Jeff Morrell lowers the flag at the Old Meeting House in Harpswell Center on April 15. (JANICE THOMPSON PHOTO)
There are many unsung heroes in this town, and Jeff Morrell is one of them. But he doesn’t do what he does for the recognition.
Every morning on his way to work, Morrell quietly stops his truck in front of the Meeting House in Harpswell Center and puts up the American flag on the pole that stands close by. And every evening around sundown he takes it down again.
Morrell isn’t paid to do it. “I do it to remember my father. He was a Vietnam vet and a very good man,” he said.
The pole itself is in an auspicious location. According to the Elijah Kellogg Church website, “the original Meeting House was begun in 1757 and completed in 1759 or 1760. This Meeting House was in continuous use until 1844 and is still standing today. It has square pews and its high pulpit and old galleries are still preserved. The congregation worships there in June each year.” The present-day church was built in 1843.
According to Selectman Dave Chipman, Malcolm “Laddie” Whidden, a Korean war vet, started tending the flag in the 1960s, when the town operated out of the Meeting House. Whidden, who died in 2020, was a selectman from 1963-1989. He was instrumental in connecting the two sides of Harpswell with the Ewing Narrows Bridge.
“In about 2016 my dad (also named Jeff) took over the task from Laddie. It was something he could be proud of, something he could do for the community,” Morrell said.
The Morrell family has lived in Harpswell Center for generations, as have the Whiddens.
“I don’t look for recognition, but it’s nice when people beep their horn in greetings when I’m with the flag,” Morrell said. “Every so often someone will roll down their window and give me a thumbs-up. I’m glad they are happy about it.”
Morrell himself isn’t a veteran, but he wanted to continue the tradition after his father died in 2021. “Both of those guys, my dad and Laddie, they gave a lot for their country. I honor my dad when I raise and lower that flag.”
He also thinks having a carefully tended flag is good for the community, as a symbol that everyone can appreciate.
Morrell is a building contractor in Harpswell, as was his father before him. His grandmother was Shirley Thompson, who recently died. (See obituary on Page 29.) Shirley was as patriotic as her son and grandson, having served as the coordinator of the Memorial Day observance for over 20 years. That annual community event takes place in Harpswell Center, under the flag that is cared for by her progeny.
There are rules for handling the American flag. It should never touch the ground, and it shouldn’t fly in inclement weather. It always comes down before dark.
When the flag gets tattered or otherwise damaged, Morrell sends it to Dave Hackett, president of the Harpswell Historical Society, who disposes of it properly and gets a new one from the town.
Chipman, the selectman, said, “This is a wonderful tradition, and we appreciate that Jeff is continuing it. The flag reminds people of the history of the center and our roots in Harpswell.”