"My sense of family was bolstered very, very much so by my grandparents and my aunts and uncles because no matter where we went, no matter what we did, I always had a family member there."
My name is Roman Whittington Thayer Cooper. I was born in 1968 in the doctor's office on this island. I've been here all my life except for the time I went away to college.
The Cooper family has been here ever since North Haven was actually kind of populated. We were here with the Beverages, the Browns, when they came up from Vinalhaven. The Coopers came with those groups of people.
I go down every morning to my mom and dad’s house to have coffee, so I have a chance to talk to them for half an hour every day. Every day. And I think a lot of people take that stuff for granted. I know I do. But it’s one of those things where you sit back and you think to yourself, there are so many people that can’t do that.
We’d come home from school and, immediately, we would drop our lunch boxes and stuff like that and my mom would go, “Out.” And we'd go play until dinnertime. Well, when I was really young, we would go out and we would go down to J.O. Brown’s and we would play hide and seek, which was a perfect opportunity for the boats and the shop and all that sort of stuff. So, we'd go down there and play hide and seek and then you knew at a certain time of night that you'd have to go home and have dinner.
Waterman's store was always the big hangout. We'd go in, we'd sit on the stairs inside. I always remember this, you'd walk in, past the candy counter, the penny candy counter, which had all this awesome penny candy in it and you'd go and you'd sit on the stairs that went up to where all the hardware and all that stuff was sitting. And you'd sit there and we'd just sit there and talk. And there'd be six to eight of us, all the time, and people would come into the store to buy things and stuff like that and everyone would say, hey how're you doing? What's going on, you guys? And a lot of the adults would stand and talk with us and I think that's one of the things, growing up, that really kind of stuck with me is that, the adults in the community treated us with lot of respect because we treated them with a lot of respect. And so, when they saw us, they spoke to us. We spoke to them. It wasn't like, oh, there's them rotten brats sitting in the store, you know? So, it was always one of those things where I always felt at ease whenever somebody came into the store because I would always be able to talk to them. And that was one of the best things I remember growing up.
One of my closest friends, until he left, was Darrin Hallowell. Him and I were very similar. We both loved art, both outgoing. So, I think that that's why we kind of stuck together for–until he ended up leaving and going to Pennsylvania. And so, he left, I believe it was his seventh grade year.
It felt really, kind of, isolating. Well, he was moving to Pennsylvania, but it's one of those things where, because of that bay of water out there, you may as well have a million miles between you. And it was hard–communication back then was difficult. We didn't have Facebook, we didn't have cellphones, we didn't have the type of things that we have now in order to maintain contact and calling someone up on the telephone is–that was kind of burdensome back then. And so, you know, we lost contact but whenever we saw each other in the summertime it was just like no time had passed. So that was a saving grace and that's why it made me feel that him and I were really connected. Because every time he came back for the summer, no time had passed. We just picked up where we left off.
I looked forward for the summers for the reasons that the summer community kids would come back. And the thing that I loved is that I was able to be with all of them and so, it was like a new crop of friends would show up for two months and it's like, yes, you know? We've got all this time to be together and have a lot of fun and I made a lot of great friendships in the summers. I mean, I was hanging out everywhere with those guys and one of the issues that I found was that some of my friends and my classmates felt that they may not have been welcome in that circle. I think that they felt that there was a separation. And it took a lot of me wrangling them to come with me, to join me, in actually experiencing these other people. And sometimes it was like pulling teeth. I mean, they just didn't want to go. And I'm like, guys we see each other all year long. These people are here for two months and they're great. Come on, let's go down to Crocker's boathouse, let's go down to Cabot's boathouse. Come with me and let's go.
I think that their resistance came from–this is just speculation on my part because I don't think that they ever actually told me. But I–just looking at their families and thinking they’re thinking to themselves, well these are the children of the wealthy summer people that are here. They're going to look down on us or they're not going to treat us well, so I don't want to be in that situation at all. And again, I think that just has to be them, growing up, in their family situation where their families were talking about the tensions that were around when they were kids and I think that that has a lot to do with it.
My dad was a steward at the Casino when he was a young fella, when he first came back from the military. And so, my dad was interacting with the summer community extensively and, of course, you knowing my dad, I mean, he’s a very outgoing person. And so, he was–I think that that helped me because I don’t think he ever was speaking in a negative way at all about the summer community at home. And so, I think that that was something that probably helped me.
I found that wherever I went, with the summer community kids, I was more than accepted, more than welcomed. And they actually asked me, why more of the island kids don't come out.
And so, I think that that when–back then probably in 84’, 85’, 86’ I felt that there was a really good integration. And I see it now, I see the island kids are basically synonymous with the summer kids now and it's almost like the summer kids now seek out the island kids. They want to be with them.
We are in the very fortunate area to be able to have people from [the] outside world come to us. We don't have to go there to experience these people. They're coming to us. And so, you need to go out and experience those people in order to experience the world. And that's the great thing because we get people that come to North Haven, as you well know, they come from France, they come from England, they come from New York, they come from California, they come from everywhere. And so, we're able to experience those people without ever having to leave North Haven because they come to us.
And then came the realization and the shock of, OK, if I’m going to be on North Haven, what am I going to do? What am I going to do? My brother was in school. He went to SMTC at the time, which was Southern Maine Tech in the Building Trades Program. And him and I had been coming back and working for the builders here on the island. And it was just by happenstance, Shawn and I happened to be working at the same job site and he looked over at me and he said, “I think we can do this better than these guys. You want to start a business?” Here I am twenty-two years old, got a baby on the way, and he says this to me and I was like, “Yeah, let's do it.” So, that summer Shawn and I started our own business.
We started out, it was very rocky in the beginning. We were literally living job to job. Our very first job, I'll never forget it. There used to be a building up beside the parsonage, there was a long straight building and our first job was roofing it. So, we got the job, we roofed it. We were literally putting on the last shingles and had no other job to go to and I went home and there was a message on the machine, someone wanted me to come take a look at a deck, so. And it went on that way for a number of, number of years, you know? But we stuck it out and here we are 27 years later.
And being on North Haven, I think, helped because I think people on North Haven were saying, OK, Shawn and Roman Cooper have started a business. We want them to be successful, because we want you to be a part of North Haven, and so, we're going to help you by helping you get work.
That was a really, really great thing and I think that that was what helped us over the hump was that people cared and it wasn't just the island people that cared. And it was the summer community that cared. And so, I think that they saw, here's a couple of island guys that we really like. We're going to hire them, we're going to give them a chance. And I think that, being from North Haven, that really, really played a part in the success of Cooper Construction.
Coming from a huge family, first and foremost, my dad is one of eleven siblings, so I had a lot of aunts and uncles growing up. My sense of family was bolstered very, very much so by my grandparents and my aunts and uncles because no matter where we went, no matter what we did, I always had a family member there. So, I still have that, which is great. And so, it’s interesting that I can see almost every member of my family anytime I want to. If I have an issue or whatever I'll go down and talk to parents because they’re still–my mom will sit there and listen and take it all in and my dad’s got the off the hip, off the cuff answers and all the sort of crap. North Haven is kind of a utopia for family living.
Photos courtesy of the Cooper family