Speaker 1: You are listening to Love Maine Radio, hosted by Dr. Lisa Belisle. Recorded at the studio’s of Maine Magazine in Portland. Dr. Lisa Belisle is a physician and editor-in-chief of Maine, Maine Home Design, Old Port, Ageless, and Moxie magazines. Love Maine Radio show summaries are available of lovemaineradio.com.
Dr. Lisa B.: This Dr. Lisa Belisle, and you’re listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 343 airing for the first time on April 15, 2018. Today we speak with Jennifer Hutchins, the Executive Director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits, and fly fisher Evelyn King, who is a founding director of the Sebago Trout Unlimited Women’s Fly fishing Group. Thank you for joining us.
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Dr. Lisa B.: Jennifer Hutchins became the Executive Director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits in July 2016 where she leads a member network of more than 900 charitable nonprofits and 150 private partners. Prior to joining the Maine Association of Nonprofits, she led the city of Portland’s efforts to strengthen the creative economy as Executive Director of Creative Portland. Thanks for coming in today.
Jennifer H.: Thank you.
Dr. Lisa B.: You’ve actually had a foot in all kinds of different sectors, you’ve got some public policy experience, you’ve got some creative sector experience. Now you’re doing nonprofits, what was your original thinking on how your life would unfold when you were say a senior in high school, did it look like this?
Jennifer H.: Well, that’s a great question. I was just talking to some young people the other day about my path. I actually, when I first graduated from high school, I wanted to go into international banking. This was back in the day when Melanie Griffith was defining what it looked like to be a working girl, and so I pictured myself with the big hair and the big shoulder pads and the high heels going down the boulevards of Paris and London, and that’s what I thought I wanted to do.
I went to college and that’s where I discovered more deeply what my real values were, and where I still had high aspirations for doing a lot of international travel and getting to know a lot of different types of people and a lot of different types of cultures. I realized that it wasn’t in the private sector that I really wanted to have impact, and so I have spent time internationally, and I’ve spent time in some of our larger cities in the United States.
Ultimately however, I determined that living in a place like Maine provides an opportunity to have a greater impact in my community.
Dr. Lisa B.: You originally came to Maine as a child of Navy parents.
Jennifer H.: Right, yeah.
Dr. Lisa B.: You moved here because I believe it was your father that was stationed at the Naval Air base at the time?
Jennifer H.: Yeah, my father is a retired Navy pilot, and had spent some time stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station. They really liked it, and so when he got out of the military, he was still young enough to fly commercially. They chose to move to Maine from Southern California, so that was quite a change for my teenage older brothers and myself, and just getting ready to go into middle school.
I remember moving here in the dead of winter from Southern California and coming home from school and saying to my mom, “They’re wearing boots with chains on the bottom.” The famous L.L. Bean boot, which I still have that pair of boots, and I’m quite proud of today, because I’m not wearing any of the fancy new ones, mine are old school. When I first moved here as a young kid, I really questioned the style choice of those L.L. Bean boots, but I quickly grew to love living in Brunswick, and I eventually graduated from high school in Brunswick, Maine.
Dr. Lisa B.: It’s interesting that you’ve had, you’ve had the chance to live in other places. You obviously could, you could still be in DC, you could go back to Southern California. You could go somewhere international and be Melanie Griffith presumably.
Jennifer H.: Yeah, I guess.
Dr. Lisa B.: You still are here, what’s kept you here?
Jennifer H.: Well, first and foremost family. When I moved back to Portland having lived abroad and lived in bigger cities, at first I didn’t want to stay. This was 20 years ago when Portland wasn’t quite as hot. I was in my 20s, and it seemed like everybody lived out West, and there were the big cities out West that were really drawing people at that time. For the first couple of years I really resisted staying in Maine for too long, and then I was taking a photography class at Maine College of Art, and I was having a conversation with the instructor.
She said to me, “You know Jen, if you go to New York or Boston and you try to be a photographer, you’re going to be one in a sea of people.” She said, “If you stay here, you actually might have a shot at making a niche for yourself.” Now I ended up choosing to get my Masters degree at the University of Southern Maine and staying here, and so my niche ended up being policy and community development, public policy and community development.
The same remained … It was the same case, I would meet with professors and they would say, “That’s a really great question, why don’t we find a time when we can meet with one of the Governors policy advisors?” or, “Why don’t you give this CEO a call?” It was amazing how the access to decision-makers and people who wanted to make a difference was just 1° or 2° of separation, whereas I knew that if I moved back to Washington DC, or I started a new career in New York or elsewhere, it would just be so much more complicated to really feel like I could connect with people who were making a difference.
Dr. Lisa B.: What was it about the creative economy that kept you working as the Executive Director of Creative Portland for so long?
Jennifer H.: My early career had started in advocacy for arts and culture. I worked for an organization in Washington DC called People for the American Way, which was a First Amendment organization, and I did research into challenges to creative expression. It was founded by the TV producer Norman Lear, who was concerned about the impact that the religious right was having on the media waves. He started his own watchdog organization that was just tracking how that movement was impacting the media.
I became very familiar with the national endowment for the arts, and the back then challenges to the national endowment for the arts around artistic expression. I also come from a long line of musicians and actors, and so the arts and culture just from my family’s perspective were very important to me. Then I also had spent, after college spent two years in Europe and saw how the Europeans embed arts and culture into their daily lives.
It’s not considered something like entertainment that you do when you have an extra few dollars, it’s embedded in everything that they do. I became very passionate about advocating for the arts, and so I built on that interest in arts and culture with my public-policy skills. Then the creative economy work really came out of some of those attacks to artistic expression in the early 90s as a way for people to understand the importance of arts and culture in our lives beyond just the entertainment value.
I really became very interested in how the creative economy, economic development work really was integrating and developing a whole new case for why we need arts and culture in our communities.
Dr. Lisa B.: What did you learn? What were some of the lessons? Why do we need arts and culture in our communities?
Jennifer H.: Well, I firmly believe that Portland wouldn’t be Portland without all of those arts and cultural institutions. I think that when you go out now and you ask people about Portland, certainly they list restaurants is right at the top of the list, and some include restaurants as part of the creative economy at this point for sure. Even deeper than that, I really believe that people respond to the ethos, the Zeitgeist of the community, and I firmly believe that the history of Portland has been shaped so much by cultural institutions that have been here for decades.
Then more recently, some of our institutions that are about 30 years old, the Portland Stage Company and some of these other institutions, Maine College of Art, and the Museum of course have been here longer than that. Then in the 70s there was another wave of cultural institutions, and I think no one can deny that it’s what really makes a true impact of what the community is. I think the other thing that I learned that was really interesting in some of the research that we did, is sometimes you think of the creative economy as only impacting urban areas.
What was interesting to learn, was to go to other more remote parts of Maine and realize that there is an activity and a vibrancy to community that is magnetized by creative activity. Again, even in some of our smaller communities where it might be harder to find a cluster of activity if you will, there’s really demonstrated value in people who want to be there, and who are creative people just doing great things. Then as a result, economic activity comes with that.
Dr. Lisa B.: As you’re talking, I’m thinking about the Stone Mountain Arts Center out in Brownfield, which I mean that’s a perfect example of something that grew out of Carol Noonan’s love of music, and seems like it’s plopped down in the middle of nowhere, but it has been so accepted and loved, by not only the local community, but also the greater community.
Jennifer H.: Yeah, that’s an excellent example, another really favorite example of mine is the Stonington Opera House, and what I really love about the Stonington Opera House and I think Stone Mountain’s very similar, is that if you initially go to Stonington, you see a very, very traditional fishing village really. Not at all like a more developed community like Boothbay Harbor, or Camden, but very much still a fishing village, a working village.
You might at first think that plunking, or renovating an old community center and opera house into an art center that does Shakespeare and plays and movies and community events, that they might have a hard time integrating. Really to the contrary, the people who founded that organization and who maintain it have really done an exceptional job. I feel like I know a little bit of what I’m talking about, because I married a man whose family is from Deer Isle, Stonington.
The Weed’s and the Eaton’s worthy were the early European settlers of Deer Isle, and so my husband’s family are still fishermen in that community. When we visit Stonington and we talk with people who have been living there for many years, families who have been living there for decades, they only speak very highly of the Opera House, and they refer to going to events there. Again, I think Stonington wouldn’t look the way it is without the Opera House, and they’ve done a phenomenal job in my opinion of integrating themselves with people who’ve been there longer than they have.
Dr. Lisa B.: Music is a particular interest of yours, and you have an affiliation with MAMM.
Jennifer H.: That’s right, Maine Academy of Modern Music, yeah. I’m on the board, and my daughter Sadie is a musician there. What a fantastic organization, my daughter Sadie is shy and introverted, but we have my parents old piano, and she started piano and singing a little bit when she was young. Over time, she became familiar with Maine Academy of Modern Music and said she wanted to be in a band much to our surprise, because of her introversion and her shyness.
Well suffice it to say that much to our surprise Sadie manages to get up on stage and sing in front of 300 people at their annual Girls Rock Concert. It’s just so inspiring to see a kid who wouldn’t dare speak a word in class, get up and sing on her own an Amy Winehouse song, a Regina Spektor song, and just really thrive in that environment. I’m so grateful for that experience for her, because otherwise I don’t really know what …
I’m sure she would figure out how to come out of her shell, but it was so helpful for me as a parent to see her have a really constructive venue for expressing herself and coming out of her shell in a way that made sense for her.
Dr. Lisa B.: I’m struck by the fact that in order to bring the arts to the Maine community and really the larger community, that we actually have to have nonprofit supporting them, because as you’ve mentioned, we aren’t like other parts of the world where the arts are really integrated into governmental funding for example. Is this one of the ways that you became interested in nonprofits? Tell me that story.
Jennifer H.: Yeah, sure, so if I had had the talent of being a singer I would’ve done that first. However, I have realized that it is best for me to keep my singing as an advocation. If I in terms of my profession, if I can be the aficionado, and I can be the advocates for artists and people who are doing good work in the community, I’m happy to recognize where my true skills lie.
The way I look at the nonprofit sector, is that it’s the way the American system has set itself up for taking care of the work that either the public, or the private sectors have either opted not to do or can’t do themselves. What happens literally with nonprofits, is that a group of community people get together and they say, “This work has to happen in our community. We are passionate about having these values, these activities, whatever mission it is that they come to, we want this in our community.”
They’ve determined that it won’t either be funded through the public system, or it won’t be funded through the private system. You’ve said, and as I was mentioning about being in other parts of the world, in the United States the arts and cultures tends not to be valued to the extent in either the public, or the private sector as much as you see in other parts of the world. As a result, a lot of the arts and cultural activity does happen supported through the nonprofit sector.
We have about of our 900 members, and then we also know this is similar to the entire population in nonprofits, roughly 16% to 20% are arts and cultural institutions. I would venture to guess that most of the cultural activities that people participate in, there’s a nonprofit behind them that is working hard to expand access to communities to make sure that everybody has an opportunity to do that. It certainly is the nonprofits that are the ones that are taking care of that work.
Dr. Lisa B.: What is the advantage of having an association of nonprofits?
Jennifer H.: Our association is, one of the primary activities that we do is provide information and education to nonprofit staff and board members and volunteers. We really want people to see us as the place they go when they have a question. Our members are and do call us on a daily basis with various questions that pop up, and we also want them to be able to go onto our website and get what we call the best practices of being a nonprofit.
The old adage is, is that you seen one nonprofit, you’ve seen one nonprofit. There are so many different kinds, different sizes, different missions. At the same time, there are some standard ways that in terms of ethics and values, in terms of legal responsibilities, in terms of fiscal responsibility, a checklist of things you need to take care of. We try to be that resource for everyone.
That’s the education side of making sure nonprofits have the information they need to be efficient and effective, but we also do quite a bit of work in advocacy. That’s around making sure that the voice of the nonprofit sector is at the table. As we’ve already talked about, nonprofits are filling a very important role in the success of our Maine communities, and to that end nonprofits really need to be at the decision-making table when a community is figuring out the steps that it wants to take to rectify issues, or take advantage of opportunities.
We feel responsible for making sure that people outside the nonprofit sector understand who nonprofits are, understand the impact that they are making, and facilitate the opportunities for nonprofits to work more closely with their community partners to support Maine nonprofits.
Dr. Lisa B.: You’ve been doing this particular job for about a year and a half, and that’s enough time to know what you know, and know what you’d like to know. What are some of the things that you’ve learned that you are surprised by? What are some of the things that you’d like to keep trying to figure out?
Jennifer H.: That’s a great question, I think in the first year and a half in this job, I think what I’ve learned the most is really mostly about me. That sounds really self-centered, but one of the things that we try to emphasize at the Maine Association of Nonprofits is the need for Maine to have leaders who are prepared to work collaboratively, transparently, with integrity, in a collective fashion, that moves Maine forward.
I have had the opportunity, because our Association places so much emphasis on providing nonprofit leaders with the awareness, the self-awareness of what they bring to the table, the type of leadership skills and attributes that they bring to the table. I have learned a lot about my own leadership style, and the things that I think are the qualities and the attributes that I think I can add to our community, add to the state.
This has been really helpful for me, it’s a little bit like you’ve got to understand yourself before you can really start to understand other people. The second part of your question is what more do you want to learn? I’m really excited about following this path a little bit. You may have heard recently that the Maine Association of Nonprofits has adopted a new program from the organization Lift360, a program called Emerging Leaders.
It’s for younger people, younger professionals who are interested in supporting nonprofits to go through a program by which they learn how to serve on a nonprofit board. They will learn a little bit about themselves as leaders, and how they can contribute. I’m really excited about this opportunity, Lift did a great job of getting the program started, and has run it successfully for several years. We are excited now about building on that foundation, and potentially moving it to other parts of the state.
As I said, I’ve learned a lot about myself, I’ve learned a lot about the qualities of leadership that I think are going to be really important to Maine’s future. I’m excited about the prospect of working with people out there in the community and applying those newfound skills and attributes to the issues of impacting Maine.
Dr. Lisa B.: It’s interesting that you would talk about younger people being on boards, because a lot of times, and maybe this is a complete misperception on my part, but there is the idea that once you retire you join a board, or several boards. I always think of older people who have a lot of experience and have been doing things for a while, and they’re coming in and they’re going to add their valuable knowledge and connections to a board.
What you’re talking about is completely opposite, it’s a fresh perspective and a different approach perhaps. Why is that important?
Jennifer H.: The nonprofit community nationally for a while now has been talking about the need to diversify the perspectives on boards. That’s diverse perspectives from a lot of different angles, whether it’s gender diversity, or ethnic diversity, or age diversity, or profession diversity. Many nonprofits are contemplating the idea that they should really have clients who benefit from their services, make sure their representation is on the board.
At the same time there is a lot of research out there, and this was in the creative economy as well, that makes it very clear that having a variety of thinkers and diverse viewpoints leads to more innovation, leads to more creativity. Some of the major corporations these days are talking about how the more diverse the team is, the better outcomes. I think there’s definitely an awareness out there. There’s been lots of research, the trick is how to actually make that happen.
There has been some recent research that we know about nationally, one is called, “Race to Lead,” that is talking about how people from communities of color are having a hard time getting into nonprofit leadership positions at nonprofit organizations, and realizing that a lot of the resistance is coming from an implicit bias on the part of the stereotypical board member as you’re identifying. The challenge for us now is not in the is it important?
I think there’s a lot of evidence that suggests that it is very important and beneficial, the question is how do we make that happen? If we go back to age diversity for a minute, some of that is just a practical who has the time to serve on a board? As you’ve said the first group that you mentioned were retirees, and they are some of the ones that are the most effective on boards, just because they are the ones who have the time to show up.
What people are thinking about, is as a result of that we need to change the way we think. We need to be flexible in the way boards govern themselves, in the way boards receive that type of perspective. It may be that the thirty something who’s just starting a family and has a full-time job and commitments in and outside of work, they may not be able to go to a board meeting once a month for three hours.
They may have to be able to contribute in alternative ways, and so that’s another reason why I’m excited about this new program, is by bringing that program into the Maine Association of Nonprofits, we can really start to chip away at the how do we get these new perspectives on these various boards?
Dr. Lisa B.: It’s interesting that you have a foot in both camps, you have the right brain, left brain thing going on. You’ve got the creative, and then you’ve got the more perhaps linear. I know that this has been a whole journey for yourself, if you were able to talk to your self at the age of 17 or 18 when you thought you were going to be Melanie Griffith with the shoulder pads and the good hair on the streets of Paris and London and all that sort of thing, what would you say?
Jennifer H.: Stop worrying, sometimes I think about all the time that I spent worrying about, what if I had done this? Should I have done this? Did I miss this opportunity? Was I good enough? I’ll never be good enough, and I just literally think about the time, the literal time that I spent worrying, and had I been able to take that time back and just pour it into whatever interested me that day.
Instead of judging what I wasn’t doing, but to focus on what I was doing, and to find the things that truly interested me, the things that make woke me up, and shifted the amount of time I was investing. I really would love to reinvest my worry time. I don’t know, now that I approach my 50s I feel like maybe my worry time is finally starting to abate, but I did a lot of hand wringing in my 20s.
Dr. Lisa B.: I don’t think you’re alone in this, at least I’m in your group anyway. It’s good to hear you say that. I’ve been speaking with Jennifer Hutchins who became the Executive Director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits in July 2016. We’re happy to have you doing the work you’re doing, and really appreciate your taking the time to talk with us today.
Jennifer H.: Thanks, it’s been really fun.
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Dr. Lisa B.: Fly fisher Evelyn King is a founding director of the Sebago Trout Unlimited’s Women’s Fly fishing Group. She also serves on Sebago Trout Unlimited’s Board of Directors and volunteers with Casting for Recovery, a fly fishing instructional program for breast cancer survivors. Thanks for coming in today.
Evelyn King: Oh, I’m honored, thank you for inviting me.
Dr. Lisa B.: One of the reasons we were interested in having you in, at least one of the reasons I was interested in having you in, is that one of the ways that my father, who’s a family doctor, used to decompress after having taken care of patients and my nine younger brothers and sisters was to go fishing along the Royal river. He was not a fly fisherman, but I remember this very clearly that there was something about the water that really gave him great calm and great peace.
I didn’t really quite get that as a child why one would do that, but it seems like you get that, because otherwise you wouldn’t be doing the work that you do.
Evelyn King: Absolutely, when you’re on the water you’re living in the moment. You appreciate what’s around you, it slows you down, and especially for someone that has a job that requires a lot of thinking or stress, when you get on the river you put that aside. It’s like meditation or yoga, you live in the moment and the double reward is that it de-stresses you, but also the more you live in the moment and notice what’s around you, the better fishermen you are.
You start to see the bugs on the water, you start to really see what’s going on in nature, see the water patterns. It just tunes you in and you become a much better fisherman, so I can see that.
Dr. Lisa B.: You’ve been doing this with women specifically, but you’ve been basically doing fly fishing your entire life, not just with women.
Evelyn King: Right.
Dr. Lisa B.: You see the benefit for everybody really?
Evelyn King: Absolutely, I fish with my husband who was then my boyfriend when I was a teenager. He laughs about it, because I loved … I always want to be outdoors, I love to be outdoors, but I was primarily a runner like Joan Samuelson, but I would go fishing with him, because I wanted to do things with him and I would try. If ever another man showed up on the river, like if we were in a river or on a pond in a boat, if another man showed up I would tuck the rod away.
I thought that I wasn’t good enough to be fishing and I was embarrassed. I loved to fish, but I was really a shy fisherman. He kept encouraging me, telling me that it doesn’t matter, you don’t need to cast well. You do as well as anyone else on the river, and I think that’s why I eventually figured out that a way to give back was to encourage other women to take on that risk as well. To not be afraid and not to be intimidated, and not to follow their passion, because other people were watching them.
Dr. Lisa B.: It’s interesting that you would find that intimidating given that you were one of the early classes of women to integrate at Exeter, and then were in one of the early classes of women to integrate at Bowdoin, where you were in the same class with Joan Benoit Samuelson, and yet you got on the river with men and somehow you felt like it wasn’t your place?
Evelyn King: Wow, that’s a good question, or a good comment. I’m also a perfectionist, somewhat of a perfectionist, and I think when I do things I really want to figure them out. When I was fishing, what really got me motivated to get better at fishing, was I would watch other people fish. I didn’t understand why they would put the fly under the bank along the other side of the river? Why were they not fishing below us? How did they know which fly to put on? How did they know to get their fly to land just right?
As a somewhat of a perfectionist I knew I couldn’t do what they were doing, and so I wanted to watch I think. It gave me a lifetime of learning to try to figure those things out.
Dr. Lisa B.: I actually think that there is something a little bit gender oriented about that, because from what I understand female physicians often feel like they are imposters when they’re early on in their careers. There’s something called the imposter syndrome, whereas male physicians are more likely to believe that they know enough, and feel confident in the work that they are doing.
Evelyn King: Absolutely.
Dr. Lisa B.: I suspect this is probably true across other fields, but it’s interesting that what you’re describing, and I don’t know that this is the case, but I just wonder if there is a gender predisposition here.
Evelyn King: You might be right, because I know a number of men that I’ve met through the years that are avid fisherman and have fished all their lives. It hasn’t been their passion to figure out all the flies. They know five or six flies and they know one stretch of river, and they’re very confident at that. That imposter syndrome is … I definitely felt like an imposter, but it didn’t keep me from doing it, it just slowed down my risk-taking when other people were around.
Dr. Lisa B.: You are also a fourth-generation camp director at a girls camp.
Evelyn King: Yes.
Dr. Lisa B.: You’ve been responsible for encouraging young women from an early age to go out and do the things that made them happy regardless of whether there is a gender orientation to their choice.
Evelyn King: Right, right, and we always laughed, my grandfather who was the second-generation camp director, camp owner of Campbell Wohelo. He always said there’s nothing women can’t do that men can do, it just sometimes it needs a few more bodies. We would be moving these huge docks on the beach to get them in the water, and sometimes we’d put 30 people, 30 women around the dock to move it. We didn’t need a tractor, we just got enough woman power together.
Yeah, I’ve always felt really strongly about empowering women, and I have two daughters, and I was raised from the time I was two at the summer camp for girls, all the way up through to being a counselor and a camp director. I raised our children the same way there, and I just always felt like it was such a positive environment, but it wasn’t ever about women being better or stronger or anything. It was just having women be in their own environment as a community, and empowering each other and not comparing themselves to the opposite gender during those informative years.
Dr. Lisa B.: We’re in an interesting time, because you’ve been doing this work for a long, long while, trying to empower women. Yet many young women are feeling like we’re not far enough along.
Evelyn King: Right, it is interesting. I think people are becoming more aware. I don’t have the answer for that one.
Dr. Lisa B.: I don’t either, that’s why I was asking you, because I figured maybe you had some insights based on the work that you’ve been doing.
Evelyn King: Yeah, I think my approach has always been to work in collaboration with men, like with Trout Unlimited. When I started there it was basically all men in the meeting room. I didn’t go in saying, “I am a woman, I am strong.” I just went in saying, “How can I help you bring more women into the fold? Let’s expand this,” and they asked me to do that, and it was just such a treat. I’ve had the men help us with a lot of events, and they’ve been really welcoming, they have been so supportive.
I feel like in my life I’ve gotten so much more done by collaborating with all across the community regardless of gender or nationality or anything, rather than being confrontational about it. Not that, that’s a bad way at all, it’s just a different way, and I just have benefited from collaborations.
Dr. Lisa B.: I feel the same way, I have two daughters also and a son, so my son is my oldest child, and then my middle child is 22, and I have a 17-year-old. It really never made sense for me, and I have five brothers and a father who I adore. It never made sense for me to be confrontational and to be blaming these men around me for problems that women were experiencing. I don’t know that this is what’s happening now in our culture with every young woman, but I definitely am sensing some friction with some of what’s happening and it’s painful.
Evelyn King: It is.
Dr. Lisa B.: I think specifically of my own son, and I would never want him to feel responsible for things that an entire gender is possibly being blamed for.
Evelyn King: Right, yeah, no, I have a son and the two daughters as well. I love the fact that women can be treated equally, should be treated equally, and I like to think of it just on the positive side that it’s so wonderful what we can do to empower our youth. I have a granddaughter now, empower our grandchildren, be role models. It’s not breaking down barriers, but just opening doors of possibility. Look you can go to Trout Unlimited and be one of the first women in the group, and then other women will follow.
Eventually, I’ll hope to take my granddaughter with me to Trout Unlimited, yeah, just to be inspiration and a mentor, and try to take that approach.
Dr. Lisa B.: Tell me about Trout Unlimited. I’m sure there are people who are listening that don’t have a good sense of what that organization is or does.
Evelyn King: It’s a national organization, they’re 400 chapters within the US. Maine has five, I belong to Sebago Trout Unlimited, and we have about 600, 650 members. It’s just a wonderful organization. I think a lot of people that are just in the audience that aren’t really participating in conservation are there because they love to fish. Through fishing, they’ve really gained an appreciation for how important it is to have clean, cold water, and to keep invasive species out of the water, and take down dams, and open fish passageways.
Our group has been instrumental in reclaiming five ponds in the state of Maine, and by that I mean taking the invasive species out and cleaning the habitat, so that the native brook trout can spawn and grow, and not be eaten by invasive species. We’ve also helped with two dam removals, and that’s so exciting because you’re opening up the waterways, sea-run brook trout can come in from the ocean. Often on the Mousam River, or the Royal River, they can only go as far as the first impediment.
Trout Unlimited is looking at all these river systems and trying to figure out and collaborating with the state of Maine and National TU, and National Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Maine Fishing Wildlife to try to find ways to fund the removal of dams, or safe passage around them. It’s a very dynamic group, there’s a core group of people, Steve Hines is on our board, and he organizes the conservation part.
He has developed this whole team that helps him now grant writing and organizing with towns and with the water quality people, just trying to collaborate to help pull these things off.
Dr. Lisa B.: Tell me about the work that you do with Casting for Recovery.
Evelyn King: Oh, that’s so rewarding. I got asked, I was friends with Bonnie Holding, I have been for years and years. She has annually held a Casting for Recovery retreat for breast cancer survivors. I tried to get into the program for a couple of years, and she always had more volunteers than she needed, and so it motivated me to get my guides license, so that I was qualified, so she couldn’t say no.
Eventually I got to go, I’ve been going for about five years to help on the weekend retreats. It’s the whole combination of getting into nature, getting women into nature, breaking the pattern of thought by exposing them to a new sport. Meeting new people, and developing that bond, and then fishing is, fly fishing especially is therapeutic as you know being a doctor. The motion of casting is therapeutic for people that have had surgery on their breasts.
I think the community that’s built on that three-day weekend is just amazing. I’ve read the comments that people have made afterwards that it sometimes has changed their lives, because it gives them something beyond their illness and their current situation, to dream about, to think about. It’s a peaceful place, so I’ve been helping for five years, and then a couple of times I got discouraged at my skills, because casting looks like a simple thing, but it’s hard to teach it without going down these rabbit holes.
I wanted to learn how to teach it in a really simple, positive way. That inspired me to get my casting certification to be a certified casting instructor just so that I could give back. It’s not something I do as a career, but I just wanted to make that experience as rewarding, and simple, and stress-free as possible for the girls.
Dr. Lisa B.: What does that entail to get one’s casting certification?
Evelyn King: For me it was a two year process of really intense practice. I went to L.L. Bean’s and Rod McGarry, and McCauley Lord. McCauley went to Bowdoin as well, they were instructors in a program, and I did it two years in a road to reinforce what I was learning. The skills, the specific skills needed to teach casting, but along the way it’s really to perfect your own casting, because you need to put yourself out there.
Talk about risk taking, put yourself out there to show what a good cast looks like. What people are inspired to try to learn, and then for two years of practicing, Rod McGarry was my mentor, and we met a couple of times a month at Payson in Park, and then I would cast … I work in Portland, and I would jump in the car in lunch breaks and go to the West End, or Payson Park, or Back Bay with my fly rod and my cones and my hula hoops, and I would just practice accuracy and distance casting.
I also liked doing that, because people would stop and ask me about it. It was a way to show a woman doing something that men would usually do, and also just bring awareness to fly fishing, so that was it. Then the whole process culminates with a written test and an oral practice test, which is harder than anything I’ve done in my whole life. Just being ready for that moment, and being calm enough, and you really have to perfect your skill for any weather, any wind conditions.
When I passed it I was ecstatic, and I remember I did it with another girl, and the two of us both passed. We went down to Massachusetts and passed it, and on the way home we were driving, there was this full moon in front of us, and I said, “Laney, we did it, and every time you see that full moon for the rest of your life you need to feel that sense of empowerment, and just believe that you can do it.” It was wonderful.
Dr. Lisa B.: It’s interesting that you have gone in this direction of fly fishing, because in your parallel life you are a commercial real estate paralegal at Monaghan Leahy, so you have this very intellectual and very technical aspect in your work life. Then you have an intellectual and technical aspect to your other life, but it’s also there’s a mindfulness to that second life I guess.
Evelyn King: Right.
Dr. Lisa B.: Do you think that you were seeking something like that? Do you think you were seeking a counterbalance?
Evelyn King: Oh, always, always. My work path, I love to read, I love to learn, and I really like to be a sleuth. I do due diligence in my work, but it’s the same skill set that you use on the river. I’ve been working in Portland for Monaghan Leahy for 10 years this summer and it’s been wonderful. They’ve been so supportive of what I do, and I have friends, Tom Leahy is a big fisherman, so we are able to share that passion, talking about what we do on the weekends.
When I started 10 years ago, prior to that I had worked for myself doing the same type of work, but I had always dictated my own schedule. When it was a nice day, I took off the middle of the day and I was outside. I always managed to put work in with … Fit it in between other things that I did with the kids, or did with fishing. When I started in a job, a real job, it was my first real job where I had to leave the house at seven in the morning and work a long day.
I got home at seven at night, the number one priority was to have a window. They laugh about this, but I said I really could not work in a room without being able to see the outdoors at least. Then number two priority was to make sure that every moment on the weekend counted. That I could be outside, that I really would treasure, feel so grateful for that time I had outside. No coincidence that 10 years ago was really when I went full force into fishing on the weekends, and into everything fishing related to counterbalance the inside work.
Dr. Lisa B.: This is probably not a relevant question, but I’m just interested, I’m a little nosy sometimes. Why did you decide to go from this other life that you had to this full-time job?
Evelyn King: Oh, I am a real estate broker as well as a title abstractor. What I did prior to working at Monaghan Leahy, was going from courthouse to courthouse pulling books and doing research. Right about that time two things happened, and one is that they put the books all online so that it was digital, so that people could stay in their office to do the research. I was a dinosaur, I was of that era of the private independent title abstractor’s.
There are very few now, because people can do the work from their office. Then also there was a slump in the real estate market, and I was doing primarily residential real estate research then, and it really took a nosedive. My husband is a commercial Lobsterman, and at the same time the lobstering industry was floundering. I just decided that it was time for a new adventure, fun to be in Portland, I really was excited to come and work in Portland.
When I interviewed with Tom Leahy at Monaghan Leahy, I was just really excited about the possibility of being in a team. I’d done work mostly on my own, I had a few abstractor’s that worked for me for a while, but suddenly to be part of a community. I think that’s always been a common theme in my life, so it intrigued me and I have really enjoyed it. Never questioned that decision for a second.
Dr. Lisa B.: Well, I guess it is actually relevant, because most people in their lives now are going to have several iterations of their selves. You can believe when you graduate from Bowdoin as you did and I did, that your life is going to look a certain way. Then things happen, and you adjust, and you sometimes become a different version of your earlier self. That’s actually okay, and it’s actually a good thing, and maybe it’s really important for the new graduates of Bowdoin to understand that.
That there’s not really any wrong choice.
Evelyn King: Right, so every downside, every thing that seems like a conflict in your path is apt to lead to something more powerful, more relevant to your life. I think you have to approach life that way, just see every challenge as an opportunity to grow. When I think of what has happened in the last 10 years by that decision, it’s mind boggling. I don’t know what the next story is, I don’t know in 10 years from now what I’ll be doing, but I think it’s very important to not feel so strongly that you have to make a choice that you stick with the rest of your life.
Dr. Lisa B.: I also have noticed that, particularly in Maine, most people wear lots of different hats, so someone can be a commercial fisherman, and they can also be a filmmaker. Someone can be a chef, and they can also be a singer-songwriter. It’s a very interesting thing that in this … It seems like Maine is very much fostering of that creative spirit.
Evelyn King: Absolutely, and the irony is that I was an art major at Bowdoin. As an art major that didn’t prepare me for working in a law firm at all, but that theme has been underlying. Prior to getting into the fishing wholeheartedly, I was doing a lot with jewelry, but at the same time working as a title abstractor, and then working at the summer camp as a camp director. I think Maine is that way. Maine is also so special, because it’s a small community, so you can really make a difference.
My voice is not going to carry forever and ever, but in Maine I can have an impact, you can have an impact. This show is fabulous, and by living in a state where our voices can be heard, it just feels like we can make more of a difference in all the different directions we go in.
Dr. Lisa B.: You’ve been coming to Maine since you were a child really, but you moved to Maine when you were 12?
Evelyn King: Yes.
Dr. Lisa B.: You’re originally from Montréal?
Evelyn King: Yes, my mother was from the United States and went to McGill to school. She was a skier, and she met my father who was from Canada, and so when they got married they settled in Canada, in Montréal. I have fond memories of skiing in the Laurentian’s, and we lived on the water, but every summer we came down to camp, to the Luther Gulick camps. When I think of my memories of childhood, it’s much more about being in the woods on Sebago Lake, building fairy houses out of twigs and pine cones, and learning to canoe, and being outdoors.
When my parents decided to move to Maine I was thrilled. Yeah, Maine is a really special place.
Dr. Lisa B.: For women who might be interested in learning about fly fishing, what would you suggest?
Evelyn King: Oh well, I mean obviously I’d love to have anyone that’s interested join our Women’s Fly fishing Group. We don’t charge for the events we have, up till now we have monthly meetings. We’re just trying to provide a very social community of energetic, enthusiastic women that want to learn a new skill. Some are good fly fisherman, women that want to learn additional things, and a lot of the women that come to our meetings are brand-new to the sport.
It’s really exciting to me, I can think of a handful of people that have started fishing because of our group, and have just been so grateful for that community and that empowerment and the enthusiasm of everybody that’s around that’s helping with the group. We’re trying to break down the barriers in making people realize that it’s accessible, you can fish in the Royal River, you can fish in the ocean. In Maine, you can fish just about anywhere, and you can buy a package of gear for under $100 at L.L Bean’s, or probably Cabela’s.
You don’t need to have fancy equipment, and you don’t need to be able to cast perfectly. You can fly fish with six feet of leader out at the end of your rod, and just as if you’re playing with a cat with a little toy. You can just tease the fish and have joy just doing that.
Dr. Lisa B.: Evelyn King is a founding director of the Sebago Trout Unlimited’s Women’s Fly fishing Group. She also serves on the Sebago Trout Unlimited’s Board of Directors and volunteers with Casting for Recovery, a fly fishing instructional program for breast cancer survivors. Thank you so much for the work you’re doing, and thanks for coming in.
Evelyn King: Oh, my honor, thank you for having me.
Dr. Lisa B.: You have been listening to Love Maine Radio, show number 343. Our guests have included Jennifer Hutchins and Evelyn King. For more information on our guests and extended interviews, visit lovemaineradio.com. Love Maine Radio is downloadable for free on iTunes. For a preview of each week’s show, sign up for our e-news letter and like our Love Maine Radio Facebook page.
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Speaker 1: Love Maine Radio is brought to you by Maine Magazine, Aristelle, Portland Art Gallery, Art Collector Maine, and by grownupgirls.com. Our editorial producer is Kate Gardner, our Assistant producer is Shelbi Wassick. Our community development manager is Casey Lovejoy, and our executive producers are Andrea King, Kevin Thomas, and Dr. Lisa Belisle. For more information on our production team, Maine Magazine, or any of the guests featured here today, please visit us lovemaineradio.com.