2014-04-18 / Community

A Window on the Past

Ambassador of Willard Beach: Chick Wilder
By Craig Skelton
South Portland Historical Society

A monument dedicated to Chick Wilder tells of his love for South Portland. (Courtesy photo) A monument dedicated to Chick Wilder tells of his love for South Portland. (Courtesy photo) Chick Wilder never slept, so says Russ Lunt. He worked at the railroad at night and spent all day at Willard Beach. It was at an “Evening Chat” sponsored by the South Portland Historical Society that longtime residents of the Willard neighborhood were sharing tidbits of information about their experiences growing up there. There were about 50 folks in attendance, many of whom, like me, never knew that fact about Chickie, as he was known.

As I run the next sentence through my head it sounds cliché, like out of a Bond movie. I lived up on the hill, Meeting House Hill. I didn’t know Chick like any number of folks in the Willard neighborhood would. I can say that as a kid we visited Willard Beach occasionally and I remember him wearing one of those trademark lifeguard hats that remind me of the hats seen in old British movies. I always wanted one of those.

The few images I have of Chick that are burned into my memory involve his interaction with kids during swim lessons or telling them to get off the rocks surrounding the sewer pipe. I never learned how to swim at Willard Beach, yet remember a picnic there with my childhood friend Carol Gorman and her mother. Mrs. Gorman brought cheese sandwiches and I can tell you cheese sandwiches never caught on with me and I’ve not seen them on menu boards at local eateries. I guess I wasn’t expecting sand in my sandwich. Go figure.

Chick passed away in 1994, marking an end to an era. For 35 years he served as a goodwill ambassador on the beach, you could say. By all accounts, he was a good listener who, in addition to teaching generations of kids to be good swimmers, influenced them in other ways that helped to build their character. He stood for respect and would not allow bullying, meanness or vandalism at the beach.

If you ever met Chick, I’m sure a visit to Willard Beach will brings back your fond memories of days filled with sun and warmth and, I’m sure, a bit of sand.

Craig Skelton is a guest columnist and member of South Portland Historical Society.

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