A crowd of the late Jimmy Engstrom’s relatives and friends gathered around a newly placed wooden bench at the end of the Sears Island causeway Saturday afternoon, May 5, all for the purpose of remembering a man who lived much of his 86 years on the 940-acre island.

Engstrom spent most of his life on the island, where he dug clams and quahog, hunted, swam and camped with his family. Over the years, he taught his children all the different ways the island could provide food, knowledge, entertainment and a wealth of memories that his relatives say will never be forgotten.

Engstrom’s family and friends, including his wife, Marguerite and two of his grown children came to the island last weekend as the result of an invitation from Searsport Shellfish Management Committee Chairman Bob Ramsdell and his fellow committee member, Steve Tanguay.

Engstrom, who Ramsdell and Tanguay said offered his experience and service to the committee for many years, passed away in March of 2011. There was a memorial service held in Engstrom’s honor shortly after his death, but Saturday’s event included something tangible to remind those he loved of his life-long connection to the island, and to offer a piece of his life story to those he never knew.

A handcrafted wooden bench, placed to overlook the clam-flats facing Stockton Harbor, was the centerpiece of this year’s celebration of Engstrom’s life. Tanguay said workers at his own family business, Searsport Shores Campground, built the bench with materials bought with money that the Shellfish Committee raised. Members Searsport’s public works crew came to the island and set the bench into the ground, burying the legs deep into the earth.

The bench has a personal touch, thanks to Maine’s Master Woodcarver, Tom Cote, who traveled from Limestone to burn Engstrom’s name, as well as images of clams and the tools he used to dig them all his life. Beneath Engstrom’s name, Cote added the phrase, “Looking over the flats forever.”

Tanguay, who is also a retired Troy Howard Middle School teacher, said Engstrom loved children, and looked forward to passing his outdoor skills on to the next generation, even in the months leading up to his death.

“Jim [Engstrom] was still teaching middle school kids how to clam without breaking too many of the shells,” Tanguay said.

Tanguay remembered one story Engstrom told him about what life was like before the state constructed the causeway in the early 1980s, a development that allows access to the island without the worry of missing the changing tides.

Tanguay said on one occasion when Engstrom drove his Model T over the sandbar to access the island with his brother, the two had settled in at the flats when after a few minutes, they saw a Model T go whizzing by them, headed straight back toward the sandbar.

“That’s when his brother said, ‘I think that’s your car,'” said Tanguay, whose story drew chuckles from those who knew Engstrom. “I think they got it out, between one or two cycles [of the tide].”

Tanguay described Engstrom as “the most pleasurable guy I ever spent time getting dirty with.”

Engstrom’s daughter, Diane Leavitt, told of what it was like to grow up with Engstrom.

“Wherever Daddy’s looking down on us now, he would have been very happy,” she said. “He fed his family by clamming, and by hunting here in the fall.”

When Engstrom brought his family camping on the island, Leavitt said they always returned with new stories to tell of her father’s fun-loving antics.

One time, she recalled, her dad collected a huge pile of driftwood to serve as a long-lasting campfire on the beach.

“There were calls coming in from the town,” she said. “They thought the island was on fire.”

Engstrom was known for transporting many local children to the island during the height of summertime, as she said swimming was always a favorite pass time for her family.

“Every kid would have an inner tube with red patches all over it,” she said with a laugh.

Leavitt said the days of waiting for the tide to go out “were some of our most enjoyable times” on the island.

“Our whole life was this island,” said Leavitt.

For the times when the tide schedule did not fit his own, Leavitt said her father built his own boat, as well as the outboard motor that went with it. Engstrom affectionately called the outboard “Fireball,” and to this day, the motor is kept under cover inside Leavitt’s shed.

Leavitt and her husband, Wayne, were married on Sears Island near one of the old homestead foundations, and Engstrom mowed the surrounding field just for the ceremony.

Wayne Leavitt described Engstrom as a man who could fabricate most anything he needed himself.

“He wouldn’t buy ladders, he made them,” Wayne Leavitt said of his father-in-law.

More notably, though, Wayne Leavitt said his father-in-law loved people.

“You never heard him say a bad thing about anybody,” he said.

Engstrom’s youngest daughter, Sheila Williams, fondly recalled the day she went digging for quahogs with her father prior to his death. At Saturday’s observance, she shared a photo that was snapped of her and her father at the end of that day.

“I’m so glad I went,” she said, and also offered Tanguay and Ramsdell heartfelt thanks for the bench that was made in her father’s honor.

As part of the memorial, Engstrom’s nieces, nephews, grandchildren and a great granddaughter joined Tanguay on the flats, where each of Engstrom’s relatives dug a clam in his honor. The clams were placed in front of the newly minted bench, just for the man who inspired its creation.