Good Neighbors

Peruse the comments below submitted by readers across Maine. Note that many comments have been edited for brevity.

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Mari Balow exemplifies Fred Rogers’ lessons of kindness and community togetherness through her workout initiatives in Portland, Maine. Every Wednesday morning at 6:29 AM, Mari welcomes regular and new attendants to the “Portland Sweat Project” (PSP).

Anyone is welcome to join PSP: all ages, from all walks of life, and with any level or history of fitness. The philosophy is simple – PSP is a gathering of community members to work out together for FREE, and is based on the November Project (in Boston, MA).

I am a 22-year-old recent college graduate who moved to Portland from Connecticut in the summer of 2018. I found PSP on different social media pages (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). Mari is incredibly welcoming to all, and her kindness is what built the PSP community togetherness. I was so grateful to find my first friends through PSP when I got to Portland and to immediately have people who also wanted to work out together at the same time every week.

—— Bailey

I still meet people who say she fed them when they had nothing.

For almost four years, after work, she toiled in her kitchen, peeling the potatoes, slicing the random vegetables and cooking whatever meat that she picked up each Thursday from the food pantry across Oxford Street, steaming up the house with the smell of food cooked with love. Huddled together in the living room were people, many new to winter, who came in out of the cold to a room kept only marginally warmer by the inadequate electric baseboards the landlord installed in this old, poorly insulated building after the ancient gas heater failed. If I was there for a visit at a meal-time, she insisted that I join in. I had to get over the fact that I had enough to eat at home, while she was stretching an already too thin paycheck. In her eyes, sharing what you have with whoever is with you, is what you do.

Ma Jacky lives in a warmer apartment now, has learned to drive and has a housekeeping job but is still waiting for her case to work its way through an overwhelmed system. She left her children behind when fleeing great danger 8 years ago. They fend for themselves half a world away. She still waits for her dream to come true: that all her children will be sitting together at her kitchen table sharing a meal cooked by their mother, as always, with love.

—— Catherine

Here in Topsham Maine, we have a very special member of our community. Heather has touched so many lives, here are the accounts from just a few of those people...

Heather Hollenbach truly is a modern day superwoman. I don’t know how she does it, but she always has about ten-million different projects going on all at once. And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill after school activities, these are all out events! With matching t-shirts, costumes and ribbons galore! One of her most impressive achievements is what she’s done for the Topsham Parks & Rec. running programs. Heather invited me to be a coach on the kids summer track team, and this is where I got to witness her magic first-hand. She harnessed the power of grit and glitter, and suddenly, youth running teams that had fallen out of repair, became bustling communities that you didn’t want to miss out on! This was especially touching for me, as Cross Country and Track have always been very important in my life. The sports taught me patience, perseverance and respect.Today, I coach at the local High School. And somehow those same goofy kids I coached years ago, have transformed into impressive and dedicated athletes! From time to time, I worry, because High School can be a really difficult time. Especially now, when the news is always full of fear and hatred. But when I go to work, those fears slip away. I walk into practice and I see a group of people who, despite their differences, look out for each other. And I feel so lucky because now, I get to watch as running provides the next generation with the same gifts it gave me; strong work ethic, life-long friendships, a home. And without that initial job, I might’ve never been able to have that privilege. Heather somehow turns every day into a parade. I don’t know if she knows how many people she affects, but I do know this: she saw something she could fix in her town and she created a whole world of connections, community and support.

—— Kelly Lynch

If it wasn’t for Heather hollenbach the MTA track team would probably be essentially nonexistent. She has created an intro program to a sport that failed to have one before. She made a program that so many enjoy and can participate in. She exposed children to a new sport and the opportunities that come with it. As a result, she is the reason the high school program is thriving. Heather has created a program that has shaped so many characters and created friendships that would not have occurred otherwise.

—— Brennan Thiboutot

Heather Hollenbach has influenced so many lives. Whether it’s coaching 100+ athletes on the track, organizing events at sports games or hosting big community events, Heather touches each and every person throughout her community in one way or another. When I think of community, I think of Heather. Without her, I wouldn’t be the athlete I am today. As my first track coach, Heather pushed me to the best of my abilities and helped me to understand the meaning of what dedication and hard work really means. She has helped me to become a strong, confident athlete. Whether it’s writing each individual athlete small personal letters before each meet, to organizing an annual community halloween party, Heather Hollenbach dedicated her life to creating a fun loving community where everyone is welcomed. Heather deserves the world and more.

—— Wyley Fitzpatrick

As we approached the track, there were kids all over the place. Hundreds of kids. Running, jumping, laughing. One person in particular seemed to be here, there, and everywhere, talking to kids, talking to parents, a clipboard in hand, visor on her head, directing what turned out to be so much more than happy chaos. Coach Heather Hollenbach is the engine and the engineer of the Topsham Rec Department’s middle school summer track program that my daughter was fortunate enough to be a part of as a participant and, as she moved into high school, as a volunteer and then paid coach. Heather’s program changed my daughter’s life—as it has for hundreds of other area kids who’ve been taught teamwork and responsibility by Coach Heather and instilled with a work ethic and self-confidence, wrapped up in a bundle of summertime fun. As a parent, I couldn’t ask for anything more for my daughter and her friends. Every time I’d drop my daughter off and pick her up at practice, every time I’d add my pop-up tent to the village of other family and team tents on meet day, I’d smile the size of a hundred meter turn to see so much positive activity. All orchestrated by Heather. Heather’s organization, attention to detail, generosity, and energy are legendary. If they were they to install a statue in town to represent “community” they could find no better model.

—— Matt O’Donnell, Topsham

Heather exemplifies the definition of being a good neighbor, and I have seen the continued impact she has made in our community. Most notable to me was when she created a summer track and field community team to participate in the USATF summer series. This team is open to children of all abilities, and allows them to find an event they can excel. I have watched children be champions, so proud of their accomplishments. I watched my son improve each summer. As a freshman, he is one of the top runners on the team. Without Heather’s compassion for others success, he wouldn’t be where he is today. This is just one story. Her teams grow every year indicating her positive coaching spirit. She has given children the opportunity to be part of a team, learn what they are good at, and support them thoroughly over many years. Each child to her is a winner, and she supports that by writing “shoe notes” and providing “shoe ribbons” for each meet. These children feel included and part of a team. She dedicates her life from April to August to track and field, as she coaches the middle school team as well. She continually demonstrates what an asset she is to the community. She balances work, coaching, and her family in a way I can’t begin to understand. She cares. She loves her community. She has positively altered the lives of so many. I will be forever indebted.

—— Suzie Toulouse Satterfield

From the second I stepped onto the Mt. Ararat track, I felt welcomed by coach Heather. I had never met most of the kids on the summer track team before, as my 8th grade year was my first year doing track. She is always so happy to be around the kids she coaches and to help out her community. This is how Heather has been since the second I met her, always there for the people around her. I have never met such an involved, outgoing, and generous person. Heather brightens up everyone’s day and makes you feel like a superstar, no matter who you are.

—— Fay O’Donnell

Heather Hollenbach epitomizes the true sense of neighbor and community in a way that I didn’t think was possible. Her selfless nature and energy shines through and her spirit touches so many in our small community. She mentors students as a middle school and summer recreation track coach, she not only spends countless hours helping them to become successful athletes, but also whole heartedly nurtures their confidence, teaches them about goals and encourages them to try new things. She personally touches each and every one of her (100 plus athletes) in countless ways. Each meet would begin with a start-line selfie with smiles abound, another of my favorites being an encouraging quote that is printed, distributed and placed in each of the athletes shoes prior to each meet, along with this comes a different colorful ribbon to be tied to the athletes shoe for inspiration. She creates a culture of handwork laced with fun and creativity that is invaluable to the youth in our community. Heather can be seen at almost every sporting event cheering on the kids, working the snack shack, stepping into the role of team mom, organizing, collecting, wrapping and distributing Christmas gifts or food to those in our community in need. Her heart, ears and arms are always open for those that need her. She truly is the best neighbor...

—— Kelly Fitzpatrick from Harpswell

I think it’s safe to say that Coach Heather Ulrickson Hollenbach has had a very profound impact on my life. It was she who helped me find my favorite event, the 400m dash, way back in 7th grade when she first began coaching for the middle school track program. It was she who introduced me to the summer track program, in which I ran and jumped for a few years before taking on the role of volunteer coach when I became too old to compete. I always look forward to my summers in large part because of this program, in which I have the opportunity to help young runners, throwers, and jumpers grow both as athletes and as people, and also the opportunity to grow alongside them as on of their coaches. Without Coach Heather, I would not be as involved in this sport as I am now; I would not be the person nor athlete I am today.

—— Tyler Bernier

Heather Hollenbach is a true treasure. She always goes above and beyond to help our community. Extremely generous with her time and efforts, she is constantly working to help those around her — friends, neighbors, students and the schools. She has donated countless hours volunteering, couching, organizing fundraisers for friends and charities, designing custom t-shirts for Mt. Ararat sports teams, the list is endless. I am grateful to know her and feel that my children have truly had better experiences in school and on sports teams because of her involvement. She is an incredible person and definitely deserves to be recognized for all of her efforts.

—— Tracy Coughlin

Running is a huge part of my life, it has influenced me deeply and turned me into the person that I am today. It is what taught me perseverance, leadership, strength and countless other things. The person who introduced me to the world of running is the incredible Heather Hollenbach. Heather runs the rec cross country, rec track and middle school track teams, she also helps out whenever she can with a lot of the high school running programs. Heather has to be one of the most selfless, generous and caring people that I have ever met. She devotes so much to helping others and making others happy. It is thanks to her that through her programs countless children have found not only their sport, but their happy place, second home and second family. I have been more than lucky to have grown up in heathers programs and I could not possibly express the amount of gratitude that I have towards her for doing everything that she does for not only me but the whole community.

—— Katie Lynch

The Kevin Kiley we know is a magician. Several times a year he transforms the Opera House in Boothbay Harbor into a wonderland.

Whether it is the conclave of skeletons peering down from the balcony at Halloween, the waving palm trees at Caribbean Night in the dead of winter, the enchanting trees and snowscapes at Christmas, or his patient way of teaching children the joy of making gingerbread houses, Kevin brings the community together over and over again, to sing, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company.

Looking around the Opera House at Kevin's annual carol sing, you see people of all ages and dispositions joining together in song. He is the glue that holds a great part of the community together.

Kevin adores Fred Rogers, and Mr. Rogers would have adored him right back.

—— Susan and Jill from
Boothbay Harbor

My neighborhood hero is our Chief of Police in Freeport, Susan Nourse. Not only is she a professional and compassionate enforcer of laws, she participates actively in community affairs in so many ways.

One way that she brings the community together is through her music. She plays in a saxophone quartet, Cul de Sax, which frequently plays for the community for free, and to support the Library. She is also the assistant conductor of Coastal Winds, Freeport's Community concert band. She schedules concerts for this group to fundraise for and for Freeport Community Services Food Bank and Fuel Assistance program. She mentors young musicians in the community and is a champion of early childhood education.

She leads town parades in her Model A. And as a special way to show her caring she has donated several of her own hand-made quilts to hang at the West Bath District Courthouse. It’s as though she is offering hand to say, "Let’s do this together."

—— Sue from Freeport

Here is my Neighborhood Hero nomination — Mike Bourque

Throughout his 22 year rise to the role of President and CEO of The MEMIC Group, Michael Bourque has epitomized the spirit of this purpose-driven workers’ compensation insurance company. Mike has long been a persistent voice and visible community leader in MEMIC’s longstanding mission to prevent workplace injuries and care for injured workers. But his personal commitment to the quality of life in Portland has been demonstrated time and again with quiet determined leadership.

Just as he rose at MEMIC, Mike has been tapped to lead a variety of organizations as a volunteer. He chaired the Southern Maine Community College Foundation, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, the Portland Community Chamber and Greater Portland United Way’s annual campaign. He currently serves on the boards of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, Focus Maine, the University of Maine Board of Visitors and the Maine Cancer Foundation.

Mike is widely respected and universally liked for his quick smile, insights and keen sense of purpose in whatever cause he chooses to champion. He is, all this but most importantly he was with his wife, Amanda over many years of medical issues culminating with her passing at the age of 47 on Christmas Day in 2014 leaving him to raise their teenage twins, Will and Kate, who are now wonderful young people. It is for this reason and being a great dad and role model to so many that Mike is indeed, my local hero.

—— Meredith from Falmouth

I would like to nominate my friend Towanda Brown — both as a community neighbor, and as a wonderful friend and neighbor to my husband and myself.

Towanda has worked diligently for the community of Long Island for several decades. She has worked and volunteered for the Recreation Department, not only through pottery and basket classes and workshops, but also through her extraordinary efforts with the teenagers in the community, including beautifully decorated Halloween events. I am constantly amazed at what she does, and with her passion. There are new generations of potters and basket weavers, thanks to her valiant efforts. Towanda also extends her talents to adult learners, teaching them not only basketmaking and pottery, but watercolors and other crafts. Mostly she has a positive influence on the children and teens in the community, both in the schoolroom and without, but providing nurturing guidance and mentorship. Towanda is currently an ed tech at the Long Island school, including working in the past with special education students, as well as teaching art. Her knowledge of art and art history is being passionately shared with the students, and under her tutelage the student art exhibits show whimsy, understanding, and technical skill.

Towanda's arts administration include serving as the library's volunteer curator of the Dodwell Gallery, providing us with beautiful shows, including one of her finest — a winter show several years ago: "Winter Warmth: an exhibit to warm your heart & soul." This exhibit got to the heart and soul of the island community and answers the question of "what do you do on an island in winter?" 20 artists were represented in this amazing exhibit, including photographers, knitters, artists, writers, and boatbuilders. Even though Towanda has passed the mantle to the current curators, she continues to curate the children's art shows, including last year's show of primal and cave art, which includes a cave small children can climb in and out of, which is a prime example of Towanda's getting into the mind of a child.

Towanda has also worked with the other end of the island spectrum: the island seniors. She has assisted them in their daily needs and also provides them with fun events to distract them from the downside of growing older.

Towanda always pitches in where needed, especially when it comes to the community buildings — she is always cleaning or organizing or behind the scenes.

Finally, Towanda warms the hearts of anyone she meets, and even provides a smile when folks pass by her house, with the whimsical decorations and artwork. Towanda is a loving daughter, sister, mother, aunt, and friend to many, including us. Last summer, when we had to move out of a temporary housing situation, we asked Towanda to help us move. She did so willingly, and when she saw that we weren’t quite ready to move home, she offered to us her home to live in. We ended up staying in her home for the next month and a half, until our home was ready. I will never forget, after a long day of cleaning and moving, walking up the driveway and onto her porch, seeing the welcoming lights on, and then collapsing into her bed, which she vacated earlier that day, to stay with her mom next door. We will be eternally grateful to Towanda, indeed a true friend and neighbor.

—— Nancy from Long Island, Maine

The tiny town of Allagash sits at the end of the road in northern Maine. The tar runs out here, and yet visitors find us in all seasons. The school closed over thirty years ago, but the building stays busy with town and community functions. There’s a sign in white letters on the old school that makes us proud when we drive by: The Faye O'Leary Hafford Library. Imagine the dream of opening a library in a remote town with a population of 200? Imagine seeing that library stay busy? That’s what retired teacher Faye Hafford has managed to do. Faye is ninety-three years old now and depends on outside help. She has no trouble finding volunteers. The library has Internet service and computers for those who can’t carry those extra bills. Faye's newsletter isn’t just about what new books have been donated. She mentions good news such as awards and birthday celebrations. She even notes the deaths of those the community has lost. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been living in another state for most of their lives. In Faye’s thinking, they still belong to this town and we should honor their passing. Like the books we read, the lives we’ve known keep us all connected. The great Library of Alexandria was the most significant one in the ancient world. These days, the little library in Allagash keeps the torch burning in an age of technology that threatens the written word. Faye O’Leary Hafford is a town hero.

—— Cathie from Allagash

Melinda Wildes of New Ventures Maine Knox County exemplifies Community togetherness.

I first met her as the instructor of a free career class at the library 4 years ago where she started by encouraging community between fellow attendees. Instead of just facts and lectures we were all contributing. Because of the community she inspired at that time I partook of several more free classes. I was new to Maine having followed my daughter and granddaughter here and she gave me community. As a low income senior I have called on her to help me financially and she networked her resources and I gratefully received aid. Sometimes I call or email regarding special problems and she always listens and researches possible resources. She is that wonderful combination of kindness, empathy and practicality.

She does Mr. Rogers' example proud.

—— Linda

As someone who grew up with public television and Mr. Rogers, I have always appreciated the fact that our birthdays fall on the same date (March 20). And as a former teacher and current administrator, it's an honor to recognize the countless number of educators who promote Fred Rogers' values. You can probably already picture them and their compelling stories which play out regularly in neighborhoods across the state.

She might be the one who has developed a sustainability unit based on the groundbreaking work of various Maine environmental organizations. When interacting with her students, her informed instructional approach rivals that of Mr. Rogers.

He might be the one who is reading a morning meeting picture book to his students based on the ideals of empathy and understanding. His classroom goals around inclusion and respect align with Mr. Rogers' vision.

And they might be the ones who are leading a Washington, D.C. class trip to meet Maine’s congressional team in order to better understand the value of the democratic process. Their thoughtful approach to activism mirrors Mr. Rogers' career-long inspirational efforts.

While their workday is officially done by late-afternoon, they are not necessarily prepared for recognition as community heroes at that time. Their professional story will continue into the evening hours with essential next-day preparations as they live out the promise of educators who, like Fred Rogers, selflessly bring a sense of community to your neighborhood.

—— Joel from Eliot

Christine Newell is one of the most recognizable neighbors in Cape Elizabeth. By day, she can be found coaching students through the ins and outs of trigonometry and algebra at the high school. By night, she continues to serve her community. After school, she leads the math team through competitions, attends the students' sporting events, and supports their theatrical productions. For over ten years, she coordinated and organized the efforts of the school's volunteer club. She is one of few "legacy" volunteers at the Beach to Beacon 10K, volunteering in multiple capacities every year. She does all of this without complaining, without expecting anything in return. Even this weekend, she worked an 11 hour volunteer shift at the Maine Cancer Foundation's fundraiser at Sugarloaf after her work shift selling lift tickets.

She has an unwavering need to support those around her, an electric sense of positivity, and an innate ability to make everyone feel comfortable. She is warm, charismatic, and doesn't take herself too serious, all while inviting you not to take yourself too seriously.

—— Jacqueline

We have a wonderfully good hearted neighbor, Ron Cloutier. Every time we have a deep snowfall, he comes out to help clear out driveway with his snowblower. He rescues us from being snowlocked in. He spreads sand on our steps so that we don't slip and fall, too. When we were painting our house, he came over to volunteer to reach the high places I couldn't reach, and to do detailing paint work. He's always checking on us to be sure we are all ok. When I was having cardiac issues last summer he brought over his air conditioner to use until we could get our own. One summer I invited him to be a guest musician at church with his accordion. He came over gladly and played some hymn favorites for us, and we sang right along.

What a good friend and neighbor!

—— Zanada and Bahram

Fran Hamilton of Auburn, Maine became our family's Hero Neighbor in 1985 when we and my doctors were unable to save our unborn son, Theodore. And following our loss of dear Ted, Fran was there to emotionally support the three of us, as I was clinging to re-establish my physical and emotional balance.

That summer for many weeks Fran generously cared each day for our young son while I was hospitalized. And she and her husband, Bill, and their three children, who follow their parents' example, helped to emotionally support our grieving five year-old son. Now as an adult our son remembers and he can now articulate that Fran and her family "saved" him that summer "from insanity."

Fran quietly and unselfishly filled the void of emotional support our son, my husband, and I so deeply needed and mysteriously had not received from any of our absent family members living in MA and TN.

Following my return home, Fran continued to reach out to me as I struggled medically to regain my health. She was also incredibly aware, simultaneously, of my damaged emotional well being. Even though my husband and I were newly transplanted to Maine from MA, Fran shared her high "emotional quotient" with us as she became our caring, "new" sister when we each most needed that level of caring.

Fran quietly and privately recognized that I was emotionally fragile and frozen. One day she invited me and our young son to a gathering at her parent's home in Lewiston. There I met her sweet and strong mother. She offered me her understanding of our loss, hugging me and she quietly told me she understood the depth of my pain. She was so polite and that explained why I was so amazed and surprised that she said, "Life's a b----, isn't it? And then you die." As we made eye contact she had tears in her eyes and a sorrowful smile on her lips. Because of her choice of words, she had surprised me, and suddenly I began to cry and laugh, both at the same time, just as she did, too. Her hug became stronger. And then wiping her tears away as I wiped mine, she hooked one of her arms with one of mine and we rejoined the family gathering. She was another Hero Neighbor.

That moment with Fran's mother broke me free from my emotional freeze and the following week I sought professional psychological help to deal with my and my little family's deep loss and ongoing emotional pain in all its manifestations.

On our drive back to Auburn that day, I shared with Fran that she and her mother were my "heroes" for their generous, deep, and quiet love of me and my family. And because of that love and understanding, I no longer felt like an untethered balloon in my little family's new home in Maine.

My family and I will continue to love Fran and her family, and we always will.

Following Fran's sad, unexpected, and accidental death earlier this month, we now use our silent prayers as we continue to share our love and our thoughts with her.

Fran Hamilton and her family became our eternal "Mr. Rogers' Hero Neighbors" because they actively and generously followed Fran's practice of putting love into all they do for others. Mr. Rogers, Fran Hamilton, her husband, Bill, and their children, and Fran's mother, Mrs. Francis Brennan, showed us the deep truth that, fortunately, love for each other has the power to lift us all in happy times and in days of deep sorrow.

—— Bonnie from West Minot

I would like to tell you how great my stepdad, Chris Knight, is to his neighbors. It was Thanksgiving of 2014 and my family had planned on having the Thanksgiving meal at my house in Topsham. However, there was a huge snowstorm which left him and his neighbors in York without power. Chris, couldn’t leave them hanging, as I am sure images of his time at CMP as a lineman during the ice storm of 1999 were in his head. Chris hooked up 6 families to his homemade diesel engine generator to make sure they could continue heating their homes and cooking their meals.

His neighborhood is highly susceptible to power outages and downed trees. This by all means isn’t the only time he’s powered up his neighbors. He is also the neighborhood tractor guy and has used it to help others in need. Once he used it to clear a downed tree blocking their road and cut up the wood for a neighbor in need.

Chris grew up on Monhegan in the lobster industry, then worked for CMP as a lineman, now runs his own emergency power business on the side out of a Mac truck and works for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He is really into ham radios, tinkering with all things electronic, and has a fun Maine accent and charm about him I think you’d enjoy. He is also a Mason and does a lot of free electrical work for them.

While I am bias that he is the best neighbor and stepdad in the world I think it would be worth your while to meet him and talk to him. He is a hoot with a big heart.

—— Yvette from Topsham

If it weren’t for the loving kindness of Bea & Ed Turner, retired educators Joe & Jean would not have the quality of life they have been able to enjoy in their quiet house tucked away in Liberty. Several years ago, when Alzheimer’s struck Joe’s memory and Jean’s attention turned toward caring for her husband, next-door neighbors Bea & Ed took it upon themselves to look out for them.

In spite of Ed’s own serious medical issues, he brings their mail to the porch every day. He meticulously plows their driveway in the winter, cuts the grass in the summer, and keeps an eagle eye on who is coming and going to their house.

Bea shovels and sands the steps after every snow and walks with Jean in fair weather. Bea calls Joe & Jean’s children when something seems a little “off”. She stops in every morning to make sure the night went well and meds have been taken. And every evening, she sits at the kitchen table for conversation and a game of cribbage."

Whenever Joe fell or had a "spell," Bea & Ed were the first people Jean would call for help.

Last month, Joe needed to move to a veteran’s home, but Bea & Ed’s care made it possible for him to stay at home as long as he did. And now that Jean is home alone, their love and friendship eases her loneliness.

The world is a better place because of people like Bea & Ed and they are living proof that you don’t need to have a lot of money to be wealthy. They are truly rich in love.

—— Elise from Liberty

When we purchased our land and built our home 22 years ago, we knew our farm-family neighbors down the road as new acquaintances. As a matter of fact, one of the first times we walked the land to explore, our car got stuck and the old farmer’s son, Rob was helpful to pull us out with his pick-up. As time went by, Rob become a fast friend. Always a colorful Maine wit and the most good natured person you’d ever meet, Rob has been close to our family; supporting our efforts at developing our property and more. From using his old skidder to help clear trees, hauling his hay equipment up the road to bale the hay in our field to entertaining all of us, including our (now adult) kids with his deeply rooted Maine humor and innate wisdom. We have reciprocated his good deeds by helping him with farm chores and in the hay field every summer. Rob has been there whenever we needed a helping hand. All he ever asks in return is an occasional homemade apple pie! Being our "Bestest Neighbor" is a phrase coined by Rob in describing himself to us, and we think it is most appropriate.

—— Kristen and James

My story is about a man named Ed Marsh, he was an insurance agent who lived up the street from us in Waterville. We had six children in our family and we all went to a Catholic School, Sacred Heart School. We were all Catholics and Mr. Marsh was a protestant. My dad, who was the best man I have ever known, but he was a civil engineer who worked on bridges all over Maine and was always away during the week and only home on weekends. The Catholic School was quite a distance away. Mr. Marsh spoke to my mom and said that if we could be ready he would take us all to school. Every morning around 7:30 he would be in front of our house waiting for us. He did this for years. One time I had forgotten my cold lunch in his car and he brought to the Head Superior Nun in the office, Mother Pauline. She took him for my dad when he brought in my lunch and he explained he was just a neighbor.

Later as we grew he set up games of pitch and catch with his son, John and all of us kids right there in the neighborhood. Sometimes he would play ball with us. He bought a catcher's mitt, and mask, it established a love in us for baseball. He was a great neighbor. When my dad got cancer some 27 years ago, he was so supportive of our family. His wife, too, a very sweet person, got cancer and died way too young, just like my dad.

Mr. Marsh lived into his nineties and passed away a few years ago. He has wonderful adult children that stay in touch with my mom who still lives in Waterville and they will even take her out to lunch now and then. We never forgot those rides to Sacred Heart School or his neighborhood pitch and catch, he was a 'Good Neighbor.

—— Bill Flagg, Director
Community Relations and Development
Cary Medical Center

I'd like to nominate Mr. Steve Muise — an extraordinary teacher and leader of the Franklin County Fiddlers at RSU 9 (Franklin County). (More here: newscentermaine.com)

For many years, he has brought warmth, humor and joy in leading his young musicians to many community events.

Year after year, he brings the Fiddlers together in Weld, at the end of winter, for an unforgettable community concert; he guides them at nursing homes, contra dances and — this year — at our governor's inauguration. He brings them to places these students might never otherwise see: The Maritimes, New Orleans, Ireland. Truly — a gem of a "neighbor," one whom Mr. Rogers would have loved to meet.

—— Mira Coleman

Ten years ago, in search of a quieter, slower-paced life, my husband and I move to central Maine. Even though we were "from away," our neighbors welcomed us with unfamiliar kindness. In Maine, we discovered, kindness is not "heroic," it is the norm. So when someone opens their heart, home, and family to a friend who is ill, that is exceptional.

My friend Lisa, recently divorced, at the age of 63, was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Amber Lambke, owner of Maine Grains in Skowhegan and Lisa's friend and employer, encouraged her to move into an apartment attached to her home on Elm Street where the Lambke's family of four could look after her and her dog, Buddy. They cooked meals in her apartment, sharing food, music and daily news around the table. When Amber and her husband Mike, took a previously planned trip, Amber's parents stepped in to care for Lisa. The family surrounded her with her personal comforts, invited friends and visiting family to stop by, allowed her to continue working as long as she was able, valuing her contributions until it was clear that hospice was needed. Even when her appetite diminished, Lisa, a trained baker and devout foodie, would delight in a taste or a sniff of a well-prepared dish.

I don't know what a "hero" is, but opening up one's home, not just to care for a friend, but to give them the most dignified, generous and inclusive end-of life care, is my definition of "hero."

—— Nina from Norridgewock

Recently my Daughter was visited by the Aroostook County Sherriff and given awards for our outstanding kindness and community service. They posted the event on the Aroostook County Sheriff's Office page with the following write up.

Sheriff Gillen was recently honored to meet with 9 year old Rebecca O'Leary of Mars Hill.

The Sheriff awarded Rebecca with a department patch and a challenge coin in recognition of her service and donations to the community.

Rebecca gave to the local food drive and purchased many gifts for Toys for Tots over the holiday season. Rebecca even sold her skis to buy coats to donate to Recovery Aroostook. The Sheriff's office is very proud of Rebecca and her service to our community!

I feel this hero embodies all that Fred Rogers' lessons stood for in her kindness, unselfish character and service to others.

—— Jessica from Mars Hill

I would like to nominate my 15-year-old daughter, Blake, for the My Neighbor segment. My daughter has been volunteering at our local Brunswick animal shelter for 7 years. Blake is one of the most active and long serving volunteers within the animal shelter. In 2018, Blake was selected as a News Center 6 "Six Who Care" honoree. Blake is a great example of how kids can make a difference in their communities.

—— Meg from Brunswick

Vera Foss was a volunteer at the Hancock Grammar School helping kids who were struggling with school in this rural community in the 1960s. One of those students, Diane, was so touched by Vera's neighborliness that when Vera came to need care in the assisted living home Diane operated, Golden Acres, she pledged to care for her as long as she lived. After nearly 13 years, mostly with dementia, Vera passed away and Diane was good to her word, keeping her at Golden Acres until the end? and then speaking at her memorial. They were neighbors!

—— Douglas Kimmel

Blizzard

I'm caught in a blizzard of emotions today: things that should make me happy are breaking my heart, and vice versa.

I lie in my sweet bed at daybreak, listening to the storm outside and school cancellations on the radio. In years past I would have leaped up at first consciousness to keep my terminally ill husband from doing what he saw as his duty: fire up the benevolent monster, our snow blower.

Regardless of the chemo pump pulsing its magical poison through his veins, if Jeff was able, he was shoveling. If not able, he was fretting about it.

During every storm, Jeff would rage about the snowplow, which (according to him) would wait for the chance to bury our driveway and sidewalk in the plow's fresh chunky drift the minute we finished shoveling.

Our affable, conscientious neighbor M. drives an enormous city plow truck. Today he drove by at twilight, honking and waving. He carefully aimed his plow so the snow spray was several feet away from my freshly shoveled walk. He skillfully scooped up a snow mountain, deposited it far from my driveway. He saved me hours of work in those few seconds of aiming his gigantic plow blade just so.

I am happy and grateful. Why should this make me cry, standing alone in the blustery dark street, leaning on my shovel, the winter wind whipping tears from my cold cheeks? I wish, of course, that Jeff was here to appreciate M's kindness.

—— Carolyn from Portland

Diane and Jack Barnes, Hiram

I write in memory of Jack Barnes (1927-2018). Jack and his wife Diane were a supportive team, each with different roles. They are my neighborhood heroes.

They were an inspiration in our Hiram neighborhood for their kindness and for living modestly in harmony with our rural environment. They used only what they needed and shared the rest. What joy to hear, They are ripe, please come and pick! Jack raised chickens in coops he built, and introduced his neighbors to the pleasure of farm fresh eggs. What the Barneses and their neighbors couldn't eat, Diane canned or added to baked goods, which—again—they shared.

The many Maine books they co-authored and illustrated with old photographs they collected preserve our history. A selection of magazine articles Jack wrote about Maine writers (The Best of Barnes, 1996) is an important literary resource. How proud their books and their local talks about them make us of our State.

Together Jack and Diane traveled to more than 100 countries, bringing back priceless insights, new ideas, and infectious enthusiasm, which they passed on to neighbors and students. Noteworthy was their popular University of Southern Maine course on cross-cultural perspectives.

The location of their home, where the roads splay out like the spokes of a wheel, reminds me of the way Jack and Diane reached out to gain global understanding and to share what they learned and what they grew. May Jack's neighborly spirit remain at our neighborhood core.

—— Cynthia of Hiram

I have lived near Ann and Alan Brooks now for about 14 years. I am single and had not owned a house in quite a while and certainly not one in the woods with risk of power outages, issues with furnaces and snow and ice dams, etc. The second year I was in the house, we had a major snowstorm and my furnace kept going off and on about every 5 minutes. Service guy came out and it turned out the vent had gotten blocked at the roofline so there was no exhaust/air exchange. Little did I know that as a result a large ice dam had formed. I was sitting down to dinner Dec. 23rd (leaving for Indiana to be with family in the morning) and water starts running between the walls. I called Alan to see if we could borrow his 30 foot ladder to get up and shovel off the roof — within 5 minutes Alan drove up with his ladder, got onto the roof, shoveled it, put ice melt down, and all was right with the world....THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE IN THE PITCH BLACK NIGHT! I have tears in my eyes as I write this...so generous of heart and time.

On another occasion that same year, I had bought a generator and Alan said "let me know when you're ready to learn how to run it..." Well the first outage we had, he helped me unbox the new generator — well I had not realized I needed to BUY a cable — why would I know that — other appliances come with them ... Alan loaned me his and had someone at the shop make one for me.

I could go on and on — the Brooks are an amazing, generous, loving, lovely couple and I am sooooo blessed to have them as my neighbor! Thank you Ann and Alan! I am the luckiest person in the world because you are two amazing people...

—— Terese from Eliot

I live in Bath. Diagonally across from me is one of the best neighbors in the state. His name is Steve Richter.

It snows. He fires up his snowblower. Before I even met him, before I knew his name, he snowblowed the end of my driveway. I have a fence like Donald Trump thinks is so great and a gate at the end of the driveway so Steve can only snowblow the part between the gate and the street- the part where the city snowplows pile all the snow. When he snowblows it away, it is a great relief and a time saver.

He not only does mine, he does the neighbors' driveway across the street. He does the people next to him. He even does other neighbors. No one asks him too. He just does it.

Every once in awhile I will put a bottle of Allagash Triple in his truck bed. Allagash should send him a case. President Trump should ask him to the White House for advice on how to be a good neighbor.

Your Friend,

—— Susan from Bath

I am writing to nominate Theresa Gillis and the other organizers of TEAN (The Emergency Action Network) for a Neighborhood Hero award. TEAN is a Brunswick based, 100% volunteer funded and operated organization that provides for area families and individuals who, due to poverty, unfortunate circumstances, or recent tragedy, have an urgent need that they can't meet. When the TEAN coordinators are made aware of a family whose home has burned, or a child who lacks a warm winter coat, or an elderly person who needs a meal once a week, they leverage the power of social media to make the community aware of the need. Anyone who is a member of the TEAN Facebook group or e-mail community can respond. And the response is consistently overwhelming. Theresa and her team then coordinate donations to make sure that they are delivered to recipients in a way that confidentiality and security can be respected for both donors and recipients. TEAN has provided everything from safe drinking water for dozens of families whose landlord didn't properly maintain the water source in a Brunswick trailer park to scholarships for underprivileged children to attend summer day camps. In a little over two years, they have collected thousands of donations and impacted thousands of lives. I can think of no individual or organization who has done more to bring my community together or make it a better place in the 46 years I have lived there.

—— Alan Yuodsnukis from Brunswick

In a small hamlet in central Maine lies a community of folks who perhaps have little by way of material things but are the embodiment of kindness and caring. Meandering up Fox Hill in Athens one can find Marjory Scott in her modest but lovely home as she prepares to head out to an event she organized many years ago to benefit a group called the Athens Victory Club. Runners from around the area gather every Tuesday night all summer long to run the “Farm to Farm 5K.” Many are high school track members; many are folks looking to lose a few pounds; some are pushing strollers; many are walking rather than running; but all are happy to be in the outdoors with old and newly found friends. Marjorie's efforts support a good cause, as all proceeds go to helping those less fortunate in the community. The Victory Club has been in existence since World War II, when it served a similar purpose for those in need during troubled times. Marjorie can often be found at a nearby assisted living facility where she plays guitar and entertains the residents with her singing. Her kind, good-natured spirit has also been passed on to her daughter and grandchildren who also participate and involve themselves in community endeavors. It's difficult to summarize the accomplishments of someone like Marjorie in a limited space, but she is Athens own “Mr. Rogers” and we, the benefactors of her generosity, are more than grateful that she is, in fact, "our neighbor."

—— Angie Stockwell from Skowhegan

Darlene Moore is the Executive Director at the Pierce House in Farmington, a beautiful home for the elderly, She shares herself, love, and time with the residents. In addition she sings in the choir at her church, Trinity Methodist Church , contributes to community activities, as well as providing special dinners for her family (close to 40+) , and she does the majority of the food preparation.

At the Pierce House she also does dessert baking for monthly teas for the residents, "Friends" (committee designated to do "fun" stuff with the residents!), and families and guests of the residents. Our community is blessed to have her, but the biggest recipients of her love are the residents at The Pierce House.

—— Mary Sue from Farmington

Carol Hutchins had really help me as I took on step at a time. I am grateful since I have a concussion on top of Brain Injury cause by a stroke. I have learned a lot from Carol about the history of our fine city.

I went to Dow House to meet my Photography Assignment at Olli College. She is the tour guide at this house. I found her very knowledgeable about everything in the house.

She also served on the parks commission and is on the Board of the Deering Oaks Park. She has endless opportunities to be kind to all cultures since living at the Portland Street end of Mechanic Street. Plus walking all over Portland daily.

I was honored to meet her at Congress Square Park.

—— Love, Creative Karen

I think Melissa Guerrette, teacher in Oxford Hills is a true neighborhood here!

Melissa Guerrette one of the co-chairs of OHills Reads. Along with her co-chair at Healthy Oxford Hills, she has organized the first community wide reading initiative in our area. Oxford Hills is eight small communities, one school district. With the support of donations from 35+ local groups, businesses, or individuals, and some grant funding, they've raised $16,000 and purchased 1,500 copies of The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner. This book is a middle grade book that, among other themes, takes an honest look at the impact of substance use disorder on families. 900 copies of the book have gone directly into the hands of every 4th, 5th, and 6th grader in our school district. Families are encouraged to read together. Some classrooms are reading together. The other 600 copies are distributed across various sites in the community for other community members to pick up a free copy to read also. They put books out mid-December, and as of last week, they estimate that they only have about 150 books left in our possession (for replenishing distribution sites or providing new business who want to be a distribution site).

Through the whole month of January, they have organized and will host various events and activities related to the book and/or opioid use in Oxford Hills. Kate Messner is visiting Oxford Hills in early February for a multi-day visit, giving ALL MSAD 17 students the opportunity for an author visit as well as a community session on one night.

They are really hopeful about the outreach of this book and the space we're making to grow empathy and explore the topic of substance use. The project aims to (1) connect schools and the community, (2) facilitated education and prevention, and 3. reduce stigma around health issues.

I hope you agree that Melissa is impacting her neighborhood in the spirit of Fred Rogers.

—— Connie from Cumberland

I think my husband, Stan Moody, is a great example of someone who makes neighborhoods better places. One thing Mr. Rogers emphasized was acceptance and inclusiveness for all neighbors. Stan became the Senior Pastor at Columbia Street Baptist Church in April, 2013. The next fall, he created a non-profit organization, the Columbia Street Project, to continue his vision of providing high quality re-entry services for men getting out of prison. Stan works tirelessly to get to know the people in this low-income downtown Bangor neighborhood. In addition to poverty issues, many of these neighbors have mental illness and substance abuse issues. Stan believes in the dignity of each individual, is accepting of everyone, and treats all with equal respect. Every Sunday he spends time talking with people at the weekly soup kitchen. He frequently spends his free time meeting with individuals in need and mentoring them.

Stan has persisted in meeting with area agencies and individuals who share the desire to serve returning citizens, whether they be veterans or those being released from prison. He is not afraid to take risks and be creative about partnering so that this neighborhood can be served. Stan humbly takes a back seat and tries to support these partners in their work. Finally, one more thing makes Stan exceptions. He will be 80 years old next year!

—— Barbara from Bangor

My heroine nod is to a Ms. Sherry Fine who saw a need on the other side of the world and set up a nonprofit, "LIVING WATERS", to provide shelter, education, food and clothing to children who have lost their parents to war, aids and natural disasters. Living Waters has grown to serve parts of Africa, Haiti and America. Sherry is a ball of energy and a source of white light!

—— Jim from Sanbornville, NH

I thought this might fit the bill for your upcoming piece on local heroes. This was an incredible act of gut instinct bravery by two rural mail carriers in Belgrade (one of whom delivers mail on my route).

centralmaine.com/2019/01/09/belgrade-postal-workers-praised-for-pulling-driver-from-burning-tanker-truck/

—— Chris from Belgrade