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Sue Bush
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Commentary: Local Folks Shine in 2005

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, December 16, 2005

Shirley Jean Lee and Howard Lee at a May ceremony honoring the Horizon Caregiver of the Year.
The year is coming to a close and “best of,” “worst of,” and “biggest stories of the year” lists and articles are popping out like champagne corks.

My favorite 2005 stories are the writings that cast light on local accomplishments and local folks, so I am leaving the reviews and re-hashings of the year’s “big” news stories to other media outlets.

The focus here is on people.

MCLA President Mary K. Grant

In March, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts President Mary K. Grant made state history when she became the first Berkshire region commissioner appointed to the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. In June, she participated at a Silvio O. Conte Middle School “Reach Out Now” teach-in session and spoke about the risks of under-age drinking. Grant is very involved with on-campus activities and events as well as off-campus civic and community endeavors. Grant has been acknowledged as a strong role model for women, for college students, and for young females; I say that Grant is a strong role model. Period.

Dawn Karo

North Adams resident Dawn Karo makes the grade as a 2005 role model. Karo, a single working mother, was featured in a March iberkshires story for her efforts benefiting elementary school-age girls living in and near the Greylock apartment complex. When she learned that several youngsters, including her daughter, were interested in becoming Brownies but were unable to find a troop to join, Karo started Brownie Troop 36. The troop has participated in numerous Girl Scout events and activities, and a Junior Girl Scout troop has launched as a direct result of Brownie Troop 36.

Students and Stylist

During April, several Silvio O. Conte Middle School students, assisted by their teacher Melanie Rancourt, packed and shipped an abundance of “comfort packages” to troops in Iraq and Kuwait. MCLA students trekked along North Adams streets through a cold, dismal downpour to conduct a community clean-up. And long-time city resident Bernice “Red” Alcombright shared a “working mother” story that covered a six decade career in hairstyling, a five decade stint as a business owner, and her devotion to her children and her husband, former City Councilor Daniel J. Alcombright, who died several years ago.

Shirley Jean Lee

May’s iberkshires’ pages introduced readers to Shirley Jean Lee, the first-ever Horizon Caregiver of the Year award winner. The story had a twist; Lee was unable to attend the May 4 award announcement ceremony because she was providing care to her husband Howard. A May 11 special presentation was arranged so that Lee could be properly acknowledged.

Fred Thompson's Golden Moment

Gold medal winner Fred Thompson
In June, local attorney Fred Thompson competed during the National Senior Games, also known as the Senior Olympics, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and captured a triathlon gold medal. The win was a testament to Thompson’s nearly life-long athletic pursuits and accomplishments.

Dog Tales

Two clever canines captured June headlines. The tracking successes of “Blue,” a bloodhound donated to the Williamstown police department earlier this year and the socialization skills of “Savanna,” a golden retriever “working” at the Silvio O. Conte Middle School, were chronicled for iberkshires readers.

Knitting Needles, Teen Talent, and More

In July, artist Dave Cole brought knitting to new heights at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and MCLA offered a chance for college students to B-HIP. “Gallery 51” opened on Main Street in North Adams. Pownal, Vt. resident Pauline Guntlow, who owns the Village Coiffs beauty salon in Williamstown and the Brookside Construction company, pondered the merits of pounding – and polishing- nails. And 17-year-old Tonia O’Brien of North Adams captured the Miss Massachusetts Teen Talent crown at a National American Miss 2005 Miss Massachusetts pageant.

Teen talent queen Tonia O'Brien

Rock [and] Music

August stories included the installation of artist Don Gummer’s “Primary Separation” rock sculpture on Marshall Street; Gummer’s published comments about the artwork generated much local conversation, as did the sculpture itself. Clarksburg resident Harry P. Chesbro shared a story about fulfilling a life-long dream; when he was 73 years old, Chesbro began violin lessons and has since learned to play one of the most challenging musical instruments.

Brianna Jones

September gave iberkshires readers a chance to meet 10-year-old Brianna Jones of Williamstown. After seeing television images of Hurricane Katrina victims, Brianna organized a bake sale at her home, and with assistance from volunteers aged four to 12 years old, raised over $1,400 in about four hours. Brianna’s efforts captured national attention; she was featured in a subsequent “Time for Kids”

Brianna Jones raised over $1400 in four hours for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
magazine article about youth-driven Katrina fundraisers.

Cheshire's "Ironwoman"

Bonnie Fachini of Cheshire shared the inspiring story of her “Ironwoman-Kyak” win at the 2005 Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon event. Fachini was a first-time competitor at the wildly popular annual event; she overcame months of emotional hurdles and training interruptions to capture a victory rooted in hope.

"Ironwoman" Bonnie Fachini

Honors for Firefighter

North Adams firefighter David Simon was named as the first runner-up for a 2005 "Fire and Life Safety Educator of the Year” award. Simon was nominated for the honor by city Fire Director Stephen Meranti.


October was a very exciting month for North Adams resident Rick Moon. Moon bowled his way to a county record with back-to-back perfect 300 score games at the Mount Greylock Bowl.

Bruce Hayden

Community spirit, pride, and hard work came together on Oct. 2, when the Fall Foliage Festival 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Parade stepped off from the Curran Highway Wal-mart and entertained crowds from State Street to Main Street to Ashland Street. iberkshires parade coverage included a story about third-generation float builder Bruce Hayden. A Hayden-constructed float has been included in 48 of the 50 Fall Foliage Festival parades and Bruce Hayden shared the magic and the motivation behind the floats.

And the Winner Is...

Mayor John Barrett III won a 12th two-year mayoral term during a November city election, and remains the longest serving mayor in the state.

New EMT Curriculum Approved

December brought holiday cheer to the North Adams Ambulance Service. The state Office of Emergency Medical Services paved the way for the NAAS to offer emergency medical technician instruction by granting a three-year accreditation to a curriculum devised by John Meaney Jr.. Meaney is a paramedic and is certified as a state emergency medical services instructor. He will serve as lead instructor for the trainings.

The folks mentioned here are but a sampling of the many Berkshire residents who bring something of themselves to the lives of others.
The “people stories” of 2005 brought inspiration, humor, and hope to pages.

Here’s to what’s ahead in 2006.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at or at 802-823-9367.
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