AROOSTOOK COUNTY, Maine — When longtime Aroostook publication “Echoes” magazine ceased operations in 2017, editor and co-founder Kathryn Olmstead knew that one day she wanted to share some of the magazine’s stories in a special book collection.
That idea will become reality this month, as Yarmouth-based Islandport Press is publishing “Stories of Aroostook: The Best of Echoes Magazine” on Oct. 15. The collection features 52 nonfiction stories, ranging from personal essays to stories of Aroostook’s cultural heritage, nature, farm life and the people who have made the region a distinct rural community.
To make the collection possible, Olmstead and friends Kristine Bondeson of Woodland, Cynthia Edgecomb of Limestone and Kenneth Hixon of Westmanland spent hours reading through thousands of stories that were published during the 29-year run of “Echoes”.
They specifically searched for stories that conveyed how the mission and message of the magazine evolved over time.
“The message has always been about the values of rural communities, small-town friendliness, being part of one’s environment instead of destroying it,” Olmstead said. “Especially in these times, the stories can take us back to what’s really important in life.”
Some of the featured writers in the collection include Glenna Johnson Smith, a longtime contributor who recently died at age 100, Allagash native and novelist Cathie Pelletier, “Echoes” co-founder Gordon Hammond, and other frequent contributors Gwen Harmon, Dorothy Boone Kidney and John Dombek.
The process of re-reading stories brought back positive memories for Olmstead of relationships she had formed with writers and the feedback she had received from Aroostook County natives who read “Echoes”.
She also got to share with the world stories of experiences unique to The County.
“There are stories [in the collection] about picking potatoes, growing up on a farm, being stranded on a school bus, participating in a snowshoe competition,” Olmstead said. “The stories flow from one season to another, so there’s a lovely sequence of different themes that come up.”
Olmstead and Hammond, a native of Long Island, New York, founded “Echoes” in 1988 and published the first issue in July of that year. In the preface to the new collection, Olmstead describes “Echoes” as a publication that “focused on positive values rooted in the past that have relevance for the present and the future.”
At its peak, “Echoes” had 4,000 subscribers in the United States, Canada and other countries.
Though “Echoes” ceased publication in 2017 due to a lack of advertising revenue, Olmstead said she was thrilled to hear from former “Echoes” intern and Caribou native Shannon Butler in 2019. Butler is the operations manager for Islandport Press and she reached out to Olmstead in hopes of creating an “Echoes” collection that would be a treasured keepsake for both Aroostook residents and broader Maine communities.
Olmstead hopes that readers of “Stories of Aroostook” will appreciate the themes of community and culture that recur throughout the collection.
“I hope they recognize the values of our rural culture and know that we can protect what’s special about Aroostook County,” Olmstead said.