Opinion

Ending the year grateful for Aroostook County

As 2021 officially comes to a close, it’s hard not to look back and reflect upon this past year — all the ups, the downs and everything in between.

There were moments of joy as we celebrated weddings, births, graduations and promotions, and moments of profound loss and hardship as we said goodbye to loved ones. Then, there were the unexpected moments that challenged us in ways we’d never imagined, especially as we continue to confront the deadly COVID-19 virus. But through it all, the spirit and kindness of Aroostook County never wavered.

 Last year, Mainers rang in 2021 not knowing quite what to expect after a particularly tough year. But that didn’t stop folks from going above and beyond to help each other get through this public health crisis. In Madawaska, Jenney Dionne didn’t hesitate to put her life and small business on hold to spend a week caring for seniors at Madawaska High View Nursing and Rehab. All she knew was that the nursing home was battling a COVID-19 outbreak and that her previous medical experience could be put to good use as a CNA.

Across the district in Ashland, folks refused to let the COVID-19 pandemic prevent Clarence Monro from celebrating a milestone birthday. Instead, the community came together to organize a parade past Clarence’s house to honor Ashland’s oldest resident. Between the honks, cheers and waves, I think it’s safe to say it was a birthday to remember.

 Looking out for our neighbors, taking care of those in need and serving our communities is just what we do in Aroostook County. So when I stop and reflect on this past year, it should come as no surprise that it’s the stories of service, sacrifice and small acts of kindness that stand out the most. 

 This year, it was hard not to be inspired by the young people going above and beyond to make their communities a little brighter. In Eagle Lake, Hudson Labbee made it his mission to improve the Fort Kent Elementary School playground to make the students’ time at the school that much more meaningful. His selfless actions earned him an Eagle Scout Award – scouting’s highest honor. In Woodland, it would be hard to forget Emmett Singer, the selfless trick-or-treater, who dumped his Halloween candy into an empty bowl at a neighbor’s house for the benefit of other kids. It’s stories like these and countless others that prove our future is in good hands.

 However, as the next generation steps up, we owe a debt of gratitude to the individuals who have served our communities and state for decades and have earned their retirement. 

In Caribou, Mary Pike retired after providing child care for working families and small businesses for more than 45 years. She created a community of child care providers and became an invaluable resource to those following in her footsteps. In Madawaska, Ann Beaulieu retired after 21 years as Fort Kent Parks and Recreation Director, where she administered a wide range of youth programming, taught kids to care for one another and passed on her love of the great outdoors. Caring for Mainers on the other end of the age spectrum, Sharon Berz of Limestone retired this year after 45 years supporting adults living with disabilities, caregivers and older seniors at the Aroostook Agency on Aging. She approached her clients and colleagues with compassion and understanding, committed to serving her community. 

 Finally, this year we said goodbye to some extraordinary figures in our community, who have spent their lives modeling what it means to be a good friend, neighbor and community leader. At the start of the year, we mourned Eric Werntgen, a teacher and athletic director at Fort Kent Community School. His positive outlook and belief in his students both on and off the court had a lasting impact. 

This past weekend, Aroostook County suffered a huge loss with the tragic death of Limestone Police Chief Stacey Mahan, a dedicated public servant, community leader, husband and father. Although I never had the pleasure of knowing Chief Mahan personally, his decades of public service and commitment to his community speak volumes about his character. 

 For every person mentioned, whether in reference to a good deed or decades of service, there are so many others who are making Aroostook County a better place for our families, friends and neighbors. It’s what sets The County apart. So as we wrap up the holiday season and celebrate the end of 2021, I’m grateful for you — the people who make Aroostook County the only place I want to call home.

I want to wish you all a healthy and happy 2022. As always, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out. 

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is Maine Senate president. He can be reached at either 207-287-1500 (office) or 207-436-0763 (cell), or via email at Troy.Jackson@legislature.maine.gov.

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