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Out & About with Rachel Morin—Senior College: art, beer and Margaret Chase Smith

By Rachel Morin

TCT columnist

The spring semester at USM Lewiston-Auburn Senior College is winding down, and one of the courses offered was “Special Destinations,” led by Dorothy Rupert of Turner. This is her fourth season of offering this course, and it has proven to be very popular.

Dot and her large following gathered each Tuesday morning at the college and would car-pool to the destination of the day. A highlight would be the luncheon, when we would review what we learned from the excursion, as there was always something to be learned.

Our first trip was at the Olin Arts Center to view the Ogunquit Museum of Art Collection, led by Anthony Shostak, Curator of Education for the Bates College Museum of Art. Included in the pieces viewed were works done by Dahlov Ipcar, Marguerite Zorach, Marsden Hartley and Will Barnet.

We also visited “Bound to Art,” a large display of illustrated books from the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library at Bates. The library holds a collection of more than 10,000 rare books ranging from incunabula (books printed before 1501) from the early days of printing to bound works of today’s flourishing book arts movement.

“Bound to Art” is the first-ever exhibition of these holdings, presenting a selection of important illustrated books spanning nearly 500 years. Shostak gave an excellent presentation on the artists, paintings and the illustrated books.

The Baxter Brewing Co. was a fun place to visit. Steff Deschenes, marketing and retail manager, took us on a tour detailing the brewing process and poured samples for us to try. Baxter is the newest and the only New England brewery to ship all its beer in metal packaging (cans and kegs). It has doubled its production capacity in the first 90 days of operation. The product is sold in several local L/A establishments and also has a large market in locations throughout Maine.

Luke Livingston, at 26, is the founder and president and youngest brewer in the beer business. “I know there were beer fans that were skeptical that we could package great beer in cans, but we seem to have satisfied their concerns—and then some,” he said. “And we’ve known that cans really are superior for packaging: less environmental impact to produce and ship, completely portable and actually better for preserving fresh beer taste.”

It was easy to agree as we sipped our beer samples, some of us going for seconds. We loved the slogan Livingston came up with: “We do what we can. We can what we do.”

The Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine campus was an interesting place to visit. We were seated in very comfortable reclining chairs as we up at the stars and constellations all around us.

Our show was “Fires in The Sky,” which was projected on the planetarium dome and explained about the birth and death of the stars and offered the basics in stellar astronomy. It started with the Big Bang theory and explored the universe of the stars, including Black Holes, Star Clusters and Super Novae.

We were hungry when we arrived at the Nezinscot Farm & Turner Center Creamery in Turner and were happy to find delicious samples everywhere in the country store where the Varney Family work together as a great team. Owners Gregg and Gloria Varney run the working farm, and their five children all participate in maintaining the family business.

It is the first organic dairy in the state of Maine. All vegetables on the farm are grown using biodynamic and organic production methods.

Gloria Varney and her assistant, Jessica Sheahan, took us in the cheese-making room and gave us a step by step demonstration making mozzarella cheese. A specially wrapped piece of the mozzarella cheese was presented to us as we left after having lunch in their café. We also had a visit with the many animals on the farm.

The farm has 250 acres of cropland, pasturage along the Nezinscot River and is home to one of the oldest archaeological sites east of the Mississippi. For information on the farm and its activities, see www.NezinscotFarm.com.

Visiting the Holocaust and Human Rights Center on the University of Maine Augusta campus was a sobering experience and brought many a tear to the eyes of those in the audience.

It is an award-winning building, and the beautifully landscaped grounds burst with plants and flowers starting to emerge in the early springtime.

Inside, we sat in a darkened auditorium with four screens set up for the videos. The sound of haunting voices in their native tongue surrounded us telling us the stories of their survival. We heard the cries of the crowd, sounds of artillery and fires erupting everywhere as the images flashed across the screens.

Later pictures of people on the wall were illuminated, one by one, as each person pictured spoke to us in English of what he or she had endured.

“They came in the middle of the night” was the sad refrain repeated by many telling us how their loved ones disappeared in the night, never to be heard of or seen again. Stories and pictures of the numbers branded on their arms were horrific.

We listened to Michel Klahr’s story in the darkness: “I was five years old. I lived with the rabbits as a hidden child from the winter of 1943 to the end of the war. In those three years I had no friends, I never went to school, and both of my parents were murdered.”

Our final destination was the Margaret Chase Smith Library in the Senator’s hometown of Skowhegan. Angie Stockwell, collection specialist and personal secretary to Senator Smith from 1983 to 1995, greeted us warmly and told us personal and funny anecdotes about her time with Margaret Chase Smith.

During her long tenure with the Senator, Angie became close to her and was valued as a friend. She recalled that she always addressed her as “Senator,” despite their closeness.

Angie maintains the numerous bound albums and scrapbooks housed in the bookcases in the library. Despite the several years since the beloved Senator died in1995 at 97, Angie tells us many letters and requests still pour into the library asking about the Senator’s life.

There are still articles being written about Senator Smith, which Angie meticulously places in the scrapbooks. Lewiston playwright Linda Britt wrote a play three years ago about the life of the Senator in “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington: An Evening with Senator Margaret Chase Smith.”

The Out of the Box Theater production is still being played to full houses in Southern and Central Maine theaters with seasoned actress Sally Jones of Norway on tour.

We also toured the Senator’s comfortable home, where the large living room’s entire back wall of windows and patio doors opened onto the spectacular view of the Kennebec River.

David Richards, assistant director, told the story of how the Senator knew what she wanted in a home and began sketching her plans. While en route to or from Washington, her friend Alonzo Harriman, saw the sketches and offered to help her. Harriman Associates in Auburn are listed as the architects. The Senator’s original sketches are in the scrapbooks.

The library, which is affiliated with Northwood University, was built as an extension of her home in 1982. The entire property covers 15 acres. For information, see www.mcslibrary.org.

L/A Senior College is celebrating its 12th year of offering memberships to those over 50 years of age. Planning for the 2011 fall semester is under way, and course announcements will be provided in August. For information about Senior College, see www.usm.maine.edu/lac/seniorcollege.

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