Category Archives: June 6

Eliza Steele’s legacy: A 90-year-old mission of community nursing

Eliza Steele (1898-1976), founding nurse of the Rockland District Nursing Association (RDNA), which this year is celebrating 90 years of community service

This year the Rockland District Nursing Association (RDNA) is celebrating the legacy of its founding nurse, Eliza Jane Steele, a proud native of St. George born in 1898 to Scottish immigrants Walter Steele and his wife Janet Creighton of the Clark Island community. By 1920 Steele was a student nurse at the local hospital and a few years later, following her father’s death from TB in 1921, she and her mother moved to Rockland, having sold their 39 acres of land to John Meehan & Son, the company that operated the mainland quarry on the Clark Island Road. In the 1930 census for Rockland, Steele was listed as a nurse for the Red Cross, but by that time she had also been the chief nurse of the newly established RDNA for a year.

Today, ninety years later, says Tenants Harbor resident and RDNA executive director Peta vanVuuren, RDNA is still an independent agency and is still fulfilling its founding mission of community nursing as established under Steele.

“Eliza Steele is really the vision of the RDNA. To me the important thing is the connection to the community and that the community supports the district nurse, that it is a partnership between local government, other community leaders and the nurses that has survived all these years.”

During the nearly 40 years she led the RDNA, Steele worked with a number of other nurses, most memorably among them Owls Head’s Margaret Torfason, going from home to home, handling the health needs of all ages, doing vaccinations, dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases, screening public school students, aiding unwed mothers, helping children get admitted to the Baxter School of the Deaf, working closely with local authorities on a variety of public health problems, holding well-baby and dental clinics. She would even go onto local farms to make sure the animals were vaccinated.

“Eliza Steele was also highly respected by many local physicians,” vanVuuren stresses. “If a doctor needed to know about families, about people who really needed services, she was the one who knew. She was their eyes and ears. The idea was you needed good health care for everybody, that people needed access.”

Steele and her colleagues attempted to address a very wide gamut of public health needs in Rockland and its surrounding communities during the Great Depression, World War II and into the 1950s and 1960s, but today, vanVuuren admits, so much has changed in health care, that the RDNA has also had to change to accommodate new health care roles and administrative structures. “It’s a fluid situation,” vanVuuren says. “Everything is constantly shifting. So the local solutions like the RDNA have to keep looking at what is possible and what is sustainable over the long term.”

Peta vanVuuren, RDNA executive director

These days, vanVuuren explains, the RDNA predominantly serves the elderly, signing on clients when a physician orders the service as part of a plan of care. “That’s the population that needs this type of non-acute nursing service. Primarily we’re doing medication ‘pre-pours’ (pre-measuring medications), foot care—afterall, if you are able to put your shoes on and go about your business, you can stay independent—and health assessments.” The medication service, she notes, is an important safety issue. “If several physicians are involved, some medicines being prescribed might conflict with each other. So we are another set of eyes monitoring the situation. We also work in collaboration with others—in St. George, for example, we work with the town’s para-medicine program. The paramedics can do some things and an RN or LPN can do other things.”

At this point, with financial resources allowing only 50 nursing hours each week, the organization is limited to a maximum of one visit a week to each client. “We’re all part time. We have a clinical care director and she has five nursers working with her. What the nurses do is simply nursing. Most of them are also working elsewhere. We match the client with the nurse. Our nurses have over 235 years of nursing experience combined. They are a seasoned nursing staff and love this kind of nursing.”

When the RDNA takes on a client—in St. George they regularly see 13 to 15 people—the commitment is to that client. There’s no limit to how long a client can be with the RDNA if they need the service. The average duration of client relationship is four years, but the organization has clients who have been receiving services for 17 years. The average client age is 81.

In the early days, the RDNA received funding from Rockland’s Community Chest, a precursor of the United Way. These days, vanVuuren says, 60 percent of the RDNA budget still comes from local sources—from the midcoast towns it serves (Rockland, St. George, Owls Head, Thomaston, So. Thomaston, Cushing and Union) and from local donations. There’s also a small endowment. The average fee for a visit is $25, with financial aid available if needed. These fees cover about 17 percent of the budget. Grants are another occasional source of revenue.

If serving an aging population has become a major RDNA focus, as much as it can, the organization also continues Eliza Steele’s focus on the wider public health needs of the communities it has served for these past 90 years. For example, it provides monthly blood pressure clinics in Rockland and Thomaston and it continues to be involved in a bi-annual medication collection initiative it helped launch in 2010.

“To me the medication collection is one of the most rewarding things we do,” notes vanVuuren. The problem the initiative was created to address is that leftover or expired scheduled medications are a hazardous waste that people don’t know how to dispose of. Flushing them down the toilet, for example, or putting them in the garbage poses an extraordinary environmental hazard.

“Initially there was no easy or legal way to get rid of scheduled medications—pharmacists weren’t allowed to take them back and the only ones legally able to take them was law enforcement,” explains vanVuuren. “So the police chief in Rockland and I talked and there were others interested, so based on a model they were using in Brunswick we figured out a way to do the dance of meeting all the regulations involved. Nine years later we’re still offering this free service to the community twice a year.”

Eliza Steele, vanVuuren is certain, would very much approve. —JW (John Falla contributed to this story.)

PHOTOS: Top, RDNA, below, Julie Wortman

You can observe just by watching

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

American Redstart

Writing the “nature bummin” column for the Dragon the last couple of years has been great for me in many ways. (Thank you to Julie and Betsy for encouraging these columns). It’s been wonderful to share stories, but just as wonderful to hear the nature stories of others. Once word gets out that you are interested in a topic, people start to share their own experiences with you, and nature observation is no different. With this in mind, I have always appreciated and encouraged people to share their nature observations and sightings with me. In complete disclosure and for purely selfish reasons, having people sharing is a total “win” for me. I am way more interested in learning what others have been seeing than talking about what I see. I mean, I already know what I see, and if I want to learn more I can’t think of a better way than to soak in what others are seeing. And so, yes, I am using you for knowledge. Could be worse…

For the month of May, the talk on the “nature” streets has been about birds. Birds are wonderful year-round of course, but spring is a season that combines the wonder of migration, the energy and anticipation of an upcoming breeding season, and a resurgence of forest life in general to create a lively bird scene. It should be noted—spring songbird migration is often given as a reason, one of many, as to why why my wife Amy and I moved to Maine. We are big fans.

Palm Warbler

Anyway, the stories floating around have been great—a family of woodcocks in a backyard, a photo of a broad-winged hawk shared with me at a baseball game, tales of red breasted grosbeak and indigo buntings at feeders, rumors of a yard that has hosted both Summer and Scarlet Tanagers this season (two tanager yards in these parts are hard to come by in my experience) and conversations at the library that begin with an enthusiastic, “What is up with all the crazy birds around?” I have seen none of these (and so much more), but hearing about them is a way to get a taste of what’s happening!

In this completely biased nature observer’s opinion, however, spring bird migration is all about the warblers. And much to my pleasure, recent strolls along my favorite neighborhood routes have been turning out to be very warblery.

A favorite characteristic of the Wood-warblers (Family Parulidae) of Northeastern North America is their diversity. Over 25 species of warbler migrate through or nest in our area each spring, and with so many species it’s no surprise that warblers fill just about every conceivable niche in the woods. They can be found in almost any habitat—marshes, riparian zones, fields and forests both hardwood or coniferous—with species ranging from being specialists (ie. Palm warbler breeding specifically in bogs) to super adaptable (i.e., the Yellow-rumped warbler and their “whatever, wherever, whenever” nutritional strategy).

Magnolia Warbler

Warbler diversity also extends into feather patterns, making the Parulidae one of the more “aesthetically” pleasing groups of birds. Variations in shades and arrangements of yellows, blues, blacks, greens and oranges result in an array of looks that add color and beauty to any yard, shrub, tree or neighborhood. One of my favorite warblers is the Magnolia, with its brilliant, bright yellow chest that’s only interrupted for a dangling necklace of black. It’s not uncommon to cross paths with Magnolias in coniferous forests, such as along the Town Forest Loop trail off Kinney Woods Road. Years ago I received a yellow shirt painted with the male Magnolia Warbler’s wing and body patterns. One of the coolest presents ever!

Northern Parula

Warblers also bring a cacophony of song upon arrival each spring. The Magnolia’s “weety, weety, weet-eo” being one of a spectrum of sound, pitch, and subtleness that makes up the Eastern North America warbler song chorus. For my biased ears, warblers are what make spring mornings great, as each song is as distinctive as it is beautiful. Take the Northern Parula’s song of “ohhhhhhhhhh, shoot!”—constructed as a rising note followed by an immediate drop. A common song on our peninsula wherever Old Man’s Beard lichen can be found. Or the radiating, yet pleasing “TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER!” of the Ovenbird. These are the songs that grab me, and inspire fist pumps and “ohh yeahs” as if hearing the voice of an old friend you haven’t heard from for some time. Like say a year or so.

Spring is a great time for a plethora of reasons, some of which are nature based. And while it’s always a good time to get outside, spring can be an especially exciting time with migration and avian hormones raging. And while keeping an eye on what’s up bird-wise in your ‘hood falls into the “getting to know your neighbor” category, it is also important to share what you learn or what you see, for the greater good, but also for the selfish reasons I mentioned before. I already know what I know, let’s hear what you know. Everyone wins when we share.

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

The rewards and challenges of being an artist

Oil painting by Jen Derbyshire, one of the artists included in the new “Directory of Artists of St. George”

The month of June brings a whole new summer season of fine art exhibitions to the St. George peninsula. In preparation, many of us artists pushed the boundaries of our creativity into new territories during the long winter months. Our endeavors come with significant rewards and challenges. Last winter, as I reflected upon my own efforts, I wondered about the experiences of other St. George artists. Is there commonality among our experiences or are we completely different? So, I asked them: What are the greatest rewards and greatest challenges for you as a professional artist? Over a dozen St. George artists responded and it seems that our individual experiences overlap a great deal.

Most of us artists simply enjoy the freedom to create. For botanical painter, Banjie Getsinger Nicholas, “the biggest reward is the spark of an idea and the pleasure and challenge of nourishing it to life.” An anonymous painter added to that sentiment, “As I get older and less ambitious, the element of escape, that total engagement in the work, is a god-send.” It’s no exaggeration that we artists need to create almost as much as we need to breathe air. We thrive on the pleasure of making art because it springs from our core. And, our artistic core often forms during childhood. For instance, like most St. George artists, painter Hannah Nelsbach began making art in her youth. “As a young girl I started drawing with very colorful pencils,” she remarks. “I wanted to see the world as happy with my colors.”

For Jon Mort, “The biggest reward is the job of communicating with people. For me, art is a process based on dialogue and that conversation is the deepest part of my inspiration.” Chris Moses agrees, “I find great value in my work if I feel that I have captured the element that I was trying to convey to the viewer, as in light, emotion, character, etc. of a landscape.” Greg Mort adds that he is “fulfilled with what I love to do and share it with others.” And Sandra Mason Dickson feels rewarded “when others appreciate what my work says to them.” Indeed, we artists hope to communicate with viewers just as the author of a book hopes to communicate with readers. This is what drives authors to publish and artists to exhibit their work.

A third reward identified by many of our artists is validation. For encaustic painter Otty Merrill, it is important to “be acknowledged by your peers and those artists you look up to.” This provides an important sense of accomplishment that encourages us to keep going. Painter Kenneth Schweizer adds that “Finding and following the requisite disciplines necessary to raise the quality of my art is necessary for my creative development. And when a singular work is particularly praised by the public, it greatly enthuses my outlook and makes up for many artist-life tribulations.” Validation also occurs when our work sells. Gayle Bedigian remarks, “I love the act and art of creating, but my happiness springs from bringing joy to my customers.” Rick Bernard feels the same: “Perhaps, the most rewarding aspect of being an artist is the feeling I experience when someone appreciates my work enough to actually purchase it.”

These three types of rewards are the “carrot stick” that often motivate us artists. But, if we are to keep going, they must outweigh the challenges we encounter. Painter Carmella Yager identifies one of our biggest challenges. “The down side,” she reflects, “is when doubt enters and distracts.” This factor, alone, is the greatest inhibitor to creativity that often blocks our efforts to advance our work. We must rely upon our innate ability to ideate and create and no one can help us with that.”

Marketing our work is another big challenge. “For me, the biggest problem is the amount of self-promotion necessary to get the works seen by others,” says Nicholas. Most artists would agree that their talent and expertise is in creating art and not in marketing it. The task is expensive and time-consuming while the path to successful marketing is riddled with landmines. We learn as we go and hope not to make a “fatal” mistake that will cripple our professional standing in the art world.

A final challenge for many is the environment in which we create art. Plein-air painters like Chris Moses work where “bugs, heat, wind, changing light and accessing properties” hamper every effort. As a studio painter, I often need more space than what exists for laying out large paintings and for storage. And then there’s balancing our lives. “The hardship for me is making a living with my work,” says Bedigian, “since I’m also a wife, mom, grand mom, janitor, cook, secretary, dog walker, and gardener.” Anne Cox, a painter and rug-hooker, agrees. “The biggest problem I face? That’s easy. Time. Never enough, given the demands of making a living.”

For all the rewards and challenges we artists must face, I am personally rewarded when I view a work of art that moves me and connects me to the person who made it. I hope that your experience with the artists of the St. George peninsula leads you to the same appreciation this summer. And, if you don’t know all of our local artists, be sure to pick up a free copy of the newly published “Directory of the Artists of St. George” at the town office, the Jackson Memorial Library and other local establishments and get to know them!
—Katharine Cartwright

The St. George School Fund makes a big difference—as does this year’s $20,000 matching donation

3rd and 4th grade students from the St. George School are shown here with their Educator-in-Residence Ryan Ford in excited anticipation of climbing the 45’ indoor climbing wall at Camp Kieve.

by Mike Felton

The St. George School Fund provides vital resources that help our school-community engage, challenge and meet the needs of all students.  Inspired by Wick Skinner’s gift that launched the St. George School Makerspace Initiative, the School Fund helps fuel innovation, fund educators’ ideas, and ensure that St. George School continues to stretch people’s imagination as to what is possible in public education.  St. George School is a community school and the heart and strength of our school is the community of St. George.  This fund is evidence of that heart and strength—of our shared commitment, as a school and community, to do whatever it takes to ensure that every single student thrives and, in the process, gives back to the town of St. George.

With increasing demands on school budgets, including growing special education costs for federally mandated services, the School Fund has never been more important. I am pleased to announce that an anonymous donor has committed to match the first $20,0000 that we raise this year for the School Fund! If we can “meet and match,” that will provide us with $40,000 to fund projects that innovate, inspire and empower all students through experiences like the Makerspace Initiative and Educator-in-Residence Program; through hands-on environmental education projects where students act as citizen-scientists in their community; and through after-school programs that feed, nurture, and educate our youngest students while providing high-quality, reliable childcare for working parents.

Below are a few examples of projects that were supported by the School Fund this year.

• $7,000 for the Educator-in-Residence Program: The Educator-in-Residence (EIR) program is run by Kieve Wavus—the same organization that operates the Camp Kieve Leadership School.  St. George 8th-grade students go to the Leadership School at Kieve each fall.  At camp, students engage in activities and challenges that allow them to strengthen communication skills, practice positive risk taking, form and maintain healthy relationships, raise aspirations, and create physical and emotionally safer school climates.  This is a key part of our 8th Grade High School Choice Program.  The EIR program places a Kieve staff member from the Leadership School in a public school for 10 weeks. This person has special skills in the areas of social-emotional growth and experiential education.  St. George School staff wanted to bring the EIR program to St. George to work with students on social-emotional learning through experiential education, mentoring, crew activities, after-school programs, and integrated lessons developed with classroom teachers.  Funded entirely by the School Fund, the EIR program allowed us to bring Kieve Leadership School Counselor Ryan Ford to our school community.  Ryan had a tremendous impact on our school through his work with students and staff.  One day he would have the entire middle school circled up in the gym doing activities and the next he was mentoring an individual student.  He taught—by example and through structured activities—leadership, communication, respect, and collaboration.

• $6,000 for an Island Institute Fellow to develop a sustainable, high-quality after-school program: Next school year, an Island Institute Fellow will help St. George School and Blueberry Cove develop and implement an after-school program for students in grades K-5 that (1) provides high-quality, reliable childcare for working parents, (2) feeds students healthy snacks after school addressing issues of food insecurity, (3) offers students physical activity and enrichment opportunities, and (4) supports students’ academic, social, emotional learning needs. As part of this effort, the Fellow will involve 9th–12th grade St. George students who attend local-area high schools. This will capitalize on local talent, provide a service-learning experience for high school students, and help our high school students remain connected and involved members of our school community.

• $1,000 for the Forest School Program:  Working with our School-wide Behavior Interventionist, Amy Hufnagel, EIR Ryan Ford developed and ran an after-school program for 3rd and 4th grade students focused on leadership skills, community engagement, and environmental education.  Students explored the natural environment around the school; engaged in activities that taught them about responsibility, respect, and collaboration; and even had a trip to Camp Kieve to test themselves on the 45-foot climbing wall!

• $710 for the 5th-Grade Worm Composting Expedition:  This winter, Christine Miller, the 5th grade teacher, had an idea that would combine art, science, and environmental education to teach students about sustaining healthy ecosystems in the community.  Fifth-grade students would observe and collect data on the process of decomposition by managing a classroom worm farm.  With an artist-in-residence, the class would create a graphic novel about decomposition, recycling and supporting a healthy ecosystem.

St. George School received the Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA) School of the Year Award because of, according to the MEEA, “a demonstrated commitment to creating authentic learning opportunities for your students and engaging them in their environment as well as your clear dedication to reaching into the community to create real-world learning opportunities,” which made “St. George School a clear choice for this award.”

You can make a donation to the St. George School Fund online ( or by making a check out to the “St. George Community Development Corp” Indicate on the memo line that the donation is for the “St. George School Fund.”

Please mail checks to:
St. George Community Development Corp.
PO Box 160
Tenants Harbor, ME 04860

Thank you for your support of the St. George School Fund and—above all—for your support of our students, educators, and school-community!

(Felton is superintendent of the St. George Municipal School Unit.)