Aurora was the perfect place to grow up, according to Robin Larson Clarke, fitness director at the Down East Family YMCA.
“I’m a New Year’s baby, born on January 1” in Ellsworth to Aurora residents Robert “Red Dog” and Joan Larson, Clarke said. Robert and his two older brothers, Pete and Arthur, had moved to Aurora from New Jersey to open The Birches, a cluster of hunting camps on Long Pond.
Robert owned Larson Bros. Auto Service, a garage on Route 9; he also owned the only wrecker along that section of the highway and worked part time for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, initially in patrol and later in dispatch.
“He was very well loved, very well known,” Clarke said.
She attended grades K-8 at the Airline Community School. “I knew all the kids. We all knew where each other lived and looked after each other. It was a wonderful place to grow up,” she said.
When The Birches closed, each Larson brother converted a camp into a family home. “My front yard was the lake,” Clarke recalled. “It was cool growing up there.
“With limited TV time, we played outside in all seasons,” she said. Summer saw her, her sister Kristina, and cousins catching frogs and snapping turtles, taking “the boat across the pond,” exploring the caves and summit of Cone Hill, raising ducks, and “playing with Uncles Art’s chickens, pigs, and pony.”
Winter brought ice skating and snowmobiling. With Clarke’s father leading the way, “a group of 25 sleds” would head out on the snow-covered woods roads and sometimes travel as far as Nicatous Lodge, Clarke remembered. Robert would tell her to hang on while riding behind him; she laughed while recalling him warning her “about the snow snakes that would get me if I fell off.
“I didn’t realize he was kidding me at the time,” she said.
Clarke raked blueberries to earn money for school clothing and supplies. “I was out in that field early. I think it gave me a good work ethic, growing up out there. You worked for everything; you had to,” she said.
Her grandmother, Lolly Larson, “taught me to fish.” If Clarke finished her supper, she got to fish for trout in Long Pond, a place she remembers fondly.
Her eighth-grade class had three girls and five boys. Although Clarke preferred attending Ellsworth High School, “the bus went only to Brewer” High, she said. Graduating in 1988, she worked at Dow Pines in Great Pond, then “at Renys in Ellsworth, and I started taking some classes here” at the Down East Family YMCA. Clarke had previously taken nutrition classes at the University of Maine.
Called away one day during an exercise class, “the instructor asked me, ‘Robin, Can you finish up?’ I did, and I liked it,” Clarke said. “I started teaching a class or two.”
She obtained her certification as a Y personal trainer and started working part time at the Y. The YMCA hired her as its full-time fitness director; Clarke is also the Y’s race director. She does personal training and teaches various classes.
“Zumba is what I’m know for here,” she said, smiling.
Clarke lives in Ellsworth and spends time with her sons. Colby plays soccer for the Maine Maritime Academy, and Javen Robert is the goalie for the Ellsworth High School varsity soccer team.
“Now I’m a runner,” Clarke said. “I like the trail-and-woods running” at Woodlawn and Indian Point in Ellsworth as “it reminds me of playing and running free while growing up in Aurora.” She has also run three Boston Marathons and has run internationally in Aruba, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.