MOUNT VERNON — Manley Damren’s actions always had a lot more to say than his mouth.

His hours in the field, working the land that had been in his family for generations, and his warm smile and his willingness to drop everything from his to-do list to help a neighbor in need, all gave quiet testimony to the man, friends and family said Wednesday. They said he loved his family, cared for his community and knew what it meant to delight in one’s labor.

Damren, 76, was killed Tuesday night when a car hit him as he drove a John Deere lawn tractor along Wings Mills Road, near his home and apple orchard.

“You don’t see many men like him. You just don’t,” said Marlene Webber, who has lived almost directly across the road from Damren and his wife, Barbara, for the past 43 years. “He tended to his farm. He tended to his family. He was one of the old-fashioned types.”

Charles Morse, 60, of Mount Vernon, the driver of the 2002 Subaru Outback that hit Damren, was not injured.

Capt. Daniel Davies of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that the accident was still being investigated, and no new information was available on the case. Davies said it was raining lightly at the time of the 5:15 p.m. accident, and that the section of road has a slight curve and knoll.

Pat Jones, who has lived down the road from the Damrens for the past 45 years, said Wednesday that the community is “devastated at the loss of a very fine neighbor and friend.”

“We’re reeling from it. We just can’t understand it,” she said.

Damren grew up in the neighborhood, working on his parents’ farm, Jones said. When he retired from mill work in Winthrop, Damren continued farming and started an apple orchard.

“He loved that work,” Jones said. “He was a very hardworking man.”

Manley and Barbara Damren have one daughter, Joyce Olson, who lives next door to her parents. The Damrens’ grandson recently built a home nearby.

“Manley loved his family,” neighbor Jill Worster said.

Harold and Marlene Webber’s daughter, Emily Webber, grew up with the Damrens as fixed point in her life. The couple used to baby-sit Emily Webber and her sister. When they got older, Emily Webber and her sister watched over the Damrens’ grandchildren.

“Manley was the cornerstone of our community,” Emily Webber said. “We all felt a little safer knowing he was just next door.”

When the Webbers’ home burned down last year, it was the Damrens who opened their home and helped them navigate those first moments of putting their lives back together.

“They took us in,” Marlene Webber said. “He was just there for everybody.”

When her daughters were young, and their father was at work, the Webber girls would push their broken-down bicycles to the Damrens’ house for Manley to pump up a tire or put a chain back on the sprocket. He never said a word about dropping his chores to get the girls back under way, Marlene Webber said.

A hard worker

A good nature and Yankee ingenuity made Manley Damren a frequent target for neighbors looking for advice on how to fix something.

Marlene Webber recalled a time when the Damrens lived in a trailer on the property where their house now stands. Manley Damren built a sawmill on the property, then used it to mill the lumber to build his house.

“He was still working on it. He kept adding to it and improving it,” Marlene Webber said. “He was a beautiful carpenter.”

Damren’s Mount Nebo Orchard made him a popular figure beyond the neighborhood. Jones said her family had made it a tradition to pick apples at the orchard over the past several years.

“He was always there to greet us,” she said.

Barbara Damren, who retired from the Mount Vernon Post Office, was her husband’s frequent companion in the fields and at the fruit stand outside their house.

“His love was farming, and that’s what he was doing,” Jones said. “He was taking care of his farm.”

Worster had stopped to buy fruit at the stand just a few hours before the accident on Tuesday. Manley Damren was working in the orchard.

“He was of that generation that just knew what hard work was,” Worster said.

Getting through the season

The Damren’s neighbors on Wednesday already were organizing a fundraiser and other efforts to help Barbara Damren get through the rest of the apple-picking season.

“This was the peak of the season,” Jones said. “It’s a devastating, sudden thing to have happen.”

Emily Webber said the fall season never officially got under way in the neighborhood until Damren opened the orchard.

She can still taste his apple cider, which she believes to be the best in the world. She spent hours in the orchard, picking apples.

“He would always point me in the direction of the best rows to pick from,” Webber said.

Then later, at Christmas, she would take cookies to the couple and stop by with her church members to sing carols.

“Manley always came out and leaned on the doorway with his wife by his side as we sang our carols, with a smile on his face and a, ‘Merry Christmas to you!'” Webber said. “Our neighborhood has been tragically changed forever.”


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