(Betsy Steen was named the 2018 Bowdoinham citizen of the year at Celebrate Bowdoinham. Steen was recognized this year for her work in bringing a community center to town, but she has been an influential member of the community since the 1970s. Chris Quattrucci/The Times Record)

BOWDOINHAM — Along Main Street in Bowoinham, there’s a century-old building that’s seen a flurry of activity recently, and Betsy Steen is behind it.

Steen has dedicated much of her energy to breathing new life into aging former grange hall. Her commitment to reviving it as a vibrant community center prompted town officials to recognize her as Bowdoinham’s citizen of the year.

But her work on the community center only scratches the surface for her contributions to the town.

“She’s been doing this kind of work since the ’70s,” said neighbor Lara Ashouwak. “She’s done so much for this town over the years.”

Ashouwak volunteers with Steen for the town’s historical society and lives two houses down from her. She has known Steen for about 20 years and credits her and fellow society member Leslie Anderson for being among the first women in town to actively participate in projects.

“They’re very nice and polite,” said Ashouwak. “But, when they have their mind set on something, they’re not afraid to do what it takes to get it done”

Steen has lived in Bowdoinham since 1974. She participated in the society’s plant sale and slowly became more involved over the years. After 25 years in local schools, teaching at Mt. Ararat high school and running an elementary school computer room, she was driven to be more active in the town after she retired.

“People say you’re retired your supposed to sit around,” said Steen. “I’m not good at doing that.”

The historical society has always been a natural fit.

“I’ve always been interested in old buildings and history,” said Steen. “Then I became interested in preserving buildings.”

One building preservation in particular has a lot of meaning for Steen. The historical society restored and maintains Jellerson Schoolhouse. The last remaining one-room schoolhouse in town was still standing — but barely. The historical society took over the property in 1987.

“Initially we didn’t have the man-power or money to do anything with it,” said Steen. “In 2010, we sort of looked at what we could do to save it.”

Steen is known for her contributions organizing the annual yard sale fundraiser. Ashouwak said her secret is motivating her neighbors to volunteer.

“Everyone has ideas but they’re not always willing to do the work,” said Ashouwak. “It’s amazing how she pulls people in.”

The Jellerson schoolhouse re-opened as a part of the town’s 250th anniversary celebrations in 2012. It gave Steen the opportunity to take the school back in time, offering 1910-style classes, wearing clothing modeled after the era. Ashouwak recalled the passion Anderson and Steen had for the project when teaching the classes.

“They were definitely born teachers,” Ashouwak said with a laugh. “They were no nonsense.”

Steen said she’s encouraged by the way the community center has already brought people of all ages together. She also sees a new generation developing a passion for the town so dear to her.

“I think it’s great,” said Steen. “There’s been an influx of young couples coming in and losing their hearts to the town.”

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