A Tree of Stars Shines for Fallen Heroes

by Lynne Ober

Holidays are always difficult after the death of a loved one, but when that loved one is killed in a foreign country fighting for his own country, how do you face the holidays?  That’s the question that Denise Gionet faced after her son, Dan Gionet, 23, was killed in Iraq.  Denise’s answer was to organize a rally to show support for every man and woman serving in America’s armed forces.  

“I’m feeling the need to do something special as a tribute to the men and women who are overseas this holiday season, and to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” said Denise.  

When Denise and her family attended the Pelham High School Veteran’s Day breakfast, she commented that the coming holidays were going to be bittersweet.  Instead she decided to turn that feeling into something positive.  By Thanksgiving she was planning the tribute.  She wanted to memorialize those who died, those who had been wounded, and those who served America.

Thanking Pelham’s Historical Society, who gave her permission to decorate the blue spruce that stands in front of the building, Denise put her thinking cap on and the community pitched in.

The blue spruce was decorated with 29 red stars, one for each New Hampshire resident who has been wounded in the global war on terrorism and 28 gold stars, one for each New Hampshire resident who has given his or her life in the global war on terrorism, 162 yellow ribbons, and numerous strands of white lights.

Denise found a way to remember those who died, those who were wounded, and those who still hadn’t come home.  It was a moving tribute to all of America’s servicemen and women.

Pelham’s Police and Fire departments pitched in to help her accomplish her goals.

“I know it's the holidays - and everyone is busy - but our soldiers are on foreign soil, in extreme conditions, fighting to keep our country safe from terrorism.  Most of them will not have a ‘Christmas tree’ or a ‘feast’ surrounded by those they love.  What I would like to do is gather as many people as possible around our tree decorated with yellow ribbons and gold stars,” she said.

She accomplished that goal.  With over 100 people in attendance, the tree was lighted.

U. S. Navy Chief Edward Mitchell led the ceremony.  Crossroads Baptist Pastor Matt Kyzer gave a prayer for the servicemen and women and their families.  A bagpipe played Amazing Grace and the tree was lighted.

Dan Gionet’s sister, Alycia, who still attends Pelham High School, read the poem she wrote about her own struggle with Dan’s death.

Hudson’s Penny Jones with her daughter Nancy Muiri attended in honor of their son and brother, Anthony Kimungu, 24, who died in a fatal car accident after arriving home from Iraq.  Kimungu had been shot in the head by a sniper and recovered before being sent back to Iraq.

It is Denise’s hope that pictures will be taken of the tree and E-mailed to troops overseas so that they know that they are appreciated and remembered.

Amid the sorrow of losing her son, Denise has been very outspoken about the gratitude that she feels for the people of Pelham and the support that they have given her family.  “Only a wonderful community as this could produce such a hero,” she concluded.

Architect Presents Improvements and Estimates

by Lynne Ober

Pelham High School Life Safety Improvements.

After the Pelham School Board learned of the serious life safety issues at Pelham High School, they took a number of steps, including hiring architect Frank P. Marinace to look at the issues.

“It is apparent that there are several levels of life safety, energy efficiency, ADA, and environmental improvements that need to be done at the high school,” noted Marinace, who said that concentration had been placed on the life safety issues identified by the fire chief in developing the proposal for the school board.

In all, Frank and his son, Paul, also an architect, identified and prepared a proposal for nine serious areas.  They recommended that three areas of the building be reconfigured to provide easier and faster egress from the building. 

The first area is to develop an egress through the art area, and the cost estimate for that is $180,000.  “We are proposing a new fire-rated corridor through this area and a reconfiguration of several rooms to provide direct egress to the exterior,” noted Marinace.  “This work will also provide direct access to all classrooms in the area by means of a corridor rather than through the adjacent room, as is currently the case.”  Included in the work are new walls and finishes; reconfiguration of electrical and mechanical systems and earthwork and retaining walls at the new door have also been included.  All engineering costs plus a contingency for unexpected items that might occur during the demolition and rebuilding of the area were also included.

In the math area, the work would be similar to work done in the art area.  A new fire-rated corridor to the existing exterior door and reconfigured classrooms would be included.  “The new configuration would yield three large math classrooms, with new floors, ceilings, mechanical and electrical systems,” said Marinace.  The cost, including all engineering and a contingency, would be $185,000 for this area.

Fire Chief Michael Walker identified a number of combustible wall materials throughout the school.  Marinace said that the addition of a sprinkler system as part of a major renovation project would alleviate this problem, but provided no cost estimate for the work.

If a sprinkler system is added, then the fire rescue windows, discussed in Walker’s memo previously presented to the board, would no longer be required per fire code.

Another area that would be helped by a sprinkler system would be the “voids” about the ceilings.  Walker identified several existing walls that bisect the building and should be brought up to fire wall status.  Marinace said, “Additional walls could be extended up to the roof deck pending discussions with the fire department.  This, combined with the addition of a sprinkler system, would address this problem.”

The school board hopes to abandon part of the second floor if portable classrooms are installed.  Marinace said that this would help with the distances that students must cover to reach an exit and that a sprinkler system would also help in the area.  He noted that a “comprehensive renovation project can address the safety concerns” of the second floor, but that there is little that can be done in the short term to solve the issues.

Gas piping protection in the science labs can best be addressed as part of a larger renovation according to Marinace.  During a larger renovation of this area the science casework would be replaced and the storage areas could be reconfigured or relocated.  However, “if this item is deemed to be in need of immediate attention, metal guards could be installed to protect the piping in the storage rooms for relatively little cost,” he said.

The other area that needs reconfiguring is the long dead-end corridor in the English area.  Fire code allows for a corridor to be 20 feet long without an egress, but this dead-end corridor is about 60 feet long or almost three times the length allowed by the fire code.  According to Marinace, the easiest correction is to build a corridor extension the reaches a nearby exterior door at an approximate cost of $30,000.

The total estimated cost for renovating the three areas that need better egress is $385,000. 

According to Superintendent Dr. Elaine Cutler, the biggest problem with the project is the potential loss of up to four classrooms.  “We asked him to go back and look at a couple of other options,” she concluded.

Uneventful Year is a Blessing for the Greniers

Editor’s note:  The Grenier family came into the community spotlight the tumultuous year their triplets were born in 2000.  After Katrina’s battles with Hodgkin’s, infertility, and a serious gestational blood disorder, the three premature babies were miraculously delivered by emergency caesarean in Boston; Olivia, Nicholas, and Madaline were born on May 17, 2000.  Now married 11 years, Steve and Katrina have been together through all the ups and downs.  Thankfully, their children have grown into beautiful, healthy, and happy 6 1/2 year olds.  Here, in the Hudson~Litchfield News’ seventh Christmas installment is the annual glimpse into the home and hearts of the Greniers. 

by Maureen Gillum

The Greniers (from left): Nick, Steve, Madaline, Katrina, and Olivia.

“Overall, it’s actually been a pretty boring year … thank God,” laughed Katrina Grenier in relief.  First and foremost, the family is all healthy – a rare blessing that the Greniers are most thankful for and will never take for granted. 

“Katrina recently got a clean bill of health,” beamed Steve, sitting across from his wife in their lovely home.  This marks her sixth year being clear after her second bout of cancer.

“The kids hit a growth spurt and they’ve finally caught up,” shared Mom proudly.  “All three actually made it into the normal height and weight range this year.”  Watching the vivacious bunch – Nick, practicing quick karate moves; Madaline, dancing and pirouetting; and Olivia, the eldest, drawing and keeping an eye on everything, you’d never guess the challenges they once faced and their collective birth weight was a mere 6.2 pounds – slight for even one. 

It was also a big year of transitions for the Greniers.  “We had our first graduation (kindergarten) from Crossroads in Pelham last May,” stated Mom “and they’ve moved into first grade.”  Following their father, the triplets started first grade this fall at St. Louis, a private K - 8 Catholic school in Lowell, Massachusetts. 

While Nicholas and Olivia like math best, Madaline favors art.  The triplets agree unanimously, their teacher, “Sister Judy is really nice.”  The school is also right near Grandma’s house, which is another big bonus. 

“They did great going off to school all day as they had each other,” admitted Mom, “but the separation anxiety was pretty tough for me and I had to face they were no longer babies.” 

“They all seem to like school a lot and they’re doing quite well,” reported Dad, “having one teacher and one set of homework makes it easier for everybody.” 

Like Steve’s heritage, St. Louis’ parish, is largely French Canadian.  Without any prompts from Dad, who has been helping them learn French, the triplets recited the ‘Our Father’ in French in perfect unison, earnest sincerity, and Madaline’s emerald green lips and teeth. 

While they’re all in the same class together, their interests, personalities, and gifts are developing independently.  At a recent school show, Nicholas, who has achieved his purple belt or fourth level in just one year, did a dynamic karate demonstration.  Olivia played piano, accompanying Madaline, who sang Frere Jacques.  “The music talent comes from Steve,” confessed Katrina, “he can just listen and play almost anything on guitar, piano, harmonica, or the accordion.”  

Remarkably, Steve has been with the same company since 1988, although his company – originally Digital Equipment Corp. which was bought out by Compaq and then Hewlett Packard – has changed its marquees a few times.  “I tend to wear a lot of hats there, but my official title is Systems Analyst,” explained Steve with a smile.  “I also tend to be the technical support go-to guy or ‘Uber Geek’ for my extended family as well.”  

The Greniers (from left): Nick, Steve, Madaline, Katrina, and Olivia.

Katrina works in Billerica, Massachusetts, three days a week at Boyle Transportation.  “I enjoy my job and it pays for groceries and tuition,” she said.  “They’re a great company to work for and have been very supportive since I started there in 1991.” 

“They both work very hard,” revealed Katrina’s mother, Judy Hanson, of Pelham, “They’re wonderful parents who are always there for their children.”  The kids love to go to ‘Ma and Pa’s’ pool to swim and visit often.  “All together, we have six grandkids,” shared Judy smiling, “but we cheated a little when we got three of them in just three minutes.” 

There were also several fun vacations and events for the Greniers in 2006.  Among the kid’s highlights was a trip to the Big Apple Circus in Boston.  Reflecting their personalities, Nick claimed, “the jugglers were awesome”; Madaline enjoyed “the lovable Beagle dogs best”; and Olivia’s favorite were “the beautiful horses.” 

They also took a trip to Fort Meyers, Florida last February and visited some of Steve’s many cousins in Saint Hilaire de Dorset, about 90 miles south of Quebec City, Canada.  “We attended an authentic Canadian Sugar Shack -- a big family-style meal and celebration in the maple barn around Easter when the sap runs best,” detailed Steve. 

The Greniers are now gearing up for the holidays and one thing all three kids have unselfishly put on top of their Christmas wish lists is for their classmate, Matthew Dubuc, to get better.  Matthew is a courageous seven-year-old boy from Hudson who is battling Hepatoblastoma, a rare liver cancer.  “Matty is a really brave boy that we all love,” shared Nick succinctly.  For more information visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/matty, or Hudson’s Christmas decoration extravaganza at the Mousseau and Roy’s home (75 Pelham Road or www.hudsonchristmas.com). 

When asked how they felt about being local celebrities, the triplets just smiled.  While Madaline admitted, “It feels kind of good;” Olivia revealed, “I guess it makes me feel special and loved.”  Being local front page superstars hasn’t yet gone to their heads. 

In reflection, the Greniers agree it’s been a very good year.  “My only complaint is the house that was once much too big for the two of us is suddenly becoming too small as our kids get bigger,” laughed Katrina.  

“I have a few more gray hairs, but all the day-to-day stuff is really good,” concluded Steve.  “The kids are at a really good age and it just doesn’t get any better than this.”

Once again, the Hudson~Litchfield News thanks the Greniers for opening up their hearts and home.  Best wishes to Steve, Katrina, Olivia, Nicholas, and Madaline a very blessed and Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year!

The Greniers reminisce.

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