Chebeague Island kids celebrated the Fourth of July this year with a return to old-time, homegrown fun. There was a lot to celebrate. For one thing, parents now know that the island school will stay open — Chebeague has won its own independence and will soon become Maine’s youngest town.
The under-ten crowd took wooden spoons to bang on frying pans and tin pie plates from their grandmothers’ kitchens. They had their faces painted wild colors and then settled down to watch a puppet show, ice cream, hot dogs and lobster rolls in hand. The creative leadership of Jen Belesca, the President of the Chebeague Parents Association (CPA) that supports the island school, dreamed up the activities and gave everyone a share in the action. In the winter she set parents and neighbors thinking about all the island fun they had as children, none of it from stores at mainland malls. From this list the CPA designed activities as Fourth of July fun and fundraisers for the school.
Overnight tents went up in the field by Chandler’s beach where the Fourth of July parade traditionally comes to a halt. Chebeague lobstermen in the Dropping Springs LLC contributed crates of lobster straight out of the waters surrounding Chebeague and the new town’s “outer islands”. Three parents, Vicki Todd, Cheryl Hillicoss and May Hall, set out lobster rolls under one tent. Another parent, Charles Hall, put up an ice cream stand. Under the largest tent, pitched by Paul Belesca and Stephen Todd, went the children’s fun, with extra banging space spilling over into the open air. Chebeague’s new fire engine, driven by Chebeague parent and fireman Ralph Munroe, stopped right next to the children’s tent so they could check out the equipment and new name. Its shiny red doors proudly displayed “Chebeague.”
During the winter, parents had feared that Chebeague’s school was in danger of disappearing with School Administrative District 51’s attempt to close the fourth and fifth grades. This threat galvanized the islanders and their summer neighbors into the action that by June had resulted in a resounding success — Chebeague would secede from mainland Cumberland, become its own town and have its own school board.
Many years ago the generosity of Mabel and Sanford Doughty made this picnic area of woods, fields and beach a community asset. The celebration had special meaning for these octogenarians who had once kept their seining dories and nets at the ready here. Mabel, a leader of the secession effort, had said, “It is time we row our own boat.” As school opens she and her husband, Sanford, have the satisfaction of knowing that the youngest generation has lots of support for learning how to row their own boat.