Don’t get Cindy Collamore wrong.
The motorcycle-riding, glacier-hiking, vegetable and herb gardening, fundraising, dancing, Red’s Eats co-owner, longtime Wiscasset school administrative assistant, and self-described corny person said she loves her children and is enjoying “so much” watching them now as adults, all still living in Wiscasset.
But she said, through a building, tearful laugh, until she had grandkids, “I never realized that you could love an individual that much.
“They are my heart.”
Mostly a Wiscasset resident since 7 months, the 55-year-old, widowed mother of three and grandmother of four has worked nearly a quarter century in Wiscasset’s schools, most of it where she is now, Wiscasset Elementary School, including its Wiscasset Middle School years.
It’s her dream job, because she’s a people person, especially for children, because they’re precious, she said. “And they make me laugh.”
Her childhood dream was to grow up to be a mother. “That was my goal.” At 10, she started babysitting.
She credited her father, the late Red’s Eats owner Al Gagnon, and her mother Ann Sparks with making her someone who can connect with the school’s children and families.
“My dad was a very outgoing, vivacious, fun-loving kind of personality, and my mother, she’s got a beautiful personality. I wish someday to emulate her.” Collamore writes on the cards she gives Sparks, now 86, “You are the wind beneath my wings.”
Thirty-six years ago, the day Collamore had daughter Cassandra, Collamore’s mother had her first chemotherapy treatment for Stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma. “They gave her six months to live. God had other plans. And so she has survived that, and at 50 years old went out and opened up and ran a successful country dance hall,” Tuxedo Junction on Route 1 in town, Collamore said.
Collamore’s ties to Wiscasset schools predate her job, and her. Her parents went to Wiscasset Academy; she, her siblings and her children are all Wiscasset High School graduates; she volunteered when her children were in school; and Cassandra’s children, Charlotte Bickford, 9, and Isla Bickford, 7, go to WES.
That volunteer work and the familiar face it made her might have helped her get hired in 1995 among 350 applicants, Collamore said. Those were the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant years, when school jobs in Wiscasset were highly sought after, she explained.
Collamore feels fortunate all her children have been able to stay local. Cassandra Fairfield is an RN at Midcoast Hospital; P.J. Fairfield, a lobsterman and farrier; and Christopher Fairfield, night manager at Red’s Eats. All three have worked at the famous Wiscasset food stand Collamore and siblings David, Debbie and Joe Gagnon own at the corner of Main and Water streets. Collamore works there three or four nights a week.
At the family business, she gets to meet people from around the world, she said. Some customers tell her their memories of her father.
Besides family, school and Red's Eats, Collamore's life is also full on other fronts. The St. Patrick’s Church in Newcastle member said her faith is very important to her. And she likes to travel, sometimes challenging herself: She parasailed in Florida three years ago with Christopher and his wife Haley. “It was one of the scariest things I have ever done, but so fun,” Collamore said. She screamed for the first five minutes 400 feet in the air over the Gulf of Mexico.
In Alaska two years ago, she drove around the state for 2,000 miles, hiking glaciers and fishing for salmon and halibut. “It was the adventure of my lifetime.”
Wherever she goes, she loves coming home. “I’m a Wiscasset girl, through and through. I just feel like my feet are grounded here.”
Being around schoolkids and their teachers for so long, has she ever considered going into teaching? “Absolutely not.” She likes what she’s doing too much, and has seen the challenges teachers face, including working with whole classes.
“I applaud them very much. It’s the most important job. I have a lot of respect for my co-workers who are teachers, and (educational technicians),” she added.
Collamore did a 16-year run of variety show fundraisers when the school was WMS. She and music teachers Roger Whitney and Carole Drury worked together in the events that raised money for sick children, families in need, and other causes.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, she and Peg Averill, a co-worker then, raised $14,000 for the Red Cross through bake sales and a car wash, Collamore said.
She enjoys her co-workers, from fellow office staff member Janelle Skillin to Superintendent of Schools Terry Wood.
Asked via email for her thoughts on Collamore, Wood replied Collamore is a pleasure to work with and has a heart of gold. "She loves the staff, parents and students and makes every attempt to make a difference in each individual she interacts with ... She is a very kind and generous person who is always looking for opportunities to donate her time and energy to making things better."
Collamore said the best part of her job is getting to know families as one member after another goes to school there. "It’s not a job that you go, ‘Oh, I have to go to work.’ It’s a job that you get up and think, ‘I’m so lucky I get to go to work today.’
"I feel blessed, really, really blessed.”