BAR HARBOR—In recognition of Tris Colket’s many contributions to the fire department as a volunteer firefighter and benefactor, firefighters on Wednesday placed a plaque at the base of the flagpole in front of the fire station honoring Colket, who died in July.
In September 1974, Colket jointed the department as a “call firefighter” and kept a plectron (an emergency alerting radio receiver) in the front hall of Kenarden, his home on Lower Main Street. Earl Brechlin, who worked for the Colkets, recalled that Colket kept his boots and helmet in his Jeep so that he could always respond quickly to a fire.
The idea for the plaque originated with the firefighters as a way of recognizing Colket’s years of service and support, said Bar Harbor Fire Chief Matt Bartlett. When Colket first joined the fire department, firefighters supplied their own boots and helmet, said another long-time firefighter and Colket’s good friend, Sheldon Goldthwait.
When the state mandated equipment upgrades, particularly in terms of personal safety equipment, Colket purchased new, safer helmets and the first complete turnout gear for each firefighter, said Bartlett. He also purchased self-contained breathing apparatus, ambulance stretchers, chainsaws and thermal imaging, extrication and other vital equipment. “He and his family consistently made substantial contributions to the Firemen’s Association; something we really appreciated,” said firefighter Matt Horton.
Until relatively recently, private donations as well as donations from the Firemen’s Association, not the municipal budget, funded equipment needs, said Goldthwait. A member of the association, Colket regularly flew up from Philadelphia to attend the annual meeting, which, among other things, featured lobster stew made at the firehouse.
Over the years, Colket took great interest in the department. He regularly came to the firehouse to view new purchases and to see what was happening. “I was especially honored to have him join us last summer when MDI Hospital hosted their annual EMS luncheon here at the fire station,” said Bartlett.
According to Goldthwait, Colket’s interest in the fire department was originally sparked by Harold Hayes, his caretaker and a volunteer fire fighter. Similarly, Colket encouraged his staff and family members to become active. Tram, one of his sons, was a volunteer firefighter here for a number of years. His other son, Bryan, is a paramedic in Pennsylvania.
When Colket was in residence here, he answered calls, said Goldthwait. At one of Bar Harbor’s large structural fires—the Green Building on the corner of Main and Cottage streets—Colket and Goldthwait were charged with hooking up a 1930 fire truck to a hydrant at the corner of Cottage and Rodick streets, recalled Goldthwait.
But Colket’s generosity and interest went beyond the fire department. In 1999, when Friends of Acadia launched a $13 million campaign to upgrade park trails, the Colkets made a lead gift of $5 million, FOA and the federal government were each charged with raising $4 million. “Tris hiked here his entire life and our children grew up hiking Acadia’s trails,” said Ruth Colket, his wife of 53 years. When the campaign was announced, Colket noted the Acadia Trails Forever campaign was a campaign that involved everyone who loved Acadia’s trails. In just under a year, FOA had raised its $4 million with 60 percent of the gifts ranging from $5 to $100.
“Acadia Tails Forever and the Carriage Road Restoration—both of which were public/private partnerships—became models for national park endowments,” said former Acadia superintendent Sheridan Steele. “Ruth and Tris were incredibly generous and committed to Acadia. Their passion for Acadia showed through all of their endeavors.”
At MDI Hospital there is the Colket In-patient Care Center; the Colkets also funded two examining rooms in the ER in honor of his parents, Tristram C. Colket and Ethel D. Colket.
In 1972, the Colkets donated LaRochelle, his childhood summer home, to the Maine Seacoast Mission and in 2005 established a $2 million endowment to support its maintenance. With the blessing of the Colkets, the Mission sold LaRochelle to the Bar Harbor Historical Society in 2019 in order to use funding from the sale to enhance its many programs and to relocate its office to Northeast Harbor. The Mission is a tenant in a larger building complex owned by Mount Desert 365.
Over the years, they have funded other nonprofit initiatives including those at St. Saviour Church and Jesup Library.
Goldthwait and others also noted Colket’s tremendous loyalty to his family, his friends and this island. “Wherever we were in the world and regardless of how beautiful it was, Tris’s heart was always in Maine,” said Ruth Colket.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to clarify that the Seacoast Mission relocated to Northeast Harbor as a tenant and is not an owner of the current location.