Visiting Maine in Search of the Face of America

By Tony Mussari

The sign on US 95 read: Welcome To Maine The Way Life Should Be. A big promise, I thought to myself, but one that was prophetic in every sense of the word.

Our destination was Yarmouth, Maine. It was a beautiful Saturday in January. The sun was high in the sky, the temperature was above normal, and our seven hour journey was peaceful and uneventful.

As we made our way along the Atlantic coast many questions flashed through our minds. Would our Face of America project resonate with people? Would it be difficult to get people to share their thoughts with us? How difficult would it be to explain what we are trying to do? Would we be able to accomplish all of the goals we had set for ourselves in three days? Would the weather cooperate?

Our first experience in Maine was a pleasant surprise in every respect of the word.

When we reached our home away from home, The Down East Village Restaurant and Motel, the office was closed. The sign in the window directed visitors to the home of Ed & Sue Ferrell.

Once there, Ed answered the door. He greeted us with a smile and a handshake. He gave us the key to our unit, while speaking these words: “Don’t worry about registering. We can do that when you visit the restaurant.”

Ed’s welcoming way set the tone for the next three days.

Later that afternoon at the Royal Bean coffee shop on Main Street,we met John Perron and Steven Hebson. Both men demonstrated in a very special way what makes Yarmouth, Maine, so special.

Kitch and I had been checking out the beautiful buildings that line Yarmouth’s Main Street, magnificent steepled churches, the historic North Yarmouth Academy, the log cabin that serves as the American Legion hall, and more handsome examples of federal style homes than I have ever seen. It was late, and Kitch wanted a cup of coffee. By the time we reached the Royal Bean, the door was locked.

Kitch knocked on the plate glass. A young man came and opened the door. She explained our situation. Without hesitation, he invited us to come in. “I think I can help you,” he said with a smile.

Once inside he served up two cups of coffee, and John helped us get connected to the internet.

Steven, a sophomore at Brown University majoring in history and economics, told his story and he helped us get acclimated to Yarmouth. John went out of his way to see to it that throughout our trip we would have access to the internet

John and Stephen are two people you would want to have as neighbors and friends. They give meaning to the term client service.

On Sunday morning, we stood in front of the First Parish Congregational Church hoping to get a shot of the congregation’s oldest member, Frank Knight. It didn’t happen.

Frank was not able to get to church, but all was not lost. Ed Beem who was waiting on the sidewalk in front of the church for Frank Knight and anyone else who needed help suggested that we request permission to video the service.

Kitch went into the church to make the request. She returned with a smile and a nod. She didn’t have to say a word. Her expression said it all. For the first time in our lives, we were about to experience a Congregational worship service.

Built in 1868, the church is a magnificent historical monument. The Interim Associate Pastor, Martha Hoverson, is a person who radiates goodness and kindness in her words and in her actions. The choir sang music of prayer and praise in a way that touched our hearts, and the members of the congregation made us feel at home.

In many ways, the time we spent in the First Parish Church was one of the most memorable experiences of our trip. It was a moment of peace, reconciliation and community that we will not soon forget.

After the service, we returned to the Royal Bean for coffee and a chance meeting with Erinn Cayehal and Harold Chang. Erinn is the studio director at Sanctuary Holistic Health and Yoga Center. Harold is a teacher in New York. Both of these young, 30-somethings had interesting and thoughtful answers to our questions.

We finished our coffee, and we headed for the home of one of Yarmouth’s most celebrated citizens, Frank Knight.

Mr. Knight is a charming 101-year-old man. He shared stories with us about his life, his 50-year relationship with Herbie, the most famous tree in Maine, and a lifetime of service to his community.

If ever there was a face of America, it belongs to Frank Knight.

Frank is a kind man, a thoughtful man, a humble man, a driven man who spent his life in the service of others.

Ask anyone in town about Frank, and they will tell you he is dependable and very friendly. That’s the way Mary Estelle Blake described Frank. Deb Hopkins, Yarmouth’s tree warden agreed.

Ask anyone about Herbie, and they will tell you that Frank kept this 240-year-old Dutch Elm tree alive for half of his lifetime. It was his passion to preserve the oldest and the tallest elm in New England, and he did it.

Why? You ask. Because it was the right thing to do, the good thing to do, the community-minded thing to do.

Was it easy? No.

Was it time consuming? Yes

Was it profitable for Frank? No.

Was it rewarding for him? Yes, in all the ways that matter.

Unfortunately, Herbie’s time had come, and before we left Maine, the tree was well on its way into folklore and history.

Despite the protests of many and the yellow posters that read: “Wanted Alive,” the end came for Herbie during a gentle snowstorm on January 19, 2010.

During the early stages of Herbie’s demise, Kitch was packing our belongings and I was riding with Ed Ferrell as he plowed the streets of his Down East Village property.

For more years than they care to remember, Ed and his wife Sue have made their motel and restaurant a safe harbor for anyone who wants excellent home cooked meals and a clean, comfortable, no-frills place to experience the decency of Maine in real time.

Ed and Sue are quiet people, thoughtful people, courageous people. When they talk about the challenges of running a mom and pop business or the challenges of caring for a child and later a spouse with cancer, the tone of their voices and the expressions on their faces reflect the hopes and dreams recorded in stone 2,000 miles away in Keystone, South Dakota.

We came to Maine in the middle of winter looking for the Face of America. We left Maine with wonderful memories, beautiful stories and images of the Face of America that will serve as an inspiration as we make our way across the country. In the months ahead, we will remember the Mainers we met as we search for other Americans who quietly go about their day doing what they do, because they are grateful for the blessings of liberty that enable them to do what they do.

When I asked Sue Ferrell to share her thoughts about our project, she thought for a moment and then she shared 66 words that will keep us moving forward during the long days and nights ahead:

I think it is nice that you do this because it gives people a chance to think about things that are really important.

We get so busy in our day to day lives that we forget, but now I can go home and complain about what didn’t go right today. I can also now think about what did go right today, and that’s a good thing.

Maine is a beautiful place with welcoming people who care about the place where they live and its history.

As the saying goes: Maine Worth a Visit Worth a Lifetime.

If you would like to become a part of our search for the Face of America, please write to us at

Until the next time, we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.