In the words of Carol Southall, who worked alongside Suzanne Harding to get Freeport’s social service agency, Freeport Community Services, off the ground, “We’ve lost a person who made such a huge difference in our community.”

Harding, who was living in Lebanon, N.H., died on Dec. 5. She was born in 1925.

Southall and Harding were two of the seven “founding mothers” who planted the seeds for Freeport Community Services in 1974, at a time when the town had no safety net for people in need of social services. She is the second founding mother to die, following Muriel Wilson. A celebration of Harding’s life will take place on April 9, 2016, at St. Paul’s Church in White River Junction, Vt., where she regularly attended services. True to her calling, Harding requested that contributions be made in her name to Freeport Community Services, as well as two other agencies.

Melanie Sachs, executive director of Freeport Community Services, which operates on Depot Street, said that

Harding was “seminal” in terms of her importance to the agency.

“I would not be here if not for Suzie Harding,” Sachs said. “I stand on her shoulders. The entire FCS family was deeply saddened to hear the news about Suzie. She was truly one of the sparks that made this wonderful organization move from a dream to a reality. The communities of Freeport and Pownal are truly blessed to have had her vision, energy and wisdom working on behalf of those in need.”

Harding, who grew up in Massachusetts, lived in South Freeport, where she hosted community groups at the home she called “Coveside.”

In addition to Harding, Wilson and Southall, the other women involved in getting Freeport Community Services started included Betsy Ruff, Janice Fogg, Vaughndella Curtis and Sherri Smith.

“I met her shortly after moving to Freeport in 1971,” Southall said. “She was attending South Freeport Congregational Church, and Pastor Ian Douglas and the congregation became concerned that Freeport had no social services, and Freeport was a very poor town back then. They were determined to find a way to bring services to Freeport. Ian Douglas moved away and he told Suzie Harding, ‘This project is yours going forward. Figure out a way to bring services to Freeport.’”

Harding was equal to the task.

“She was really the leader,” Southall said. “She had incredible vision. There had to be input from all parts of town.”

Southall recalled that the founding mothers at that time were operating with no official organization or name. Once they identified a board of directors, they obtained nonprofit status and became Freeport Community Services in 1974. Harding was the first president.

Harding’s daughter, Linda Harding, said that “tenacious” is the best word to describe her mother’s attitude in getting Freeport Community Services off the ground.

“I remember it was the business of her life at that time,” Linda Harding said. “I went with her often to visit people in need and to comfort them. We went into every type of household.”

Smith, who was living in Durham and bringing up a young family, was the first “employee,” drawing a tiny income by operating as secretary out of her home.

“We had optimism and vision,” Southall said. “Suzie chose an umbrella as our first logo. All factions of town were included in this. She was someone people believed in because she made things happen. She was good at enlisting volunteers.”

The first order of business, Southall said, was procuring the basic needs of food and clothing for people who needed them. Harding used “information and referral” to get things done, Southall said. The fledgling agency made its first home in an apartment over a garage on Easy Street.

“That was Suzie’s occupation, full time,” Southall said. “She was just very sensitive, a good listener, dependable and she really did see a bright part of life.”

In time, Freeport Community Services had a food pantry, thrift shop, summer camp scholarships, jobs for middle school students, Christmas and Thanksgiving baskets for families and a close relationship with seniors at its Depot Street facility.

Harding left Freeport in the late 1990s to be closer to family.

“She last visited three years ago,” Southall said. “I kept in touch with her. We talked on the phone a few times a year. She was very generous to the (Freeport) Community Center – a lifetime donor.”

Harding was unable to attend a special event honoring the founding mothers last March, when the town recognized all of them with its annual Citizen of the Year award. Linda Harding stood in for her.

The founding mothers received plaques and bouquets, and then gathered for a reception down the street at the Freeport Community Center.

Linda Harding said that her mother instilled lasting values in her children.

“She was a mother who taught us the love of learning,” she said. “She taught us to be curious, to be social activists. She taught us a love of music, and of different cultures.”

Suzie Harding at Portland Head Light

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