Maine Centenarians

Thoughts on the Past — and the Future — from Nine 100-Year-Old Mainers

To launch our yearlong celebration of 200 years of Maine statehood, we teamed up with Maine Public to hear from a few Mainers who can reflect upon half of that time.

Photographed by Michael D. Wilson


Visit mainepublic.org to hear audio from our visits with these eight centenarians.

Dr. Ruth Endicott, Ogunquit

Born August 26, 1916

I was born in Utah, but I grew up on a farm in Belgrade, a nice rolling field. I can remember Daddy standing on the lawn with his arms folded over, waiting for us to arrive by buggy from the railroad station where our neighbor had gone to pick us up and bring us to what would become our home. 

Dr. Ruth Endicott, of Ogunquit
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My brother and I would sometimes catch frogs to sell them to fishermen to use as bait. I remember once having stored up some frogs, and the fishermen didn’t come back any more because the tourist summer had gone by, so I was stuck with four days’ worth of frogs. They died, and I was so sorry.

I did office work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Sitting in front of a special kind of a typewriter, watching other people around me doing the same thing. I didn’t like the work very much. 

There was a woman pilot who was also the wife of the male pilot in charge of the airfield, and she and I became friends. I was able to take a solo flight under her guidance. I don’t remember being scared — maybe I was, but I don’t remember it. You don’t think about that. You just go ahead and do it. There was a time that I’d planned to fly up to Belgrade and surprise my parents by showing up in an airplane, but then the world war began, and I couldn’t do that.

Why did I become a pilot? I couldn’t help it. Once you have that opportunity, it’s great fun to know what you could be doing. I guess you’d call it a hobby. There was not a good attitude towards women pilots then. 

I bet you forget that women did lots of things, back in the days when they had to learn to wear trousers instead of a skirt.

I became a family doctor, and I practiced here in Ogunquit. Of course, it’s interesting. Every day is interesting, being a doctor. You never know what’s going to turn up. 

Right now, that’s the best part of our lives. The future? It’s going to come anyway, no matter what we do. Worrying doesn’t do any good. 

Dr. Ruth Endicott passed away at age 103 shortly after this story was published in print.  Dr. Endicott served in the Women’s Army Corps in World War II, working as a court reporter and stenographer in Paris and England. Last spring, Senator Angus King presented her with four medals she’d earned for her service in the ’40s but never received.

Right now, that’s the best part of our lives. The future? It’s going to come anyway, no matter what we do. Worrying doesn’t do any good. 

Dan Donnell, York

Born March 16, 1918

Always lived here in York. That’s why I have a small marina, right on the waterfront. I have three boats there for summer and two lobstermen in winter. I’ve had it since I moved to this place in ’71, and I ran another one nearby for years. I started when I was about 18, tying up boats at that dock. Charles Lindbergh stopped at my dock, on his honeymoon. I’ve seen some big boats come in, some fancy ones.

Don Donnell
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The hotel used to be over here on that hill. It was the largest brick hotel on the coast from here to Florida. These people with a lot of money, they tore it down and put in those condos, and that’s what’s known as Stage Neck. It was originally a place where they dried fish on these racks — great big square-frame things with two-by-fours and wire on top, and they’d split and salt cod, pollack, haddock, put them out on these racks [called stages] to dry or cure. They piled them skin-up in big piles at night, and then, the next day, they’d take them all and spread them out so that the flesh was sun side up, so the sun and wind dried them. They call them slack-salted fish, and that’s why they called it Stage Neck. 

I loved to sail. I miss my sailboat. I could make that thing go anywhere. I could be going full tilt, heading for the float, and people would run all kinds of directions, and then it would come right around in its own length. You could come and go anyplace you wanted to, to Nubble Light or just back and forth in the harbor. Boy, it would sail.

I went to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and worked there for 27 years, in the rigger shop. I like rigging, tying knots and splicing lines, doing that sort of stuff. And I wound up retiring as a general foreman rigger.

I lost my wife after 60 years, and I figured I better get out and do something. That was about 16 years ago. [So Dan took up volunteering at York Hospital.] I’m sure it’s added five or six years to my life. You stay home, you get stiff pretty quick, and you don’t meet a soul. If you get out and volunteer, you’re helping somebody, and you’re really helping yourself more than anything.

Learn to like people. You know, if you don’t have any friends, you’re in tough shape. Volunteering, it’s the best thing I ever did, outside of marrying my wife.

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Dorothy “Dot” Buchanan, Auburn

Born April 12, 1919

My father and mother were both farmers. I was born in Lewiston, but we moved to Auburn when I was 6 years old. All of Lewiston at the time was French. The people came from Canada and worked in the mills and shops, and that was wonderful, but my father did not want me speaking French, which I think was wrong because I would have loved to learn French at a young age.  

Dorothy Buchanan
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There were a lot of young people in Auburn. It was a good environment for young people to grow up in. It was because of that that I know Dot Kern. We met in the fourth grade. Dot Murray also went to high school with me.

Recreation was different back then. We would go out after school with our friends and play games like “hounds and hare” — we’d cut up all these papers, and all the “hares” would leave a trail and walk to Taylor Pond, and then the “hounds” would follow the paper trail to find them. That, of course, would be littering now! But we had a wonderful time. 

We weren’t wealthy, but we did a lot of picnicking. There was a polio epidemic when we were very young, and my father did not want us getting polio, so he bought a cottage at South Harpswell because he heard that if you went to the salt water you couldn’t get polio. Now whether that was true or not, I don’t know, but we summered there.  

I got married in 1940. We were in our apartment when Roosevelt came on the radio and announced the Japanese had just bombed Pearl Harbor. My husband was in the war — he was stationed in Hawaii. My sister’s husband was in the service too, so my mom and dad took us both in, like Old Mother Hubbard.

I went to business college on Lisbon Street. I learned shorthand, typewriting, bookkeeping, that sort of thing. I had a good job with the American Red Cross, and we were very busy because of the war. We had a teletape that came into the office and told us about the war casualties. I worked there until my husband came home after the war, in 1945.

Life in Maine hasn’t changed as much as people might think. It was a big thing when the French came from Canada to the area. It’s like the Somalis coming to Maine — it made a big change to people’s lives, but it made them more open and accepting. We’re still working on that, and we always will be. It’s all part of people’s mentality. As far as Lewiston and Auburn, though, it’s still a very comfortable, quiet area to live in.


Behind the scenes with photographer Michael D. Wilson and our eight Maine centenarians.

Dorothy “Dot” Irish Murray,  Auburn

Born April 21, 1919

I was born at home in Auburn, on Vine Street. My family moved into this house, on Conant Avenue, in 1925. I moved to Voorheesville, New York, with my husband, Frank, and then came back here seven years later. My mother loved this house and never sold it. My father started out feeding our furnace with wood. Then we had soft coal, then hard coal, then oil. We have gas heat now. 

I had a wonderful childhood in a wonderful neighborhood. My mother would let me out at 8 o’clock in the morning, and I would meet my friends in the street, and we would play tag and all kinds of games. I’d come in at noon, then go out in the afternoon and do the same thing. 

My favorite memory was my beloved dog, Lindy. My uncle had a real leather pony harness made for him. He pulled me in the wintertime on a sled. I would stand up on the back with just the reins, hanging on for dear life, and we would just go so fast, my gosh. He was a German shepherd, a very strong dog, very smart, and very fast. All I’d have to do was snap my fingers the way I wanted to go. We had a sulky in good weather. And I’d be standing on one of these sleds. Can you imagine?

Dorothy Irish Murray

A big part of my life was summer at Camp Wyonegonic, in Denmark. My aunt sent my brother to Camp Winona and me to Camp Wyonegonic every summer for about four or five years, until I really didn’t want to go again — I wanted to do something else. I really was crazy. I should have kept going.

We try to do a cottage in the summer now, with the family, and I hope it’s a place where we can have a canoe. I’m a canoeist. I paddle stern. I could stand up on the gunwales, but I think it’d be a little hard for me now to get up on the stern. When you get to be 100 years old, things get to be a little bit impossible!

In Lewiston-Auburn, there’s been a change in the people that are here. More immigrants have come here. This was a very small city. And there was a rivalry in Lewiston and Auburn, there really was. I was Miss Lewiston in 1935. My girlfriend, Helen Cummings, she was Miss Auburn.

People are people. I can’t see much difference.

I worry a little bit about the future, you know, about the country and where we’re going. It’s too bad that it’s divided — we should hang together. It makes me sad. I wish everyone would get along. Love one another!

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Dorothy “Dot” Foster Kern,  Auburn

Born September 23, 1919

I was born in Portsmouth, and my parents moved to Auburn when I was an infant. I grew up in this house. My father was a shoe-pattern maker — he designed shoes. Auburn was a shoe city, and Lewiston was textile mills. It was a little competitive, but mostly between the high schools. People from Auburn would drive over to Lewiston and holler at people. Now and then, we’d have confrontations on the bridge.

I went to Bates College. I wrote for the student newspaper and for the Portland paper, but I got my comeuppance when my advisor said, “You’ve got to cut out something. You can’t write for the Portland paper and keep up your grades.” 

My first job after college was for a newspaper in Pulaski, Virginia. It was lovely, but I got homesick. I came back and worked for the Sun Journal. I wrote mostly social news, but now and then, some real stuff. Once, I interviewed [Filipino diplomat] Carlos Romulo. I was very impressed, and I hope he was too. During the war, the Sun Journal put headlines in the window, so they could be seen from the street. I wrote the one when World War II ended and put the big, flaming thing in the window. 

Dorothy Foster Kern

I met my husband, John, at the Sun Journal. He was a linotype operator. The paper was our life — he worked there for 50 years. He was in the army during the war. He was overseas four years. When the war ended, he wrote, “I’m coming home. I’ll start walking toward Grandview Avenue, and you come meet me.” I must have been in seventh heaven, because I walked right by him. He hollered, “Dot!” Then we walked home. It was beautiful.

Each time one of my children was born, it was no fun, but it was wonderful. My best memories are of being with them. I went to Colby summers and got my library science degree. I went to work at Edward Little High School — in fact, they didn’t have a library yet, and I spent one whole summer ordering books. Oh, I loved that — the one place the students would fight to get into. No lessons, no grades. Just come one, come all, and be quiet.

My life is quiet and happy, and I’m doing what I like to do, but I miss people — everyone who is not still here. In that sense, it’s lonely. I miss the children that were [Dot’s son Peter died in 2008, and daughter Amy in 2014], but I’m happy to have the ones I’ve got. I’m lucky.

There’s been a lot of change. The business around here is not as good as it used to be years ago. My parents, they weren’t rich, but they always had work.

Alfreda Dumond, Fort Kent

Born September 17, 1917 

My childhood was a very good childhood. I grew up in Fort Kent. We used to go to pick berries, blueberries and strawberries — they don’t have that good taste anymore. We’d get ready early in the morning, wait until the fog would go away, and then we’d go pick when the sun came out. My mother always canned, so we always had them during the wintertime. Berries, vegetables, all those things. 

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I left home when I was going on 17 years old. I went to Connecticut for 10 years — it was the Depression, and it was very hard here, and there were lots of jobs in Connecticut. I worked in Bristol Hospital, helping the lab technicians, then I came back on account of a condition. I was sick, I started to get weak. After they took tests, they found out I had a lesion on my lungs. 

I stayed at the sanatorium for three years at Presque Isle [a tuberculosis hospital]. The doctor said, “If you do exactly what I tell you, you could get out a little earlier, but five years at least.” He said, “Just lay down quiet, don’t pull any drawers, don’t put your hand up, don’t fix your hair. Just lay down and be quiet and eat your meals.” It took a lot of energy to do that, and I prayed a lot. Every three months, they would take an x-ray, and it was getting worse. Then all of a sudden, one spring, the doctor told me, “I have a surprise for you. Your x-rays are very good. It’s a miracle.” When you have the strength to be able to carry on like that, there’s nothing better than that. God’s there, and he’s the one who works through you. 

After that, I stayed with my mom, and that’s when I met my husband. He was in the service. We started going out in May and got married in August. We lived three years in Soldier Pond, then my husband sold our farm and got a lumber contract. We moved and have stayed in Fort Kent ever since. We made a good life, raised seven children. I’ve always liked that it’s a quiet place and that the people are very sociable. 

There’s been a lot of change. The business around here is not as good as it used to be years ago. My parents, they weren’t rich, but they always had work — there was always work around. Today, there’s no work around here — they have to go away, have to find something else in the cities. The culture is pretty much the same, but in my time, when we would go to school, we couldn’t talk French. They would push us to talk English, but our culture was French, so we talked French. I learned my English when I went away to Connecticut. The people in Fort Kent were mostly all French, and today there is more English than French. French is my way of living. Some people say they forgot their French, but I don’t believe them. We were born with French, and it will never go away. 

I’m a funny person: I enjoy my life, and I enjoy my memories, but I don’t keep at it. I’m looking at the future.


Eva Deschaine, Fort Kent

Born March 13, 1916

I was born in Black Lake, outside of Fort Kent. I remember helping my mother wash the dishes and playing outdoors. I went to school in Black Lake, in a one-room schoolhouse, but not too much. I didn’t want to go. That’s why I can’t talk English too much! [One of Eva’s daughters, Anne Mae Raymond, who helped her translate, says Eva’s parents traveled to work on farms and in factories and brought the kids, so they were often out of school.]

Eva Deschaine

I was 15 years old when I was married. I was young. That’s why I have a big family — 10 kids, all good children. My oldest one is 84. We were not too rich. When I was first married, we had to wash with a washing board. We had no fridge. When I made butter, I would wrap my butter, put it into the container, and put that in the stream behind the house, so that it would stay cold. I would go to the store to sell my butter, and when they saw me come, they were so happy, because they knew I made good butter. I salted it just right.

I lived in Black Lake when I was married, and later, I moved to Fort Kent. I was a cook’s helper in the school. I was glad, because then I didn’t have to work on the farm — it was almost like luxury.

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Jeannette Jandreau, Fort Kent

Born November 26, 1919

I was born in St. Francis. I left school when I was 13 years old — I had just started the eighth grade. Then, all of a sudden, my sister-in-law and my brother took me to work in a lumber camp. They were supposed to bring me back to go to school, but they didn’t. I worked hard for five years. I left, and I called my father and said, “If you don’t come and get me, I’m going to run away!” So he came, and I went to work in real places, a big hotel in Millinocket, the Great Northern Hotel, and after that closed, at the Eastland Hotel in East Millinocket. 

When I went back to St. Francis, I was 24, and I got married. My husband, Omer, was a neighbor in St. Francis. I came home on a visit, and they had a dance, so I joined him. He went back to the Army and started writing to me, and I didn’t know what to think. After a while, he came back on a furlough and we got married. He went back to the Army for another six months and then he was free, so he came home and stayed home. He was a lumberjack — there were a lot of lumberjacks in those days.

Jeanette Jandreau

After I got married and my kids were all going to school, I worked at the nursing home. I started housekeeping first, and then the head nurse asked if I wanted to be a nurses’ aid, and I said yes. I did that for eight years, and then my husband got sick. I have four kids, eight grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren — that’s “great” twice! 

Maine was a very nice place. People worked in the woods and in hotels, restaurants, and stores. When we lived on a farm, we didn’t even have to go to the store — we had everything, planted everything, animals, all the eggs we wanted. We used to travel by train. I’d leave Millinocket by train and come up to St. Francis. There were some cars but not too many.

We were all happy, no matter what, when I was young. There would be dances on Saturday nights, with neighbors — they didn’t have big buildings they have now for dances, just houses, and everyone enjoyed it. I miss the past, when the kids were kids. Now you see on TV, they’re just that high and they’re teaching the older people what to do — they have too much schooling! It’s not the children, though, the world has changed. 


Maurice Bouchard, Lewiston

Born August 3, 1917

I was born in Quebec, then my dad took over a grocery store in Concord, Vermont, when I was 5 years old. In the summers, growing up, I’d go to my grandfather’s farm, back in Canada, and stay with him all summer, driving horses. I didn’t want to come back home. I used to drive the horses down to the grain mill when I was just 8 or 9 years old. They used to tell my grandfather, “How are you going to let that little bullock come down here with a pair of horses?” My grandfather says, “He gets there with him, doesn’t he? He gets back home with them!”

Maurice Bouchard
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I owned my own store after college, eight or ten years. Sold it to go back and help my father. My dad and I were great friends. We were noted all over the Northeast Kingdom for how we worked together all those years. Sunday, we were closed, and we’d go out rabbit hunting or something, always together. He was a great man. Never had an education. When my father died, I didn’t want the store anymore, because I didn’t have him. I sold it, and I got elected town clerk.

[Maurice’s wife, Polly, says he often came to Maine to watch horse racing and retired here in part to own racehorses. Maurice met Polly, his second wife, when she was selling tickets at the Lewiston Raceway.] What I’ve enjoyed is my horses, spending time with them. I had a saddle horse when I had my store, and every chance I had, I’d ride through the woods. My horses liked me. Most of my racehorses, when I’d go in, they’d be in the stall, and I’d say, “Hi Joe,” or whoever it happened to be, and neeeiiigh! Sitting on back of a horse — I love it.

We have just an old person’s life. I like to mow my lawn. I don’t think of it as a hardship. I do it once a week. We like to go for a drive every day, just the two of us. Polly puts up with me — I’m not the easiest fellow to put up with. I want her to see me out. You know, it’s got to be close at my age. I’m not going to say, 10 years from now, I’m going to do this or be doing that — I can’t say what I’m going to do tomorrow. I don’t even have to think about that. 
So there it is. 

Maine Public

Interviews conducted by Maine Public’s Susan Sharon, Patty Wight, and Robbie Feinberg. These excerpted responses have been edited and condensed for clarity and continuity. To hear more audio segments of these conversations with Maine centenarians, tune into Maine Public Radio during the week of December 23, or visit mainepublic.org/centenarians.