By Kenneth Z. Chutchain
Originally published by the Harpswell Anchor, September 1999
Johanna Wigg has not been in a big hurry to dissuade people of the notion the Vicarage by the Sea is still a bed and breakfast.
The sign has not changed from the days when her parents ran a popular inn on Curtis Cove, not far from the Harpswell Neck Fire Station. The ambiance of the house hasn’t changed much.
Of course, the customers have changed. Wigg now runs a residtntial care home for elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease. But Vicarage by the Sea is still a good place to visit to remind oneself of some basic truths.
People go to bed and breakfasts to reconnect themselves with simplicity and peace. People come to Vicarage by the Sea these days to reconnect themselves with simplicity and care.
Before applying for a state license to run a residential care home, Wigg had a personal experience taking care of an elderly woman with dementia — her grandmother.
“Generally, the approach in this country for dealing with Alzheimer’s is institutional or family care,” Wigg said. “And the family often breaks down. Anyone who takes care of anyone with dementia knows what a drain it is.”
Vicarage by the Sea strives for the comfort zone between a nursing home and a family setting. Wigg, who has some strong opinions about the state of elderly health care nationwide (“we treat elderly people like criminals,” she says), notes that medical professionals are often confused when she visits her patients during their hospital visits.
“Institutions do not generally send the owner and the house manager for a visit,” she said.
Vicarage now has room for five patients and may soon expand to a nearby building also owned by Wigg.
The owner is a determined 29-year-old who accepted her role as the sibling in the best position to take care of their grandmother after graduating from Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1993.
“I was the only kid in the family who had been to Maine,” said Wigg, noting that her mother and step-father had moved to Maine ion 1984. Wehn she graduated from college, Wigg said, two of her older siblings lived in Wisconsin, where she was raised, and another older sibling was in New Jersey.
Rather than consider the care of her grandmother a burden, Wigg said, “I thought I had the best of both worlds.” She was attending graduate school at Brandeis University in Boston, where she earned a doctorate’s in sociology, and “I got to retreat to Maine to regain my brain. I did all my writing here. It’s hard to concentrate in the city.”
The house manager at Vicarage by the Sea is Cheryl Golek. Her relationship with Wigg and her role at Vicarage reflect classic Maine values.
“We met at Estes Restaurant 15 years ago,” said Wigg, acknowledging with a laugh that they were working before they were legally allowed to do so. Their friendship has survived relocations and other changes in their lives, and now they are working side by side taking care of old people who can no longer take care of themselves.