YARMOUTH — When Mary and Charles Callanan were invited to their neighbor’s house for dessert and to watch a high school baseball award ceremony on cable television, they did not think anything was out of the ordinary. But as they settled in to watch the ceremony, they realized a Town Council meeting was in progress. As they listened, a Town Councilor nominated them to receive the 2009 Latchstring Award.
“I was so surprised,” Mary said .
“We are not hounds for publicity, and are low key people,” Chuck added. “But it was an honor and a surprise to hear our names.”
The award is presented to residents who have contributed to the community in a positive manner. It is named after the town motto, “Our Latchstrings are Always Out,” and has been presented each year since 1980.
The Callanans met in their hometown of Albany, N.Y. After Chuck returned from military service, they married and raised six children.
Chuck’s passion for education prompted him to receive his master’s degree in teaching from Johns Hopkins University and to become the headmaster of Park School in Baltimore for nine years. He has volunteered at the Maine Medical Center emergency room, in the Portland School Department and has been a foster grandparent. In 1989 he established the Trout Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping teachers in rural Maine access financial and material support for education through the use of small grants.
“I loved helping the teachers,” he said. “It was so fun to go all over Maine and find out what the teachers needed to educate their children better. We never professed to make a big difference, but we reveled in the smallness, the little successes.”
In 10 years he was able to provide teachers with more than $750,000 in books, supplies, training and other materials.
Then, in 1990, using his family’s personal experience from raising a child with special needs, he wrote a guidebook for parents called “Since Owen.”
“Our fifth child, Owen, was severely handicapped and could not speak, but was a happy guy his whole life,” Mary said. “Chuck wrote about the experience because there was nothing out there for parents on how to do what we did. There were no guidelines, no instructions. He shared our experience to help the next family.”
Mary, a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, said she loves to read and loves libraries. She formed the Friends of the Library Committee and has incorporated an art gallery at the Merrill Memorial Library for local artists and first-time artists to show their work.
“It is so gratifying to have artists who haven’t shown their work put it up on the walls and have a reception,” she said. “It has been fun to watch people grow and gain confidence.”
Mary said they each have their own passions. Chuck’s are education, schools, getting people involved and children, and hers are art, libraries and children. For nearly 25 years the couple has hosted classes on maple syrup boiling and apple cider making at their house for kindergarten through third-graders. They have taken in foreign exchange students, and their children’s classmates stayed with them whenever it was needed. As a result, the family is very close and each year make a commitment to meet for a family gathering.
“We respect one another, love each other and are committed to talking over family decisions together,” Mary said. “We are proud of our children and our grandchildren and know we will be there for one another.”
While Chuck said they “haven’t really done that much,” Town Manager Nat Tupper said the Callanans are role models.
“The Callanans are people who display such compassion and commitment and are the real heroes of our community,” he said. “They are such good people, and I am grateful they live in Yarmouth. It is really important for us to honor the people we look up to.”
The Callanans said the award makes them feel good and said they are now in “quite a group” with previous award recipients.
“We are so very fortunate in life,” Chuck said. “We have lived among wonderful people, and are blessed because of a lot of people don’t have the friendships we have. We are so grateful.”
Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 ot firstname.lastname@example.org.