Town's oldest citizen has seen how times change
Hope — At almost 94 – his birthday is Saturday, April 12 – William Pearse Sr. is pragmatic about the way to live a long life: “Keep living one day to the next,” he advised.
Hope's oldest citizen, Pearse has resided at Windward Gardens in Camden since 2010, He received the town's Boston Post Cane two years ago. His wife of 51 years, Francina Pearse, lives at the rehabilitation and assisted living facility as well, but still has a home in Hope.
Pearse, whose mother, Ethel (Barrett) Pearse, belonged to one of the town's founding families, grew up on the family apple farm with his younger brother, John, now deceased, and sister, Flora, who now lives in Tenants Harbor. The family home was built by one of his forebears in 1794, he said. Besides about 250 apple trees, they had a dozen or so dairy cows, he said, and he was active in 4-H as a youngster. The fruit was packed in barrels and taken to Camden, where it was shipped to Boston.
He remembers when the town had no paved roads and no electricity. The house he grew up in was heated solely with wood until 1999, when an oil furnace was added.
He walked a quarter-mile each way to a one-room school through eighth grade, then attended high school in Camden. Pearse said the local families would carpool to get their teenagers to high school; in the 1930s some families still used horses instead of a car. He graduated from high school in 1938, and spent a few years living in Portland.
He was excused from military service during World War II because he worked on a farm, he said.
When he returned to Hope, Pearse worked with his father and brother to convert the farm from growing apples to raising dairy cows. The farm on Barnestown Road is now run by the Pearses' younger son, Chris, and his wife, Linda, the last remaining dairy farm in Hope. It has a total of 75 cows, 40 of them adults, Chris said.
In 1951, a neighbor's barn burned, “and we had nothing to fight it with,” Pearse Sr. said. Help came from Camden and Lincolnville, but arrived too late. Following that loss, Pearse and eight other residents formed Hope Volunteer Fire Department. Each man put up $50, and they took out an $1,800 loan from Camden National Bank to purchase a fire truck. Pearse recalled that it was built out of a old truck by Bert Eugley of Lincolnville. Fire department members took turns storing the truck in their barns until they were able to buy some land and build the town's first fire station, he said.
Pearse was also the fire department's secretary and treasurer for 31 years, until he retired from active duty in 2002. “I went to a lot of fires, but not as many as some of them did,” he said – often fires occurred when he was milking cows, a task he could not leave half-done.
Asked how he met Francina, Pearse said the two had joined the local grange at the same time, in 1958. She had a slightly different version of the story, saying, “You knew me all my life.” His mother was a good friend of her grandmother's, Francina explained.
The two were married in 1963. Besides Chris, their older son, Bill Jr., also lives in Hope and is no stranger to helping out on the family farm.
The couple were active members of the Hatchet Mountain Sno-Riders snowmobile club, which Bill Sr. helped start.
Pearse, who visits often in Hope, will celebrate his 94th birthday with family.
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.