Stuart Wantman has long lived away from Waterville, but the city that stole his heart many years ago remains in his thoughts.

Every day, he reads the Morning Sentinel from his Pennsylvania home and keeps up on all the news of the city — the downtown revitalization efforts, local government, crime and other topics.

A 1966 Colby College graduate, Wantman, 73, was particularly touched by stories he read about Vaughan Orchard, a homeless man who died March 3 at 57 after living in a tent on the bank of the Kennebec River. Orchard, a familiar figure downtown, suffered from drug addiction and schizophrenia, refused to stay at the local homeless shelter and preferred living outdoors. He was often seen pushing a grocery cart through the streets, collecting cans and bottles and giving to others who were homeless.

After Orchard died, his family explained that they had tried to help him over the years, but he declined it, even insisting he had no family.

Wantman remembers well the area at Head of Falls where Orchard lived because he spent time downtown as a Colby student in the ’60s and with friends visited the Bob-In on Temple Street.

When Wantman read that Orchard’s family did not have enough money to cremate and bury him, he felt compelled to help.

“Something struck a cord,” he said. “His soul deserved the respect often denied him in life.”

So Wantman, who owns a company that does fundraising through jewelry sales, got in touch with other Colby graduates from the Class of 1966 — Ann Ruggles Gere and her husband, Budge, (Presbyterian minister and Dartmouth College graduate) of Michigan, Bob Adams of Virginia, Rick Lund of New Hampshire, Gary Knight of Maine and George Cain of Massachusetts. He told them about Orchard and asked if they’d help pay for his cremation.

“They all said, ‘I’m in,'” Wantman recalled.

Wantman phoned the Waterville funeral home that was working with Orchard’s family, spoke to the owner, and rounded up donations from his former Colby classmates.

Wantman then called me to say the cremation costs were covered, it was OK for Orchard’s family to pick up the urn and asked if I would let the family know.

I called Tanya Laury, Orchard’s 34-year-old daughter, who said she was grateful for Wantman’s help and that some other people also had pitched in with smaller donations.

Laury was touched that six 1966 Colby grads who don’t even know her family — and did not know her father — cared enough to help from so far away.

“I want them to be recognized,” she said. “We are blessed to have people like them in this world. There are some special people out there.”

Laury said she worked at Colby herself for about 10 years, helping with banquets and working as a waitress, but had to stop because of health reasons. She said she likes the staff and hopes to return to work there one day.

Meanwhile, she said Candy Pelotte, of Winslow, made a 12-by-7-inch wooden plaque with her father’s name and date of birth on it, and she hopes the family will be allowed to hang it somewhere at Head of Falls where he lived.

“I hope somebody will let us do it,” she said. “It has a picture of a tent with a bonfire and two people at the bonfire, with water in the background.”

Laury said she misses Orchard, who would braid her hair when she was young, was generous and worked hard as a mechanic to provide for her and her siblings, Holly, Harley and Danny, and her mother, Tammy.

“He gave us everything we needed and more,” she said.

Wantman, a former class agent who raised money for Colby for 18 years, reminisced about Waterville in a phone interview.

He recalled arriving at Colby from his home in Brooklyn, New York, in the early 1960s. His father had died young so he was raised by his mother.

As a Colby student, Wantman worked in the spa, which served breakfast and lunch, washing dishes for $1 an hour. He got to know John Joseph, who ran the business, and became friends with Earl Smith, who eventually would become dean of the college and write a history of Colby.

“They were my mentors and I loved those guys,” Wantman said. “The campus was gorgeous. It was new because they had just finished moving up there from downtown in the prior 10 years. The relationship between Colby and Waterville was strong. It was never that ‘townies’ were different. We always thought the world of everybody in town.”

Wantman majored in economics and then psychology, was interested in journalism, wrote some stories for the Colby student newspaper, The Echo, though he was not on staff, and interned at the Morning Sentinel for his senior year Jan Plan program, he said.

“I was assigned to a reporter and many nights we went to Waterville meetings and I’d write about them and they would get critiqued by the editor. I did that for a month and in my last week there, one of my articles got published.”

Fifty-two years later, Wantman continues to keep abreast of city and Colby happenings.

“It’s part of my life and I feel it’s not only like I grew up in Brooklyn — I also grew up in Waterville.”

He is impressed with Colby’s efforts to help revitalize the downtown, a project near and dear to someone else’s heart — Colby President David Greene, who helped spearhead it.

“I’m thinking that President Greene is phenomenal and that he’s giving back to Waterville the same way that Waterville gave back to Colby more than 80 years ago when residents helped raise money for its move to Mayflower Hill. I think it’s terrific.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.