Except for his Navy service and a year spent at a Southern technical school, Peter Perez has lived all his life in Deer Isle. He traces his roots to the granite hewn from the local bedrock.
“My grandfather came here from Spain to work in the quarries in the 1800s, so that’s why” he and his son, Matthew, are the only Perezes “in the area,” he said.
Named for the large numbers of deer that early settlers found on the island, Deer Isle became a town in what was then Massachusetts in 1789. Set off from the mainland by Eggemoggin Reach, Deer Isle has always faced the sea; opened in 1939, a suspension bridge spanning the reach finally gave Deer Isle a road connection to the rest of Maine.
Granite became a popular building material after the Civil War, especially in monuments and ornate urban buildings, and Deer Isle quarries provided granite for out-of-state projects. Perez’s grandfather settled here and raised a family, and family is what brought Peter Perez home years ago.
A Deer Isle-Stonington High School graduate, he enlisted in the Navy during the Vietnam War era and worked in underwater mine maintenance at NATO bases in Scotland and on Crete and Sicily. Upon the completion of his four-year hitch, he left the Navy at Charleston, S.C., and studied automotive mechanics for 12 months at the Berkley-Charleston-Dorchester Education Technical Center, now known as Trident Technical College.
Perez then returned home to help care for his widowed mother. “I did mechanics for a few years, then I bought an excavation business” and “was in that for a number of years,” said Perez, who served as Deer Isle’s road commissioner for four years.
“In ’86 I built … a family-style restaurant” that he operated for 23 years, he said.
“Now I have a caretaking, lawn-maintenance business,” and he works part time at an elderly housing complex in Deer Isle and another in Sedgwick, he indicated. Perez plows snow in winter and, as a licensed water operator, serves in that capacity at the Benjamin River Apartments in Brooklin, the Deer Run Apartments in Deer Isle and Persistence Senior Housing in Newburg.
A longtime selectman in Deer Isle, Perez and his wife, Susan, have a son, Matthew; a daughter, Elizabeth, and five grandchildren. They all live locally, and “we spend time with the grandchildren,” Perez said.
“I like to travel, south (to) warm climates, Florida mostly,” he said. “I like to try different cuisines, just about everything.”
Salt water literally surrounds Deer Isle, the name for the entire island until Stonington became a town in February 1897. “The sea is the biggest employer there is” in both towns, and fishing supports local shore-based businesses,” Perez said. His son is a commercial fisherman who, along with some other local fishermen, fishes offshore in winter.
Asked what he likes most about Deer Isle, Perez responded, “The people: There’s always a helping hand if anyone needs it. You know practically everyone you meet on the street. People are friendly and volunteer to help the community.”
He cited the playground funded “by a grant from Hancock County.” Sited next to a former school (now designated Fire Station No. 2), the playground was constructed by volunteers.
“They actually built it,” Perez said. “They had work days” during which volunteers handled specific tasks, and “people volunteered (the use of) backhoes and loaders,” he said.
The Evergreen Garden Club will plant a community garden near the playground this year, Perez noted.