Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 10, 2012
Memories and Milestones
Frank Snow reflects on his life in Brooksville as he turns 90
by Rich Hewitt
It’s hard to track down Frank Snow.
As he nears 90, the Brooksville native seems to be constantly on the go, tooling around Hancock County in a big Ford SUV with his constant companion, Missy, a 10-year-old black pug.
Snow will slow his pace briefly this weekend as friends and family gather to celebrate his 90th birthday. They’ve organized a chicken barbecue in his honor and have invited those who want to offer well wishes to stop by the Brooksville Community Center between 1 and 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 12.
Born on May 11, 1922, Snow said he can’t remember whether he was born at home or at the old Castine Hospital, but he grew up in the family home just around the corner from his current home in North Brooksville and the plumbing business where he’s lived and worked for more than half a century.
Things have changed in that little section of North Brooksville. He recalled that when he was younger, there were at least four stores right near the intersection near his home. Although he says he’s lost some of his memory, in the next breath he rattles off the names of the owners of those stores: Young, Lymburner, Irving Connor and Alton Varnum. At one point, he said, there were three places to buy gasoline right there near the intersection.
“That was a long time ago,” he said.
His father was a carpenter and his mother, a school teacher and later, the post mistress there in North Brooksville. They were active in town and together they started a little lunchroom next to the Masonic Hall. She made sandwiches and served refreshments including ice cream during the dances at the hall. The ice cream gave young Frank one of his earliest jobs.
“I was the guy who had to do the freezing,” he said.
His parents later built a larger lunch room down by the falls which later became Bagaduce Lunch. His father built the original building, which has since been replaced.
“They had it for years,” he said. “They enjoyed that. They had a good time doing it.”
That ice cream job didn’t last long. Frank attended local schools and graduated from Brooksville High School where he played baseball and basketball. He remembers that the high school gym—now the town’s community center—was built when he was a junior. His baseball career extended beyond high school and he played for the Brooksville town team.
“We used to have town teams then,” he said. “All the towns had them. We’d go and travel around playing other teams. We’d go almost to Belfast.”
Snow played second base. He said he pitched some while in high school, “but I was never that good.”
He still loves baseball and is, of course, a devoted Red Sox fan. In his younger days, he and a group of friends would take trips to Boston to watch the Red Sox play.
“We’d stay there for several days, especially when they played the Yankees,” he said. “The longest we ever stayed was a week.”
He hasn’t been down to a game in several years, but he still catches the games on television when they’re on at night.
It was while he was still in high school that Snow got his start in plumbing. He got a job with the guy who was doing the plumbing on the house in Bangor where his father was working.
“That was how I got interested in plumbing,” he said.
Jobs were not all that plentiful in those early years, Snow recalled, but he worked all over Maine: at Eastern Maine General Hospital, the Rockefeller home in Seal Harbor, the Bangor and Greenville airports. During the war, he worked at the Camden Shipyard where they were building tug boats for the government. Snow was working on the piping for the boilers.
When the work ended in Castine, Snow was offered a similar job that would take him out of Maine and to the big city—Boston.
“It was mostly heating work,” he said. “I was there about a year and I got tired of living up there. We’d gotten married before that and I decided I wanted to go home.”
He learned that Babson and Duffy in Blue Hill might be hiring so he talked with Bob Duffy who gave him a job. So he and his wife, Virginia, moved back to Brooksville. They had married back in the early 1940s. At his kitchen table, Snow points to an old photograph of him and his friend, John Bakeman, both of whom married two local girls, Virginia and Irene Babson.
“We married sisters,” he said. “I married Virginia, he married her sister, Irene.”
The weddings took place on the same day.
Frank and Virginia had two children—a daughter, who died several years ago, and a son, who just retired and is living in New Jersey. The photographs on his refrigerator door attest to a healthy number of grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Virginia became involved in the town affairs and joined the Jolly Helpers, a group that still is active today. According to Snow, she told him one day that he should have a project in town. That’s how the town’s fire department got started. Although he was never a fireman, Snow said he and Steve Bridges and one other guy worked to get the local fire department going.
“I was one of three guys who started the fire department,” he said. “That was right after the Bar Harbor fire and we convinced people we needed to buy a fire truck.”
They purchased the truck from Horace Leach in Castine and had it fitted out as a fire truck.
“You know, they [the fire department] still have it—the town’s first fire truck,” he said.
Snow worked for Babson and Duffy for 13 years and then, he said, “I thought I’d try it for myself.”
The first plumbing job he did on his own was his own house. The house he and Virginia lived in had been in the family for years and he can just remember his grandfather living here. Later, his Uncle Horace lived there.
When Frank and Virginia moved back from Boston, they lived initially out near Brooksville Corner. By that time, the house was in “bad shape.” He didn’t have much money then, but another uncle, who ran a store nearby, loaned him the money to buy it.
Not too many years later, Snow purchased land across the road and had his shop built. From that shop, Snow and his crew provided plumbing and heating services for residents all over the Blue Hill Peninsula area. Small plumbing jobs to some of the large summer estates and several of the new homes built at the head of the cape. The one job that stands out for Snow, however, is the job he did in Blue Hill at George Stevens Academy.
“When they built the steel building over there we did the heating; Babson and Duffy did the plumbing,” he said. “We still do the work there.”
Snow is no longer actively plumbing, but he still stays involved. When Virginia became ill a number of years ago, he sold the business, but several years later, the new owners wanted to sell. His son-in-law, Murray Bates, wanted to buy it, but he needed some financial help so Frank provided the help and now has a stake in the business.
Snow says he’s up early every morning and still heads over to the shop.
“I open up the shop every morning and make the coffee,” he said. “I like to go over and talk to the boys. Quite a few of them worked for me. Murray worked for me for quite a while too.”
When he’s not at the shop, he’s usually off running the roads somewhere. He and a third Babson sister—Catherine Clifford—pal around together, driving to Ellsworth, Bangor, and Belfast to go shopping.
“We have a good time together,” he said.
He also delivers packages for the Jolly Helpers and picks up the meals for Meals for Me in Brooksville every Thursday.
“We have a great time with that,” he said. “We average close to 50 people every Thursday. There’s 10 people at a table and we always find something to talk about.”
He finds other places to eat as well. He’s a regular at Marlintini’s in Blue Hill and also visits the 66 restaurant in town and the pizza place up Greene’s Hill where he regularly buys the chicken finger basket—Missy, the pug, loves them, he said.
When he’s not on the roads, Snow likes to be on the water and last week was trading up to a new Grady White with a small cuddy cabin. He’s been a member of the Bucks Harbor Yacht Club for 30-odd years and has the nicest mooring you could ask for, tucked up snug in a cove on the lee side of Harbor Island.
“I just love to go and have a ride in the boat,” he said.
There’s no real secret for Snow’s longevity.
“You’ve got to keep moving,” he said. “It doesn’t seem possible that I’m going to be 90. But I’ve certainly enjoyed my life so far. I feel good and I’m happy, as long as I can keep moving.”