A look back at the Real People of Western Maine

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Laurent Brondel
Laurent Brondel

The year 2014 brought 52 fascinating Real People to these pages, all of whom live right here in Western Maine. There certainly are a variety of people here—vets, immigrants, artists, college students, bakers, race car drivers, farmers and more. Though every person is unique they all had one thing in common—a love for rural Maine.

At 94, Hazel Raymond spent most of her life on a 150-acre farm in Otisfield. When we talked to her back in April, she said she was entertained by radio shows when she was a kid—especially Buck Rogers. We found out that history played a big role in her personal life—she and her husband married three months after Pearl Harbor, just before he was shipped off to World War II.

Richard “Buck” Smith, the former owner of Shorelands Cottages in Harrison, said in August that he had his own part in history. As a Navy man, he was sent to sea right before D-Day.

“We laid out within gun range. We could see shrapnel around the boat. There were lots of troops that never made it out of the water,” he said.

There are also several farmers in our midst. John Gillis, of Norway, was born on Prince Edward Island, he said in May, but moved to Unity where his dad had thousands of chickens in many barns. Ed Rosenberg’s parents went another route. He was born in 1950 in Norway and grew up on a farm in the Woodstock mountains where his mother would churn butter and then sell it. Don Best, on the other hand, is an artist who told us in January that his family operated a slaughterhouse. Richard Wyman came to Norway in 1937 when his parents bought Pike Farm, which he and his wife purchased from them in 1962. He worked all the time—on the farm and off the farm—and is still working, though less, he told us in October. We were happy to find in November that Sarah Patten, of Harrison, is working the farming angle by growing hops as she works at Café Nomad.

Mia Purchell, of Buckfield, lived another sort of life. She worked on Capital Hill for Sen. Walter D. Huddleston, of Kentucky.

“I did a lot of community development and advocacy work,” she told us.

Back in Hebron, Leslie Guenther takes golf seriously—and plays despite Maine’s famous mud. Gino Valeriani was a teacher and coach at Hebron Academy, the town in which he lives, and told us in June why he chose to shift gears and become a Paris police officer.

Speed demon Spencer Morse is always shifting gears. The North Waterford resident started racing go-karts when he was nine or 10 years old. Though he flipped his car twice while racing at Oxford Plains Speedway—he plans to keep on keeping on. Jason Thompson spent much of his career traveling the country hauling just the sort of stock cars Morse loves, he told us in March. The Rumford native had some great racing stories, but also ran for selectman.

Laurent Brondel works much more slowly. He moved from Paris, France to West Paris and as a luthier and musician produces high-end guitars for people world-wide.

“Going from raw material to something that is capable of making music is an agreeable thing,” he said in October.

Marta Cistecky is another immigrant who hails from the Czeck Republic and runs Marta’s Bakery in North Waterford.

“I get up every morning and really enjoy looking through the window. It’s beautiful. I love baking and I like cooking. I like good food. I like making stuff that people like,” she said in July.

Royal Air Force brat Jim Wells moved from England to Norway and hasn’t looked back, and John Crumpton of Oxford told us in November that he met two presidents and English royalty while in the Navy.

Ellen Stryffeler is a temporary resident who made her mark in Norway as an Americorps volunteer, as is Jette Vogel, an exchange student from Germany. Shufang Jiang was getting ready to return to China in June after teaching Mandarin and Chinese at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School for a school year.

“I will miss the beautiful leaves, the thick forest, the beautiful lakes and houses,” she said.

West Paris resident Dennis Camier, who taught creative literature and writing at Central Maine Community College spoke of a problem that plagues many artists.

“For the last 15 years I’ve been trying to get out of bartending nights and writing during the day,” he said in February.

Irina Kahn, a painter, became involved in the restoration of Lajos Matolcsy Arts Center in Norway after raising her kids in North Carolina, while Francoise Fetchko, of Woodstock, is a visual artist who is a member of the Western Maine Art Group. Born in a small French village in 1945, her mother ran a restaurant and inn and her father was a baker. She came to live in Maine after hiking the White Mountains and realizing that she wanted to own some land.

Nate Hunt lives on many acres of land that belonged to his great-grandfather in North Norway, and though he spent 20 years in the Air Force, he implied in June that it is his family’s land that called him home.

Bruce Rood found that Western Maine was his home, partly because of his love of the deep woods. He planned a career in forestry before going into law.

Many didn’t know that Paul Brook, the owner of Woodman’s Sporting Goods, was born in Rochelle, France, when his father was in the Army. He loves shooting—of course—especially skeet shooting at the Waterford Fish and Gun range, he said in March.

Another surprise may be that South Paris resident David Shaw studied at the Moody Bible Institute and then went to flight school before becoming a mailman—though farming is in his blood.

“My dad used to raise vegetables some,” he said in April. “My grandfather milked cows in the barn.”

The year 2014 also brought us a person to whom it was time to say goodbye. Maureen Mooney-Howard, who grew up in Western Massachusetts, told us in October that she was leaving her position as director of Oxford Hills Community Education Center. As we bid her adieu, we look forward to the Real People we’ll meet in 2015.

awood@advertiserdemocrat.com

Esther Andrews
Esther Andrews