One last look at the legacies of notables who died in 2017

ELLSWORTH — Hancock County lost many notable citizens during 2017. All were, in their ways, community builders. They left their marks on the arts, industry, education, journalism and the environment, among other legacies. Herewith, a sampling of those who passed away this year.

Ginia Davis Wexler was born and raised in Philadelphia. She died on June 7, at the age of 99.

Ginia Davis Wexler

Her father was a famous society orchestra conductor. Her mother was a pianist and composer. Ginia’s uncle was the legendary conductor Pierre Monteux. Her family received numerous visiting actors and musicians in their home. Ginia grew up immersed in music. In 1968, she married Morris M. Wexler, who died in 1993.

Wexler wrote that she wanted to be remembered “as an artist and a presenter of artists to children and adults. She was a communicator and a concerned human being toward all the problems of humanity. She believed in one world, no war; peace among all peoples.”

Wexler was once asked, “What gives your life its purpose and meaning?” She responded, “The beauty in music, art, nature. The kindness of people. The joy in having a pet. The smiles and joy of children. The possibility of peace in this beautiful world we inhabit. All mankind living in peace.”

Her career as a singer embraced opera, recital, orchestra appearances, theater and folk music. She performed with the Royal Belgian Opera in Brussels, the Pittsburgh and London symphonies, “Call Me Mister” on Broadway and many New York recitals.

Wexler traveled around the world and collected songs in many lands. She sang in 22 languages. She performed for children as an ambassador for the U.S. Information Service under its Cultural Exchange Program, in India, Africa, Europe and elsewhere, as well as for the Armed Forces.

Wexler’s maternal family has roots in Bar Harbor. She owned a farmstead in Sullivan. It was here every summer that she organized free performances for children in her own Barn Theatre, and hired various entertainers for the enjoyment of the children.

Wexler was an original benefactor of The Grand Theater. She directed the Performing Arts for Children Series that took place at The Grand. She also sponsored scholarships for the arts for students at Sumner Memorial High School and the Mountain View School. She was a supporter and board member of the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors and Orchestra Musicians in Hancock, as well as an active member of the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.

Bar Harbor hotelier David Witham, 77, died Nov. 25 at his home in Boston. Death was due to complications of Parkinson’s disease.

David Witham

He wanted his properties — windows included — to be spotless.

It was very important to Witham that the large picture windows in the Bar Harbor Inn’s Reading Room restaurant always be clean.

That was just one of the many details Cathy Walton, the inn’s food and beverage director, learned to pay attention to in what she jokes was a 30-year course of instruction in the “David Witham School of Restaurant Management.”

“Don’t ever open the restaurant with bird [droppings] on the windows,” Walton remembers him telling her. “If you can’t find anybody to take care of it, call me at home and say, ‘David, come down and clean the bird [droppings] off the windows now!’”

Witham Family Hotels, which Witham’s son David C. heads, owns and operates 13 properties individually and in partnerships. The company controls nine hotels in Bar Harbor, including the Bar Harbor Inn, Bar Harbor Grand, Atlantic Oceanside and Hampton Inn, as well as three hotels in Ellsworth (Hampton Inn, Comfort Inn and Ramada) and one in Saco.

In the 1970s, Witham left an early career that included stints at IBM and Raytheon to buy some of his father’s motel cabins in Hampton Beach, N.H., in partnership with his sister and brother-in-law.

He bought the Bar Harbor Inn in 1987 from Barry Harris, after visiting the property with friends the year before.

“Most people in town thought that the asking price was way too high and that anyone was crazy to purchase it,” the friends remembered. “Good thing [Witham] was that crazy person.”

“He sold his motels in Hampton Beach and put his energies into Hancock County,” longtime friend Les Brewer said. “He’s a man that when he moves into a community it’s for everything.”

The Bluenose Inn was part of Witham’s holdings for many years, though the company has since sold it. He bought the Bluenose Inn property, Walton said, before the company began using visa programs to bring temporary foreign workers for the season.

“We were suffering from a shortage of housekeepers, so David worked a good part of the season cleaning rooms,” she said. “Was he driven? I would say so. And successful because of it.”

Witham was an exacting boss and didn’t mince words, she said. Managers called to his Bar Harbor Inn office would sit in a chair facing him — and into the afternoon sun — that became known as the “hot seat.”

“It was an incentive to make sure things were just the way he wanted them to be,” Walton said, “and 30 years later I still follow his words of wisdom.”

But his employees and family alike are quick to point out the compassion that came with his high expectations.

Witham’s company has for many years operated an employee assistance fund and recently established the Witham Family Hotels Charitable Fund.

What’s clear is that Witham was a key agent in developing and modernizing the hospitality industry in Bar Harbor over 30 years.

Another mover and shaker, Blue Hill philanthropist Bob Marville, who was the former president of Rockefeller Center, died in August at 88.

Bob Marville

The hunt for a perfect tree led Marville to the perfect place for him and his beloved wife, Jan.

Early in his career, Marville was responsible for selecting the iconic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The search brought him to Maine and he fell in love with the state.

Marville retired to Blue Hill in 1984 and dedicated himself to community life. He was a tireless supporter of many causes, including the creation of the Parker Ridge retirement community as well as Friendship Cottage, a day program for individuals with memory loss. In 2014, he donated property on South Street to the Bagaduce Music Lending Library, paving the way for the organization’s new building.

“Without Bob we wouldn’t have been able to complete this project, never even have been able to start this project,” Executive Director Martina Herries said.

Marville also was a former board member at Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.

“We will forever be grateful for Bob Marville’s kindness, support, and generosity to Blue Hill Memorial Hospital and our community,” Hospital President John Ronan said.

Blue Hill Selectman Jim Schatz described Marville as intelligent, humble and generous.

“His footprint is all over the place,” Schatz said, adding that Marville’s passion for Blue Hill “never waned.”

Marville was born in 1928 in Germany. His family immigrated to the United States in 1940 as war refugees.

He graduated from high school when he was 15, then attended night school at New York University. He earned a business degree while working full time as a salesman at the Johns Manville Corp. David Rockefeller offered him a job after the men served on a board together. Marville spent the rest of his professional career rising through the ranks at Rockefeller Center.

He and his wife, Jan, were married for 67 years.

The Blue Hill Peninsula lost another remarkable man, George Allen, a Brooklin storyteller, mariner, boatbuilder and folk artist. He died in August at age 95.

George Allen

His family has called Brooklin home since 1763.

Allen was widely known as a shipwright who, with the help of Captain Bill Brown and a handful of friends, built the 50-foot pinky schooner Summertime — still sailing as part of the Maine windjammer fleet — in a field near his North Brooklin home using plans from the Smithsonian Institution. Like its historical predecessors, Summertime was built of locally cut and seasoned woods, including oak, locust, cedar and white pine for the deck.

He spent all of his life around boats. His father ran a large yacht for the New York Yacht Club. He served in the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet in the Pacific during World War II before returning home to work in Hancock County boatyards. Allen didn’t get into schoonering until the early 1960s.

When not at sea, Allen used his downtime to make wooden toys, decorative art, ornaments and other objects that he and his wife, Georgene, sold at the HOME craft co-op in Orland.

Allen had a reputation as a storyteller, honed in small-town variety shows as a young man. His stories were so good that a cassette tape of his tales called “Half Truths and Whole Lies” was issued.

Another loss in August was that of Richard B. Dudman, an American newsman known for his memoir “Forty Days with the Enemy,” about his 1970 capture and imprisonment by Viet Cong in Cambodia.

Richard Dudman

Dudman died Aug. 3 at the Parker Ridge retirement community in Blue Hill. He was 99. His wife, Helen, daughters Iris and Martha and other family members were with him.

For 31 years, Dudman reported for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, serving as its chief Washington correspondent for 12 years. His career ranged widely from covering President John F. Kennedy’s assassination to obtaining and publishing the Pentagon Papers during the Watergate scandal that led to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon.

William H. Freivogel, a former longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter, worked in the newspaper’s Washington bureau. Initially skeptical, but nudged by friend and feminist Betty Friedan, Dudman hired Freivogel and his journalist wife, Margaret, to jointly cover the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I don’t believe in heroes, but Richard Dudman is my hero,” William Freivogel wrote in the May 3, 2013 Gateway Journalism Review. “So many reporters and editors get tired, burned out or cynical. Not Dudman. He never has lost his love for a big story or his intrepid pursuit of the truth in the face of danger.”

Freivogel recalled the newspaperman’s motto: “Reporter who sits on hot story gets ass burned.”

While his distinguished journalism career is well known in Maine, where he wrote more than 1,000 editorials for the Bangor Daily News from 2002 to 2012, Dudman may be better known here as an engaged citizen.

A Rotarian, he delighted in flipping pancakes at the Rotary Club’s Blueberry Pancake Breakfast every August well into his 90s.

Also in Ellsworth, Dudman led two “Join Us in Making a Playground” (JUMP) campaigns to build and later renovate the former Dr. Charles C. Knowlton School’s playground.

Ellsworth City Councilor and electrician Gary Fortier first met the Dudmans after they moved to town, having bought the CBS Radio Network affiliates WDEA-AM and WWMJ-FM in 1979

“They assimilated very well to the Downeast way of life. They are true givers,” says Fortier. “Ellsworth is a much better place because they have been part of it.”

Born in Centerville, Iowa, May 3, 1918, and raised in Portland, Ore., Dudman loved the outdoors and was a man of simple pleasures — a Klondike ice cream bar for dessert and a crackling fire at home in Ellsworth or in the cobblestone fireplace of his seasonal cottage overlooking Hadlock Cove on Little Cranberry Island.

When he wasn’t chasing news stories, another of Dudman’s passions was exploring coastal Maine and beyond in his white gaff-rigged Friendship sloop built by Southwest Harbor master boat builder Ralph Stanley. He was often accompanied by Tom Halstead, a former disarmament specialist in the Carter administration.

In 1970, while being held prisoner for nearly six weeks by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge guerrillas and the North Vietnamese, Dudman made himself a promise.

“During his captivity, Dick later told me, [he pledged] ‘If I ever get out of here alive, I am going to Southwest Harbor and get Ralph Stanley to build me a Friendship sloop,’” Halstead recalled. “‘I’ll call her ‘Freedom’ and I am going to spend the rest of my life cruising the waters of Maine.’”

At the heart of Dudman’s life was his happy marriage to Helen Sloane Dudman. They celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary on March 13.

By 1971, Dudman had become the Post-Dispatch’s Washington bureau chief. That year, he worked his contacts to secure a copy of the Pentagon Papers exposing the United States’ escalating role in the Vietnam War. He dispatched the newspaper’s political reporter to Cambridge, Mass. Calls from a succession of phone booths led to a porch where a copy of the classified material had been left hidden under a pile of newspapers. The Post-Dispatch was among the first newspapers to publish the report’s revelations.

On Dudman’s last day as the Post-Dispatch’s Washington bureau chief, he dashed up Connecticut Avenue to cover the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

“It has been said that we all have a birth date and a death date, with a dash in between. It’s what we do with our dash that counts,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said on Aug. 3 in a statement entered into the Congressional Record to mark Dudman’s passing. “Richard Dudman’s dash was extraordinarily long, and he made it count. He filled it with passion, professionalism and dedication. May his memory inspire us all to do the same.”

Longtime Seal Harbor summer resident David Rockefeller Sr. died in his sleep at his Pocantico Hills, N.Y., home on March 20, at the age of 101.

David Rockefeller Sr.

Rockefeller was born in Manhattan on June 12, 1915, the youngest child of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil.

His son David Rockefeller Jr. said the combination of his father’s extraordinary ability to focus and his broad interest allowed him to make a mark in banking, international trade, international relations, art, science and the environment.

“There is no place he loved better than the coast of Maine. He was thrilled to spend time here and with his wife to sail along the coast,” said Rockefeller Jr. After his wife’s death in 1996, David Rockefeller Sr. still sailed, and in more recent years, enjoyed picnics on his motorboat, Sea Smoke. Because of their concern that the coast could become overdeveloped, Rockefeller supported his wife, Margaret McGrath Rockefeller, in founding the Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT).

“David Rockefeller extended a family legacy of conservation that is without parallel in the world,” said MCHT President Tim Glidden.

Another love of David and Peggy Rockefeller was a love of gardens. That love and the Rockefellers’ conservation ethic led to their establishing the Land and Garden Preserve of Mount Desert Island — a preserve that includes the Asticou Azalea Garden, Thuya Garden and Lodge and the 1,000 acres around Little Long Pond that Rockefeller Sr. gave to the people of Mount Desert Island on his 100th birthday.

But the Rockefellers were interested in more than protecting land. They also placed great emphasis on ensuring public access. The latter was one of the goals John D. Rockefeller Jr. had in building the 57-mile carriage road system and in purchasing and donating land to Acadia National Park.

Rockefeller’s ties to Mount Desert Island were longstanding. His parents first brought him to Seal Harbor when he was 3 months old; he spent most summers here and often visited the island at various times during the year.

Rockefeller spent last summer here and with many others celebrated the 100th anniversary of Acadia National Park and the National Park Service.

“As a superintendent, it’s humbling and daunting to be a steward of the Rockefeller family’s vision and to have shared responsibility for this special place: Acadia is hallowed ground,” ANP Superintendent Kevin Schneider said.

Bucksport lost a beloved musician and teacher last February, Donald Blodgett.

Don Blodgett

When Mark Neslusan first came to Bucksport in 1986 to teach music at Bucksport High School, he didn’t know many people in town. But one day, after Neslusan played saxophone at a variety show, a man walked up to him and said, “‘Hey, that was pretty cool. Can you play other instruments?’” Neslusan recalled. “It started a conversation and that was how I met Don.”

Born and raised in Bucksport, Elliott Donald Blodgett (called “Don” by friends and family), was a consummate music maker. He passed away at the age of 87, leaving a legacy of charitable concerts he organized to benefit young local music students and the Elm Street Congregational Church.

Music was a lifelong passion for Blodgett, who started with trumpet lessons before switching over to trombone, which he played for the Bucksport High School Band.

Blodgett soon found himself playing music much farther away from home. After graduating from Bowdoin College in 1951, he enlisted in the U.S. Army to play in a band that was closer to the Korean War than he anticipated.

“He always joked that by being in an Army band he wouldn’t worry about being in combat,” said Martha Pedrick, Blodgett’s niece. “But he was right behind the front lines and he could hear the artillery firing.”

After returning from the war, Blodgett began an illustrious career in American public schools. He earned a Ph.D. in special education, became the supervisor of special education for Milwaukee public schools and served in a supervisory role for the U.S. Department of Education. Along the way he played in bands with other retired military musicians, and invited many of them to play in Maine, where he would spend his summers.

Eventually Blodgett retired from education and moved full time to his summer cottage in Orland on Alamoossook Lake. Once he returned home to Maine, his musical passion really took off.

Blodgett didn’t just play in bands and concerts, he started a few himself. He formed his own Dixieland band and Bucksport brass bands that played every year at Orland River Day and the Bucksport Bay Arts Festival. In 1985, he and several trombonists from Washington, D.C., played at the Elm Street Congregational Church, where they raised money for maintaining the church’s 154-year-old Hook organ.

Perhaps Blodgett’s greatest achievement was the Down East Center Ring Circus Band Concert and Scholarship Program. It began in 1997, when Blodgett decided to start a concert in Bucksport celebrating circus music. Why circus music?

“It was the most hard-driving music until, like, punk music came along,” said Gene Nichols, professor of music at the University of Maine.

An experienced circus musician himself, Nichols was brought onboard by Blodgett to direct the concert. Blodgett gathered 30 to 40 musicians from as far away as Wisconsin, Canada, New York and Connecticut.

“He had the thoroughness to contract the gig and get everyone together,” Nichols said. “He would sort and prepare musical folders for 40 players. All I had to do was come in, do an afternoon rehearsal and a touch-up and then go on show the next night.”

It was all for a good cause: the concert was a fundraiser for local music students. Though many of the scholarships were small, around $100 or $125, the students’ letters of gratitude were a big treat for Blodgett.

“They would write these thank you notes that were the most heartwarming things to hear,” said Pedrick. “Giving back to those kids was one of the most meaningful things in his life.”

Ellsworth lost a local businessman in November.

James B. Card III, 45, died from cancer Nov. 20 at his home surrounded by his family.

James Card III

Card attended school in Ellsworth graduating from Ellsworth High School in 1990. He enjoyed his high school career in basketball and baseball. He was an outstanding athlete and team player who successfully made it with his team to many Eastern Maine and State Championships. After college, he worked in building construction and scallop diving with his father.

Card was confident he did not want to pursue either occupation. Jim was hired in the parts department at Linnehan’s Auto Mall in 1992. After an aggressive and continuous pitch for a sales position, Jim finally got his chance a couple of years later. That was all it took for him to take off and become an amazing salesman. He was even interviewed and named Top Salesman in 2005 in the National Car Dealer Magazine.

Jim married his high school sweetheart, Shanon Leyendecker, in 1994. Together they had three children. After years of success with the Linnehan family business, Jim and Shanon took a leap in 2008 and opened their pre-owned car dealership dubbed Card Enterprises. This business was Jim’s pride and joy and he loved to go to work every day.

Card continued his interests in sports by coaching many youth sports teams, including Ellsworth Little League, Ellsworth summer basketball, Fall Ball, Harbor House tournaments and AAU with his son and daughters and avidly following his children in their endeavors.

He loved to hunt and spend time with his son, Cote, pontooning and fishing at his camp on Patten Pond and making waves with daughters, Morgan and Madison on their Sea-Doos.

Walter Crabtree, a longtime teacher at Sumner Memorial High School, died on Nov. 25, leaving behind a high school community in which he was deeply ingrained.

Walter Crabtree

Crabtree graduated from Sumner before pursuing a career in teaching. He studied at the University of Maine at Machias before returning to Sumner. For years, he was a social studies teacher and the school’s varsity basketball and varsity baseball coach.

In more recent years, he helped run the Pathways program, an alternative education program that helps students engage with their studies outside the classroom. The idea of the program is to apply education in a way that meets students where their interests are.

“Walter did all the intangibles that were needed to help the program run smoothly,” said Sumner Principal Ty Thurlow. “Walter did a lot of the things that would sort of make him an unsung hero… the background pieces that really made students successful.”

Crabtree also was an instructor with Jobs for Maine Graduates, a nonprofit program that partnered with Sumner to help support students from middle school through high school and into careers.

“As an RSU community, we are deeply saddened by the loss of Mr. Crabtree,” said RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman. “He was a valued member of the high school staff… a kind and caring person that will be greatly missed.”

Thurlow, in an interview, recounted a story about Crabtree that he said was typical of the kind of teacher he strived to be.

This past fall, for 10 weeks, Crabtree and his Pathways students would drive to Bangor every Thursday. They’d attend a four-hour class in welding, and they’d get back at 9:30 at night.

“It was just those types of things, without a willing teacher to do stuff like that, the teacher would never have been successful,” Thurlow said.

Susan Walsh met Crabtree seven years ago when she first came to Sumner. She co-ran Pathways with him until his death. “I would say Walter’s expertise with the kids was remarkable,” she said. “A lot of kids who walked across that stage at graduation was because of him.”

One former student, Andrew Ash, wrote that Crabtree had pushed him to seek leadership positions.

“He taught me so many things about life. I saw him a couple of years ago and it was like no time had passed. Mr. Crabtree truly impacted my life, as well as the lives of all his students and players. I will never forget him. Best teacher ever. Best coach ever.”

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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