AVON – On Thursday, April 6, 2023, Bruce Halstead Dunham passed away at his home in Avon, Maine. His short-lived bout with interstitial lung disease was waged at home in keeping with the wishes of Dunham and his wife, Mary. Home care was provided during his illness by Androscoggin Home Health Care and Hospice, for which Mary expresses her sincere gratitude.
Bruce lived his entire life in Avon, except for his four-year stint in the USAF. He was born at home on the Dunham Farm on July 26, 1937 to parents Maxell and Louise Dunham, brought into the world right on the family’s kitchen table. It has been suggested that the fact that the event took place in the middle of a thunder storm may have had something to do with “determining his disposition”. Bruce was predeceased by two younger siblings, Lorayne (Dunham) Gordon and Clark. As a farmer’s son, some of his favorite pastimes were hunting and fishing in what spare time he had.
Bruce attended grade school in Phillips and high school in Strong, after which he joined the Air Force. He served as a load and balance technician on the 124 cargo planes. He was stationed in Dover, DE all four years.
On one of his cargo trips to England, Bruce met a hometown friend, Corydon Hardy, who was then a pilot in the Navy. They happened to meet in Mindenhall, England. Both were happily surprised to run into one another in such a distant place.
While right on the tarmac, Corydon invited Bruce to his home in Tom’s River, NJ. This is where Corydon and his wife, Mim, would introduce Bruce to his wife-to-be, Mary (nee York).
Bruce was discharged in November, 1959 and returned to Avon. He guided summers at Big Island Camps in Eustis and worked locally at lumbering the rest of the year.
Mary came to Avon in the summer of 1960. They were soon engaged and were married on October 15, 1960 at the Strong Methodist Parsonage. They purchased their first home, a one-room cabin, on the Mt. Blue Pond Road.
They had lived there only a short while in their Mt. Blue cabin before Bruce took a job as herdsman at the Brackley Farm in Freeman. It was1963 when the Dunhams returned to their cabin in Avon.
The Dunham’s first child, Christopher, was born in July of 1965. Five years later, the couple built an addition when Mary became pregnant with their second child. Their daughter, Suzanne, was born in December of 1970.
In 1980, Bruce and Mary purchased lobster equipment and Dunham’s Lobster Pot was established right at their home. Clams, oyster, mussels, and fish were all available. At one point, the business had become so successful that the Dunhams had to increase their weekly trips to the coast for lobsters and clams to twice a week. Their purchases grew from one crate of lobsters and a bushel of clams/week to two tons of lobsters and fifteen plus bushels of clams every other week. By then the business was servicing all the restaurants in Rangeley and Mary was selling out of the truck four days a week.
Eventually, the Dunhams also sold ribeyes, whole or sliced, with or without the “secret seasoning”.
By this time, Bruce began doing cookouts for people.
“Large numbers of people never scared him,” Mary recalled as she remember one of the cookouts for Boise Cascade. They served three shifts when the mill had special occasion to celebrate no accidents in that year. 1800 pounds of lobster were cooked.
“It was quite a feat,” she said and explained that Bruce always cooked with wood.
Bruce eventually dug out a little pond on their property.
One spring, Bruce bought trout eggs from the Fish Hatchery on Toothaker Pond Road and Dunham’s Pure Water Hatchery opened for business. It was the only one in the state that raised trout and also had a fee fishing business that allowed people to come and fish right on the property.
Dunham’s was also the only such location in the state that never had a problem with disease.
“It was so good that he could’ve shipped anywhere in the US,” Mary recalled, but that would have involved computers and more record keeping, which Bruce decided wasn’t for him.
He soon began “stripping” his own trout to fertilize the eggs. He bought salmon for the pond, as well, and placed a dispenser, “kind of like a peanut machine”, filled with fish food. This allowed visitors to buy a controlled amount of food. This was yet another example of Bruce’s “Yankee ingenuity”. He sold stock to other pond owners, as well.
“It was a fun place to visit,” Mary said, adding that she used to have Gwen Augusten’s Halfway Down the Stairs Nursery School come on field trips to see the whole business. Nursing homes also visited to give residents the opportunity to go fishing. Bruce never charged for such occasions as this.
Smoked salmon was yet another product for sale.
“People came from everywhere for that,” Mary noted, “It was good!”
And lobsters could be packed for people traveling on planes or to be overnighted to more distant locations.
“We UPS-ed them,” she explained.
One of Bruce’s favorite things was the cookouts every summer. During Phillips Old Home Days, these events were held on Friday after the parade and on Saturday.
“Sunday was time to rest!” she declared.
Bruce sold the lobster pot business in 2004, at which time he retired and the couple built a new house up on Mt. Blue.
In addition to running the lobster pot, Bruce was especially active in snowmobile racing and horse pulling. He won many awards in both competitions.
Bruce competed in both oval track racing and cross country racing with his snow machine. His specialty was cross country, a grueling competition. Once, he had cut his hand logging during the week, but was still strong enough to hold the handle bars and win that particular race.
He traveled the USSA (US Snowmobiling Association) Circuit throughout New England, racing for Timberland Machines. He also raced one year for RODCO and Arctic Cat. He wore the #13, which may have worked against him during one particular competition in Lancaster, NH.
Bruce had a chance to win the trophy at that event. Being his third win in a row, he would get to take home the huge award. Could the 13 have jinxed him? He broke a ski lag right on the home stretch.
Additionally, he won second place in the Players’ World Snowmobile Championship held in Montreal, Canada in 1967. In 2017, he was inducted into the Eastern Snowmobile Racing Hall of Fame in Lancaster, NH. Racing from 1963 – 1975.
He was a member of the USSA Drivers’ Committee. He won over 400 first, second, and third place trophies in twelve years of professional snowmobile racing. This included winning nearly every major championship in New England more than once.He was second in points competing against an estimated 5,000 active drivers in the eastern USSA. In 1971, Bruce won seven out of nine cross-country races and took second in the other two.
He received the Grand Prix Pioneer Award in 2015 and was honored in the State of Maine in 2016 by the House of Representatives.
Bruce was also active in Town of Avon business. He served as constable for 59 years. One of his most exciting experiences was the capture of two burglars.
Bruce got a call one night from Bob Sanders, owner of the variety store on route 4 in Avon. Sanders, who lived right across the street, called to inform Bruce that someone was breaking into the store. They did not get far. Bruce apprehended them just down the road.
Bruce is survived by his wife, Mary, and their two children, Chris, who was born in 1965, and Suzanne, born in 1970; a son, Robert, from a prior marriage to Beverly Wright of Jay, and his two children, Logan and Lacey. Grandchildren are Max and Ben Dunham, Chris’s sons; and Sullivan, Amos, Tate, and Clara Abbott, Suzanne’s children; and one great-grandson, Ben’s son, Easton.
A memorial service will be held in the summer, as close to Bruce’s birthday as possible.
“He loved his birthday,” Mary declared.
The exact date and time will be announced when finalized. Plans for a community potluck picnic will also be forthcoming.
Dan and Scott’s Cremation & Funeral Service will make the final arrangements. Rev. Susan Tierney will officiate.