The Great Eddy is shown Friday from the banks of the Kennebec River, near the Skowhegan Water Pollution Control building. Like many waterways in central Maine, the Great Eddy can be a dangerous place for swimmers and boaters, especially when the water is high and moving swiftly. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The Kennebec River was roiling the day my friend, Richard J. Marshall Jr., drowned.

It was May 3, 1969, and we were seventh graders at the Notre Dame School in Skowhegan, which was being used that year as a public school for our class. Richard and I lived in the same neighborhood and we liked each other a lot, probably because we both had a good sense of humor, loved to tell stories and laughed a lot.

We did all kinds of fun things with the neighborhood gang: Climbed trees, explored woods and fields, skied and tobogganed on the hill nearby in winter and, believe it or not, jumped off roofs. They weren’t high ones and we never got hurt, but we were intrigued by the challenge and liked to take chances. We would laugh until our cheeks turned red.

The Saturday we lost Richard, my sister and I were riding in the back seat of my father’s Buick with Mom in the front passenger seat. We were returning home to Skowhegan from a shopping trip in Waterville and approached the Great Eddy of the Kennebec River off U.S. Route 2, where there were many police cruisers and fire trucks. We knew something was wrong.

My friend, Brent Nichols, rushed over to us.

“Dicky drowned in the river,” he said.


It was the worst, most devastating news. As a 13-year-old, I was sick, and heartbroken.

We drove the half-mile home and I immediately grabbed my blue bicycle and pedaled again to the river, hoping to see Richard in his red Army jacket coming ashore.

That’s the way it was for the next several days as I constantly looked out our living room window, desperately hoping I’d see him walking past the house, as he often did, recognizable by that signature red jacket.

It was the same for weeks afterward at Notre Dame, where we, his classmates, struggled to concentrate on our work. The school was perched on the riverbank and had many windows overlooking the area where Richard had been swallowed up. We would sit by the windows, looking for him.

To lose someone to water is a terrible thing, and it is worse when the body is never found. That was the case with our beloved Richard. His family, and we, never had closure.

I am reminded of him a lot, particularly in May, when the Kennebec is fierce and forbidding. Just a few days after Richard drowned, a Skowhegan medical doctor met the same fate, in the same area of the river. Tadeo Zbyszycki, 53, was kayaking between the dam and Great Eddy. His kayak overturned and he disappeared in the 6-foot, white rapids.


I am reminded that, even in more seasonable weather, waters can be dangerous.

On July 4 of this year, our Skowhegan Area High School class of 1974 classmate, Stephen Craig, was knocked out of his canoe by hanging tree branches on the Little Susitna River in Alaska. His body was found the next day. He had not been wearing a life jacket, authorities said.

Steve was a well-respected peer throughout our school years, active in football, track and skiing. He was friendly and athletic. He was too young to die, at 67.

During this hot July weather in Maine, as people flock to the water to cool off, we hear more stories. A 16-year-old boy drowned July 2 at a campground in Aurora, in Hancock County, while swimming with family.

A Florida man, 72, perished July 5 when his airboat nose-dived into the Kennebec River in Anson.

A 47-year-old Hope man drowned last Saturday on Seven Tree Pond in Union while trying to rescue his young daughters, who were rescued by the man’s son.

These deaths are tragic for their families and friends, and frightening for the rest of us. They are a tragic reminder that water can be powerful, and unforgiving.

We must remember to swim in safe areas, follow boating rules, wear a life jacket and be cautious in and around water at all times.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here weekly. She is the author of the book “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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