Nancy Howland at the Wild Gardens of Acadia. Photo Carl Little 

Nancy Howland spent her early years in New London, Connecticut. She married Ensign David Howland of the U.S. Coast Guard in 1954 and began a nomadic life, moving from coast to coast—14 homes in 24 years. They had two children, Susan and Jonathan. The final duty station was Group Southwest Harbor. Upon David’s retirement in 1976, they decided to stay on Mount Desert Island.

You became director of the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor in 1989. How did that come about?

In 1980 I began cataloging for Claire Lambert, then director of Jesup Memorial Library. Upon her retirement in 1989 I became director, retiring in 2009. Small town libraries have evolved and changed a great deal since then. Jesup was primarily a recreational and reference library, a quiet place to go to read on a cold winter’s day.

What were some of the highlights of your 20-year tenure?

The library was entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. The Board of Directors and staff have strived to preserve the magnificent building that Jesup has occupied since 1911. Another highlight of those years was the computerization of the library in 1996, making record keeping and interlibrary loan more efficient. The card catalog was discarded and computers were made available to the public.

You do a lot of volunteering. What compels you to give your time to organizations on Mount Desert Island?

Along with five or six local nonprofits, I volunteer at the library. Upon retiring I knew it was important to keep occupied and I also wanted to give back to the community my family had enjoyed all those years. Volunteering is a wonderful way to spend your day, knowing you’ve made someone’s life easier and more pleasant. Plus, you’ve usually learned something new and probably made a new friend.

You recently received the Thorndike Award for community service from the Maine Community Foundation.* You directed the $2,500 grant that comes with the award to Friends of Acadia in support of the Wild Gardens of Acadia. What makes the gardens special to you?

There was no question where the $2,500 grant would be given. My late husband especially had an interest in the Wild Gardens, having found some yellow lady slippers for the garden years ago. I know Betty Thorndike and her friends would be so pleased with the wildflower preservation and beauty of the Wild Gardens of Acadia today.

In a profile piece in the Journal of the Friends of Acadia, you mentioned that you love to file. Why? 

I think filing appeals to me because I like things to be neat, tidy and in order. When we discarded the card catalog at the library, we upset many patrons. It was the only complaint we had during the whole process. Other people must like things in order also!

*Elizabeth “Betty” Thorndike established the Elizabeth Fritz Thorndike Fund as a donor-advised fund at MaineCF in 1984. A longtime resident of Bar Harbor, Thorndike (1908-1992) began her career on the island as a social worker for Mount Desert Island Hospital and served in many capacities in the community—as a volunteer, a member of the town planning board, a patron of the arts, and a friend and neighbor to many. She used her fund to support a variety of charitable interests, including the MDI Hospital, College of the Atlantic, and the Bar Harbor Day Care Center.

After her death in 1992, her nephew John Thorndike suggested that the fund be used to memorialize his aunt’s interest and involvement in the field of social work. An advisory committee developed funding guidelines for an award to be given every three years to honor an outstanding contributor to the field of social work on Mount Desert Island. Thanks to donations to the fund and positive investment results, the award is now presented every two years. MaineCF makes a $2,500 grant to an organization of the awardee’s choosing. The winner also receives a bronze statuette, The Helping Hand, by sculptor Constance Pach.

Past award winners are Father James Gower, a peace activist; Jack Drake, former superintendent, Maine Seacoast Mission; Peter Rees, a social activist; Benita McMullen, former director of the MDI YWCA; Harriette Mitchell, a nurse and social services volunteer; Nan Miller, an equal rights advocate; civic leader Jan Varnum; and volunteer and longtime election clerk Anna Ryan.  


Nancy Howland at the Wild Gardens of Acadia. Photo Carl Little