Freeport DAR member marks 70 years of community service

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FREEPORT — Helen Clarkson says her life has unfolded in “chapters.”

But the common thread has been the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Clarkson celebrated her 70th year as a DAR member with a surprise party on July 25.

Clarkson spends her summers in Freeport, but is a member of the Topsham-Brunswick chapter. The party was held in Woolwich at the home of chapter member Charon Sellars with guest speaker, DAR Maine State Regent Elizabeth Hotchkiss.

Gov. Paul LePage wrote a letter to Clarkson congratulating her and thanking her for her commitment to the DAR and the community. 

“I was surprised at the extent of (the surprise party),” Clarkson said. “I thought I’d just be handed a certificate.”

Since its formation nearly 125 years ago, nearly 930,000 women have joined the DAR. The organization serves as a way for members to honor their lineage while volunteering in communities across the country and world. According to their web page, DAR members have volunteered more than 839,000 hours so far this year. 

At 92, Clarkson continues her dedication to the community by quilting. She has been making baby quilts for Project Linus since 1999. In 2000, she organized a group to make quilts for Good Shepherd Church. In the last five years they have donated more than 140 quilts per year.

“Helen is a remarkable woman and deserves recognition for not only her DAR service, but for her community service,” Denise Moore, regent of the Topsham-Brunswick chapter, said.  

Former DAR registrar Charon Sellers wrote in a July 28 email that Clarkson has “always been a welcoming smile at the Topsham-Brunswick chapter of the DAR for the 13 years that I have been a member … (she) represents our chapter with dignity, grace, charm, and a smile.”

Clarkson’s mother, Marion Pratt, joined a chapter outside of Boston in 1920. When her family moved to Maine, she transferred her membership to the Topsham-Brunswick chapter, where she served as an active member until her death in 1988. 

“My mother did all of the work to allow us to be eligible to be in the DAR, so it was very easy for me to join,” Clarkson said. 

Membership began for Clarkson in 1941 when she joined the Children of the American Revolution during her second year at Brunswick High School. She followed in her mother’s footsteps, transferring to the Topsham-Brunswick Chapter DAR in 1947.

“I think it’s fine that we recognize those that have served our country, but I guess I’m even more interested in what (the DAR) has done in the way of historical preservation,” Clarkson said when asked what she’s valued most in her 70 years with the DAR. 

“The DAR has also been prominent in education,” Clarkson added. “At one point, (the DAR) helped to support (more than 100) schools … I’m all for that kind of thing.”

After graduating from Bates College, Clarkson accepted a teaching fellowship at Washington State University. She met her future husband, Vernon, the day she arrived. 

Clarkson received her master’s from WSU before moving back to Maine for a year to teach until Vernon’s work as a research biologist took the young couple to Oregon, where they had three children. 

From there, her family moved to North Carolina. As soon as her youngest turned 5, she began teaching sociology at North Carolina State University. 

Fourteen years later, they moved to Rhinebeck, New York. 

“My life has been in chapters,” Clarkson said. “… I’ve been very fortunate in the opportunities I’ve had, wherever we happened to be.”

After retiring, Helen and Vernon Clarkson spent some time in Florida before moving to Arizona, where Clarkson still owns a home. Since 1989, she has been spending her summers in Maine and the rest of the year in Arizona. 

Even though Clarkson spent much of her life moving around the states, preventing her from actively participating in the DAR, she maintained a membership with her chapter in Topsham-Brunswick.

“Maine is home to me,” Clarkson said.

There is no doubt that her family’s roots run deep in Maine.

When she was a young girl, Clarkson’s grandfather ran a Rural Free Delivery mail route in Freeport. The last home her parents owned in Freeport is now Kendall Tavern Bed & Breakfast, at 213 Main St. 

Following Clarkson in the DAR tradition is her daughter, Joyce Clarkson-Veilleux, who lives next door on Maquoit Drive. After serving in the military for 24 years, Clarkson-Veilleux retired as a lieutenant colonel and now helps other veterans in the American Legion. She has been a member of the Topsham-Brunswick chapter for about 12 years. 

“Having a veteran daughter, I’m all for the DAR supporting the veterans,” Clarkson said. 

Despite all of her travels throughout the U.S., Clarkson said she has yet to see the DAR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., but she and Clarkson-Veilleux are planning a visit in September. 

Helen Clarkson, 92, of Freeport, celebrated her 70th year as a member of the Topsham-Brunswick chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution on July 25.