Under fire for alleged racism, the final straw for Robert Celeste came late last week when a van from a television station blocked his driveway in Harrison just as Celeste and his ailing wife were about to head out for a drive.
As Celeste spoke with a reporter, his wife, Cecily, who is beginning to suffer the effects of dementia, wandered off.
Worried about the hundreds of acres of wilderness nearby, Celeste, a regional school board member for the Oxford Hills School District, said he was relieved to find Cecily inside their house.
When Celeste started to get ready for a meeting later in the day, his wife asked that he not go.
“What if they come back to hurt me?” she asked.
That was it for Celeste. Using email, he resigned immediately from the SAD 17 board.
It was time to go anyway, the 74-year-old Celeste said Monday.
“I’ve put in my dues,” he said. “It’s time for someone else to do it. I’m tired.”
Though his departure puts an end to calls for his resignation, Celeste insisted he is not a racist and does not deserve his critics’ scorn.
“I am not the problem. The problem is what’s being taught in the public schools to Christian boys and girls,” said Celeste, a former construction company owner who calls himself pastor of the web-based Church for the American Christian Patriot.
He strongly denied he is a racist, despite his having posted material calling for the defense of “the white race.”
“God created four races — white, red, yellow and black,” he said Monday. “Man created a fifth race through rape, slavery and prostitution — the mixed race.”
Celeste is not shy about expressing his views on race and religion, which were well known when he was elected in a 2016 race when he faced only a write-in candidate.
He regularly submits opinion pieces to various newspapers, many of which have run over the years, often prompting rebuttal from others in the community.
Celeste said there is nothing wrong with trying to protect white people.
“Nobody tells the yellow race they need to integrate and water down,” he said.
Richard Colpitts, superintendent of the regional schools, said Celeste, who served on the district’s 22-member board since 2016, had not brought up many of the prejudices discussed on the church website. Colpitts said Celeste has always been polite on a panel that has diverse viewpoints.
Colpitts, however, said he was surprised when he eyeballed Celeste’s internet site. The pastor’s decision to resign, Colpitts said, was “probably in the best interests of the board.”
While Celeste has not expressed great concern for the board or the district, he insists they are failing students on many levels.
He said he gave up the seat because his wife is becoming more ill and he may be, as well. Diagnosed with terminal colon cancer four years ago, Celeste said he knows his time is limited. What he really seeks now, he said, is to complete a Bible translation on which he has been working for some time.
Celeste is no stranger to controversy.
He began fighting for gun rights and other conservative issues more than three decades ago, rarely feeling bad about some of the barbs tossed his way by his critics. Those barbs do not get to Celeste because his beliefs are rooted in the Bible and his love for America’s freedom and Republican government.
In his view, he said, “I have said nothing controversial.”
The schools, on the other hand, have much to defend, in Celeste’s opinion.
Take dinosaurs, for example.
Celeste said it has been only about 6,450 years since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, a place where people and animals lived in innocence and togetherness.
So when books and teachers in schools say that dinosaurs lived “millions and millions of years ago,” Celeste is more than just dubious. He is outraged.
“What that is saying is that God lied,” Celeste said.
They are telling Christian children, he said, that what they learn at church is wrong.
Celeste said they ignore the historical fact that dinosaurs were still flying around “out West” when cowboys first ventured out toward the Rocky Mountains, something that scientists say is not true.
Celeste said Christian parents ought to teach their children at home or send them to a church school, although he is open to letting them take specific classes in public schools on subjects, such as chemistry or vocational training, that do provide “lies” meant to undermine faith.
Celeste blames public education for much of what he does not like about society today.
“Where are they taught guns are bad and abortions are good?” he asked.
The answer, he said: public classrooms.
It is tough to be a Christians these days, according to Celeste.
For example, there are a lot of 14-year-old girls wearing clothing that is “too provocative,” creating temptation for men.
“Why do girls want to make me want to commit adultery?” Celeste asked.
He then joked that even if one of those girls pranced naked between him and the television, he is so old and sick that he would just tell her to get out of the way.
With Celeste’s departure, Harrison town officials can fill his seat until the next town election, when voters will select the person who will serve out his term until 2019.
Robert Celeste (Advertiser Democrat file photo)