August 8, 2020

Aged 98, Mervin Roberts Reflects on 50 Years Service as Old Lyme Fire Department Chaplain

Old Lyme Fire Department (OLFD) Chaplain Mervin Roberts pictured in his OLFD uniform at home last week. Photo submitted.

Editor’s Note: We are deeply indebted to Mr. Mervin Roberts for making himself available for interview and Michele Dickey for both interviewing him and then writing this article, all done at very short notice and in record time. Tomorrow, we will proudly publish the text of the homily that Mr. Roberts had prepared for the Memorial Day service, which is traditionally held at Duck River Cemetery following the parade.

Author’s Note: After Old Lyme announced it was cancelling the Memorial Day parade and exercises this year due to the pandemic, Old Lyme Fire Department (OLFD) Chaplain Mervin F. Roberts e-mailed the homily to me that he had already prepared to deliver at the ceremony and asked if it could be included in the town report, which I compile. His homily ends by saying that he has long been a member of the OLFD and, now in his 98th year, he can no longer remain active as chaplain, so this will probably be his last homily.

I called him to say I would be honored to include it in the town report, which comes out in mid-January, but wouldn’t he like it to appear sooner and at a more appropriate time, perhaps in LymeLine and the CT Examiner? He liked that idea very much, and daughter Edie Ritz Main asked that it appear on Memorial Day if possible.

Being aware of the fact that I have known Mr. Roberts since I was young and was a classmate of his daughter Martha, the publisher of LymeLine, Olwen Logan, asked if I might request an interview with this long-time friend of mine to find out more about being the OLFD’s first — and now 50-year! — chaplain. 

Mervin Roberts, who has served as Chaplain of the Old Lyme Fire Department for over 50 years. Photo submitted.

Mervin F. Roberts joined the volunteer Old Lyme Fire Department (OLFD) by driving trucks and fighting fires, including the infamous fire in January 1971 that destroyed the historic Ferry Tavern Inn and Restaurant. Along the way, he was elected the department’s first chaplain. No one asked him to become chaplain, and the department had never had one prior.

“I didn’t know I was doing it; I just did it! I went into it completely blind but there was something lacking, and I did it. We never had a fire chaplain elected before me, so I really don’t have much to go on. Then someone made a motion there be a chaplain among the officers. Prior to me, the Reverend Dixon Hoag of First Congregational Church of Old Lyme would fill spiritual needs, but he wasn’t a member of the fire department and I never saw him at the fire house. He came because he was a good friend of our fire chief, Everett Burke.”

A smiling Mervin Roberts, Chaplain of Old Lyme’s Fire Department and American Legion Veteran of the Year 2016-17, stands with the Reverend Mark Robinson, former minister of Saint Ann’s, after the 2017 Memorial Day ceremony, which was held in Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School due to inclement weather that year. File photo.

If asked why he was chaplain, Roberts would respond dryly, “I had a black suit.” But the truth is that he saw “a crying need” for someone to speak up at meetings and address moral and ethical questions; what should we do in certain situations … like getting cats out of trees? “We had no business getting cats out of trees!”

There is a Federation of Fire Chaplains that now requires chaplains to be “ecclesiastically certified or endorsed by a recognized religious body.” Roberts is not a minister. He attended Alfred University in Alfred, NY, during and after the Second World War, when he served as an officer in the Navy in the Pacific for four years and one week, earning a bachelor’s degree in Glass Technology.

As so many times before, Old Lyme Fire Department Chaplain Mervin Roberts reads the homily at the 2019 Memorial Day ceremony in Duck River Cemetery.

Also he took postgraduate courses in ethics and the literature of the Old Testament, but he admits he took these courses “not in anticipation of fire-department chaplaincy” but because he enjoyed sitting near a girl he liked who took them as well! “These were the closest I got to formal education in chaplaincy,” he added.

He elaborated further on the subject in an essay he wrote in January 2019 entitled, “On Serving as Fire Chaplain,” in which he noted, “Then, there is the matter of denomination. Although I happen to be a Christian, I am careful when in public prayer not to go much further than to pronounce that God is love. So then, what do I do? Simply, I try to bring comfort to the afflicted without being invasive.”

Chaplain Mervin Roberts (left) walks with fellow firefighter leaders in the 2014 Memorial Day parade as it heads down McCurdy towards the cemetery.

For local residents, it’s hard to imagine “Merv” Roberts as being invasive. He’s a well-known, widely-liked personage in town. That situation may have been helped by the fact that he and his late wife, Edith, had lived in town almost continually since 1960 and raised six children here so was known as a dad in a range of school circles.

He is published in the fields of conservation, science, raising pets, and local history, to name a few; he is a popular speaker and has served the town for 10 years as a selectman. He has always been widely recognized in Old Lyme’s Memorial Day Parade, either marching down the street with members of the OLFD or riding in one of the firetrucks. He is especially noted for his homilies at the Duck River Cemetery, which is the parade’s destination.

In this photo from the memorial day Service taken last year, Chaplain Mervin Roberts (second from left) sits with the 2019 Veterans of Foreign Wars essay contest winners to his left and Father Joe from Christ the King Church to his right. File photo.

In creating what he feels may be his last such homily, Roberts realized that, over the years, they follow a similar pattern. He always muses on why so many residents of all ages choose to gather here one day a year. Is it the parade itself, or the free hot dogs offered at the firehouse at the parade’s conclusion?  Roberts mused, “We’re of a piece and we should revel in it. So few towns gather like ours does. It keeps our community close and we should keep doing it.”

His words resonate especially on Memorial Day since, in some sense, we mourn, and in another, we celebrate; we mourn the passing of all the various people and types of people buried in this particular cemetery, who have influenced our lives, from preachers and teachers to bird watchers (Roger Tory Peterson is buried here) and duck hunters, who watch birds for a totally different reason.

Taken together, they form what Roberts calls “a web of life.” Old Lyme has 12 cemeteries, and Roberts has conducted funerals for probably about that many deceased buried among them. He’s performed weddings for members as well, “in parlors and public halls,” and renewals of vows. As with funerals, all are “free of charge.” 

Chaplain Mervin Roberts reads the homily at the Memorial Day service held at Duck River Cemetery in 2015. Photo by John Ward

But Roberts’ efforts as chaplain have taken him farther afield to wherever he thinks he can be useful while representing the fire department. He visits hospitals and nursing homes or makes a phone call or sends a note or flowers or chocolates or, if the occasion arises, an engraved baby mug.

“Much of what I do is confidential, between me and the aggrieved,” he explains. But his role as chaplain over these past 50 years is not limited to supporting OLFD members and their families, or even the whole Old Lyme community. Earlier this month he was invited to be part of an honor guard of remembrance for a Memorial Day service for the New London Police and officials, with the New London Fire Department there as well.

It was held at the police station and included a flag raising — a uniformed service for those no longer with us. Chaplain Roberts, in uniform, offered the benediction. “I’m amazed, astonished, and confused that so few fire departments have chaplains,” he commented.

Mervin Roberts walks past the tree memorial set up in Newtown to honor the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings. Photo by Mary Jo Nosal.

He went even further following the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012. Without being ordered or asked to attend, he represented the OLFD in uniform and attended along with Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal. He paid his respects with the officials, then stood in a reviewing line as the caskets went by at the funeral of the victims.

Mervin Roberts relaxes at home in Old Lyme this week with his pet dog. Photo by Michele Dickey.

He did this not only as a show of respect for the victims but also as a show of solidarity with the police, who were obviously devastated that this tragedy should befall young children, teachers, and administrators in Newtown.

Chaplain Roberts has filled a need for over 50 years for the Old Lyme community and beyond that we didn’t even realize we had!

While he may plan to create no new homilies, he produced five handwritten pages of notes overnight for this interview; he is an inveterate writer, to which his well-organized shelves of published and unpublished works will attest.

His autobiography, in two volumes, is already in the Old Lyme-Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library … in one form or another, there is undoubtedly more to come! 

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There’s Not Just One ‘2019 Old Lyme Citizen of the Year’, But All Five Members of OLHS’s ‘Tuesday Morning Work Crew’!

The 2019 Old Lyme Citizens of the Year stand in the front row in this photo: from left to right: C. Ellis Jewett, Ted Freeman, Stephen Joncus, Kevin Cole, and Skip Beebe. Celebrating with them and standing in the back row are the Old Lyme Board of Selectmen; from left to right, Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal, Selectman Chris Kerr, and First Selectman Tim Griswold. Photo by Michele Dickey.

OLD LYME — The Annual Town Meeting held Monday evening in Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School concluded with the eagerly anticpated announcement of the 2019 Town of Old Lyme Citizen of the Year.

In an unexpected twist, First Selectman Tim Griswold opened the speech in which he would reveal the closely-guarded secret of the awardee chosen by the board of selectmen by saying, “This year we decided to award not just one citizen, but five citizens whose continued volunteerism and generosity has made an immeasurable impact on our community.”

He went on to name five men — Skip Beebe, Kevin Cole, Ted Freeman, Ellis Jewett and Stephen Joncus — who are affectionately known as the Old Lyme Historical Society’s (OLHS) “Tuesday Morning Work Crew.” Griswold noted that nitially the members consisted of Chairman Ellis, Beebe and Cole but they were soon joined by Freeman and finally by Joncus.

Old Lyme First Selectman Tim Griswold explains why the ‘Tuesday Morning Work Crew’ are collectively Old Lyme’s Citizen of the Year for 2019.

Explaining the history of the building that sparked the creation of the ‘Crew’, Griswold noted that the OLHS had purchased the former Grange  building at 55 Lyme St. in February 2014 and almost immediately the work had begun. He went on to detail the long list of often extensive projects that the ‘Crew’ have completed over the years noting first that their first assignment was to “remove the awkward entrance lobby” and turn it into an office featuring a desk and counter, new exterior doors, new windows and a realigned set of interior doors.

The ‘Tuesday Morning Work Crew’ then “removed the hung ceiling in the auditorium to expose the bead-board” and added period light fixtures. Along the way, Ted Freeman fabricated two display cases for two donated antique doll houses.

Griswold continued his list noting that these veteran volunteers went on to build “an archive room inside the lower level,” complete with a Mitsubishi air handling system to maintain proper humidity and temperature levels.” They also created a reading room, replaced the furnace and added air conditioning for the building. Architect Steve Joncus designed the space layout and advised on the engineering aspects of the work.

The ‘Tuesday Morning Work Crew’ is all smiles after receiving their awards. Photo by Doris Coleman.

The remarkable list of accomplishments continued with a reworking of the northeast portion of the building in order to rebuild the old staircase, and creating a handicapped-accessible rear door entry, the latter of which Griswold said with a chuckle had been “demanded” by then OLHS Board Chair Alison Mitchell. They even installed a chair-lift elevator that services three different levels.

The Crew is presently working on refurbishing the lower level break room and mini-kitchen area and Griswold joked that “they may be thinking they are reaching the end of their “to do” list but I have a feeling Alison Mitchell believes that may not be the case!”

Griswold noted that the Crew handled every aspect of each project, including getting the proper building permits, purchasing building materials and lining up subcontractors, as needed. Saying, “They did all of this out of the goodness of their hearts and never asked for anything in return, Griswold emphasized, “The hundreds of hours they have donated have saved the Society well over $75,000.” He added that in addition, being local craftsmen, the Crew, “Inspired other local tradesmen and suppliers to discount their usual charges.”

Commenting that “One of the most beautiful parts of this story is the friendships that were expanded or developed,: Griswold explained that “These five guys began having breakfast before their putting in their volunteer hours or grabbed lunch afterwards. They are there for each other in times of need, and they make each other laugh. Griswold added with another of his familiar grins, “Well, mostly Kevin does!” Griswold added that you can always see their trucks parked in the parking lot behind the Society on Tuesdays and that, “Sometimes they don’t even take holidays off!”

Griswold concluded, “Often, you hear people say that the volunteer spirit has been decreasing over the last decade of two. However, when you look at the shining example set by the Crew, we can say the volunteer spirit in Old Lyme is alive and well … and even better, the inspirational contributions of the Crew will help preserve the history of our great town for generations to come. Congratulations Skip, Kevin, Ted, Ellis and Steve. You are most deserving of this recognition.”

Skip Beebe expresses his appreciation on behalf of the whole “Crew” for the Ctizen of the Year award.

After accepting their awards and expressing their sincere thanks to the board of selectmen, Beebe spoke first saying, “We are as close as five guys can be.” He credited Jewett for having caused him to be a member of the Crew and noted it was Ellis who originally invited him to join the OLHS.

Cole addressed the audience next noting, “It is humbling to receive this [award] …” and then adding in his characteristic jocular manner, “… but rather embarrassing because we decided way back that we would keep track of all the hours we do and then bill them at the end!”

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A Perfect Day for a Parade! Lyme’s Fourth of July Celebration Continues a Long Tradition

Looking across Hamburg Cove in Lyme, the Esther and William Irving Bridge.stands serene.  All photos by Michele and Mike Dickey.

Lyme was blessed yet again with perfect weather this Fourth of July and, although the traditional Independence Day parade has been held for more than 60 years, there was still a sense of eager anticipation as people gathered near the bridge on Cove Rd. for this beloved annual event founded by the late Dr. William Irving and his wife, Esther, and now commemorated with the plaque on the bridge, pictured below.

Back to the parade, and even the dogs seem eager to get started …

At 10 a.m., the firing of a single musket echoed through the cove …

… and the parade kicked off led by this valiant flag-bearer on foot …

Following immediately behind the flag-bearer was Grand Marshal Don Gerber riding in a 1948 Ford Deluxe convertible owned by Manon Zumbaum. Gerber is a local resident since childhood, who was selected for the honorary position in recognition of his long history of volunteer service to the Town.

Gerber served the Lyme Volunteer Fire Company as a member, engineer or assistant chief during the late 1970s and 1980s.. He has served as chairman of the Planning & Zoning Commission for nearly 10 years; as chairman of the Conservation Commission (acting as the Inland Wetland and Watercourse Agency) for 10 years; and as chairman of the Building Committee for the Lyme Public Safety Complex.

He was a member of the Camp Claire Board of Directors for nearly 10 years and has been a member of the Lyme Republican Town Committee for 35 years. He also played an important role in the Town’s recent acquisition of the Johnston Property.

Camp Claire was well represented not only with campers …

… but also by a float of the “Camp Claire Voyager.”

It was indeed a new day for this parade, for there was nary a bike nor trike in sight — young participants eschewed them for scooters …

… and even two hover boards joined the merry throng!

The Lyme Garden Club strutted their stuff …

… as did the Cub Scouts of Lyme Pack 32 and also ambulance and emergency service personnel ..,

… along with Bruce and Tammy Noyes on their World War II Army vehicle.

A cavalcade of old cars brought up the rear, and then the parade was over … all in less than 15 minutes!

Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect the correct dates of Don Gerber’s service in the Lyme Fire Department. Out apology for the error.

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Lyme’s July 4th Parade — with a High-Tech Twist — Marks Anniversaries of Lyme Ambulance, Camp Claire

Grand Marshal Braiden Sunshine smiles at his admiring followers.

Grand Marshal Braiden Sunshine smiles at his admiring followers. All photos by Lauren Dickey.

The small, personal, home-spun parade that marches proudly over Hamburg Cove each Independence Day has a strong following of adults, kids, and dogs. There are regulars who wouldn’t miss it, making it a part of their annual celebration before moving on to other plans … or not.

Boat

Campers from Camp Claire on top of the hill — many wearing T-shirts announcing the camp’s Centennial, which was celebrated June 11 — make up a good portion of the parade, and some of their families discover it for the first time through them. New residents hear about it, come for the first time and become hooked. Boyfriends and girlfriends come along for the ride and are then regulars.

DroneBut this year there was a bit of a twist. The first three cannon blasts were heard at 10:10 a.m., and movement was sighted at the top of the hill. But … what’s that?

A drone?!

Yes, it rose above the trees – which may have been about all it photographed – followed the road, preceding the marchers, and approached the bridge. Then it seemed to disappear as suddenly as it appeared. But it did make some in the crowd wonder—is there anywhere now that we can’t be watched?

soldiers_leading_parade

As tradition dictates, the parade was led by two soldiers this year, one in Union Army blues, the other in a buckskin-style shirt, tri-corner hat … and shorts? They fired their black-powder rifles at regular intervals to lend excitement to the next car bearing the parade’s Grand Marshal. Who would it be this year? Why, none other than the local high-school student, popular and charming Braiden Sunshine, semi-finalist in NBC’s “The Voice.”  Sunshine waved eagerly to the crowds and seemed to show as much wide-eyed excitement as he did for larger, much more visible venues.

Lyme_Park&Rec

Lyme Park & Recreation came next, followed by a well-crafted sailing ship seemingly afloat on a float; one sailor carried a sign, “In Memory of Doc Irving.” The late, much loved, local resident and pediatrician died last Sept. 15 at age 91; he was a speaker for many years at this parade, dressed in a vintage Naval uniform and throwing teabags into the cove, because, after all, the more famous tea party did not happen in Boston. People in the crowd still miss that speech; perhaps some year soon a new generation will pick up the torch. 

Lyme_Garden_Club

Other marchers included members of the Lyme Garden Club, the Lyme Veteran Memorial Committee, Lyme Fire Department, Lyme Cub Scouts Pack #32, vintage cars, unidentified floats full of kids, and the ever-popular oompah band.

Band

An effective entry was a Model T-style car driven by Uncle Sam and carrying a woman dressed as the Statue of Liberty, holding her torch high. The military half track always driven by Bruce Noyes was there with wife Tammy, but sadly, his father, Jack Senior, was not waving at the crowd this year—we all wish him well.

Ambulance_members

Marching proudly near the end of the parade were Lyme Ambulance members, marking their 40th anniversary! The members were followed by one of their ribbon-bedecked ambulances.

Lyme_Vet_Mem_Committee

After free popsicles at the Hamburg Cove Yacht Club (another great part of this tradition), which we finished by 10:30 a.m., many went to the Lyme Public Hall at the top of the street to enjoy a free, interesting display about the ambulance’s history; many letters gave testimony to the warm nature of this service—the hand-holding and follow-up visits provided. A nice testimony to a cadre of people who participate in training and are on call to volunteer their time 24/7 outside of their “regular” jobs to help their community members.

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Lyme Tradition Marches On

Janis Witkins, Grand Marshal of Lyme's 2015 Independence Day Parade, is driven by George Willauer in his splendid antique automobile.

Janis Witkins, Grand Marshal of Lyme’s 2015 Independence Day Parade, is driven by George Willauer in his splendid antique automobile.

Although gray skies may have been responsible for a seemingly smaller crowd of red-white-and-blue spectators, those on hand were enthusiastic, and the 2015 Lyme Independence Day Parade did not disappoint. At 10:04 the opening salvo came from the top of the hill, and three military re-enactors of period riflemen led the march.

Grand Marshal Janice Witkins was driven by George Willauer, who praised Witkins for her “extensive amount of volunteer work for the library-town hall complex.”

Lyme Parks and Recreation members marched.

Conestoga Wagon

Next came a Conestoga wagon, of sorts, new to the parade and pictured above, emblazoned with “Oregon or Bust.”

Wonderful Camp Claire Campers of all ages, in face paint and colorful attire, waved to spectators. There were Cub Scouts of Pack 32, military vehicles, and a trio of musicians on a float. The Lyme Garden Club and Fire Department preceded a float almost full of teddy bears, but which also held a wizard and dragon.

Bruce Noyes drove a military Halftrack carrying his veteran father, Jim Noyes.

Marchers of the Lyme Ambulance included a member pushing an antique wheelchair carrying an extensively bandaged big teddy bear; perhaps he tumbled from his float and was hurt?

There were antique cars and young riders on decorated scooters. Dogs of all sizes, always dogs!

Then it was over. Time: 10:15.

Marchers and spectators enjoyed popsicles courtesy of the Hamburg Cove Yacht Club — a day so far rain free — and each other’s company at this much-loved parade!

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“Celebrate Center!” Historians Visit Old Lyme Historical Society Exhibit

The entire committee in front of a Celebrate Center display that showcased original signage and furniture: kneeling (left to right): Anne Colangelo, Lizzy Duddy, and Lauren Presti. Standing, left to right:  Emily Nickerson,  John Coffey,  Gabe Katwaru,  Zoe Jensen, and Elise DeBernardo.

The entire committee in front of a Celebrate Center display that showcased original signage and furniture: kneeling (left to right): Anne Colangelo, Lizzy Duddy, and Lauren Presti. Standing, left to right: Emily Nickerson, John Coffey, Gabe Katwaru, Zoe Jensen, and Elise DeBernardo.

On Thursday, June 4, seven of the eight students who were the driving force behind the May 1 “Celebrate Center!”  ceremony and display visited their new neighbor, the Old Lyme Historical Society (OLHS), to take in their current exhibit, “A Glimpse of Early Schools in Lyme, Connecticut, 1650-1868.”  The invitation was extended by Kevin Cole, a member of the OLHS Board of Trustees, Region 18 Liaison; Center School alumnus; and a fifth-grade teacher there, recently retired.

Alison C. Mitchell and Kevin Cole address the Celebrate Center committee when they visited the Old Lyme Historical Society.

Alison C. Mitchell and Kevin Cole address the Celebrate Center committee when they visited the Old Lyme Historical Society.

Although these students did not have ‘Mr. Cole’ as a classroom teacher, he was a familiar, popular presence at the school. Exhibit Chair Alison C. Mitchell, along with Cole, greeted the children and, after time for refreshments provided by the Historical Society, guided them through the various displays.

The 'Celebrate Center' Committee stands in front of the school (left to right): Lauren Presti, Elise DeBernardo,  Lizzy Duddy, Emily Nickerson, Zoe Jensen, Gabe Katwaru, and John Coffey. Missing from photo: Anne Colangelo.

The ‘Celebrate Center’ Committee stands in front of the school (left to right): Lauren Presti, Elise DeBernardo, Lizzy Duddy, Emily Nickerson, Zoe Jensen, Gabe Katwaru, and John Coffey. Missing from photo: Anne Colangelo.

The students learned that during this historical period, local school districts certified their teachers to teach; a certificate is on display. Along with numerous photos, there are such artifacts as a schoolmaster’s watch; schoolbooks of the day, including a hornbook—students were surprised at the small size of some of these books; a slate pencil; toys; and a flag with 13 stars.

Fifth-grader Lizzy Duddy was intrigued by the books. “They were very interesting because of all the different spellings. I liked all the cool pictures and artifacts.” Staff Advisor Helen Traver Scott felt this was “a wonderful opportunity for the students to see what it was like before Center School was built. The students were interested and polite and asked intelligent questions.”

Back at the school following the tour, the students were met with a surprise …

A T-shirt presented to the students showing the mural inside the front lobby of Center School.

A T-shirt presented to the students showing the mural inside the front lobby of Center School.

Scott, an Old Lyme native herself and Center School alumna who spearheaded ‘Celebrate Center’ and coordinated the students’ efforts, presented each student with a small photo album containing pictures of the display boards the students made for Celebrate Center, a copy of the speech he or she made during the May 1 program, and a T-shirt printed with an image of the mural in the front lobby of Center School.

Student committee n front of display board, with Center School mural in background (left to right): John Coffey, Lizzy Duddy, Emily Nickerson, Anne Colangelo, Zoe Jensen, Elise DeBernardo, and Lauren Presti. (Missing from photo: Gabe Katwaru.)

Student committee members stand proudly in front of an event display board with the Center School mural in background. From left to right, John Coffey, Lizzy Duddy, Emily Nickerson, Anne Colangelo, Zoe Jensen, Elise DeBernardo, and Lauren Presti. (Missing from photo: Gabe Katwaru.)

This mural depicts local scenery, both current and historic, and was created by all the students several years ago immediately following the renovation in the pointillism style, with each student adding dots of color.

The student committee at the Old Lyme Historical Society (left to right, kneeling): Lizzy Duddy, Elise DeBernardo, and Lauren Presti. Standing, left to right: John Coffey, Zoe Jensen, Gabe Katwaru, and Emily Nickerson. Missing from photo: Anne Colangelo.

The student committee at the Old Lyme Historical Society (left to right, kneeling): Lizzy Duddy, Elise DeBernardo, and Lauren Presti. Standing, left to right: John Coffey, Zoe Jensen, Gabe Katwaru, and Emily Nickerson. Missing from photo: Anne Colangelo.

There were eight students who made all the displays for Celebrate Center. Anne Colangelo, unfortunately, was not able to tour the Historical Society. Those attending were John Coffey, Elise DeBernardo, Lizzy Duddy, Zoe Jensen, Gabe Katwaru, Emily Nickerson, and Lauren Presti.

Two of these students are “descendants” of other Center School alumni: Lizzy Duddy’s sister, Lexi Duddy; father, John Duddy; grandmother Patricia Bugbee; great uncle Don Bugbee; and great-grandfather Donald Bugbee as well as various aunts, uncles, and cousins all attended Center School.

Emily Nickerson’s grandmother Beverly Mathiason and several uncles attended the school.

Friday these fifth grade students will make history as the very last class to graduate from Center School. A clearly pleased Scott points out, “They will take all the friends they made and the history they learned with them when they move on to middle school.”

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Lyme Fire Company Honors a Very Special Volunteer

 On May 30, 2014, International Student Exchange Exchange Student Erick Saenz of Chihuahua, Mexico received the "Rookie of the Year" Award for outstanding volunteer service to the Lyme Fire Company of Lyme, CT. Left to right, John Evans, Co-Engineer; Mark Wayland, 1st Assistant Chief of Hadlyme; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; and Tom Brown, Fire Chief.

On May 30, 2014, International Student Exchange Exchange Student Erick Saenz of Chihuahua, Mexico received the “Rookie of the Year” Award for outstanding volunteer service to the Lyme Fire Company of Lyme, CT. Pictured above are, from left to right, John Evans, Co-Engineer; Mark Wayland, 1st Assistant Chief of Hadlyme; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; and Tom Brown, Fire Chief.

Early last August, 17-year-old Erick Saenz of Chihuahua, Mexico, didn’t think that his plan to be an exchange student in the United States through International Student Exchange (ISE) was going to work out; he hadn’t been matched with a host family yet, and school in America would be starting soon.  His alternate plan was to begin college studying civil engineering, all the while practicing English.

Little did he know that, in Lyme, Conn., Caitlin Courtney would be selling T-shirts at the Hamburg Fair, a Grange fair with over 100 years of tradition and a strong local following.  Across the aisle of the vendor tent, Courtney recognized a local parent seeking host families for foreign exchange students to attend Lyme-Old Lyme High School, her alma mater.  “My Mom’ll take a student…maybe two!” she told the representative confidently as she picked up some brochures to show her.

Caitlin’s mother, Robin Courtney, didn’t make it to the fair… but she did look over the International Student Exchange material and decide that maybe this could be an interesting experience.  They could host a girl as a companion for eighth grader Brooke or a boy for Austin.  They decided on a boy because Robin’s former father-in-law, Dwight Stevenson, and a family friend, Robert Feeney, also live in the household.  And in Erick’s application letter to a potential host family, he wrote of his first experience deer hunting.  He sounded like a good match for the Courtney clan.

Erick did not arrive in Connecticut until Sept. 15, the second week of school.  But if he thought he could relax and settle in, on any level, he was wrong.  Host brother Austin, then 15-years-old, is a member of the Lyme Junior Volunteer Fire Department; the very first Tuesday night he was here, Sept. 17, Erick was at a fire department meeting; the following Sunday, he marched in a parade in Windsor, Conn., in uniform.

Celebrating Erick's  award are, from left to right, Bob Morin, member of the Lyme Fire Company and fiance of Robin Courtney, Erick's host mother; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; Tom Brown, Fire Chief; and Austin Courtney, member of the Lyme Fire Company and Erick's host brother.

Celebrating Erick’s award are, from left to right, Bob Morin, member of the Lyme Fire Company and fiance of Robin Courtney, Erick’s host mother; Jamie Leatherbee, 1st Assistant Chief of Hamburg; Erick Saenz; Tom Brown, Fire Chief; and Austin Courtney, member of the Lyme Fire Company and Erick’s host brother.

At first, Erick was a little afraid of participating in this large group and worried about understanding all this spoken English during so many new activities.  But the Lyme Fire Department is important to Austin as well as to Robin Courtney’s fiance, Bob Morin, and Erick soon made friends in the fire department who would also be friends at Lyme-Old Lyme High School.

His attendance at meetings and participation in activities such as Steak Night, Breakfast with Santa, and various training activities served him well in another respect.  International Student Exchange requires all their students to perform five hours of community service.

By the time April rolled around and the ISE Regional Director requested the total number of community service hours from students, Erick’s had reached … 90!  His total by early June has reached 120 hours.

For this remarkable volunteer effort, thanks to Austin and Bob, Erick was surprised to receive the “Rookie of the Year Award at the annual Lyme Fire Company awards dinner on May 30.  As Chief Tom Brown said, “This is a big deal, but we’re all in agreement on who should get it this year.”  The plaque reads, “Rookie of the Year 2013-2014, presented to Erick Saenz for Outstanding Participation and Enthusiasm Your First Year.  May 30, 2014.”  This was a very proud moment for Erick and all his family.

The Lyme Fire Department provided many new experiences for Erick, but, of course, there were numerous others with his host family.  He learned to snowboard on various trips over the winter, many to the home of Robin’s sister in NewYork; Caitlin recalls that the first time was quite an experience, and that snow tubing in New Jersey was fun, too. For another weather extreme, in April he went on a cruise with his host family to the Bahamas and visited Florida. His travels on this trip have also taken him to Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, and Massachusetts.

Erick celebrated his 18th birthday with his host family shortly after his arrival.  He celebrated his first Thanksgiving as well as Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter with them.

He will be greatly missed by all the extended family, who report they are now planning their trip to Mexico!

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