Written by Bob Smith – Sebasco Harbor Resort Lighthouse Keeper
John Totman joined the maintenance crew at Sebasco in June of 1956. I hadn’t even reached my first birthday, and I’m 60! His younger brother Owen joined the crew two years later. They started under the tutelage of Gordon Alden, and worked for two generations of the Dana family until 1997, when I bought the resort from John and Deedee Bradford and Orman and Wendy Hines, daughters and husbands of Woody and Doss Dana.
When Doss became ill after her husband died, she struggled with the resort in her last few years, even firing her children who had been running the operation. John and Owen became the only people she trusted, and they saved the resort through those hard times helping Doss, but communicating constantly with the children, who continued to run the property remotely until she passed away.
Sebasco Harbor Resort is an institution, founded and opened in 1930 by Nate Cushman, a wealthy entrepreneur who founded Cushman Bakery’s, one of the largest bakery companies in the Northeast. Many celebrities would come in the summer. Benny Goodman would bring the band to rehearse before touring. Eleanor Roosevelt would stop at Sebasco during her trips to Campobello. Rumors that John Totman used to fetch her ice cream on hot summer days have never made it to her memoirs.
The Totman family have been residents of the small Maine coastal town of Phippsburg since the 1700’s. John and Owen have five other siblings and all have been important members of the community. But these two gentlemen have dedicated ¾’s of their lives to the resort while still making tremendous contributions to the community. They started the Totman Wallace Scholarship Fund over 30 years ago and, with the help of family and friends, have raised almost $250,000 for college scholarships for children in Phippsburg since its inception, although neither of them ever went to college themselves. The value of education has always been of utmost importance to them, and their children all graduated and became successful in their own careers as teachers and engineers. When John’s wife passed away at a young age, he not only raised his own three, he also took in his two nephews when his sister-in-law passed away.
When John was drafted in the Army in 1961, Owen held down the fort until he returned two years later. When I came along after 23 years in the industry, these two men taught me the real meaning of hospitality. As a seasonal summer resort, I couldn’t understand why there was always just as much traffic coming in and out of the “Repairatorium” every day as there was going to the pool or heading for the golf course. Their maintenance shop was literally the hub of the resort. It didn’t take long for me to understand that every child who wanted to go fishing knew a quick stop at the shop and they’d be set up with a fishing rod, bait or lures, and very specific directions on the best place to find that big fish and even instruction on how to do it if needed. If you were a youngster without a bike and were jealous of all the others who were riding around, you just stopped at the shop, where the guys had a bunch of bikes for all sizes. Most were remnants from the local recycling center that they had repaired and put back into action. No child walked into the Repairatorium without coming out happy. I asked, and they agreed, to become certified L. L. Bean bike mechanics. Not only did they get certified, but I think they actually taught the instructors a thing or two about bicycles.
They both spend their spare time doing two things, helping others, and enjoying the sea. Owen is a lobsterman in his off hours and often sets up guests with a fresh supply of our favorite Maine “Sea Chickens” to take home when they depart. John takes his family sailing in Casco Bay or kayaks down the Kennebec River.
If you want a chuckle, a really good story, they have plenty. Almost 60 years of experience in this business will give you a lot of material. And if you even suggest that they slow down, the icy stare will melt you in your spot. They maintain 37 buildings here at the resort. They crawl under all but two every fall to drain the water from them for the winter and they do the same to fire them up in the spring. They are two of the most remarkable men I know. And they are the best example I know of hard work and total dedication. I am honored and humbled to have them as part of our industry.