ROCKLAND, Maine — Alice Knight has attended every Maine Lobster Festival since the annual summer event moved to Rockland in 1948.
But her volunteer effort with Rockland’s longest running and largest summer festival did not come until 41 years ago and was inspired in part by her career.
Knight, 79, reflected Monday on the festival, which gets underway for the 66th time beginning Wednesday at noon at Rockland’s Harbor Park. She recalled how in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the festival was dominated by the carnival, which included side shows that Knight felt were not appropriate for the community.
“There were things in sideshows that were horrible, such as the baby with two heads,” Knight recalled.
When she became involved, however, Knight tried to change the tone of the festival.
In 1972, she was a home economics teacher at Rockland District High School. That job included teaching not just cooking but also such skills as decorating with homemade crafts. She also was, and remains, a member of Beta Sigma Phi, which is an international women’s social, cultural and service organization.
“I thought the festival should have a craft tent. We have many talented crafts people in the area and that would add culture to the festival,” she said.
Knight said she attended a festival meeting and made that suggestion and the response of the board was: “Why don’t you take charge of that?”
“That always what happens when you bring something up. You end up doing it,” she laughed in recalling her introduction to volunteering at the festival.
Festival President Tim Carroll said this week that Knight’s commitment to the lobster festival is legendary.
“To dedicate yourself to something for as long as she has, speaks volumes to what type of person she is,” Carroll said.
Knight is the person that the festival board turns to when it has questions about how something was done in the past.
“She always is thinking of what is best for the festival,” the board president stated.
Knight said being a teacher gave her much of the summer off and enough time to organize the craft tent each year. In the early 1970s, the festival was only three days long (Friday through Sunday). The event has since expanded to five days.
Over the years, her duties also have expanded to include organizing children’s and young people’s events such as the diaper derby, codfish carry and the crate race. The diaper derby has babies compete to see who can crawl the fastest toward mom or dad at the finish line. The codfish carry is young people racing while trying to hang onto a large fish.
The addition of the crate race by the festival was one of the most well received changes, Knight said. That event involves stringing lobster crates together parallel to the seawall on the festival grounds with floats at both ends. Participants attempt to run across the most crates before they fall into the chilly waters of Rockland Harbor.
Planning for the annual festival begins the week after the last one ends, she said, with organizers meeting each month except December.
Knight, who still oversees the craft tent and children’s events, said the social aspect of the festival is what has made the volunteer effort so enjoyable.
“I have met people from around the country and around the world. And heaven knows I love to talk,” Knight said.
But the visitors also love to talk, and they speak favorably of her home town.
“They are almost always quite happy because they are on vacation and they love to eat lobster,” she said.
Knight recalls many memorable moments, but the time when the annual event almost came to an end is one she will never forget. The 1989 festival was beset by heavy wind and rain, which caused the entertainment headliners Bellamy Brothers to cancel their performance. The country group still had to be paid, however, and that cost the festival organization a significant amount of money.
In late February 1990, the board of the festival, faced with too few volunteers and not enough money, announced they were canceling that year’s event.
“I was so upset. The festival is more well recognized than the name of the city,” she said.
The reaction from the community was swift and overwhelming. Within two weeks, the festival was replenished with more volunteers and commitment of funding to allow the 1990 summer celebration to proceed. Knight credits Ed Kolmosky’s leadership in bringing it back to life.
That year, the carnival was reduced to just seven children’s rides. More rides for all ages have since been added.
Knight is a seventh generation Rockland native from the Crie family that ran, among other things, the former Crie’s Hardware store on Main Street.
Knight said she has attended every festival since the Rockland Area Jaycees took over and moved it to Rockland in 1948. Knight pointed out she did not attend the 1947 festival which was held in Camden but joked that the festival did not truly begin until it came to Rockland, where it has since flourished.
And the volunteer spirit continues on in the Knight family with her daughter Celia Crie Knight. Her daughter’s duties include organizing the cooking contest and being the announcer for the children’s events.
Knight said her 41 years with the festival have been very rewarding. She was silent on how much longer she will continue, pointing out that she will turn 80 later this year.