Sarah Whitten Community Award Recipients

In 2015, the library’s Board of Trustees launched the Sarah Whitten Community Award, which recognizes a community member for their outstanding service to the library and community. The award is given in the spirit of the library’s first donor, Sarah Whitten, who donated her family home in 1941 to serve as Topsham’s first library.

Award recipients

2021 – John Larson

John Larson is owner and manager of the Topsham Fair Mall for the past 18 years. John supported the library’s Capital Campaign with a donation he facilitated of $20,000. He is one of the original members of the library’s Business Support Program. He is very involved in the Topsham community. Events like trick or treating at the mall, sports team sponsorships, and participation in special events characterize John’s civic nature. He takes pride in supporting Maine-based local businesses at the mall.

John and his wife, June, have passed on their love of reading and encouraged the pastime with their own children and now, the grandchildren. When “Grandma June” and “Grandpa John” are away from home, one of the little ones will call them wherever they are for a special bedtime story!

John is passionate about research and the power of reading. His intellectual curiosity and exploration of how the past, present and future collide inform his thoughtful decision-making. He is not afraid to take a chance on something that runs counter to conventional wisdom. John has been involved in the Midcoast Chamber of Commerce and Topsham Development Incorporated (TDI). We are so pleased to recognize John and the Larson family’s support of Topsham and the library. 

2020 – Jennifer Ecker

Jennifer Ecker is web designer and a former Vice-President of the Library’s Board of Trustees. Jen’s work on our Trustee Board and her dedication to creating and maintaining the library’s website exemplifies the Whitten award. In 2020, National Library Week theme was “Find Your Place at the Library”. Jen’s hard work and expertise has ensured that EVERYONE finds a place at the Topsham Public Library!

She has provided her time and talent to the library during crucial changes in the how the library provides services both in-person and online. Her work on two long-range plans and assistance in articulating them through our web presence has had a positive effect in shaping our future. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we were unable to publicly celebrate Jen’s innovative and continual work, but this in no way diminishes her contributions to Topsham and the library.

2019 – Janice Solomon

Jan was a regular—someone who stopped by often enough for us to be able to greet her by name and to know a little about what she liked to read. As a regular, she knew those of us who worked at the front desk.  As with many regulars, we noticed each other in a familiar but circumspect way. We got used to seeing her over a period of years, worried when we hadn’t seen her in a while and were happy to see her when she returned from wherever she had gone.

After one such absence, we heard that Jan had become very ill and moved to residential care out of state. Every once in a while we would get news of her through her neighbors at Highland Green.  Later, we were notified that Jan had died and left a bequest to the library.  We felt honored that Jan had recognized us with such a kind gesture. When we discovered the amount of the bequest, we were overwhelmed.

Public libraries are fond of making the point that libraries change lives.  When we watch children grow from toddler time to teen programs; and when the children begin to bring their children into the library, we are amazed. But often, the most important and significant part of what we do is say, “Hello,” talk about books and make space for everyone at the library.

It appears that what we do at the Topsham Public Library made a difference in Jan’s life.  Her gift to us is invested with the Maine Community Foundation. This investment has allowed us to serve our community by opening on Mondays for the next three years.  We are proud to share her legacy and grateful to have known her, even for just a little while.

2018  – Don Sanders

The Fourth Annual Sarah Whitten Community Award was given to Don Sanders, a bus driver for MSAD 75, the President of the Merrymeeting Employees Association, and the originator of the nationally renowned, award-winning Bus Book Bag program at the Topsham Public Library. Don is a perfect recipient for this award. He identified a way in which he could enrich the lives of the kids on his bus and took a proactive approach in making it happen, using his connections in the community. Bus Books started when Don took some of his own books to share on his bus. The effect was immediate. Not only did the noise levels greatly diminish, but he noticed that the younger kids looked to the older ones to take the lead, and the older kids soon became reading mentors for the younger ones. When his avid bus readers began running out of material, Don enlisted the help of Williams Cone Principal, Randa Rineer and TPL’s Children’s Librarian, Mariah Sewall and the Bus Book Bag program has grown from there. It has transformed into a mobile literacy program that now serves more than 650 students on 13 of the district’s 30 buses and engages students in the power of storytelling, language and literacy.

Don and the Bus Book Bags program was honored with the 2016 Maine Education Association Joan McGovern Education Support Professional Award, a 2015 WCSH-6 “Schools that Shine” Award, and the 2015 Giraffe Award in the Out of the Box category from the Maine Children’s Alliance. The Topsham Public Library is delighted to add to Don’s growing list of accolades for his innovative approach in transforming our community. He took the ordinary, and made it extraordinary. He engaged students in learning, connected them to each other, and made his bus a whole lot quieter too! See photos of the event on our Facebook page.

2017  – Dana Cary

Dana Cary, a life-long Topsham resident, was honored with the Third Annual Sarah Whitten Community Award on February 3, 2017 for his extensive volunteer work in the greater Topsham and Brunswick area.  For more than 20 years, he has been a volunteer and member of community boards, committees, and service organizations, including the Topsham Public Library, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention, The Gathering Place, and the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust.  He co-founded the Topsham Historical Society with his cousin Ed Mendes and is a board member of the Pejepscot Historical Society.

Dana was an early supporter and donor to the Capital Campaign to build the library on Foreside Road and has been a quiet and steady force for good wherever he goes.  As a member of the library’s volunteer gardeners, Dana has spent hours working on the Songbird/Butterfly garden and has helped in removing invasive species and trimming trees.  As one of the library’s trustees summed it up concisely: “If anyone is in need, you will find Dana Cary there.”

We are grateful to have him blooming where he was planted… in Topsham! See photos of the event on our Facebook page.

2016 – Don Russell

Don Russell

Don Russell was honored with the second annual Sarah Whitten Community Award for his nearly 50 years of community service to the Topsham community. Don, who has lived in Topsham for 79 years, wrapped up his public service in 2015, leaving a legacy that includes service as the chair of the Board of Selectman twice, and as a member of the Planning Board, School Administrative District 75 Board of Directors, Local Redevelopment Authority for the Topsham Navy Annex, Sagadahoc Budget Advisory Committee and the Board of Assessment Review. See photos of the event on our Facebook page.

2015 – Connie Bailey

Connie Bailey

The first Sarah Whitten Community Award was presented to Volunteer Gallery Coordinator Connie Bailey, who has been a long-time library volunteer and Friends of the Topsham Public Library supporter. She has established the Crooker Gallery as a showcase for local artists, with the Joy of Art and Joy of the Lens juried art competitions and a schedule of regularly changing exhibits. She has been a long-time drawing teacher at the People Plus Center in Brunswick, Maine and has been installing art exhibits for many years in Maine and New England. She is also an accomplished artist herself. See photos of the event on our Facebook page.