His memories of the historic summer community of Ocean Park, says Dr. William Holt ’63, go “all the way back to when I just was learning how to walk, because I remember walking to the beach holding my mother’s hand.”
Holt’s wife, Jean Cushman Holt ’62, associates her first memories of Ocean Park with a different kind of life transition. In 1965, she and Bill spent their honeymoon there. “We were very, very poor,” she says. Jean supported the two of them on her salary as a librarian while Bill was in medical school.
Ocean Park “was the least expensive honeymoon that you could think of,” Jean reminds Bill.
My Maine Summer
From Kennebunk to Katahdin, from lobsters to lakes, we offer My Maine Summer — profiles of alumni whose work, play, and family life have a distinctive Maine-in-summer vibe.
Sitting on a well-used sofa in their spacious cottage just steps from the beach, they’re meeting with visitors on a gray-but-brightening August morning — their 54th wedding anniversary, as it happens.
“I guess she must have enjoyed Ocean Park,” Bill says, “because, except for a few summers when we couldn’t, like when I was in the service” — he was an army medical officer in Vietnam — “we’ve vacationed here ever since.”
Bill Holt’s Ocean Park memories reach back to the 1940s, and his family’s connection goes even further. The Rev. Ellis Jordan Holt, Bill’s father, was a pastor for American Baptist Church congregations in Massachusetts and Maine (including Lewiston’s twin city, Auburn) and held influential positions in regional and national Baptist organizations.
One such was the New England Baptist Council, whose works in Ocean Park included a youth camp, as well as affordable housing facilities for seniors (housing that remains in place but is now in different hands). In fact, the elder Holt’s contributions inspired the council to name Holt Hall, a multi-purpose center in Ocean Park, for him.
An enclave within the unbuttoned beach resort of Old Orchard Beach, even sporting its own ZIP code, Ocean Park was established in 1881 as a Free Will Baptist assembly center.
Bates founder Oren Cheney was key to its creation, and links linger on between leafy campus and seaside community, with a goodly number of Batesies among OP residents.
In keeping with the Chautauqua movement that blossomed nationwide in the same era, Ocean Park’s governing association established summer programming aimed at improving the whole person (alcoholic beverages and tobacco products are not sold in OP), with a foundational Protestant ethos addressing the spiritual aspect.
Today’s Ocean Park Association — Bill Holt is a past president and current treasurer — and other community organizations still offer concerts and theater, lectures, wellness classes, nature and youth programs, and more.
Throw in seven miles of public sand beach, the shuffleboard and tennis courts, the ice cream shop, and occasions like the Fourth of July Parade and Illumination Night, and you have a summer to remember. (Poet Robert Frost is said to have learned tennis at Ocean Park in 1890.)
Year-round residents of Cape Elizabeth, about 35 minutes up the coast, Bill Holt went on to become an ophthalmic surgeon and launch a prominent eyecare practice in Portland, while Jean focused on family and a variety of volunteer positions. (Bill retired from medical practice in 2012 and turned his attention to making wine from his own grapes, a challenging venture in the Maine climate.)
But Ocean Park remains central to their lives. “The community really attracted me, even as a kid, because of this Freewill Baptist link,” Bill says, referring specifically to the faith’s progressive aspects. He attended the New England Baptist Council youth camp. “My dad was a teacher there, and for a while was the director of it.”
The Bates connection is made manifest the first Monday of August, the standing date for the annual Ocean Park alumni meeting. “It’s been going on a long, long while,” says Jean. “Often it is pretty full, and it gathers from not only Ocean Park but the geographic area around.”
Speakers at the meeting have included Bates faculty, alumni, staff, and leaders, including President Clayton Spencer in 2016 and Multifaith Chaplain Brittany Longsdorf in 2015. The talk this year by Senior Associate Dean for Purposeful Work Allen Delong, says Jean, “was fascinating. There are always programs like that — you know, aspects of Bates life now.”
The Holts particularly enjoy Sunday morning community services held in the octagonal Temple, built in short order in 1881 and still the heart of O.P. programming.
“They are ecumenical, well-attended, and have a variety of speakers, many of national note,” Bill says. The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in the U.S, opened the 2019 season.
And the late Rev. Peter Gomes ’65, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University, preached nearly every summer at the Temple. “He would often have Jean and me do the prayer and the Scripture,” Bill says.
Beyond specific pastimes, what binds the Holts and many other long-timers to Ocean Park is family and friends. “The key for me, and I think for many, is the sense of community here,” says Bill. “It’s very close-knit. And it’s very safe here.”
If the Holt cottage is quiet during the morning visit by a Bates photographer and writer, it’s nevertheless full of family, “some of them still in bed,” Jean says. (Family members who were up and about included granddaughter Jordan Wilson ’23 and her mom, Mary Holt-Wilson ’92.)
Jean tells the visitors, “When you walked in, you saw the gathering of shoes. Sometimes that’s extremely extensive, and over the years it’s gone in waves, from little shoes to big shoes.” The family’s dogs were hard to miss, too.
“Maybe it’s symbolic of what goes on in Ocean Park,” says Bill. “Most of these cottages are big, and I think you could stop by and have a similar interview at almost any one of them. Families reunite here, and friends. People met here and got married — there are a lot of Ocean Park couples who met as teenagers selling ice cream cones and things like that.”
“We’re certainly not the only people that have been here a long time. There are a great many five- and six-generation Ocean Park families, and cottages that have been passed on down for more than a hundred years.”
The Holts agree that the Ocean Park is more open, less insular than it was during the last century — turning back, perhaps, to those founding Free Will Baptist ideals of openness and inclusion. For years, “there weren’t any black people, there weren’t any Jewish people, and it took some breaking down” of barriers, Bill says. “So it’s looser, and that’s better.”
He says, “Many people feel like they’re coming home to Ocean Park in the summer.”