OLD ORCHARD BEACH — His love of history, attention to detail and writing skills have likely gone a long way toward preserving Old Orchard Beach’s history for future generations.
John Joseph Margarones, a retired Bates College professor and a longtime resident of Old Orchard Beach, was writing his third book on the town’s history when he died Monday at the age of 87.
“The thing he was most passionate about, that kept him going, was writing about the history of Old Orchard Beach,” said his daughter, Estelle Margarones. “It took him years to do this. He brought the people to life through painstaking research. He had people from all parts of the country bringing him historical information.”
Mr. Margarones was born in Lynn, Mass., and his family moved to Maine when he was about 10. He attended schools in Old Orchard Beach, graduating from Old Orchard Beach High School in 1940 as the class salutatorian, his daughter said.
He was inducted recently into the Old Orchard Beach High School Hall of Fame.
During World War II, he was a bombardier in the Army Air Corps, flying 35 successful combat missions over Europe from 1943 to 1945.
“That is quite remarkable,” his daughter said, because the flights often took him over Germany and Nazi-occupied territories.
After the war, Mr. Margarones earned two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees and a doctorate before becoming an educator. He got his first teaching job in Skowhegan, where he taught elementary school, said his wife, Viola.
That was just the beginning of a long and successful career in education that led him to Bates College in Lewiston. For 25 years, he was a teacher educator at Bates. “He taught teachers to be teachers,” his daughter said.
He retired from Bates in 1991 as professor emeritus and chair of the department of education.
Though he lived in Lewiston for a period, most of his life was spent in Old Orchard Beach, where his family roots ran deep.
His father ran a barber shop and bowling alley at 22 Orchard St. Even when he was teaching, Mr. Margarones helped his father until 1971.
Mr. Margarones and his wife also were the proprietors of West Surf Apartments, a beachfront hotel.
About five years ago, Mr. Margarones started researching and writing three history books, said his editor, Roger Tousignant.
Tousignant, who is a funeral home director in town, said his friend was passionate about history, especially if it involved the people of Old Orchard Beach.
He wrote biographies about a former selectman whose family hosted black musicians – at a time when they were not allowed to stay in hotels – and a prominent Jewish family that built the town’s first synagogue.
But he was proudest of writing the town history books. The first was titled “Personality Vignettes of Old Orchard Beach, 1930s and 1940s,” and the second volume was “People and Place Profiles, 1930s and 1940s.”
The third book, tentatively titled, “The Unsung Personalities,” was being written when he died, Tousignant said.
The books are available through the town’s library and historical society.
Tousignant said the time and research that his friend put into the books were remarkable. “We got old photographs from everywhere, from the high school, from some of the town’s older residents and from people’s barn and attics,” he said.
Tousignant said Mr. Margarones had a talent for bringing people from the town’s past to life.
“People claim they are historians,” he said, “but they are not John Margarones.”
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]