March 11, 2010

Fire chief comes to rescue of a fan in need

— RAYMOND — Jane Brown Karpoe had a small problem. She was given tickets to four box seats behind the visiting dugout for today's Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

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John Ewing/Staff Photographer And the information provided for this photo caption goes right here in two lines in this space.fg n fghn fhfhm fxhnm fgxn fgnfgcnfgndfgndgndgcbn Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer......Friday, April 17, 2009...Jane Karpoe, an 82 year old Red Sox fan, and Raymond fire chief Dennis Morse will be attending Sunday’s Red Sox game. Karpoe recently donated the 8 acres on which the present Raymond Public Works building stands.

Who would accompany her to Boston?

Her family is scattered. Many of her closest friends and fellow fans endure the physical ailments that come when you've spent more than 80 years on Earth. Many have given up their driver's licenses.

Karpoe is still an independent woman. When she wants to visit her daughter in Virginia, she carries her luggage to the car and drives it south. She doesn't suffer fools and loves talking baseball. She wasn't going to put the word out on Facebook that she had three extra Sox tickets, but she did want company.

She turned to the Raymond Fire Department, whose expertise in solving problems isn't limited to fighting fires or rescuing stranded boaters on Sebago Lake. As another daughter living in Rhode Island wrote in an e-mail, Mom got her posse. Chief Dennis Morse is heading up this detail.

This isn't just a story about a Red Sox fan with a dilemma. It is a snapshot of life's relationships and a love of New England's baseball team that never gets old.

Kelly Karpoe brought her mother to Fenway Park last season to watch a game from one of those box seats. Jane Karpoe hadn't been inside Fenway in more than 50 years -- before her two daughters were born.

''Watching the games on television was good enough. It hasn't changed,'' said Jane Karpoe. ''Walking off the ramp and seeing the field for the first time (that day) is like the curtain going up on Broadway.''

She and her late husband, Jack, were teachers in Pawling, N.Y. She taught math at the public high school; he was the chemistry teacher and football and baseball coach at Trinity-Pawling, a private boarding school for boys. She was a Bates College grad, Class of '49, and the only child of the longtime Raymond fire chief, Reginald Brown.

Jack Karpoe was an athletic kid who grew up in Worcester, Mass., and a former minor league player in the St. Louis Cardinals system. One summer, he came to Long Lake Lodge on Sebago, a camp affiliated with several private schools. He played baseball on Raymond's local team. Jane Brown was the only woman on the town's athletic board.

Through baseball and time he spent in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Jack Karpoe became friends with Mickey Vernon, the good-hitting first baseman with the Washington Senators and later the Red Sox. Billy Goodman, an all-star infielder and 1950 American League batting champ with the Red Sox, was another friend.

Baseball became as much a part of Jane Karpoe's life as her children and her teaching career. Kelly Karpoe remembers sitting in the stands at Trinity-Pawling, trying to identify which men were the scouts watching one of her father's players. Sometimes they'd stay for dinner with the Karpoe family.

One night, one of her husband's students knocked on the door to the Karpoe apartment in a school dormitory. He had a question for his teacher.

''I told him Jack was (serving as a referee) at a game somewhere and wasn't home. He didn't believe me. Over my shoulder he saw the Red Sox game on the television.

''He couldn't imagine I was the one watching.''

Every summer the Karpoe family returned to Maine and a camp on Moose Pond, near Bridgton. ''We didn't get good television reception,'' said Kelly Karpoe during a phone conversation Friday. ''So my dad would turn on his old Navy radio when the Red Sox played and turn up the volume because of all the static.

''My parents talked about the Red Sox all the time.''

Kelly has other memories of visiting her grandparents in Raymond in the house where her grandmother and her mother were born. If a fire call came in, her grandmother would rush to the kitchen to press the button that would trigger the fire horn atop the family barn.

''As kids, we would all go outside, stand on the front porch and watch all the firefighters converge up the road to our house and to the firetrucks, with my grandmother out in the yard, pointing a finger in the direction of the fire and shouting location and directions.''

Then the girls went inside with their mother and grandmother to prepare food for the firefighters when they returned. Other women in the town joined them in the kitchen.

Fire Chief Dennis Morse knew this when he knocked on Jane Karpoe's door nearly nine years ago. She had returned to Raymond after her husband's death in 1992. The town had grown and Morse was asking for a generous donation of her land for a new public safety building. About 4 acres should be enough, said Morse.

Karpoe agreed. But its proximity to Sebago Lake, across Route 302, required a retention pond. Morse swallowed hard and knocked on Karpoe's door again. Can we have another 4 acres?

During their meetings, Morse discovered the Red Sox fan in Karpoe. He was surprised, even as he knew he shouldn't be. Why wouldn't a women of her age be a fan?

When she called him, asking if he'd like to go to today's game, he didn't hesitate to say yes.

Ask her which three Red Sox players from any era she'd invite to dinner and Jane Karpoe doesn't hesitate. Billy Goodman and Mickey Vernon, of course. And Johnny Damon although Dustin Pedroia or David Ortiz could take his place in a pinch.

''David Ortiz just needs a lift,'' she said. ''He's going to come out of (his slump).''

The box seats, used by a client of Kelly Karpoe's, are about seven rows behind the visiting dugout. Last season Jane Karpoe didn't budge from her seat once the game began. Not even for a beer, she said. Afterward, as they joined the tide of Sox fans sweeping out of Fenway, Kelly kept checking on her mom as they walked four blocks to the car. Want to catch your breath, Mom?

''She was marching, she was energized,'' said Kelly Karpoe. ''She told me, 'I could live here.'''

Morse asked Jane Karpoe if she could ready by 9 a.m. for today's 1:35 p.m. game with Baltimore. They want to catch batting practice. Initially, two other firefighters were to join them but had to back out. Taking their place are a 22-year-old woman Morse knows and her boyfriend. The young woman has never been to Fenway.

She should walk into the ballpark beside Karpoe. And see the curtain go up.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

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