Stephen Stanley Spurling, a master boat builder and war hero with deep roots on Mount Desert Island and surrounding islands, died March 10, 2019. Born March 11, 1921, to his parents, Francis and Esther Stanley Spurling, he died peacefully at home in Southwest Harbor just 1½ hours shy of his 98th birthday.
Steve is a descendant of the first Spurlings to settle Great and Little Cranberry islands in the 18th century. The son of a sea captain, Steve was a boat captain and boat builder all his life. Even in his 90s, he continued to build small craft, including Whitehalls and dinghies of his own design, in a shop behind his house, selling them on his front lawn.
Hard of hearing in his later years, he was known for his cheerful personality and refusal to sit still, even when it was tough to get around. His spacious workshop held countless tools and materials accumulated over many years of work; separate storage areas held numerous finely crafted small boats he designed and built over the years.
Growing up on GCI, Spurling, as a young man before WWII, commuted on his cousin Raymond Bunker’s boat to Southwest Harbor, where he worked for the Southwest Boat Corp. He once recalled being on the crew that was building a 90-foot wooden dragger outdoors enduring all kinds of weather.
When WWII stormed in, he joined the heavy machine gun section in Company D of the Army’s 351st Infantry Regiment. His section, supporting the assault on Sarti, Italy, came under intense enemy fire, killing the platoon leader and six other members of the company. Steve assumed command, reorganized the men, and kept them alert and supplied with ammunition. He was awarded a Bronze Star for heroic achievement in action.
“This heroic action by Sergeant Spurling lessened the enemy resistance greatly and inspired his men so that, despite the inclement weather, they exerted their utmost efforts in support of the attack,” reads the citation. “Sergeant Spurling’s brave and fearless actions under fire reflect great credit upon himself and exemplify the high traditions of the U.S. Army.”
After his discharge, Steve returned home and met a friend’s younger sister, Arlene Dolliver, whom he married in the fall of 1946. For 50 years he oversaw and captained a fleet of boats belonging to the Milliken family of Northeast Harbor, and for many years Steve and Arlene delivered that family’s and later another owner’s yachts to Florida where they stayed with the owner until returning the boat up the coast in the spring.
During subsequent winters, Steve worked for area boat builders, including the Bar Harbor Boating Co., his cousin Ralph Stanley, as well as the John Williams Boat Co. Spurling maintained a long relationship with the Williams yard, where he produced fine woodwork finish for the yard’s fiberglass boats. He achieved another distinction, although one he would have rather skipped, when he cut his thumb off on a table saw. At the time in his 80s, he was thought to have made medical history as the oldest person to have a digit reattached.
Steve is survived by his wife of 72 years, Arlene; his sons Robert and wife, Debra, of Tremont, David of Orland, and Gary and Doris of Danby, Vt.; his grandchildren Nicholas Spurling and wife Kristinae of Gaithersburg, Md., and Noelle Spurling of Lamoine; great-grandchildren Elizabeth and Jackson of Maryland; his three sisters Sheila (Charles) Kneeland of Stockton Springs, Nancy Wrobel of Beverly, Mass., and Louise Sprague (Alan) Bond of Fort Myers, Fla.; and many nieces and nephews.
A private family burial will be held in the spring.