Tony Vigue: Community TV Go-to Guy

By David Treadwell

“For more than a decade, Tony Vigue has been the go-to person when people in Maine need advice about starting a public access station. He is unfailingly helpful and devotes a lot of his own time to answering questions and providing technical expertise.”

This email from Shoshana Hoose, former manger of TV3, Portland’s educational station, prompted us to contact Tony Vigue, Manager of South Portland Community Television, to find out who he is, what he does, and why he does all he does on behalf of community television in Maine.

Life began, for Tony, on a prison farm in South Warren, Maine. His dad was a prison guard and Tony and his six siblings enjoyed hanging out with the prisoners who worked on the farm. “It was a great place to grow up in the late 40’s and early 50’s,” he recalls, “exploring the hills and fields and ponds. And the prisoners were always nice to us.”

After high school, Tony attended St. Petersburg Junior College in Florida. “My aunt, a retired WWII army nurse, lived in St. Petersburg,” he explains, “and she put me through college.”

Tony majored in Radio & Television Production because he had always been interested in hi-fi. “When I was in high school, I built a hi-fi system for my parents.”

Tony then spent three years with the U.S. Army Signal Corps, including time in Bangkok, Thailand; six years with AutEx, a stock trading information network, in Massachusetts; and 13 years as a project manager at Data General Corporation in Westbrook. He then served as a partner at Creative Engineering in South Portland, a firm specializing in the design and manufacture of custom video equipment consoles and cabinetry.

In 1995, Tony became Manager of South Portland Community Television. With only one other employee to assist him, Tony assumes many responsibilities: managing overall operations and programming for a station which operates 24/7; dealing with equipment specification, facility design, installation and repair of all studio and control room equipment; and, important, handling franchise fee negotiations, as the station’s funding comes from franchise fees received from cable TV.

Some people, including this writer, aren’t aware of the extraordinary diversity of community television offerings. In addition to broadcasting various municipal meetings and school board meetings, SPC-TV airs a full range of educational and entertainment fare, some put on by local citizens, some obtained from across the U.S. and around the world.

In a recent week, for example, SPC-TV aired over 100 shows with titles ranging from the local (Cancer Community Center Open House, South Portland Fire Department History and Kites at Bug Light Park) to the far afield (Birding in Ecuador, Jamaica Inn and Planet Earth, Our Response).

Tony takes special pride in community television’s public access mission. “We provide a forum for free expression for South Portland residents,” he explains, “people can send a letter-to-the-editor without the editor. And we enable people who can’t get out to see what’s going on in their community.”

Tony doesn’t restrict his efforts on behalf of community television to SPC-TV. He’s been a prime mover in the establishment of cable television in the Standish area and over 70 other Maine communities; he’s been a member of the Community Television Association of Maine for over 20 years, and served as Board President for five years.

In addition to several awards (e.g. the “Tony” award from the Community Television Association for his long service), Tony has received countless thank-you letters from citizens and organizations for whom SPC-TV has provided a forum.

A devoted family man, Tony Vigue wanted me to mention his home situation. “Linda, my wife of 44 years, and I are fortunate to have our daughter Lianne, her husband Jessie and our granddaughter, Karlie, share our circa 1800 farm in Standish. Lianne works at Unum, Jessie at Dock and Door Handling Systems and my granddaughter works at being a 5 year old. My son John lives nearby and is a rigger at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard working on submarines.”

There you have him. Tony Vigue. The man behind the scenes in South Portland and all around the state to ensure free and open access to news and information. A citizen’s citizen. A Mainer’s Mainer. 24/7.

Sibyl Riemensnider: The Miracle Foodie

David Treadwell

Fresh fruit first catches your eye: bananas, apples and oranges all displayed neatly on the long table. And across the room, on another table, baked goods beckon: pies, cakes, and doughnuts. In the next room you can see two women sitting at a desk, engaging in a friendly conversation, as one of them studies a computer screen. Then beyond them you can walk among shelves stacked neatly with packaged food: cereals, spaghetti, and canned goods. Step into the walk-in freezer and frozen turkeys and chickens greet you.

The setting, make no mistake, is not Hannafords or Whole Foods, but the food quality measures right up there. It is a Thursday morning between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., and you are in the basement of the St. John’s Catholic Church, the home every Thursday of the South Portland Food Cupboard, the brainchild and passion of one extraordinary woman.

Meet Sibyl Riemensnider, the miracle worker behind the scenes who’s dedicating her life to supplying people in need with life’s most basic necessity. As director of the Food Cupboard, she plays whatever role she needs to play: volunteer coordinator, fund-raiser, food-gatherer, public relations specialist, etc.

Sibyl was a founding member of the Food Cupboard when it began in July, 1997 at the Holy Cross Church as a project of the Social Justice and Peace Committee. “That first month we served 28 individuals. In July, 2010 we served 261 families. And during the current year we’re serving about 20 to 30 percent more families every month than last year.” Clearly, the need is real and growing every year. And Sibyl Riemensnider is just the person to help the Food Cupboard cope with the rising demand.

A microbiologist during her career, Sibyl explains her passion for what she does and why she does it. “I have no children, and I’ve always felt this great need to help people. And I love food – shopping, cooking and baking. “

Sibyl takes great pride in the quality of the food served by the Food Cupboard (“I’m a stickler for good healthy food”) and the welcoming atmosphere. She insists that the volunteers treat everyone with respect, from the moment they walk in to be registered until the time they leave with a week’s worth of a balanced diet of food, aided by volunteers who push the loaded carts. “We never judge,” she explains, “You or I could be the one in need tomorrow.”

Space precludes a listing of all the organizations, super markets, food cooperatives, credit unions, school groups, and individuals which provide food, funding and service to the Food Cupboard every year. “I’m not afraid to ask,” says Sibyl. “And I’m careful to thank everyone who gives to the Food Cupboard, no matter how large the gift.” And ask and ask she does. Every day. In many ways. All year. At no pay.

You read that right. No pay. The Food Cupboard is a totally volunteer (and ecumenical) endeavor. No one gets paid for the time put in, including Sibyl herself, who estimates she puts in 30-40 hours a week. “I want every cent to go towards providing healthy food to people in need.”

Sibyl notes that the rewards come from the heartfelt “thank you’s” she and the volunteers receive from many people. Sometimes people write notes which convey the message, “Thank you so much. I never would have made it without the Food Cupboard.”

Thank you, Sibyl Riemensnider, for your boundless gifts to so many people in the greater Portland area over so many years.

(For information on ways to support the South Portland Food Cupboard, go to www.foodcupboard@mane.rr.com or call 207-874-0379. Mailing address: 29 Aspen Ave., South Portland, ME 04106.)

Sam Hackenberger: True American Patriot

By David Treadwell

Walk into the Dunkin Donuts in Falmouth on a weekday morning and you might see a group of older gentlemen sitting around, drinking coffee and solving the world’s problems. The oldest man in the group, the one wearing a Seabees hat, is 97-year-old Sam Hackenberger, a true American patriot.

“I went in there one morning,” explains Sam, “and they invited me to join them, so I became a regular. One of the guys picks me up at my place now because I can no longer drive.”

Sam can no longer drive, but as a member of the “greatest generation,” he can still inspire.

Sam entered the Valley Forge Military Academy in 1928 as a member of the first class, but he had to leave in his junior year because of the Depression. He then held down several jobs, including working as a hotel bellhop in New York City and Boston. He joined the army in 1932 and studied communications at West Point, after which he was put on inactive reserve. When WW II broke out, Sam joined the Navy because, he admits, “I didn’t want to sleep in the mud.”

Working as an electrician with six different battalions in the war in the Pacific, Sam spent much of the time in Guam. His bravery earned him a Victory Medal, a Service Medal and what he describes as “half a Purple Heart,” because a Japanese solider “knocked my teeth out with his rifle butt.”

After the War, Sam worked as the chief electrician at a furniture company in Camden, New Jersey for 13 years. From there he took a job as a government employee with the Navy, where he spent 29 years working as an electrician in California and the state of Washington. He retired from the Navy in 1975 and moved with his wife Nancy to Chebeague.

Sam and Nancy spent 10 happy years on Chebeague, staying active in volunteer work and playing golf. Sam also served as Chebeague’s primary electrician, charging little or nothing for his services. “I just charged for materials for people who couldn’t afford any more,” he recalls.

In 1985, he moved to a retirement complex in Falmouth where he still lives. Nancy, Sam’s wife for 52 years, died in 2005. He and Nancy had five children, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

Sam’s health is still pretty good, although spinal sclerosis makes it difficult to get around. “If I get bored, I’ll drive my scooter over to Walmart to get band-aids or something.”

Sam used to read a book a day, but now he contents himself with listening to books on tape. “I like adventure stories,” he notes, “I gotta have action.”

The next big adventure will be going to Hawaii with his daughter in November to observe the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

By the measures that matter, Sam Hackenberger has lived a most successful life. He survived the Depression; he served his country with great honor during World War II; he raised a large happy family; he learned a trade and practiced it well; and, looking back, he has few regrets.

NOTE: This past July, the Alumni Association Board of Directors of the Valley Forge Military Academy voted to give Sam Hackenberger an honorary degree, a fitting tribute to the only surviving member of the Academy’s first class. He was very touched.

Ruth Perry: Making (and Serving) Lemonade

By David Treadwell

“Everyone has problems,” states 75-year-old Ruth Perry, “but most problems have the life span of a leaf. You just have to face up to them.”

This Bailey Island legend knows whereof she speaks. Ruth Perry brought up eight children almost alone because her husband, now deceased, was an alcoholic. She’s seldom had more than two nickels to rub together, according to a friend, and today she gets by on Social Security.

But you’ll never hear Ruth Perry complain. What you will hear, from her friends and neighbors, is a constant refrain of praise: “Ruth is amazing. She’s always doing something for others.”

That “something” takes many forms. Space precludes a full listing, but here’s a start:

  • While she was bringing up her kids, she’d spend time with her ailing parents (father with Parkinson’s, mother with Alzheimer’s) to enable them to stay in their home.
  • After her parents died, she spent a few years preparing the evening meal at the house of her brother, an Alzheimer’s (and stroke) victim.
  • In 2000, she spearheaded the first annual reunion for anyone who ever attended the Orr’s Island School, now closed down, and she’s been the prime mover ever since.
  • For ten years, she prepared complete Thanksgiving and Christmas Dinners for islanders in need at the Orrs Island Methodist Church and, later, at the non-denominational Island Church on Bailey Island.
  • If you’re a member of the Island Church you know Ruth Perry because it could be argued she is the Church. She’s the first to get there and the last to leave. She turns on the heat and the lights. She’ll shovel the walk if it needs shoveling. She sets up the Communion Table and sends out the Church newsletter. She sings in the Church Choir and makes sure the hymnals are where they’re supposed to be. And she assists the Sunday School teachers by supplying background material.
  • She’s a member of Knit Wit, the Island Church knitting group. “Last year I knit 120 chemo hats to give to hospitals,” she says with some pride.
  • She spends three days a week at the day care center her daughter runs so that the kids will be comfortable with her if her daughter needs to run an errand.
  • She’s currently crocheting a nativity scene. “I’ve finished three wise men and a shepherd so far, but I still have to do Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the angles and the lambs.”

It’s safe to assume that Ruth Perry will complete that nativity scene, even though she’s doing it without any pattern to follow. Others look at her busily at work and ask, “How do you do that?” Ruth just smiles, and says, “I just do it.” For her whole life, Ruth Perry has been just doing it, while always being there for her family, for her friends and for the people of the islands.

Rich Cromwell: Connecting with Cambodian Kids

By: David Treadwell

Their children are a drug like no other. The tykes poured out of their huts, running to road’s edge with their scruffy, smiling faces and ragged clothes, hollering “Hello” and “Bye-Bye” and waving until I thought they’d break a wrist. I often had big alligator tears of joy smudging my sunglasses.

Rich Cromwell wrote these words in 2010 after a long bike ride through the remote corners of Southeast Asia. Along the way his encounter with children in a Cambodian orphanage forever changed his life.

Rich did not make the trip to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodian to have his life transformed. An adventurous sort, he had taken many bike trips since his retirement in 2005, including a ride down the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico and a 1,000-mile ride across southern Spain.

During his ride through a floating village on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, a group of excited kids in yellow t-shirts rushed up to greet him. They invited him inside the orphanage where they lived. “I spent three or four days there,” says Rich. “I couldn’t speak their language, but they were kind and patient people. The little they have is offered generously to strangers.”

A few days after Rich left the orphanage, he met Martin and Janet, a couple from Holland. Rich told them about the orphanage and the needs of the children. For example, although the orphanage had 26 kids, the kids had to take turns going to school as they had only 8 sets of clothes and flip-flops. Martin pulled out $60 and gave it to Rich, saying, “Maybe this will help.” Rich urged the couple to return to the orphanage with him, which they did. “We had such a joyful time buying clothes and wooden bowls for the kids. There wasn’t a dry eye when we left.”

After returning home to Brunswick, Rich kept in touch with the people at the orphanage as well as with his Dutch friends. He knew he would return to that village, even though it takes a grueling 40 hours to get there, using planes, trains, busses and boats.

This past October, Rich mentioned to some friends that he would be returning to Cambodia to help out an orphanage he had visited in 2010 as well as a satellite orphanage. In just two weeks, he received $3,000 in contributions for what he terms his “Cambodian Kids.” Stunned by the generosity, Rich wrote, “There is a lot of darkness in the world, but the sun was shining from Brunswick to Cambodia.”

In November, Rich went back to Cambodia with a buddy who had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They accomplished a lot in just three weeks, everything from providing basic necessities (e.g. installing a new water filter system, a new floor in the common area, and new mosquito nets and buying shoes, socks and uniforms) to contributing items to enhance the kids lives (e.g. coloring books, paints, soccer balls and Frisbees). They even took the kids and staff on a day trip to a Karaoke club in Siem Reap, a remarkable experience for kids who had seldom if ever left their village, one of the poorest in the country.

Rich was blown away yet again by his second visit to Cambodia. As he wrote in his follow-up report to friends and supporters: “I appreciate your kind words and I love the attention (at my age I get excited if a stray dog sniffs my leg), so your continued interest is really welcomed.

“But think it through. My friends entrust me with their hard-earned cash to help less fortunate little tykes in a far away land. Then I get to travel to this far away land to work with the wonderful and cooperative Cambodian people to help the cutest, most affectionate kids on the planet. What a life!

“The kids now have a source of clean water to drink and less mosquito-infested standing water, more sanitary kitchens and, most importantly, a volleyball court. My scruffy little buddies have a better life! I thank you on your behalf for making this wonderful trip possible.

“What we do for ourselves dies with us, but what we do for others lives on.”

The message is clear: Good things happen when a man with a big heart on a bike in a far off land meets kids with big smiles.

To learn more about Rich Cromwell’s work with kids in Cambodian orphanages, contact him at: Richcromwell1@gmail.com.

Rachel Matson: Treasure Finder

By David Treadwell

To meet Rachel Matson is to feel hope for the future. She finds treasure wherever she looks, shares light wherever she goes.

Rachel’s connection with Kandahar Treasure conveys the warmth and humanity of this North Yarmouth Academy senior. Kandahar Treasure employs woman artisans from the Kandahar area of Afghanistan to create items for home décor, such as pillows and tablecloths, as well as clothing and accessories embellished with a uniquely Afghan style of embroidery. “Last year, I saw Paula Lerner, a professional photographer, talk about Kandahar Treasure at the Frontier Café in Brunswick,” says Rachel, “and I was inspired to do something.”

And do something she did. This enterprising young woman contacted the administrative office of Kandahar Treasure in Virginia, asking how she could help. Receptive to her overture, the organization sent a shipment of goods (scarves, bags, pillows and jewelry) for Rachel to sell at the North Yarmouth Academy Holiday Craft Fair. Although she had no official booth that first year (December, 2010), Rachel sold over $2,000 in goods, which she returned to the Kandahar Treasure. She anticipated even larger sales from the second year.

“Kandahar Treasure makes gorgeous things,” she says, “you can’t find anything like them here. And you just know how much work went into making what they sell. Buying their goods is a small thing, but it makes such a big impact by contributing to the stability of these women’s lives.”

Rachel Matson specializes in helping others. As another example, she’s Captain of the KIVA Lending Club at NYA which makes loans to small businesses in Third World Countries. KIVA’s web site refers to the group members as “bleeding heart capitalists.” When Rachel talks about KIVA’s work, you begin to sense a common theme: “What we do makes such a big impact. I love changing peoples lives.”

A top student, Rachel fills her not-so-spare time with many other activities. An avid reader and writer, she helped start and now edits Emerge, the School’s virtual literary magazine; she sings alto for the Trebles, an all-girls singing group, and for the Varsity Choir; and she’s been involved in drama productions since the sixth grade. (“Theater is so much fun because you get to take on a different personality.”).

True to her can-do spirit, Rachel stays very busy during her summer “vacations,” working at the Six River Farm, an immensely successful organic farm in Bowdoinham. “I do everything: picking, seeding, weeding,” she says, “and the owners are such nice people.”

The owners of Six River Farm (Nate Drummond and Gabrielle Gosselin) return the compliment: “Rachel is terrific!”

As to her future plans, Rachel hopes to attend Mount Holyoke College. She intends to major in international relations, continue her involvement with Kandahar Treasure, keep up with her singing, and perhaps do some farming.

Down the line, she might work for an NGO (“non-governmental organization”) or she might go into teaching. Fifty years from now, Rachel hopes to be known as someone who helped others live better lives. “That’s our responsibility,” she says.

As those fortunate enough to know Rachel Matson will tell you, she doesn’t just find treasures. She is one.

Peter McGuire: A Doctor on the House

By David Treadwell

The Vietnam War produced at least one good outcome, for it was in Vietnam that Dr. Peter McGuire started doing free clinic work. “I was in Vietnam in 1967, and I’d go out in the central highlands and run free clinics for the Vietnamese people. We were trying to win their hearts and minds.”

A graduate of Bowdoin College and the McGill University Medical School, Dr. McGuire had a successful medical practice in Brunswick for over 30 years. As a member of the board of the Tedford Oasis Homeless Shelter (now the Tedford Shelter), he observed the dire need among the poor and uninsured to receive proper medical care.

He and two other doctors established a free medical clinic at the shelter on Tuesday nights in 1992, but the demand soon overtaxed the shelter’s space, and a separate clinic (the Oasis Health Network) was established in 1995.

The free medical clinic in Brunswick currently serves over 1,500 people a year and the numbers continue to rise. The free dental clinic in Bath, also overseen by the Oasis Health Network, serves over 150 people a year.

To qualify, patients must be adults (18 years of age or older), come from families with incomes not exceeding 175 percent of the federal poverty level, have no insurance, and live in the Bath/Brunswick area.

In addition to a staff composed of two full-time positions and two part-time positions, over 200 physicians and dentists volunteer their time and expertise to serve people in need of medical or dental care.

Dr. Maguire estimates that the Prescription Assistance Program, overseen by Oasis, saves clients over $1 million a year in prescribed medications, by dealing with drug companies to obtain free drugs.

The Oasis Health Network receives no financial support from the state or federal government. Funding comes from an annual appeal, the United Way, churches, businesses, and foundations.

Dr. McGuire currently spends eight hours a week with Oasis (all volunteer), down from 20-30 hours a week since his “retirement” a dozen years ago. In addition to answering the tremendous need for free medical care, Dr. McGuire devotes his time to the effort because, “It’s a lot more fun than working to meet productivity goals and dealing with a multitude of insurance companies. We have time to listen to the patients and really get to know them.”

When asked to comment on the state of health care in the United States today, Dr. Maguire minces no words. “I’d like to be out of this free clinic business. We need to adopt a single-payer health care system, an expanded form of Medicare. People say, ‘Let the free market take care of the problem,’ but what rock are they living under? The free market has had its chance and it hasn’t solved the problem.”

Dr. McGuire rattles off statistics to support his stance. “About 56 percent of the members of the American Medical Association support a single-payer health system…. Physicians spend 5 hours a week, on average, trying to resolve issues with insurance companies, time that could be better spent serving patients….Our car companies spend $1,000/car to pay for health benefits, whereas Japanese companies pay $47/car….About 30 percent of our health care dollars – which are the largest of any developed country in the world – go for profits and administrative costs for insurance companies, whereas only 3-5 percent of Medicare costs go to overhead…Each year, about 18,000 Americans die because they couldn’t get timely health care.”

When Dr. McGuire talks about this critical issue, he does so calmly, never pounding the table, never raising his voice. That makes good sense. He’s had lots of experience over the years giving clear diagnoses, often to patients who, without his help, would not even have a doctor.

Meghan Mette: Fiddling for the Bay

Some lucky people discover a passion in life that feeds the soul. Cape Elizabeth resident Meghan Mette avidly pursues two such passions (Irish fiddle music and marine biology), and she’s only 18 years old. Moreover, she’s making the world a better place in the process.

Meghan began taking classical violin lessons at age 4, following the Suzuki instruction method. Two years later she tried her hand at Irish fiddle music and got hooked.

“Playing traditional Irish music energizes me and gets me up in the morning,” she says, “If people don’t pass on the tradition, it will die out.” Meghan is doing her part. She practices for 3-4 hours most days (“In the basement so no one hears me.”), and often plays gigs around town. “I love playing the music and having people clap and stomp their feet.” Meghan doesn’t take lessons, but she often plays with 10-time Irish National Fiddle Champion Seamus Connolly, now a Maine resident.

As a student at Waynflete, Meghan was no fan of science until her junior year when she took a course in marine biology. “I fell in love with it! Biology is all around us, and I’ve always loved the ocean.”

During the summer after her junior year, Meghan volunteered with the Friends of Casco Bay. Her duties included monitoring water quality around the Casco Bay. “They have a wonderful group of people, and it was great being out on the water.”

During her last year at Waynflete, Meghan had a bright idea for her independent study project: Make a CD of her fiddle music and donate the proceeds to the Friends of Casco Bay. She did just that. Her 14-track debut CD First Day, which includes several of her own compositions, came out in June, and she was able to donate $1,000 to the organization as a result.

Friends of Casco Bay’s Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell says, “Meghan’s interdisciplinary approach to life is so enriching to be around. She’s a star at whatever she does.”

Meghan’s future looks as bright as her past. She’s been accepted to Oberlin College where she’ll major in marine biology and minor in music. But first she’ll spend some time in Ireland at University College in Cork, where she’ll delve even deeper into traditional Irish fiddle music. “You can just walk into a pub, sit down and play with other people. You learn three or four tunes in a session and make some new friends.”

Meghan Mette has already made a big difference in her life, and she’ll continue to do so, propelled by her focus and enthusiasm. “There’s so much wrong in the world; we have a lot to conquer. You have to start somewhere.”

When you listen to Meghan Mette — even if she doesn’t have a fiddle in her hands – you get the urge to clap your hands and stomp your feet. Thanks, Meghan, for sharing your gifts with Maine and the world.

Mary Lou Sprague: Grabbing Life by the Reins

By: David Treadwell

Some people of means spend their lives protecting their assets, seldom considering the common good. Not Mary Lou Sprague.

Some people, as they age, get timid about engaging in physically strenuous activities, lest (horrors!) they might get hurt. Not Mary Lou Sprague.

Some people view old buildings as just old buildings, not structures which provide insights into our past and inspiration for our future. Not Mary Lou Sprague.

Eighty-three-year old Mary Lou Sprague continues to live life to the fullest with her husband Phin on Spurwink Farm in Cape Elizabeth, near the start of the widely acclaimed annual Beach to Beacon 10K road race.

Mary Lou’s history with the Portland area goes way back. She’s a descendant of George Cleave, the founder of Portland, and her many contributions to the city are as impressive as her lineage.

A graduate of Waynflete School in 1946, she’s been a major supporter of the School for decades. “I was in school during the Second World War,” she remembers, “Bowdoin didn’t have enough students on campus at the time, so the College would send faculty down to teach.” As a member of Waynflete’s Board in the 70’s and 80’s, Mary Lou was instrumental in several major changes at the School: the construction of a science center, the acquisition of playing fields, and the transition to coeducation.

Given her love of Maine, history and the decorative arts, it’s no surprise that Mary Lou has taken a leadership role in preserving Portland’s architectural history. She was recently honored by the Stroudwater Village Association for her “leadership in preserving Portland’s historic Stroudwater neighborhood.” A press release at the time noted that, “Her projects have included the Tate House, which operates as a public museum, and which has restored to original condition one of the first houses built in Portland. Our neighborhood and future generations of Portland citizens owe Mary Lou Sprague our profound thanks for her extraordinary leadership.”

Stroudwater is just one of the organizations dedicated to historic preservation which have benefitted from Mary Lou’s support and vision. Others include the Maine Maritime Museum, the Owls Head Transportation Center, and Strawberry Bank.

In explaining her commitment to keeping history alive, Mary Lou says, “We have to know where we’ve come from.”

Mary Lou’s many hobbies, most of which she continues to this day, confirm that this is a woman on the move: skiing, tennis, trout fishing, sailing, and gardening. But driving a pair of Morgan horses around her farm three or four days a week is her greatest outlet today. “Some people study yoga; I drive my horses. It’s just fabulous being outdoors.”

A Mainer through and through, Mary Lou says this of her home state: “Here in Maine we’re comfortable with ourselves. We say what we darn well please, and we mean it.”

With six children and fourteen grandchildren (and a fifteenth on the way), Mary Lou has many young people right in her family to whom she can pass on her wisdom and energy.

If you listen to what Mary Lou Sprague might say if she were asked to speak at a Waynflete graduation, you know she has lived out what she says. She’s definitely walked the talk. “Don’t just follow your own dream. Cultivate companionable dreams so you can work with others to achieve them.”

Mair Honan: Her Brothers’ and Sisters’ Keeper

By David Treadwell

“I love these people,” says Mair Honan. “I don’t always like them, but I love them.”

The “them” Mair Honan refers to are the people served by Grace Street Ministry, which ministers to the homeless and marginalized in Portland.

Why would a bright accomplished woman with degrees in nursing, counseling and ministry choose to spend her days with an ever-changing array of hapless souls to whom most of us wouldn’t give the time of day, let alone a cup of coffee?

Spend a few minutes with Mair and you’ll understand.

Mair grew up in the Bronx, and after graduating from Queens College she went into nursing. Frustrated by the amount of administrative work required in nursing, she earned the credentials to become a licensed alcohol and drug counselor. In 1978, she moved to central Maine where she worked as a counselor.

Drawn to meditation, Mair started attending Buddhist retreats, and over the years she began to feel the pull of a different path. “I had to make peace with my spiritual roots,” she explains, “so I decided to explore options at Bangor Theological Seminary. Before my visit, I thought to myself ‘If this place is about Bible thumping, I’m out of there.’ But one of the speakers said, ‘If you have a hunger for justice, then you belong here.’” Right then, the tale was told.

While working on her ministerial degree, Mair did an internship with a homeless ministry program in Boston. “I knew then that this is what I was supposed to do: minister to the homeless without conveying the ‘You’re a sinner’ message.”

In 2006, Mair joined forces with Karen Christianson, another ordained minister, and they started Grace Street ministry. “It was difficult at first, because people saw the crosses we wore around our necks and they didn’t trust us. But they eventually got used to us and began to call out things like, ‘Hey, are you the G Street pastor?’ or ‘My mother is sick, would you give her a call?’”

Today, Mair and her new co-minister Elizabeth Peterson, serve what she describes as “hundreds of homeless people” on the streets in Portland. They have regularly scheduled hours on the streets and in the shelters on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Each Sunday, they hold a prayer and communion service at the corner of Preble and Oxford Streets. “Last year we had what we describe as 3,000 different contacts with people.”

Ever modest, Mair stresses that, “This ministry is not just about me.” In addition to a board, a core group of volunteers assist Mair and Elizabeth. Grace Street Ministry relies upon private donations from individuals and businesses to cover the small ($33,000) annual budget.

Homeless ministry presents challenges, to be sure, but also many rewards, according to Mair. “These are my brothers and sisters,” she says, “This is my family. They help me see the divine in all of us. They teach me just as much as I teach them.”

Mair tells a story which underscores why she does what she does. “An eight-year-old daughter of a probation officer with whom we work wanted to do something for the homeless people, so she made Easter baskets and came out to the streets and gave them to people. Some of the people said, ‘Did you make this for me?’ They couldn’t believe that she had done that for them. It was fantastic, a truly sacred moment.”

That little girl, as much as anyone, gets Mair’s message: “We must do something to help our brothers and sisters who are in trouble. Just do something.”

For further information on Mair Honan’s ministry, go to: www.gracestreetministry.blogspot.com.