College trips make residents recall heyday of Ricker

4 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — On Friday, Heather DeMarco, a former Houlton resident who now lives in Boston, Massachusetts, was helping get her 18-year-old niece packed up for her freshman year of college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Helping her sort out what to take and what to leave, packing up the car, easing her sister’s anxieties, all brought back memories of her own time as an 18-year-old attending Ricker College in Houlton, she said Friday.

“I only attended for two years, but I really had a great time there,” she said. “I really loved Ricker, and it is a shame that it isn’t open anymore. 

Initially known as Houlton Academy when it opened in 1848, Ricker became Ricker Classical Institute in 1888. It was named after Joseph Ricker, who was instrumental in supporting it financially. It became a junior college in 1929 and then became a full four-year college. 

The school encompassed an eight-acre parcel of land, bordering Military, High, Heywood and Kelleran streets. The main classroom building, Wording Hall, is now Ricker Plaza. The library now houses offices for Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

 East Hall was once home to the coffee shop, cafeteria and bookstore. It is  now the home for Wesleyan Church staff members, classes and meetings. 

DeMarco said she was not sure that she even really wanted to attend college at all, but “my parents were insistent.”

“Neither of them had the opportunity to attend college,” she said. “So they wanted my siblings and I to attend. “I went for two years but I met my husband when I went to a dance in Presque Isle. He was stationed at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. So, I dropped out and got married. But I think everyone remembers the days of Ricker, when Houlton was really at its heyday.”

Beverly Hughes of Portland recalled Friday how “thrilled” she would be when her older sister, Margaret, would take her to performances at the Ricker Theatre. 

“It wasn’t that often, so it was a real treat for me,” she said. “I know it is a bit strange, but I loved Shakespeare, even when I was a young teenager. And I loved any chance to be with my sister. Ricker put on some great performances. And they also had some great concerts. I remember Bruce Springsteen played there. I wasn’t a fan, but I remember the name. Houlton was really bustling when Ricker was up and running”

Ricker College faced financial difficulties in the 1970s and was forced to close in 1978. Both women said that the closure was “very sad.”

“The college was a real landmark in the community,” DeMarco said. “I think it was like what Loring Air Force Base was to Limestone. It was a real shame, but I know that Ricker is still having reunions, so I am glad about that.”