What Floats Their Boats

Pictured above: The Mary E at sea

Residents at Highland Green, Topsham’s 55-and-up residential community, are active and enthusiastic volunteers — as the folks at Maine Maritime Museum can tell you.

When Pat Friedman, manager of corporate relations at Bath’s Maine Maritime Museum, met recently with a representative from Highland Green, the two talked about the high number of volunteers that come to the museum from HG, as residents affectionately call their community. Dozens of HG residents help out at the museum as docents, tour guides, board members, and benefactors. Of late, many have been working on the restoration or interpretive program of the Mary E, the oldest Maine-built fishing schooner still afloat. Originally built in 1906, the Mary E was officially commissioned and relaunched last month, following a year-long restoration sponsored by Highland Green and supported by its volunteers.

As Pat talked about the work of these volunteers, she was struck by a realization: HG was exactly the kind of active, service-driven community she and her fiancé had been searching for. Upon a little more reflection, she remembers, “it was a done deal.” The couple is moving in this summer.

“I love this type of learning and camaraderie. The sheer number of volunteer programs available — and their quality — really impressed me about Highland Green.”

Volunteering at Maine Maritime Museum is a natural fit for Highland Green residents, many of whom are drawn to HG because it promotes active lifestyles and community engagement for its cooperative owners. The community’s 370 residents live in freestanding homes, many of them custom built, but enjoy the benefits of an association that handles things like lawn care, exterior improvements, and snow removal. And that sense of cooperation extends to residents’ activities outside HG.

It’s what attracted Jim Wilkes, who moved from Ohio with his wife, Nancy, seeking an active retirement. Jim grew up in a Navy family and taught marine biology in the Bahamas for 10 years, so HG’s partnership with Maine Maritime Museum seemed like a perfect fit. He serves as a greeter and docent on the newly relaunched Mary E, and Nancy volunteers as a curator.

“As a former educator, getting to teach people from all over the world about the Mary E has been so much fun,” Jim says. “People at HG are truly involved. Our neighbors are taking classes at Midcoast Senior College, volunteering, and staying physically active. I love nature photography and get out into the Cathance River Nature Preserve 12 months a year. And the Maritime Museum is 20 minutes away from Highland Green, so I can be there and on the water in no time.”

Above: One of Highland Green’s freestanding homes; Joe Feely, Pat Friedman, and Jim Wilkes (left to right) outside Maine Maritime Museum; the Cathance River Nature Preserve; the HG community, seen from the air.


Estimated percentage of HG residents who volunteer in some capacity


Number of HG residents who volunteer at Maine Maritime Museum


Acres set aside for the Cathance River Nature Preserve on HG’s 635-acre campus, complete with 5-mile trail system and solar-powered ecology center


Number of custom-built single-family homes at HG


U.S. states from which HG residents have relocated

Joe Feely, another Highland Green resident, has volunteered with Maine Maritime Museum in its boat shop in a number of capacities: providing support for a children’s boatbuilding program, building Adirondack chairs for sale in the museum shop, and helping with scaling on the Mary E restoration project. “It’s all interesting, and all in support of the museum’s mission,” Joe says.

An architect by training (he formerly served as Colby College’s staff architect), Joe also taught for many years, and he enjoys exploring new skills as much as sharing his old ones. “I love this type of learning and camaraderie,” he says. “The sheer number of volunteer programs available — and their quality — really impressed me about Highland Green. People who move here tend to be civic-minded and community-oriented — and there are so many things to do that you’re bound to find something that interests you.”

Kurt Spiridakis, Maine Maritime Museum’s director of watercraft and traditional skills, has worked closely with volunteers on the Mary E. HG’s support, he says, has been invaluable to the restoration — and he suspects they’ve come away with something too.

“The volunteers now have a deeper appreciation for the 19th- and early-20th–century shipyard workers who worked in the Percy and Small shipyard, where the museum now sits,” he says. “And the fun’s not over — there will be plenty of maintenance in the years ahead as the museum preserves Mary E for the next hundred years.” Expect Highland Green residents to be up to the challenge.

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