During her 28 years with the Harbor House Children’s Center, MaryEllen Martel read many books to those in the program. Because she loves to read to children, she hopes to return after retiring every once in a while to read to the children. PHOTO COURTESY OF HARBOR HOUSE CHILDREN'S CENTER

Martel to retire from Harbor House 

SOUTHWEST HARBOR As Harbor House Children’s Center celebrates its 35th anniversary this month, it will say goodbye to one of its most integral members, current director MaryEllen Martel.  

“She’s been the face of that program for a very long time,” said Ingrid Kachmar, executive director of the Harbor House Community Center. “She is a great teacher, particularly when she is out and engaging with the kids. That will be a loss.” 

Martel began at the Children’s Center in 1992, when her daughter headed off to kindergarten.  

“I remember at the time thinking, ‘every young child deserves to be cared for by someone who believes the sun rises and sets over their head. Since that is not possible for many families, I want to do what I can to make childcare the best it can be for them,’” Martel said in an email to the Islander. “My belief has not changed since then. It is one of the reasons I have always had the staff go by first names, so it feels more like family.”  

Martel became director of the Children’s Center in 2002. When she started a decade before that, it was not her first time working with Harbor House. In the 1980s, Martel taught arts and crafts for the center’s summer camp. 

I actually taught the campers how to develop photographs,” she said, highlighting one of her other favorite things, photography.  

Working with children was something Martel engaged in soon after moving to Southwest Harbor with her husband, Jack, in 1972. Early on, she was a Girl Scout leader and had Kachmar, whose last name was Wilbur at the time, in her first Brownie Troop.  

Martel’s work with young children began with a job as a substitute teacher at Marjorie Hamblen’s nursery school in Manset. In the early ‘80s, she became an assistant teacher at Westside Nursery School with Leda Ball, who left to become the first director of the Harbor House Children’s Center. Martel also worked with Sue Rosenfeld at Westside Nursery School, whom she credits for influencing her philosophy on early childhood development and education.  

When Martel began at Harbor House Children’s Center it was operating out of an old building from the Air Force Base in Bangor that had been transported to Southwest Harbor. That building was torn down so the one that is now the Children’s Center could be built. During that transition, the center moved to a building on Village Green Way that now houses a coffee shop and dental office. 

One of Martel’s favorite aspects of the center is the PlayGarden, a dream she had that came to fruition with the help of the organization’s board, community donors and members. “I love that space as much today as the day it was officially opened,” said Martel.  

“My decision to retire has been in the back of my head for a while. I became a senior citizen several years ago and want to spend more time with my husband and my camera. I chose to retire in fall so I could be around for one more round of Scamper Camp.” 

This summer it was one of the few camps on the island to remain open.  

“I have never been prouder of Harbor House and the Children’s Center than these past few months when we stepped up and made sure that families had safe care for their children so they could work,” said Martel. “But that is what Harbor House has always been – the organization that has responded to the needs of the community.” 

A plan has been in the works since the spring for Martel to move on and start her next chapter. “We’ve been preparing for this for the last six months or so,” said Kachmar about Martel’s retirement.  

Two employees of the Children’s Center, Pam Reed and Josh Ingram, will take over as co-directors. “They have wonderful talents and strengths that complement each other really well,” said Martel about her replacements. “The families and children know them and love them. Harbor House is so lucky to have the two of them, and the rest of the amazing staff. It certainly makes it easier for me to leave.” 

While Martel had planned to hang up her hat in the fall, this move seems especially right because of the arrival of her first grandson in August. 

“While a happy move for me, this is also going to be really hard,” said Martel. “The Children’s Center has been part of my life for 28 years.  It is a big part of my identity.  I love the place, my staff and especially the children.   

“I have, and will continue to, shed lots of tears as I move on to the next chapter,” she added. “I hope to be able to volunteer to read aloud to the children on a regular basis.  I so love reading to children. 

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

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