Speakers’ Series

Biographer, Military Sleuth, and Historian: Don Deignan’s Talk at Shaker Museum on October 15

He’s written a book that is a double biography, a World War 2 mystery, and a book about family, industrial and local history. Even more, it is a story of inspiration overcoming disability. Rhode Island author Don Deignan spoke at Alfred Shaker Museum at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 15, the last of four speakers in this season’s Sid Emery Memorial Forum sponsored by the museum and the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society.

His book recounts a tale of personal commitment that is a repayment of a “debt of honor” to the uncle who helped him overcome enormous physical disabilities. And part of his story is set in Alfred during the years of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression.

Deignan’s book is titled The Shadow of Sacrifice / The True Story of a Pearl Harbor Survivor and His Nephew and Namesake. Deignan has a doctoral degree in history from Brown University and is one of the primary forces behind establishment of Providence’s Irish Famine memorial.

In the Alfred portion of the book, he was helped to do research by Gus Hedden, director at Alfred’s Parsons Memorial Library, local historian and author John Cook, and Irish historian and author Mary Lee Dunn Maguire, a board member of Alfred Shaker Museum, who helped him tap records about the CCC at Alfred’s town museum, thanks to help from Allison Williams.

Deignan was born with serious disabilities affecting both his sight and his ability to walk. For years he was a student at the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. There, at the Perkins School when he was 10 years old, on one anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was inspired by the service of his uncle who had died there on military duty.

It was his Uncle Donald whose life had most captured the boy’s commitment and imagination and given him the inspiration to press on despite his physical disabilities. With that early epiphany, he had developed a spiritual link with his late uncle that lasted and comforted him for a lifetime. But there were surprises as he focused on repaying his debt to Donald, the war hero. Don started to research his uncle’s war experience and encountered a record that presented questions that he set out to answer and mysteries he aimed to solve. Thus, he went up against the military bureaucracy in trying to find out how his uncle had died. And the answers, when he found them, did not comport with the family story he’d been told.

In the end he made peace with his Uncle Donald and satisfied his mission to repay the debt of honor that he felt he owed his uncle which he had undertaken so many decades earlier as a forlorn 10-year-old with overwhelming burdens.

Speakers’ Series Updates

Our October 1 Speakers’ Series event with John Goff has been canceled due to illness.

However, our October 15 event with Don Deignan is still taking place.

Limerick Composer Discusses Maine Music History


Speaker John Secunde, right, and Brother Albert Heinrich discuss music history after Secunde’s presentation at Alfred Shaker Museum on Sunday (June 11).

Limerick music composer John Secunde engaged his audience at Alfred Shaker Museum on Sunday, June 11, with his history of early Maine composer Supply Belcher. He offered samples of Belcher’s music, which Secunde thinks has been “largely neglected today” and has “fallen by the wayside” despite his significant early role in music in America.

John Secunde, who recently graduated with a degree in music composition from the State University of New York at Fredonia and is headed to a master’s program at the Longy School of Music at Bard College in the fall, focused on Supply Belcher (1751-1836).

Belcher lived and worked in Farmington and Hallowell (now Augusta). He moved from Massachusetts to Maine after the Revolutionary War, in which he served and was designated a captain by George Washington. At one point, he also interacted with Paul Revere over payment for a town bell. In Maine, Belcher was a well-known civil servant.

The presentation was the second this season in the Sid Emery Memorial Forum, which is now in its third year of sponsorship from the Shaker museum and the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society. Funding has been provided by the Davis Family Foundation.

Belcher, Secunde explained, was a member of the New England School of five musicians who banded together through common interests and geography and produced “tune books”. The school included William Billings and Justin Morgan (for whom the Morgan horse is named). In 1794, Belcher published a book called Harmony of Maine, with a preface that Secunde termed “important” for its redefinition of music’s place in contrast with the European position. Belcher’s view was that music was about “bringing communities together.” There was a “trend toward sacred music… to be used in churches.”

Secunde played samples of three Belcher pieces, including a “Sacred Harp Performance,” “Heroism,” and “Majesty.” In “Majesty,” Belcher employed chance as a controlling factor over which notes are played. A member of the audience, who seemingly was skeptical about that piece, questioned whether chance could actually produce good music. Secunde said the approach was interesting, “colorful,” and “not sacred music,” and that chance “removes the influence of intuition.”

Secunde also talked about the strong influence on American music of the influx of German immigrants to the United States about 1800. And he praised Belcher as one of the “few musicians who is completely American and unique but… largely neglected today.”

The final two talks in the Memorial Forum, by book authors, will take place in October. For more information, see Speakers’ Series.

Videos from the 2016 Speakers’ Series

Video: Tonya Shevenell’s The Home Road

Tonya_ShevenellWalk from srctv on Vimeo.

Video: Noah Binette’s The Saga of Malaga

Final Speakers’ Forum Talk of the 2016 Season

Adam Nudd-Homeyer speaking at our final Speakers' Forum session for 2016. His subject was the making of Shaker chairs.

Adam Nudd-Homeyer speaking at our final Speakers’ Forum session for 2016. His subject was the making of Shaker chairs.

Coming on October 23: Shaker Chairs

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Coming on October 16: A Stonecutter’s Tale

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Shevenell Talks Immigrant History at Shaker Museum

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Maine filmmaker Tonya Shevenell kept an audience rapt in her family history tale on Sunday at Alfred Shaker Museum and described the documentary she is making of it. Titled The Home Road, she filmed her father’s 200-mile walk last year in their ancestor’s footsteps when he migrated from Compton in the Eastern townships of Quebec to Biddeford in coastal Maine in 1845. He was 19 when he made the trek. While the film is not quite finished, she said she aims to complete it by the end of the year and screen it starting in February.

Her paternal line of Shevenells had arrived in Quebec in the 1750s, in time to see the transfer of authorities from the French to the British. Her hardy ancestor was Israel Shevenell, her great great great grandfather who became the first French-Canadian to settle permanently in Biddeford. He became a brick maker, entrepreneur, and business man. He returned to Canada to marry and together they had a large French-Canadian family of 16 children, Shevenell said, but she could find records of only ten. He also persuaded his parents and siblings to follow him to Maine. One wing of the family eventually moved to Eliot. After what she called a “robust life, Israel died in 1912 at the age of 86.

Her decision to take on the history and perhaps repeat her ancestor’s trip on foot from Quebec originated, she said, in a conversation with a stranger on a bus trip to Portland. The idea grew as she discussed it with her Dad, Ray Shevenell, a former college track star who, years earlier, had won a four-year track scholarship to Georgetown University. But after arriving at the school, he never unpacked, she said. He was too homesick and returned to Maine. Now, he wanted to “connect” somehow with the forebear whose life story they had been researching together.

They planned The Home Road over months and two visits to Quebec to check the lay of the land and the route he might take, which wasn’t completely clear from the record, but wound through the White Mountains then into Western Maine.

On Sunday, she talked about both the recorded history of their family and the multiple changes that affected all people in that time period as it birthed the Industrial Revolution and railroads altered people’s senses of time and space. As for the film, she described the bad weather, including freezing rain, and blisters her father encountered last year on his 13-day hike. At the customs station at the Canadian border, officials thought her Dad was a hitchhiker… until she explained what they were doing. The path was mostly through New Hampshire and then through Maine along the Saco River to Biddeford, which was, she said, “the busiest place he’d ever seen.” En route, her father did encounter some bears in an “unlikely setting”; he saw three of them cross the road in North Conway, New Hampshire. While her camera did not capture that moment, she found someone whose camera did.

One morning, her Dad took off before she discovered that he had her car keys and she had to “hoof it” in pursuit, chasing him down the “home road.” She laughed when she told that story.

Shevenell also talked about the incredible changes in communications and transportation in the 1900s — the growth of railroads, invention of the telegraph and telephone, and so many other modern creations and how they affected the people of the world. That is, how work moved from outdoor spaces (agricultural) to indoor spaces (manufacturing), from individual work to mass employment, and so forth.

“What connects us to our past, connects us to our future,” she concluded.

Her talk was the second event of four in the Sid Emery Memorial Forum, now in its second year. The talks are presented by the Alfred Shaker Museum and the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society.

The next speaker will describe the work of an early stonecutter in Southern Maine. The speaker is Ron Romano whose book, Early Gravestones in Southern Maine: The Genius of Bartlett Adams, is being published this summer. He will make the presentation on Oct. 16 at 1:30 p.m. at the Shaker Museum in Alfred. The events are free to the public, though donations are gratefully accepted.

A week later, Adam Nudd-Homeyer will discuss his work melding history with wood and metalworking skills. He has agreed to produce replicas of a Shaker chair produced originally at Alfred for sale to the public by Chilton House. The museum will display a sample.

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Video: Noah Binette’s The Saga of Malaga

Thanks to Saco River Community Television for recording the first session in our Speakers’ Series, Noah Binette’s The Saga of Malaga.

Speakers’ Series: Filmmaker Tonya Shevenell on August 21

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Museum Hours:

Museum Hours: 1 PM – 4 PM on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and by appointment.

Closing for the season on November 11.

Admission: Free. Donations are gratefully accepted.

We are dog-friendly. Well-behaved dogs on leash are welcome in our building.

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