Viewpoint: George Demas: The gift goes on

By Nan Lincoln

In a rather oblique way, George Demas, who died this past February, confirmed I had made the right decision almost 50 years ago when I first moved to Mount Desert Island as a year rounder with my toddler son.

I’d been living at my mother’s home in suburban Boston, waiting for my husband to get out of the service. But mom had just bought an old farmhouse in Bass Harbor, which she was restoring. Here was a chance to live the dream I’d had as a summer person since I was 11 years old. As soon as the house was habitable, Benjamin and I headed to MDI.

The house, still a work in progress, was creaky and drafty. As, one by one, my summer friends and family drifted away to their lives in Boston, New York and other points south, I faced a Maine winter (back when that really meant something) alone. I was having serious second thoughts.

Then, a notice in the old Bar Harbor Times, announcing that the local high school was launching a production of the musical “Godspell,” caught my attention. A lifelong theater lover, I had been charmed by this show in Boston. While I didn’t have any great expectations for a rural high school production, I thought it might pick up my spirits a bit to see some kids singing and dancing.

It did all that, and then some.

I realized that night, while I sat in the bleachers of a packed Mount Desert Island High School gym and watched a performance, which was far more thrilling than the professional version I’d seen in Boston, that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. A place that was not only replete with natural beauty and small town charm, but also, to an unusual degree, a place that supported the arts in the schools my son would one day be attending with as much, well, almost as much, enthusiasm as it supported its basketball team.

Clearly the director of this enchanting musical production was just as serious about putting on great theater as the basketball coach was about winning games.

That director was Ohioan George Demas, who came to the new consolidated high school as a history teacher with a lot of optimistic ideas about building a Drama Department.

“Godspell” was a pivotal moment for George, as well. Although he had directed some good shows in the five years since he joined MDIHS faculty, most everyone agrees that this was the first show where it all came together — that proved without a doubt that these small town high school kids could meet the demands of excellence he made of them both on stage and as production crews.

They have been proving it ever since.

Since “Godspell,” I have tried to attend as many MDIHS productions as I possibly could. At first as a theater lover, later as a cast member mom and, since 1986, as a feature writer and reviewer for the newspaper — an idea that would have boggled the mind of that lonely young mother sitting in the bleachers nearly a half century ago.

It has been a great privilege to see how the legacy of excellence George Demas began, then passed on to Joyce Higgins, when he retired in 1988, is still going strong under the guidance of current department head Casey Rush.

If founding a rock solid theater department were the only impact George Demas made on the MDI community at large, that would be reason enough to celebrate his life. But at a memorial celebration planned for this coming Saturday, May 18, at 1 p.m. at the Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor, there will likely be a lot of reminiscing about George’s Restaurant, which this seemingly indefatigable man opened in the summer of 1978. At its first location on Cottage Street, George — whose father was a shoe repairman and hat blocker who had emigrated to Ohio from Greece — included a few family recipes for a weekly Greek night. It proved so popular that when they moved off the beaten and souvenir strewn path of Cottage Street to a charmingly removed old farm house behind the First National Bank, much of the menu had a Greek flair — feta shrimp, baked kasseri cheese, spiced lamb, lobster strudel and a secret salad dressing — about which I and many other former George’s patrons still dream, all accompanied by retsina wine with its sharp notes of turpentine. As with the theater legacy George instituted at the high school, George’s Restaurant opened when fine dining options were a rarity on MDI. Since then, others have made great food yet another aspect of life on MDI. Many of them, such as Red Sky in Southwest Harbor, are run by George’s alumni.

But none of them have served or divulged the secret of George’s salad dressing … until now.

Gay Lindenmeyer, George’s partner at the restaurant and in life, who is currently working on a cook book containing George’s Restaurant recipes, has agreed to let me publish it here as a final gift from George to the community he loved. It is his original restaurant quantity, but Gay says it keeps well. Enjoy!

George’s Secret Salad Dressing

Fill one quart bowl one inch from the top with canola oil.

Add ¼ cup good cider vinegar

1Tbsp honey

2 to 3 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce

2 Tbsp. Zestful seasoning (Durkee makes it)

Generous grinding of pepper

Stir until ingredients are blended

Use sparingly on a leafy salad, with cucumber and a touch of fresh mint.

Gay says when a bowl of dressing was finished George would yell “bomb!” and all kitchen activity would stop as he walked the brimming bowl to the salad station. This is perhaps an optional ingredient, but I intend to include it.

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

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