Harwich Remembers Iconic 'Town Father' James Marceline

By: William F. Galvin

James Marceline listens attentively to debate during the 2014 annual town meeting.  FILE PHOTO

HARWICH — If ever there was an icon who deserved the recognition of “Town Father,” James Marceline is that person. He served his country; had great respect for Democratic institutions; always put community first, especially the education of children; and assisted families in need of housing long before government adopted the term “affordable housing.”

Word of his passing early on Sunday morning spread fast, with posts on social media praising a man dedicated to his community and the people who called Harwich home. Mr. Marceline was 93.

The proprietor of Marceline Salvage Company for more than 50 years, he provided the land on which Cape Cod Technical High School was built at a steep discount, and built houses that he rented, and often sold, to working families at below market rates.

“Many of us may have long known Jimmy as one of the most trusted and beloved of Harwich's true 'old timers,' and when he talked, people listened. His passing leaves a hole in the fabric of our community that can never ever be mended. He gave more to this town than many people realized, and never really got full credit for all he has done for the community over his lifetime. Truly, truly one of a kind,” former selectman Sandy Hall stated on the Harwich Old Timers Facebook page Sunday.

“We were with him Saturday night and he was very peaceful when we left,” former State Representative Shirley Gomes said on Monday. “He's been a part of our family life for 75 years and there has never been a family event without him. It's a great loss to Harwich. I've never known anyone who cared more for Harwich. He had a great heart for Harwich. He was a loving, caring, generous person.”

“It's with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of James Marceline,” Board of Selectmen Chairman Michael MacAskill said at the start of the board's meeting on Monday night, calling for a moment of silence.

Mr. Marceline's contributions to the community have been recognized over the years. He was an inaugural inductee in the Harwich High School Hall of Fame in 2006, and two years later he was inducted into the Harwich Hall of Fame where his service to the community was praised by then-board of selectmen chairman Robin Wilkins, who noted Mr. Marceline's service to his country in World War II, commitment to community and his business acumen.

While serving in World War II, Mr. Marceline volunteered for front-line duty as a machine gun operator during the Germans' first wave push in the Battle of the Bulge, his friend Leo Cakounes said. Mr. Marceline was taken as a prisoner of war. The Germans were running out of resources and there was not much food available for prisoners. He had some horrific stories, Cakounes said. Returning home after his liberation, Mr. Marceline was suffering severely from malnutrition and dehydration, and his family nurtured him back to health.

“He would later return the favor many times over,” his Harwich Hall of Fame biography states.

“He strongly believed in the value of housing our working class. It made for strong families and helped the community at large. So Jimmy established his own affordable housing program. Over the years, he built numerous homes, renting them at below market rates to Harwich residents and eventually selling them to their occupants,” Wilkins said during a town meeting recognition of Mr. Marceline's contributions.

Mr. Marceline also served on the Cranberry Valley Golf Course building committee and was an active participant in town meeting over the years. He provided land at a discount rate for the construction of Cape Cod Regional Technical School. He convinced surrounding property owners to do the same, Cakounes said.

“He was a huge advocate of a tech school being built on the Cape,” Cakounes added.

“There wouldn't be a Cape Cod Tech and we wouldn't be talking about a new Cape Cod Tech in 2020 without James Marceline,” Cape Cod Regional Technical High School Superintendent Robert P. Sanborn said on Monday. “He was a great American as well.”

Mr. Marceline also petitioned for a special town meeting to address the need for computers in the Harwich schools.

“While it may not seem controversial now, some considered this relatively new technology an extravagance we could not afford,” Wilkins told the town meeting. “Jimmy saw computers as something the kids needed in order to learn for the future. Jimmy Marceline will always be remembered for doing what was sensible and right for Harwich.”

Town Clerk Anita Doucette reflected Monday on Marceline's respect for Democratic institutions such as town meeting and the elections. She said he always wore a suit coat and tie when attending town meeting and when he came to vote. Mr. Marceline was a voice of reason and his positions were always well respected in those legislative sessions.

He was a major land owner in the community, choosing to preserve open space for his cows and farm animals instead of selling large tracts to developers.

He understood the importance of keeping the Herring River flowing, allowing the passage of herring to headwater ponds to spawn and fry returning to the ocean. He was another set of eyes on river conditions for natural resource officers Tom Leach and Heinz Proft.

He ran Marceline Salvage Company on Pleasant Lake Avenue on a 14-acre site for more than 50 years, often referring to the business as a recycling operation. When the state Department of Environmental Protection began requiring management plans for salvage operations across the state, Mr. Marceline made the decision to close the operation.

“He did a lot for this community. I'm seeing a lot of private stories on the internet about land and housing,” Cakounes said. “I really miss him a lot. We had a lot of fun. He personally had a lot of effect on my life.”

“He took such good care of so many people,” Gomes said. “He's done so many good things for the town.”

Calling hours will be Friday, Feb. 2 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Doane Beal and Ames in West Harwich and a funeral mass will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Holy Trinity Church in West Harwich.