Editor’s Note: March is Women’s History month. We have been fortunate to have many women throughout history who are remembered for their contributions to their community, state, country and the world. This month we would like to recognize our women who contribute on a daily basis, quietly, in their own way. They may not make the history books, but they certainly deserve to make our pages.

BETHEL — Kathy Westleigh has flown under the radar most of her years in Bethel, but her relentless effort in the community is felt all the time.

She was born in Conway, N.H. and lived in Snowville until she was 21. She then moved to Bethel.

Westleigh with one of her reusable bags. Bethel Citizen photo by Samuel Wheeler

Westleigh has been a volunteer at the District Exchange every Monday for the last 15 years. She makes and changes the curtains every season, keeps the books straight and vacuums and cleans the facility weekly. She wants to make the store a place people “want to come to.”

The exchange is a place where people can donate clothing, and then the exchange will sell the clothing. The sale benefits the food pantry, the backpack program at Crescent Park School and the Smile Fund.

However, if she ever sees someone without enough money, she’ll give the clothes to them.

Co-workers say Westleigh is the epitome of dependable, always being willing to cover shifts for people when needed.

Westleigh is always doing something. She recently started making reusable bags out of animal feed bags. She sells some of the bags, but gives more away. The bags can hold up to 40 pounds, and Westleigh knows that because she has tested them out herself. She lines the bags and puts a piece of cardboard at the bottom of it. The cardboard is covered up with a colorful piece of cloth.

Westleigh makes bigger bags for people to put their recyclables in.

She started making the bags five years ago, and credits her friends with helping her come up with the idea.

She gets the bags from the transfer station staff, who save them for her and then she takes them back home and cleans them out.

She said she gets bags from almost anyone now, all of whom know that she makes them.

A couple years ago Westleigh donated 50 of her bags to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. She plans to donate more of her bags somewhere else this year.

Her bags are popular. Some of the people to whom she’s given them to come into the District Exchange weekly, and every time are using one of her bags to put clothes in.

Her contributions and help are endless. Anytime she goes to the transfer station she brings something for the employees.

“I feed them every Wednesday and Saturday I go, I make them muffins, or coffee cake or chicken noodle soup on a really cold day,” Westleigh said. “It’s a hard job over there, it’s cold, it’s windy and I want to make their day.”

She said she’s been taking them food for more than a year.

She loves to cook and makes the most out of it. Anytime she hears that someone is sick, she bakes them something. If there’s a death in someone’s family and she hears about it, Westleigh will cook them something also.

“I love doing it for people, I like making people happy. I care about people. This stuff keeps me going,” she said.

She’s always had a knack for helping people. Growing up she took care of her sisters when her mother was sick. Helping out with family made her branch out into helping more people.

“I started helping this one, helping that one and it just continued.”

Westleighsaid  she enjoys helping the public and spending time with her grandchildren the most. She’s started helping raise them more than 30 years ago.

She’s always cooked for people, but thanks one of her close friends for helping her get involved with the District Exchange. She came there one day and knew the place was for her. After someone transitioned out, she stepped in and has been making it a part of her schedule every week.

Although her efforts may not be widely known, her face is. Westleigh says a 10-minute stop at the grocery store can turn into an hour with all the different people she has conversations with.

She’s worked at many places in the Bethel area. The Bethel Inn, the Only Place, Red Top, Jordan’s Restaurant, Sunday River Inn and Hanover Dowel.

She returned to almost all her jobs more than once, many who asked her to come back.

Westleigh also drove school bus for what was then the West Bethel Children’s Center.

Some of her greatest friendships were formed at all the different places she worked.

“My old friends, the people, seeing it grow,” are a few of her favorite things about the area she said.


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