June 19, 2018
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Look no further than your own community for heroes, inspiration

By Julia Hathaway, Special to the BDN

On a recent morning, I was reviewing a list of admirable women. They’re noteworthy women who deserve respect. I couldn’t help but think, though, ‘Why are we always directed toward folks who are far away, inaccessible or deceased?’ Wherever you live, there are plenty of folks who can inspire you.

I know from experience. I’d like to share part of my list of local heroes to inspire you to think close to home.

Many of my heroes work in the field of education.

Betsy Webb, Bangor’s superintendent of schools, is an amazing speaker and educator. What makes her stand out is her sense of audience and ability to tailor what she says, whether it’s one-on-one or in a room full of superintendents and board members.

Paula McHugh, former principal of Orono’s Asa Adams Elementary School and now principal of Ridge View Community School in Dexter, exemplifies selflessness and courage. Here’s a woman who was willing to have her principal job cut if it meant keeping teachers in the classroom. Darcie Fournier, Asa Adams’ current principal, took on a task that would have daunted most of us with style and grace. Her first principalship was an interim position with no guarantee of permanence. In a year of outside turmoil and stress, she kept up morale and spirit in her school and led as a true champion.

I call Linda Breece my ballerina. A school administrative assistant at Asa Adams, she has complicated tasks. But the minute a crying child with a skinned knee or a parent registering a daughter for kindergarten enters her office, she is totally present: mind, body and soul. You can see it in her eyes. Just being in her presence is a calming experience.

I have big respect for Bangor Public Library Director Barbara McDade and her colleagues all over Maine. Forget what you hear about frumpy people telling you to be quiet. Librarians are some of the most alive, curious and engaging folks you can meet, not to mention courageous and strong. In these tight-money years, many folks in charge of municipal finances see libraries as extras to cut. Our librarians know their institutions are one of the last bastions of equality in a system where the information gap grows exponentially, leaving adults and kids way behind. They fight for their patrons like mother lions protecting their cubs.

Some folks can take an idea, do the hard work, take risks and make a dream a reality. Kathryn Olmstead was a University of Maine journalism professor when she decided we needed a magazine extolling the diverse people and beloved traditions of The County. Today, Echoes has readers worldwide and is one of the dearest publications one can peruse with a cup of cocoa and a lap cat.

Author Katie Quirk took the opposite approach, bringing the far away home. During her time teaching in Tanzania, she fell in love with the country and its people. Her novel, “A Girl Called Problem,” is so eloquent, her characters so believable, her details so well chosen, reading it is like taking a magic carpet halfway around the world and coming to care about the people who live there.

John Jemmison, water quality and soil specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, was inspired by a trip to Italy and fell in love with the way the people there savor real food instead of gulping processed stuff on the go. It became his mission to spread the joy of real, savory foods. He gives thought-provoking classes on issues like sustainability. He and his lovely wife, Shelley, and farm dog Mika supervise a community garden crew every summer. In the process of providing organic vegetables to low-income seniors, we learn a lot and have a darn good time. John and Shelley teach us to see every challenge — from too much or too little rain or a pesky gopher with a craving for lettuce — as a learning opportunity. It’s an attitude that comes in handy in even the aspects of life seemingly furthest from gardening.

I could go on forever, but I think you have the idea. Wherever you live, inspiration doesn’t have to be far away. We have growing movements to buy from local merchants and eat local foods. How about we also value local people? You’ll be glad you did. And who knows? Maybe the folks you are inspiring will speak up about you.

Julia Emily Hathaway is a mother of three and vice chairperson of the Veazie School Committee. She has embarked on a fundraising project for Bangor Public Library involving origami cats, one thousand, to be exact.

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