Dotty Mattson held a clipboard as she looked out over the standing-room-only crowd in the meeting room at the Derry Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #1617. Despite a seasonably warm Sunday afternoon, the room was filled with people awaiting the annual Loyalty Day ceremony, in which the post honors those who support freedom’s cause. Mattson rattled off a list of dignitaries and then said with a smile, “If I missed anyone, you were late.”
Those who gave all gave back to their community Sunday, May 3, with an afternoon reception at the post on Railroad Avenue. The honorees ran the gamut from middle-schoolers to grizzled veterans and included Nutfield Publishing, publishers of the Nutfield News, which was honored with the Commander’s Community Award.
Chaplain Carleton Morrison set the tone when he gave the invocation, asking people to rise above “petty political concerns” or “self-absorption that would cloud our judgment.”
Town Council Chairman Tom Cardon read a proclamation from the Council commending all the men and women who have “given of themselves” with their dedication, commitment, loyalty and patriotism.
“The VFW embodies all the positive things that are being done in America,” Cardon said. He was accompanied by Councilors David Fischer, Mark Osborne, Joshua Bourdon and Richard Tripp, who is also a member of the post.
Phyllis Katsakiores, a Town Councilor and Republican state representative, brought greetings from the New Hampshire Senate.
Mattson introduced the people who make the town run, including Police Chief Ed Garone, Fire Chief Michael Gagnon, recently retired Fire Chief George Klauber, and Superintendent of Schools Laura Nelson. “Without them, this town would not exist,” Mattson said.
She recognized state VFW dignitaries including Craig Locke, District Trustee; George Slocum, District Quartermaster; Chris Pierce, District Commander; and Kim Copson, District President.
She also recognized State Reps Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien, R-Derry; John Potucek, R-Derry; and Alfred Baldasaro, R-Londonderry and Orville “Bud” Fitch, a representative of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH. Baldasaro read a commendation letter from the office of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH.
Fire Chief Gagnon introduced the VFW’s Firefighter/Paramedic of the Year, Firefighter James Hoffman, who donned an ice rescue suit to save two young boys this past November. Hoffman himself sustained injuries, but his boss said, “He never let go.
“He embodies everything that’s good about this department,” Gagnon said.
Chief Garone introduced the VFW’s choice for Policeman of the Year, Officer Peter Houlis. Garone said Houlis is an Army veteran, serving in the military police, and they’ve never been able to break him of the habit of saying “Yes, sir.” “We told him, ‘You don’t have to call everyone ‘sir,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir,’” Garone said.
Houlis served on the front lines in Derry, was a Field Training Officer and was eventually appointed School Resource Officer (SRO) for Derry’s two middle schools. He traded up to being SRO for Pinkerton Academy and will be able to follow the same students for four years, Garone said, giving them a sense of continuity.
Houlis was the first person on the scene at the Hood Pond ice disaster, and “kept them calm” until Hoffman and the firefighters arrived, Garone added.
Nutfield Publishing received the Commander’s Community Award for its service to veterans’ issues, and Publisher Debra Paul and reporter Kathleen Bailey accepted the award.
Diane Cassell of The Upper Room, who works with Community Service Learning Opportunities, was the Senior Volunteer of the Year.
The post also honored the following teachers: Ginny Legare, music teacher at East Derry Memorial Elementary School, Elementary Teacher of the Year; Laura Powers, special education facilitator at the middle schools, Middle School Teacher of the Year; and Beth Hudson, American Sign Language teacher at Pinkerton, High School Teacher of the Year.
John Trout and his daughter Christine were honored as Buddy Poppy Distributors of the Year for their work in selling the paper flowers that raise funds for veterans. Chris Trout was also honored with the Ladies Auxiliary Award.
A complete list of the local honorees follows:
Firefighter/Paramedic of Year, James Hoffman;
Law Enforcement Officer of Year, Peter Houlis;
Community Senior Volunteer, Diane Casale;
Elementary Teacher of Year, Ginny Legare;
Middle School Teacher of Year, Laura Powers;
High School Teacher of Year, Beth Hudson;
Buddy Poppy Distributor of Year, David Trow;
Mattson introduced the winners of the department’s two essay contests, Voice of Democracy for high school and Patriot’s Pen for middle school.
Voice of Democracy Award, Local Level, first, Monica C. Maney; second, Robert H. Daneau; third, Regan P. Cowin.
Patriots Pen, Local Level, first, Lukas Reimer; second, Kayleigh Schroeder; third, Benjamin Auger; Runners-up, Isabelle Lim-peris, Aleksandra Carney, Nina Paradzick, Hannah Way, Haylee Coupal.
Scout of Year, David Moser, Troop 98, Derry, for his work at installing a chain link fence around Pinkerton Academy’s practice field.
Commander’s Community Award, Nutfield Publishing.
Commander’s Community Award, Troop 98 Missile Restoration Team.
Commander’s Special Award, Veterans Administration Bingo team, Bill Lane, Tony Bruno, Richard Tripp, Maureen Donovan, Cathy-Jo Girgus, Michelle Dupuis, Lucy Fayle, Christine Fayle.
The volunteers go to the Manchester Veterans Administration Hospital to play Bingo with the residents. Speaking for his comrades, member Tony Bruno said, “There are a lot of veterans out there and we’re better off than some of them. It’s the least we can do.”
Commander’s Appreciation Award, Former Fire Chief George Klauber for his service to the community. Paraphrasing the African proverb, Klauber said, “It takes a community to make Derry what it is.”
The Women’s Auxiliary Award, Christine Trow.
Men’s Auxiliary Award, Danny Boyce, Keith Starosciak.
Kathleen Berry of Coe-Brown Academy was District 7 Teacher of the Year and Michael Grimm was District 7 Boy Scout of the Year.
The awards came back home again as Boy Scout Troop 98 received the Commander’s Special Award for its work in refurbishing the space missile outside the post.