2014-10-03 / Front Page

Everyday Maine: Frank Maguire

‘I just loved to teach’
By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer


Francis “Frank” Maguire Jr., 81, in the garage of his Coach Road home in South Portland with a few of the model planes he builds and flies as a retirement hobby. (Duke Harrington photo) Francis “Frank” Maguire Jr., 81, in the garage of his Coach Road home in South Portland with a few of the model planes he builds and flies as a retirement hobby. (Duke Harrington photo) SOUTH PORTLAND — Francis “Frank” Maguire Jr. has been a South Portland resident for all but the first three of his 81 years. A 34-year teacher of sixth and seventh grades across the bridge in Portland, Maguire has given virtually all of his life to the Boy Scouts, first as a member, then as a Scoutmaster and program director at Camp Hines, and currently as a regional commissioner.

In an interview conducted Sept. 27 in his Coach Road home, Maguire took time to talk about his life and love of teaching.

Q: Where and when were you born?

A: I was born in Portland in 1933, but we moved to Sixth Street on Meeting House Hill in South Portland when I was 3. It’s still Sixth Street, but Fourth and Fifth Streets were given new names when they redid the numbering for 911.


Francis “Frank” Maguire Jr. leading Boy Scout Troop 22 on assembling a tent in 1994. (Courtesy photo) Francis “Frank” Maguire Jr. leading Boy Scout Troop 22 on assembling a tent in 1994. (Courtesy photo) Q: What was the Meeting House Hill neighborhood like when you were a child?

A: Almost every family had little kids. We had plenty of playmates right in the neighborhood. We had kids in front of, beside and behind us. It was a good neighborhood to grow up in.

Q: What did kids do for fun then that might be different from today?

A: We’d walk down to Knightville to the dump where Mill Creek Park is — it wasn’t a dump for long, just for a few years until it was filled in, but it was a good dump — and all the kids found things to take home. People threw away what we thought was good stuff.


Francis “Frank” Maguire Jr. and his brother Lou outside the family home on Sixth Street in South Portland, sometime during the late 1930s. (Courtesy photo) Francis “Frank” Maguire Jr. and his brother Lou outside the family home on Sixth Street in South Portland, sometime during the late 1930s. (Courtesy photo) Q: Where did you go to school?

A: Roosevelt School was right across the street from us, but we went to Holy Cross. The year I was old enough to go to school was the year they opened Holy Cross School. When they opened it, they started with kindergarten, or “sub-primary” they called it then, and then first, second and third grade. We were the first group to go all nine years in that school.

Then I went to Cheverus (High School, in Portland) — the old one, they built the new Cheverus a year or two after I graduated. At that point, the parishes and the diocese supported Cheverus, meaning no tuition. That’s not true today. A lot of the guys who went with me to Cheverus, most of us would not be able to afford it otherwise. In my whole high school class, I think one guy had a car.

Q: What was your family like?

A: I have a brother Lou, he lives in South Portland still, and a sister, Regina. She married and eventually moved to South Carolina. She died two years ago.

Q: What did your parents do?

A: My dad was a customs officer for the ships. He had to ride with a pilot in a little ship out to the big lightship in the bay — which isn’t there anymore, there’s a buoy there now — climb the ladder up onto the ship and start doing the paperwork and documentation as ships came into port. I think, at the time, an immigration officer went out as well to check citizenship, or whatever they did. Then, in the 1940s, they started shipping lobster from Canada into the airport and he’d have to go out there and inspect the cargo before it could be brought to market.

My mother worked at the telephone company before they were married. But afterward she took care of the house. All of the mothers in our neighborhood did not work. I didn’t know a working mother in my childhood.

Q: You were born not long after the start of the Great Depression. Do you remember any of that?

A: Not really, just that times were tight. Dad was fortunate to be working for the government. The pay was low, but he was working. When we were born he had an old Model A Ford. Eventually, he got an Oldsmobile sedan, but that old Ford, he kept that for 15 years. People didn’t buy a new car every three or four years in those days like they do now. They made ‘em run.

Q: Do you remember anything of the World War II era?

A: I don’t have any specific memories about Pearl Harbor day, but everything after it we were really aware of. There was no problem being aware that we were at war. I remember comic books were just coming to be a big thing then and some of them would often show the “Japanese menace” that we were against, and such as that.

Q: What was it like seeing the Liberty Ship construction yards rise up?

A: We were far enough away from the shipyards, and too small, to really see it being built. But the traffic sure got heavier. And this I remember: we looked out the window one day and suddenly behind the old Muzzie farmhouse on Pine Street, there was a little store. It was about the size of a garage and somebody, I don’t know who, trucked it in overnight and set up a variety store to service the shipyard workers because a lot of them drove up and down that street, apparently. I was about 9 or 10 then,and we’d go in and buy penny candy. Then, one day, after the war was over, we came home from school and the store was gone. They’d jacked it up and took it away.

Q: What else do you remember about South Portland during World War II?

A: There were a lot of trailer parks to house the shipyard workers. Maybe I shouldn’t call them trailer parks. They were more like pre-fab homes, all low onestory things. They had so many people coming in to work at the shipyard, they had these parks everywhere. On our end of town, just over the Cape Elizabeth line on Mitchell Road, that was a big trailer park. They had one where the South Portland rec center and high school are now. There was one down by Cash Corner on Peary Terrace, where the VFW hall is. And where Home Depot is, there was a huge one called Long Creek Terrace. Everywhere you looked then, there were trailer parks. Some of them stayed a long time after the war, being rented out or something, but eventually they sold off the buildings and shipped them all over.

When you go up Broadway, just past the Scarborough line, there’s a house on the right-hand side that’s one of those homes from what I’m calling the trailer parks. It’s been abandoned for several years, but now somebody is fixing it up.

Q: Where did you go to college?

A: I started out at Portland Junior College, which was where USM Portland campus is now. None of the buildings I knew are there any more. Where Payson Smith Hall is now, there were converted barracks from World War II, which had been taken from Long Island. They barged them up from New York, hauled them in, and set them up there as classrooms. And then there was a big building, which was the barn from the old Deering Estate. Whoever the Deering family was, they sure had a big mansion. But they were gone and it was more or less abandoned by the 1950s. In the barn, the lower level was made into a cafeteria for the college and the upper level became a gym.

Q: What kind of a school was Portland Junior College?

A: It was a two-year school. Liberal arts. No specialties at that level, but it had some good teachers. Then, from there I went in the Army in 1953. That was just after Korea, but it was still the draft era.

Q: What did you do in the Army? A: I was infantry.

Q: Really, even with two years of college under your belt?

A: When we took all our tests and preliminaries they brought some of us in and said, “You’ve qualified for Officer Candidates School. If you want to sign up for that, you’ll have a three-year hitch.” I said, “No, two years is long enough for me.”

Q: What was Army life like?

A: I went through training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and from there we were shipped over to Germany. After about a month of playing at war, there was an opening in the kitchen. I was asked, “Do you know how to cook, Maguire?” and I said, “Oh, sure,” because I’d cooked over campfires with the Boy Scouts. So, I did that for about a month and then they sent me to cook’s school for six weeks up in a nice little town in the mountains of Germany. I was one of the cooks for the company for the rest of my time.

Q: What did you do when you returned from the Army?

A: When I came back, I want to Gorham to finish up my degree. Where Gorham campus of USM back then was called Gorham State Teachers’ College. Everybody there was going into education to be classroom teachers, or training to teach industrial arts.

Q: Where did you teach, once you got your degree?

A: I started out teaching sixth grade at Longfellow School in Portland. I was there from 1958 to 1981. At first I taught everything, but then we developed our own system where each of us there taught a different subject. I used to do mostly social studies. That was good because you could get deeper into a subject. You didn’t go from teaching art one minute to math the next. After that we moved the middle schools around and the sixth grade eventually migrated to Lincoln Middle School, where I was for the rest of my career. Of course, by then everything became departmental and I was all science, teaching seventh grade.

Q: How did you get involved with Scouting?

A: When I was 9 or 10 they started up a Cub Scout pack out of Holy Cross. Boy Scouts had been around for a while, but cub scouting then was just getting organized then. My brother and I were just the right age at the time, so we became Cub Scouts and my mother was the den leader. We then graduated into Boy Scouts at age 12.

Q: What was Scouting like at the time?

A: Father Coyne was the Scoutmaster of Troop 22 because, by the end of the war, they’d run out of adult leaders. They were all in service. Under Father Coyne there were no big exciting things going on. We just had meetings and had cookouts in somebody’s back yard. But then we inherited a Scoutmaster named Sgt. J. C. Waddell. He was a southerner and working for the service then out at Fort Williams. He took over the troop and we started really doing things. He had a whole lot more to teach us about Scout craft, because he knew it and Father Coyne didn’t. Before, we’d kind of look in the book to figure out how to do things and we’d say to Father Coyne, “Does this look all right?” and he’d say, “It looks good to me.” But Sarge had been doing this kind of thing all his life. He got us organized into patrols and did all the activities and training.

Q: What kind of new things did you begin doing at that time?

A: Well, we certainly learned how to do closer-order drill — marching in place, and left flank, and right flank, and about face, and all the rest of it, which was a big help when I went in the Army. By the time I got in the Army I also already knew how to put up a pup tent, because Sarge had gone over to Portland to the surplus store — and it really was a surplus store then with stuff coming out like crazy as the Army shut down everywhere after the war — and got us some genuine Army pup tents. We used to pitch them in the yard at Roosevelt School.

Q: How did being a Boy Scout impact your life?

A: Well, I think it’s the reason I became a teacher, because I learned in Scouts that I liked to teach things. That’s what you do in Scouts. As soon as a boy is old enough to know the skills of first class and second class, his next job is teaching them to the younger kids. It’s all leadership training.

Q: Did you eventually become an Eagle Scout?

A: I did not. In all my 10 years with that troop, one guy got Eagle and that was the son of the man who led the Explorer program.

Q: What made becoming an Eagle Scout so hard then?

A: Well, we never went to Camp Hines. That’s where you get a great opportunity to earn the outdoor badges — swimming, life saving, canoeing — a lot of the stuff that is required for Eagle. We were never encouraged to go there. We either did our own Explorer camps, or went out with Sarge. We used to use the fields at Camp Gregory, which was a Catholic camp up in Gray.

Q: How did you become a Scoutmaster?

A: After I got out of the Army, the committee chairman who lived across the street from me called and said, “Frank, Sarge has retired. We need a Scoutmaster,” and I said, “OK.” I was Scoutmaster from the fall of 1955 until 1992.

Q: How many boys passed through Troop 22 in your 37 years as Scout master?

A: I never tried to count it up, but it must be 500 or 600.

Q: How many boys did you help attain Eagle rank?

A: Probably 50. I’ve got a list of all of them somewhere. I’m proud of that. It’s nice to know I was able to encourage that many kids to go all the way. And then there are always those who make it to the last badge, when they turn 18.

Q: Did you have kids of your own who went through scouting?

A: No, we have no kids. That’s just what happened. Scouting really, that would be my kids. Between that and teaching I had a lot of good kids, enough that I recognize a lot of the names that pop up in the paper.

Q: How did you meet your wife?

A: My wife Jane is from Houlton. She was a high school teacher in Westbrook. We met though friends and were married in 1972.

Q: What is your old troop like today?

A: It’s not there anymore. It folded about 10 years ago. I wasn’t happy about it. But all of the older kids matured out and there just weren’t any new ones coming up.

Q: Why was that, do you think?

A: Too many other activities. There didn’t used to be all these extracurriculars in the schools. So, scouting was then something that just about every boy did, and each one recruited his friends. It wasn’t like it is now, with one recruiting night in September. Then, new kids would drift in all year long. As the baby boomers came up through, some years I’d have as many as 60 kids registered. But today there are a whole lot more activities for kids age 10 to 15 to do.

Q: How much has scouting enrollment shrunk over the years?

A: When I was a kid, there were eight or 10 Boy Scout troops in South Portland alone. Just about every church sponsored one. Now, there are two — Troop 37 at Thornton Heights and Troop 23 over at People’s Methodist. They’ve got a pretty good nucleus of kids and good programs going and Cub Scout packs accompanying them.

Q: Why did you stay involved in Scouting for so long?

A: Well, I just liked it. Some people say, “How can you take teaching all year and then do Scouts during the summer?” But I always said, the Scouts are totally different because they all want to be there.

Q: Are you still involved in Scouting?

A: Yes. After I retired I became commissioner for Troop 22. That lasted about a month when they reorganized and I became a district commissioner in charge of South Portland, Cape and Scarborough. I’ve been that since. Right now I’ve got just one other commissioner with me. We’ve got two troops in Cape Elizabeth, two in Scarborough and the two in South Portland, along with half a dozen Cub packs.

B: What does a Boy Scout Commissioner do?

A: You act as a representative between the troop and the council, and help them with all the things they need to know. We just got a Cub pack re-going in Cape. I helped them with that, did the training for the leaders last spring, to get them started, because there’s a whole curriculum of things they need to know.

Q: What’s your pitch for why more boys should be involved in Scouting today?

A: If there were more kids in Scouting, I think we’d have a better citizenry today, because that’s what it teaches. Everything from judo to hockey says it teaches leadership, but I’m not convinced they really do, because they have a different objective — to win games. Scouting’s objective is for the individual to be the best he can be, and he doesn’t have to be on a winning team. You have a goal and you achieve it, or not. It’s up to you to accomplish something.

Q: How has Scouting changed over the years?

A: It’s kept up with the times. There are an awful lot of merit badges. When I was a kid, most of them were agricultural in nature, and that’s almost all gone now. Rabbit raising, that was a badge, or wheat and grain culture. Now they have space exploration and computers. And they just brought in a welding badge.

Q: What does Scouting most need today in order to thrive?

A: The difficult thing is merit badges and getting people who know the topic to act as counselors. Beyond that, we need publicity as much as anything. People don’t realize it’s still there. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Press Herald would send a photographer out on a moment’s notice, whenever you had a troop activity or an award night. It’d be in the paper. But they don’t bother with that anymore. It’s up to papers like the Sentry to do it, but they don’t have the personnel to go chasing after an opportunity to take a picture of a kid getting a badge. I guess we need a public relations merit badge.

Q: How did teaching change during your career?

A: The biggest change was keeping up with the changes, because everything was always changing. If you take everything I had learned when I graduated in 1951 and add to that 60 more years of information, something has to go. There just isn’t room to teach it all without skimming on some things.

Public education also began to learn that not every kid fit the pattern. When I started, there was no such thing as special ed. In Portland, they had a separate school for the kids who were really slow learners, where they didn’t get what everyone else got in the regular classroom. Everyone else was in the same classroom and just did the best they could, with not everyone at the same level of understanding.

In my later years, administration became more difficult. It was, “Never raise your voice to the children.” Well, I guess I did raise my voice more than a few times. Some kids were always more hyperactive than others and you had to do what you needed to, to get them to understand. But even when I raised my voice, they understood, there was never any dislike.

Q: What was the difference, if any, between teaching public school students and instructing Boy Scouts?

A: In Boy Scouts you take it at your own speed. Once you finish what you’re doing, you move on to the next rank. You don’t have to finish it all in one year and it doesn’t matter whether the kids you came in with do or not. Now they want to do something like that in schools and make the teacher have an individualized plan for every student. But when I was a teacher, in the course of a day I might have 120 students and I’m thinking, “How would I have done that?” One year I had 36 kids in one class, and with no aides back then. My numbers never got below 24 in a class. You try to pay individual attention to that many kids during a math lesson.

Q: Besides Scouting, do you have any hobbies that you keep up with in your retirement years?

A: I’ve always enjoyed building things. If hadn’t become a teacher, I would have been a builder. After we bought this house, I built the porch and the garage and put the bay window in. We had a camp in northern Maine for a long time and every summer was building on that. I built a ski chalet up at Mount Abram in 1967. I bought the plans and all the materials to build it, except the foundation, for $3,200. We sold it in 1989, as we looked toward retirement, for something like $80,000. But I still ski, mostly downhill, although I don’t take the steepest and hardest trails anymore.

Today I really like to build model planes. I have probably a dozen of them out in the garage, some I haven’t even flown yet.

Q: How did you get into model planes?

A: In high school my brother and I built planes, the ones controlled by a handle connected by two wires that just flew in a circle around you. Then, about 20 years ago, I had to have an activity period with the kids at school, so I thought back and decided having the kids work on model plane kits might be fun for them. Most never finished, because they only had an hour a week to do it. But one day a boy brought in some advanced plans his father had and I got real interested. So much so I joined the Propsnappers — the same model plane club I was in as a kid. They now operate on a field off Running Hill Road in Scarborough. My wife encouraged me to get back into it. She didn’t know it was going to become such an allconsuming hobby.

Q: Based on your life experience, what advice would you give to a young person?

A: The main thing is to do something that you enjoy, not because it’s work but because you like to do it. When I got out of the Army, I applied to Bowdoin and got accepted, but I thought, what am I going to do with that type of degree? I didn’t want to be a businessman, or a salesman, or whatever. So, I said, I enjoy teaching with kids and working with people. So, that’s my advice, choose your interests.

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