FALMOUTH — Ted Vail, known in town for his long-time service as a firefighter and school principal, will celebrate his 90th birthday with a big bash at the Falmouth Congregational Church on Sunday.
Sometimes called “Mr. Falmouth” – especially after winning the Citizen of the Year Award from the local Lions Club – Vail said the party on Jan. 15 was not his idea.
“I wish the party was not being held. It’s superfluous and unnecessary, but I was told to keep quiet and stay out of it,” he said with a rueful laugh.
But Vail’s wife Dolores said the event, which will run from 1-4 p.m., will be a chance for people to honor Vail’s many contributions to the town.
Those contributions include terms on the Town Council, directing parks and recreation, coaching local youth sports teams, and service in both the fire and school departments. He’s also a long-time, active member of Falmouth Congregational Church.
Dolores Vail said she and her two sons felt it was important to hold the birthday party to mark her husband’s long life, as well as his many years of service. She said people should not bring gifts, but cards, photos and shared memories would be more than welcome.
Vail’s actual birthday is Jan. 17. He was born in Vermont, but has lived in Falmouth since 1929, when his family moved to Maine. In an interview Jan. 6 he said, “Falmouth is where my heart is, no question.”
He and his three brothers are all graduates of Falmouth High School, and all served in World War II, although Vail didn’t graduate until 1945, the year the war ended, so his service was with the allied occupation of Germany following the war.
His oldest brother, who served in the Army, was severely wounded and won the Silver Star for gallantry in action. Vail’s other two brothers both served in the Air Force. Vail said that while it was hard, and he missed his brothers during the war years, “we made the best of it.”
It was during the war, as a 16-year-old, that Vail first began his service with the Fire Department, at Engine 4 in West Falmouth. He also volunteered to drive a snow plow and for other tasks that were needed.
Vail stepped up, he said, because “there were not many men left to do these jobs; so many of the men were away in the war.”
He was discharged from the Army in 1947 and took advantage of the GI Bill to attend Springfield College in Massachusetts, where he trained to be a teacher. After working in various school districts, including in Vermont, Vail eventually made his way back to Falmouth.
He taught social studies for 25 years, starting at what was then the junior-senior high school in 1957. Dolores was a fellow teacher whom Vail married in 1958.
Their oldest son, Ben, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a teacher, and is now a parks and recreation director.
The Vails’ youngest son, Jeff, lives in California and works for the U.S. Forest Service as a supervisor in the Angeles National Forest.
The couple has three grandchildren.
In 1966, Vail became principal at the town’s junior high school, and in 1974 he became principal at the high school. All through his years of teaching, Vail volunteered with the Fire Department, eventually becoming deputy chief. He also served one year as interim chief.
In addition, during the early 1960s, Vail served as the part-time director of parks and recreation. During his tenure the town opened five new tennis courts and the first public boat launch at Town Landing, along with the Falmouth Nature Preserve.
But Vail takes no credit, and said his accomplishments depended on the support of others, including the former town manager and superintendent of schools. Following his career in education, Vail was also the maintenance supervisor for the Applegate development, drove a school bus and for the Independent Transportation Network.
Both Vails served on the Town Council. Ted was elected first, in 1979. He served two terms and then ran for the council again, in 1989, when there were plans afoot to rebuild the Engine 1 fire station in Falmouth Foreside. Dolores served on the council from 1996-2002. She said her desire to run was fueled by a local ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gays, which was overwhelmingly approved.
Vail keeps active by walking his dog, Daisy, every day, sometimes even jogging on the way home. He also takes an exercise class several times a week in South Portland, which he described as “aerobics for old folks,” and helps Dolores operate an Airbnb out of their home.
“Our son, Jeff, suggested it,” Vail said. “He told us it would bring in a bit of income, keep us busy and be good for us.” Both Vails said it’s been a treat meeting people from all over the world, including a fellow firefighter from New Brunswick, Canada.
This week, Karen Farber, the Town Council chairwoman, said Vail is considered “almost a celebrity” in Falmouth.
“I recall when, having discussions about happenings in the town upon first moving to Falmouth 16 years ago, Ted’s name invariably came up. If you didn’t know Ted and Dolores then you were really out of the loop,” she said.
“If there was a who’s who in Falmouth, he would definitely be on the list,” Farber said. “Ted has contributed in so many ways and over so many years. He has an incredible devotion to this community that he has shown again and again through big acts and small.”
Fire Chief Howard Rice said Falmouth “is very lucky” to have three former fire chiefs living in town, including Vail. “Each stops by and checks up on us,” Rice said. “I also include them in my weekly e-mail communication to my department.”
He added, “I cannot help but be so very impressed with what (Ted) has done for the town. I think he’s held every elected position, worked for the town, the schools, the Fire Department, drove the bus, and anything else the town needed. The town is extremely lucky to have people like Ted living here.”
Vail was characteristically humble about his accomplishments. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I’ve had a great life.”
A public party at the Falmouth Congregational Church on Sunday, Jan. 15, will celebrate the 90th birthday of Ted Vail, a.k.a. “Mr. Falmouth.”
Ted Vail and his wife, Dolores, both former town councilors, have been married for nearly 60 years.