NORTH YARMOUTH — During his service on several town committees for more than three decades, finding middle ground while keeping a level head has been one of Rob Wood’s goals.
The North Yarmouth Events Committee noted those attributes and others in naming Wood its “Distinguished Citizen for 2018.”
Wood will be honored at the town’s Fun Day celebration – where he has hosted horseshoe games for many years – on the Village Green Saturday, Sept. 15.
Wood and his wife, Gay Peterson, will celebrate 40 years of marriage this month. They ave spent nearly their entire marriage living in a secluded home on Milliken Road.
“Gay and I built it,” the 66-year-old said of their house, which sits on 20 acres. “Someone poured the foundation, and someone put the chimney in. Our friends and us did the rest. I can show you all the mistakes.”
The couple met at nursery school in 1956. They have two children; a grandchild is due next month.
They lived in Somerville, Massachusetts, before moving to Portland for a few years in the late 1970s, when Wood began a career in adult education. He started teaching inmates in 1979 at the Cumberland County Jail.
His “classroom” was in the old jail’s basement, two or three mornings a week.
“Ooh, it was a bad place,” he whispered. “They had communal cells; 22 people in a cell.”
But the program proved fruitful. Several inmates earned GED diplomas.
“They had time,” Wood quipped.
He later became a GED administrator, then a coordinator, and ultimately director of Portland Adult Education.
He retired three years ago after about 15 years in the position.
“It was a wonderful job,” Wood said Sept. 7 while sitting on the porch behind his house. “You get to work with students who want to be there. In my whole tenure … I kicked out one student. If they didn’t want to be there, they didn’t come.”
Wood witnessed a dramatic change in the academic program’s clientele as the years went on. The population was almost entirely local in the beginning.
“When I left it was probably 90 percent immigrant,” he said of the approximately 2,200 students. “Over the years, Maine has treated immigrants, refugees, well. And more recently they treat asylum-seekers well.
“If you’re running away for your life from Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, or wherever, you’re going to come to Portland, Maine,” he said. “And more to our strength. They’re the only reason there was a population growth last year.”
Wood’s involvement with town committees began when he joined the Zoning Board of Appeals in 1984, staying on for 10 years. He served on a planning team for the former North Yarmouth Memorial School from 1993-1995, was a member of the Board of Selectmen from 2007-2013 (chairman in 2012), and recently stepped down after six years as chairman of the Communications Committee.
Wood has also spent time on a Greely Middle School planning committee, North Yarmouth Recreational Library Study Committee, and the town’s Budget and Pay-As-You-Throw committees.
He remains on the latter panel, which established a recycling program of that name in recent years, putting North Yarmouth in the top five recycling communities within ecomaine’s municipal partnership. A Garbage-to-Garden program has followed.
A sense of civic duty got him involved, and a desire to find out what was happening in town has maintained his participation. “Almost any committee you’re on, you’ll find out by talking to people what’s up,” he said.
“The calm demeanor and frequent smiles make Rob an easy person to work with on a committee,” the Event Committee stated in its write-up on Wood. “He obviously enjoys working with others and manages, through charm and wit, to bridge differences that may exist.”
“To me, it’s fairly natural,” Wood said, noting that nothing is gained by losing one’s cool. “You just kind of regroup. It’s not good for the blood pressure, anyway.”
His reaction to being named Distinguished Citizen is similarly low key.
“I’m humbled; I haven’t done anything great,” Wood said, adding with a laugh that consistency is key. “You do something for many years, you get an award.”
Rob Wood, North Yarmouth’s Distinguished Citizen of 2018, will be honored at the town’s annual Fun Day event Saturday, Sept. 15.
North Yarmouth’s annual Fun Day celebration begins at Village Green, Route 115, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15. Events Committee member Jason Raven is “ringmaster” for this year’s circus-themed event, dubbed the “Smallest Show on Earth.”
American Legion Post No. 91 will present the colors, followed by a performance of the national anthem by the Greely High School Chorus and recognizing Rob Wood as Distinct Citizen of 2018.
The show begins at 10:15 a.m. with a bounce house, climbing wall, bungee jump, inflatable obstacle course, face painting and crafts. A “Party Palooga” starts then, too.
A cribbage tournament takes place at the fire station at 11 a.m., and a diaper derby at Village Green at 11:15 a.m. Registration for both is $5, before 10:15 a.m. at the information booth.
An obstacle course runs from noon to 1 p.m., musical chairs from 1-2 p.m., a costume parade at 3 p.m. Jack the Juggler performs all day, and a bean and spaghetti supper, hosted by the North Yarmouth Fire Company, wraps up the day at the fire station at 5 p.m.
— Alex Lear