News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 9, 2012
Town of Castine honors Leali with gold-headed cane

Castine gold cane presented

At the August 6 meeting of Castine’s Board of Selectmen, the town’s gold-headed cane was presented to oldest citizen Dominic Leali (left). Chairman Gus Basile (standing) reads a letter accompanying the cane. Leali’s daughter, Bernice Hathaway, is seated beside him. Others present were Mary McCarthy and John Hathaway.

Photo by Sharon Bray Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Sharon Bray

At their meeting Monday, Aug. 6, selectmen presented the town’s gold-headed cane to oldest citizen Dominic Leali.

Born in Stonington in 1917, Leali moved to Castine in 1969 and in 1972 built the off-neck house where he still lives.

In making the presentation, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Gus Basile asked Leali if he had worked in the stone-cutting trade of Stonington. Although hard-of-hearing, Leali responded promptly that he had. His daughter Bernice Hathaway, sitting beside him, added that Dominic had been a blacksmith.

Leali declined the selectmen’s invitation to make a speech, but in later conversation with family members and well-wishers shared a few stories of his life in Castine. He worked 22 years for Maine Maritime Academy before he retired in the early 1990s. He had also worked at the Portsmouth shipyard in 1943, his daughter said.

Well known as a gardener, this is the first year neighbors are tending the deer-fenced garden beside Leali’s house. He said this is a strange growing year with weather seeming to make a significant difference.

Besides his daughter Bernice and husband John Hathaway of Saco, Leali has a son living in South Carolina. He has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

From Bangor, grandson Mark Hathaway and wife Mary McCarthy also attended the meeting and celebration.

Basile handed Leali the ebony cane with its elaborate gold head and told him he could keep the laudatory certificate but the cane would remain on the wall in Emerson Hall.

In 1909 the Boston Post newspaper gave canes to 700 towns in New England to be awarded to each town’s oldest citizen. Towns would send the paper a picture of a cane award ceremony, and its publication would boost circulation.

Many of the canes have long since been lost or appropriated by families who did not realize that the cane belongs to the town and not to the person pictured holding it; for towns were to pass it along to the next person who became oldest citizen.

Castine and a number of other area towns, including Penobscot, still own and care for the canes.

The agenda item generating the most discussion among selectmen and the public focused on complaints about the condition of public restrooms on the town dock.

A lease agreement between the town and the owner of The Breeze take-out food service on the dock includes a requirement for cleaning the toilet facilities.

Basile said he had previously spoken with “a worker” at The Breeze after he found the restrooms “not clean” during a mid-day visit.

Selectman Peter Vogell said he had spoken to Snow Logan, who currently operates The Breeze as well as the corner store (Castine Variety), about the situation. “The Breeze, LLC” is listed as the actual lease holder.

After Vogell spoke with Logan, the town received a letter from her attorney Michael Harman stating that all future communication regarding the toilets must be through him and not to Logan directly, according to Basile.

A Castine resident said her husband had refused to use the toilet because he found it to be “disgusting.”

The town’s parking enforcer Jim Stone had relayed complaints to the town office.

According to the lease agreement, The Breeze tenant is supposed to scrub floors and fixtures at least twice a day as well as taking care of trash and filling paper and soap holders.

Selectmen, discussing the lawyer’s letter, said Logan blamed the problem on late night inebriated users and that her staff cleans the restrooms before The Breeze opens at 11 a.m. and again mid-afternoon. Basile noted that he had seen The Breeze open earlier mornings and selling coffee.

Town Manager Dale Abernethy said the town could do as it once had in the past and lock the restrooms at night. The town’s public works employees would unlock weekday mornings and MMA security officers making rounds could unlock on weekends.

“From what I have seen, this is not coming from late nights,” said Vogell. “If they were getting dirty at night, why haven’t we been notified?”

Vogell, who is also the town’s plumbing inspector, said he inspected and found dirty restrooms two days in a row and into the third day when he told Logan he would shut them down as a health violation if not cleaned immediately.

“Our point should be that zero is not twice a day,” said Vogell. “If she isn’t going to clean them, we have to hire someone and make her pay for it.”

Selectman David Unger suggested the board and Abernethy meet with Logan and her attorney to discuss the problem. Abernethy said he would contact the lawyer to try to arrange a meeting. The town manager also sent Castine’s attorney a copy of Harman’s letter.

In other business, Economic Development Director Susan Walsh talked to selectmen about plans for a September 2013 visit from BikeMaine. The bicycle tour is in cooperation with Maine’s Downtown Network, of which Castine is a member.

More than 300 cyclists would camp at Fort George with a few non-campers staying at local inns. Walsh said MMA has agreed to let them use showers at the field house.

Walsh predicted a “positive economic impact” as family members accompanying the tour would be likely to rent rooms, eat at local restaurants and otherwise bring business into town.

Selectmen approved plans to use the fort as a campground.

Basile also reported receipt of a letter from Jennifer Henderson about plans for youth from Castine’s four churches to gather at Fort George the afternoon of August 19 with August 26 as a rain date.

In another communication, Basile said the academy’s NROTC orientation would be Aug. 21-24 as it has been in the past. Abernethy estimated 10 to 12 students on scholarships would participate.

Resident Gil Tenney said in past years “combat drills” on MMA and Conservation Trust land have spilled over onto private property. He said he had never received notice or request to use his property.

Abernethy said he would contact the NROTC office to “make them aware that there are multiple landowners.”

The next regular selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 20, at 4 p.m., followed by a town-gown meeting at MMA Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 8 a.m.