During a visit with Carlene Dick at her home one afternoon, she gave me two books written by an Honors English class of the Presque Isle High School in 1985 and 1989. These stories, written by the high school students and printed by the graphic arts department of the Presque Isle Regional Vocational Center, are packed full of informtion about the history of Aroostook County and some of its citizens. I'm going to share the story of William "Bill" Haskell with you. He was the head of the Presque Isle Recreation Department from the mid 1940's to the early 1980's. Since the Wm Haskell Recreation Building is scheduled for demolition, I thought it was important to tell you the story. I am getting my information from the article "Bill Haskell: Presque Isle's First Recreation Director" by Jeff Vigue found in the Presque Isle Profiles: Articles of Aroostook and its People 1989.
"Born in 1913, he was a graduate of Presque Isle High School where he lettered in track and baseball. He was also active in other sports and he was a Boy Scout. Bill was Aroostook County's first Eagle Scout, the highest honor in scouting. He then attended the Aroostook State Normal School, currently the Univeristy of Maine Presque Isle. After his he went on to the University of Maine at Orono where he was a pitcher on the varsity baseball team. After graduating with a degree in education he taught in the local Presque Isle schools and also at a private school in Massachusetts, the Dedham Country Day School, where he was a coach for the baseball and basketball teams.
In 1942 he was drafted into the Army and was sent to Wisconsin to attend Radio School. It was in Madison where he met his future bride. Hthen was sent to Officers Candidate School in Florida. After his graduation from OCS he was stationed in China where he was an officer in the Army Air Corps.
After the war was over he returned to Presque Isle and found that a new job was being made available. The city decided that it needed a recreation department and, as Mrs. Haskell said, "Bill looked into it and decided that this was where he wanted to start out." He then went back to Wisconsin to get his bride before starting his new career.
The city purchased the old USO building on Main Street to house the new department. The outdoor pool was a block up the street from the Recreation Center, the new name of the building. There also was a softball diamond on the fairgrounds. These were basically the only facilities available to the new department.
During his 35 years as director of recreation the department blossomed and grew. Known for running a tight ship, former P.I. city manager Dana Conners once said, "We had to keep reminding him that he had retired from the Army." He was instrumental in getting many new facilities for P.I., such as Mantle Lake Park, the indoor swimming pool, the baseball diamond near the outdoor pool, and the Northern Maine Forum. He was proud of the fact that Presque Isle boasted New England's first lighted softball diamond (1949). He started many new recreation programs, like the summer baseball, swimming, and tennis programs, that are still in existence today.
One innovative program was Haskell's effort to use Mantle Lake Park in a "Cooperative Plant Hardiness Testing Program" sponsored by Harvard University. Horticulturist Harrison L. Flint of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum visited Presque Isle in June 1968 bringing 80 plant specimens to be placed at Mantle Lake Park. These included varieties of oaks, junipers, cedars, dogwoods, cotoneasters, buddleias, and rhododendrons. All were deemed appropriate for the northeast in general, but needed evaluation under "varied local conditions" for survival and and suitability. Members of the Presque Isle Garden Club volunteered their assistance in conducting the plant hardiness program.
During the winter months the recreation department offered many classes, such as dance, arts and crafts (also offered in the summertime) and occasional dances for local teens. He once confided, "I've always felt we did so well because it was a community recreation program. What we have here is proof that this community cares about its children, and cares about itself."
Bill enjoyed many leisure time activities, including fishing and curling. He was an avid fisherman who enjoyed escaping to the Red River area for weekend fishing trips with friends of his. Besides fishing, in his spare time he kept a small garden behind his house. He also was a charter member of the Presque Isle Curling Club, of which, at various times, he and as President and Treasurer. It took him and other charter members "a lot of work to get it completely started but they managed it and they had a lot of good times." Curling was a sport he played often and truly loved. He watched as the club grew and was soon traveling throughout Maine and New Brunswick to compete with other local clubs.
Bill was also a member of many other clubs and organizations. He was a founder, and former secretary, president, and treasurer of the Maine Recreation and Parks Association and a past president and a charter member of the Northern Community Recreation Association. In 1978 the Maine Recreation and Parks Association named him the Leisure Professional of the Year. He was also a member of the VFW, past commander and member of the American Legion and a member of the Presque Isle Rotary Club. He especially enjoyed attending the Rotary Club meetings and loved to take part in the annual radio/TV auction. He also served on the St. John Aroostook Resources Conservation and Development Committee.
In 1981, he stepped down from his position as head of the recreation department and settle down to enjoy his retirement. Directly following his retirement was a roast, held in his honor, at Keddy's in Presque Isle. In attendance were many of his friends and associates who proceeded to tell the crowd every amusing detail they know, or could make up, about Bill. One qluipped, "Bill, you're the only man I know who could draw this many people here who are happy to see you go." Following the roast he was presented a color television, a new camera, and a scrapbook which detailed his accomplishments.
On January 17, 1986, while curling, Bill Haskell suffered a fatal heart attack. In 1987 the Presque Isle Recreation Center was renamed the William V. Haskell Community Center."
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