A Jolly Yuletide Celebration Perks Up Pelham Fire Station

by Karen Plumley

Pelham friends enjoy the caroling at the Pelham Fire Station’s Yuletide Celebration on Saturday evening.  From left:  Katelyn, Samantha, Kaleigh, and Meghan.  In back:  Ashley.

Eyes were aglow with holiday cheer at the Pelham Fire Station on Saturday afternoon during the annual Yuletide Celebration sponsored by the Pelham Firefighters Association.  The scent of baked goods and the sounds of holiday music drew people in, and there was a steady flow of visitors at the event that lasted for a good four hours.  Special guests included the singing and musical talents of members of the Crossroads Baptist Church, as well as St. Patrick’s Musical Ministry.

All manner of baked goods donated by members of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and family members of fire department employees were available, as well as hot dogs and popcorn.  In the spirit of the holidays, many people placed their contributions in the “Boot” for the Wilkins family of Dracut, whose triplet sons are suffering from Muscular Dystrophy.  A member of the U. S. Marine Corps was present to promote the Toys for Tots program, which enjoyed its second year at the celebration.  Many guests brought along toys for the collection box.

The artistic members of Junior Girl Scout troop 319 were providing face painting and beautifully handcrafted holiday pins, and gladly accepted donations for the Good Neighbor Fund.  According to troop co-leader Cindy Mastropiero, the girls will be sponsoring a child in need this season through the Good Neighbor Fund organization.  “It is our third year doing the face painting at this event,” Mastropiero noted.  Choices for children (or adults) getting their face decorated included colorful renditions of Santa, snowmen, ornaments, bells, presents, and several symbols of Hanukah as well.  The face painting was so popular, that two tables were set up and there were lines at each.

On call Firefighter Erik Fehmel, who is also the President of the Pelham Firefighters Association, described the planning that goes into this annual event.  “We start about one or two months out.  Then we arrive at the station around noon on the day of the event and prepare the station,” he explained.  Fehmel has been a member of the Pelham Fire Department for five years, and enjoys volunteering for the event, which has been a tradition in town now for more than 20 years.

This event is always filled with music and this year was no exception.  The beautiful sounds of holiday music made people stop and listen.  This year, however, there was a new addition to the musical festivities.  Fire Chief Mike Walker led a rousing rendition of “Jingle Bells.”  Grinning about his musical endeavors, Walker said, “I got the audience clapping their hands and it was fun.”

Santa arrived in style at the station at 6:00 p.m. and the crowd wrapped around the chairs that were set up for those who wanted to enjoy the evening sitting down.  The children, however, would have no part in sitting still when Santa was about.  It was a lively evening filled with the spirit of the holidays.

Members of the Crossroads Baptist Church band sing holiday tunes at the Pelham Fire Station during the Yuletide celebration on Saturday evening.

Colin Ferris, 4, of Pelham gets a snowman at the Pelham Fire Station on Saturday during the Yuletide Celebration while his big sister, Michela, 5, looks on.

Humans aren’t the only ones in the holiday spirit.  Samson, a 10-week-old Mi-Ki is all wrapped in red and even looks a little like Santa!  Michaela Chadwell, 16, of Pelham hugs her furry companion.

Storyteller Weaves View of the Past

by Lynne Ober

Tales of fairies, knights, and ladies made young and old listen intently and giggle with enthusiasm as storyteller Angela Cay Klinger wove her special brand of magic at Nesmith’s Library Home School Storytelling program.

Klinger, who became a professional storyteller in 1989, is very animated and uses humor widely when telling her stories.  Her audience watched her intently as she managed to suggest a perspective about human nature as she wove traditional folktales, mythology, regional legends, and history with humor.  She has a unique ability to relate to audience of all ages.  Shrek and his princess were at the core of lessons that she taught – lessons that her audience didn’t even realize were lessons, such is her skill.

On Monday she performed her show about fairies and beasts.  “Using reflecting themes found in popular children’s literature and films, such as Harry Potter, Shrek, Ice Age, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and more, “Fairy, Beasts & Lore” is an enchanting repertoire of the traditional folktales, fairytales, nursery rhymes, songs, myths and legends every “Muggle” should know,” the show description stated. 

Klinger, mother of three and a registered nurse, has won many prestigious awards for her storytelling, including the National Parenting Honors Award.  She’s told her stories across America and has helped foster storytelling by starting the Merrimack Valley Storytellers Guild and has been president of the League for Advancement of New England Storytelling.

After the storytelling, each child completed a craft project using information from the stories.

New Greeley Singers Shine Brightly at Annual Christmas Concert

by Karen Plumley

The New Greeley Singers perform their annual Christmas Concert at the First Congregational Church in Pelham on Sunday afternoon.  Director Peter Bedrosian conducts the chorus.  His wife, Jeanne, accompanies on the piano.

Entering into the First Congregational Church on Sunday afternoon, one might swear that angels were singing.  But, in fact, those marvelous voices were emanating from the 29 New Greeley Singers at their annual Christmas Concert.  Shortly before the event, the singers practiced select pieces of the songs that they would be performing only minutes later in front of a packed church.

During their rehearsal, they switched from one song to the other with ease:  from the harmonious Carol of the Bells to a feisty version of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.  From the playful Bidi Bom to the slowly building intensity of Jesus, Oh, What a Wonderful Child.  Finally, the singers were instructed to practice walking on and off the stage, and then waited in the hall for guests to arrive.

All told, the performers sang 13 songs with only a 10-minute intermission after the first seven.  The concert marks the second holiday performance under the direction of Peter Bedrosian, who took the position in September 2005.  His wife, Jeanne Bedrosian is the accompanist for the group, which has a rich history in Pelham.

In 1886, David Alonzo Greeley, Organist/Choir Director of the First Congregational Church organized a full day of music, and welcomed many local singers from Pelham, Lowell, Nashua, Methuen, Lawrence, Dracut, and Derry to participate.  The event was known as the “Pelham Sing,” and was remembered by the 250th Anniversary Committee over 100 years later.  A new group of singers was recruited to recreate this wondrous musical event during the anniversary celebration in April 1996.  Thus, shortly after the success of this inaugural performance, the “New Greeley Singers” was formed.  The first performance for the New Greeley Singers was a holiday concert in 1996, but the group also performs an annual spring concert, and sings at special events such as those dedicated to the armed forces and special anniversaries.  A touching concert entitled Lest We Forget was presented in May 2002 after the devastation of September 11, 2001.

Bedrosian, in an unusual but effective pep talk right before the beginning of the concert on Sunday, informed the performers that there would most likely be a few mistakes.  But according to Bedrosian, they needn’t fret about that.  “Like in synergy, the sum is much greater than the total of the parts,” he described.  “It may not be perfect, but it will be glorious.”  And that it was.

Planning Board Fine-tunes Elderly Housing Ordinance

by Barbara Jester

One dilemma being considered by planning board members is whether or not to modify the existing town ordinance pertaining to elderly housing or whether to eliminate it entirely.  “Does it serve the public interest as is?” board members asked.

A public hearing on the issue was conducted by the planning board during its meeting on November 29.

Opinions differed widely among board members, as well as among other residents who spoke at the hearing.

Selectman Margaret Crisler was the only one who spoke in favor of possibly eliminating the entire existing ordinance, but by meeting’s end she, too, was in favor of simply making adjustments, at least for the time being.  Crisler said she plans to reconsider the issue again next year.  Crisler is the Selectmen’s Representative to the planning board.

Crisler said it is the ordinance’s “stated purpose to keep our seniors in town.”  The ordinance is intended to provide affordable places for older residents to move into when they no longer want to stay in their larger, single-family homes, she said.  “That’s not what’s been happening, though,” Crisler said.  Instead of Windham’s older residents moving into more affordable local housing, Crisler feels the trend has been for older people from outside town to move into Windham, thereby “skewing the age distribution.”

“For the record,” Crisler said, “I’m one of these senior citizens.”  Crisler recently celebrated her 66th birthday.  She said the only existing housing development in Windham that she feels is meeting this specific need for elderly housing is McCauley Commons, which is run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Currently, the elderly housing ordinance allows people 55 years of age or older to live in these designated residences.  Originally, the ordinance was for those 65 years of age or older.

Windham resident John Alosso said he’s in favor of keeping the elderly ordinance.  “The population is getting older nationwide,” Alosso said, adding that he feels the town needs additional facilities to accommodate this growing segment of the population.  Based on information presented by Alosso, in the year 2000, 13 percent of the population nationwide was age 65 or older.  By 2030, that percentage is expected to increase to 20 percent.  In the year 2000, 16 percent of Windham’s population was already age 65 or older, three percent more than national statistics indicate.

Alosso presented a series of documents detailing his contention that the town needs additional residences earmarked for senior citizens.  According to Alosso, there are currently a total of 4,840 dwelling units in Windham, of which only 250 have been either built or approved as elderly housing.  According to the ordinance, up to 10 percent of dwelling units in town (currently 484 units) can be designated as elderly housing.  Developments which have elderly housing designations include:  Whispering Winds, McCauley Commons, Hadleigh Woods, Windham Meadows, and Lakeview Farms.  Currently being reviewed by planning board members is The Willows, with a proposal for 21 units.

“From a tax point of view,” Alosso said, “elderly housing is the most lucrative.”  The tax revenue garnered through elderly housing is twice that gained from commercial property, according to Alosso.  On commercial property, he said, the average revenue generated per acre is about $5,856, while the average revenue paid on an acre containing elderly residences is about $10,113.

As for the people moving into these designated elderly homes from outside Windham, Alosso said, “Many of these people move here because their children and grandchildren live here.”

Planning board member Ross McCloud spoke about Alosso’s presentation, saying, “This is a compelling argument, but, there is more than tax dollars at stake here.  McCloud said the issue is one of cultural demographics.  “Is this town going to be known as a geriatric ward?” he asked.  McCloud said he feels Windham needs “a broader cross-section of age groups” as residents.

“What purpose does it (the ordinance) serve?”  Selectman Alan Carpenter asked.  “Does it truly benefit the elderly?”  Carpenter said he believes the intent of the original ordinance, written about 10 years ago, was to provide more cost-efficient housing for the elderly.  “Fifty-five doesn’t seem elderly to me,” he said.  Carpenter said he feels there are ways to rezone sections of town to accommodate multi-family housing, without restricting those areas to the elderly only.

Planning board Vice-Chairman Ruth-Ellen Post said she feels the ordinance is “in keeping with the town’s Master Plan,” although some changes are needed.  She feels the current proposed changes are “a step forward.”

“We are a town of means here,” planning board member Walter Kolodziej said, “and there should be a variety of choices if someone chooses to downsize.”  Kolodziej said he is not in favor of eliminating the elderly housing ordinance.

State Representative Charlie McMahon said he was the one who started the elderly housing initiative about 15 years ago.  McMahon questioned whether proposed changes to the existing ordinance will “allow empty-nesters to move into more affordable housing with less maintenance.”  McMahon said the original goal of the ordinance was not single-family residences for senior citizens, but townhouses and apartment complexes.  McMahon said he’d like to see town officials pursue plans for implementing a local housing authority.  “It sounds as if you’re talking about subsidized housing, not elderly,” planning board Chairman Philip LoChiatto said.  McMahon said he was looking to the planning board for “guidance” in moving forward with affordable housing for the elderly.  Selectman Crisler said she is also in favor of developing a housing authority in Windham.

At the conclusion of the meeting, planning board members voted unanimously to move forward with proposed changes to the elderly housing ordinance.  Those proposals include: amending the name of the ordinance to “age-restricted housing”; adding the Village Center District to those districts where age-restricted housing is allowed; deleting the words “single-family detached” to keep age-restricted housing costs down; deleting the words “adaptable for” and replacing them with “barrier free” accommodations; and changing the wording to specify that density in elderly housing shall not surpass that for a traditional single-family housing lot.

The next public hearing on proposed ordinance amendments will be held on Wednesday, December 13, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the Planning and Development Building.

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