Kennebunkport Historical Society Executive Director Kristin Haight recently had a chat with Luverne Preble, as part of the society’s oral history Project. Tammy Wells photo

KENNEBUNKPORT – Luverne Preble sat in comfortable, familiar surroundings as she talked with Executive Director Kristin Haight of the Kennebunkport Historical Society about her early days, about growing up at Town House Corners, and how life was in this area of coastal York County from the mid-1930s onward. Her interview with Haight, for the society’s oral history project, was conducted at Town House School, a location that is very dear to her.

“When I was five, I walked in the back door to the primary room,” she told Haight. “I’d come over here, and I felt like a queen.”

Lorene Wildes was the primary teacher at the time, instructing young people through Grade 3 from the Town House Corners area of Kennebunkport, she said, estimating there were about 25 students in Wilde’s charge then. Grades 4-8 were taught in the school’s larger classroom.

Preble, now 86, is one of the women who stood up and spoke up after a 2015 vote by the society to demolish the old school building – it was in hard shape, according to news accounts, and was considered unsafe. She and others  believed it should be saved. Friends of the Town House School was formed and raised more than $400,000 to get it done.

Preble was born Luverne Clara Clough, and she said, was not fond of her name – she thought the names of her friends were much more attractive than her own. But her teacher exclaimed, “Oh, what a pretty name,” upon introduction, said Preble. “And I paid attention,” in class.

Preble, called “Lu” by her friends and family, is among several older folks who are taking part in the oral history project, agreeing to chat about her youth as Haight recorded the conversation. The project began this fall, first with interviews of those in the community 100 years old and older. Artist and sculptor Frank Handlen, who marked his 105th birthday at the end of September, agreed to be the first. October focused on people who were in their 90s, November, those in their 80s, December will focus on those in their 70s, and so on.

Luverne Preble, right, sits with Kristin Haight, executive director of Kennebunkport Historical Society at Town House School, where they talk about Preble’s early years. She is among several area seniors taking part in the society’s oral history Project. Tammy Wells photo

It is all about memories and recording them, so the stories of life here do not get lost.

Haight sat rapt as Preble spoke of her early days in the community – of playing in the dirt under the old Town House – the former town hall – to the thump of the ball as the girls’ basketball team played in one of the rooms above them.

They would play marbles, digging a hole, and leveling the dirt around it, making a way for a marble to roll in, she said, demonstrating with her hands how the soil was smoothed.

She recalled how the downtown section of Kennebunkport, referred to as the Port, was a world away when she was a child.

“All my friends were from the Town House,” said Preble. “A lot of us were afraid of going to the Port.” It was unfamiliar, she said, and the license plates were from away. “It was a long time before I rode my bicycle down there,” she recalled.

Like many, she worked when she was a young teenager, first at Miller Drug Store and then at the Shawmut Inn.

“I was the dessert girl,” she said with her signature big smile. And, even though she was just 15 at the time, she was taught how to make drinks, she said, and so served as a bartender there that summer.

She spoke of falling in love with Bob Preble when she was 15 and marrying him at 17 when she was a senior in high school. He was a young man who had a difficult start in life, she said, someone who worked hard from his youth.

She spoke of him driving to Boston with a load of fish at 14 – the lack of a driver’s license was not an impediment at the time.

“The fishermen knew what it was like to be poor, and they took Bob and taught him,” how to fish, she said. She spoke of doing her homework in their truck while he went torching for herring at night with the other fishermen – and then driving to the Cozy Corner Restaurant in Wells, the only one in the area open late, for coffee.

Later, the couple built their own business, called Preble Fish. They raised six children.

“He was all I never wanted,” she said, smiling at the memory.

Bob died when he was in his 60s. She later married Donald Tinkham, who, with Preble and others, helped in the effort to save the Town House School. He has also since passed away.

There were other reminisces of earlier days – some joyful and others that spoke to difficult times and circumstances.

A joyful day was when she met a brother she had not previously known existed. A resident of mid-Maine, he is 88 now, and Preble speaks of him with love in her eyes.

Preble’s memories, along with Haight’s interviews with others, will be gathered together and will, perhaps later in the new year, be available for viewing.

Haight said she started the project because of her own interest in history and genealogy.

“I wanted to figure out a way to connect the stories of our community,” she said.

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