Unsung Hero: Mary Lou Sprague grabs life by the reins

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Some people of means spend their lives protecting their assets, seldom considering the common good.

Not Mary Lou Sprague.

Some people, as they age, get timid about engaging in physically strenuous activities.

Not Mary Lou Sprague.

Some people view old buildings as just old buildings, not structures that provide insights into our past and inspiration for our future.

Not Mary Lou Sprague.

Sprague, 83, continues to live life to the fullest with her husband, Phineas, on Spurwink Farm in Cape Elizabeth, near the start of the widely acclaimed annual TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race.

Her history with the Portland area goes way back. She’s a descendant of George Cleave, the founder of Portland, and her many contributions to the city are as impressive as her lineage.

A graduate of Waynflete School in 1946, Sprague has been a major supporter of the school for decades.

“I was in school during the second World War,” she said. “Bowdoin didn’t have enough students on campus at the time, so the college would send faculty down to teach.”

As a member of Waynflete’s board in the 1970s and ’80s, Sprague was instrumental in several major changes at the school: construction of a science center, the acquisition of playing fields, and the transition to coeducation.

Given her love of Maine, history and the decorative arts, it’s no surprise that Sprague has also taken a leadership role in preserving Portland’s architectural history. She was recently honored by the Stroudwater Village Association for her “leadership in preserving Portland’s historic Stroudwater neighborhood.”

A press release at the time noted that “her projects have included the Tate House, which operates as a public museum, and which has restored to original condition one of the first houses built in Portland. Our neighborhood and future generations of Portland citizens owe Mary Lou Sprague our profound thanks for her extraordinary leadership.”

Stroudwater is just one of the organizations dedicated to historic preservation that have benefited from Sprague’s support and vision. Others include the Maine Maritime Museum, the Owls Head Transportation Center, and Strawberry Banke.

In explaining her commitment to keeping history alive, Sprague said, “we have to know where we’ve come from.”

Her many hobbies, most of which she continues to this day, confirm that this is a woman on the move: skiing, tennis, trout fishing, sailing, and gardening. But driving a pair of Morgan horses around her farm three or four days a week is her greatest outlet.

“Some people study yoga,” she said. “I drive my horses. It’s just fabulous being outdoors.”

A Mainer through and through, Sprague said this of her home state: “Here in Maine we’re comfortable with ourselves. We say what we darn well please, and we mean it.”

With six children and 14 grandchildren (and a 15th on the way), Sprague has many young people right in her family to whom she can pass on her wisdom and energy.

If you listen to what Sprague might say if she were asked to speak at a Waynflete graduation, you know she has walked the talk: “Don’t just follow your own dream,” she said. “Cultivate companionable dreams so you can work with others to achieve them.”

Sidebar Elements

Mary Lou Sprague with her mother-daughter horse team Lady, 15, and Missy, 9, at Spurwink Farm in Cape Elizabeth.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net