Remembering: Prue Beal

Anyone from Southwest Harbor probably knew Prue Beal. Or even if they didn’t, they probably, at some point, ate one of her delicious pies at a church supper or bake sale. They were likely served a coke float or ice cream cone, along with a friendly smile at the old Carroll’s soda fountain, or saw her bent over her ledger books at her husband Buzzy Beal’s lobster pound.

Prue was just one of those remarkable, hardworking women who, without a lot of fanfare, managed to raise four children, help her husband support the family, and still find time to serve her church and her community in a multitude of ways.

Woodrow Wilson was president when Prudence was born in 1920 to fisherman Ralph Benson and his wife, Eva (Wooster). The First World War had just ended and she would come of age during the Great Depression. As the eldest daughter, it was necessary for young Prue to work as a cook for a Manset family during her high school years. They must have appreciated the skills she learned from her own mother, because for the rest of her life, Prue enjoyed few things more than cooking and serving good meals to anyone fortunate enough to be seated at her table.

In addition to finding gainful employment during her teen years, Prue also found the love of her life. She and Elmer “Buzzy” Beal met their first day at Pemetic High School and were pretty much inseparable ever after.

They married a year after graduating in 1940. For the following 70 years, until Buzzy’s death in 2010, they cultivated a relationship based on mutual respect, shared interests and true teamwork.

The couple first teamed up as a chauffer/ housekeeper for a wealthy family in Connecticut. But when Prue became pregnant with the first of their four children, the couple returned to Mount Desert Island where Buzzy went fishing and worked at his father Harvard Beal’s lobster wharf in Southwest Harbor.

As the family grew, the Beals moved to bigger and bigger houses in Southwest Harbor, finally ending up in a four-bedroom home on High Street. For several years during the early 1950s, they parlayed this handsome, well situated house into a summer business named “Singing Hill” by renting out the upstairs rooms to tourists while the family slept dormitory style in the den and a “playroom” downstairs.

Prue cooked breakfast, fixed box lunches and sometimes prepared dinner for her guests, many of whom returned year after year.

Later, the Beals rented the whole house during the summer and moved the family to a big loft-like building on the wharf called the Gangplank.

Her daughter, Suzanne Madeira, says it was great fun being “wharf rats.” She and her siblings never complained about having to leave their comfy house for three months.

As her children grew, Prue became deeply involved in their activities, serving as a den mother for her son’s Cub Scout troops and later as a Girl Scout leader with her daughters. Suzanne has especially fond memories of learning to cook “doughboys” over the campfire by stirring whittled sticks in a bagful of sweet batter, then toasting them over the open flame, and rolling the hot doughboys in butter and cinnamon sugar.

“I was proud of her,” she says. “The way the other girls looked up to her.”

Around this time, Prue also started working outside the home, sharing soda fountain duties with her good friend Margaret Martel at Carroll’s. For a while, she would take the mail boat to Islesford to cook for a small hotel. In addition, she served as an assessor for the town of Southwest Harbor, and kept the books for the lobster pound.

She was a consistent contributor to church suppers and fairs where her apple, pecan, lemon meringue and blueberry pies were always a hit.

Prue also organized the big family Fourth of July picnics at their camp on Molasses Pond, which eventually included a hoard of grandchildren.

In addition to all this, Prue opened her home to care for her aging parents and her uncle when the need arose.

“She was a rescuer and caregiver by nature,” says Suzanne.

And, finally, she cared for her husband, Buzzy, during his final illnesses, making it possible for him to be at home until his last few months. When Buzzy died, and then her son, Sam, died suddenly the year after, Prue’s strong spiritual faith helped her accept those terrible losses.

Prue spent her own last few months in a nursing home where she made some new friends and enjoyed an almost continuous stream of visits from her extended family and the many friends who had benefitted at one time or another from her generosity, common sense and kind heart.

Know when to pay your respects.