Family Gives Back in Pan Mass Challenge

by Katelyn Haggerty

Mack and Christine Downs

In January of 2002, Christine Downs of Pelham, 10, had not been feeling right.  Complaining of a sore back and throat, Christine’s mother, Danielle Downs, brought her to the doctor on four occasions.  The doctor diagnosed her with strep throat and gave Christine antibiotics on a Friday afternoon. 

On Monday morning, January 7, Christine vomited a small amount of blood.  Danielle Downs called her doctor and was told that she could be seen at 4 p.m.  Danielle did not want to wait.

“I told them I was bringing her to the emergency room right now,” she said.  “We got there and I said I wasn’t leaving till they took blood samples and found out what was wrong with my daughter.”

While waiting in the ER, Danielle Downs called her husband, figuring that he would be very upset at dinner that night if he had found out that they were there and didn’t tell them.

“We never had dinner at home that night,” said Danielle.

A team of doctors called the family into a room and told them that Christine had cancer.  Her kidneys were failing and an ambulance was prepared to take her to Children’s Hospital Boston.  For Christine, some of the Downs family will be riding in the Pan Mass Challenge, a bike throughout Massachusetts that raises money for cancer research.

“That was the beginning of the nightmare,” said Danielle.  “She was in the intensive care unit for two weeks.  Her heart failed, her kidneys failed and she was on dialysis.  We were told she had a very rare form of cancer called Burkitt’s lymphoma.”

Christine had leukemia, tumors in her stomach and intestines and lymphoma. 

“We came to find out a few years later, she was the sickest kid at Children’s at the time,” said Danielle.  “A title I would never in my life want to have.  The doctors said they would do all they could for her.”

The doctors at Children’s Hospital flew an experimental drug to the hospital from Europe for Christine in hopes that it would work. 

It did.  Christine had spinal taps, chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and dialysis.

“All the while, she had a smile on her face and a ‘thank you’ for everyone who touched her.  I remember her oncologist (whom she still corresponds with) doing one of many spinal taps on her.  When it was done, Christine said ‘thank you.’  Her doctor looked at her, shocked, and asked why in the world would she thank him for that?  She responded with ‘because you are doing this to help me get better.’  That was, and is the type of kid she is,” Danielle said.

“I truly believe her spirit and heart got her through it all.  I stayed in the hospital with her while my husband stayed home with my son Jake who was in seventh grade at the time.  Seventh grade is hard enough, but for this to happen to his little sister on top of it all was very hard for him.”

Through it all, the Downs family can’t thank everyone who supported them enough.

“We have fantastic family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who helped make life more bearable for us while we were going through all this,” said Danielle.  “They paid our bills, picked Jake up, made phone calls, cooked meals, did laundry and shoveled.  You name it, it was done for us, making it easier to concentrate on the most important thing:  making sure our daughter got healthy.”

“We live in Pelham,” said Danielle, “and my partner and I have a business in Windham.  The support that we received from these two towns was incredible.  To this day, six years later, I am still stopped and asked how Christine is doing!  Without them, we never would have made it through.  With the help of the amazing doctors and nurses at Children’s and The Jimmy Fund, Christine is a happy and healthy 16-year-old who just celebrated six years cancer-free in April!”

With the help of the doctors and nurses in mind, as well as everyone who helped Christine and her family, the Downs family will be riding in the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC) in August.  Beginning at different locations in Massachusetts, cyclists can make their ride through the state as long as they want to, up to 192 miles.  

“My husband says it’s his way of helping other people with family and friends who may be stricken by this horrible disease,” said Danielle.  “When Christine was in the hospital, he had heard about it and said he would do it in her honor someday.  Well that was last year, his first ride.  I still can’t hear ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2 without crying.  It was the song they all took off from in Wellesley, Massachusetts, last year at the starting line.”

The PMC’s Website,, states that the PMC “raises money for life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute through an annual bike-a-thon that crosses the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Since its founding in 1980, the PMC has successfully melded support from committed cyclists, volunteers, corporate sponsors and individual contributors.  All are essential to the PMC’s goal and model: to attain maximum fundraising efficiency while increasing its annual gift.  Our hope and aspiration is to provide Dana-Farber’s doctors and researchers the necessary resources to discover cures for all cancers.”

“It was an incredible sight at 7:30 a.m. to see all those bicyclists riding for the same cause,” said Danielle,  “but still bittersweet knowing so many of them have been affected in the same way we had.  Mack did great and finished in four hours.  He raised $3,000 and the total raised last year was $33 million!”

Last year, 100 percent of every dollar that PMC cyclists raised went directly to the Jimmy Fund.  This is one of the many reasons that riders participate in this event.  Besides all of the money donated and the riders doing their part, volunteers help out with setting up, cleaning, and everything else that comes with successfully organizing and running the event without a cost.

“This year, our daughter Christine, son Jake, who is 19, and nephew Derek are all doing the ride in her honor,” said Danielle.  “I am so proud of them all!  Jake and Christine work at Hannaford in Pelham and Hannaford has been kind enough to set up a donation bucket just for them and the cause.  Also, my family is doing a car wash in Pelham on July 19 for any donation amount to go directly to the PMC.  Clean car and a great cause!”

The Pan Mass Challenge began with a group of 36 cyclists raising $10,200 and has developed into an event that brings more than 5,000 cyclists from 36 states and eight countries.  This year’s PMC will take place on August 2 and 3.

The PMC’s mission statement as stated by its Website:

“Since 1980, the PMC has contributed more than $204 million, which finances research in its earliest stages.  It is the largest single contributor to the Jimmy Fund, bringing in nearly 50 percent of its annual revenue.  Known as “seed money,” PMC funds enable clinicians and scientists to pursue innovative research that has the potential to achieve the results that will warrant National Institutes of Health (NIH), or other private and government grants.  In so many cases, this early support has fostered the development of some of the most important advances made in cancer research over the last two decades.”

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Last Hurrah for Century-Old Trolley Substation

by Karen Plumley

Historical Photo
Courtesy of: Reflections: A Pictorial History of Pelham, New Hampshire, 1746 – 1996, published by The Pelham 250th Anniversary Committee, Inc., 1998, with permission.

With repair costs estimated in the millions, a condemned building sitting lonely and crumbling in Pelham Center will be coming down in mid-July.  Owned since the 1940s by St. Patrick Parish, the “Trolley Barn” as it is now known, has been a fixture in Pelham Center since 1902 when it was erected.  It was then a substation housing steam-powered generators, flanked on the right by the larger trolley station, and on the left by a 50,000-gallon water tank.  The Pelham trolley station was part of a prosperous railway system that snaked its way through Southern New Hampshire towns such as Hudson, Nashua, and Salem and the communities of Lowell, Methuen, Haverhill, and Lawrence, Massachusetts.  Currently, only three structures from the original Western Division Railway System still remain - the Trolley Barn, Salem Depot, and Canobie Lake Park.  Soon there will only be two.

A Less Hurried Time

In a 1903 advertising brochure called “On The New Line,” a leisurely trip to Pelham is described in glorified splendor.  “Leaving Nashua at Main and Pearl Streets and crossing the Merrimack, the road winds through the primeval forest of pine and hemlock after passing Hudson, ascending a chain of foothills as rugged and primitive, as wild and grand as any of the gorse-covered mounds that mark the approach to the Scottish Highlands, and through panoramic vistas of far hills and farmhouse clusters until Pelham is reached …  On this upland level, Pelham is situated, a pretty village in a prosperous farming region …” 

In the center of this quaint little town, the beautiful new trolley station stood majestically, ready to board passengers going to and from work in the mills and factories of the surrounding cities.  According to Reflections, the definitive pictorial book on Pelham history, the trolleys were used for recreational trips on weekends to Canobie Lake Park and Glen Forest in Methuen.  Traveling at the blinding pace of 15 to 25 miles per hour, the trolleys would make their way on gravel lanes parallel to roadways across the countryside, sometimes barely inching past a horse and buggy along the way.  A fare would cost a mere nickel for certain routes, a dream for those of us who reached gas price sticker shock back in January and six months later are now simply comatose.

In 1903, the worst accident in trolley car history occurred in Pelham when two trolleys collided on a blind curve just north of Pelham Center.  Six people were killed and over 70 more were injured in various states of severity.  A Boy Scout erected a memorial for the victims of the crash in the form of a plaque mounted on a brick pedestal.  It currently stands next to the building.

The trolley station portion of the building was taken down in the 1940s during World War II, but the substation remained and was acquired by St. Patrick Parish.  Known as “St. Patrick’s Hall,” it was used as a gymnasium until two years ago, when it was condemned.  Dances were held there, as well as community events, and it was also used as a meeting place for an infant/toddler playgroup.

The Last Hurrah

Recent photo of the Trolley Barn

On Wednesday, July 2, an outdoor movie night was held at the Trolley Barn.  “Trolley Barn’s Last Hurrah!!” was a concept conceived by Father Robert Guillemette.  The movie Monsters, Inc. was projected on the right side of the building, where Guillemette himself sprayed a fresh coat of white paint.  Before the show, a rousing game of candy bar bingo was enjoyed and a sizable crowd shuffled in steadily as the sun went down.

“The building is a wonderful part of the community.  I spent a lot of time playing basketball in there.  But now it is really too far-gone to repair it,” said Guillemette. 

Principal Roger Dumont of St. Patrick School commented on the demolition. 

“I knew this community would take it hard.  It’s a wonderful part of Pelham’s history and has special memories associated with it,” he stated. 

According to Pelham Historical Society President Bill Scanzani, a two-year-old estimate places a price tag on fixing the building’s deficiencies at $1.5 million. 

“And the estimate covers deficiencies only and doesn’t really make the building functional,” noted Scanzani.  (Right now, one of those deficiencies includes a separation between the roof and one of the walls.)  However, Scanzani notes that the building is no longer large enough to be a gymnasium for the school, and is not structured for office space.  According to Scanzani, the area currently occupied by the Trolley Barn will provide more parking for the church and school once it is demolished.

Could a Piece of Pelham History Be In Your Future?

To raze the Trolley Barn, it will cost the church approximately $40,000, noted Scanzani.  In addition to movie night (which earned $10 per carload), Father Guillemette has come up with another innovative idea.  Engraved bricks, anyone?  Bricks taken from the Trolley Barn during its demolition will be engraved with the dates “1902 - 2008” and can be purchased through the church.  Contact St. Patrick’s at 635-3525 for more information.

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Windham Town Budget Status Halfway Through Year

by Barbara O’Brien

Halfway through 2008, the largest concern about the annual Windham town budget is fuel costs, a dilemma most residents also are facing.

During the selectmens meeting on Monday, July 7, Financial Director Dana Call projected an overage of about $30,000 by years end for vehicle fuel.  A total of $101,000 had been budgeted for 2008, Call said.

Compared to the cost at the pump for most of us, Windham is doing OK price-wise, Call said. The cost of fueling town vehicles has averaged $3 per gallon, she said, about $1 less per gallon than for those who pay retail without benefit of municipal deductions.

As for the Fire Departments diesel fuel, which is bought in bulk, Call said the current price being paid is $4.69 per gallon.  About 36 cents a gallon will come back to the department, though, through state and federal tax rebates.  The departments diesel storage tank has a capacity of 800 gallons.

I have no idea where heating oil and propane costs will go, Call said of the upcoming season.  We have to keep this in mind as we go into the fall.

In other areas of the 2008 budget, some savings being realized as the result of personnel vacancies might be used to cover the overages in the fuel budget, Call said.  Personnel vacancies include an assistant town planner, deputy fire chief, a transfer station employee and one employee in the maintenance department.

As for the police department budget, Call said the overtime account is 92 percent spent only halfway through the year.  This needs to be addressed, Call said.  Most of the overtime expenses are due to the hiring of new officers, which requires field training and attendance at the New Hampshire Police Academy in Concord.

The bottom line, Call said, is that by state law, town officials cannot go over the allocated budget for any particular year.  If necessary, a spending freeze could be put in place later in the year, she said.

Selectman Bruce Breton said most town departments had spent their individual budgets between 53 percent and 66 percent by June 30 halfway through 2008.  We need to look into how to save money on energy consumption ... before cold weather hits again, Breton said.  Chairman Dennis Senibaldi suggested an energy audit to determine where money might be saved.

Call said she and Town Administrator David Sullivan will be reviewing the entire 2008 town operating budget in the near future and determining where modifications might be needed to balance the overall budget.

Selectman Roger Hohenberger asked Call about a $1 million tax anticipation short-term loan taken out in June that generated an interest payment of $3,400.  Call said the loan, needed due to the cash flow at the time, was taken out in anticipation of real estate taxes due July 1.  The loan was needed, Call said, largely because the school district needed its money a little earlier than anticipated.  The school districts financial calendar runs from July 1 to June 30.  Selectman Charles McMahon also said the cash shortage was due to the rough weather the region suffered this past winter.  Theres very little wiggle room in the budget, McMahon said, but we still have to plow the snow.  Call pointed out that the town also had to play catch-up in funding for the new union contracts, two of which were retroactive.

We try to delay spending as much as possible, Call said, adding she hopes another tax anticipation note wont be needed just before tax payments are due again on December 1.

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Windham Selectman Proposes Performance Stage at Griffin Park

by Barbara O’Brien

Windham Selectman Charles McMahon displays miniature model of the proposed performance stage for Griffin Park. McMahon said the decision has been made to eliminate the turret in the center of the roof and to retain those at either end of the stage reminiscent of Windham’s Searle’s Castle. The model was designed at no cost to Windham by Ray Capptell, one of the owners of Canobie Lake.

Windham Selectman Charles McMahon has been working for the past four years on getting a performance stage someplace where groups, such as the Windham Players or the Windham Community Band can entertain town residents.  McMahons vision moved one step closer to reality when selectmen voted unanimously (5 to 0) to accept his plan, cost-free to taxpayers.

McMahon, one of Windhams state representatives, as well as a newly re-elected selectman, said he has begun initial fund raising.  It is not my intention to ask taxpayers for any money, at all, he said. 

McMahon offered an overview of the proposed performance stage during the selectmens meeting on Monday, July 7.  The stage would be built near the Griffin Park pond  and situated at an angle facing the center of the park. At the corners of the stage, turrets reminiscent of Searles Castle, would be erected.  Behind the stage, a grid would be erected to project sound outward toward the audience.  The facility would be constructed of faux (cultured) stone.  Little maintenance would be required for its upkeep, McMahon said. The stage would be built on a concrete slab with ground-level seating for the audience.  The purpose of the performance stage, McMahon said, would be to provide cultural opportunities for the community.  Theres a whole plethora of possibilities, McMahon said. When asking the other four selectmen for their support, McMahon emphasized that the stage would not in conflict with any other use of Griffin Park. 

I think its a great addition to the park, Selectman Roger Hohenberger said. Selectman Galen Stearns agreed. We should go for it, Stearns said. Selectman Bruce Breton said he was impressed with the work McMahon already had done.

Depending on the amount of money raised for the project this summer, McMahon said he hopes to get the stage built this year.  Large and small donations are welcome.  If one large, single donor were to come forward, the facility could be named after that person, McMahon said.  Anyone interested in donating to the fund can contact the selectmens office at 432-7732.

Caption: Windham Selectman Charles McMahon displays miniature model of the proposed performance stage for Griffin Park.  McMahon said the decision has been made to eliminate the turret in the center of the roof and to retain those at either end of the stage reminiscent of Windhams Searles Castle. The model was designed at no cost to Windham by Ray Capptell, one of the owners of Canobie Lake.

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Pelham Library Has Wireless Access

by Lynne Ober

If you have a Pelham library card and want to find somewhere cool to work, bring your laptop down to the Pelham Library.  They will soon have an operational wireless network.

The hardware for the library’s new wireless access point has been installed by Selectman and Pelham volunteer Victor Danevich.  He installed one AIR-WLC526-K9 Cisco 526 Wireless Express Mobility Controller - Network Management, which cost $1,155, and two AIR-LAP521G-A-K9 Cisco 521 Wireless Express Access Points, which cost $310 each for a total of $620.00.  These devices meet internationally established wireless standards 802.11b and 802.11g.  

“This entry level commercial wireless controller can be expanded to handle 6 Access Points (APs), and we are currently only utilizing two,” said Danevich.

If there’s technology around that needs work, you can expect to see Danevich with his sleeves rolled up and working.  Thanks to Danevich, the wireless access is almost complete.

According to Library Director Sue Hoadley, “Additional programming and set-up remains before the system will be available and accessible by library card number.  However, once we are up and running, wireless access will make it easier for library patrons to access information resources and make their time that much more productive.”

Danevich decided to install commercial level equipment after the library received donations, which the trustees accepted. 

“I didn’t want to use a home router because this is, after all, a business application and we need security and reliability,” Danevich said.  “Thanks to the donors, we could purchase the equipment.”

“Wireless service is just one more way that the library serves this community,” said Library Trustee Diane Chubb.  “A library is more than a building that holds books - it brings together all kinds of resources for adults and children alike.  And the librarians are fantastic at helping patrons with questions and research.  This just adds another dimension to that level of service.”

“By offering a free, wireless network, the library is able to provide a better education, streamlined access to government information and services, and open the door to innovation,” commented Hoadley.  “Besides, the library is a cool place to work on a hot summer day.”

Danevich’s dream is to use one of four APs when funding becomes available to provide an outdoor coverage for the village green.  

“Sue is always looking for ways to make the library more appealing to residents,” said Chubb.  “We not only have an active set of children’s activities, but we offer many adult services and library patronage has been growing since we opened in the new building.”

“What better way than offer not only what is in the world, but respond to it as well,” smiled Pelham Library Trustees President Francis Garboski.  “That’s our interactive library!”

Danevich has long been a proponent of technology.  He helped write the town’s technology plan and has been active in all phases of public technology in Pelham.  While this is the first wireless phase, Danevich has also proposed a wireless video monitoring system for Pelham’s parks.

“Eventually, we will add two APs to the Municipal Building and two to the Police station for public access,” Danevich noted.  “The main difference between this and low end consumer models is security, reporting, authentication choices, multi-SSID support, and performance – all of which we need.”

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