Harpswell Legionnaires march onto the Ewing Narrows Bridge for a wreath-tossing ceremony on Memorial Day. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)

Harpswell’s 2022 Memorial Day parade and ceremony honored U.S. military personnel who have died in service to their country — and honored a woman who dedicated much of her time to making sure Harpswell remembered them.

Hundreds of spectators attended the parade through Harpswell Center, then gathered around the 1759 meetinghouse to join in patriotic songs and listen to speeches. The parade was Harpswell’s first since 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the event in 2020 and 2021.

The parade was dedicated to longtime coordinator Shirley Thompson, of Harpswell Neck. Thompson died March 16 at the age of 93.

Harpswell Historical Society President David Hackett told the crowd that a town committee used to organize the parade.

“Eventually Shirley got on the town committee, and Shirley decided after one year that we didn’t need a town committee. She’d do the whole thing,” Hackett said. “And so she did for many, many years.”

A member of the Mt. Ararat High School band plays trumpet during the Memorial Day parade at Harpswell Center. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)
Harpswell Neck Fire and Rescue’s antique Engine 1 rolls through the Memorial Day parade. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)

Hackett estimated that Johnson coordinated the parade for 25 years. During those years, he handled the Historical Society’s involvement.

“Shirley would usually call me the night before the parade, never say who she was or anything else, just, ‘Is everything ready?’ And I said, ‘Of course everything’s ready. How about you? Do you have everything ready?’ ‘Well, yes, I do.’ And then we’d laugh and I’d see her the next day,” Hackett said.

One year, they arrived to a black sky and predictions of a thunderstorm. As the band started to play at 11 a.m., lightning struck nearby “and it didn’t look good at all,” Hackett said.

“Shirley being Shirley, with just a slight attitude in her voice, she looked up at the sky and said, ‘Be kind of nice if the sun came out, don’t you think?'” Hackett recalled. By the time the band reached the tennis courts, “the sun came out.”

Hackett continues to assist with coordinating the day’s events, while Tracy Williams has taken on Thompson’s duties.

Dan McMahon sings “God Bless America” during a Memorial Day ceremony at Harpswell Center. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)
An antique Ford tractor carries an American flag in the Memorial Day parade. (J.W. OLIVER PHOTO)

The guest speaker at the ceremony was Michael Fields, a Harpswell resident and Army veteran of the Gulf War. At the end of his speech about Memorial Day, Fields shared his memories of Thompson and the various ways she served the community.

“Many of us, if you’re about my age — that would be about 54, 55, maybe a little older, maybe a little younger — rode on Shirley’s bus,” Fields said. “We listened to her sing her silly songs as she drove us to swim lessons, to town … wherever we went. I particularly remember the lollipop song that she used to sing.”

Thompson drove the Harpswell school bus from 1966-1979, according to her obituary. She served the town as deputy registrar of voters and gave her time to the American Legion, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, parent-teacher association, and other community functions and organizations.

“I’d just like to say, consider how you might now carry out Shirley’s legacy in your service to the town of Harpswell,” Fields said.