Below is the link to our 12 June 2019 fundraising event!
Also the link to the Portsmouth Herald article last Sunday (6/2/19) highlighting the event!
Cruising for a cause: Thresher Memorial Fund
Tickets for a special Isles of Shoals Steamship Company cruise this month have been set at $59.30. That may seem like an odd fee, but for this particular fundraising event it’s especially relevant.
The $59.30 price was established to reflect the famous submarine hull number of SSN 593 - the tragic USS Thresher, which sank in 1963 in history’s worst undersea disaster.
The June 12 fundraising cruise is the latest in a series of remarkable examples of the Seacoast community stepping up to aid Kittery, Maine’s USS Thresher Memorial Fund. And it’s just another illustration of how people can usually be counted on for a worthwhile cause.
Back in March, Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral told us the private fund established to maintain the 129-foot flagpole in the town’s Memorial Circle had fallen into the red. The flagpole was installed - along with a redesign of the traffic circle and creation of a neighboring memorial park - to mark the 50th anniversary of USS Thresher’s loss.
More than $200,000 was raised from businesses, citizens, veterans, Thresher family members and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees for that project, capped by a memorable 2013 dedication ceremony.
But as time went by, those funds dwindled away.
The 129-foot pole represents the 129 Navy sailors and civilian workers who perished aboard Thresher during a sea trial mishap April 10, 1963. It costs money to maintain that circle and park, and to keep that American flag flying.
The 20-foot by 38-foot flags flying from this pole cost $720 each to purchase and then $128 to repair. Flags are sent out at least a half-dozen times each year for maintenance. Amaral estimates the annual cost averages out to nearly $2,500 a year.
In addition, one of the trees planted within the circle had to be cut down a few months ago and still needs to be replaced.
The Portsmouth Herald ran a front-page story about the diminished fund and the response was immediate, and in all honesty, pretty surprising.
As of this week, more than $9,000 had poured into the Thresher fund. This includes the first $2,000 installment pledged by Northeast Credit Union over the next five years, for an eventual total of $10,000 from this business alone.
Community support hasn’t just been limited to the financial kind either. On a weekday afternoon in late April, Northeast Credit Union employees also pitched in with a spring cleanup at Memorial Circle and around the flagpole.
Nor are contributions limited to businesses. Kittery Town Councilor Ken Lemont recently told me of some fellow shipyard employees who pledged to pitch in together to come up with $720 to cover the cost of a new American flag.
The Isles of Shoals Steamship Company cruise came about through the efforts of two shipyard organizations - the local International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers chapter and the Naval Civilian Managers Association.
“We had talked earlier on in the year about something we could do that would be monumental for every entity involved to raise spirits and awareness,” IFPTE Local 4 President Lawrence Dennis said this week. “The shipyard’s birthday being on June 12 tied it all together.”
“Tied together” is a pretty accurate description. Thresher was designed and built at the shipyard, and commissioned here in 1961. She had just completed a 9-month overhaul at the yard when she departed that fateful April morning for sea trials, and the crew expected to be back home in time for Easter weekend.
Northeast Credit Union was actually founded at the shipyard in the 1930s, and many of its members are current and retired shipyard employees. The U.S. Navy is so intertwined with the Seacoast community they have forged a symbiotic kinship over the past two centuries.
The band performing on the cruise, Earth 2 Rooney, includes shipyard employees as well, according to Dennis. All proceeds from the cruise after the ship and the caterer have been paid will go to the Thresher fund.
The event was coordinated along with local NCMA President Joe Murphy, who handled the logistics, Dennis said.
“It is 99% symbolic and 1% to allow people to be on the water after what seemed like an endless winter,” the IFPTE president added.
The boarding of the M/V Thomas Laighton off Market Street in Portsmouth will begin at 5:30 p.m. on June 12 and the cruise will last from 6 to 8 p.m. Catering is provided by For the Love of Food & Drink of Wells, Maine.
The Thresher disaster was a watershed moment for the area and the Navy. It was the first time the world had ever lost a nuclear-powered submarine at sea, and directly resulted in SUBSAFE, an enhanced safety program created to ensure no similar accident would occur again.
So while the flag in Memorial Circle serves as a worthy tribute to the sacrifice of the Thresher crew, it’s also a reminder to shipyard workers driving to the facility each morning of the important work they do.
Essentially, they are working to keep alive the people fighting to keep us alive.