Bill and Sarah

Sarah Gregory Smith and Bill Smith met in 1970 at a weekly session of musicians who loved learning and playing contra dance tunes. It was the beginning of a long-running and adventurous team which, forty years later, is looking forward to the newest adventure of Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage. Sarah said recently that when she first met Bill, “I knew that if I stuck with this guy, I’d have a life of deep friendship and thrilling adventures.” And she was right.

In these past forty years, the Smiths have bought a cruising sailboat, learned how to sail it, and spent many summers discovering the coast from Salem, Massachusetts to Bar Harbor, Maine. During the winter of 1978, Sarah’s vision, which had been disappearing since the beginnings of diabetic retinopathy in 1976, departed entirely, leaving her jobless, car-less and lonely as her housemates went to work each morning. Suddenly the Smiths’ little rural paradise became a trap without any public transportation. So, like any normal couple, they decided to get married. With no jobs (but with a new sailboat!) they moved to Salem, Massachusetts. There they bought a handyman’s special, complete with a shop.

The other adventure, which began at almost the same time, arrived in the person of Richard Herman, accompanied by his wife and three children. Richard asked, without much small talk, “Our camp, Interlocken, in Hillsboro, NH, is just building a dance pavilion. We’re looking for a lead musician and caller. Can we hire you for next summer? ” Sarah’s stunned response was, “Richard, did you know that I have just lost all of my vision? ” Richard’s response: “So what? ”

That’s all it took. In 1979, Bill and Sarah started a 30-year relationship with the camp; an experientially-based summer experience for children which had, at its heart, a belief that a strong community of adults and children makes the best opportunity for fun and learning. It was here at Interlocken that Bill and Sarah fell in love with the intense experience of joyous community living. It was never perfect (as no community ever is) but the Smiths learned important lessons about teaching, leadership, and the sharing of a loving community.

Meanwhile, in Salem, Bill and Sarah played music and provided calling for a local contra dance series which they founded, were active members of their Universalist (UU) Church, and enjoyed being positive members of a well-integrated neighborhood. Bill developed a successful cabinet-making career which later became an eighteen-year teaching position in woodworking at a private elementary school. Sarah, having received a graduate degree in elementary education in 1975, taught music and dancing in several schools, then finally returned to her true passion of caring for others by going to graduate school again; this time at the School of Social work at Salem State College. After graduating, she has earned her LICSW and worked with individual clients at a local agency serving families on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

Oh, and when they weren’t busy, the Smiths purchased an 8-acre completely undeveloped parcel of land on the Medomak River in Waldoboro, Maine. Over a 10 year period, the Smiths worked every summer to build a lovely small house on the shore of the tidal creek which flows into the Medomak. While building their house they lived in a spacious tent, complete with Sarah’s guide dog and two cats. They will tell you now that they loved every minute of it. Sarah became a competent nail driver and shingler, while Bill planned, directed and built everything else. “We hired some guys to sheathe and shingle the roof, and we got electricians to wire most of it, since I hate heights and am terrified that I would burn it down if I wired it. And our friends came and helped every summer. ”

And the music has gone on and on. Sarah says, “Music has been a huge part of my life since I learned to sing rounds in the car with the other six members of my family. And when I lost my vision, it was really the only part of my life which didn’t change. That and Bill! Between them, Bill and Sarah play banjo, bass, guitar, recorder, and mandolin. And they sing together from trips on a tandem bicycle to the stage. So, as this adventurous team began to age and mature, they discovered that their old Salem house was beginning to need too much continual maintenance, that it had too many stairs, and that Sarah’s dream of living in a rural spot where she could work on the land was drifting into a sad distance.

Although Salem had been a good home for them for years, they continued to long for a closer community life. The Smiths considered where to go to find a multi-generational group of people that could provide support and companionship for a couple without children of their own. They tried to join a co-housing community in Edgecomb, Maine, but it never grew to a reality. So, when they discovered the Belfast Cohousing community, it didn’t take them long to join. “Adventures have always brought the two of us closer, at the same time they have challenged and enriched us many-fold. ” The Smiths are at it again! ”
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