'Herbie's' hero, former Yarmouth Tree Warden Frank Knight, dies at 103

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YARMOUTH — While his legacy may be tied to a venerable elm called Herbie, Frank Knight’s town roots went far deeper, his son said Tuesday.

“He was always working for the betterment of the community and people in it,” Dick Knight said, after his father died Monday of natural causes at age 103.

A celebration of Knight’s life and contributions to the community will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the First Parish Congregational Church, 116 Main St.

Born in Pownal on Oct. 17, 1908, Knight served as voluntary tree warden in Yarmouth for more than half a century. His efforts to save Herbie, the American elm that towered over the intersection of East Main Street and Yankee Drive, brought him international attention.

But current tree warden Debbie Hopkins said Knight was devoted to trees and people in town no matter who was paying attention to him.

“He gave me a gift of time. I feel very blessed to have shared this man’s life,” Hopkins said.

Knight was present when Herbie, afflicted with Dutch elm disease, was cut down in January 2010. Although he estimated he saved the tree from its demise 14 times in 50 years, he conceded its time had come.

“It’s his time now, and soon it will be mine,” Knight said at the time.

Hopkins said arrangements have been made for Knight to be buried in a casket made of wood from Herbie, which was determined to be 217 years old after it was cut down.

A tree warden for about a decade, Hopkins said she enjoyed learning from Knight as the two drove through town or shared Thursday afternoon visits at his home. She said he also clued her in to the secret of his longevity.

“He said it was the beer and spinach for lunch that did it,” she said.

Dick Knight said his father lived at his Yarmouth home until entering hospice care in Scarborough about three days before his death.

Frank Knight’s contributions to town can be found in woodlands, sidewalk markers and an athletic field at North Yarmouth Academy named in his honor, his son said.

Knight graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a forestry degree. Dick Knight said his father’s early career took him through woodlands in upstate New York and northern Maine. Eventually he went into business for himself as a land-clearing contractor and harvester of pulp wood. He also harvested low-bush blueberries in southern Maine.

A graduate of North Yarmouth Academy in 1925, he also served on the school’s board of trustees for 26 years. He was named a permanent trustee at the school in February, and was the oldest living alumnus of the school.

Knight was a strong supporter of the First Parish Congregational Church. He served as treasurer of the church ministerial fund for 30 years. He was also a member of the town Planning Board and trustee of Merrill Memorial Library.

Knight’s death came two days after the death of Town Councilor Erving H. Bickford. Town Manager Nat Tupper said the men were comparable in their efforts in the community.

“He was just a bright guy, cheerful and caring about people. He spent a tremendous amount of time making Yarmouth a great place,” Tupper said.

Town Councilor Carl Winslow said Knight was another example of a town leader always striving to make Yarmouth a better place for its residents.

Knight was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, the former Frances Mann of Yarmouth.

He is survived by his son, Dick, and Dick’s wife Joyce of North Yarmouth; two grandchildren, Daniel and his wife Sara, and Andrea Knight; two great-grandchildren, Maddie and Annie; and a niece, Meredith Dalessandro.

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to an organization of choice or to hospice care organizations.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Frank Knight

Former Yarmouth Tree Warden Frank Knight, center, died Monday at age 103. Knight worked tirelessly to save a landmark American elm nicknamed “Herbie.” When the tree was cut down in January 2010, Knight conceded its time had come.

Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.