AUGUSTA – Some sat in wheelchairs. Others couldn’t hear well. Some couldn’t be at the State House in person Thursday because they weren’t strong enough. Time steals youth and ability.

But the elders who were there were all smiles. They were some of the 38 nursing home residents honored with Lifetime Achievement awards by the Maine Health Care Association.

Addressing the audience, Gov. John Baldacci said their selfless choices helped “Maine and the nation become the most prosperous, the most free in this world that is so turbulent today. Thank you for what you have done for us.”

Those honored ranged from 75 to 105, and included doctors, teachers, decorated war heroes and business owners.

Among them was Lewiston’s Leo Whittingham, 82, a current resident of St. Marguerite d’Youville Pavilion. Sitting next to his wife, Mildred, of 61 years, he wore a red carnation.

“He’s ‘Mr. St. Joseph.’ He’s done so much work for St. Joseph’s parish,” his wife said, listing his accomplishments. They included forming a group of alter servers for funerals and weekend masses.

A veteran of World War II, his Army job included distributing rifles to those in the Battle of the Bulge. When asked what life event made the biggest impression on him, Whittingham didn’t hesitate. “Omaha Beach, when we invaded France. I was right there.”

After the war he and Mildred raised three daughters and now have six grandchildren. His advice to the young: “Get an education. Marry well.”

A few seats away was Gertrude Earley, 95, of the Auburn Home for Aged Women. The former Sun Journal writer also spent 24 years as Sabattus town clerk and served as Sabattus post mistress. While work is important, “I was first a mother and a grandmother and a great-great mother,” she said with a smile. Other things follow. It’s important for young people to study, she said. “And read, read, read!”

Madeline Junkins of Lisbon stood holding her husband’s framed certificate. Former Lisbon Police Chief Albert “Bud” Junkins, 83, of Marshwood Center in Lewiston, was not aware of his award. “He’s too far gone now,” she said Thursday. “It breaks my heart. … It pleases me to know someone else has noticed his accomplishments.”

Her husband loved history. His grandfather served during the Civil War and Bud learned all about it. He saw battle himself during WWII. “He was one of the fortunate ones who made it home,” Madeline said.

Despite being a decorated veteran, Junkins’ real calling was police work. “He was born to be a police officer,” Madeline said. “He wasn’t out to get you, he was out to protect you.”

Her husband knew that kids made mistakes and helped them correct their ways, but he warned them not to make a second mistake.

“We’ve had a lot of young folks who graduated from high school, went away to college.” They’d come back, she said. “They’d knock on our door and say, ‘Thank you for what you have done for me. If you (had) arrested me when you stopped me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.'”

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