May 27, 2010

'Good Enough to Make You Cry'

How's Your Onion, a new eatery coming to an old superette near you...
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – After 26 years in the corner store business, Doug and Roz Hartley called it quits. They sold everything from the dusty shelves of their little family-run JP's Superette a few months ago, turned out the lights and considered the future.
“Things changed in the 26 years since we bought the place,” said Roz Hartley. “Back then, Londonderry was farms, there were only nine stores in town, and were were a full fledged grocery store. People came here for everything.”
She said buying the store was a dream fulfilled, but not without calculated risk of failure.



“Everything we owned, we hocked. Even our furniture and our clothes were up for collateral,” she said.”We kept the name that was already on the sign because we couldn't afford to buy a new one. We never changed it.”
But things in town continued to change – the population boomed, and so did the competition – diners, drugstores, convenience stores, grocery chains. There were plenty of other places to buy smokes and beer and lottery tickets, and it took its toll. The last few years were a struggle, said Janna Hartley, who grew up working inside her parents' store along with her brother for a dollar an hour.
She said her dad eventually took on part time work at the Manchester Boston Regional Airport working nights, which helped make ends meet and provided health insurance. He has since gone full time.
“We weren't just surviving; we were losing money,” said Janna Hartley. “Mom and Dad were considering what to do, whether to sell or rent to someone. That's when my brother said he wanted to try running a restaurant. He'd been working in restaurants his whole life, and if he was going to be working 90 hours a week some place, he might as well be doing it for himself. The timing seemed right.”
That was the beginning of what they hope is about to become the next big thing, the family business, once removed. Instead of selling groceries, Marc-Damian Hartley will be using groceries to cook up his specialty breakfast and lunch dishes inside the completely renovated space with the intriguing name: How's Your Onion?
He's hoping the restaurant, and it's unusual name catch on with returning superette customers, and draws the epicurious from outside of Derry, looking for a new favorite spot.
Family is what it's all about, said Marc-Damien Hartley, who learned everything he knows about the state of one's onion – and the love of a good breakfast – from his grandparents, Rose and Alfio Giuffrida.
He explains that his grandfather used to pose the question, “How's your onion?” to all the grand kids, who were taught the correct answer was: “Good enough to make you cry.”
“That was his greeting – everyone knew the answer. Maybe it's an Italian thing. I don't know, but it makes you think. As soon as I thought about it, I knew that was what I was going to name the restaurant. I'm dedicating this place to his memory,” he said.
He credits his grandmother for teaching him the value of a good, hearty, basic breakfast – something that will be a mainstay of his business.
The Hartleys are also dedicating the place to all things New Hampshire in hopes of attracting seasonal tourists – there will be an homage to astronaut Alan Shepard, a moonscape which Roz Hartley will be painting, and other references to local heroes and hallmarks. Town historian Rick Holmes helped them discover the state tartan, a lively plaid that will be featured in the d├ęcor, and that goes well with onions.
Janna Hartley is working on social networking, launching a Facebook page, perfecting the menu design and starting a local buzz.
Her mother, who for years put her passion for painting on hold, is going to be networking with local craftsmen and artists, hoping to bring some homegrown talent into the mix.
“I want to bring in local artisans, maybe have rotating art exhibitions of work for sale. Even though this is Marc's baby, Doug and I will be in the wings, helping out,” said Roz Hartley.
“Actually, I always wanted a place where I could get a free breakfast,” said her husband. “I can't wait for the place to open.”

Pinkerton brings in drug-sniffing dogs

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Five police drug-sniffing dogs were brought into Pinkerton Academy yesterday morning for a random sweep of classrooms, lockers and student backpacks for the first of what school officials vow will be an increased and ongoing vigilance at keeping drugs off school grounds.
“This is the first time we've done this, and it won't be the last,” said Pinkerton headmaster Mary Anderson, who answered questions about the sweep yesterday afternoon.
“Drugs will not be tolerated. That is the message to the kids. We will do our due diligence. We want the drugs out of school, period,” Anderson said.
Although police said there were four “hits,” meaning the dogs who are trained to sniff out narcotics signaled that they smelled something, no drugs were found. Focus was on the Spaulding Center, where about 700 students were settled into their morning classes when the fire alarm went off around 9 a.m.
Anderson said the building was selected because it is one of the larger buildings. The sweep was not announced to students or staff until after the alarm was sounded.
“Very few people knew in advance,” Anderson said.
Teachers received a school-wide e-mail immediately after the alarm went off, and parents were also alerted by way of an automated phone message, explaining what was going on at the school in anticipation of student text messages and phone calls to one another, or to parents.
Anderson said she has been wanting to bring in the police dogs since fall, when she first contacted Derry police. Because Derry does not have police dogs, they contacted state police, who arranged for the five dogs, which are trained to pick up on marijuana, cocaine, heroin and most pharmaceuticals.
Anderson said she got a call last week from Derry Police letting her know that there was an opening in the schedule, and to prepare for yesterday's sweep.
“It takes a lot of research. There are a lot of policies involved. Other schools have had problems with lawsuits. We learned from their mistakes,” said Anderson.
She was referring to drug sweeps at other New Hampshire high schools that prompted protests from parents who complained over perceived violation of their childrens' Fourth Amendment rights, including an unsuccessful 2007 lawsuit brought against ConVal Regional High School by parents.
In the letter sent to parents, five bulleted points underscored the legality of the sweep –among them, that a sweep using dogs is not considered a search under the Fourth Amendment, that an “alert” from a drug-sniffing dog gives police and school officials reasonable suspicion to search a student's property, and no warrant is needed by school officials to conduct the search.
State Police Sgt. Lawrence Bolduc said given the size of the building being searched and yesterday's extreme warm conditions, they would consider using additional dogs in future sweeps, to improve efficiency. Five dogs – three state police dogs and one dog each from Hudson Police and Weare Police -- were used for yesterday's sniff-out, which took about 50 minutes.
“It's a 130,000-square-foot building. If you've ever seen a K9 at work, those dogs are focused, but working in those conditions, it starts to burn the dogs out,” Bolduc said.
One parent of a Pinkerton student, who did not want to be identified, said he got a phone message at about 9:15 a.m. informing him of the sweep – about the same time his younger daughter was completing a “drug use” survey at West Running Brook Middle School.
Anderson said about 40 students per year are sent home from school for drug-related issues. If any student had been found in possession of drugs yesterday, they would have been arrested on the spot.
“Absolutely – it's a school violation,” Anderson said.
She said whether a student is expelled depends on the offense, including the quantity of drugs in their possession and if there is intent to sell the drugs.
“I have expelled students for drugs before,” Anderson said.
Derry Police Capt. Vern Thomas said the police dogs used in the sweep were provided “as an assist” to Pinkerton Academy.
“The agencies they work for compensate them. This is not extra work for the K9s and the school does not get billed for the assist, nor do we,” Thomas said.

Farm market plans on Tuesday's agenda

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Yes, the proposed farmer's market is still on track for a summer launch, although newly appointed market manager Beverly Ferrante is keeping plans close to her vest until she formally announces them during Tuesday's town council meeting.
“I'm not going to release a lot of information before the council has a chance to hear what's happening,” Ferrante said yesterday. “I've been working, non-stop – it's a 16 hour a day job. There are so many things to put into place before we can launch. I have a tight group of individuals working with me – so tight, you can hardly call them a group – and I'm working with others, like Cable 17, so that we can start putting something up on there. But for right now, the vendors are the most important people on my list.”
The idea for a farmer's market was brought to the council by Councilor Janet Fairbanks and former Councilor Brent Carney in the fall. Since then, the idea has caught fire and been fast-tracked by the Downtown Committee. Ferrante was selected by the town to head the project on a two-month, $2,000 retainer, which was announced earlier this month.
Since then, there has been some confusion among some of the original committee members as to the status of the project, or what the process is moving forward. Bernadette Trafton, who was one of two others who applied for the market manager position, said she had done a lot of leg work and research already, and is disappointed she has not been asked to contribute her ideas.
“I was a little surprised there was not an interview process after I submitted my RFP, but I did say that I wanted to be contacted by whomever was chosen to head the market. I was even asked if I'd be willing to help, free of charge – of course I will. To me, it's about having a passion for this, not about getting paid. I have a couple of businesses; I don't need to make money on this project,” Trafton said.
Ferrante said she has been taking names and fully intends to bring everyone into the fold, once the council is on board with her initial report.
“This town can create negativity when it's not necessary, and right now, this is a positive for Derry,” Ferrante said. “I welcome everyone, with open arms, who wants to help.”
Anyone interested in getting involved as a vendor or to help organize should contact Ferrante at 548-8799.

May 25, 2010

There's more parking than meets the eye

Would centralized parking help boost economic development?
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Parking and economic development are like the chicken and the egg: it's hard to say for sure which comes first.
But the Downtown Committee is going to try to nail that down by forming a subcommittee to assess how much parking exists versus how much parking is needed during those perfect storms of activity, when the downtown is a draw for diners, show patrons, Gerrish Center activities and post-dinner bar grazers.
Then, there is the larger question, of whether the downtown's lack of centralized parking is a deterrent to current and future economic development. But building a new lot or parking garage would be a major financial and logistical undertaking, one that likely needs to be in the master plan before it could be funded, said Michael Gendron, chairman of the Downtown Committee.
In the meantime, we asked Public Works Director Mike Fowler for an estimate of designated downtown parking, and he dusted off a map locating the town's five municipal lots which collectively provide about 300 parking spaces within a half-mile radius.
Checking out the lots is an easy enough assignment, a circuit tour by car that takes about five minutes, but is easily walkable. Starting with the 66 spaces at Abbott Court, just a block from The Halligan Tavern and the Adam's Memorial Opera House, and two blocks from the Marion Gerrish Center, you can then drive one street east, to the 15 spaces at Merchant's Row, next to the Depot Square Steakhouse. From there, it's a a quick left and a right to the 100-space Municipal Center lot.
If you take the scenic route, you can head down Pearl Street and turn right onto Crystal Avenue, then left at the light back onto Broadway, and make a left after the Fairpoint building into the 47-space municipal lot next to the Masonic Temple.
It is the fifth lot, Wall Street Parking, that may be the town's best kept secret. There is minimal signage visible on Broadway. However, if you follow the signs for Mary Anne's Diner parking, and then keep going on Wall Street, there is a big empty lot to your right. There is no sign announcing the lot, but it is 40 wide open spaces nestled between the VFW and an auto body shop.
That puts four of the five lots where the concentration of night life is, west of Crystal Avenue. Lots 1 and 5 are only two-tenths of a mile apart – or a four minute walk, which brings Fowler to one of his talking points on parking.
“The employee parking lot, behind the municipal center on McAllister Avenue, is only 200-feet from Broadway. It may seem far from Halligan's, if that's the target, but an argument I make is that people who go to Portsmouth or Manchester don't expect to park next to the restaurant they're going to,” Fowler said. “In fairness, those cities do have parking garages.”
Another talking point is whether the signs are actually eye-catching enough.
“In 2001 when the town did a program to take down overhead wires and lights, the signage was selected and some feel it is not very effective in pointing people to town parking lots,” said Fowler of the white 24-by-36 signs that hang on light poles featuring the work “Parking” with an oversized “P” and green arrow.
“It had been suggested that we pick a different color, coral or red, or something that would stand out. But a white background with green or green with white is typical standard issue for parking signs,” Fowler said.
Fowler mentions a bonus lot – Lot 6, which will be added to the map in August, when 19 spaces, currently under construction at the corner of Birch and Broadway, are completed.
If you add in the two dozen or so two-hour horizontal spaces that line Broadway, by the end of summer prime time parking will peak somewhere beyond 310 parking spaces.
On the down side, it's New Hampshire, where winter happens. A nice five-block stroll in sub-zero temperatures dodging snow piles and icy sidewalks is no way to start a fun night out, which is why advocates of a centralized parking area continue to press for consideration.
Gendron said he is going to set a date and put parking on the agenda, where all ideas – from better signage and “where to park kiosks” to a full-on parking garage will be open for discussion. Anyone interested in getting in on the conversation should contact Gendron at michael.gendron@comcast.net.

May 24, 2010

Derry Girls Softball Under the Friday Night Lights

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – It's Friday night at O'Hara Field, and a half-moon is rising over the third base line. The evening sky shifts like a mood ring, from cotton candy to sapphire. The lights are on and the crowd is pumped. It's the biggest night ever for the girls of Derry Little League Softball – their first time playing under the Friday night lights.
“Girls, have fun. Welcome to history. Play ball,” said the voice from the announcer's booth, launching a dozen girls in red Brownell Insurance T-shirts and another dozen in maroon Greater Salem Footcare T's to their respective dugouts.
After several years of planning, Derry Little League finally fielded its first four girls softball teams this season.
Other firsts in store for the girls – full uniforms, participation in the All-Star game, pitching clinics, and winter workouts.
“We're gonna keep them active and involved,” said Rob Hall, vice president of equipment. “There's even a girls tournament in Williamsport.”
But for right now, the focus is on helping the 48 girls in the 9 to 12 year old league to have some fun while learning the finer points of fielding. It's a process, says Hall.
“We tried to field younger and older teams, but we couldn't get enough to register. We pushed,” said Hall. “Next year, we'll have more.
Twenty minutes into the game Kristen Sobolewski is pitching for the red team. She winds up and lets go of one aimed right at the glove of Felicia Walalis, who is crouched behind home plate. It is a ball, high – so high, in fact, it's a good two feet over the head of Mackenzie Pierce, batting for the maroon team. Kristen shakes it off, along with whatever jitters there are when you are part of something this big.
Someone from the bleachers reminds Kristin to focus, and take a deep breath. A team mate from deep left field has some other advice: “Or do the hokey pokey, if you have to,” a comment that makes the whole team smile, including coach Al Walalis.
“That's something we like to say to break the ice, when the pressure is too much,” said Walalis, with one eye on his team. “We want to keep it positive and light.”
Across the diamond, Alanna Marcotte is waiting to bat. Musical interludes between batters delights the girls, who are right now dancing around to the theme of “Ghost Busters” in the dugout. Their coach, Rich Minassian, is getting an earful from Darrian Barker.
“Coach, you need to teach us to slide,” she says, leaning on her bat and tilting her helmet up to make eye contact with Minassian, who is doing his best to suppress a smile.
“That's what we're gonna do tomorrow,” he assures her, tapping the brim of her helmet which slides down over her eyes.
“I only ever had to slide one time – just now,” she explains. “And I was out at home.”
Her teammates are momentarily distracted when Alyssa Amsler gets her hair caught in the Velcro of her visor.
“Hold still,” says one of the girls, as the other two gently tug at her tangled tresses, eventually freeing the visor and doing a victory dance, as “Centerfield,” blares across the field from the sound system.
In the end, Brownell edged Greater Salem Footcare, 13 to 12.. Colleen Pierce, mom of Salem Footcare pitcher Mackenzie, said watching her daughter pitch under the lights was a real moment, win or lose.
“It's a great night here tonight,” Pierce said.





May 21, 2010

A Day to Clean; A Life to Remember

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Connor Kwiecien is eighth-grade class president at Hampstead Middle School. He also shares in family chores at home, cooking dinner a couple times a week and, much to Margaret Camuso's surprise, does windows like a pro.
“Look at these boys work,” said Camuso, who couldn't get over how Connor and his classmates, Nikhyl Sud and Richard Charity, made light work of cleaning her apartment yesterday. “I was expecting girls, but this is wonderful. So, you're gonna be good husbands, and send your wives to work. That's great.”
Camuso was one of several residents of Nutfield Heights treated to a Day of Cleaning, a community service project in which the Hampstead students teamed up with Community Caregivers of Greater Derry to dust, mop, scrub and polish anything in need of a little elbow grease.
Along with the 13 students who came to clean, there were many others who baked some goodies which while younger students from Nutfield Coop School made crafts, all delivered by the five clean-up crews.
“They're all leaders,” said Katie Wolff, a language arts teacher at the middle school, who was assigned to supervise the three boys who cleaned Camuso's apartment. “Connor is the class president. Nikyhl organized an international charity group, and Richard started and anti-bullying group.”
Knowing her team would need minimal supervision, Wolff volunteered to scrub the tub while the three boys tackled the rest of Camuso's efficiency apartment. Richard mopped the floors while Connor and Nikhyl removed the windows from their frames and hit them on both sides with Windex.
“I used to do it all,” said Camuso. “Now I have a hard time. My hip,” she said, lifting her metal cane off the chair, part explanation, part frustration. “I used to cook every day – I was the one who cooked all the big meals for my whole family. Now, I get Meals on Wheels two times a day. It makes me feel a little helpless, but my kids tell me to enjoy it – that I deserve it, after all these years.”
She watches in amazement as the boys carefully move her African violet and Peace lily, a blown glass rooster she brought with her from Italy, and an array of Mother's Day cards from the sill. She shakes her head in appreciation as Richard mops his way out of the kitchen and carefully moves her tote bag full of yarn and the making of a baby blanket for her soon-to-arrive great-grandbaby.
Camuso explains that she moved to Derry in October from her lifelong home in Medford.
“Actually, it was my mother's home. I lived there from the time I was 10, from the time I came to this country,” said Camuso, sparking Wolff's interest. Wolff asks Camuso to tell her story to the boys, who just learned about immigration during the early 20th century in school.
“Did you come through Ellis Island?” asks Connor, taking a break from window cleaning.
Camuso sits back in her easy chair, looking into the faces of the helpful young men who have formed a semi-circle around her as she condenses her life story into a five-minute history lesson.
“My father came before the rest of us, and I was supposed to come when I was 7, with my mother. She was pregnant at that time, and was afraid that if she didn't go then, she might not get another chance. But I had a bad toothache and they had to pull out my tooth, and it got infected, so I had to stay behind with my grandmother. It was three more years before I could come to America,” said Camuso.
She said she made the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean with friends the family, who all got sea sick.
“I was on my own – I was used to the sea. My grandfather would take me out on his fishing boat, so it was no problem for me,” Camuso said. “Can you imagine that now? A little 10 year old running around a ship on her way to America? When we got to Ellis Island, they wouldn't just let us off the boat. They had to examine us first, and you know how they did that? The same way your mother made you: Naked. How embarrassing that was for me. Nowadays, nobody checks you out like that. They just let everybody in.”
She said moving from Medford was hard, but she's glad to be closer to her kids, who live in Londonderry. Still, the adjustment was difficult. She had hoped for an apartment with a bedroom, but after being on the waiting list for two years, she took the first available space.
This is the fourth year the Caregivers have provided a Day of Cleaning for residents of the assisted living complex. Executive Director Cindee Tanuma said it's simply a great way to engage different school and community groups in volunteering, and lets residents know about her organization.
“It's a good way to let them know that we're available, if they should want a one-on-one match,” Tanuma said. “And it's a great experience for the kids, too.”
For more information on the Community Caregivers of Greater Derry, call 432-0877.



May 20, 2010

Skunks under sanctuary join bats in belfry at First Parish Church

Apparently all God's creatures are welcome here.
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – There's a big stink going on over at First Parish Church. For now, Pastor Alice Ling and her congregation are determined to grin and bear it – even if their eyes are watering.
And no, that's not a euphemism for crying.
“We think it happened sometime Monday or Tuesday,” said Ling of the the powerfully pungent unmistakably odoriferous stink of skunk that has permeated the building, thanks to a skunk family that has found sanctuary under the sanctuary.
“We had an exterminator come out. He suspects there's a mother skunk and some babies under the tower,” said Ling, pointing to a place just under a side entrance to the church where there is a skunk-sized gap between some rocks.
“He's been putting up one-way doors, but there is evidence of frantic digging, probably by the mother determined to get back to her babies,” said Ling.
“We could cement it up and seal it, but then we'd have the stench of death along with the skunk smell,” said Ling, whose smile does not betray her state of olfactory distress.
Windows and doors were left open all day yesterday to mitigate the malevolent misting, likely aimed at a predator who threatened the den of kits, said Parker Hall, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
He said mother skunks often make dens underneath buildings, and quite often you'd never know it. But if a fox or weasel threatens her litter, a skunk's gonna do what a skunk's gonna do.
Ling said it's not their first encounter with skunk – or other critters for that matter. They are a church that is as steeped in history as it is surrounded by nature.
“A few years ago folks from the state came at twilight to count the bats in our tower – we were told we have one of the largest bat populations in New England,” said Ling, noting that an occasional bat will fly through the building.
“Fortunately, both bats and skunk are nocturnal,” said Ling, who has been First Parish pastor for 15 years. “I remember my very first Sunday here, I said something during the children's sermon about not liking bats and I heard giggling all around me. Little did I know what was going on in the tower.”
First Parish has a number of programs going on all day every day, hosting a preschool and various community groups. Some of the parents of preschoolers have complained about the smell, but everyone knows the staying power of skunk spray.
As for the skunk family, Ling was told by her exterminator that if her congregation can hang in there for another week or so, the babies will likely follow their mother out into the woods and, with time, the stink will be little more than a musky memory.
“Our sign out front says 'All are Welcome,' and that's the kind of church we are. We're big on hospitality. I guess that has to apply to all God's creatures,” said Ling.

May 19, 2010

Zoning, parking and the fate of the Pinkerton Tavern

Councilors weigh heavy issues, accept 2012 budget.
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent

DERRY – After several years of commitment on paper toward economic development and building a more livable downtown, the council last night faced some weighty matters that will ultimately test that commitment in reality.
The first matter, which developed into a lengthy public hearing, has to do with rezoning a section of the downtown to prohibit additional multi-family housing.
A petition was filed by 68 residents of the neighborhood bordered by Birch Street and Broadway, who are requesting the zoning change. However, one property owner, Jonathan Sobel, is fighting the change, saying that the petition is directed at him, and his interest in developing his 4-acre site with two 10-unit garden style apartments.
He asserts that his plans have been delayed over three years by the town and, if the zoning change is approved, it would be essentially “reverse spot zoning,” which is illegal. He has threatened to take the matter to court.
Complicating the issue is that Chief of Police Ed Garone is a direct abutter.
Sobel contends that he is not only fighting an unfair zoning change but the threat of crossing the town's longtime police chief.
Councilor Janet Fairbanks suggested that the council consider asking a neighboring town council to hear and decide the matter, to alleviate any appearance of bias in favor of Garone. Her suggestion did not gain traction, and the hearing went forward as planned.
Town Planning Director George Sioras submitted a packet of information to the town including a recommendation from the Planning Board to go ahead with the rezoning.
However, Sobel provided the council with his own hefty packet, and gave a detailed explanation of his position, backed by engineer Charles Pearson, who has been working on the site plan.
Councilor Kevin Coyle said he would like to review the Superior Court decision referenced by Sobel concerning an access road, and said the council ought to have some legal counsel on the question of the legality of changing the zoning.
Several residents came forward to restate their interest in preserving their neighborhood as it is, and that adding an apartment complex would be detrimental to their quality of life.
Although the council tabled the matter until June 1, Councilor Neil Wetherbee commented that rezoning seems to run counter to the master plan, saying this was one of the harder decisions he's had to weigh since becoming a councilor.
“The thing I keep coming back to is the master plan. Derry has been working on these goals, development and density are directed downtown,” Wetherbee said, reading directly from the master plan that the town should “continue to support a variety of housing by allowing multifamily, and other forms of high density housing in those areas currently allowed” in.
Another pressing matter before council was the question of property acquisition in order to move forward with the widening of Route 28. Of the 15 properties affected, six offers have been accepted, five look like they will be signed pending legal details to be worked out, and four are unsecured, most significantly, the Pinkerton Tavern, a popular restaurant that is threatened by the project.
Arnold Goldstein, who owns the lot, is in favor of selling both the lot and the building to the town. However, the business is run by Guy Streitburger and Jen Lutzen, who are at the mercy of whatever Goldstein and the town decide.
Last night town administrator Gary Stenhouse told the council there are currently four options on the table, ranging from moving the building back to razing it.
Councilor Coyle asked if the town could have the property reassessed, saying that the current offer to Goldstein is based on a 2008 assessment, and that the market has changed dramatically.
“I believe we're overpaying by a significant sum,” Coyle said.
The council tabled that decision, hoping to secure the remaining signatures and avoid eminent domain proceedings.
In other business, the council voted to adopt the revised 2012 budget in the amount of $39,809,337 by a vote of 5 to 2. Coyle said he voted down the budget because he felt the council overestimated revenues for the coming year and was against putting nine town-owned properties back on the market.
Fairbanks said she was not in favor of cutting the road maintenance budget, and was concerned that the council would not be able to restore the budget in future years.
Finally, a brief discussion over whether to purchase a lot next to the library failed to pass when put to a vote, 5 to 2. Councilor David Milz and Brian Chirichiello voted in favor of the purchase. Overwhelmingly, the council agreed that it was not the time to spend money on a lot that would net about 20 spaces, given the overall cost of razing the existing home and paving. Council Chair Brad Benson told the council he felt parking would be addressed in upcoming workshops, and alternative solutions would be found.

May 18, 2010

Civic Profile wrap: Parking still a priority

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Last night about 20 action heroes gathered at the Adam's Memorial Opera House to champion the next big downtown cause: Parking.
There were other issues on the agenda, action items extracted from last month's Downtown Civic Profile meeting, including promoting a downtown farmer's market, sprucing up storefront facades, improving crosswalks on Broadway, launching a merchant's association and finding a new home for the Friendship Center, a meeting place for recovery groups.
Marion Willis underscored that relocating the Friendship Center had to do with the smoking and socializing that goes on in front of the building, which can be a deterrent to foot traffic and counters the idea of marketing the downtown as a family-friendly shopping and dining destination.
“The number of motorcycles that congregate on spring evenings can be intimidating – it's not the fact that the groups are using the building. But it would be nice if they had a different place to congregate,” Willis said.
Planning Department director George Sioras told the group that he had spoken briefly with someone from the center following the Saturday profile meeting, who said they are willing to work with the town to find an alternate location.
Group moderator Michele Gagne from UNH Cooperative Extension suggested that discussion over a merchant's group should be rescheduled at a time when more business owners could attend.
Michael Lynch, owner of the Inkspot agreed that interest is strong, and said he felt that there was enough momentum to support a merchant's group that would enhance communication among downtown businesses, beyond the function of the Chamber of Commerce.
From there, the group collectively brainstormed some action steps to get things moving on the other fronts.
Letter writing and direct communication with town councilors and department heads was deemed the best way to get some immediate action on reviving faded crosswalks. Bringing concerns formally to the Highway Safety Committee was also discussed.
Cynthia Dwyer, executive director of the Sonshine Soup Kitchen, asked whether the state might contribute to solving safety issues since Route 102 is a state highway.
Improving the downtown aesthetic was also deemed a priority, one that would fall ultimately to shop owners, who could tap available funding through the Rockingham Economic Development Corporation for paint or sprucing up facades. Someone suggested that the first step would be to put pressure on businesses in violation of current sign ordinances.
Dave Nelson said the Planning Board has recently taken a look at existing ordinances after some complaints surfaced over signs that appeared to be too large or too “loud” and seemed to detract from the overall quaint downtown vibe.
“We have to teach people that signage is not the only form of marketing they can use to draw business,” Nelson said.
Parking is a constant hot topic, one that resurfaces with every renewed discussion over economic development. There are generally two schools of thought – those who believe there is adequate parking that's just hard to find, or those who believe the need is so critical that only a municipal parking lot will solve it.
“It really depends on who you ask. We have parking maps, and I think it would be good to take another look at the what the reality of the situation is,” Sioras said.
“Having a walkable downtown is part of the goal – people need to get used to the idea that they might have to walk three or four blocks to get to their destination. Scientifically speaking, there's probably enough existing parking. It just might not be exactly where people want it to be,” Nelson said.
Gordon Graham pointed to the way Derry is changing, and how that affects the need for parking.
“We're a dynamic town. We're on the cusp right now – we want businesses to come to town, but if you told them they had to meet the town's current zoning standards for parking, they wouldn't be able to do it,” Graham said. “And on a Friday night, when The Halligan, and Depot Steak House and the Opera House get cranking, it's hard too find a spot.”
The other action item – the proposed farmer's market – has officially been turned over to newly named market manager Beverly Ferrante, who said last night that plans were gelling, and the official site selection would be announced later this week.
“Pinkerton Academy is on board and we have eight vendors right now. We hope to get things going the later part of June, but no later than the first week of July,” Ferrante said. Updates on the market's progress would be posted on the town's website within the next few weeks, she said.
The group decided to continue meeting as a committee to make sure that action is taken on as many of the goals outlined during the civic profile as possible.
“After our civic profile 10 years ago, we continued to meet once a month, which triggered many of the renovations and improvements to the downtown we're trying to build on now,” Sioras said. “I think we should continue to meet and continue to work on these goals, for as long as it takes.”

Pinkerton Academy seeks Pepsi grant, needs votes

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Pinkerton Academy is in line for a grant that could earn the school $250,000 toward a campus security system, but they need online votes to win.
The Pepsi Refresh Program is a grant program open to any school, business or community group that can come up with a worthy cause AND earn the most online votes. Pinkerton freshman Dylan Mahalingam submitted a proposal on behalf of the school, detailing the need for a security monitoring system to prevent vandalism and promote campus safety. It is now one of 1,300 projects in the running for a prize and, as of yesterday, ranked 79.
The month-long voting period ends May 31.
Pinkerton Dean of Students Glenn Aherns said voting was going fairly well at first, but has dropped off in the last week.
This would be wonderful for Pinkerton. We have a large campus – our student parking lot holds more than 600 cars, and that doesn't even include the faculty lot,” Aherns said. “This would give us a better handle on the comings and goings on campus – it's not like there's one door in and one door out.”
He said the $1.3 million in grant money being awarded by Pepsi, which includes two $250,000 top prizes and several smaller awards, was money the company saved from not running Super Bowl ads.
I think that's great, that they can put that money to good use in communities. That's great advertising,” Aherns said.
Individuals can votes once every day by going to http://pep.si/9klthi or by logging on to your Facebook account and searching for the “Pepsi Refresh Program” Facebook page. You can also search Facebook for Dylan Mahalingam's page, which is set up already with a quick link under his profile picture.

May 17, 2010

It's the Stuff Dreams are Made Of

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
 DERRY -- Building a better prom at Pinkerton Academy means a year's worth of effort and elbow grease. Junior class advisor Jen Brown guides the process. Junior Prom is The Event. The sophomore semi and senior banquet are equally significant in the scheme of things, but there is only one prom.
“It's an elaborate fantasy. The kids are up for quite an evening,” said Brown, who knows of what she speaks. As a 1997 Pinkerton grad, she was on her own prom committee and vividly remembers the “Dancing in the Moonlight” themed soiree, a moment in time when the only thing bigger than the prom itself might have been the hair.
This year, transforming the gym into a “Night in New York City” meant putting student ingenuity and local businesses to work – constructing a city scape, decking the wooden floor with asphalt-colored AstroTurf and draping the ceiling with gossamer, assembling Broadway-worthy track lighting and disco balls, installing a Statue of Liberty ice sculpture, ordering a menu representing the five boroughs of New York, and recreating a Central Park lobby with live plants, benches and a water fountain.
Outside, the red carpet entrance is another tradition that draws hundreds of curiosity seekers, paparazzi parents jam against the velvet ropes while students arrive in stretch limos, ski mobiles on wheels, moon bounce house-equipped trailers, horse drawn carriages, golf carts, antique convertibles – and an occasional police cruiser. Teacher volunteers in white-and-red tuxedos provide valet parking under a big white tent.
Friday afternoon, junior class officers Cody Diehl and Sydney Germaine are pulling it all together. They can hardly contain the excitement they're feeling, busting into occasional dance moves every time the sound system is tested.
“You start dreaming about it when you're in elementary school, because you know eventually it's going to be your turn,” said Sydney, after testing her moves on the faux asphalt with Cody. “This is the big event, the one you'll remember.”

May 14, 2010

For library, parking plot slow to develop

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Sometimes no news is neither good nor bad; it's just frustrating.
For the Downtown Committee, waiting to find out whether the town has interest in purchasing a property for sale next to the Derry Public Library for future parking has been a waiting game. For some, the silence since the initial March 4 request has been deafening.
I'm disappointed with the council and the town, not to even acknowledge that the property has been offered at a discounted rate by the seller, who wants to help the town,” said Downtown Committee Chair Michael Gendron.
Yesterday word was circulating that, without any word from the town, the seller was ready to put the house on the open market.
At the May 4 council meeting, Gendron spoke briefly during public comment, asking the council for an answer to the original question, of whether the town would like to buy the lot.
This (property owner) has been patiently awaiting a response. To this date, we have not had a conversation with you folks, and we would like a yes or a no or a maybe,” Gendron said.
The property is assessed at about $189,000, but the seller would offer it to the town for about $155,000. During the March meeting, public discussion over possible purchase of the property was diverted to a non-public session, but library trustee Elizabeth Ives was allowed to speak generally about the need for more parking, which she said is critical.
Currently the library offers 13 parking spots and two handicapped spaces. Ives said the municipal lot on the far side of the Masonic Temple helps, but also provides parking for other downtown businesses and library staff, and is still insufficient on days when popular library programs draw upwards of 75 people.
At the March meeting, Public Works Director Mike Fowler reported to the council that the property could sustain up to 20 parking spots.
Strategic options weighed by the Downtown Committee included having the town buy the property in two installments over two years at a cost of $90,000 per year, or for the library to use $40,000 from its capital reserve fund, with the town paying the balance.
Yesterday, Gendron said the library faithful have lately considered other options, like pooling resources and raising the money independently, then fund-raising to pay it back.
Ultimately, cash flow is the problem, said Councilor Neil Wetherbee, who is the council liaison to the library. He said the question should be on Tuesday's council agenda for a vote.
The delayed reaction to the property owner's generous offer was due to timing, said Wetherbee – the council had to hammer out its 2012 budget before it could consider making any commitment to purchasing land.
That said,it's a good price and a good opportunity, but I would have a hard time in this economic climate spending that kind of money for parking,” Wetherbee said. “Especially after the firefighters union and the town managers forfeited cost of living raises, it would be difficult to turn around and buy a property like that.”
Add to the purchase price the additional cost of razing the building and paving, and it quickly adds up,Wetherbee said.
Meanwhile, there are other potential parking opportunities in the downtown area, closer to restaurants and community centers, that should be weighed against the value and volume of 20 spaces next to the library, Wetherbee said.
We should be getting the most bang for our buck. No question, parking is an issue. But given the various options, if there is only one parking project we can do, the question is which parking project will it be?” Wetherbee said.
Gendron said he understands the dilemma, and knows that the vacant lot next to the Adams Memorial Opera House has been a downtown parking dream for much longer than the Marlboro Road lot.
Mostly, he would just like some news, good or bad. Indifference isn't working for him.
The unfortunate thing is, if the economy or the town budget weren't so bad, this wouldn't be a discussion. But it's a ridiculously bad year. By the same token, there comes a time when you have to suck it up and do things when the opportunity arises,” Gendron said. “We think this is worth doing.”

May 13, 2010

Councilor ready to get out of town, politics

KEVIN COYLE  WILL STEP DOWN, MOVE ON, ONCE HE SELLS HIS HOUSE.
CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Councilor Kevin Coyle figured it was just a matter of time before word got around that he is selling his North Shore Road home and getting out of town – and politics.
“We've purchased a home in Londonderry that we're in the process of restoring and renovating, and when the house in Derrry sells we will be moving,” said Coyle.
“It's something we've thought long and hard about. I can't say politics has not played a role in our decision, because it has. I will serve out my term as long as I can, but Derry politics has been frustrating for me. As I've experienced it, local politics is mean and nasty, down and dirty, and people are just not nice,” said Coyle. “I'm sure there will be people who are thrilled when I'm gone.”

Coyle was elected to the Council in 2006, running on a platform of political change in a town where he has lived most of his life. Fellow Councilor Janet Fairbanks has been his only consistent political ally. Since the March elections, both Coyle and Fairbanks have expressed a growing frustration over their lack of relevance, as most voting matters wind up 5 to 2, with few exceptions. Their terms do not expire until 2012.

On April 1, Coyle and Fairbanks filed a lawsuit against the town after newly seated Council Chair Brad Benson called for a non-public meeting to discuss hiring a firm to search for a new town administrator.

“When I had to sue the town council because they were violating the law, they made it pretty clear they are going to do whatever the hell they want,” Coyle said.

Benson has said publicly that he is trying to bring civility back to the Council, and has expressed his interest in mending political fractures among the board.
"My goal is to move the town forward. My goal is to make good decisions and not have personal attacks and to be fair and honest. Kevin indicated he objected to the nonpublic meeting. I verified to the best of my capabilities whether we could have a nonpublic meeting. Kevin respectfully disagreed, and we moved on," Benson said at the time the suit was filed.
Because Coiyle works as a solicitor for the town of Londonderry, he's prohibited from holding office there, which suits him fine. He said he is sorry to disappoint those who voted for him, but should he resign his seat, he plans to request that Tom Cardon become his replacement. Cardon ran in the last election, losing lin District 2 to David Milz by one vote.

Tom has many of the same views I have, and I will ask that they respect my request, and the fact that he lost by only one vote,” Coyle said.

Calling all Korean War era vets

Rotarians holding a dinner to honor vets May 27.

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – This Memorial Day the members of Derry's two Rotary organizations – Derry Village Rotary and Derry Rotary – would like to honor those who served during the “Forgotten War” era, the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953.
Because it falls chronologically between WWII and Vietnam, its significance has not always been as widely discussed, but the losses to American troops were significant – 36,516 dead,
92,134 wounded, 8,176 listed MIA and 7,245 POWs.
A dinner with all the trimmings is planned for May 27 at the Greater Derry Boys & Girls Club on East Derry Road. Before invitations can go out, organizers would like to make every effort to find every Korean War era veteran from the Derry area who would like to attend.
“It's our way of doing something nice for them,” said Eddie Leon, Derry Rotary member and chair of the Veterans Memorial Committee.
"Last year we paid a special tribute to our WWII veterans by flying about 20 of them to Washington, D.C., to visit the WWII memorial. This year, we wanted to honor Korean War vets in some way, but there are many more of them. We just couldn't swing it,” Leon.
Although the once-in-a-lifetime trip to D.C. was made possible through the efforts and generosity of many local businesses and individuals, it took a lot of coordination, and cost the Rotarians about $13,000.
Only 30 Derry Korean War veterans have been identified so far through various contacts, including the VFW. But Leon said there are plenty more who may not be affiliated with any veterans organizations who should be included.
Maj. Gen William N. Reddel III., NH Adjutant General, will be keynote speaker, and entertainment will be part of the recognition dinner, for which organizers are pulling out all the stops.
“We have Rachel's Catering out of Manchester to do the food, and we're going to use real china and silverware,” Leon said. “We're hoping for a good turnout.”
Any local Korean War era veterans currently living in Derry, or who have lived in Derry and would like to attend should contact Leon at 674-8144, or send an e-mail request to: heriberto83@yahoo.com. Transportation will be available on request.

May 12, 2010

NATURAL POETRY

"I believe if you understand nature, you understand life. You gotta pull the weeds and prune if you want to have a fruitful garden.”  Lynne Goterch
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent 
DERRY – Good fences do make good neighbors – if you're tending garden in a community plot, and keeping out pests is important to the preservation of your pumpkins and peppers.
Not quite the interpretation Robert Frost had in mind when he penned “The Mending Wall,” a cautionary tale about boundaries and neighborliness. But poetry and planting go hand in hand for Lynne Goterch, who appreciates her two plot neighbors and their chicken wire; now she only has to worry about fencing two sides of her garden.
On one side she is gardening next to her actual neighbor, Barbara Estabrook, who invited Lynne and Jack Goterch to sign up for a community garden plot with her this year. They are all newbies to the community gardens at Broadview Farm on Young Road.
“I got an e-mail Friday that the plot assignments were made and that they would be staked out Saturday. I came yesterday to find my spot,” said Estabrook, who has a corner plot.
Once again, demand for the 10 x 20 garden plots was such that the Conservation Commission squeezed in four more plots – there are 46 gardens this year divided among 34 gardeners said Peg Kinsella, who coordinates the program which is free to residents. All the plots are spoken for except for one raised plot, which would be good for someone who has trouble bending down, Kinsella said.
Estabrook , a Philadelphia transplant, moved in with her mother on Frost Road three years ago, but has known the Goterchs for as long as her mother has lived there, some 30 years.
“My mom has a small garden, but she gives everything away to the nuns in Manchester,” said Estabrook.
“Barbara is going to heaven. I'm hoping to catch a ride with her on her way up,” said Lynn Goterch, who has time on her hands, now that she's retired, to nurture some organic produce. Yesterday she helped her husband sift rocks from the dirt with her rake and pull weeds from the corners of their garden with her bare hands.
While her husband heaves the rocks into the woods, Lynn Goterch leans on her rake, her hands crusted down to the fingernails with garden dirt. “I never wear gloves. I like to get my hands right in there, and break a few nails,” she said, taking a break to talk about her philosophy of life, which is a lot like her philosophy of gardening.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,” she says ominously, her inner poet stirring as she quotes some Robert Frost, her favorite. No coincidence, said her husband, that they moved to a house on Frost Road.
“I really am a Frost freak. I hated the house, but it was on Frost Road, and there were these beautiful birch trees in the back,” she said.
The Goterchs and Estabrook will be using their communal spaces mostly for large produce, like pumpkin and Hubbard squash, but they will nurture some pole beans and tomatoes, along with their inner gardeners.
“I love to weed and pick the vegetables,” said Lynne Goterch, stopping again to lean again on the end of her rake as her husband shovels dirt across the plot. “The thing I love about Robert Frost is that he was unpolished. Even though he dwelled in those dark places sometimes, and suffered a lot in life, he found beauty in nature. I believe if you understand nature, you understand life. You gotta pull the weeds and prune if you want to have a fruitful garden.”

May 11, 2010

A SWORD'S STORY

After 35 years, a Marine and a symbol of his service are about to be reunited. 
 By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – What began as the case of the stolen military sword 35 years ago will forever be remembered now as the case of the missing “s” – a case finally solved after an extensive Internet search and one little letter provided the break in what could be the longest-running unsolved mystery in police department history.
More than 35 years ago, Derry Police Chief Edward Garone was intrigued by an interesting piece of evidence gathered during a routine bust at a Derry apartment complex. It was a beautiful gold-plated Marine officer's sword. None of the guys arrested could explain how it got there.
I took personal possession of the sword. Being a former Marine, I knew its significance and value,” said Garone.
Had it gone into the evidence room, it would have been cut, torched and destroyed as a matter of course, like all unclaimed weapons. Initial attempts to find the rightful owner of the sword were made, based on one identifying piece of information: The blade of the sword bore the name “Carl John Carlson.”
We tried following every lead possible, but could never find a match,” Garone said.
In the 1990s, Garone revived his efforts, asking one of his top detectives, former Army officer Dave Boyce, to see if he could find a lead. That ended in another dead end, this time, when Boyce got as far as the National Personnel Records Center archives in St. Louis, Mo., where the lid on personnel records is kept pretty tight.
Over the 35 years that the sword languished in Garone's office closet, the chief would occasionally take out the sword, pulling the blade from the sheath and looking at the carefully etched name, speculating about who this Carlson guy was, and how his sword ended up in the hands of small time criminals.
I always did envision this sword could have well been through hell. At the least, I figured there had to be a good story there,” Garone said.
There was.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when Derry Police Capt. George Feole decided it was time to put his own curiosity over the sword's back story to work. He asked Garone if he could take a stab at solving the mystery, and began researching the sword on the Internet. He found that it was standard Marine officer issue, and had been for decades. The serial number on the weapon was not attached to a specific person, but rather identified its manufacturer, NS Meyer company of New York, which went out of business in the 1990s.
Feole followed that lead to a company called Vanguard, which purchased all Meyer Co. assets. Someone at Vanguard gave Feole his first hot tip.
She said we might want to place an ad in Leatherneck Magazine,” said Feole, who promptly contacted the magazine's editor, Walt Ford.
Our magazine provides a service called 'Mail Call,' which we use to help vets reconnect. Being a monthly magazine, we told Capt. Feole we'd run the ad. But rather than wait two months till our next edition, I said I would also like to send out an inquiry on a Metroplex Marines e-mail list, which goes out to active and retired Marines. I warned him that he'd probably get e-mails out the gum stump,” said Ford.
One of those contacted through the e-mail blast was Rick Cleland, of Dallas. He recognized the name Carl John Carlson, with a significant twist.
I had roomed with a Carl Carlsson at Quantico, where we went through training, in 1965-66, but he spelled his last name with two s's,” said Cleland. His gut told him it had to be the right guy. He left a message on Feole's voice mail on a Saturday, and in the meantime, tracked down Carlsson through some old classmates, who surfaced a week ago.
It's a simple story, really,” said Carlsson. “They couldn't find me because I'd changed my name. Like a lot of people whose families came here from other parts of the world, my father's family was Carlsson from Sweden. At Ellis Island, they dropped an 's.' Once I became an officer, I asked about going to court and changing it back. That was about 1969.”
He lost track of the sword when, in 1970, he lent it to a fellow Marine from the New England area, who wanted to borrow it for a wedding ceremony.
After that, I was deployed to Japan. When I came back, I'd heard the guy who borrowed it committed suicide, suffering from PTSD. You know, you never keep track of where people are from. All we know is if you come back from a tour, you're lucky. It's not like in the novels. If you don't come back in a box, that's good news,” Carlsson said.
He took it as a loss, eventually replacing the sword. The second sword wasn't meant to be, either.
I lost it in a house fire, along with all my uniforms – actually I lost everything in that fire,” Carlsson said. “Of all the things in life I've lost track of, this is the only thing that's reappeared – like pulling Excalibur from a rock. It's amazing.”
Garone and Feole said they were overwhelmed by the incredible response by phone and e-mail from Marines all around the country – including Hawaii, all determined to find the sword's rightful owner.
Currently, they are working out details of getting the sword to Carlsson at his Florida home.
After all these years, and all that it took us to finally find Maj. Carlsson, it doesn't seem right to put it in a box and ship it down. We'd like to find a way to have it hand delivered,” Garone said.
When he is finally reunited with his original sword, Carlsson said it will be the sole surviving relic of his past, and his proud service to his country.
Other than its 35 years in hibernation in Derry, and the circuitous route it took police to find him, Carlsson said the sword never saw any real action – except for one time, when he took it to Washington, D.C., in the mid-1960s to have it engraved.
I got mugged on my way there – it was in a pretty rough part of town on 9th Street. These three guys with knives tried to rob me. I pulled out the sword, and they ran off,” Carlsson said. “That's the only combat it's seen.”
He said his younger daughter will inherit the replacement sword, while his eldest has already staked a claim on the original.
If his sword had to be somewhere, Carlsson said, it's fitting that it found a safe haven in New England.
As someone with a great interest in genealogy and family history, it's interesting to note that I've learned I have family who were founders of Yale, signators of the Declaration of Independence, and founders of New England, arriving on the Mayflower,” Carlsson said. “It will be good to have it back.”

May 8, 2010

Medical issues at heart of November murder-suicide

By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Six months after a tragic murder-suicide involving an elderly couple, the Attorney General's office has officially concluded its investigation, citing medical reasons.
“The deaths of Judith Roberts and Claude Roberts were due to a murder-suicide which was likely motivated by Mr. and Mrs. Roberts' medical issues,” wrote Senior Assistant Attorney General Jefferey Strelzin in a final report, released yesterday detailing the Nov. 16, 2009 incident.
Claude Roberts, 76, and his wife Judith, 73, were found by Derry Police shortly after a 911 call was made from their Shilah Drive home. The investigation determined the caller was Claude Roberts, who requested police assistance and then hung up without identifying himself.
Police found Judith Roberts in her bed, still alive, with a gunshot wound to the head, and her husband already deceased, sitting in a chair next to her, still holding the .22-caliber revolver in his hand that he used to kill himself after attempting to kill his wife. Judith Roberts was taken to Parkland Medical Center where she died later that day.
Strelzin said through family members investigators learned that Claude Roberts, who had some medical issues, was scheduled for surgery the following day, and a plan had been made for the couple to stay with a daughter for four weeks while he recuperated. Judith Roberts suffered from a number of “significant medical conditions” including dementia.
Strelzin said no suicide note was written, but personal documents were left out indicating they were meant to provide guidance for the couple's three children.
While the case falls under the umbrella of domestic violence, Strelzin said it is not a typical case.
“We get these kinds of cases in New Hampshire, maybe once a year, a case in which one party kills the other motivated by medical concerns. For that reason, it's not typical domestic violence, but it's still classified as a crime,” Strelzin said.
The tragic nature of such crimes is one reason why State Rep. Chuck Weed, D-Keene, intends to reintroduce a bill that would legalize assisted suicide. His previous efforts were thwarted in January when HB 304, Death with Dignity Act, was defeated in the House by a vote of 242-113.
Weed said he was prompted to write the bill based on his own experience with his dying mother.
“I was with my mother in a California hospice and the nurse winked at all of us and my mom, who was still rational, and said if you want more morphine, you can turn it up. My mother chose to do it, and the whole experience was happy and valuable for all of us,” said Weed. “I have always thought I would want that choice, so I filed the legislation a few years ago.”
He believes the greatest resistance comes from within the religious community, or conservatives who would capitalize on the current “rhetoric of death panels and choosing who will die” as a scare tactic.
According to the language of the defeated bill, it would have “allowed a mentally competent person who is 18 years of age or older and who has been diagnosed as having a terminal condition by the patient’s attending physician and a consulting physician to request a prescription for medication which will enable the patient to control the time, place, and manner of such patient’s death.”
Weed said he believes the voters of New Hampshire would look differently at the bill if they were educated about concerns over the increasing problem of murder-suicide – particularly among the elderly – as a growing health concern.
“The sad part was the opponents of this bill said you can take care of things yourself by just going in your garage with a shot gun. Anyone who's witnessed that kind of violent death might think differently about it as a good option,” Weed said.
There should be options for those who, like the Roberts', may have felt trapped or desperate in a situation that could have been helped through a fairly new state program, said Kathleen Otte, Director of Elderly and Adult Services for the state of New Hampshire.
Otte is also a member of the state's Incapacitated Adult Fatality Review Committee, formed three years ago and headed by the state Attorney General's office, to review cases involving any death involving the elderly.
“We have reviewed two murder-suicides – one involved an elderly couple and one involved a middle-aged family caring for a developmentally-challenged child,” said Otte. “Our mission is to offer recommendations post-mortem, to see if there are things we can do to help people before a situation gets to the point of such desperate acts.'
Otte is a firm believer in outreach services. New Hampshire was one of the first states to receive in 22007 what is known as a “caregiver grant,” federal money that goes directly to aid the needs of a caregiver.
“Most often we're looking at a husband who becomes a primary caregiver who shoots his wife before he shoots himself, either because they don't know where to get the help they need or they don't want to share their burden with their children,” Otte said.
“Typically they have a strong bond and have lived many years together. The husband will carry out the murder-suicide, many times, without the murdered spouse knowing ahead of time – typically while they are sleeping. The husband seems to feel justified because they are going together. This shows us that people can hide depression they're feeling over their own health issues, or those of a loved one, to the point of no return. Inside they feel so overwhelmed they don't know where to go.”
Although the fatality review committee did not specifically investigate the Roberts' case, Otte said they fit the profile – they were married for decades, moving from Billerica, Mass., where they had raised their family, to New Hampshire in 2003. Claude Roberts was a Korean War veteran – a generation notorious for their stoic pride, Otte said.
“There is often a reluctance to talk to to children when life becomes had, particularly for men of that generation,” Otte said. “However, it might be easier to say to a physician or a pharmacist that life is getting tough, rather than to a neighbor or child, which is why we have recommended getting pamphlets out to pharmacies and grocery stores – letting people know that not only is there help out there, but how to connect.”
Otte said there are free resources available for individuals and families through 13 Service Link Care Centers located around the state.
For more information, go to www.servicelink.com, or call 866-634-9412.