Unsung Hero: Steve Ingram of Harpswell, friend of Eagle Island
HARPSWELL — Some connections were meant to be.
Steve Ingram bought a piece of property in Harpswell in 1967, just two years after graduating from Bowdoin College. He built a house on the land 33 years later, in 2000.
Adm. Robert E. Peary bought Eagle Island in Casco Bay in 1881, just four years after graduating from Bowdoin. He built a house on the island 25 years later, in 1906.
While they shared a deep love for the Maine coast, Ingram and Peary followed somewhat different career paths. Ingram taught math at the college level in Vermont. Peary explored new worlds.
On April 6, 1909, Peary, accompanied by Matthew Henson and four Inuit natives, planted the American flag at the North Pole. They were the first humans to reach the northernmost point on our globe.
On June 15, 2014, Eagle Island opened to visitors, an event enhanced by the addition of a new Welcome Center. Ingram played a major part in the development of that new center.
The Peary family gave Eagle Island to the state of Maine in 1970. The Friends of Peary’s Eagle Island was established in 1992 to work closely with the Maine Bureau of Parks & Lands to maintain the island and Peary’s house in an historically accurate manner, and to make it as accessible and instructive as possible to visitors.
Ingram joined the Friends of Peary’s Eagle Island in 2001. He had worked on trails for the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Green Mountain Club in Vermont, and also built houses, so his skills matched the needs of the organization.
For over a decade, he has been out to Eagle Island two or three times a week in the summer. Until 2012, his volunteer work centered mainly around trail maintenance and building-repair projects, although he’s also been involved in developing the website, working on the Friends newsletter, and maintaining donor lists.
In 2012, the Friends organization, consisting of about 24 people, including a hard-core nucleus of five or six, decided to build the Welcome Center on the Island. Ingram was instrumental in converting this project from vision to reality.
“We wanted to build the center on the spot where Admiral Peary’s son had a workshop,” he explained. Ingram on the responsibility for dealing with local and state regulators. He also donated much of the wood used to build the center.
Ingram said he spends long hours volunteering on behalf of the Friends of Peary’s Eagle Island for several reasons: “I love being outdoors and working for a great organization with good people. And it’s important that we honor the legacy of Admiral Peary, who was a true American hero.”