Saluting seasoned Mainers

Posted Jan. 08, 2010, at 7:03 p.m.

Five remarkable can-do seasoned citizens of Maine who rate a New Year’s toast for reminding us that age is but a state of mind:

Peg Cousins, 84, East Millinocket. A Chinese proverb suggests that one picture is worth more than a thousand words, but if ever a picture could be summed up in just six words, it would have to be the one by Bangor Daily News photographer Kevin Bennett that dominated the B Section front of Wednesday’s newspaper.

The photo shows Cousins, in full winter battle gear, standing halfway up a slippery aluminum ladder while raking snow from the roof of her home. If that one doesn’t flat-out shout “Maine — The Way Life Really Is” to anyone who has been there and done that, I don’t know what might.

Donald and Dorothy Parker, of Hampden, 91 and 88, respectively. Parker and his bride celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on New Year’s Day, still obviously as madly in love as they were on Jan. 1, 1940, according to BDN reporter Nok-Noi Ricker, who covered the anniversary observance.

Paul Richardson, of Eastport. On the same day the Parkers celebrated their wedding anniversary, Richardson, a hale and hearty survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, observed his 98th birthday.

Richardson served in the Navy for 20 years as an aircraft mechanic and maintenance officer, retiring as a commissioned warrant officer. When the Japanese attacked, he was a patient in the base hospital for removal of infected tonsils. As enemy dive bombers destroyed the American ships tied up on Battleship Row, the young Mainer was pressed into action helping hospital personnel take care of the wounded, for which he later received a letter of commendation from his commanding officer. Understandably, his memories of what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a date which will live in infamy” remain vivid to this day.

Richardson followed his military career with a civilian career as a well-traveled technical writer for aircraft and missile industries in Connecticut, California and Alabama. Upon his retirement from civilian pursuits, he and his wife, Inez — parents of three daughters and a son — came back to their Eastport home and its grand view of Passamaquoddy Bay, settling in as active members of the community.

Forest Bunker, of Portland. On Jan. 15, the retired Bangor and Aroostook Railroad engineer will celebrate his 100th birthday “probably by sleeping late — maybe until 8 a.m.,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. The secret to such longevity, Bunker said, is to “take it easy. Don’t get too excited over things, and you’ll be all right.”

According to background provided by retired B&A executive Dick Sprague, Bunker — born in Franklin on Jan. 15, 1910 — spent boyhood summers on his grandparents’ farm in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. There, as he watched the long Canadian National railroad trains thunder past, “he pictured himself at the throttle of one of these noisy giants, and a dream was born,” Sprague wrote.

Bunker signed on with the B&A as a fireman in 1942. A few months later, with World War II raging, he was drafted into the Army and assigned to the China-Burma-India theater of operations with a railway battalion. He was still working for the B&A, but this B&A was the Bengal and Assam Railroad in India. Instead of hauling potatoes and paper stateside, the crew hauled supplies to Allied troops stationed in Burma.

After the war, Bunker returned to the Bangor and Aroostook line and soon became a full-fledged engineer. “It was everything he had expected as a small boy on the farm,” Sprague wrote, and even though steam locomotives would soon be replaced with diesels, “it was the start of a love affair with steam that would not wane.”

Operating a steam-powered locomotive was a challenge, “and if you weren’t the boss you didn’t get anywhere,” Bunker said Wednesday. “With diesels, once you got them going they would do what they were supposed to do — no more and no less. With steam, you had to coax the power out of it. I absolutely loved running steam. The noise, the smell. Everything.”

Former associates hold Bunker in high regard. “I don’t believe there was ever a finer man in the world,” said Herb Cleaves, of Whiting, a retired BDN reporter who worked for the B&A before beginning his newspaper career.

“We won’t see the likes of Forest Bunker again,” Sprague wrote. “Theirs was the time of the iron horse, and they were iron men — a tough and proud breed.”

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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