Cranberry Isles Selectman Joy Sprague loves the mail. It’s how her parents courted, it employs her as the Islesford postmaster, and the stamps she carries are sought worldwide.
Born December 20, 1955 to Roland and Betty Lou Sprague, “I was brought out to the island on Christmas Day by my dad in his lobster boat,” said Sprague. Although named Florence Joy at birth, “everyone knows me as ‘Joy.’”
While serving in the Marine Corps during the Korean War, Roland met Betty Lou, a Southerner, “on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina,” Sprague said. Exchanging addresses, “they fell in love by the magic of the mail, and they became engaged through the mail.” Roland married Betty Lou in a ceremony held on a Virginia farm and brought her home to Islesford.
A lobsterman, he tragically died at sea with sternman Fred Fernald in March 1959.
Sprague and her sister, Juanita, attended the Islesford Elementary School and boarded at Lee Academy. After three years there, Sprague “missed the sea so much, my senior year I transferred to Mount Desert Island High School.” Juanita came along, too, and the sisters boarded with Reverend Stan Haskell and his wife, Ethel, of the Maine Seacoast Mission.
Sprague took a half year off after graduation, then learned that Islesford Postmaster Natalie Beal “needed someone to help her.” Hired as a “leave replacement” in February 1975, Sprague became the “officer in charge” after Beal’s May 1977 retirement.
“I became the youngest postmaster in the United States on December 3, 1977, just 17 days short of my 21st birthday,” Sprague said. She has been the postmaster ever since, and Juanita “actually delivers mail on MDI.”
“Growing up as a child” on Islesford, “I have a lot of great memories,” ranging from playing with other children to “clamming, fishing, a lot of swimming,” Sprague said. She relished participating in the Whits End Nitwits, a local talent night.
“I had such a great experience here” as a child, “I wanted to raise my daughters here,” Sprague said. Her daughters are Jasmine Samuel, who lives on Islesford, and Cary Hook.
In 2017 Sprague, librarian Cindy Thomas, Barb Fernald and Stefanie Alley formed the Dip of the Month Club. The women meet monthly year round “to swim in the Atlantic Ocean. Sand Beach here on Islesford is our favorite,” Sprague said.
A long-time holder of a recreational lobstering license, Sprague pulls by hand her four traps marked with buoys painted her father’s color scheme, “black and white, the tip is an orange-yellow.” One day last summer she caught 48 “keeper” lobsters.
Open Monday to Saturday, the 131-box Islesford Post Office shares a front door with the town office. Although Sprague “is real busy in the summertime” as seasonal residents return, much business comes, quite naturally, through the mail.
Sprague carries an incredibly diverse array of stamps, and word has spread around the globe that Islesford’s the place to buy stamps sometimes seldom seen by USPS customers on the mainland. The Islesford Post Office has been “No. 1 in Maine” in “stamps-by-mail sales” at times, Sprague said. Orders have come from Saudi Arabia, Istanbul in Turkey, the Fiji Islands, military APOs and FPOs, a NASA facility in Houston, and even MIT.
After 41 years with the Postal Service, “I have no plans to retire,” Sprague said. “I love the water, I love the rhythm of the seasons, I love island life.
“The island gives you more of an opportunity to reach into yourself,” she said.