July 22, 2019
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Disappearance of school bench dedicated to late custodian confounds community

Stephen Betts | BDN
Stephen Betts | BDN
Nancy Winslow shows a photo of the bench that was at the Lura Libby School in Thomaston but went missing shortly after school closed in June. The bench was designed and crafted in memory of her husband Richard Winslow who died last year.

THOMASTON, Maine — A handcrafted cherry wood bench dedicated in honor of a longtime school custodian and bus driver has gone missing from the lobby of the Lura Libby School, prompting the man’s family to ask for help in finding it.

The bench was made by the son of Richard Winslow, a custodian and bus driver at the Lura Libby School in Thomaston for 27 years who died in February 2015. But the bench that carries such sentimental value disappeared from the school during the summer and has yet to be located, prompting police to ask for the public’s aid.

“He was a wonderful man,” Lura Libby Principal Ainslee Riley said of Winslow. “He was very sweet and kind hearted.”

Winslow loved the children and would do anything for the school or students, she said. His obituary pointed out that Winslow “was protective of all the teachers there, whom he referred to as his girls.”

Winslow died approximately a year and a half ago at the age of 67, four-and-a-half months after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Community members were so moved by his death that they raised money to pay for a bench to memorialize the longtime member of the school family. The principal said people from the community contributed and one young student came in to donate the contents of his piggy bank.

Winslow’s son Timothy Winslow, a carpenter, handcrafted the bench with tools that his father had used to build things around the house. The bench was made with cherry wood with two fish-shaped inlays made of walnut and maple.

The fish had special meaning to the bench maker.

“Dad and I liked to fish together,” Timothy Winslow said.

He estimated that he spent up to 70 hours crafting the bench, using the skills he learned from his father, who was a woodworker as well. He said his father loved using cherry wood in his work and that is why cherry was used for the bench.

The son said he critiques his own work after completing a project and always finds something he could do better. But when he finished the bench to honor his father, he could find nothing wrong with it.

“I feel I had done him justice,” he said.

A dedication of the bench was held in the spring of 2015 at the elementary school in Thomaston. The bench was set in the lobby where the longtime custodian use to eat lunch each day and talk to the children, the son said.

The Lura Libby school building closed in June as part of a consolidation effort by Regional School Unit 13. Students were relocated to nearby Thomaston Grammar School.

Nancy Winslow, Richard Winslow’s widow, said a teacher had planned on taking the bench to her home during the summer and bring it to the Thomaston Grammar School building for the opening of the 2016-2017 school year.

But when the teacher went to pick the bench up a few weeks after school was out for the summer, the bench was gone.

RSU 13 Business Manager Peter Orne said Winslow notified the administration of the missing bench and staff immediately looked for it in storage trailers and school buildings.

During the past four months, the bench has not been located. Orne said he hopes that someone had taken the bench for safe keeping and simply has forgotten to return it. Thomaston Police Chief Kevin Haj said the department was contacted last week about the missing bench. He said he suggested the media be contacted in that this would the greatest asset in finding the bench,

Winslow said she hopes whoever knows where the bench is will return it to the school where it belongs.

Retired teacher and family friend Margie Gerrish posted a reward on Facebook Wednesday for information leading to the return of the bench. She has offered to provide 20,000 frequent flyer miles on Southwest or Jet Blue in exchange for information about where the bench can be found.

“If you have seen this bench, please call Lura Libby School or Nancy Winslow. No questions asked,” she wrote. “We’d just like it back. If your call leads us to the bench’s return, the points are yours.”

 



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