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Michael D. Paige
                Post Office Box 893
                        Newburyport, MA 01950
                        Telephone: (508)-405-0673
                        Facsimile: (978)358-8459
                        Email: mpaige@paigelawoffice.com

Year-Round Plum Island Resident
                     Free Initial Consultationsmailto:mpaige@paigelawoffice.commailto:mpaige@paigelawoffice.com?subject=Saw%20your%20ad%20in%20the%20PITA%20Newslettershapeimage_4_link_0

Plum Island Beautification

Plum Island Beautification meetings, the 1st Tuesday of the month

All are welcome to PI Beautification meetings, the 1st Tuesday of the month at PITA hall at 7:00.

Any questions or ideas please email Lynne Petty at lynnepisland@gmail.com

“Our first main road from Town Way to northerly tip of Plum Island, September 19, 1920.  “

From the new book, Plum Island and Salisbury Memories, published by the Daily News, 2016, Alan White Editor.

Call PITA or email Frank at Fpierce1@comcast.net for the book.

When planning to write my first portrait of a PI resident for the PITA newsletter, I asked some Plum Islanders who might be a good subject. Many suggested Jane McNeal would be a good start as she was truly a Plum Island “character.” So, I expected to meet someone who meets the dictionary definition of a character:  someone who is unusual or eccentric. And she might fit that definition a little, but she mostly meets another definition of “character”:  someone with moral quality or integrity. Under trying circumstances, Jane has given her life to unselfishly give of herself to her family and the community, while also living life to its fullest on her own terms.

After her marriage in the early 1970’s, Jane and her new husband, who was in the Air Force, moved to Glasgow, Montana for 1 1/2 years. When her husband was discharged from the service, they moved to Haverhill and bought/managed Estes Market there.

Later, in 1974, Jane and her then husband Phil bought Boulay’s at 134 Northern Boulevard (before that it was called Fred’s Snack Bar) and renamed it PJ’s. (PJ’s was originally named after Phil and Jane, but after the divorce she told everyone it was an abbreviation for “Polish Jane.”) Divorcing in 1977, she was to become the restaurant’s sole owner and manager for the next 27 years — working 7 days a week with Tuesday and Thursday afternoons off. (Jean Geiger, the former owner of the PI hotel Walton’s Ocean Front — later renamed Ocean Blue — bought the store in 2004, intending it to serve as a kitchen for Walton’s.)

“PJ’s wasn’t just a restaurant. It was the island’s kitchen,” Jane emphasizes,” because it was more like a country store, which also served homemade food around a horseshoe counter. In those days, our customers were an extended family who stopped in regularly and who helped each other out, if they could.” If you were sick, the regulars at PJ’s got the word out.  And it was not uncommon to have a police officer arrive at your door with soup or food from PJs. If someone’s child had forgotten his or her homework, lunch, or musical instrument at PJ’s, a PJ’s customer could be counted on to drop off the misplaced article on the way to work. If a PI resident saw that a child had missed the school bus, someone would give him or her a ride to school.

But life on Plum Island changed during Jane’s years at PJ’s. She watched the transition of the island from summer cottages to winterized homes as more people started to live in their homes year-round. As property values increased, more of the long-time PI residents sold their properties at a good price. The new wave of home owners started to live on the island year-round — renovating and upgrading their properties. Gone were the winter rentals that were so prevalent in the 60’s and 70’s.  The new owners did not rent their homes in the winter, content to use their PI home only as a vacation retreat. The addition of municipal water and sewer only accelerated the gentrification of the island as houses grew larger with more amenities. Gone were the “shacks” and cottages, even though some still remain as poignant reminders of PI’s increasingly lost past.

Jane was a single mom who had to raise her four young children — Therese, Sean, Melissa, and Scott — by herself. Three of the children grew up to have very successful personal lives and careers — and they live nearby.

But Sean had a somewhat remarkable, but sad, story. He was a gifted artist who, as a student at Triton, won a Boston Globe art award for his inspired, graphic map of Plum Island as it was 1988. Later, he enrolled in Mass College of Art in Boston and Parsons School of Design in New York City. In 1996, Sean assisted in the sculpting of a 24-foot high statue called “Gymnast” (with well-known designer Richard MacDonald from Laguna, California) for the US Olympic Committee. The 24-foot statue stands outside the Olympic Village in Atlanta, Georgia; the 2-foot model of the Olympic statue stands on a table in Jane’s Plum Island living room. Soon thereafter, at the age of 26, Sean died in an accident riding his new motorcycle.

Jane is well known around Greater Newburyport for all of her volunteer work. In the 1960’s, she served as a counselor for Sea Haven Camp on Plum Island (which, as an aside, had been built on the former Knobb’s Beach Coast Guard Station in 1946) where she helped the children coping with polio.  Since 2005, she has been an usher at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts. For years, she has made and served fish chowder at Lowell Boat Shop’s annual Christmas festivities, and various soups at the Bellevue church. She makes and serves breakfast once a month at the Elk’s Club. In addition to this volunteering, she works at Plum Island Soap assembling “Man Cans” and other products. For the last 8 years, Jane has also driven seniors in her own car for the elderly transport service to medical appointments. But the volunteer work that really seems to light her fire is when she serves as a guide for professional performers in July at the Lowell Folk Festival.

In  2001, one of Jane’s PI neighbors introduced her to Cheryl Cormier, an acclaimed Cajun dance star (inducted into the Louisiana Dance Hall of Fame). With Cheryl as motivation,  Jane began dancing to country music at the Marte Lounge in Salisbury. Then she graduated to dancing in Louisiana:  since 2005, she has been traveling to Lafayette, Louisiana two to four times each year, dancing to Cajun and zydeco rhythms.

“Plum Island has changed so much since I moved here in 1974,” Jane continues as we sit in her cottage behind the former PJ’s. “We have so many more full-time affluent residents now — many of them having upgraded a summer cottage into a full-time residence. From 1974 to 2004, when I owned PJ’s, the relatively small number of full-time residents developed into a strong circle of trusted friends.” The PI core included Kay at Surfland, Danny at Mr. Moe’s, Cowboy Tom, Joyce Machines (Angie’s wife), Mary Keezer, Father Sears, Mrs. White (Old Point Road), Bobby Albrecht, and KJ (Kenny Sylvester) — and many more. The PI core would see each other routinely at Dick’s, Porgy’s (Mad Martha’s predecessor), 4 C’s, Plum Island Grille, Angie’s, Surfland, and Mr. Moe’s.

“But, maybe the leader of the pack that made things happen was Harry O,” says Jane. According to her, Harry O’Connor organized annual Plum Island parades in the 70’s and 80’s. The annual St. Patrick’s Day parade would begin with corn beef and cabbage at Harry’s home on the Point. Then, the “parade” — consisting of whoever wanted to walk along — would meander down Northern Boulevard. The centerpiece of the parade was the “queen” of the parade who would ride in the back of a dump truck. The queen was chosen after a “talent contest” displaying a wide range of singing and dancing acumen at the Beachcoma. The “queen” was named something different every year: for example, Miss Shipwreck, Miss Lobsta Pot, or Miss Dune Grass.

The Plum Island Fire Department, with a firehouse formerly at the Point, organized well-attended annual block parties. The block party was always the week after Labor Day weekend at the fire station. With the Lazy J Playboys typically providing the entertainment, the party raised about $5,000 in its first year to help George Kramer, a volunteer fireman and local plumber, pay his hospital bills after a serious illness. Both the parade and block party stopped from what Jane calls “politics and permits.”

Another “unusual” interest that adds to Jane’s “resume” as a PI character: she earned her pilot’s license in 1987 and started a petition at PJ’s that helped save the PI Airport. Until 2010, she’s piloted a Cessna 172 for 30 years mostly to  Keene NH, Augusta ME, and Martha’s Vineyard. Her longest trip as the pilot was the 300-mile trip required to qualify for her pilot’s license. In the 80’s or 90’s, the Little family donated land on and around the airport to the Society for the Preservation of NE Antiquities in memory of the family’s 200th reunion. In turn SPNEA donated land around the PI Airport given to the Parker River Refuge, and they wanted to close the airport. Jane started a petition on PJ’s counter that garnered about 5,000 signatures. The petition caught the attention of the Daily News and, subsequently, influential private citizens saved the airport from extinction.

Jane ends her story saying, ”I’ve always loved Plum Island and its people.” Here she pauses for emphasis and continues saying,  “But, to be honest, Plum Island will never again be like that time when I owned PJ’s. It will never again be the same extraordinary place with so many special people in a bygone era.”