CALAIS, Maine — The nation may have “Joe the Plumber,” but Washington County has Wendy the plumber.
Wendy Harmon, a licensed plumber from Calais, was a featured tradeswoman at the Totally Trades Conference held Friday at Washington County Community College.
Harmon is even “current” on her taxes, Lib Jamison of Women Unlimited of Augusta told the audience. Jamison was comparing Harmon to Ohioan Sam Wurzelbacher, who last week gained attention in the presidential campaign when he was portrayed as a hardworking plumber who would benefit from presidential candidate John McCain’s tax plan. Wurzelbacher’s fame quickly soured when it was learned he does not hold a plumbing license and owes the state of Ohio about $1,200 in back taxes.
Licensed plumber Harmon, meanwhile, was featured in opening remarks at the conference for girls and women ranging from eighth-graders to adults. Harmon taught a plumbing workshop, while other classes featured a Customs and Border Patrol officer, a marine electrician and carpenter. There also were sessions on blacksmithing, firefighting, police work and rock climbing.
In addition to being a licensed plumber, Harmon is a licensed propane gas installer and technician, and a single mother of two. She works for Androc Plumbing and Heating in Calais.
“I got a divorce and I felt the need to do something different with my life,” she said.
After the opening speeches, Harmon headed to the plumbing section at the college, while other students followed instructor Richard Ramsey to the carpentry shop.
Young women lined up next to white tables. They were going to make a small shelf with decorative brackets.
Standing on the sidelines, Ramsey invited a Bangor Daily News reporter to participate.
The reporter took her place between Pembroke students Hayley Holt, 12, and Niomi Johnson, 13. The first order of business was to line up pieces for the shelf, then measure where the wooden crossbar would attach to the back of the shelf.
Holt and Johnson dove in under the watchful eye of assistant Teresa Smith of Calais. They used carpenter measuring tapes to find the distance and marked it with pencils.
“It has to be 4¼ inches from the end,” Smith said. “Next you have to divide it by two,” she said of the second measurement.
“Let’s see,” the reporter thought. “That would be 2Þ inches.”
“How many of those tiny lines are needed for that one-eighth line?” the reporter asked. “I was never very strong on that measuring stuff.”
Holt and Johnson nodded understandingly.
Smith patiently drew the line.
Next it was time to countersink the holes with the portable drill. Then hand screws were twisted deep into the drilled holes with a screwdriver and the back brace was attached to the top of the shelf.
Holt said she’d never built anything before, but she had learned how to wield a screwdriver from her mother, Joelle Holt.
The girls screwed on the brackets while the reporter fumbled with the drill.
Holding up the finished product, Hayley said she would keep the shelf. Johnson planned to give hers to her grandmother Doreen Johnson of Dennysville.
“This was fun,” Holt said.
“I learned how to screw things together,” Johnson said again, admiring her shelf.
After the workshop, it was back to the gym for lunch and more speeches.
Moderator Tess Ftorek, who was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, reminded the women that October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month and urged the students to remind their mothers, grandmothers and teachers that a mammogram could save their lives.
The girls warmly applauded Ftorek.
Again this year, the food prepared by culinary instructor Marie Emerson and her students included soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts, with special care for the presentation as well.
“No matter what you are serving, I want the most beautiful trays and platters that you can imagine,” Emerson said. “So the students decorate platters and trays with garnishes from squash to carved vegetables. Like I told the students, if you are serving bologna, it must be the most beautiful bologna in the world.”
The nine student chefs received a loud round of applause from the other students.
After lunch, the organizer of the conference, Georgie Kendell, was presented with a gold hammer and flowers. This is Kendell’s last year with the conference, after organizing five conferences in the past four years.
Looking around the gym, Kendell said the conference had grown to include students from schools as far north as East Grand and as far south as Machias.
She noted the new workshops this year that taught about paving and being a park ranger. There also was a program called “Healthy Girls, Healthy Women,” which talked about media images and their impact on young women. That workshop was for teachers and guidance counselors.
Kendell said she was pleased with the turnout.