Sunday, May 26, 2013
MAINE ACADEMY OF NATURAL SCIENCES AT GOOD WILL-HINCKLEY
FAIRFIELD -- State Rep. Helen Rankin has advice for the inaugural graduates of the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley: Never give up.
Rep. Helen Rankin will be speaking at Goodwill-Hinckley's graduation ceremony on Thursday, June 14, 2012.
Maine Academy of Natural Sciences at Good Will-Hinckley
First commencement ceremony 5 p.m. Thursday
Bishop Auditorium, Prescott Hall
Graduates: Caleb Chadbourne, Dominick Downer, David Hill, John Kimball and Adam Micheller.
Rankin, 80, an honorary graduate and keynote speaker at the academy's first-ever graduation ceremony, received the same counsel more than 65 years ago from an administrator there when the campus was a boarding school for children in need.
The advice has served her well.
In the mid-1940s, when she was about 13 years old, Rankin attended Good Will and lived at Redington-Gilman Cottage on campus.
Rankin said her home life was dysfunctional and living at the school "was heaven."
"It saved my life."
When Rankin left Good Will, Principal Harvey Scribner urged her in a letter to persevere and told her that she could accomplish whatever she wanted.
Rankin said she cherished that letter and felt blessed to have received it.
"You, as a teacher, never know the impact you can make on a child," she said. "I am a very, very lucky woman."
In her late 70s, Rankin was elected to the Maine House of Representatives to represent Hiram and other towns in District 97.
She had a career as school nutrition director in Hiram-based School Administrative District 55 and she and her husband raised two children.
Her early years, though, were far from charmed.
Her family moved every six months during the Depression and her father left her mother and her four siblings.
By eighth grade, Rankin had been enrolled in 16 schools in three states.
"It was very painful," Rankin said of her childhood. "I'd say (to myself) that tomorrow is going to be better."
Despite repeating that mantra for years, Rankin said one day when she was a young teen she was overcome with hopelessness.
She wrote a letter to an aunt in Massachusetts begging to move in with her.
Her aunt said no.
Her aunt did suggest she look at Good Will-Hinckley, the home, farm and school for orphans and at-risk children that the Rev. George Walter Hinckley opened in the late 1880s.
Rankin and her younger sister Rita were accepted and went to live there for a short period in the 1940s.
Rankin said she felt safe, had enough to eat and her teachers were caring and patient.
"I felt they really loved me," she said.
She left Good Will to return to live with her mother in Portland.
Out of school, Rankin, 14, lied about her age so she could get a job at Woolworth's earning $21 a week.
She was 16 when she married Albert, her husband of nearly 40 years. The couple had two children, Susan and Alan.
"I was in seventh heaven and we had our own little house," she said.
When her children were in school, Rankin worked in the school hot lunch program.
"I was embarrassed because I had an eighth-grade education," Rankin said. "I had a void in my life."
At the suggestion of friends who were educators, she took and passed a high school equivalency test.
"There's something to be said for the school of hard knocks," Rankin said, adding she loved books "because reading I could live in another world."
Armed with an equivalency certificate, confidence and a desire to improve, Rankin began taking college classes.
For 15 years, while working full-time, she earned a bachelor's degree in education administration and vocational technology from the University of Southern Maine.
"I cannot tell you the satisfaction and joy," Rankin said.
Rankin shared her joy with her former principal when they reconnected decades later during Scribner's visit to the school district where she worked.
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