A last farewell to some of those we lost in 2018

ELLSWORTH — The deaths of a number of well-known residents gave us pause over the course of 2018.

Hancock County lost a longtime town clerk, a local historian, an extraordinary writer, an inspiring farmer, an editor-turned-broadcaster, a former assistant U.S. Secretary of the Interior and a much-loved preschool teacher.

Bob Fernald, Franklin

Bob Fernald

Bob Fernald “truly was a man about Franklin.”

That’s how longtime friend Bruce Carter described the well-regarded former Franklin town clerk, who passed away this past summer.

Fernald came from an old Franklin family. For more than 60 years, a Fernald served as Franklin town clerk. Bob’s father, Lloyd, served in the role from 1943 to 1980, followed by his mother, Dorothy, from 1980 to 1993, at which point Bob took over.

“He really did a lot for this town,” said former Selectman Robert Cossette. “If someone couldn’t afford to license their dog, he’d pay it for them.”

Fernald conducted town business from his house, starting at 7 a.m. every day.

“He would help you any time of day,” Carter said, “and with a tremendous sense of humor.”

In addition to serving as town clerk, Fernald was a strong supporter of institutions such as the Franklin Historical Society and the East Franklin Cemetery Association. In 2017, he was named the town’s Citizen of the Year.

Carter described Fernald’s affinity for flower and yard sales around town, saying there was never one that Fernald wouldn’t visit.

“He was a teacher in Sedgwick and Brooklin, and he loved helping people and families,” Carter said. “He’d have an Easter egg hunt every year and people would come from miles around for it.”

Bob Fernald passed away at his home in Franklin on July 24.

Sue Hubbell, Milbridge

Sue Hubbell

The longtime writer died Oct. 13 in Maine, but she had lived for a time farming and beekeeping in the Missouri Ozarks.

Fittingly, Maine was where Sue eventually landed, making Milbridge her home in the late 1990s. By then she had gained a following for her essays, stories and books — especially her much praised 1986 memoir “A Country Year: Living the Questions” about her solitary, hardscrabble farm life in the Ozarks and “A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them.”

Fiercely independent, and loath to burden others or eventually be institutionalized, Sue had been grappling with dementia before moving in last August with her son, state Rep. Brian Hubbell, and daughter-in-law, artist Liddy Hubbell, in Bar Harbor.

In character, the 83-year-old writer ate her last grapefruit and declared her intent to stop eating and drinking on Sept. 9.

Hubbell earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Southern California and a graduate library science degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia.

She eventually traded academia for living close to the land and raising bees. By the time Hubbell moved to Maine, she had produced a rich body of work over the years in newspapers, magazines and The New Yorker, New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Time, Harper’s, Smithsonian and many other publications. Her topics ranged widely from a chicken babysitter and egg hustling to wrenches and blue morpho butterflies.

Sue married an old college classmate, Frank Sieverts, who died in 2004. In Milbridge, where she had extolled the Milbridge House restaurant’s Nantucket cranberry pie, she continued to write, split wood, enjoy her dog’s company and tinker with her house. She also led a successful campaign to establish an endowment fund for the local library.

Paul Birdsall, Penobscot

Paul Birdsall

The founder of Horsepower Farm, a beloved father and grandfather, horseman, scholar, sailor and much more died June 12.

Paul Grew Birdsall was 91.

Many people in Hancock County and in Maine remember Birdsall with respect and affection but especially so his family.

“I remember him as a lot of fun,” said son Andrew Birdsall. “He taught my brother and I how to ski and skate and work and believe in ourselves. He was a good man. I don’t of know anyone who’s had a work ethic like him.”

Ellen Werner had been a founding member of Blue Hill Heritage Trust with Birdsall.

“I was always impressed with his dedication and reverence to leading a life that respects and honors the planet,” Werner said. “That we are all together and that if something goes awry, it affects all of us. He was a terrific man.”

Birdsall and his late wife, Mollie, and their two sons, Nathaniel and Andrew, moved to Penobscot and founded Horsepower Farm in 1972.

Birdsall put a conservation easement on the 341-acre parcel, located off Route 15, so that it remains farmland forever.

The Massachusetts native was a Harvard graduate who worked at a button factory before embarking on teaching career. He also had a master’s degree from Wesleyan University. Birdsall had begun a Ph.D. program at the University of Connecticut, his son said.

Paul and Mollie were in their 40s when they moved to Maine.

Jim Dow, former executive director of Blue Hill Heritage Trust, recalled Birdsall telling him that he and Mollie had been part of the “back to the land movement although they didn’t realize it.”

“He came here with a notion,” Dow said. “Small-scale farming had a future and also you need to do something to ensure there was farmland that was available when it took hold.”

Darlene Springer, Ellsworth

Darlene Springer

Darlene Springer, 64, the city’s go-to local historian, died May 21.

Springer was known for her encyclopedic knowledge of the individuals, businesses and buildings that underlay the story of Ellsworth.

“We’ve lost a ton of knowledge of Ellsworth,” City Council Chairman Marc Blanchette lamented. “Her grasp of Ellsworth history was legendary.”

Councilor Gary Fortier agreed: “I don’t know who the go-to person for local history is going to be.”

“It’s a tragic loss to the history of Ellsworth,” said Charlene Clemons, special collections curator at the Ellsworth Public Library. “She had wonderful collections.”

In particular, Springer maintained a collection of old photos that routinely appear in The American’s “Looking Back” weekly feature. Speaking of the relationship between Springer and the newspaper, her history of the Great Fire of 1933 was the lead story on the paper’s front page last May. The occasion was the 85th anniversary of the catastrophe.

In 2013, Springer collaborated with The American on a history of the city to mark Ellsworth’s 250th birthday. Offered compensation for her hours of work, she asked that the check go the Ellsworth Historical Society.

Springer loved Ford trucks, Dots candy and brunches at the Bar Harbor Inn, said friend Tim Torrey, owner of the Old Creamery Antique Mall on Hancock Street.

Springer amassed a large trove of old Ellsworth postcards, maps and photographs. She was happy to share — just not the originals. Those she intended to go to the Ellsworth Historical Society. She’d make copies for anyone who asked.

Springer was also artistic. The fifth generation in the monument business, her artwork appears on many Dunn Monument stones. She also liked to draw and paint.

Springer also was an ordained American Baptist minister. She was a supply preacher at area churches, including the Lamoine Baptist Church, and participated as a preacher at recent Lenten services.

Helen Sloane Dudman, Ellsworth

Helen Dudman

Driving a battered yellow Volkswagen convertible, Helen Sloane Dudman rolled into downtown Ellsworth nearly 40 years ago to start a new chapter in her life.

The Washington Post’s former executive women’s editor, who died at age 93 on Feb. 19, at Parker Ridge retirement community in Blue Hill, was excited. But she also was a little nervous about her new professional venture: owning and operating the CBS Radio Network affiliates WDEA-AM and WWMJ-FM in the Hancock County shiretown and WEZQ-FM (FM 92.9) in Bangor.

No stranger to Maine, the newswoman and her journalist husband, Richard, and daughters, Iris and Martha, had spent summers on Little Cranberry Island since 1958. But the plain-spoken Midwesterner wasn’t known in local business circles.

“I knew I could run a radio station, but I didn’t know if I could live in a small town,” Helen recalled in a 2014 Ellsworth American interview.

The Northwestern University graduate had headed public relations at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) during the late 1970s in Washington, D.C. She also had directed publicity at the Post-Newsweek radio station chain.

The 1991 Maine Broadcaster of the Year led efforts to open trial courts to photographers and electronic media while at the helm of Dudman Communications Corp.

A mover and shaker in Maine media and business circles, Helen also became a local civic leader spearheading a tree-planting campaign in downtown Ellsworth. She and her community-minded husband, Richard, also are credited with leading two separate campaigns to build and later improve the former Dr. Charles C. Knowlton School’s first playground. The Dudmans most recently were honorary chairmen of the 2015 project to create the city’s Knowlton Community Park complete with a splash pad, ice rink and amphitheatre.

At the heart of Helen’s life was her happy marriage to her tenacious, journalist husband, who died on Aug. 3, 2017, at Parker Ridge.

Married for 70 years, the two met in 1948, in Denver, Colo., where he worked as a reporter for The Denver Post and she was a copy editor at an advertising agency.

William J. Murtagh Jr., Penobscot

William J. Murtagh

The first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places liked Maine, martinis and music, his friends said.

William J. Murtagh Jr. died Oct. 28 at the Plymouth Harbor retirement home in Sarasota, Fla. He was 95.

Murtagh, who had a seasonal residence in Penobscot, is credited with elevating the profile of the National Historic Trust and helping to craft the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

“He was the youngest older guy I knew,” said Walter Smalling of Penobscot, who had known the conservationist for 45 years. “It was always a party. It was always fun.”

That said, the Philadelphia native knew how to rally people and resources and get work done.

“Quite simply, historic preservation in America would not be what it is today without the vision, leadership and extraordinary contributions of Dr. William J. Murtagh,” stated Stephanie Meeks, president and chief executive officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in a press release. “In many ways, Dr. Murtagh gave preservation in America itself a history. His thinking and scholarship informed the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which enshrined preservation into federal law.”

Murtagh had stints working for the National Trust before and after his work for the National Register of Historic Places.

Lois Johnson, Hancock

Lois Johnson

To say that the Crabtree family is an institution in Hancock is an understatement.

It began with Agreen Crabtree, a Mainer since 1760, who helped found Hancock and was later a privateer during the Revolutionary War.

Six generations later, there was Lois Crabtree Johnson, who passed away on Sept. 9 at her home in Hancock at the age of 86.

“She was a wonderful woman,” said Margaret Bronson, a friend of Johnson’s for more than 20 years who comes to Ellsworth for genealogical research. “There will be no replacing Lois.”

Fitting for someone from a family with such deep roots in Maine, Johnson had great love and appreciation for genealogy and history.

She was an active member of the Hancock Historical Society and helped found the Hancock County Genealogical Society. She compiled genealogical records for more than 25 Hancock families, and last year donated 76 notebooks filled with research to the Genealogical Society.

“We would go to cemeteries and she would write down every name, every date,” Bronson said. “You can still see notes in her handwriting in all of the cemetery records.”

Charlene Clemons, a friend of Johnson’s for 25 years, called her “a treasure to genealogists and historians in Hancock County,” and recalled how she would always help people calling the Hancock Historical Society asking about old relatives.

“She knew more about families in this area than anyone else,” Clemons said. “And she is responsible for so much of genealogical research done here.”

That research led the New England Historical Genealogical Register to name the Hancock County Genealogical Society one of the six most important collections in the state of Maine. Johnson was given the Society’s Award for Genealogical Research in 2008.

Johnson was born in Hancock in 1932. She graduated from Ellsworth High School, then moved to Portland, where she met her husband, Justin Oley Johnson Jr. They lived in Pennsylvania until retiring back to Hancock in 1982, where they lived in the same house she had grown up in.

“She didn’t call herself a genealogist,” Clemons said. “Lois said she collected families.”

Nathaniel Reed, Winter Harbor

Nathaniel Reed

Nathaniel Reed, a summer resident of Grindstone Neck in Winter Harbor and a longtime supporter of the Schoodic Institute, died on July 11 in Quebec City. He was 84.

A prominent environmentalist who championed conservation activities in the Florida Everglades, Reed served as assistant United States secretary of the interior.

He served on the Schoodic Institute’s organizational board from 2004-2008 and remained involved in the institute’s activities until his passing.

His work with environmental conservation began in the 1960s, when he became environmental advisor to former Florida Governor Charlie Kirk. In 1970, Reed was named assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and national parks by President Richard M. Nixon. In that role he helped draft the Clean Water Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and oversaw the banning of the chemical pesticide DDT. He eventually served as a champion of environmental causes under two presidents and six Florida governors.

Reed also was involved with the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM).

“Nathaniel Reed was a 20 year member of NRCM and a generous supporter of our work protecting Maine’s environment,” said Lisa Pohlmann, CEO of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “He also served on our National Advisory Board, and helped us on such issues as reopening the St. Croix River to native alewife, salmon and shad migration.”

Joan Preble, Ellsworth

Joan Preble

Paint-spattered, mini Michelangelos blossomed under the tutelage of Joan Preble.

The longtime Ellsworth preschool teacher would tape butcher block paper to the underside of classroom tables so that students could crawl underneath and imagine they were painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Preble, 78, died April 13 after a battle with colon cancer.

“She would introduce young children to concepts that they would immediately embrace,” said Jessica Montgomery, director of the Down East Family YMCA childcare program at the Moore Center.

Preble, known as “Mimi” to her charges, worked for the program for 22 years before retiring in June 2012. She was also co-owner, with Kathy Maddocks, of the former Sunshine Nursery School in Ellsworth.

Factor in her many years working with the Girl Scouts and as a Sunday school teacher, and Preble touched the lives of thousands of local children over the years.

“She’s done so much for this community,” Montgomery said. “It was an amazing experience to have her in my life. Everybody was part of her family, and she always made you feel that way.”

Preble loved the inquisitiveness of young children and the way their brains worked. She would sing with them, organize plays and do art projects. Former students and co-workers remember her lessons on painting Van Gogh’s sunflowers, her humor and a particularly entertaining song about pussy willows.

In retirement, Preble continued art lessons with the children in the Y program and volunteered for the Friends in Action Senior Center.

A woman of faith, she became an ordained deacon at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in 2003.

“She was deeply devoted to her community, not only the members of her church, St. Dunstan’s, but also to all of the folks who lived in greater Ellsworth,” said Bishop Steve Lane of the Episcopal Church in Maine.

“She was always thinking of new possibilities for bringing the strength of the church to the needs of the community. Joan was creative, generous and unfailingly kind in her work.”

Preble joined the Girl Scouts as a Brownie at age 6 and never left, serving as a troop leader, trainer and volunteer as an adult.

Sally Medina, who is on the board of the Girl Scouts of Maine, remembers Preble as an “energetic and enthusiastic” volunteer.

A Maine native, Preble was born on March 23, 1940, in Portland. She graduated from Gorham State Teachers College in 1962.

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.
Jennifer Osborn

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