The Island Fishermen’s Wives Association hosted the 2022 Fishermen’s Hall of Fame Induction at the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society on July 17. The three men honored on that warm July afternoon were David Heanssler, Ronnie Wheaton Sr. and Merton Eaton. A tribute was read for each fisherman and a plaque was presented to David, Merton and the family of the late Ronnie Wheaton Sr.
The Island Fishermen’s Wives were formed in 1989 after the loss of two fishermen within a few weeks. The ladies wanted to be able to help where they could and so on IFWwas founded.
One of the major projects they have accomplished has been the establishment of Fisherman’s Day at Stonington Fishermen’s Pier and honoring the newly established Hall of Fame, which honors three fishermen who are nominated for this special honor each year, according to information from IFWA.
Below is the information from IFWA for every honored fisherman.
David Basil Heansler
David Heanssler was born on October 8, 1945 to Basil and Harriet Heanssler. At the age of 9, David started working for his grandfather Augustus on Saturdays. He caught lobster, shrimp, scallops, gill nets, trolled fish, and fished for sea cucumbers. His favorite was scallops.
After David graduated from high school in 1963, he went to college in Illinois for a year. There he joined the Air National Guard. He served for six years. David married his wife Betty in 1967. They have three children, Julie, Lisa and Jason, and two grandchildren, Kristen and Collin.
David actively worked with Greg Griffin in high school on fishing projects. He would take the students on Saturday and teach them how to be a strict man. Most would grow up to be the captain of their own boat.
He had four boats during his lifetime. He bought his first boat from his father; the second boat was a Jarvis Newman; the third boat was a Young Brothers; and the fourth boat is a 40 foot Wayne Beal. With the exception of the first boat, all boats were named Jubeli, after Julie, Betty and Lisa. To this day, David actively fishes from the Jubeli and loves being on the water.
David has been featured numerous times in the National Fisheries newspaper with his inventions and approach to the fishing industry. He served on the Board of Directors of the Penobscot East Resource Center (currently the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries) for several years and served as President for two years. He has held various offices in two different churches.
David is a well-known and popular fisherman. He is known for sharing his experiences and knowledge as a fisherman with others. David, Ronald Shepard, Leroy Bridges, Cal Lawson and Brent Oliver have shared many stories together. He’s always happy to help.
When he’s not on the water, David and Betty love to dance. He also loves camping, golf and sport fishing. One of their greatest accomplishments was working in Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina, which they did for six years.
Merton “Mert” Eaton
Merton was born and raised in Little Deer Isle. He began digging for shells with his father, Ralph Eaton, at a young age. He loved the sea, so becoming a fisherman came naturally to him.
Mert worked as a strict man for Eddie Blackmore and later received his first boat from his wife’s grandfather, Calvin Stinson. The boat was a peapod with a canvas sprayhood and only a compass for navigation. His next boat was the very first ship built by Richard Duffy of Duffy & Duffy boats. Mert named her Kathy Ann after the love of his life, Kathleen Ann, and his daughter Kathy. He fished this boat until his retirement in 2021.
Throughout his fishing career, Mert was always willing to help a fellow fisherman or others in need. Mert’s mission was to make someone laugh every day, even if it was on TV FM radio, often in reference to the contents of his food bucket. Some spring days the catch was so dismal he had to eat the roast beef off his sandwich and save the cheese for tomorrow!
Mert made a living hauling traps in “the seaweed” on the east coast of the Isle au Haut. The tops of many of the rocky outcrops in the area are painted Newport Green, a mark Mert left as he approached a little for comfort.
A key lesson he left for the industry he loved so much was never to take anything too seriously, even when he’s high and dry on a ledge in danger in the middle of a howling winter storm. “Don’t worry,” he said to his crew. “The tide will eventually wash us away.”
Mert has lived in Belfast with his wife for 65 years. The F/V Kathy Ann remains one of the most experienced boats in Stonington Harbour.
Ronald Wheaton Sr.
Ronnie got into the fishing industry when he was a little boy. He baited bags of bait in the bait shed for 2 cents a bag. He learned to fish when he was just 10 years old from his father Joe Dodge and older brother Bobby Wheaton.
Ronnie began by handhauling an outboard motor with wooden buoys, glass gags and a wooden boat. While working with his family’s fiberglass flagpoles, Ronnie went clinging while still trying to start his own lobster business.
Ronnie has worked in many types of fisheries such as lobster, scallop, crab, clam and clam. Lobster was his real passion. He passed on his knowledge and love of fishing to many younger fishermen. He gave traps to help other fishermen who were just starting out. He would help or even give money. He would help tow boats or traps for deceased fishermen.
When he wasn’t on the boat, Ronnie could be found in his ship building traps, knitting heads or even making his own bait bags. He was often seen with Roger Haskell. Ronnie has owned many boats since his outboard. His last boat was a 32 foot H&H named F/V Donna Lee. He had Donna Lee for 17 years before retiring. He fished all year round until old age. He took all of his children and grandchildren to eat lobster. His grandson, Shawn Haskell Jr. has inherited his boat along with all of his fishing secrets.
Ronnie loved his family more than anything: his wife Donna; children Jennifer Haskell, Michelle Hutchinson and Ronald Wheaton Jr.; Grandsons Tyler Wheaton, Kristina Hutchinson, Katie McManus, Shawn Haskell Jr., Jonny Wheaton and the late Ronald Edwin Haskell. He has one great-grandchild, Mackenzie McManus.
Ronnie was part of the Odd Fellows and also plowed for the town of Stonington.
Following the presentation, Suzy Shepard provided an update on the Fishermen’s Wives youth safety survival program which was launched in May this year. They joined the Blue Hill YMCA, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries and the Eastern Maine Skippers Program. At this point, they have put 75 island students through swimming lessons. More classes will follow in the near future.
Suzy also announced that the IFWA will no longer host Fishermen’s Family Fun Day. It’s been a lot of work and it takes a lot of help and involvement, she said.