Friday, December 21, 2018

Never miss an opportunity: The extraordinary life of middle school teacher Lee LeRoy

Having fun with life was a part of what Lee LeRoy was about. Here she is on the right with fellow teachers Gwen Roberts, AJ Ruth and David Elder as they dressed up for 80s day.
By Lorraine Glowczak

“Beach~Bum,” was the title of the poem. “Little did she know that it was her last cup of coffee. She packed her school bag, grabbed her purse and headed out for the day. Her day went on as usual, spreading love, laughter, kindness and joy.”

This was the first stanza of a poetic tribute for Windham Middle School (WMS) Health Teacher, Lee LeRoy by fellow WMS teacher and friend, Emily Stokes. LeRoy passed away unexpectedly at her home in Portland on Thursday, December 13. She was 59 years old and could run circles of joy around the most enthusiastic among us.

Anyone who exits this world too soon leaves a deep chasm for those left behind, and Mrs. LeRoy was no exception. Or, perhaps she was a very special exception who was loved by many and whose lives were impacted by her presence in many positive ways.
“She would always stand at the end of the hallway every morning to greet the students with laughter and compassion,” stated AJ Ruth, WMS math and science teacher. “It was as if she was a bright and shining presence who greeted us every day, always taking the time to have a conversation during a busy day in the most sincere and kindhearted way.”

“And, she would stop an adult conversation, to listen to what a student had to say,” added long time friend and fellow WMS teacher, Gwen Roberts.

It seems her brilliant light that spread love, laughter, kindness and joy was LeRoy’s calling and purpose for which she was put on earth. She filled that mission in her roles as a friend, teacher, mentor, wife and mother. She lived her life’s calling with exuberance, never missing an opportunity to be a part of others’ lives – embracing everyone she knew.

 “Laughter, camaraderie and honest involvement with everyone is what Lee was about,” stated Roberts. “Lee was sort of a gatherer of people from every area of her life - because she valued people. Spending time and having fun with family and friends was very important to her.”

Some of LeRoy’s favorite ways to spend time with others was by going to the beach, golfing on Tuesdays, participating in competitive and fundraising events such as Tri for a Cure and having pool parties at her home. In every circumstance, LeRoy was always celebrating life.

Lee LeRoy
And flip flops. She loved flip flops. “She had every variety of L.L Bean flip flop and she wore a different pair every day as long as the season would let her. She also loved her clothes from Talbot. I don't know if Lee had more Talbot sweater sets or L.L. bean flip flops, but this I do know, she is the only person who could put them both together and make it work," Roberts said with the kind of laughter that gives a break from grief.

The only thing that may have been more important to LeRoy than flip flops was her dedication to health education. “Lee was devoted to teaching students how to make healthy choices,” stated WMS Assistant Principal, Kim McBride.

Last spring, LeRoy worked with colleagues Roberts, Ruth and Doug Elder to develop a creative, hands-on, and interactive project-based learning opportunity for the seventh and eighth grade students. The students spent months learning about the dangers of opiate use. They researched information to use for video public service announcements, newspaper articles, and science projects on the dangers of opiates and their effects on the brain. Students found inspiration in the movie “Back to the Future” and used it as an analogy, giving rise to the theme “Taking Back Maine’s Future.” Students learned that depending on the decisions you make in using opiates, your future can be healthy or tragic.

The final portion of the educational project ended by inviting the public to share what the students learned. According to the press release written by Laura Morris, director of Be The Influence, “The event was complete with an actual DeLorean car parked out front. Ushers escorted attendees into the Windham Middle School cafeteria where one future was set up in the dark, with trash around and featured students with their news articles on the tragic future ahead if the opioid crisis continues. The other future was well lit and featured students with news articles on how bright the future will be if we combat the opioid crisis in Maine.”

https://www.egcu.orgMorris was so impressed with the project that she submitted it to the national CADCA (Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America) organization. Out of the many national educational drug prevention projects submitted, “Taking Back Maine’s Future” was selected and will be featured at the 2019 National Leadership Forum in Washington D.C. in February. LeRoy and Ruth were going together to present the project.

“Last Wednesday, we were talking about our trip and the poster presentation,” Ruth reflected. “Lee and I were giddy and excited to be traveling together. But now, I will be traveling without her and will present the project alone – the project she initiated.”

Every person LeRoy touched will remember her in their own way and each taking from her, wisdom she left behind. But Vice-Principal McBride captured the greatest lessons she taught and reflect what so many found endearing about LeRoy: “Enjoy life to the fullest. Stay in touch with friends. Spend time with family. And, never miss an opportunity.”

And perhaps, Stokes portrayed the feeling experienced by so many toward the end of her heartfelt tribute to LeRoy, “The dismissal bell rang, and she watched hundreds flee the building at high speed rates. ‘See you tomorrow!’ came with a smile. Little did she know she had taught her last lesson and had said her last good-byes. Little did she know this would be her final walk down the hall.”

“Little did she know her dash would soon be followed by a number. She knew how to live her dash. She laughed, she celebrated, she loved, but most of all, she smiled.”

Santa mailbox adds a touch of magic to Windham neighborhood

4 year-old, Harper Maxfield, sends a letter to Santa
By Elizabeth Richards

Sometimes, Santa needs a little help gathering stories. Windham residents, Joanne Mattiace and Maggie Terry, have set up a festive holiday display outside their home, complete with a mailbox to collect letters for Santa.

The couple encourages children to write letters telling Santa what Christmas means to them. Children who have dropped off letters have received a couple of small presents, an ornament, and a letter from Santa in return. 

Town Councilor Jarrod Maxfield lives in the neighborhood and said his four-year-old daughter, Harper, “couldn’t have been more excited when we walked through the neighborhood to see the display and Santa mailbox.”  She was also very excited to receive a response from Santa, though she was worried that she hadn’t put cookies out until she was reassured that Santa would be back, Maxfield said.

The Santa mailbox is something new for Mattiace and Terry this year. The idea came spontaneously, Mattiace said, when she and Terry were at the Christmas Tree Shop. “We saw this great mailbox and thought ‘let’s decorate it and ask the kids for their letters,” she said.

The display draws people out in the neighborhood, especially at night when it’s all lit up. “It’s a nice thing for the neighborhood to bring people together,” Maxfield said.

Although giving Santa a helping hand is new to the pair, charitable giving is not.  We’ve done a lot of charitable events at Christmas time,” Mattiace said. Each year the products attorney reaches out to clients for product donations. “They almost all come through for us,” she said.  Clients donate many household items, like blankets, comforters, sheets and pillows, as well as personal items. This year, Samsonite donated 120 backpacks. So, they reached out to other clients for things like toiletries, gloves or mittens, and hats, and donated the stuffed backpacks to the Preble Street Resource Center and the women’s crisis center.

When Mattiace and Terry began their holiday giving projects, they focused on the women’s crisis center. The first year they put some products under the tree for the women and their children. Over time, they collected enough donations to give things to the center to hold for women so that when they found a new place to live, they had some things to get them started.  Then Samsonite donated backpacks, and the charitable giving was extended to Preble Street.  “This year, we had so many additional donations of cash and checks from our family and friends that we extended the donation to the Windham Food Pantry,” Mattiace said.

Her clients respond eagerly to her requests for donations, and this year over $7000 worth of products went out, Mattiace said.  She added that they only donate to 501c3 organizations and tell clients that they can provide tax documentation if requested. “In the eleven years we’ve done this, one company, one time, has asked us for documentation. These companies are doing it because we ask them to, not because they want a write off,” she said.

Next year, Mattiace said they plan to expand their giving to Westbrook, after a recent visit to that city reminded them that there are some organizations there who also need some help. When she retires, in the next year or so, Mattiace said she hopes to start a foundation that will reach out to at-risk teens, children, and residents of nursing homes.

“I really think that Maggie and I have focused on charitable giving at Christmas time because we adopted a young boy years ago…and Christmas has meant a lot to him,” Mattiace said.  “Everybody needs a little holiday cheer, whether you’re Christian or Jewish or whatever, whether you’re old or young, straight or gay. We all just need to be a little kinder to each other,” she said.

Friday, December 14, 2018

There’s a new face at the Windham Public Library

Sam Cote with a few of her new friends
By Jennifer Davis

There was a big welcome this past Thursday, December 6 at the Windham Public Library (WPL) as staff and residents formally welcomed Sam Cote as the new children’s librarian. With popcorn and cookies, brownies and juice, the conference room was filled with many excited community members. The welcome party was a success and a fun way to introduce Ms. Cote to all the library patrons.
Cote was hired as the children’s librarian this past October, following the retirement of Mrs. Laurel Parker who had been the children’s librarian for 25 years.

Liam and Fiona Shaw, along with their mother Liz, were among many who came to greet and welcome Cote. “It’s great,” five-year-old Liam said of the party as he played with plastic dinosaurs that were on display with pictures from the recent Dinovember event.

Cote, who grew up in Saco and was an avid reader from a very young age, is excited about this opportunity and the staff and community members are looking forward to working together with her at WPL.  Cote joins the library from Winslow, where she was the Youth Services and Technology Librarian.  “I have always loved books,” Ms. Cote said.  “But it didn’t occur to me until college to become a librarian.” 

Cote began her path to becoming a librarian during a work study program at Smith College where she majored in Women’s Studies and Public Policy.  Originally thinking she would work at a nonprofit dealing with issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, her time working in the work study program led her in a direction. “I found that my talents work better in the library world,” Cote said.  “So, I completed my Masters of Science degree online through the University of South Carolina while I worked full-time.”

Since graduating Cote has had time working at Baxter Memorial Library in Gorham, McArthur Library in Biddeford, and Jackson Memorial Library in Tenants Harbor in various roles, all leading her to the role she is most passionate about: children’s library services. Cote has many hopes and dreams for the Windham Public Library.  “It’s great to see so many families already using the library on a regular basis,” Cote said. “I look forward to coordinating family programs with our adult services department, as well as groups like Windham Parks and Recreation, Windham’s schools, preschools, daycares, and Be the Influence.” 

This month, the library has two programs taking place during vacation that Cote and the staff have been working on. One event will be aimed towards older kids making snowflakes and slime and the other will be geared towards families, opening an opportunity for younger children to participate in welcoming in the New Year with a “Noon” Year’s Eve celebration. 

Some events that the library is currently working on are programs for fourth through sixth graders such as a Lego Club and crafting session. With her love for music, Cote hopes to bring programs that include dancing and singing to supplement future story time events. “I would love to continue the great work Mrs. Parker did and put my spin on it,” stated Cote. 

The library just wrapped up Dinovember, where plastic dinosaurs caused mischief in the library and are currently working on the Wishing on a Star display.  “I love seeing families work together on filling out their feather or star and having a conversation about their wishes,” said Cote.  “I look forward to getting to know Windham better and making the library an even better place to come and visit.”

Cote got married in September and her husband works for the Maine State Library in Augusta.  Although she does not have any pets currently, she hopes to have cats and dogs in the future.  She has a love for music and dancing and plays the clarinet.

You never know where the path of life will take you, but you always end right where you need to be. If you are interested in meeting Ms. Cote, you can find her most days the library is open in the children’s library section. Stop by to say hello and welcome her to the community. As Dr. Seuss said in the book “Oh the Places You’ll Go. Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away.”

For whom the bell tolls: Windham’s first church congregation turns 275

By Lorraine Glowczak

Those who live or work on Windham Center Road near the intersection of Pope Road may hear a lot of ringing in their ears on Friday, December 14 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. If this is the case for you, be reassured that you most likely do not have tinnitus (serious case of ringing or buzzing in the ear). What you will be experiencing, instead, is the chime of the church bell from the belfry of Windham Hill United Church of Christ (WHUCC) as they celebrate their 275th anniversary.

“We will begin ringing the bell 23 times at 9 a.m. this Friday,” began WHUCC Historian, Laurel Parker. “And we will continue to ring the bell 23 times on the top of the hour every hour until 8 p.m., at which time the bell will ring 22 times – adding up to a total of 275 rings.” to a press release submitted to and published in The Windham Eagle in June 2014, WHUCC, presently located at 140 Windham Center Road, has historical significance to the Town of Windham as it was the founding church for the town. In New England, during the 17th and 18th century, the law mandated that states enforce religious devotion. All towns were required to establish a church and support a minister by levying taxes. Over the next century, the congregation met in a few different locations throughout the Windham area. In 1834, the church that now stands in its present location was constructed and has remained there over the last two centuries. 

When that church was built, it gained a bell that also contains historical significance. “It [the bell] has been a part of our church since it was built in 1834-35,” explained Pastor of WHUCC, Sally Colegrove, in a previous interview. “The bell comes from a foundry in the Boston area out of one of the workshops of Paul Revere. The bell rings every Sunday but is also rung on special occasions for the community with the hope of peace. It was rung at the end of the Civil War, World War I, World War II and on 9/11.”

Parker further explained that whenever there is a call to ring bells across America for other momentous and time-honored events, the bell at WHUCC will always be heard ringing in unison with other bells across the nation. “Of course, the bell always rings every Sunday morning at 9:20 for the call to worship,” Parker said, referring to the 9:30 a.m. weekly service.

The Windham Eagle newspaper’s very own historian and writer, Walter Lunt, offered a bit of background history on Windham’s first church in his bi-weekly history series that was published in the March 24, 2017 edition.

“Windham Congregational Church [as it was named at the time] has occupied at least three separate locations, all on high points of land. Whether for protection, circumstance or perhaps a closer talk with thee, the church buildings were constructed on two separate hills (each named Anderson) and on Windham Hill……. local historians record the full or partial construction of no fewer than five churches between 1743 and 1834. In addition to their pioneering spirit, Windham’s early settlers needed certain essentials to achieve their goal of carving a prosperous township out of a barren wilderness: shelter, food, clothing and (yes, an essential) spiritual nourishment.”

Lunt also stated, “Attempts to construct a church atop Anderson Hill, off present-day River Road, were hindered by hostilities related to the French and Indian Wars. The partially framed edifice was torn down and the timbers used to help construct a fort to protect the early families. Under the pastoral guidance of Rev. John Wight, a 1729 graduate of Harvard College and the township’s first minister, the first services were conducted inside the fort. Early records indicate Rev. Wight was highly respected and remembered for his dedication and loyalty to the needs of the infant settlement - a devotion that impaired his health. Wight died in the fort, leaving behind a congregation that grew from seven to 25 members during his tenure.”

Approximately 200 members strong today with Rev. Colegrove at the helm for the past 15 years, the congregation officially changed its name from The First Congregational Church of Windham to what we know it today as Windham Hill United Church of Christ in January 1972.

With such a rich Windham heritage and history, the ringing of the bell is a celebration that not all communities can own. “As I sit in the pews every Sunday morning, what amazes me the most as a historian is the fact that this congregation began before George Washington was President,” stated Parker.

WHUCC raises funds and participates in numerous social and charitable causes on local, national and worldwide levels. This includes support for the Windham food pantry, the free Monday Meals program for seniors and others, E-waste collection and the international Heifer Project, which distributes live animals to third-world countries – to name just a few organizations that benefit from their missionary outreach. a look back on the church’s history, the original clerk’s book of the congregation that began in 1743, is available online and can offer a valuable source. Visit:

“But you must always keep the original/paper source safe, if possible,” warned Parker. “Although we believe digital access will remain an obtainable resource forever – we must remember that we once thought of that with the floppy disk. Now, anything that has been placed on a floppy disk is not easily accessible.” 

As for the ringing of the bell on Friday, December 14, Parker joked that those in the congregation who have offered to ring the bell this Friday will face a certain challenge. “It’s a heavy bell and I’m certain those who will be pulling on the 1-inch thick rope for a very heavy bell with 23 or 22 repetitions will surely be exhausted when they are done.”

Happy Birthday, Windham Hill United Church of Christ. Thank you for providing the historical and spiritual roots to Windham. Based upon the rules of 17th century New England, the town would not be here without you.

Friday, December 7, 2018

The great outdoorsman: The amazing life of Dick Proenneke

Dick Proenneke at his cabin in 1985 (photo: NPS)
By Matt Pascarella

Richard “Dick” Proenneke was a true wilderness man. A member of the Navy, a carpenter, a diesel mechanic and a salmon fisherman are just some of the occupations Proenneke had over the course of his life. He built a cabin by hand with his own tools in Twin Lakes, Alaska where he would live separate from society for thirty years.

John Branson, a historian at Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska and the son of the noted country doctor of Windham – Dr. Sidney Branson, presented a program titled, “Dick Proenneke – One Man’s Wilderness, Twin Lakes, Alaska” on Monday, December 3 at the Little Meeting House in Windham. Branson examined Proenneke’s life before and during his 30-year residence in the Alaskan wilderness.

Proenneke enlisted in the United States Navy the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor and served as a ships carpenter. He spent close to two years at Pearl Harbor. He caught rheumatic fever while hiking after being stationed in San Francisco and was hospitalized for six months. By the time he was discharged in 1945 the war was over.

After his discharge from the Navy, Proenneke went to school in Portland, Oregon to become a diesel mechanic in 1949. He had a strong love of nature and while he was a very good mechanic, he later moved to Oregon to work at a sheep and cattle ranch. the early 1950s, Proenneke worked on the Naval Air Station as a heavy equipment operator and repairman in Kodiak, Alaska. He spent the next several years working throughout Alaska as a salmon fisherman and diesel mechanic. When friends of his took him to a cabin of theirs in Twin Lakes, Alaska in 1962, Proenneke enjoyed the connection the cabin brought to the wilderness. He continued making trips to this cabin until 1967.

In May of 1968, he began building his own cabin, and then retired to Twin Lakes, at the age of 51. He would live in solitude for the next 30 years.

In talking with Branson, who was his friend and a historian, he described Proenneke as an independent soul and operator, who eventually got tired of working with machines and wanted to live in the ‘back of beyond.’ This phrase coined by George Washington Sears, an early conservationist in the 19th century, meaning pure wilderness (mountains, glaciers, tundra); away from civilization.
Proenneke loved nature and didn’t want to disturb it. He was influenced by people (authors like Thoreau and individuals like Sears) but didn’t need to be around them. He kept his own council adds Branson, though he could be very sociable and personable. It was very important for Proenneke to live in harmony with nature.

The white spruce tree provided him with many of his needs; a dominant tree in Twin Lakes, he was able to use this tree for cabin logs, wood for his stove, handles for his tools as well as woodenware, which are utensils, such as spoons, made of wood

Proenneke was very competent with his tools, a skill he likely learned from his father who was a skilled carpenter and mechanic. He knew just how sharp to keep the tools so that they were most effective. Proenneke’s thirty years living in the wilderness, he kept very detailed journals as well as took photographs. According to Branson, after he had filled a journal, he would send that journal to friends in Anchorage and they would then send it to Proenneke’s brother, Raymond. After Proenneke’s death in 2003 at the age of 86, his journals, all 119 pounds of them, were donated to the National Parks Service. These journals have been turned into books that Branson has annotated covering the years 1967-1996. The books were donated to the Donellson, Iowa Public Library in Proenneke’s hometown; where there is a Richard Proenneke Museum. These books are sold through non-profit cooperating associations and proceeds go to support the museum.

Branson noted that he never knew anyone to document his life in his cabin as thoroughly as Pronneke did. Branson said he had to be thinking of posterity and his life for future generations. The cabin itself is quite valuable in that it touches people’s souls. Visitors have been known to weep while and after seeing it. Pronnenke had a message of personal freedom and to live the life you want, living simply and in harmony, within your means.

If you would like to read more about Proenneke’s life, Sam Keith, a friend of his who worked for the Fish and Wildlife Services and knew Proenneke from Kodiak, Alaska, wrote a book entitled, “One Man’s Wilderness” which was published in 1973 and is the start of Proenneke’s journey. There is also a two-part documentary currently airing on PBS called, “Alone in the Wilderness.”

Windham Chamber Singers: A family experience in more ways than one

By Lorraine Glowczak 

The Windham Performing Arts Center Auditorium was filled to the brim on Saturday, December 1 at 7:30 p.m. as most audience members returned to see the annual American Family Holiday tradition by enjoying the breathtaking music and performances of the internationally known Windham Chamber Singers. There was also a 2 p.m. performance. 

In its 31st year, AmFam - as the holiday tradition is lovingly referred, provides not only the beautiful melodies of the Chamber Singers by the esteemed conductor, Dr. Richard Nickerson, but also hosts many talented and well-known musicians and this year was no exception. guests included Merritt David Janes, an exceptionally talented Broadway performer and graduate from the University of Maine, along with Daniel Strange and Ashley Liberty. Strange, who has performed at Carnegie Hall and with many well-known musicians and Liberty, a violin playing extraordinaire, are no strangers to the Windham community as they return annually as performers with the Music with a Mission program. 

Special guest, Kim Block of News 13 who was scheduled as Master of Ceremonies and to read “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was unable to attend the event due to the death of President George H. W. Bush, a close personal friend. Former principal and Assistant Superintendent, Christopher Howell filled in to read the endearing Charlie Brown story at the 7:30 p.m. performance. Student, Nolan Cyr, was the guest of honor during the reading. 

The live concert of The Windham Chamber singers and their guests is an experience that must be captured in person, as there is no way to encapsulate in words the breathtaking musical sounds and do it justice. Therefore, the real story is about the singers themselves and what it takes to be a part of an extraordinary and talented musical group. 

Officers of the Windham Chamber Singers along with Dr. Nickerson, took a moment back stage
Merritt David Janes
before the evening’s performance to share their stories and the incredibly positive impact being a part of the group has had on their lives. 

Dr. Nickerson began by explaining that the singers do more than perform. “The students are also involved in selling ads and tickets and they make the sets you see on stage,” he said, naming just a few of the expectations. “This creates a sense of ownership.” 

Stage Manager, Gabe Ransom reiterated his conductor’s sentiments. “The performances and rehearsals keep us busy. As a director, mentor and friend; Dr. Nickerson pushes us to excel in the face of adversity.” 

All the singers concurred with Ransom, adding that they are still expected to achieve in other areas of life, school and to continue with their extra-curricular activities. “We don’t have a lot of extra time,” explained President, Annie Stevens. 

https://www.egcu.orgInstead of being daunted by their intense schedules, the Chamber Singers expressed the incredible feeling of family connection and community they experience. 

Secretary, Annika Johnston stated that since they all work so closely together she has acquired deep and lasting friendships. “Being a part of this group has developed in me a sense of pride and community and has helped me to meet and gain many new friends.” 

“When we go on tour together, we become so connected and close with one another, it’s as if we become a family,” stated Vice President, Maggi Bradford. “Even though we are all different in many ways, together we act as an equalizer for one another.” 

Angelyn Gentile, the Wardrobe Manager who is homeschooled, agreed with Johnston and Bradford, stating that her participation in the Windham Chamber Singers has become one of her favorite social activities. 

Asst. Superintendent Randy Crockett and Nolan Cyr
It seems that being a part of this group and the challenges as well as the incredible sense of family community has been a constant through the years. Nathaniel Bennett, a 1991 Windham High graduate and former Chamber Singer spoke of having similar experiences. “Dr. Nickerson – or Mr. Nickerson when I was in the Chamber - was definitely a taskmaster,” Bennett joked. “I think he has mellowed out since I was a part of the group. However, there was always a sense of proud community and a family feeling among us. It was as if we were a team. It was a great experience and I’m glad to have been a part of it.” 

Bennett’s daughter, Emma, who is a 14-year-old Windham/Raymond student, attended the event to watch in hopes to become a future Chamber Singer herself. “I want to become friends with others who like to sing and love music,” she said of her goal. Stevens was in the third grade when she saw the Chamber Singers perform for the first time. “I want to be a part of this group,” she remembers telling her mother at that performance. Her mother’s response was encouraging, telling her daughter that it was something she could accomplish but that she must practice and prepare for it. “Here I am,” Stevens stated. “I’m not only a member of the group but I’m also the president. It has come full circle.” 

What advice do Stevens and the other Chamber Singers have for students like Emma who hope to be a Chamber Singer one day? “Be a part of a choir and develop a deep passion for music,” Stevens advised. “Leadership experience is important too, so get involved in a number of organizations.” 
Ransom also offered this piece of advice. “You don’t necessarily have to be the best singer or have the best voice,” he began. “A positive and strong character matters just as much in the selection process.” 

Although performing is the ultimate goal, there is an unexpected occurrence of gaining depth of character and the richness of community if one is lucky to be a part of the Windham Chamber Singers along with a family connection that will be remembered and last for a life time. How could anyone ask for more than that? It is a true representation of what family is – and what the true meaning of Christmas is all about. 

Next year’s tickets for the 32nd Annual AmFam holiday concert will go on sale in October 2019. “Act fast,” Dr. Nickerson warned the audience. “Our special guest will be Norm Lewis and the tickets will sell quickly.”

Friday, November 30, 2018

Finding Kurdistan and a calling: How one trip changed a WHS graduate’s life and created a book

By Lorraine Glowczak

Except for the fact he was born in Iraq to Iranian parents from the Kurdistan region, Hawreh Haddadi, a 2013 Windham High School graduate, was a typical American teenager. Friends, lunch, study hall, chemistry and algebra classes, listening to music and homework were all experiences Haddadi took for granted. That is until the summer of 2010 when he was just finishing his first year of high school.

That summer, Haddadi, his mother, two sisters, and brother traveled to his parents’ homeland, visiting families in Iranian-Kurdistan for two months. It was an eye-opening experience.

Realizing how lucky he was, it changed the level of gratitude he felt to be an American. “Simple things such as getting an education, having a bus to take you to school and eating lunch in a warm and safe environment – all things I took for granted in my easy teenage American life are not every day experiences for many people in Iran,” Haddadi explained. “Getting an education and living in peace was something not everyone was guaranteed. I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was and how chance played a role in my life. I am very lucky to be here in America.” also discovered a calling upon his travel to his parents’ homeland he could not ignore – to be an advocate for the Kurdish people and all other minority groups who face persecution and discrimination. One step he has taken to inform others about the horrors experienced by the Kurdish people is through his recently published book, “Finding Kurdistan: A Kurdish Iranian American’s Journey Home”.

“It’s true that I had a general understanding of my parent’s life experiences in Kurdistan, but it wasn’t until I had first-hand knowledge of the culture and witnessed the horrors many face in Kurdistan on a daily basis that it became clear to me the amount of suffering and lack of freedom they encounter,” Haddadi said of his journey to his ancestral homeland. “When I returned, I questioned why the suffering experienced by my ancestors was not known in America. I asked myself, ‘We are taught about the genocide of Jews and the challenges faced by the Israelis but there is very little information about my Kurdish people and the genocide they face. Why is that?’ I answered by own question and I’m here to change all of that – by writing this book.”

Haddadi was born in 1995 in Iraq to an Iranian academic father who was a political and human rights activist and a mother who was a farmer. “Due to the continuous conflict in that region my parents decided to leave and find a new homeland. America was where they wanted to go. Coming to America was a dream come true. It was a difficult and scary journey getting here. My parents were constantly on the move. Even though we got accepted to come to America, the neighboring governments could have easily deported us back to Iran” Haddadi explained. “My father became involved in the 1979 Iranian Revolution and even afterwards was still politically active. No progress was being made and my parents decided they had to leave Iran for the security and well-being of the family. He knew his children would not succeed, or even possibly stay alive where he grew up. He applied for political asylum in America. They did what every other loving and protective parent would do. They did their very best to keep their children alive and provide a successful future for them.”
Hawreh Haddadi with his parents and older sister a few months prior to their departure to America

First the family went from Iran to Iraq before moving on to Turkey while waiting for all the paperwork to be finalized and to be officially accepted into America. It was in the late 1990’s, when they finally arrived to America and eventually became citizens, landing in Windham as their final destination.

“I can’t reiterate enough. If my parents hadn’t come to America, I would have had a completely different life….or no life at all. I am so lucky,” Haddadi stated.

Since luck and chance was on his side, he will do what he can to advocate for his Kurdish family and for the millions of Kurds who are unable to speak for themselves due to control by neighboring governments.

Hawreh Haddadi
But there is one downside to doing that. Since he wrote and published his book, the prospect of him returning to see his family in Kurdistan is highly unlikely. “If this book becomes known among the powers that be in Iran, I will not be able to enter that country,” Haddadi said. “I will be considered a threat. That’s the reason why my father couldn’t travel with us in 2010. He wasn’t allowed back in his own country due to his advocacy against the government. He was promoting democracy and freedom. But I’d rather sacrifice the opportunity to see my aunts, uncles and cousins again. I’d rather bring about awareness and educate the American people about the unfortunate situation of the Kurdish people. I believe this is my calling and I will work the rest of my life to help all people who have been marginalized and not given a fair opportunity at life.”

You can find Haddadi’s book on and find more information on his Facebook page. He is also working on speaking engagements as well as providing his book at local independent bookstores.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Windham/Raymond Boosters Club offer many benefits to volunteers and community

Volunteers experience fun, friendship and more!
By Lorraine Glowczak

Whether it’s the purchase of popcorn, hotdogs or fries at the Windham High School (WHS) concessions or an event that brings in well-known guest speakers such as sportscaster, Tom Caron, that encourages positive team experience– it is the Windham/Raymond Boosters Club that puts it all together effortlessly; or, so it may seem.

As many know who are involved in community-oriented organizations, it is the volunteers that make the events a success and the Boosters Club’s efforts to create confident student athletes is no different. An organization that promotes a community image to be proud of, the Windham/Raymond Boosters Club is seeking more volunteers to continue making the club, and the students it supports, a success.
Our goal is to help promote athletic excellence, to create a positive community image and to support competitive athletic programs,” explained volunteer member, Shelly Afthim “and, volunteers are essential to fulfill the Boosters’ Club mission.”

Although students have participated and volunteered in past fundraising events, a majority of Booster Club volunteers have always been parents. Since volunteer requirements for WHS students have changed recently with a focus on career discovery, volunteer participation has declined, making it difficult to work events and fundraisers.“When volunteer time was a requirement for students, working in any of our sponsored events was an easy way for them to get their hours,” explained volunteer member, Jennifer Kent. “The Boosters used to host an annual car show and all of the fall athletes were required to work the event, which helped out the Boosters, but also allowed the students to get their volunteer hours in. Due to the lack of volunteers and the fact that students no longer have this requirement, the Boosters have chosen not to host this annual event.”

According to RSU14 Athletic Director, Richard Drummond, the Boosters Club has been involved in supporting WHS student athletes for over 30 years.  “The Boosters are very proactive to help all programs in our district and communities,” explained Drummond. “It’s an organization that provides extra financial support that the athletic budget just cannot provide. What is great about this group is that it supports all sports. Many schools have individual booster clubs that support a specific sport and or gender. The Windham/Raymond booster club at our school is one club that supports all sports, all genders and shares funds equitably for all the programs. This a huge asset as it ensures all kids, teams and programs all have the same financial support and opportunities.”

The amount of time required to be a volunteer for the Windham Boosters Club in nominal, compared to many other volunteer organizations. “All that’s required is 32 hours per parent over four years,” Afthim said. That averages only eight hours per school year.

There are some benefits for both parents and students who choose to volunteer. “Student athletes that participate in one sport over 4 years of high school are eligible for an athletic cord which is presented at the Spring Awards Banquet and Cording Ceremony,” stated Kent. “Athletes that participate in two sports are eligible for two cords, and for those that participate in 3 sports over their 4 years of high school are eligible for 3 cords.  Parents that volunteer 32 hours for Booster sponsored events are able to present their student athlete with their cords during the cording ceremony.”

Fundraising events include the annual craft fair, concessions during sporting events, the yearly engraved bricks program as well as a food booth at Windham Summerfest. But fundraising isn’t the sole focus of the boosters’ club. They also offer an annual well-attended “Meet the Coaches Night” that was established over 10 years ago.
“’Meet the Coaches Night’ is a valuable night as you can hear from the coaches working with your children directly about the upcoming season in regard to rules, expectations and philosophy,” Drummond stated. “A positive athletic experience is all about communication, so this night has proven to be most beneficial. As the athletic director, we have been very fortunate to have the boosters support in this event because we have been given the opportunity to bring in high quality guest speakers from across the country that have been financially supported by the booster organization.”

The next “Meet the Coaches Night” is on Monday, November 26 at 7 p.m. and the club is excited to announce that the guest speaker for this year’s event is Tom Caron, a sportscaster and anchor for New England NESN and former sportscaster for WGME in Portland.  

The low number of volunteers makes it difficult to keep up the much needed programs and to support the student athletes in positive ways, helping them to grow into contributing members of society who know how to work well with others. “When the Boosters are unable to open the concession stand for either a high school event or a youth event being held at the high school because we don’t have enough volunteers, or we don’t have a manager available to be there,” explained Kent “ we miss an opportunity to earn money to support the athletic program at WHS, and thus an opportunity to support our students and the community.”

To inquire about volunteer efforts or to learn more regarding the Windham/Raymond Boosters Club, contact Jennifer Kent at

Adventures in Africa: The tale of a once-in-a-lifetime experience

By Lorraine Glowczak

When one travels to foreign lands, the thrill and excitement of meeting new people, experiencing a culture different than your own and viewing fresh landscapes, makes it almost impossible not to burst with joy and share the journey with others. Returning from a recent trip to Johannesburg, South Africa, Al and Julia Cheney were more than willing to share their once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will have everlasting impact on their lives.

Julia, although currently a resident of Lyman, is a 1964 Windham High graduate who remains involved in the Windham community. She and her husband, Al, never thought about or made South Africa a bucket-list travel destination. “We never would have gone there, but our son and family had moved to Johannesburg over a year ago and we wanted to visit them,” she explained.

Her son, Don Cheney, works for the NBA (National Basketball Association) and as part of an initiative to encourage more Africans to become involved in that sport, Don moved there to help build up African basketball teams. His wife and two sons moved with him and have made South Africa their home for now.

Julia Cheney being kissed by an elephant as her husband, Al looks on.
Although the major intent for Al and Julia’s travel to the southern tip of the country was to visit their son and his family, the Cheney’s also explored the area from the moment they arrived on October 11 until they left on October 23rd. “We crammed a lot of travel into 12 days,” Julia laughed.

Though it is true they thoroughly enjoyed visiting their son and family, the Cheneys admit that there
was a bit of excitement in exploring the game preserves, national parks, participating in multiple safaris and spending nights in a lodge in the middle of the preserves. Julia shared what it was like to stay and wake up in a natural African environment: “One morning as we were preparing to go on a safari, we opened the door to our lodge and right in front of us was a warthog grazing on grass about 6 feet away. And, one day, we could see elephants outside our window, along the fence of the compound, eating leaves from the trees. The whole experience was beyond imagination.”

Julia holding the lion cub
But the exciting encounters didn’t stop at the lodges. During one of the safari journeys the Cheneys: were charged by a black rhino, waited for 45 minutes as 137 elephants paraded across the road at their leisure, watched a five-month-old elephant huff, grunt and stomp his feet in an effort to intimidate and play with safari participants, saw duiker (a small deer) bound across the land and witnessed amazing African birds fly in the air and hop along the ground, all within close sight.

Seeing was only one portion of the adventure. Julia and Al also had opportunities to touch the animals native to the continent. “While visiting a lion park, I got to hold a lion cub,” Julia exclaimed. “It was the highlight of my trip.” And then she added as if her other highpoints were normal, everyday circumstances. “I also got to pet a full-grown cheetah, feed a giraffe, scratch the ear of an elephant and touch an elephant’s tail. Did you know that the tail of an elephant is much like a bristle brush,” she asked? “That’s exactly what it feels like,” Julia stated, astonished.

The natural environment and animals native to the African habitat were not the only things that made an impact upon the Cheneys. “People live and perceive life a bit differently there than here in Maine – or the U.S” Julia began.

She explained that there is a very distinct difference in economic and social status. “It is true that are economic differences in the U.S. but in South Africa it is distinctly different. You can be in a nice neighborhood, which includes extravagant homes in a gated community and then just a few miles away, you’ll see simple homes made with tin and wood leaning against each other. There is no running water, electricity or indoor toilets.”

The native language where Julia and Al visited is Zulu, “Like many other countries, South Africans are able to speak English. So, we could communicate with others easily. I did try to learn simple Zulu words, but it seemed you had to have the ‘correct’ accent and my Maine accent got in the way of speaking the words with accuracy,” Julia laughed.

Julia advises research and talking with others who have been in the area if South Africa is a future travel destination. As for herself and her husband, they are grateful they had their son and his family to guide them around. “I could never imagine going there by myself. However, it was an adventure of a lifetime and we are both happy to have that experience. We would definitely encourage a trip to Africa if it is an individual’s goal.”