‘This work is what women do—it’s how I grew up’

When someone asks Port Clyde resident Summer Ward what she does for a living, she has a simple response that she delivers with a wry laugh: “What don’t I do?” She then offers a little clarification. “I usually introduce myself as a caretaker/landscaper. I say I have my own business and usually leave it at that.”

The work Ward does for the several dozen seasonal clients currently on her books is wide-ranging. For most, it’s just a matter of cleaning up their gardens in the spring and putting them to bed in the fall. But for a group of about 10 clients, however, the list of services she provides is more varied and time-consuming—she opens their homes for the season, tends their gardens, mows their lawns, makes sure their lawn furniture is in place when they arrive, cleans their houses, makes arrangements for any parties, runs errands, and prepares their properties for the coming winter. “I help my closest clients with whatever they need,” Ward says with a shrug. “It’s anything, really.”

Ward often works alone, but she also has some regular helpers like Cheyenne Robishaw and Hannah Scott. When the need arises, she will also call on her older sister Shannon or her younger sister Ronnie or one of her many friends to pitch in. “It can get intense,” she admits, “but I feel like this work is what women do. To me it’s just normal, it’s how I grew up.”

Ward was born in St. George, which is where her father, Bill Stuart, was raised. “His mom and my grandfather worked at the sardine factory in Port Clyde. My dad ended up taking a care-taking job with Andrew Wyeth, so he and my mother moved the family to Cushing and—I hate to say it!—I was actually raised over there. So I grew up on the Wyeth property in Cushing. That was Betsy Wyeth’s childhood home. She and Andy lived there in the summers before they bought Allen Island. And then when they bought Allen Island we’d go back and forth. My mother was Betsy Wyeth’s personal assistant for 40 years. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized that growing up in ‘Wyeth land’ might be considered something special.”

What was special to her during those formative years was her family’s interest in sports, especially basketball and soccer. “My life was always go, go, go. We always had a sibling running to a sport and mom would go with this one and dad would go with that one. So we tried to find a happy medium.”

Ward’s freshman year at Georges Valley High School, she made the varsity basketball team—a big achievement—and when she graduated in 1995, she was offered two scholarships from two different colleges to play soccer. She discloses a little sheepishly that she decided to move to Port Clyde instead. “I had spent a lot of time here growing up and all my friends were here. I was 18 and I didn’t want to go away yet. It was about three years later when I realized I’d made a mistake. So I applied to the University of Maine Farmington, got accepted and majored in psychology. That’s where I met Jake [Ward].”

Ward and Jake stayed in the Farmington area for a while after graduating college, but Jake decided to pursue an opportunity to work with Summer’s father at the Wyeth property in Cushing and on Allen Island. “They loved him and he loved the area so when they offered him a position on the island he couldn’t refuse. So I finished up the job I had in Kingfield and moved back to Port Clyde a couple of months later. We spent the first winter here living on Allen Island. We were the only ones out there all winter!”

Ward then got a job at Thomaston Grammar School working with students who had behavioral problems. But summer jobs were an important source of extra income. It was a well-liked Port Clyde man, Trebby Johnson, who in 2005 got Ward started gardening.

“I was 27. Jake and I were looking to buy a house, so we were trying to work wherever we could. In the summers I was working at the Harpoon and Trebby wanted me to help him in his gardens. I told him I didn’t know anything about gardens at all. He said, ‘You’ll figure it out.’ So he started me off with just weeding. Then he had me paint in his house. And then he had me paint the parking lines at the lighthouse. So he kept on finding more work for me. Then he started telling all of his friends, ‘Well, I have this girl, she does gardens.’ So I said to him, ‘Trebby, I really don’t know what I’m doing,’ and he said, ‘Start reading.’ So I did. And then he hooked me up with some people and I started working for them—a lot of gardening, but care taking as well. Cleaning houses, opening them and it just went crazy after that. From one job I got another and then another.”

Eventually, partly because of the emotional drain of working with troubled kids, and partly because the landscaping and care-taking work was eating into the school year, she gave up her job at Thomaston Grammar. For about seven years, too, she and her good friend Hannah Simpson, ran Farmer’s Restaurant after Ward’s parents bought it in 2006. “We did very well for several years but the economy was not doing well and prices went through the ceiling so we finally closed it.”

Today Ward works primarily in Port Clyde and on Hupper Island. What was once summer fill-in employment is now full-time work packed into three seasons. She admits it’s hard work but says that at age 42 she’s in the best shape she’s ever been. “Cheyenne and I joke that we do ‘island cross-fit.’ We are always lugging lawnmowers, bags of mulch and plants down the ramp and into the boat—usually at dead low tide—and then we lug all that up the ramp on the other side. Down, over, up.”

In the winter, she says, “Anything I do our kids are part of.” And for Ward, that means sports. Daughter Violet, who is almost 11, plays soccer, basketball and softball. Son Liam, who is almost 8, is also athletic.

Ward is particularly passionate about coaching St. George’s youth on the basketball court and the soccer field. “I’ve coached middle-school basketball and Recreation soccer and basketball for over 20 years. I think the Rec program in St. George is amazing. Everybody down here is so involved—the families of the children are always offering to help fund-raise. We also have coaches who have been coaching for years and years. That provides a consistency of coaching that is unusual in most programs. We work together, we know what needs to be taught at each skill level and you can see the results with the kids—they really progress. They are having fun and everyone gets to play.”

At this point in her life, Ward believes she has found the right balance between her business life and her love of sports. Her work with the town’s recreation program (this is her fourth year to serve on the Recreation Committee) keeps her actively engaged during her “slow” season and when her care-taking and landscaping work begins to heat up, the recreation program slows down. “I don’t sit idle,” she says with a laugh. “I just feel really lucky that I’ve actually found work that I enjoy. I didn’t know I could have a business like this, but I learned. And I love everyone I work for.”­­—JW

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