Shoaler Voices

A Life Journey on Star Island: Diane Parsons’ Tale

One of our favorite things about Star Island is that folks come out to Star in many different capacities, have personally unique experiences and stay for possibly entirely different reasons than when they first arrived. Each summer is filled to the brim with memories, conversations and connections that last a lifetime, and we are so grateful to foster the type of environment where these connections grow and flourish. Below is the story of one dedicated, long time Shoaler, Diane Parsons, whose Star history is not only deep and meaningful, but has helped make her into the person she is today!

“It amazes me that a simple day trip in 1975 has led to all of this. I feel that Star has given me much more than I have been able to give back. Yes, I do give my time, treasure and talent, but how do you repay an organization that helped you to become an adult?”

My teenage years were spent in the Lake Sunapee region of New Hampshire in the early 1970’s. At that time it was easy to get a seasonal job, which for anyone of the female gender meant babysitting, waiting on tables or chambermaid. By 1975, I had experience with all three. In 1975, my summer job was a bit different. In the mornings I was the hostess at a well-known restaurant in Sunapee Harbor. For dinner I was the Bun Girl. Yup! My one responsibility was to hand out their well known and loved sticky buns. Interesting, but not very challenging. That summer I visited my brother, Bruce, who was a Pelican for the first time. I was one of those people who didn’t know the Isle of Shoals even existed. Everything about that day was magic. I got to see my brother, I was introduced to Star and saw a little of the life of a Pelican. I was hooked.

I applied to be a Pelican in 1976 and received a contract to be on Waitrae, eventually being reassigned to Night Crew. Being a Pel in the late 1970’s meant that more opportunities for women were beginning to be available. Night Crew had been a crew of only men until 1976, when there were two of us women. Frankly, it was a tough summer. I cleaned all night long  and shared a room on the 3rd floor of Oceanic (where the women lived) with a member of Chamber. Getting sleep was a challenge, except that a friend living in the Shack (where the men lived) let me sneak over to sleep in his room. At that time, it was considered a ‘next boat’ offense if I had been caught. Since I continued to love the island, I applied for the next three summers. I was able to do laundry (which had been a male job because you drove the laundry truck which only males were allowed to do), paint crew (where I was the first woman) and then was Night Crew Supervisor.

Sadly, I left the island because I had graduated from college and it was time to be an adult. For the next couple of summers I was able to visit my brother and then tried to day trip at least once a season. During that time I did attend Pel Reunion and started participating in volunteer weekends in May, but I was not really connected to the island.Over the years, I had different professional opportunities. One was as Technical Director at Colby-Sawyer College which left me with two months in the summer free. It seemed like a good time to return to Star. At 41 I wasn’t sure what it would be like, but I applied anyway. I was hired as the Bookstore Assistant, which was a great reintroduction. Working with books and getting to know the Pel community was a great opportunity. Turns out, it really doesn’t matter when you are a Pel, the experiences are similar. The following summer I returned but as a member of the senior staff. In the four years on the senior staff I supervised a lot of crews from Chamber, Front Desk, Lobby Store, Bookstore, Music Director, Conference Services, Life Guards, Rounders and I was the island Bookkeeper.

During the summer of 2001 I had to make the hard choice of again leaving the island. In 2000 I had an early mid-life crisis and quit my job at Colby-Sawyer which meant giving up health insurance. I had to find a job that would provide benefits. It wasn’t as easy to walk away from the island this time as it was in 1979, so I became a volunteer and a member of the Corporation.  I had the pleasure of volunteering on the Boynton Paint Crew and then joined the gardeners working with and learning from the amazing Pam Dorr. I also served on the Fund Development Committee, was co-chair of Pelican Reunion in 2015 with my friend Miriam Coe, and continue to serve on the Star Island Member Committee and the Pelican Reunion Steering Committee as the Chair of the Scholarship Committee. In 2014, I took over the coordination and care of the perennial gardens. In this capacity I gather a group of very hearty gardeners who bust out over Memorial Day weekend, regardless of the weather.

It amazes me that a simple day trip in 1975 has led to all of this. I feel that Star has given me much more than I have been able to give back. Yes, I do give my time, treasure and talent, but how do you repay an organization that helped you to become an adult? An organization that taught you how to unclog and bucket flush a toilet, strip wallpaper, paint, garden, leadership skills and given you friendships that have lasted 40+ years?

Thank you, Diane!

Shoaler Voices

“Strange and Remarkable Creatures” or Finding Inspiration on the Isles of Shoals

By Allegra Hyde

It’s getting toward evening on Star Island and I’m struggling to do anything but watch the sky change. The sheer blue of a July day slides into pinks and oranges, the horizon going ember bright. I’m not alone in my fixation. Shoalers gather along the Oceanic Hotel’s front porch or in the Summer House. Pelicans pause their chores to peer out windows. A sunset is a slow form of entertainment. Also a simple one. And yet we can’t look away.

Though I now live many miles from Star Island, I often think about those sunsets. I think, too, of how close I came to never seeing them. When I was twenty, scrambling for work, I had a choice between taking a cushy tech internship in a familiar setting—or becoming a waitress in a place I’d never been. A friend had encouraged me to apply to be a Pelican, though he had trouble explaining what that meant. After rambling vaguely about a hotel and a worker-run talent show, he said finally, “Living on Star Island is just…different.”

Some months later—having thankfully opted for the unfamiliar—I understood why a precise explanation of Star Island had been difficult. After making my first boat ride out of Portsmouth Harbor, after sweating and singing in the communal effort of a luggage line, after reveling in the rocky splendor of the New England coast, I understood that the full Star Island experience can’t quite be described. You can only see it, live it, soak it up. Then miss it terribly once you’ve left.

I’m a writer now (no longer a waitress, bellhop, or baker). My first book comes out this October. My path as a writer is one I feel lucky to have taken and one I owe, in many ways, to my time on Star Island. There’s a reason so many artist-types have been drawn to the Isles of Shoals over the years. The geography is made of inspiration. Beyond the aesthetics—the raw wind and sea spray, the pink blossoms of beach roses and the stately weathered architecture—there’s the gift of stepping away from the mainland. An island like Star, with its view of the New England coastline, grants perspective. It offers another way of seeing: a chance to reflect on our ordinary lives. Separating from the mainland also comes with risk—there’s a reason fire safety is endlessly emphasized to new arrivals—but risk can also go hand in hand with creativity. It can be what pushes someone to put a brush to canvas, a pen to paper. To try something new. To experiment. To create.

“All kinds of strange and remarkable creatures find their way here,” wrote Celia Thaxter of the Isles of Shoals. She was speaking about an unusual white bat flapping around one summer, but the sentiment holds true for people as well. Star Island is plentiful with sites for solitude—the nooks between boulders and ledges jutting out towards the sea—but it also offers community. All kinds of strange and remarkable people make their way to the Shoals. I write this in the most loving sense and with the utmost gratitude. Creativity is often discussed in terms of a singular vision or a bolt of inspiration, but I would argue that creativity is equally derived from the exchange of ideas and the presence of supportive peers. As I prepare to release my first book into the world, I can’t help but reflect on the friendships I made on Star Island, the wisdom and support those individuals have shown me over the years. The true magic of Star Island is that its gifts—the memories, the community, the courage to be your truest self—stay with you even long after you’ve left.

Allegra Hyde will read from her award-winning story collection,
Of This New World, at RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth on
November 18 at 7PM

For more about Allegra, visit



Childe Hassam Exhibit Closes Soon

By Lois Williams

There’s only a month left to see the “Childe Hassam at the Isles of Shoals” exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts – it closes November 6.  Many Shoalers have seen it, and there are even a couple of instances of Shoalers meeting other Shoalers at the exhibit.

Not to fret if you miss the exhibit – there is a copy of the exhibition catalogue in the Vaughn Cottage Library, and next summer while you are at Star you can spend time with the book’s 44 plates of exhibition paintings.

Hassam painted at Appledore for 30 years, and his 300 Appledore pictures represented ten percent of his lifetime art.  Hassam painted his popular pictures of Celia Thaxter, Celia’s parlor and Celia’s garden and its poppies before her death.  Afterward, Hassam’s interest turned to scenes of Appledore’s rocks, and these paintings constitute most of the Peabody Essex exhibit.

Even those who have seen the exhibit will appreciate the exhibition catalogue.  There is a map showing the spot from which Hassam painted each of the exhibition pictures as well as the site that he was painting.  And, for each painting, there is a photograph of the scene – showing, as the books says, that within Hassam’s exuberance of color and brush strokes, “He gets his rocks right.”

Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square (161 Essex St)
Salem, Massachusetts 01970
(978) 745-9500

C.H 2
All photos courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum.


Historic Gosport Regatta

Originally reported by Ryan Alan

Sail racing history opened a new chapter with the revival of the Gosport Regatta seven years ago. When racers and spectators gather for this year’s event, they will be part of helping write additional pages in the modern history of the event. The Regatta certainly had a colorful start in July of 1874, when it was organized by John Poor, President of the Stickney & Poor Spice Trading Co., to celebrate the grand opening of his Star Island Oceanic Hotel. It attracted more than 50 boats, among them America — the yacht for which the legendary America’s Cup is named. It was America’s first race under the ownership of the most colorful General Benjamin Franklin Butler of Ipswich, Mass. who had served as a top-ranking general through most of the Civil War. Butler captained the yacht to victory in the Regatta’s second year on August 2, 1875. Reports indicate that he had stiff competition from the Resolute, under the command of Rufus Hatch, which crossed the finish line first but behind the time allowance of America.

Hotels on both Appledore and Star Islands were booked to capacity for the event—John Poor’s “sweepstakes race for the Oceanic Cup.” The New York Times reported that special trains and excursion steamers brought thousands to the region to watch. In their historical overview, “The Isles of Shoals Regattas,” Lois Williams and Sarah O’Connor wrote that Poor offered a “large solid silver punch bowl” as the prize. They reported that after his victory “General Butler sailed across to Bay View in triumph with the silver punch bowl on the America’s cabin table.”

Be sure to check out the 7th Annual Gosport Regatta
September 24, 2016! 

For more information visit


regatta EDITED_LS

Shoaler Voices

A Break-Up with Technology: The Star Island Phenomenon

Written by Liz MacLean

A Much Needed Technology Break-Up (For the Day, Anyway)

Once the boat had docked and the masses of people unloaded, I walked up the front lawn and checked my phone. No service. For many of my friends, this would lead to heart palpitations and a minor anxiety attack. Going without a phone for the whole afternoon? It was nearly unthinkable. But I simply placed my phone on airplane mode, shoved it in the bottom of my bag  (away from my water bottle), and set off toward the snack bar.

After working for two summers in Star Island’s Portsmouth office, I finally got the chance to go out to the island. My dad joined me for the trip, and equipped with sunscreen and a camera, we explored the island I had heard so much about.

I had seen pictures on the website, learned almost everything about the conferences and programs, and delivered hundreds of packages to the Portsmouth dock, but had yet to experience Star Island and discover why so many people called it their summer home away from home.

As I headed up the path toward the iconic Star gazebo, I noticed a group of kids sitting on benches and rocks, painting the landscape around them. I quickly got out my camera and began snapping pictures. Completely focused on their paintings with an intensity I hadn’t seen before, these eight- and ten-year-olds studied the ocean, lighthouse, and hotel while they used watercolors to recreate the images on small canvases.

Some of the kids chatted quietly and others sat alone, bent over their paintings, unaware of the flies buzzing around their heads or me aiming my camera lens. As I reached into my bag to capture this moment on my phone camera too, I realized why the scene was so strange to me: none of these kids were fixated to a phone or staring at an iPad screen. Instead, they held beautiful paintings of the island and memories they put to paper themselves. I quickly stashed my phone in my bag and proceeded along the path toward a small beach to see if this strange occurrence could be found on other parts of the island.

Below a cluster of boulders, on the beach, a child ate a bagel while his parents stuck their feet in the water. A girl drew in the sand with her toes and a boy clambered across the rocks. No technology here.

Even in the hotel lobby, where I thought people would go to take a break from the intense sun and check their email or Facebook notifications, there was a lack of electronics. Two teenagers played chess while a group of kids started a game of Bananagrams. On the front porch, a little girl colored a picture of a boat while her older sister made a bracelet out of colored yarn.

As the day went on, I felt more and more relaxed. I had no desire to check my phone for texts or contribute a picture on social media. I just wanted to explore the trails that lead around the island, take pictures of the ocean that was so incredibly blue, and sit in a rocking chair, watching families tie dye t-shirts on the front lawn.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had been without my phone for five hours during the day. This may seem absurd for many people, but young adults today seem to be spending more time looking at a screen than looking at their friends’ faces. At college, I’ve noticed everyone has their phone on them at all times and is constantly checking their email and social media pages. We live in a keep-moving-don’t-stop-always-know-what’s-happening society, and when you can’t get a break from the endless stream of information, it can be physically and mentally exhausting.

That’s when I understood the Star phenomenon. It’s not another vacation spot with unlimited wifi and free movie streaming and social media contests. It’s a place to get away from those tiny white screens that are a distraction from the surrounding people and natural beauty.

As I took some final pictures of the grand Oceanic Hotel and tried to imprint the island on my memory, I studied the faces of the other Shoalers. Their eyes were not squinting at a screen, but instead, wide open in amazement as they discussed that day’s lecture, squeezed shut in laughter as they played a board game in the grass, and relaxed as they sipped lime rickeys on the porch, studying the sailboats that drifted through the harbor.

Whether Star Island is a time-honored tradition or a new experience, it offers one thing among many that everyone can benefit from: a much-needed break from the electronic world, a place where reflection and discovery is cultivated, and a chance to reconnect with nature.

Photo by Norman MacLean