Year in Review

The Courier-Gazette looks back at 2019

Castle Builders, Owls Head murder and Thomaston leadership changes dominate headlines
Jan 01, 2020
Source: Photo illustration by Christine Dunkle

Looking back at 2019, many of the headlines and events of the year are similar to those of any 12-month cycle in the Midcoast.

Unfortunately, many of the headlines this year were dominated by tragedy and turmoil. In particular, it was a year that saw a horrific murder in Owls Head, the controversy that affected many residents with Castle Builders in Union, and a shakeup in leadership for the town of Thomaston.

The Castle Builders story began in September, when Malcolm and Elizabeth Stewart suddenly closed the the Union Agway store and their contracting firm, Castle Builders.

The Maine Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit Dec. 18 against the former Washington couple and their business, which is alleged to have taken more than $1 million for repair work from more than 100 homeowners throughout the state with little to show for the customers.

The couple has moved to South Carolina to live with relatives, and they have filed for bankruptcy both individually and for Castle Builders.

Like any other year, 2019 saw the departure of longtime officials in local government and welcomed the arrival of newcomers. This newspaper covered fires, crashes, murders and other spot news events.

Here is a look back at the major events of 2019:

Murder in Owls Head

Sarah Richards was arrested and accused of murdering Helen Carver, 83, in her home in Owls Head in February.

Richards, 37, of South Thomaston is accused of beating and strangling Carver, and she entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity Sept. 11.

Carver's son, Robert Carver, had talked with his mother by telephone shortly before 11 a.m., Feb. 21, and in the conversation she had told her son that Richards had stolen her debit card. Her son found his mother dead Feb. 21, after he was unable to reach her again by phone.

Richards first told police she had been there to shovel snow and went inside and Carver was in good shape. She later said she went inside and Carver was already dead. Richards then said Carver was upset over the stolen debit card and "came at her."

Fires

One of the most spectacular local fires of 2019 was March 8 on Balsam Lane in Tenants Harbor. The home belonged to Andrew and Lisa Gerakaris. Numerous local fire departments responded.

About 75 firefighters from local communities responded to a major fire at the Dragon Products cement plant March 26. There was heavy damage to the three-story building, but fortunately there were no injuries.

Firefighters from several departments responded April 8, to a vehicle fire in the Union Public Works garage that resulted in heavy damage to the building and the loss of one vehicle. Fire departments from Union, Warren, Waldoboro, Washington and Hope responded. The Maine State Fire Marshal's Office investigated and determined the blaze started in a 2003 GMC truck, most likely as an electrical fire.

Thomaston shakeup

Controversy erupted in the town of Thomaston when longtime town manager Valmore Blastow announced his resignation May 23. In his resignation letter, he said his work environment had become tumultuous and toxic, and he pointed to disagreements with then Select woman, Beverly St. Clair. By the time of the June Town Meeting, St. Clair had resigned from the select board. Town clerk Kara George has stepped in as the interim town manager.

Annual events

Rockland honored its departed soldiers during a ceremony held Monday, May 27, at Chapman Park. Color guards from the Marine Corps League and the Rockland Coast Guard station participated in the ceremony held under sunny skies. The annual parade was canceled because of road construction, but a 30-minute ceremony was held with a wreath-laying at the war monument at the park. Carol Bachofner read a poem. The Rev. Lael Sorensen led prayers, asking that God make us a nation of "wisdom, discipline and faith." The Bay Winds North musical ensemble performed at the ceremony.

It was a standard summer in the Midcoast.

Thomaston held its parade, activities and fireworks July 4. The North Atlantic Blues Festival rocked Harbor Park July 13 and 14.

Makaila Hickey of Rockland was crowned 2019 Maine Sea Goddess July 31 at the 72nd Maine Lobster Festival at Harbor Park. Meghan Keizer of Port Clyde was named Crown Princess. Kathrine Simoneau of Thomaston was named Miss Congeniality.

Union Fair brought the usual mix of agricultural tradition, farm animals, rides, food and the crowning of the Maine Wild Blueberry Queen, Shannon Christy Hopkins of Camden.

School news

Oceanside High School opened in the fall with a new addition and extensive renovations. There is a new cafeteria, new kitchen and new entrance and lobby. The project cost $9 million. The high school work was the final part of a $23.2 million bond referendum approved in February 2017 by voters throughout Regional School Unit 13. Other projects that were part of the bond package was the new Ash Point Community School in Owls Head, and an addition and renovations to Oceanside Middle School in Thomaston.

The opening of the new $21.5 million Mid-Coast School of Technology was celebrated Sept. 9.

"This is a magnificent building that will provide students with the skills they need to join today's workforce," Region 8 Board Chair Jerry White said as he and Executive Director Beth Fisher cut the ribbon. The new building is two stories with a total of 90,000 square feet.

The school serves 320 students daily and another 140 through satellite programs at the school districts that send students to the vocational center. There are 21 communities served by Region 8 from Islesboro to Newcastle.

History in the making

The Rockland Historical Society published a new, massive history of the city by John Bird, entitled, "Rockland, Maine: Rise and Renewal." The book provides overviews of how the city has adapted to new challenges. It features detailed maps, photos, and original illustrations by artist Debby Atwell. Bird, 82, grew up in Rockland, and has a passion for local history.

AIO Food Pantry broke ground in October on a building renovation project. The new building, planned for a summer 2020 opening, will include a larger waiting room and a private intake office, as well as consultative offices for the AIO Energy Assistance voucher program and other community partnerships, such as a public health nurse from the Knox Clinic and case managers from area agencies. New construction will add 2,000 square feet and will include a loading dock, food receiving and processing areas, commercial refrigeration, a more efficient food market and other major improvements.

Courier moves

After seven years at the Breakwater Marketplace in Rockland, Courier Publications moved Nov. 7 to a new office at 6 Virginia Ave., Camden, where it shares space with The Free Press, which also moved out of Rockland in November. The move allowed the companies to leverage cost savings on office space and give the teams the ability to work together more efficiently, while continuing all of the existing jobs at the papers. In addition, Courier Publications has been expanding to include a magazine division, starting with the addition of Maine Seniors Magazine. The glossy, statewide publication focuses on lifestyle and entertainment for those 50 and older.

City politics

On Nov. 18, Lisa Westkaemper was unanimously re-elected as Rockland's mayor by her fellow councilors. Westkaemper is the first councilor to serve two consecutive terms as mayor since Brian Harden was elected in November 2010 and 2011.

Newly elected City Councilor Nate Davis was sworn into office for a three-year term after being elected Nov. 5. Councilor Ed Glaser was sworn into a second consecutive three-year term on the City Council.

Remembering Joel

Joel Fearn, town clerk in Friendship for 20 years, passed away Monday, Nov. 11. The Friendship town office was closed from Nov. 12 to 14 out of respect for Fearn while the town held an emergency meeting to appoint Kathy MacLeod as clerk. Fearn was a pillar of the Friendship community who will be missed by the whole town. He played pickleball every week, went fishing with friends at Cashes Ledge, and was a big part of the annual Friendship Day celebration.

A big year for Gordon

2019 has been a big year for Gordon Page, Sr. of Owls Head. Hewas named the Community Person of the Year at The Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce Awards Gala Nov. 14 at the Samoset Resort. In January, he will be retiring from his role as Executive Director of Rockland Main Street, Inc. – a position he has held since 2014. And in December he announced he will seek the Maine Senate District 12 seat that represents nearly all of Knox County.

He is a Republican. The seat is currently held by Democrat David Miramant of Camden, who is also running for re-election. We will be seeing more about them in 2020.

Sarah Richards appears in court. (Source: File photo)
Former Castle Builders owners Malcolm and Elizabeth Stewart closed the the Union Agway store and their contracting firm in 2019. (Source: File photo)
Longtime Thomaston Town Manager Valmore Blastow resigned in 2019. (Source: File photo)
Fire in Tenants Harbor (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Fire at Dragon Cement. (Courtesy of: Fire Department)
Public Works fire. (Courtesy of: Town of Union)
Memorial Day in Rockland. (Source: File photo)
Thomaston fireworks. (Source: File photo)
2019 Maine Sea Goddess Makaila Hickey, left, sits on the throne with Crown Bearer Charley Thompson. (Source: File photo)
Union Fair pig scramble. (Source: File photo)
AIO breaks ground. (Source: File photo)
North Atlantic Blues Festival (Source: File photo)
Oceanside High School renovations. (Source: File photo)
Midcoast School of Technology Executive Director Beth Fisher, left, and Region 8 Board Chair Jerry White celebrate after the ceremonial ribbon cutting Monday afternoon, Sept. 9, for the new career and technical school. (Source: File photo)
Lisa Westkaemper re-elected mayor of Rockland. (Source: File photo)
Gordon Page, a longtime community volunteer and the current Executive Director of Rockland Main Street, Inc., was named the Community Person of the Year Nov. 14 at the Samoset Resort. (Courtesy of: Aidan Kaczynski, AKZ Photography)
Joel Fearn. (Courtesy of: Facebook)
Comments (2)
Posted by: Paul Chartrand | Jan 02, 2020 14:11

It is difficult to believe you would not mention any of the controversy and difficulties the Midcoast School of Technology had with the surrounding community and the Rockland Planning Commission, if you mention the school as a newsworthy or memorable event of 2019. These issues took up more print than the opening of the school itself, and you ignore them. Why?

And was the moving of Courier offices one of the memorable or newsworthy events of 2019-Really?

Happy New Year!  Paul Chartrand



Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 01, 2020 13:27

Way to go Gordie!  My wishes for smooth sailing for your upcoming political endeavors!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever ..+:0)......

 



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