ROCKLAND, Maine - The Honorable Samuel W. Collins Jr. may be a retired Maine Supreme Judicial Court associate justice, but in the minds of many in the area his name is more synonymous with the start of the Maine Lobster Festival in 1948 in Rockland.
He was one of the original incorporators of the festival who signed the certificate of organization that created the Rockland Festival Corp.
In recognition for his support of the festival over the years, Collins has been named the grand marshal for the 61st Maine Lobster Festival parade that begins on Main Street at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2.
He was honored again Wednesday night on the Main Stage during the Sea Goddess Pageant and received a plaque bearing his name and the dates of the festival, 1947-2008.
“The first year the festival was held in Camden, and they lost so much money in their effort they didn’ t want it anymore,” he said.
Then-Commissioner Richard Reed of the Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries, now called the Department of Marine Resources, was a Rockland man, Collins said.
“He talked to Charlie Bicknell, who was then president of the Rockland Jaycees, and persuaded him to take some interest.
“Charlie called a meeting of his board of directors — I was one of those — and we decided, yes, we’ d take it on,” Collins said in an interview at his home Thursday.
“Charlie’ s explanation to us was that all we had to do was to reach down into a crate of lobsters, pull out two lobsters, pass them to the customer, and take his dollar, and put it in your pocket,” Collins said. “In those days you could get two lobsters for a dollar.”
An active group of Rockland Jaycees took the project on, and the first year the crowd was overwhelming.
“We decided we would need to enlist some of the rest of our community to make the festival go.”
The Jaycees then approached the other local service clubs, such as the Lions, Rotary Club and Elks.
“They all agreed to join in with us and put on the next festival.
A practicing young lawyer at the time, Collins organized the corporation for the clubs and called it the Rockland Festival Corp.
“That’ s the corporation that still runs the festival,” he said.
In the first year, he was chosen to run the “Queen Contest.” The first year there were 22 candidates.
“We had so many, we thought we’ d better have a runoff,” he said. The runoff, held at the Strand Theater, emerged with eight finalists for the coronation.
There was a dance at the Community Building, where the finalists were judged during the dance by a board of three judges.
The judges’ selection was introduced at the end of the dance and crowned queen.
“That was in 1948. It was my first full year in Rockland,” said Collins, a Caribou native.
At the time of his arrival in Rockland, community leaders were attracting people to start a Jaycees organization, and he was invited to join.
The first queen was Ruth Roberts, whose father, Christopher Roberts, was a lawyer in Rockland.
For the second year of the festival, a visitor who summered in Warren offered some advice.
“Everyone has a queen,” the visitor told the Jaycees. “Why don’ t you call it something else?”
Collins said the man suggested calling the queen a goddess.
“We adopted that, and ever since, she’ s been known as our goddess,” he said.
The festival has grown over the years and not to everyone’ s liking.
“The first year, we didn’ t import any carnival,” he said. In a few years the leaders engaged carnival operators, but the carnivals became overwhelming so residents wanted them scaled back. To this day, carnivals operate at the fringe of the festival grounds.
Although Rockland has been called the lobster capital of the world, Collins believes a more accurate name might be the lobster shipping capital of the world.
“A great many are shipped from here to Europe and Canada, where they are processed,” he said.
“When I first came here, there were five firms responsible for all the shipping,” he said.
“Those five firms have moved to surrounding towns and islands,” he said.
Although he has kept an interest in the festival over the years, Collins said as time went on he felt he wasn’ t needed as much.
“I gradually left the most active part of the festival. It’ s only this year that I’ ve returned, at the request of the parade committee, who wanted me to help with the parade,” he said.
Collins said he appreciates the recognition he’ s getting now because of the work he did on the festival in its earliest days.
“The work is being carried on by a wide variety of people, who I think provide a great service,” he said.