YORK — Frank Wallace spent his long career in education surrounded by children and in his retirement, he has been a passionate mentor to children.
And a month before his recent 80th birthday, Wallace published a novel about a child’s adventures after being raised by a recluse father on a farm.
Wallace’s book, "Simon Seeker," follows a 12-year-old boy as he finds his way in the world inspiring the adults in his midst. It is about a boy named Simon who travels to Boston, Massachusetts, from the farm in northern Maine, where he lived an isolated life, leaving home only once a month for supplies.
“I was a Maine guide once upon a time, so part of the impetus for writing the book was my love for the woods,” Wallace said last week. “It’s about a boy wanting to find his way. I made him the paradigm of all the kids I’ve worked with, to create one kid since I don’t have any of my own. It’s the culmination of the care of kids my whole life. I have one of my own, finally.”
Simon made a pact with his dying father that he would call a friend who would become his guardian after his father’s passing. But his urge to see the world outside Washington County won him over and off into the night he went, an orphan on the move.
In the story, Simon, whose best friends were his two beloved horses, possessed a keen awareness of the natural world he lived in. Through excessive reading he became an expert on many things, including ants. He was a naturalist who befriended the birds and the bogs and the animals in the county where he spent his first 12 years.
“It sounds like a kids’ book, but it’s not,” Wallace said. “He goes on his adventure and meets lots of people. The story is about the adults who find him instructive, who are moved by him, who he inspires to bring up their own pasts. As they talk with him they recall things about their lives and begin to heal.”
Wallace said nobody in the book represents any of his friends, but themes from his life are prevalent, including his love of the wilderness and his years as a headmaster of a school in the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains.
“None of the characters in my book resembles anybody I’ve known,” he said. “It all came to me, totally out of the blue. I started off with the idea of a fellow who had been a children’s book writer who got attacked by the right because one of his books said something religious and then he became a hermit. I felt some connection to him.”
"Simon Seeker" is Wallace’s first novel and was published last month by I Universe. It is available online and in book stores. He started writing it nine years ago, not methodically, but in the midst of his busy retirement schedule. He said he is grateful for his friend in Colorado who continued to nudge him to finish it after many years and plenty of changes.
“It really was a long process of in and out, up and down and round and round,” he said. “I’m happy with it. It’s not great fiction, but it’s about looking after kids. These people are all looking after Simon and he’s looking after the world. All the adults were changed by Simon, just as I’ve been changed over the years.”
Wallace started his career as an English teacher and continued on in administration as headmaster at two boarding schools. He retired here because he said he has warm memories of being 5 years old playing on the beach with his family.
Wallace has been a strong supporter of York schools since arriving almost two decades ago. He recalled visiting with former York Schools superintendent Henry Scipione after purchasing his Cape Neddick home and asking how he could help. He and Scipione were among those who created The York Education Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to provide funds for innovative and challenging programs proposed by educators in all four schools.
Though he is retired, Wallace has been a volunteer mentor for 19 years with the school district’s mentoring program, which serves more than 100 students with an adult mentor who visits the student at school weekly for lunch and recess. Last year, Wallace donated $100,000 to establish the Childscapes York Mentoring Fund and has plans to bequeath the remainder of his estate to the fund when he passes on.
“It’s an incredible program. As an educator you spend a lot of time talking to children, and as a mentor you spend a lot of time listening and I’ve learned so much from these children.”