SCARBOROUGH – Rena Thorndike, a retired English teacher at Thornton Academy who was active in the Blue Point Congregational Church in Scarborough, died on Aug. 15. She was 86.

Ms. Thorndike began her career in 1959 as a physical education teacher and guidance counselor at Windham High School.

She taught briefly in Windham, then at Scarborough High School before joining the staff at Thornton Academy in Saco.

She taught physical education and was a guidance counselor at the academy. Throughout her career, she also coached girls’ basketball, cheerleading, swimming and softball. She also worked as a driver’s education instructor.

On Nov. 21, 1973, her career was put on hold when she was critically injured in a plane crash. She was out of work for six weeks. When she returned to the academy, she taught English. She taught for more than 20 years at Thornton and retired in 1983.

Her niece Olivia Cook of Georgia said Friday that Ms. Thorndike loved teaching and interacting with her students.

“She liked seeing the kids grasp onto an idea … seeing that lightbulb come on,” Cook said.

Reflecting on the lessons she got from Ms. Thorndike at home, Cook said, “As kids growing up, she always corrected our spelling. It was her thing.”

Ms. Thorndike grew up in Millinocket and graduated from Stearns High School in 1942.

After high school, she joined the Navy and served during World War II as a medic. She was honorably discharged as a pharmacist mate first class. She received a Silver Coin in June to recognize her years of service during the war.

Her niece said Ms. Thorndike never married and had no children.

Ms. Thorndike was remembered by her nieces Friday as a kind, supportive and compassionate woman who had a good sense of humor and a positive outlook on life.

Susan Atkinson of Oklahoma shared fond memories of the times when her aunt came to visit.

“When we lived close by, she always came to see us,” Atkinson said. “She loved us as if we were her own. She was someone, throughout our lives, that we could go to for anything. If we had problems, we could talk to her. She would have been a fabulous parent. She was so understanding and was there for everyone.”

Ms. Thorndike was a longtime member of the Blue Point Congregational Church. She joined the church around 1989 and served on the vestry.

A letter distributed to members of the church outlining Ms. Thorndike’s years of service says she was a member of the ladies guild and volunteered as a greeter and coffee hostess. The letter goes on to say she was a “terrific pie cutter” at bean suppers.

“The fact that she saves me a piece of my favorite pie endears her to me,” the letter says. Atkinson said it wasn’t clear who wrote the letter.

Ms. Thorndike liked spending time at her camp in the Bayside area in Northport, where she enjoyed boating, fishing and swimming.

Last month, Cook and her daughter traveled from Georgia to take Ms. Thorndike to Northport. Cook said her aunt had been going to the camp since she was a kid.

“She loved to go to camp,” she said. “It’s a different way of life there. It’s like a step back in time.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

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