When immigrant students walked into Arline Saturdayborn’s classroom, there was music. And flowers.

Saturdayborn wanted her English language students at Portland Adult Education to be celebrated for overcoming hardships and coming to class, said adult education adviser Anja Hanson.

Saturdayborn greeted everyone with a warm, booming: “Hello sweetheart!”

Arline Saturdayborn, who made a huge impact with so many students and staff at Portland Adult Education, died on Feb. 7. Submitted photo from Caitie Whelan

Her daughter, Caitie Whelan, said the way her mother said “good morning” made people feel like they mattered. Even in small exchanges, she had a capacity “to remind them how amazing it is that we get to be alive.”

Saturdayborn, of South Portland, died on Feb. 7. She was 81.

The multi-faceted educator was once governess to Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s children, and swam in the Amazon River to celebrate her 81st birthday.


Her last name – Saturdayborn – was not her birth or married name. In 1990, she was inspired by books about the kinship that may be shared by those born on the same day of the week. Born on a Saturday, she legally changed her last name. “She was a great tradition breaker,” her daughter said.

Saturdayborn died from complications of COVID-19, said her daughter. Her mother was fully vaccinated, boosted and careful around others, she said.

“We don’t know where she got COVID, but it can wreak havoc on people whose immune systems have been compromised from cancer treatments,” Whelan said.

In the last weeks of her life, on oxygen and in a hospital bed, Saturdayborn taught her University of Southern Maine class on Zoom. The class was Sustainable Compassion Training, a course to help professionals renew their energy and prevent burnout, “so you could go out in the world and make it more compassionate,” Whelan said.

At times, nurses urged Saturdayborn to take a break, that she needed to rest her lungs. But she didn’t see why being in the hospital should stop her from teaching.

One of the last things Saturdayborn told her daughter was: “‘Caitlin, we need to make sure that the book groups get put together for that course.’ She was focused on that,” Whelan said.


Saturdayborn was born on Dec. 20, 1941, in Boston. Her father worked in the construction industry and the family moved frequently throughout New England. As a little girl she regularly knocked on new neighbors’ doors asking if they had any children she could play with, her daughter said. “She was hardwired for connections.”

She attended St. Mary’s College in Indiana, where she met her husband, Jamie Whelan, a student at Notre Dame.

After graduation, she worked as governess to then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s children.

The couple later moved to New Jersey, where she taught high school English and then at a nature center. She got her master’s degree at Harvard. In 1977, the family, then with children, moved to Pembroke, Maine, and joined the back-to-the-land movement.

“They built their own house. She loved the idea of growing their own food,” her daughter said.

In 1982, the couple and their children moved to South Portland. Four years later she enrolled at what was then the Portland School of Art. She started teaching “Yoga for Ordinary People” in the Portland area, and wanted to introduce yoga to those not comfortable wearing tight-fitting spandex, her daughter said.


Arline Saturdayborn enjoys goat yoga at the Smiling Hill Farm. Saturdayborn died on Feb. 7. She is remembered as a force who improved many lives at Portland Adult Education. Submitted photo by Caitie Whelan

In 2005, she began teaching English to non-English speakers, calling teaching one of the best things that ever happened to her. Saturdayborn continued her own learning, enrolling in workshops, courses, even another master’s program. If she had an addiction, “it was education,” her daughter said.

In 2016, she began teaching at the University of Southern Maine. Vaishali Mamgain, associate professor and director of USM’s Bertha Crosley Ball Center for Compassion, said Saturdayborn was a founding member and her openness to discovery “made an invaluable contribution to the community she helped create at the University of Southern Maine,” Mamgain said in an email. “She brought incredible joy and integrity to every space she was in.”

When she turned 70 she went biking in Thailand, even though she feared traveling far abroad, her daughter said. When she came home, she got a tattoo that said in Thai, “I can do this.” She later traveled to France, Croatia, Italy, Greece and other places.

Like most people, Saturdayborn did not escape heartache. Her first-born died by suicide in 2021, Whelan said.

“She threw herself and her sustainable compassion work into supporting survivors of suicide loss,” her daughter said. “She lived with a heart open towards the world.”

In December, she celebrated turning 81 by swimming in the Amazon in Brazil.


The next month, she was sick and hospitalized at Northern Light Mercy Hospital in Portland.

Her health worsened. She told her family, “if I die, tell everybody this was a real nice clambake, and I’m mightily glad I came.”

Saturdayborn was hopeful when she decided to be placed on a ventilator. “Her last words were: ‘Let’s go!’ as in let’s do this, this is my best shot,” Whelan said. She died two days later.

Rob Wood remembered hiring Saturdayborn at adult education when he was director. She was one of his best hires, he said. Today Wood is retired, and is board chair of the Friends of Portland Adult Education. “She exuded enthusiasm and compassion,” he said.

In Wood’s tribute, he wrote that her voice boomed and her smile beamed as she greeted students and colleagues. She made everyone feel they could overcome anything, he said. “I will hold her dearly in my heart,” Wood wrote. “Her curious mind and strong spirit were an inspiration to me. … It is as if a bit of light has gone out with her passing.”

She is survived by her husband of 57 years, three children, Bob, David and Caitlin Whelan, two daughters-in-law and four grandchildren. Another son, Bill Whelan, died in 2021.

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