Blog Archives

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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Westport Island Celebrates Vera Cleaves

Happy 100th Birthday to a great lady!

card with boston post cane pinYesterday, Vera Cleaves turned 100. She became the first recipient of Westport Island’s newly acquired Boston Post Cane. The cane will be displayed at the Town Office with a plaque commemorating Vera’s stature as Westport Island’s oldest resident. She was given a pin attesting to this place of honor in our community.

Despite hail and pouring rain, friends and family turned out to celebrate Vera at an informal “party” at the Ship’s Chow Hall in Wiscasset hosted by owner Tina Fitzsimmons. Lincoln County News reporter, Charlotte Boynton, was on hand to record the event.

Vera on boat sitting in her grandfather's lapSince she was eight years old, Vera has been a part of Westport Island visiting her grandparents’ camp overlooking the Sasanoa River. On her first visits to the Island around 1922, the Steamer Wiwurna was a primary mode of transportation to the Island; Black Friday and the Great Depression had not yet occurred; and the Great War was not yet a part of history. Vera has seen a lot of history go under the bridge; she has played a groundbreaking role in some of it.

Vera has lived her life with distinction as a veteran of World War II and as an educator. When the Second World War broke out in Europe, she volunteered with the Red Cross in Boston becoming an ambulance driver part-time while working in the actuarial department at John Hancock. Three months after it was created in 1943, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps Private Vera in uniform, 1943(WAC). From basic training, she was sent to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, the “Wings of West Point.” There, she learned to fly the Army’s AT-6 as part of her training to teach coursework in flight maintenance to U.S army aviation recruits and West Point cadets. She also instructed fellow WACs serving alongside her in physical fitness and marching – all 123 of them. She served the duration of WWII at the West Point airfield as one of the pioneering women who served with their male peers in the US Armed Forces.

After the war, Vera earned an education degree at Pennsylvania’s Millersville State Teachers College on the GI Bill. She was the only woman training in the industrial arts and drafting program. Her wartime credentials, along with her age, allowed her to once again break new ground in the workplace. Progressive school systems in the New York City area and Philadelphia that “saw the future” heavily recruited Vera as a female role model making her way in a man’s field.

During 45 years as an educator, teaching in Philadelphia, New York, Massachusetts and Maine, Vera changed with the times. After achieving her Master’s Degree in Education at Penn State, she moved into school administration and college-level education instruction – always keeping a hand in industrial arts. As an administrator, she created and tested educational programming for exceptional and gifted children. Preparing young people with practical skills and knowledge to take on the challenges of the real — and very dynamic — world has always been her passion.

She brought that passion back to Maine with her.  Past students and educators in Gardiner, Bristol, Millinocket and Boothbay Harbor may remember Miss Cleaves and have stories to share.

Vera’s mother gave her the following motto on a postcard that she’s carried with her since she went away to college – perhaps an insight into what has moved her as an adult in these last hundred years…

Pluck will win – its
average is sure.
He wins the fight who
can the most endure.
Who faces issues.
he who never shirks.
Who waits and
watches and who
always works.

Copyright 1906 by M.T. Sheahan, Boston

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Westport Island: A Place that Inspires

Natural tranquility helps to inspire an education entrepreneur

Stires farm on Westport Island
Anne Stires began her life on Westport Island in 1976. Her formative years were spent in the woods and marshes of her parents’ expansive property on Post Office Road — where trees, birds and other wild creatures were their closest neighbors. She grew up connected to the land — in a home heated with wood, holding a kitchen table that often included food from the family garden. Family life included harvesting firewood and vegetables, as well as restoring a house steeped in Island history.

Anne moved off the Island in 5th grade. Ironically, it was while she was in 6th grade at the Banks School in Manhattan’s Upper West Side that she was struck with what would become her “truth.” Anne’s teacher brought their classroom outside one day to walk the streets of Manhattan and absorb the world about them. With their eyes and senses primed, they returned to the classroom to write poetry. Anne absorbed more than the sights of Manhattan that day, she absorbed a way of thinking and learning beyond “the desk” that meshed outdoor and social experience, or “place”, with learning.

Anne Stires engaging with studentsToday, she brings her academic training together with her love of life and the natural world at a school she founded, the Juniper Hill School, in Alna. There, along with like-minded colleagues, she shares her enthusiasm for learning through the lens of place. The Juniper Hill School’s “place” is her grandmother’s 1761 farm in Alna bordering the Sheepscot River. This farm has served as a consistent refuge and “garden of adventure” throughout Anne’s life. Now, it is where her students begin their immersion in the adventure of learning by studying the natural and human environments around them. The school serves Pre-K to Grade 4 students and their families.

As an example of the school’s integrated, “place-based” approach: if this school was on Westport Island — older students might look at the history of transportation on Westport over time. Investigating its historical evolution would require speaking turn of the century steamboat at lower landing, Westport Islandwith Westport Islanders whose roots are here. And, tackling the subject as a whole might take them to look at the role of personal boats, the development of mass transportation from steamboats to cars, the ferry landings, the development of roads and bridges — as well as how the demands on this infrastructure changed over time. It would be a Social Studies integrated project where the children read, write, and do studies — perhaps even art studies like photographic essays. Development of concepts and skills is brought to life with sensory immersion. The outdoors and community are “classroom ground zero”.

Westport Island osprey in the nestAnne has a bachelor’s degree in biology and English from Hamilton College in New York and a Masters degree in education from Antioch University New England. An affinity for nature and environmental education always brought her back to Maine. While pursuing her education, she worked at local marine and environmental stewardship programs: the Darling Marine Center, Chewonki Foundation and Tanglewood Learning Center. As a teacher, she taught at Sheepscot Valley Children’s House in Wiscasset and Boothbay Region Elementary School before starting her ideal, hands-on learning “place”: Juniper Hill.

Juniper Hill School is a private school that serves students aged 3-9 in central and Mid-Coast Maine. Students may attend as private pay, or as a “school of choice” in communities like Westport Island and Alna that allow families a tuition-paid choice. To learn more about the school, on-Island resources include Director Anne Stires; Literacy Specialist Susan Stires; and Board Member, Susie Stedman.

photo of Anne Stires and photos of students at the school courtesy of Juniper Hill School

A Venerable Westport Island Building

Looking back on a one-time Island store

Westport post office pictured on right side of Main Road (early 1900's)In the post-Civil War years, the building pictured on the right at the corner of Main and Post Office Roads was owned by Civil War Veteran, William McKinney. Around 1870, he opened a store in the building where he sold such things as candy, food staples, tobacco, sewing and school supplies, fish lines and patent medicines. When McKinney became the Postmaster in 1889, his store also became the post office. It dispensed stamps and postal supplies until the Island’s post office was discontinued in 1907 — two years after rural free delivery service started.

Although McKinney died in 1904, according to Cora Tarbox’s 2011 Westport Island History, someone else in the family may have operated the store until 1930. The building was then vacant until 1949 when Herbert Cromwell, Sr. purchased it. A year later, Herb Cromwell moved the building to his home property at 638 Main Road.

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Herbert Cromwell’s Grocery Store operated as the largest store on the Island until the first supermarkets in Bath took hold in the early 1960’s. At Herb’s store, residents could get all the basics — and fill up their cars with gas. His daughter, Virginia, also operated a small snack bar next door to the main store until the late 1950’s when the snack bar building was moved north on the Main Road. (There for almost 20 years it was part of Edwin and Jenny Cromwell’s Bayside Oaks Snack Bar and Picnic Area overlooking Montsweag Bay.)

old post office/store on left with lower roofed addition on right that serves as food pantry todayToday, the old post office, aka Herb Cromwell’s store, waits for its next life. The building has been vacant and used only for storage. It is familiar to Island residents because the addition on the right side currently serves as the Westport Island food pantry. If wishes come true, the newest residents in the old Cromwell house may add another chapter to the store’s history.

Credits to: “Westport Island Maine 1605-1972” by Cora J. Tarbox (2011) and the history and photographs provided by Calvin Cromwell

A Westport Island Phoenix

Paul Bonyun: Rising Up and Giving Back

Today, February 1, 2014, Paul Bonyun was at One Boston Place representing the Westport Volunteer Fire Department and his own brand of personal strength. For the second year in a row, Paul climbed 758 stairs up a Boston skyscraper in the American Lung Association’s Climb for Clean Air. He is celebrating his life and hoping to inspire others.

Paul raised more money this year than last year for the the American Lung Association (so far, $1,670). He is thankful to his family and his community, as well as fellow fire fighters and first responders for the support they have given him for this climb and for his many victories since 2006. As a tribute to his supporters, Paul has asked to share his youngest son’s diary of a day that changed their lives and the ensuing journey that has made them stronger.

A Diary of My Dad’s Accident
by Caleb Bonyun

Picture of a man holding the tree that fell on PaulIn the early morning hours of January 2, 2006, my dad (not pictured left) was cutting a tree for firewood like he had done many times before.  Part of the tree had a crack up high that he could not see.  This 150-pound part of the tree (pictured) fell as he was cutting and hit him on the head.

He somehow walked half a mile home. I was 17 years old at the time, and had had my EMT license for only a month. My mom screamed for me to wake up; and I ran downstairs wearing only shorts to see my dad sitting on the couch – blood running down his face, his head split open, going in and out of consciousness. I was shocked at first, but then I went to work, trying to stop the bleeding and start oxygen (I kept a med kit in my car for calls).

Paul in the hospital on a respiratorWhile I was working on him I had my brother call 911 and advised him we needed LifeFlight (medical helicopter). The local Fire Department showed up shortly after my dad finally lost all consciousness. I was covered in blood and shirtless, so the Fire Chief told me to go get dressed. After getting dressed, I ran back downstairs to my dad who was now surrounded by two paramedics and an EMT-1. They loaded him into an ambulance and drove only 500 feet to a nearby field where the helicopter would land. My dad had been strong and kept breathing until this point. While in the truck, he stopped breathing, and that is the moment I thought I had lost my father. The paramedics tubed him and started breathing for him. He was loaded into the Paul in intensive carehelicopter and rushed to a trauma hospital. I held my composure right until the helicopter took off. In the ensuing silence, I was brought to my knees with panic, fear, and grief. It was the single worst moment of my entire life.

He was rushed into surgery where doctors did everything they could to save my dad’s life. He came out of surgery in a coma, and the doctors said the next few hours would be “touch and go.”

My dad was in a coma for four weeks. I visited him every day. I talked to him about school, and how things were going at home. I held his hand and told him I loved him every day.

Paul with his sonAfter four weeks, the doctor said he could wake up soon. Everyone at my high school, including the teachers, knew he could wake up; and they allowed me to keep my cell phone on loud and answer in class to get updates. One day, we had a substitute, and my phone rang. The sub stood up and said with anger “no phone…” but was cut off by the entire class standing and yelling, “LET HIM TALK!” On the other line, my mom said, “Would you like to speak with your dad?” I broke into tears when I heard his scratchy, groggy voice say, “Hey buddy.” When I said “Hi dad,” the whole class broke into applause. Much to the sub’s surprise, I rushed out of school and went to see him awake for the first time in over a month. The picture (above) is our first meeting.

Paul in his hospital bed having a cup of coffee with his wifePaul in his hospital bed eating with his wifeA few days later he even had his favorite cup of coffee with my mom.

The doctors said he may need to learn to eat again, but he was eating and drinking in no time.

Paul being discharged from the hospital pictured with two of his nursesHere he is right before discharge with a few of the amazing nurses who helped him get better.

This is me and my dad one year after the accident standing in front of the helicopter that saved his life. He is back to Paul and his son in fron of a Lifeflight helicopteralmost 100 percent. He is on life-long disability but lives at home and does everything a normal person does. He has almost no more short-term memory left and has to write everything down so he can remember it a few hours later. He has issues with seizures but that is now mostly under control with proper meds.

Paul arm in arm with his wife and son at his son's weddingThis is my dad and my mom walking with me down the aisle at my wedding last year. On that worst day of my life I never would have thought he would be by my side on the best day of my life. I am so grateful to all the men and women who worked so hard to save my dad’s life. This is my story of the hardest thing I have ever been through: thank you for hearing it.

Photo credits: Caleb Bonyun and friends

Looking Back on Westport Island 2013

dog running towards the camera under icy branchesAnother year of passages…a year older, and hopefully a year wiser…

On a civic note — we gave thanks to: Bruce Whittemore for crafting a sign marking the Westport Volunteer Fire Department; the Bristol Fire Department and a generous Island donor for giving our fire department a new rescue vehicle — making response to medical calls more efficient; Roni and Mario De Pietro for donating an 1832 Tarbox family bible to the History Committee; Sarah Rhinelander for starting the Good Egg Exchange, a community bulletin board…and to taxpayers and the Wright Landing Committee members for landscaping and maintaining the Landing — giving us a scenic, community access point to Island waterways and fishing grounds.

Thanks also to the History Committee for starting a digital library that will make historical photographs and documents accessible via the Maine Memory Network. The first digitized items were the “Sarah Tarbox Letters.” The letters, written from 1836 to 1855, give a glimpse of a time when Islanders traveled by steamer and horse-drawn coach. Visit to view holdings, which will continue to grow.

On a cosmic note: We got a glimpse of the December 8 Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, from Kehail Point — thanks to Michael Lewinski.

On a caring note: The Maine State Legislature memorialized Islander Richard “Bruce” Stedman who died this year. Bruce served the U.S. Navy in WWII and dedicated an extensive career and his personal passion to the United Nations and making the world a more peaceful place. We were also saddened by the loss of Phyllis Colby Hodgdon Mortimer who served as Westport Island’s Town Clerk for 43 years. …And, we share the grief of others who lost loved ones.

On a commercial note: Half Yard Productions, a National Geographic-contracted crew, filmed the labors of two wormers on Westport Island as part of a new TV show.

On a climatic note: We sat out Winter Storm Nemo on February 9 and 10. The storm left us with snow aplenty and without power. We ended the year with ice and snow that strained Island trees and challenged footing, but thankfully left us with electrical power.

On a contemplative note: Like the seasons, the robins and the osprey came and went — and the grasshoppers came and stayed — seemingly longer than most summer people.

On a congratulatory note: Eight-year old Mara Abbott won the T-Shirt Design Contest for grades K-6 sponsored by Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools (FARMS).

On a celebratory note: Three of our volunteer fire fighters and one resident Portland fire fighter made the grueling Fight for Air Stair Climb in Boston. They raised a few thousand dollars for the American Lung Association. The Community Association pulled us together for some fun, including humor by cartoonist Jeff Pert; the summer barbeque; and the Island Christmas Program! Moreover, we live where poets and artists from here and away draw inspiration.

Between the Conservation Commission’s Island Cleanup and the Fire Department’s Yard Sale, we cleaned up during 2013. Here’s to starting anew in the year to come.

Photo credits: Rescue Vehicle, Jeri Pendleton; Aurora Borealis from Kehail Point, Michael Lewinski; Robin’s Eggs, Dedee Greenleaf-Hodgdon; and Mara in the Snowbank, Alexa Abbott

Leaving Westport Island and Bath

For an untimely entrance to the Washington DC Navy Yard

flags at half staff in Washington, DC September 17, 2013

J. Scott Applewhite photo, September 17, 2013/AP

When the first sounds of shots capped through the hallways of Building 197 on September 16 in the Washington DC Navy Yard, a Westport Islander was there. Beckoned by better career opportunities and new adventure, Shanna (Taylor) Greene recently left Westport Island and SUPSHIP Bath for DC. Her first “adventure” was one that would alarm friends and family in Maine: another senseless killing spree by a disaffected, disturbed person.

After walking into the Navy Yard last Monday, Shanna said “so long” to friend Chris as he entered Building 197 for a day of work. She turned to her smart phone to record a “Have a good day” voice message to Chris when two people ran out of the building screaming, “There’s a shooter on the fourth floor.” She did a double take and life became surreal as she realized what was said. She ran back to look through the glass doors for her friend.

Shanna could see Chris checking in with a Security Officer at the Security Desk – both oblivious to what was unfolding above them. She fumbled with her door pass, couldn’t get the door open and started banging on the glass. By then, more people were running, shots were echoing, and she was in the door and had Chris’s attention. Both escaped to her building where she would spend the day “secured in place.” He believed she saved his life.

Shanna later realized the voice message she taped that morning captured the distressed yells of the first two people running out of Building 197 at 8:25 that morning.

From Westport Island to Navy Yard DC: a contrast in everyday American lives. On Westport, Shanna was the “Queen of Adventure” of another sort. Most of us saw her running the Main Road and out and about the Island. She represented Westport Island at the Camden Toboggan Nationals, the Boston Marathon, the Mount Desert Marathon, the grueling Mt. Washington Pentathlon and other outdoor tests of spunk and endurance. Now, she’s testing her spirit and resourcefulness in Big City Wildlife DC. We wish her well and keep her in our prayers… I’ll miss her.

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Westport Island Upgrades

Courtesy of community

In commemoration of 9/11, the non-profit “My Good Deed” spearheaded a movement that has designated September 11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance. Although we don’t participate as a town to make this specific day one of charitable service, many contribute everyday to the betterment of our island home.

Yesterday, our polls were staffed and ballots counted by volunteers to complete the RSU #12 budget validation vote. (We passed the budget 72-18; the district passed the budget 765-710.)

Westport Volunteer Fire Department signAs of last week, a professionally crafted sign now marks the Westport Volunteer Fire Department courtesy of the woodworking skills and time donated by Bruce Whittemore. The sign not only identifies the building, it helps mark our municipal services “center.”

Recently, Sarah Rhinelander undertook an effort to help Islanders find and exchange goods and services, keep up with Island events, and “shop and enjoy life locally”. Check out The Good Egg Exchange.

And, when life’s cares get you down, visit the Ferry Landing. Through the efforts of the Wright Landing Committee, the Conservation Commission, the Planning Board and town caretakers, our public boat launch and waterfront park have become a place to come to — whether to access the water, enjoy the outdoors or contemplate on days like today that make us pause and remember…

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Team Westport Took it to the Top

Islanders raised pulses and dollars in the Fight for Air Climb

The 2013 Fight for Air Climb has passed, but Westport Island left footprints in Boston. As of today, the Westport Volunteer Fire Department’s three climbers raised $2,425 from their supporters for the American Lung Association. (Paul Bonyun achieved “VIP status” by raising $1,500). Portland Fire Department’s 37 climbers — with Westport Island’s Angie Calvo as one of its climbers and top fundraisers — raised $7,602.

Times for climbing the long, warm 41 stories of One Boston Place in full turnout gear were:

  • Angie Calvo (#1200): 14.58 minutes
  • Paul Bonyun (#1474): 14.57 minutes
  • Libby Mooney (#1476): 36.31 minutes
  • Jason Abbott (#1475): 10.57 minutes

Of note, Westport fielded two of the most senior firefighter climbers. They were awesome. Check it out…

Music courtesy of the United States Air Force Band; two included pictures courtesy of Alexa Abbott