated New Year’s Day since the early 2000’s by participating in the Boothbay Region YMCA’s Penguin Plunge. The chilly New Year’s benefit “plunge” into Linekin Bay from the public boat ramp on Murray Hill Road benefits the YMCA’s swimming program for second graders.

Lydia said that she and her husband were once part of a medical team on an excursion to Antarctica. They visited Deception Island which is home to a volcano and several crater bays. Lydia and Edward swam on Deception Island, and figured if they could swim in Antarctica, why not Maine. The two also take “dips” into the frigid waters of Montsweag Bay near their home from time to time… Wow!

May we all have the spirit and sense of adventure in 2017 shared by the Kitfields on this beautiful New Year’s Day!

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A Christmas Card

From the Westport Island Town Office

About 40 people filtered in and out of the Town Office’s annual holiday open house on Tuesday. They brought food, well wishes and appreciation for a small town way of life.

One of our newest residents made an appearance: 2-month old Ivan Wiles. Santa sledded in. And visitors got a listen to the newly formed duo of Santa and elf Richard Gray singing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” The performance left us looking forward to next year when they have had a tad more time to practice and learn the words.

To those who did not receive well wishes in person on Tuesday, Merry Christmas! May you enjoy time with friends and family and bring good memories of this holiday season into 2017.

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A Summer Week on Westport Island

Passages of a small town…

As the sun smiles and summer beckons, island life awakens. People gathered to vote, the Ferry Landing buzzes with boats and blossoms, summer “improvements” are underway and the season of island weddings began.

Sixty percent of those voting expressed their wish to safeguard Squam Creek for the future by supporting the purchase of 144 acres for a public preserve. Appropriating the $50,000 necessary to fund this wish will be decided at the upcoming Town Meeting on June 25.

The Ferry Landing park and boat launch is showing the love of the Horticulture Committee as its plantings mature — with irises, peonies, catmint, lady’s mantle and more. Thank yous for transforming the landing from a grassy lot to a “garden park” go to Donna Curry, Gretchen McNamara, Elizabeth Lee, Deborah Williams and Brad and Emily Adler.

The chandlery at McCarty’s Cove was put up on “blocks” to shore up its foundation for restoration and renovations…the Town Report was finished and honors WWII veteran Joseph Hoerth and friends for their military service and time as POW’s…and, a young military couple said their “I do’s” facing the Sheepscot from the rocky outcroppings of the historic Woodbury Hodgdon House.

But in the warm welcome of summer, a shadow passed over this week with the sudden passing of Carole Bodmer. As Second Selectman Jerry Bodmer’s wife, she was a partner in serving the town and its people — making town business a priority in family life and being a part of and contributing food,talent and time to the many celebrations and events that sustain a small community. Visiting hours will be 4-6 p.m. Thursday afternoon, June 23, at the David E. Desmond & Son Funeral Home, 638 High Street in Bath. Blessings to Jerry and the Bodmer family as we remember…

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Happy Birthday Althea!

Celebrating 79 years; 61 years on Westport…

Born in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and raised down the road in Dresden Mills, Althea Fitch came to Westport when she married Jud Cromwell in 1955. She’s been here ever since.

In that time, Althea has been an active participant in island life. Her proudest achievement was raising three sons — Thomas, Michael and Brian — largely on her own. And, as any one of them would tell you, the three of them were a handful. They have great admiration and love for their mom. To show it, they worked with friends and family to organize a surprise celebration to let her “feel the love” for all she is and has done.

Althea was a charter member of the Wiscasset Ambulance Service — serving Westport as an EMT in the 1970’s. In the 1990’s, she ran the Pumpkin Press with a partner. The Pumpkin Press was an antique letterpress shop on the island. Its published works included a reprint of another islander’s poetry — Henry Swanton’s 1922 “The Coast of Maine and Other Verses” and a historical booklet, The Wiscasset Ships, a remembrance of the Hesper and the Luther Little.

Althea as an EMTWhen oral historian Susan Bowditch interviewed Althea, two things struck her — one expected: “what you see is what you get” — she is firm in her opinions and frank. …Another was less expected: Althea loves to dance… Lessons started as a young child continued until she was 17. Dance is her passion — her favorite is tap dancing. To this day, you might get a glimpse of her dancing to Lawrence Welk on a Saturday night as you pass by her house.

As the wife and mother of lobstermen, Althea is “one” with cruising the island’s waters. She loves sitting in the back of Mike’s lobster boat and feeding the seagulls — not so good for his lobstering business, because the seagulls get more bait than the bait bags. Inside pastimes include sewing, needlepoint, knitting and crocheting — valuable skills when she was a member of Westport Willing Workers. The Willing Workers, active from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, organized fundraising dinners and made crafts and quilts for raffles to benefit the town. They cleaned the Town Hall (including the outhouses), bought the first tables and planted the shrubs at the Town Hall. Later, she was a contributor to the 2011 Westport Island quilt that was designed and assembled by 18 island women to create a traditional fabric narrative of life on Westport. She created “The Lincoln County Flag” square.

If you’ve fallen on hard times and need a hand from Helping Hands’ Island Food Pantry, you’ve likely met or spoken to Althea who is the neighbor with a key and commitment to helping Island families. And, if you are more fortunate and have donated to Helping Hands, the carefully written thank you notes initialed “AC” come from Althea.

Happy Birthday Althea!

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Westport Island Remembers John Nelson

A friend to Westport Island and to those he engaged…

The Westport Community Church was full this afternoon with friends and family remembering John Jesse Nelson (1928-2014). He was remembered with love and with appreciation for his good.

John: husband to Ruth, father to their seven children, grandfather, WWII veteran, science teacher, friend, animal lover, neighbor, civic volunteer, John Deere operator and neighborhood road crafter…and active participant in the journey of life and learning. (Apparently, also a devotee of hats, tropical shirts and red carnations.) A man who felt proud to have earned the acceptance and respect of Westport Island families who have grandparents on the island. Although his history with the island “only” went back to 1968, he felt roots in the “rock”….

On the Island, John was a member of the Wright Landing Committee, believing in public access to the waterfront as well as a working waterfront; and he had served on the Conservation Commission and the History Committee. He kept up — reading the town report carefully enough to report typos to the Town Clerk — and he always participated actively in town affairs.

One of John’s sons pondered the idea of describing his father in one word, and he could not decide between complicated and contradiction. John was a man who was gruff and had difficulty expressing emotion, yet turned gushing and affectionate when Snafu, Leonardo or one of the long line of Nelson cats jumped onto his lap. He was extremely impatient in general, but infinitely patient as a teacher…

John’s most significant achievements in life were, of course, the love of a good woman, Ruthie, and seven children who — following his tutelage and caring – excelled, achieved and loved him. They are a credit and a legacy.

He gave his children, his grandchildren, and his students a road map for life:

Be as good a person as you can be
Respect your elders
Respect nature
Have a good work ethic
Be organized, be prepared
Pursue lifelong learning
Walk in another man’s shoes

As another son said, “A person lives until his name is no longer spoken.” It is likely that John Jesse Nelson is a name that will be remembered and spoken for some time to come…

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A Day to Remember on Westport Island

Thank you to all who serve

bluestarflag Westport Island, though small, has a large history of serving its country — dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Maybe noticed, maybe not, one Islander “who served” greets us when we vote and when we gather to celebrate, discuss and come together as neighbors. A flag and a photograph remember him: Donald Knight. Honored by his parents, Knight is memorialized by both a photograph and a blue star flag at the front of the Town Hall.

Blue star flags, the “War Mother’s Flags”, became an unofficial symbol of a child in the service in WWI. During WWI and WWII, many of the flags were hand made by mothers across the nation symbolizing the service of a child. The Service flag was also displayed by organizations — like our town — to honor members serving during a period of war or hostilities. Today, we recognize Donald Knight for his service in WWII as the poster child for those who have served their country…

A newspaper obituary of Donald Knight provides the following context for our Town Hall remembrance…

Donald F. Knight, “Bunker Hill” Casualty, Was Machine Shop’s Second War Fatality

Donald Francis Knight, M.M. 2/c, son of Mr. and Mrs. Lester H. Knight of Bath, was killed in action in the Pacific, when the carrier on which he was serving was bombed by the Japs on May 11, according to word received by his parents from the Navy Department. Donald was buried at sea on May 12, with full military honors.

Donald, who was a B.I.W. machinist, and the Machine Shop’s second fatal casualty, had taken part in 12 major battles before he was home on leave last January, and had been to Saipan, Link, Leyte, Negros, Wake, New Hebrides, Rabaul, Tarawa, Kavieng, Kuajalein, Guam, Peleliu, etc.

He was inducted into the U.S. Naval Reserve June 21, 1943, and after receiving boot training at Newport, R.I., he was assigned to an aircraft carrier and left for overseas on Sept. 3, 1943.

Besides his parents, he leaves a daughter, Donna Larraine, who was one year old on May 26, and who lives with her grandparents.

Knight (748x800)

Donald Knight’s parents were Lester and Marcia White Knight. Lester Knight grew up on Westport. Although Donald was born in Bath, he married Mary Jane Greenleaf of Westport. Based on the donation of the photograph, the flag and Donald’s military name and rank tags to the Town of Westport Island, it is clear that the family’s psychological home was on the Island. We are proud to call them ours.

On this Memorial Day, thank you Donald Knight and to all who have served and to those who now serve…

Westport Island’s Mother’s Day Breakfast

To be cooked up by Chef “Nita” Greenleaf with love

serving up food at a community dinnerWhether expressing love to her family, friendship to neighbors in need or just her native generosity — Juanita “Nita” Greenleaf says it with cooking. Surrounded by her daughter and friends, she’ll be putting on a Mother’s Day Breakfast spread at the Westport Island Town Hall on Sunday, May 10, beginning at 8 a.m. To recognize Nita’s place in helping Islanders celebrate: a generous Westport neighbor will pay for the first 15 moms who come to Nita’s all-you-can-eat breakfast!

Nita’s passion is cooking. According to her daughter, she likes to mingle with people and make them happy. To her, good food is a way to celebrate, make people happy — and comfort.

town hall fundraising dinnerWhen neighbors are in need, Nita cooks. In recent years, she organized a community dinner to help Jim Cromwell pay medical bills from a workplace accident that left him temporarily incapacitated with multiple fractures. When Mona Greenleaf found herself overwhelmed with funeral expenses associated with the death of her husband, Nita once again organized and cooked up a fundraiser dinner.

Nita was a shy, anxious child growing up in Georgetown. Her parents divorced when she was young. She started school late because fears of leaving home made her physically ill. Years later, she dropped out of high school and had her first child — daughter Joyce — six days after her 16th birthday.

desserts at a community dinnerNita found her “groove” while raising her two children — as well as a way to connect with others — through cooking. Her daughter Joyce said there were tough financial times growing up, but her mother could always make a dinner you’d come running for — even when the ingredients were from government surplus.

In thinking about Mother’s Day, Joyce said what she admires most about her mother is, “she always puts other people first.” Whether putting together a Valentine’s Day dinner or trying to keep the idea of an Island store, or gathering place, alive with Saturday night dinners, she will take a loss to bring people together.

third place prize winner in King Arthur pie contestIn mid-life, to complete unfinished business, Nita got her GED. From there, she got a catering license and in recent years, put her husband Buddy behind the wheel of a food truck. With her mobile food business, she has catered at the Wiscasset Speedway, the “Wings over Wiscasset” air show and the Moxie Festival in Lisbon; she caters weddings; makes wedding cakes; and cooks meals at the Wiscasset Senior Center. Nita has also won ribbons with her culinary treats: two at the Moxie Festival and two in King Arthur-sponsored baking contests.

Say Happy Mother’s Day to Nita and your favorite mothers on Mother’s Day at the Town Hall, 1217 Main Road, and enjoy a grand slam breakfast — eggs to order, pancakes, biscuits and gravy, ham, bacon, sausage, hash, muffins, toast and beverages: $10 adults; $5 for children under 8.

juanita greenleaf flanked by her daughter (l) and friend (r)

Chef Nita flanked by daughter Joyce (l) and friend Louise (r)

2014: The Year on Westport Island

A look back…

Like every other year, 2014 had its ups and downs – a capsule of time in a history that marches on. A few remembrances as we head into 2015…

On a caring note: We remember those we lost this year: Philip Gesner, Neil Greenleaf, Butch Morton, John Nelson, and Leroy Olson. We honor their contributions and extend our thoughts to family members…

On a civic note: Voters opted to stay in Sheepscot Valley RSU #12 and opted to dismiss the Budget Committee. For the most part, Islanders voted with the rest of the state in November, re-electing Governor LePage, U.S. Senator Susan Collins and U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree. And, we welcomed the newly formed Horticulture Committee which has taken responsibility for the beautification of the Wright Landing.

On a community service note: Fire Department volunteers had a busy year: responding to medical calls, extinguishing a chimney and brush fires, providing medical assessment and traffic control for multiple car accidents, performing a water rescue, and — as always — community service.

On a climatic note: Our most talked about weather event this year was Thanksgiving – three days without power Island-wide – and lots of creative approaches to the “traditional” turkey dinner for those without generators…

On a contemplative note: Although our harbingers of the summer season, the osprey, came and went as is nature’s plan — the turkeys, raccoons and coyotes may be staging a takeover….

We will miss and extend best wishes to Islanders who moved away — and we thank those who had served in positions to better the Island: Chris Fabian, Angie Calvo, Art Ballard, Curt Downer and Carol Way.

On a congratulatory note: We had a banner year of weddings. Congratulations to all who took their vows on Westport. A Westport Islander, Chase Hughes, took home the gold at the 10K Island Shore Run for the first time in recent years. Selectmen honored Treasurer and Tax Collector, Susan Partelow, with a Spirit of America award to thank her for her service as they began preparations for her retirement. And departing History Committee Chair Mary Ellen Barnes’ transition to a regular member was marked with a celebration of her contributions as a founding member of the History Committee.

On a celebratory note: Westport Volunteer Firefighter Paul Bonyun once again completed February’s grueling Fight for Air stair climb in Boston. And Westport Volunteer Firefighters, Jason Abbott and Stacey Hutchinson, completed Firefighter I & II training, earning state certification — as well as promotions to Deputy Chief and Captain, respectively. Vera Cleaves — a World War II vet — celebrated her 100th birthday and made the cover of our annual report. And, Squam Creek reopened to clamming after almost 15 years!

As usual, The Community Association pulled us together for some fun and laughs, including a square dance reminiscent of days past. We laughed with ventriloquist Bert Prater and his pal, “Roadkill” while they poked fun and had good-natured audience members simulating puppets on stage while dancing to the tune, “I’m a little teapot.” The summer barbeque added entertainment for children this year; the Island Christmas Program starred young talent that wowed; and Santa surprised holiday visitors to the Town Office Building. Nita Greenleaf organized a Valentine’s Day Dinner for cupids and their valentines.

And, speaking of silver linings, when a resident parked a tad “too close” to the Town Office Building, we learned the wall was crumbling from dry rot. All has been repaired and is better now than before…. Which leaves us with a possible New Year’s Resolution…

It might be time to take stock and invest a little TLC in what we have.

Happy New Year!

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Two Westport Island Firefighters Earn State Certification

Jason Abbott and Stacey Hutchison, graduated on Sunday, July 13, from the Tri County Firefighter Academy One and Two Programs in a ceremony at the Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham. Jason also earned top honors as class valedictorian and delivered the class address.

Graduates came from 11 departments spanning Yarmouth to Westport Island and west. They completed classroom work and practical exercises encompassing firefighting resources and equipment; survival; live fire events; search and rescue; incident command and hazardous materials. The program concluded with State written and practical exams.

Jason and Stacey, who both have full-time jobs and families, committed over 300 hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as long Saturdays, for almost six months to fulfill the requirements to become state certified firefighters for the Island. Westport’s Fire Department, like many local departments, is an unpaid all-volunteer team of first responders for medical, fire and hazmat incidents.

On behalf of his classmates, Jason asked, “Why did we put ourselves through this?” And, continued…“I believe it’s because we are all here with one basic goal: to help people, whether its people in our own hometown, or its helping people while we’re working for some full-time department somewhere. Our goal is to help people in some of their greatest times of need. We have all heard this call, and we have all answered.”

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