Behold the bounty of Thanksgiving. These 10 individuals – known by their neighbors for their generous hearts and for their genuine commitment to improving the community around them – were chosen by the Portland Press Herald as embodying the spirit of the holiday.
Dusti Faucher, an activist with Friends of the Presumpscot River, smiles after a July 2007 announcement by Sappi paper company that it intended to remove the Cumberland Mills dam located at the mill in Westbrook. Faucher has taken the long view in her fight to restore one of the oldest industrial rivers in the United. States. John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
(FILE) Dusti Faucher at the Little Falls Dam on the Presumpscot River at the Gorham/Windham town line in 2003. Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
For two decades, the Windham activist has dedicated herself to ‘righting a wrong’ – returning the Presumpscot River watershed to its natural splendor.
Restoring a river is not an undertaking for someone looking for quick results. Fortunately for communities in the Presumpscot River watershed, Dusti Faucher takes the long view. For more than two decades, Faucher has been struggling to bring life back to one of the oldest industrial rivers in the United States. Along its 26-mile-long journey from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, the Presumpscot has more dams per mile than any other river in Maine. One of the dams, the Smelt Hill dam, was removed a decade ago, returning the lower section of the river to its natural state for the first time since the 1730s. Eight dams remain. Faucher was one of the early leaders of Friends of the Presumpscot River, a grassroots organization formed in 1992 to fight a proposed de-inking plant in South Windham. The group won that battle and then worked to restore migratory fish species. It persuaded federal regulators to require provisions for fish passage in new licenses for five hydroelectric dams. In a separate action, the group successfully petitioned the state to order fish passage at the Cumberland Mills Dam in Westbrook, a project that was completed last spring. The group is now seeking to assure the best possible fish passage for the Saccarappa Falls dam, a project that is scheduled to be done in 2015. Two decades ago, Faucher says, people didn’t see much potential for the river, which was used to convey industrial waste and sewage to the sea. Today, the city of Westbrook has embraced the river as a centerpiece of its downtown redevelopment efforts. Other than raising two children, working to restore the Presumpscot is the most important work she’s done in her life, Faucher says. “It feels like righting a wrong that began 200 years ago and leaving something very tangible behind that’s bigger than me,” she says. Faucher, 68, lives in the winter in Florida with her husband, Ron Faucher, who six years ago retired from the Portland Water District, where he worked for years protecting the water quality of Sebago Lake. Every summer, though, the couple return to Windham and live in a camper at Dundee Park, a 20-acre recreational area on the Presumpscot River. The couple co-manage the park, which has a popular beach. “It’s wonderful to be back on the river and see all the wildlife,” she says. “It becomes full circle.”
Dahlav Ipcar, 96, photographed in her Georgetown studio - Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
A cultural treasure pursues fresh ideas in her paintings.
Dahlov Ipcar, 96, is considered a cultural treasure of Maine. A painter and author, beloved for her kaleidoscopic renderings of animals and a long history of richly illustrated books for children, is one of the last links to the early days of Maine art. She has a deep Maine-art family pedigree, a work ethic that hasn’t weakened and an imagination that remains alive and full of color. Ipcar, who lives in Georgetown, celebrated her 96th birthday this month by opening an exhibition of new work at a Freeport Gallery. “I just let my inner image-finder do its thing this year without any planning,” she said. “I finished a picture, and just as I finished it, I said, ‘What do I do next?’ Whatever appeared on the screen in my mind, I did that. I’ve always had a free-wheeling imagination, but I feel I have come up with some – odd is not the word – but some unusual images this time.” The exhibition, at Frost Gully Gallery, includes 20 new paintings completed just within the past two years. Ipcar is the daughter of the Maine artists William and Marguerite Zorach. She grew up in Manhattan, and moved to Maine as a newly married young woman in 1937. She lives on the family farm that she has called home for 76 years. She has been both a mentor and an influence on generations of artists because of her discipline and commitment to new work, said gallery owner Tom Crotty. Ipcar appreciates Maine’s changing seasons, and looks forward to winter. “I don’t mind the cold,” she said. Ipcar long ago stopped trying to paint the Maine landscape, because it’s just too pretty. She rises at 5 or 6 a.m. most days, paints for an hour or two and then goes on with the business of her day. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish in an hour or two,” she said. She wants to keep painting “as long as I have eyes. I am pretty near the end, you might say. I still have ideas. I don’t have ideas for writing anymore, but I seem to have endless ideas for painting.”
Chief Deputy William King of the York County Sheriff’s Office works with seniors to help them avoid financial scams and identity theft. - Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer
‘Outraged’ by those who prey on the most vulnerable, the York County Sheriff Department’s Chief Deputy uses the power of his office to protect elderly Mainers from scams.
William King, the chief deputy of the York County Sheriff’s Office, has visited senior centers from Kittery to Belfast to warn elders about the risk of scammers calling with promises of lottery winnings or sweepstakes prizes. Despite protests from seniors that they would never fall for such scams, King explains the reality: Federal officials estimate that Jamaican lottery scam artists steal $300 million a year, primarily from senior citizens in the United States, including seniors in Maine. “It’s taken away people’s sanity and well-being,” King said. “It makes self-sufficient seniors no longer self-sufficient. The stress causes financial, medical and emotional problems.” King, 60, got involved in protecting seniors from scammers after learning about a woman in Arundel who lost about $100,000 through a lottery swindle. An investigation traced the victim’s money to Jamaica. “I was outraged. It affects the most vulnerable of our population – seniors,” King said. “Often due to mild cognitive impairment, these seniors are making decisions they wouldn’t make in their younger years.” King has testified before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. He also joined with officials from FairPoint Communications, which delivers voice and data communications, at a forum in New Kingston, Jamaica, about strategies to combat the scam. King also has been asked to train other Maine police officers on how to notice the signs of elder scams, prevent such problems from happening and how to pursue cases if a scammer succeeds in exploiting an elder. King is now developing a public service announcement with the message of “Just Hang Up” to urge seniors to hang up the phone on unsolicited callers, especially strangers who are promising lottery winnings or sweepstakes prizes. “I feel like I’ve helped a lot of people,” King said. “I feel like I did well in getting the word out.”
The Rev. Kevin Martin outside the new Catholic church in his northern Maine parish. The church will open its doors to his congregation 10 days before Christmas. - Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
The Rev. Kevin Martin says Mass at the American Legion Hall in Jackman last Sunday morning. - Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer
A priest helps raise a church, marking a new chapter for the town’s faithful.
Many of the faithful at St. Anthony’s Parish in Jackman remember the painful razing in November 2009 of the 800-seat granite church that had stood in the tiny town for more than a century. They remember when a vandal tied a chain around a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus a year later, hitched the statue to a vehicle and dragged it down the road. Now, after four long years worshiping in a makeshift sanctuary at the American Legion Hall, the Rev. Kevin Martin and his flock will soon have a new church to call home. Since he was appointed in August 2012 to minister at St. Anthony’s Parish, much of Martin’s duties have included managing the construction project. On Dec. 15, the new Catholic church will open where its predecessor stood, named after the Polish Saint Faustina Kowalska. “I really feel that a lot of people are relieved,” said Martin, 43, a native of Caribou. “They’re grateful. It will certainly be a very emotional experience for all of us.” The $500,000 project will require a $200,000 mortgage, but lowers recurring costs for the diocese and ushers in a new era for the long-standing Catholic congregation in the community. The new building is not as large as the one it’s replacing – 150 seats, with some capacity for overflow – but it represents a rekindling of the faith at a time when many other parishes have closed or been absorbed and combined with other parishes in recent years, Martin said. The diocese expects to save about $16,000 annually in heating costs alone. All of the church’s statues have also been restored and refurbished, including the vandalized Jesus, which was given a fresh coat of gold leaf and was remounted to its pedestal just this week. “I’m certainly very hopeful and optimistic we can rekindle faith on the part of our Catholic households,” Martin said. “We have hope that people can see the value of joining our family again.”
Chief Warrant Officer Mike McGovern, seen here at home in Eddington last week, recently returned home from his second tour in Afghanistan. The military pilot has also done tours of duty in Iraq and Bosnia. - Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
An aviator keeps his eye on overseas troops, trying to keep them safe.
When American soldiers in Afghanistan are moving through dangerous territory, they have friends in the skies watching over them. These guardian angels scan the surrounding areas for enemy positions, activity and movement, relaying that vital intelligence to troops on the ground. One such person is Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mike McGovern of Eddington, who recently returned from his second tour in Afghanistan. He also has done tours of duty in Iraq and Bosnia. McGovern’s job in Afghanistan was to pilot a Beechcraft Super King Air twin-turboprop aircraft high above the ground forces, performing surveillance and reconaissance missions. It’s an important job that McGovern, a longtime aviator and former airline pilot, is proud to do. “We definitely help keep people alive by doing this,” he said. “The troops love us – it’s a great asset to them.” Although McGovern is in the U.S. Army National Guard, he has been on active duty since 2007 and plans to continue being a military pilot as his full-time job. It’s not always easy. In Afghanistan, he said, life was highly structured and repetitive, and the base where he lived frequently was under fire from enemy rockets. Unless they were engaged in a mission, the troops usually remained inside their rocket-proof barracks, McGovern said. “It’s almost like living in prison, really,” he said. When he isn’t deployed overseas, McGovern charters a small plane in Maine for the Operational Support Airlift Command. He has transported soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, senators, governors and other officials for the military. “I’ve flown Gov. (John) Baldacci two or three times,” he said. Although he doesn’t like having to spend long stretches of time away from his family, McGovern said being a military pilot is a worthwhile profession. “Other than the deployments, it’s a pretty good job,” he said.
Bil Moriarty, aka Santa Bil, takes a carload of toys from a collection site at the Harold Alfond Forum on the University of New England campus in Biddeford Pool earlier this month. - Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
A Biddeford man makes sure youngsters don’t go without at Christmas.
Santa Bil does what he does simply because he likes it. “Santa Bil” Moriarty – known for giving Christmas gifts to low-income children – runs Santa Bil’s Workshop, a small nonprofit. Santa Bil’s Workshop provides gifts and decorations to families across York County and, starting this year, in Portland. Last year, gifts went to 507 children whose parents don’t qualify for help from larger programs. This year Santa Bil expects to help 700 children. “Nobody should go without a Christmas or holiday,” Moriarty said. “It’s insane to think that happens, but we know it does. I was that kid.” Moriarty, 38, grew up in Portland, the only child of a single mother who worked three jobs. “I knew it was a struggle for my mom. She did her best to make sure I had a Christmas, but there were some years it was a couple stocking stuffers and a toy,” Moriarty said. “But I knew kids who were poorer than we were. They didn’t get toys, they didn’t have Christmas trees.” Moriarty, a father of three, started the project when he met Charlotte Bourgault, who ran the In-A-Pinch non-food pantry and started the toy giveaway. Seven years ago, Moriarty was fresh out of rehab and new to Biddeford. “She told me I needed to work hard and help as many people as I can,” Moriarty said. “It was something I put my heart and soul into.” Bourgault died as Moriarty prepared for the third toy giveaway in 2009. The loss, coupled with a decision by In-A-Pinch to no longer hold the program, was heartbreaking, but also strengthened Moriarty’s resolve to keep Santa Bil’s Workshop going. “I always knew his heart was in the right place,” said Mayor Alan Casavant. “Because of his love of kids and his love of community, he now has a solid program that does good work.” Last year, the program raised $2,000 and collected donations of toys, decorations and cash. This year, Moriarty set a fundraising goal of $2,500. He has been collecting toys for weeks and will hold a “stuff the bus” event at Market Basket on Saturday. Moriarty said it has been his dream to bring Santa Bil’s Workshop to Portland. “Now I get to go back there and give back to a town that took care of me,” he said. For more information, visit www.santabil.org.
Conor Quinn, a professor of linguistics at the University of Southern Maine, is using grant funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve the endangered language of the Penobscot Nation of Maine. - John Ewing / Staff Photographer
At the University of Southern Maine, a linguist helps preserve a vital cultural window.
Conor McDonough Quinn can’t save a language. No one person can, he said. That responsibility lies with an entire speech community. But Quinn, a Portland native who has degrees from not one but two Ivy League schools, is trying to make it easier for one American Indian tribe in Maine to preserve their language. Earlier this year, the University of Maine, the Penobscot Nation and the American Philosophical Society received a joint grant of $340,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Their goal? To create a comprehensive Penobscot dictionary that would be the first of its kind ever published. Quinn will oversee its creation. He has no ties to the Penobscot, other than an interest in language, but Quinn said the importance of preserving languages is vital. “All it takes is one turn of the generational wheel to lose,” he said last week from his third-floor apartment on Munjoy Hill. The Penobscot Nation, based on Indian Island just north of Bangor, is one of four tribes native to Maine. Quinn has worked with each tribe in one capacity or another. One of the biggest reasons that American Indian languages are in peril is shame, he said. Children used to be shamed, even physically, and discouraged from using their native language in school. Now, the shame is among the young people who have lose the ability to communicate with their parents or grandparents in their native language. Quinn hopes his project reverses that trend. Language, he said, is the biggest window to culture. The benefits are incalculable. “I can say from having the privilege of learning (other languages), you never see the world the same way again,” he said.
Erin Reed, the development director at the nonprofit Trinity Jubilee Center in Lewiston, came to the aid of many of her friends and former neighbors after a spate of devastating fires in Lewiston this year. - John Patriquin / Staff Photographer
Calling herself ‘luckier than a lot of people in this world,’ a social worker helps neighbors who lost everything after a string of fires.
When the first of Lewiston’s three massive downtown blazes struck on April 29, Erin Reed got the word to go outside in a phone call from her boss. Flames were spreading to the building where she had recently lived for four years. “I stood there with everyone and watched it burn,” said Reed, 27, who had moved out of 76 Pine St. just months before in 2012. If she hadn’t moved, she would have lost everything she owned, like the 75 people who had once been her neighbors, and who were displaced that day by the fire that destroyed three apartment buildings. Everything they owned went up in flames: furniture, clothing, personal items ... even pets. In the days that followed that first fire, two more were set on nearby streets, destroying six more buildings. The total number of people who were displaced rose to more than 200, most of them refugees from countries in Africa. Reed, a staff member at Trinity Jubilee Center, a social services agency, knew many of them already – either because she was once their neighbor or because many of them were already Jubilee Center clients. Reed’s former landlord, Adilah Muhammad, came into the center the day after the first fire to find some of her tenants. “We hugged,” Reed said. While multiple agencies were handling the relief efforts, many people came to the Jubilee Center instead because they were familiar with the people who had always been there to help them in the past. “People started to come in to ask for help,” Reed said. “The families had nothing, and they knew donations were out there somewhere.” Without duplicating other efforts that were going on, the Jubilee Center found a role for itself linking the displaced and those who could help fill their needs. Reed guesses she has made between 300 to 400 phone calls connecting people with donated furniture, clothes and household goods. “As soon as someone knew they had an apartment, we would contact the warehouse,” Reed said. “They thought they were going to have to start over with nothing, so they were very grateful.” Reed began volunteering at the Jubilee Center in 2004, as a freshman at Bates College. She became a full-time staff member at the center in 2010. The extra work after the fires seemed like “the least I can do.” “I have a stable family, I’m healthy, I have a good job and enough to eat,” Reed said. “I’m luckier than a lot of people in this world.”
James Tranchemontagne, owner of the Frog & Turtle restaurant in Westbrook, shows Brittany Bean, 17, of Windham, how to slice onions while preparing a meal for as many as 40 kids at My Place Teen Center earlier this month. “I can’t image not being part of it,” Tranchemontagne says of the teen center. - Gabe Souza/ Staff Photographer
Cooking up food, raising funds and contributing creatively, the chef gives Westbrook’s young people a taste of a better life.
Cell phones are off. Dinner is ready. It’s Thursday evening at My Place Teen Center in Westbrook. Every week, this is the time set aside for giving thanks. “It’s probably my favorite thing,” said James Tranchemontagne, owner of the nearby Frog & Turtle restaurant, who started the tradition of going around the table and offering gratitude before the weekly meal he prepares for some 40 at-risk kids. Tranchemontagne, 39, first got involved with the teen center about five years ago when he was asked to serve on its board of directors. “I always felt like I should be more one-on-one with the kids, rather than sit there and review their financials,” he said. So, after a couple of years, he stepped down from the board and stepped up his hands-on involvement. Aside from preparing dinner once week – anything from tacos to Thai food – Tranchemontagne teaches six-week cooking courses for kids at the center who are interested in the industry. He’s about to start a new monthly ritual in which a handful of teens who have been particularly well-behaved will get to come to the restaurant for burgers with Tranchemontagne, his treat. He’s also adept at getting other people to give to the center. For one month a year, his restaurant offers a four-course custom dinner with wine pairings for four people, in exchange for a $300 donation to the teen center. That raised more than $5,000 this year. Every winter, he opens his restaurant for pictures with Santa, a fundraiser to offset the center’s fuel costs, with him providing the homemade doughnuts. His restaurant also hosts an annual cocktail party and auction to raise money. In return for his work, Tranchemontagne gets to witness the transformation of the teens, many of whom come to the center with a chip on their shoulder, into motivated young adults. “It’s just magic through those doors,” he said. “I can’t imagine not being part of it.”
Katie Wallace delivers snacks to the East End Community School in Portland last week. It’s not charity, says the parent volunteer; “It’s about community.” - Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer
One hungry child led the parent volunteer to a project to feed a whole school.
Afew years ago, parent volunteer Katie Wallace saw a hungry child in her daughter’s kindergarten class. The next week, she was back with two dozen muffins and a crate of clementines, offering food to any child who didn’t have snacks from home. “It was excruciating to witness the handful of children watch their friends eat while they went without,” Wallace said about what inspired her to create a snack pantry at East End Community School in Portland. “I only had to see that once.” Today, that armful of food has become a cornucopia, providing snacks regularly to more than 100 needy students at school, and allowing 50 students to take home bags of food every week to feed their families. When the food program started in 2010, Wallace, a waitress, paid for the food out of her own pocket, supplemented by donations from some of her regular customers who heard about what she was doing. The school already provided free and reduced lunch to more than 80 percent of the students, and had a pilot program serving breakfast to all takers. A grant provided fresh fruit and vegetable snacks three days a week. So Wallace started providing snacks to the needy students the other two days a week. She maintained the program for more than two years before a grant from the Good Shepherd Food Bank helped create an official food pantry at the school. As word spread, some people donated money directly to the school and a parent donated a refrigerator. Wallace now makes a weekly trek to the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Biddeford, loads up on food, and then spends hours stocking the shelves in the school pantry, packing up bags for students to take home and delivering the bags to students. Wallace says she has been the student in many ways. “When you take the time to just sit and be with children, and when you feed them, a funny thing happens; they start to trust you. And when they start to trust you, they start to tell you things,” Wallace said. What she learned, through their stories, was that her daughter’s best friend was homeless, that some students ate only at school, and that some only had one outfit to wear all week. And that was just in her daughter’s classroom. “It haunts me to know there are 24 more rooms all filled with children and each (has) their own story,” Wallace said. This week, she delivered 36 frozen turkeys to student families. “Some people would think about it as charity, but it’s not. It’s about community,” Wallace said. “I know these people. Delivering food to families, it’s such an honor. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do this. I feel so lucky that I get this rich volunteer experience.”