By Sheila Dassatt
In Stonington, since 1989, there is a group of women called the Island Fishermen’s Wives. This group came together due to a great need to help one another in a time of grief and need. That particular year, two fishermen were lost overboard while lobstering, within just a few weeks of each other. For a small fishing community such as Stonington, this affected everyone. This is how the Island Fishermen’s Wives came into being, through great compassion for helping where it really matters.
One of the ways that they were able to raise funds for helping Island causes, was to establish Stonington Fishermen’s Day. At this event, the Hall of Fame was also established, which honored three local fishermen with a tribute story and a plaque for the family. I believe this started in the 90’s, with the first tribute to the Hall of Fame.
I am writing about this because with all that our fishery is going through these days, folks need to know how important our heritage is and how this is a lasting legacy for these men and their families. I had the privilege of being asked to read a tribute for the Hall of Fame honoring a fisherman that has already passed. It was a true honor to be able to do this for the family, as they asked me to join them in their membership. This was also a true honor and “yes,” I am a fisherman’s wife.
One of the fishermen that was honored yesterday was brought to Stonington from a Belfast nursing ome, along with his wife, who is also a resident of the nursing home. This was a real treat for his family to get together, hear a great and a little humorous story about him and share some good memories. I loved the part that said that he left a lot of bottom paint on the ledges around the “kelps of Isle Au Haut!” They said in the story that the paint is probably still there. That was a lot of fun to be part of.
This same gentleman also gave some great advice in his day, to never take anything too seriously, even in peril, high and dry on a ledge during a howling storm. “Don’t worry, he’d say to his crew, “tide’ll wash us off eventually.” I love it! Reminds me of something my Dad would say. I guess it would be OK to say, this gentleman is Merton Eaton of Stonington. He and his family had a really great day, and it was all made possible by the goodness of the hearts of these wives.
Another of the three that was honored is David Heanssler of Deer Isle. As another piece of tradition, David actively worked when he was in high school with fisheries projects. He would take students out on Saturdays and train them how to become a sternman. Most of them would eventually grow and become Captain of their own fishing vessel. This is very important to our next generation, and we need to continue teaching such as David has.
One very important thing that I want to point out is how these men all passed on their knowledge and tradition that we are all proud of. This next gentleman, which I was so pleased to read, was Ronald Wheaton, Sr. of Stonington. He passed on his passion of lobstering and knowledge of fishing to many younger fishermen. He would give traps to help other fishermen just starting out and would lend a helping hand and even money too. When a fisherman passed away, Ronnie would help haul their boat and traps to make it easier on their family.
All of these men carried a great love for their families and came from a long line of fishing families themselves, their legacies.
If you would like to see this Hall of Fame, it is proudly displayed by the year on the wall of the Deer Isle Historical Society. It is called the Walk of the Hall of Fame and it is something for each member and their families to be proud of. I also have a family member that was honored on the Hall of Fame, Cary Holland, which we were all equally proud of along with Cary. He used to provide the lobsters for the kids trap hauling contest on Fisherman’s Day. This was something that he wanted to be able to keep going in the event that he passed away. He did pass away, and perhaps some day, we will be able to continue this legacy for Cary as well.
What I am trying to pass along with this story, is how important our fishing families are to all of us, especially in such troubled times. The Historical Society is a great place to visit if you really want to get that same feeling of pride and tradition of working on the ocean. These are some great memories in this place, they even had a model of my Dad’s boat, Red Baron. I could feel that warmth all over when I saw that! “Thanks for the memories.”