July

Western Maine trails received $87,000 in grants with $30,000 granted to The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust to improve wayfaring in the trust’s 36 miles of trails. Trailhead signs and trail markers will be improved and an in-town trail between Rangeley’s Lakeside Park and the Rangeley Public Library will be constructed.

“Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust has conserved more than 14,000 acres in the region for public access and the wayfinding system will be critical to keeping access safe and educational,” David Miller, executive director of The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, said.

The Maine State Fire Marshal’s office released a report the first week of July that included several first-hand accounts of the Sept. 16, 2019, LEAP Inc. building explosion in Farmington. Accounts from firefighters confirmed that there was no smell of propane outside or inside of the building. While no propane was detected around the tank, the measurement readings in the basement were off the chart. Captain Timothy “TD” Hardy’s account revealed the suddenness of the explosion. “And the next thing I know,” Hardy told the investigator, “I woke up.” 

The scene of a Sept. 16, 2019, explosion at the LEAP building in Farmington. Sun Journal file photo

The Franklin County Budget Advisory Committee approved a $6.79 million 2020-2021 budget on July 8. The budget decreased commissioners pay for the second time since 2016. Overall, the budget was up $64,024 from the previous year with $4.54 million for county government and $2.25 million for the jail.

The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies (CES) opened its storefront at 156 Main Street in Farmington on July 10. CES provides youth with the opportunity to develop a business plan and market their product or service from the downtown storefront. Entrepreneurs include website developers, a landscaper, candlemakers, a baker, merchandise retailers and jewelry makers, to name a few. Former Mt. Blue High School business teacher Bonita Lehigh developed the center to foster sustainable economic growth and encourage young tradespeople throughout Franklin County.

Peter Byrnes peruses Natalie Roger’s whoopie pie and cupcake offerings at her micro bakeshop at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at 156 Main St. in Farmington. File Photo

Mt. Blue High School chemistry teacher Maria Howatt was awarded $2,000 by the Perloff Foundation of the Maine Community Foundation and $1,000 from the Maine Space Grant Consortium to purchase materials to design take-home lab kits. Howatt developed remote learning programming that included at-home labs, utilizing baking to demonstrate chemistry.

“I have a lot of learners that have struggled in science before, in school in general, and we try to make a good, hands-on learning environment because a lot of times, you cannot link information to the brain unless you have experience,” Howatt said.

June Roberts of New Vineyard celebrated her centennial birthday on July 19. Throughout her life, Roberts operated a dairy farm, worked as a stitcher at Franklin Shoe in Farmington for 28 years, maintained a large vegetable garden and raised five children. She now has 16 grandchildren, 18 great grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren.

100-year-old June Roberts of New Vineyard at her farmhouse kitchen where she still prepares all meals for her and one of her daughters. File Photo

The University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) postponed graduation for the Class of 2020 after determining that the coronavirus pandemic posed too great a risk to hold an in-person ceremony. Graduates were surveyed as to how they would like to proceed with ceremony plans and were offered to walk with the Class of 2021.

August

On August 1, a Portland man was rescued from the Tumbledown Mountain summit after injuring his ankle. The Maine Warden Service along with the Weld and Wilton fire departments, Franklin Search and Rescue and Mahoosuc Search and Rescue participated in recovering 44-year-old Damon Thomas.

On August 10, Wilton’s 2019 Annual Report was dedicated to Parks and Recreation Director Frank Donald who has served in his position for 31 years. The town presented the report to Donald at a surprise meeting with family and coworkers present. The report praised Donald for developing sports programming for all ages, maintaining Wilton’s parks and expanding recreational activities offered at Kineowatha Park.

Selectperson Tom Saviello presents the first copy of Wilton’s Town Report to Parks and Recreation Director Frank Donald whom the report was dedicated to on August 10 at Kineowatha Park. “I didn’t know anything about it until I pulled into the park and saw everybody waiting for me,” Donald said. File Photo

The Regional School Unit 9 Board of Directors approved hybrid models for the 2020-2021 school year on August 11. Students are currently following this model by attending a mix of in-person and remote classes with a fully-remote learning option as well. The hybrid schedule was in response to guidance provided by Maine’s Department of Education and Center for Disease Control.

University of Maine at Farmington freshmen were the first to move in to resident halls on August 18. Before unpacking, they had to complete a coronavirus test which had some waiting in a line for over two hours. Only one family member at a time was allowed in the resident halls with the student as they moved in. Students then spent the following two days sheltering in place with their new roommates until the university received test results.

Freshmen move in to resident halls at the University of Maine at Farmington on August 18. File Photo

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage the Farmington Historical Society paraded down Main Street in Farmington on August 18 in period costumes. The group made their way to the Meetinghouse Park where speakers provided some history on the suffrage movement. Michaela Carney also read an excerpt from a speech by Franklin County historical figure Isabel Greenwood who championed suffrage efforts in Farmington.

“’All reform movements seem slow to those who are thoroughly alive to their necessity and who are greatly interested in their success,’” Carney read from Greenwood’s speech.

FHS president Marion Scharoun, left, marches with her great-niece Ella Trefethen, right, down Main Street in Farmington on August 18 with banners referencing historical Franklin County figure Isabel Greenwood’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement. File Photo

The Farmington 2020 tax rate was set to $19.70 on August 26, a decrease from the previous year’s rate of $19.98. The cut was a result of the selectmen’s’ $50,000 cut from the Downtown Tax-Increment Financing account and from removing almost $24,000 from overlay.

September

102-year-old Eva Lindsay, a resident at Farmington’s Pinewood Terrace, was presented with Farmington’s Boston Post Cane on September 1. The cane made of ebony and crowned with 14-karat gold is presented to Farmington’s oldest resident.

“I realize this is a real honor, but I’m surprised I got it at 102. There are others who live to be older,” Lindsay said, upon receiving the cane.

Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis at right applauds after presenting the town’s Boston Post Cane to Eva Lindsay. File Photo

The Regional School Unit 9 Board of Directors voted to cancel fall competitive sports on September 1 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, students were permitted to participate in intramural sports. The board did not feel comfortable permitting competitive sports under the Maine Principal’s Association’s guidelines which were frequently changing at the start of the school year.

On September 7, Wilton resident Ferna Girardin turned 100 and was treated to a birthday parade organized by friends and family who wanted celebrate with COVID-19 precautions in mind. Girardin also received dozens of cards sent from places throughout Maine as well as from Amsterdam and Arizona. The centenarian is currently the longest living member of the Wilton First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ which she said has played a huge role in her life since 1959.

Ferna Girardin of Wilton stands beside the many cards and balloons she received in recognition of her 100th birthday. File Photo

An anniversary memorial event in Farmington was held on Sept. 16 to honor those who were affected by the 2019 LEAP Inc. building explosion. Vehicles slowed down and honked horns at the former building site at 313 Farmington Falls Road. Fire Captain Michael Bell who lost his life in the explosion was remembered by the fire department at the memorial by placing his helmet emblazoned with No. 406 on a pedestal.

“It showed the brotherhood. All the fire departments and massive support for Farmington was incredible that day and the weeks following,” Stephen Charles II , a Philips fire fighter, said at the memorial. “It’s after something like this happens you get a little jumpy. Not in a bad way. It keeps you on your toes.”

Farmington firefighter Stephan Bunker places the helmet of fallen fire Capt. Michael Bell in front of Tower 3 on Wednesday, September 16, during a memorial in Farmington, a year after the fatal explosion at the LEAP building. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

20-year-old Garrett Reynolds announced that he will take over Riverside Greenhouses in Farmington once his father retires in one to two years. Reynolds had been studying finance at Thomas College, but decided to return to the family business. In 1973, his father Kurt Reynolds started working at the greenhouses, purchased the business in 1986 and has since tripled its size.

“It’s nice to keep it in the family. I’m glad it worked out this way,” Garrett said. “It will be a long process. I’ve been here my whole life, always helped out.”

FedEx delivery driver Kari Sukeforth spent a night in Rangeley after her truck got stuck on the one-lane, dirt Bemis Road in Letter D Township. That night, Sukeforth spotted a moose, a deer, a bear, and temperatures dipped into the 30s. She climbed a tree to try and get reception and eventually walked over four miles before getting reception. At the same time, her boyfriend had notified the Rangeley Police Department who found Sukeforth by 10 a.m. the next morning.

October

On the first day of October, 4,300 Franklin Country residents woke up to no power after strong winds and rain caused power outages across the state. In Kingfield, all of Central Maine Power Company’s (CMP) 840  customers were without power while 147 lost power in Farmington. Kennebec County was hit the hardest with more than 65,000  customers without power.

The Farmington board approved the construction of a tribute memorial to commemorate the victims of the 2019 LEAP Inc. building explosion in Farmington. Vera Johnson, co-owner of Vera’s Iron and Vine in Farmington, designed a tribute sculpture that will be funded through a $10,000 grant from the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area LEAP Explosion Fund. The memorial is titled Tribute to Resilience and will be erected in the Bjorn Park with construction to begin in the spring of 2021.

A drawing shows the concept for a memorial for Bjorn Park called Tribute to Resilience to remember those impacted by the Sept. 16, 2019, LEAP building explosion. File Photo

Regional School Unit 9 reported its first student case of COVID-19 on October 9, just before the long weekend for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The case originated from an Academy Hill student in Wilton. The district successfully isolated the potential spread of the coronavirus from this single case by conducting its own contact tracing. It was already a workshop day for RSU 9 staff and nurses were on site to begin tracing close contacts.

Former Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck Jr. is now the assistant director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro. Sun Journal file photo Buy this Photo

Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck announced his resignation on October 27 after working for the department for 31 years. Peck left his position as chief on Nov. 12 and is now the assistant director at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Several local law enforcement officers and town officials expressed their gratitude for Peck’s service and congratulated him on his new position.

“While I am very happy for Jack, I am sorry to see him go,” Town Manager Richard Davis said in an email.  “He has been an outstanding chief in every way. Farmington’s loss is the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s gain. Jack is leaving one excellent agency for another truly fine organization. I will miss him tremendously, but I wish him only the best.”

Pixelle Specialty Solutions announced on Oct. 28 that an additional 67 employees would be laid off from the Androscoggin Mill. This was the third round of lay offs since July following the April 15 explosion of a pulp digester. The Androscoggin Mill lost 177 employees to lay offs in 2020. At the start of 2020, the mill employed roughly 500 employees.

The silo-shaped pulp digester is destroyed in April in an explosion at Pixelle Specialty Paper’s Androscoggin Mill in Jay. The company announced it will not rebuild the digester. Sun Journal file photo

The Farmington Elks Lodge #2430 at 120 School Street hosted its third annual haunted house with COVID-19 modifications. The Lodge scaled down on spooky characters and eliminated the kids activity room. Only a few people or a single family were allowed in at a time. The haunted house was also offered over the course of four days to help lessen any crowds from congregating outside the lodge.

November

The beginning of November saw an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Farmington Sandy River Center nursing home and physical rehab center on Route 133. Eight people tested positive out of about 80 residents and staff members. The reported cases came when Maine was starting to report single-day totals that were the highest since the beginning of the pandemic in March. On November 1 Maine’s Center for Disease Control reported 84 new coronavirus cases.

In Farmington Nov. 3, from left ballot clerks Richard Morton and Richard Jacques watch as Cindy Williamson feeds her ballot into a voting machine. File Photo

On November 3, Farmington residents cast 3,963 votes with 2,308 by absentee ballot. There were 1,655 in-person voters who waited in the cold wind with face coverings, spaced 6 feet apart. Farmington voters approved the leasing of a former landfill at 152 Dump Road for an electrical power generation and transmission project, known as the Farmington Landfill DG Solar Energy Center. Revenue to Farmington will be about $31,250 per year based on the lease, and the project is taxable. The generated power will not be solely designated for the town of Farmington.

Sun Journal Staff Writer Donna Perry was named the AP Sevellon Brown Journalist of the Year for New England. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Sun Journal Staff Writer Donna Perry was awarded 2020’s AP Sevellon Brown Journalist of the Year for New England. The annual award, given out by the New England Society of News Editors since 2013, recognizes an individual for producing journalism of distinction in New England. Perry covers Franklin County and was nominated for her reporting on the September 2019 explosion at the LEAP building in Farmington, her work covering the explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in April, and for her body of work covering municipal and county government and Franklin County courts.

A Farmington woman died and her son was injured in a car accident on Waterville Road in Norridgewock on November 17. Sally McKinley, 85, died immediately upon impact after her 2003 Cadillac Deville collided with a 2010 Ford Fusion driven by Joshua Savage, 31, of Norridgewock. McKinley’s son was transported to Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan for rib and wrist injuries.

Historian Guy Rioux completed his fourth and final volume on Franklin County’s narrow gauge railroads, “The Next Stop is Farmington,” after more than 20 years of research. Rioux’s volumes focus on different Franklin County narrow gauge trains and are titled under town names, Rangeley, Kingfield, Phillips and Farmington. The books include an expansive history Maine’s 118-mile, 2-foot railroad system established in 1879, and of booming, early 20th century mill towns. All of the profits from Rioux’s books go toward FarmingtonStrongPhillips   and Rangeley historical societies, the Maine Forestry Museum and the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad Foundation.

Guy Rioux, author of “The Franklin County Narrow Gauges,” speaks with fellow railroad buff Bill Berry, right, at the Titcomb house at 118 Academy St. Farmington. File Photo

December

In a vote of 15-1 on December 1 the Regional School Unit 9 Board of Directors voted to accept Superintendent Tina Meserve’s letter of resignation. Meserve was hired in July 2018 and had faced ongoing opposition from staff and community members, made public through a no-confidence vote on Oct. 30. She also received a community-led, no-confidence vote at her former district, RSU 16 in June 2017. Mt. Blue High School Principal Monique Poulin is currently serving as the district’s interim superintendent.

The Regional School Unit 9 Board of Directors approve Superintendent Tina Meserve’s resignation by 15-1 on Dec. 1. File Photo

An appeal was filed on the location of the AT&T cellphone tower approved by the Weld Planning Board in September. The Appeals Board was expected to meet on the matter in mid-December. The 190-foot tower would be across from Lost Cove, just before Fire Lane 17 and beyond the Weld Inn on the Phillips Road. Appeals Board committee member Heidi Stowell Nichols said that the aim is to move the location of the tower to a less conspicuous spot that would not interrupt the views of Mt. Blue State Park.

WWII veteran Henry Brimigion was honored during a Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day service on December 7. Jayne Wilcox made Brimigion a Troop of Valor quilt, and Gordon Webber, commander of James A. McKechnie Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10881 officiated the service.

During the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day recognition in Farmington on Dec. 7, Jayne Wilcox at left presents World War II veteran Henry Brimigion, seated, with a Troop of Valor quilt she stitched. Helping hold the quilt at right is Rita Smith. File Photo Buy this Photo

“This is something I need to do,” he said. “If we forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Webber quoted respectively from Presidents Reagan and Kennedy.

A coalition of three Québec First Nations asserted that the hydropower to be transmitted through Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) would be generated without their consent or consultation. The energy project would bring Québec hydropower to Massachusetts via a 145-mile transmission corridor through Western Maine. They wrote to Chellie Pingree, Maine’s 1st congressional representative, on Dec. 2, outlining their ancestral land claims and how the NECEC will impact their ongoing grievances towards Hydro-Québec’s illegal development.

After being on the run for two weeks in Farmington and surviving a snow storm, the seven-year-old Shih Tzu Rover made it home to his owners in Anson just in time for Christmas. In late November, Rover had jumped out of his owner’s car in the parking lot of VIP on Wilton Rd. in Farmington to chase another dog. He then wandered Farmington with people posting sightings of him on Facebook. The nonprofit organization Maine Lost Dog Recovery helped spread the word about Rover and he was scooped up by a couple who recognized the Shih Tzu from all of his social media publicity.

Rover, a 7-year-old Shih Tzu from Anson, was lost for over two weeks in Farmington. His daily sightings were posted on Facebook which eventually led to his successful capture on Saturday, December 12. File Photo

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