Profoundness of Sunbeam Funerals

Profoundness of Sunbeam Funerals

Mission Director of Island Outreach and Chaplain Douglas Cornman.

In 2016, when I was first introduced to the Sunbeam, Island Outreach Director and Chaplain Douglas Cornman, the only crew member aboard, gave me a tour of the boat. I remember walking from the wheelhouse onto the top deck. Douglas explained to me that the two white cylindrical hard-shell cases affixed to the roof held life rafts. If the cases ever hit the water, Douglas said, they open, and the rafts inflate, automatically.
Also affixed to the deck, near the cases, were stainless steel tie downs. Those, Douglas said, secured coffins when the
Sunbeam traveled to or from funerals.
Funerals? Yes, funerals are an unsung service provided by the
Sunbeam crew for islanders. Here, for the first time, Douglas Cornman, the Sunbeam crew member who officiates funerals, talks about what he says is “one of the most profound aspects of my work.”


NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME – I have officiated over 11 funerals on the Sunbeam or on island since I started with the Mission in 2014. Now, these are only the funerals for which I’ve officiated the service. The boat has participated in other funerals since I joined the crew.
Who is eligible for a Sunbeam funeral? Islanders are eligible. There are no hard rules around this. The funerals I’ve officiated, or the Sunbeam has participated in, in some capacity have been for islanders from islands frequently visited by the Sunbeam.
The majority of funerals I’ve officiated have been on Matinicus where the Sunbeam plays a significant role in the life of the island. Matinicus doesn’t have a minister living on the island. It’s also a challenging island to get to because of it’s distance from the main land. I’m the island’s chaplain which is why most of my work officiating funerals is on this island.
In 2014-15, when I was still an interim Mission employee, Mission President Rev. Scott Planting asked me to do a fairly comprehensive assessment with islanders regarding what kind of Sunbeam crew member was needed to succeed Rob Benson, who had moved to the Bar Harbor Congregational Church as their minister.
I learned islanders want to know who’s going to marry them, and who’s going to bury them.
So I’m asked to officiate funerals for families where the Sunbeam or her crew, including the chaplain, has played a significant role in the families’ life. The islands that ask me or the Sunbeam to be involved typically do not have a year ‘round clergy presence.
The islands we serve all have active cemeteries, really sacred spaces on islands. No one desecrates an island cemetery.
There are people on Matinicus who, every summer, go to the cemetery and clean the grave markers so the lichen doesn’t cover up the names and destroy the markers. People really respect these places. They’re extremely important.
With a burial on land there’s a permanence because, whether it’s a full body burial, or a cremation; an urn with cremated remains, you know the essence of that person is permanently placed there. And a marker will always remind people that the person is there.
I’ve only dispersed ashes during burials at sea, never a body. I watch the ashes disperse. I watch them touch the water and the waves just carry them out into the sea where even the remains of the ashes, the shape they create, disappears, and once again becomes clear water. It’s as if the spirit of the person is truly released into the water, rejoining the universe. Because you just watch the ashes fade into the water and become part of the sea.
The Sunbeam crew gets involved in all kinds of ways. The boat can get involved in helping people grieve and transition when a family member has passed.
I think we all need to grieve in our own ways. But grieving doesn’t necessarily equate to sadness. People assume they should feel sad when a loved one dies. But I don’t know that sadness is the emotion that’s always felt.
Grief, if grief is an emotion, I think grief is the emotion that’s felt. I’ve been a part of funerals where there has just been so much laughter and joy. And that’s the emotion that is expressed through the grieving process.
Something that surprised me. I officiate over weddings and funerals. When I started this work, I thought I would find weddings to be more profound than funerals, but it’s the other way around.
I find officiating a funeral or a celebration of life really to be one of the most profound aspects of my work. I really get to know families. I listen to their stories, their grief, their memories. Then we come together. The time we take is really powerful. There’s something really special about walking alongside a family honoring the death of a loved one.
Even if I don’t intimately know the person who’s died, I find myself joining in the family’s grief. I think it’s the depth of emotion that families share with me that’s really profound. It’s a gift and I feel fortunate to receive it.

Learn more about the Sunbeam crew’s work.

Sunbeam Gala 2021 – A Festive Evening of Friends

Sunbeam Gala 2021 – A Festive Evening of Friends

A view of the Sunbeam Award Gala 2021 at the Bar Harbor Club. The large tent used is partially visible.

NOTE: Thank you to Mission Director of Administration Ann Cox Halkett and Development Operations Associate Thomas Thompson for this Sunbeam Award Gala 2021 recap.

NORTHEAST HARBOR, ME — The Mission’s 2021 Sunbeam Award Gala was a great success, a joy to gather in Bar Harbor to honor Sigma Kappa and Acadia Senior College. The August 12 event celebrated two extraordinary organizations — Acadia Senior College and Sigma Kappa. Both have made great contributions to strong communities on Mount Desert Island, including the women of Sigma Kappa who have steadfastly supported the Mission for over 100 years

The gala was held on the Bar Harbor Club patio, and also under a large tent on the lawn. The weather was picture perfect. After our virtual Gala last summer, guests were happy to gather together with friends to support the Mission’s work.

Mission President John Zavodny welcomed guests and introduced David B. Woodside, Chair of the Board of Directors of Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, one of the Gala’s Platinum sponsors. Following an entertaining video about Acadia Senior College, former Mission President Scott Planting gave the Sunbeam award to Acadia Senior College president, Linda Dunn. In her remarks, Dunn told of the College’s start and quick success, and pointed out that the room held dozens of Gala guests who have been College instructors, supporters, and students through the years.

Next, President Zavodny introduced Tony Shurman, President and CEO of Wyman’s, the Gala’s other Platinum sponsor. After a video about Sigma Kappa, Dan McKay, Chair of the Mission Board of Directors gave the Sunbeam award to Ann O’Connell Adams, national President of Sigma Kappa Sorority, and Dawn Copple O’Connor, President of the Sigma Kappa Foundation. Sigma Kappa Sorority was founded at Colby College, Waterville in 1874. President Adams recounted the partnership Sigma Kappa has had with the Mission since 1918.

It was a festive evening of old and new friends, good food, and abundant reminders of the importance of vibrant community. The work and activities of this year’s award winners demonstrate how strong community is built and enriched.

Thank you to all who participated, and to the Bar Harbor Club, who hosted us in a huge tent near Frenchman’s Bay. From the video of older Mainers naming their superpowers to the excitement of meeting Sigma Kappa members from across the country and hearing the hearty cheers of Senior College supporters, it was a memorable evening.


Mission Scholarships Awarded at Presidents Scholarship BBQ

Mission Scholarships Awarded at Presidents Scholarship BBQ

BAR HARBOR, ME — After a several year hiatus, the Maine Seacoast Mission Scholarship BBQ, revived and renamed the Presidents Scholarship BBQ, was held earlier this month on the College of the Atlantic campus in Bar Harbor.

Several Mission presidents were in attendance, including Scott Planting (this was one of his favorite events during his tenure) and current President John Zavodny.

College of the Atlantic President Darron Collins welcomed the Mission scholarship recipients. All of the Presidents offered the students, headed off to different colleges, their best advice!

Learn more about the Mission’s Scholarships Programs.

Mass General Neurologist Offers Support to Sunbeam’s Telemedicine Work

Mass General Neurologist Offers Support to Sunbeam’s Telemedicine Work

BAR HARBOR, ME — “Monday, April 15, I spent an amazing day at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) thanks to Anand Viswanathan, MD, PhD,” said the Mission’s Island Health Director Sharon Daley, RN.

Director Daley’s was somewhat of a full-circle visit. In May 2018, at the invitation of then-Mission President Scott Planting, Dr. Anand spent three days accompanying Sharon aboard the ‘Sunbeam V’ for her regular telemedicine run.

Dr. Anand, a Neurologist, is a member of the Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and is a staff neurologist in both the Stroke Service and Memory Disorders Unit. He also works with patients in remote areas, such as northern Maine, via telemedicine. His work and the Sunbeam’s island work are a natural fit.

After that trip, Anand wrote to Sharon, “…I think you guys are doing really outstanding and important work, although not always glamorous. I think you guys are really the unsung medical heroes of the Maine islands.”

During her recent visit with Dr. Anand at MGH, Sharon attended “a meeting where the newest research was presented,” she said. And she “was also shown [MGH’s] stroke telemedicine program.

Sharon explained, “Dr. Anand and other physicians provide stroke telemed and consultations to Maine hospitals. The technology enables the physicians to [remotely] see all of the scans, labs, and the patient.”

But, Sharon added, what “impressed me more than the technology is the dedication I saw in the people I met.”

Mission Health Director Daley said the MGH “team was very interested” in the ‘Sunbeam’ telemedicine work. “Anand and the team offered to do anything they can to support [that work] any way they can,’ Daley said, which is great news for the Mission and the island communities with which we work.

To learn more about the ‘Sunbeam V’ telemedicine work click here.

Dedication: Sunbeam Crew Ahead of the Snowstorm

Dedication: Sunbeam Crew Ahead of the Snowstorm

Sunbeam V at Matinicus Island 2018

BAR HARBOR, ME — Following a lunch meeting at the Mission’s Colket Center headquarters, Sunbeam V Captain Mike Johnson, Island Health Director Sharon Daley, and Island Outreach Director Douglas Cornman traveled to the Sunbeam in Northeast Harbor.

The crew had appointments on Vinalhaven and Matinicus Islands. But they were also watching the snowstorm due to hit Maine between 4:00 pm and 5:00 pm Tuesday, February 12. Conditions were right, Capt. Mike Johnson said at yesterday afternoon’s meeting, for icing. That is, ice buildup on the Sunbeam exterior, which is especially bad news if you’re on the ocean, miles from land.

Capt. Johnson came up with a workaround plan, requiring the Sunbeam crew to travel off-schedule at odd hours, but enabling the crew to keep its island appointments in advance of the impending snowstorm.

In an email this morning to Mission President Scott Planting, Capt. Johnson said of the boat and crew:

We got to Vinalhaven around 6:30 PM and had dinner and went to bed. We got up at 11:45 PM and made the 1hour and 15 minute run to Matinicus.

There was slight icing on the run to Vinalhaven and none on the trip to Matinicus due to the downwind nature of the route. I don’t always get every detail perfect, but this one was planned well and was a comfortable easy trip.

We leave here today at 2PM.

President Planting said of Captain Johnson’s message: This is dedication.

John Zavodny, Ph.D., to be new Maine Seacoast Mission President

John Zavodny, Ph.D., to be new Maine Seacoast Mission President

New Maine Seacoast Mission President John Zavodny, Ph.D.

February 4, 2019
For More Information:
Scott K Fish, Communications and Marketing
[email protected] or 207-458-7185
John Zavodny, Ph.D., to be new Maine Seacoast Mission President
BAR HARBOR, ME — The Maine Seacoast Mission has announced that John Zavodny, Ph.D., will be its new president beginning on February 19, 2019.

Stacey Smith, board Chair, noted that “we are fortunate to welcome John to the Mission.  During our interviews with him his excitement and compassion for the work of the Mission and an understanding of life in rural Maine were evident.  He is a broad and collaborative thinker, an empathetic communicator and we look forward to the next chapters of the Maine Seacoast Mission with John at the helm.”

Dr. Zavodny comes to the Mission from his current position as chief of staff at Unity College in Unity, Maine. Unity College offers a unique education based on sustainability science that engages students with its rural environment. During his 18-year career at Unity College, Dr. Zavodny has also served as professor of philosophy and humanities, academic chair, director of the Center for Environmental Arts and Humanities, and dean of academic services.

Dr. Zavodny has also been active as a community volunteer, serving on the board of WERU Community Radio in Orland and in various capacities for the Camden Conference and the Maine Humanities Council, among others. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in classical languages from Lipscomb University. He currently lives in Belfast, Maine, but plans to relocate to the Mount Desert Island area.

Dr. Zavodny assumes the Mission’s presidency with the retirement of the Reverend Scott Planting, who has served as president since 2010.

“What an incredible opportunity and humbling responsibility,” said Zavodny. “Over the last century, leaders like Scott Planting have helped Maine Seacoast Mission establish a powerful history of service with island and coastal Maine communities. With the support of the board, friends of the Mission, and amazing team of professionals already in place we can steward that legacy, honor community relationships, and build on the good work that has already been accomplished,” said Dr. Zavodny.

As president, Dr. Zavodny will oversee the operation of the Maine Seacoast Mission and its many programs delivered from campuses in Bar Harbor and Cherryfield and from the Sunbeam, a 74-foot boat. Since 1905, the Mission has served the isolated communities of the unbridged islands and coastal villages of Hancock and Washington counties with health, education, food assistance, Christmas, and community-building programs, and pastoral care.

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Maine Seacoast Mission – 127 West St. – Bar Harbor, ME – 04609

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