The fifth annual July 4th Norway Lake boat parade took place on July 3. More than 50 boats participated. Supplied photo

For the second year in a row, Oxford Hills’ Independence Day events were hard to come by due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Lakes Association of Norway held a boat parade around Lake Pennesseewassee on July 3 and Otisfield held its annual parade on July 4. Fireworks could be seen at Oxford Plains Speedway on July 3. But no other towns in the region had any official scheduled celebrations on their calendars.

Folks from away put the local real estate market into a grip that saw young and first-time home buyers without much buying power. The housing boom saw the prices of modest homes increase by $100,000 or more, with the average time on the market shrinking from 50 days to about eight days. Oxford Hills’ collection of lake properties and easy access to the coast and mountains made it a hot target for out-of-state buyers looking for more tranquil lifestyles.

Some parents attended SAD 17’s July 12 school board meeting to object to the art themes expressed on Oxford Hills Middle School’s annual yearbook. The cover included illustrations depicting struggles of the pandemic, social unrest, environmental crises and social media pressures. The parents felt it inappropriate to make political issues a part of what is meant to be a celebration of the school year.

The front and back covers of Oxford Hills Middle School’s 2020-21 yearbook. Courtesy Lisa McCann

Dealership parking lots in Oxford Hills emptied in 2021 as worldwide computer chip shortages stranded newly manufactured vehicles from leaving factories. Despite low to no inventory, South Paris’ dealerships Bessey Motors and Ripley & Fletcher reported that business continued to be strong, with customers choosing to custom-order their purchases; however wait times for delivery were being quoted at six months or longer.

Members of Oxford Hills’ 1970 band Creation Completed in 2015, before the first street dance to benefit the Norway Opera House. Supplied image

The Norway Opera House was the beneficiary of the first street dance to be held in town in years. Creation Completed, a band formed more than 50 years ago that played at the Opera House during its heyday, headlined the evening of music. Other scheduled performers included Old Dogs New Tricks featuring Fred Foster and Rusty Wiltjer, Don and Judy Mayberry with Rusty Wiltjer and Milltown Roadshow.



Down East Magazine included Norway on its list of Maine’s “best small-town downtowns,” citing long established institutions like the Weary Club; Ordway Grove, a trail system with some of Maine’s oldest standing pine trees; pubs and eateries; a Main Street revitalized by a number of independently own specialty shops like The Tribune and Widdershins Antiques; and occupied storefronts in the venerable Norway Opera House like Fiber & Vine.

After years of talk, Oxford officially listed its town office for sale. No price was attached to the listing, as real estate appraisers are bottle-necked in the

The Oxford Helping Hands Food Pantry at the Municipal Center on Pleasant Street is searching for a new location because the town office building is up for sale. President Karen Miller asked selectmen Thursday for options on a new site in town. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat file

hot market. Selectmen would later insist on a reasonable starting figure being assigned and settled on an ask of $300,000. By year-end Town Manager Adam Garland confirmed there had been some interest but no offers had been tendered five months into the process.

Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Maine Department of Education’s Rethinking Remote Education Ventures fund. As Agnes Gray’s educator team pursued a vision of what permanent experiential education would look like, they determined the addition of a yurt would compliment the small cabin the school already uses for outdoor learning.

School Administrative District 17’s board of directors voted to begin the school year with a mask mandate within school buildings.


Oxford County Administrator Donald Durrah also announced that employees and visitors would be required to wear masks at the county complex on Western Avenue in South Paris. “We thought it was time to go back to the emergency policy,” Durrah told county commissioners.


Pat Stanley-Beals, 82, owner of Anytime Electric and the first Maine woman to become a licensed master electrician, announced that she was retiring from her South Paris business. During the 1970s Stanley-Beals decided that traditional women’s careers like teaching and nursing were boring, abandoning both in pursuit of a “charged life,” humbling some of her male colleagues in the trade in the process.


Principal Beth Clarke welcomes students arriving at school on Sep. 1, the same week seven SAD 17 school buses failed a state inspection. Maine DOT suspended the district’s inspection license for 90 days. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat file

After twice failing state inspection, SAD 17’s transportation garage and mechanics had their licenses suspended by Maine’s Department of Transportation for 90 days. DOT inspectors also pulled seven buses out of service after they were deemed unsafe for the road. The school district contracted two commercial garages to provide inspections while its staff was not able to self-certify its buses.

Paris’ parks and recreation director set up two memorials honoring 13 American servicemen and women who lost their lives during a suicide bombing at the Kabul airport as they assisted civilians being evacuated from Afghanistan. Candace Jack set one up at Moore Park on High Street; then helped her co-workers at the Honey Badger restaurant in Oxford create a second one there.


The Oxford County Fair returned in September to thankful and receptive crowds. Country music star Crystal Gayle was the headline entertainment performer. Fair organizers reported they were happy to get things back on track after canceling the fair in 2020 due to COVID-19. Among the the local craftsmen that captivated fair-goers was Ryan Adams of Bell Hill Forge, an Otisfield blacksmith demonstrating a trade from years of lore.

Ryan Adams of Bell Hill Forge in Otisfield demonstrates blacksmithing at the Oxford Fair in Oxford in September. Adams crafted a decorative leaf with an iron rod and 2,000-degree fire. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat file

Ten fire and rescue departments around Oxford Hills responded to reports of smoke within Stephens Memorial Hospital on Sept. 17. There was no fire and the source of the smoke was not immediately found. SMH’s emergency department and special care unit were both closed for several hours and patients had to be transported to other care facilities. The hospital’s north surgical wing, including the maternity department, had to undergo extensive repairs due to the smoke damage.

At least eight female employees, led by Superintendent Dr. Monica Henson, signed up to earn their commercial driver’s licenses to help SAD 17 mitigate its shortage of bus drivers. After completing training and certification, which is more rigorous than other CDL licenses, the group will be available to act as substitute bus drivers.


A number of personnel changes were announced at SAD 17’s board of directors meeting Oct. 4. Patrick Hartnett, Oxford Hills assistant superintendent, exited to join the University of Southern Maine’s School of Education and Human Development as assistant professor of leadership. Hartnett previously taught social studies and served as assistant principal at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School. Other changes in SAD 17’s leadership included Heather Manchester being promoted from curriculum director to chief academic officer and Jan Neureuther from special education director to chief student services officer.

Formerly co-hosts for 10 years in corporate radio, Heidi Adam (left) and Stan Bennett reunited for WOXO’s morning radio show, broadcasting to Oxford Hills and the River Valley. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat file

One of Maine’s premier radio hosting teams, separated in 2018 by corporate politics, reunited after Stan Bennett purchased Norway’s independent radio station, Gleason Radio Group. After overhauling and updating the station, which also broadcasts from Auburn, Bennett recruited his old WFNK/Frank FM partner Heidi Adam to join him on the airwaves of WOXO 92.7/100.7.


Oxford Helping Hands Food Pantry volunteers and directors appeared before selectmen to discuss options for a new headquarters. Selectmen floated the idea of relocating the pantry to one of two town-owned properties, the Kay House Museum where the Oxford Historical Society is based, or the 1830 Center Meeting House. Directors for the food pantry informed the select board that neither site was possible due to lack of water, plumbing, heat or a set-up that Good Shepherd Food Bank could deliver to.

With the state mandate that all Maine health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1, local rescue departments and services from Oxford and Stephens Memorial Hospital reported that none of their staff had resigned rather than get the shot. Oxford Fire & Rescue Chief Paul Hewey said all first-responders who would have contact with patients had been vaccinated. Bob Hand, director for PACE Ambulance Service, said his crew would be in compliance by the deadline for enforcing the mandate.

Colby Martel, left, enticed his mother Aranka Matolcsy to use a Wizard of Oz theme for their Halloween costumes in October. He went as the Scarecrow and wanted her to be the Cowardly Lion. Supplied photo

In a three-part series honoring October as Down Syndrome Awareness Month, the Advertiser Democrat sat down with several families around Oxford Hills who shared their common experiences of advocating for their kids, of the void in services bridging childhood to adulthood and of the joy and triumphs of having a family member with Down Syndrome.


Oxford Hills voters sided with the rest of the state on election day in favor of Question 1 on the Maine ballot to halt construction of the Central Maine Power Company’s corridor. CMP intended to deliver electricity from Canada to Massachusetts via the New England Clean Energy Connect, a 145-mile path cut through western Maine. CMP’s corporate parents, Avengrid of Connecticut and Iberdola of Spain, asserted the referendum question was unconstitutional and are fighting the vote in court.

Voters also approved a $100 million bond to upgrade roads and bridges and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing Mainers the right to grow their own food.


The town of Paris was struck by three residential fires in November.  On Nov. 5 a five-year-old child lost his life when fire quickly spread through his family’s home on Western Avenue. The fire started from a spark from welding equipment. On Nov. 20 a garage on Stearns Hills Road was flattened after fire spread from a woodstove. Then, on Thanksgiving Day two people were taken to the hospital when an early morning fire destroyed a home on Oxford Street.

Randy Jack, veteran of the Army Reserves and the Air National Guard, talked with the Advertiser Democrat about his experience in military service between 1974 and 2003 and about his role as chaplain of the Ring-McKeen American Legion post 151. From training recruits in marksmanship to cooking duty in Iraq to helping veterans through the Legion, Jack overcame a 4F classification as a draftee to serve his country.

The Oxford Hills Vikings varsity football team, ranked No. 2, lined up in the Class A state championship game against No. 1 seed Thornton Academy on Nov. 20. The only team to beat Oxford Hills during the regular season, the Golden Trojans dispatched the Vikings for a second time to claim the trophy and championship.

Capping off more than a year of dysfunction, when Buckfield Town Clerk Melissa Worf tendered her resignation with a 30-day notice, new Town Manager Lorna Nichols refused to accept the terms and instructed her to leave for good 24 hours later. The town’s turbulence continued the following week when residents learned that officials had miscalculated property exemption values, turning the welcome news of a $3 drop in the mil rate into the reality that taxpayers will still have to pay the $3, plus another 60 cents in the coming year.

Christy Gardner of Mission Working Dogs doles out rawhide treats to Moxie, center, her retired service dog, while the rest of the pack wait for theirs at her home in Oxford. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat file

A Christmas tradition returned on Nov. 27 with the Oxford Chamber of Commerce once again holding its annual Christmas Parade. Cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19, old favorites returned and new organizations joined in the fun, including Mission Working Dogs, the Oxford-based nonprofit dedicated to matching both veterans and civilians with PTSD or mobility challenges with service dogs.



SAD 17 got a brief reprieve from COVID-related quarantines following Thanksgiving break, reporting that fewer than half its students were in isolation or sick with the virus at the beginning of December as they had been in November. Administrators credited pooled testing for catching a number of positive cases before students showed symptoms of being sick, and for allowing close contacts with negative results to stay in school.

The town of Oxford wrapped up 2021 with a potential buyer for its town office building, just as one bid to design a new one was presented to selectmen. However, nothing was finalized before the end of the year.

With the delta variant of COVID-19 trampling Maine’s health care system, Gov. Janet Mills deployed dozens of National Guardsmen to assist medical worker in hospitals around the state, including at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway. SMH’s emergency department was so overwhelmed by patients seeking care at times that people had to wait in their cars for hours before they could be seen by a doctor. This as the even more infectious omicron variant of the virus was being detected in other areas of the state.

Outdoor Education Coordinator Sarah Timm (left) and Principal Beth Clarke of Agnes Gray Elementary School last August. Clarke has since resigned from the Oxford Hills school district. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat file

Beth Clarke, principal at Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris, resigned from the district after Thanksgiving due to ongoing health challenges. Clarke was instrumental in combining outdoor exploration with her students’ education, making the school a model for other educators beyond Oxford Hills. She left the school after securing a $250,000 grant earlier in 2021 to establish outdoor education at the school, including a dedicated employee and construction of a classroom yurt.

Oxford Hills Tech School senior Cadence Allen had reason to celebrate as Christmas break started, learning that she had been nominated for the CTE U.S. Presidential Scholar Award. In her third year with OHTS’ Building Construction Technology, Allen has already been honored as the program’s top student during her sophomore and junior years.


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