Former movie star and veterans advocate gets warm welcome at North Country Veterans Conference

By Barbara Tetreault

SHELBURNE – Former movie star and veterans advocate Chris Noel received a standing ovation Friday at the North Country Veterans Conference and she in turn praised the sacrifices of those in the room.
The country, she said, “too easily forgets the real cost of war.” In particular, she addressed Vietnam veterans, whom she entertained with a daily radio show broadcast to the troops from 1966-1969 and during tours of the country.
“We all owe you a very large apology and a debt of gratitude,” she said.
Noel’s speech was one of the highlights of the conference, which attracted about 200 veterans and their families. During the daylong event, veterans heard about programs and services available to them and visited resource tables and exhibits from more than 40 different organizations. They also shared stories about their military service.
Speaking first, Retired Brigadier General Peter Corey, N.H. National Guard, noted that he lived in Berlin during part of his service with the National Guards. Corey was commander of the Second Battalion 197th Field Artillery in 2003 when 200 soldiers were eventually deployed to Iraq. He recalled friends and family members lining the streets of Berlin and Gorham to wave goodbye on the sub-zero January day the bulk departed to report for active duty.
Corey said the entitlements provided to veterans by the government range from mental health counseling to housing assistance. He said veterans get discounts at state parks and local property tax relief.
He said there has also been an incredible amount of what he termed good will benefits or public appreciation for the service of veterans. Corey cautioned the veterans to be good stewards of the good will they have been shown.
“The government will always provide entitlements but good will is not guaranteed,” he said.
Matthew Mulcahy, associate director at the White River Junction VA Medical Center, said the center offers a wide range of services to veterans. In fiscal 2016, he said the center had 26,245 unique patients. It had 300,840 outpatient visits and 2,537 in-patient visits. While the center, located in White River Junction Vermont, is large, Mulcahy said it is working to become more accessible. He said Director Alfred Montoya is holding monthly meetings throughout the center’s coverage area to get public feedback and answer questions.
Stephanie Higgs, care coordinator for Easter Seals Military and Veterans Services, described the new “Ask the Question” initiative. She said the effort encourages organizations and agencies providing services ranging from healthcare to education to ask if the person or a family member has ever served in the military. If the answer is yes, the initiative helps the providers respond.
Veterans also heard from representatives of the Gorham Family Resource Center, Northern Human Services, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness-NH.
For a majority of the veterans, seeing Chris Noel in person was a highlight of the conference.
Born in Florida, Noel started out as a model and moved into show business, landing roles in movies with Elvis, Dennis Hooper, Steve McQueen, and Don Johnson. But a 1965 visit to Letterman Hospital in California with Gov. Pat Brown and baseball legend Sandy Koufax changed her life. A visit to the gangrene ward where Vietnam veterans were recuperating shocked her. Noel said she walked out of the hospital that day vowing to find a way to help.
She auditioned for a show on an Armed Forces Network radio and was hired to do a daily radio program “A Date with Chris”. She also traveled to Vietnam to tour with Bob Hope and went out on her own traveling to some of the isolated firebases to visit the troops. Noel said one of her biggest compliments came when the Viet Cong put a $10,000 bounty on her.
Discovering there are thousands of homeless veterans in this country, Noel opened Vetsville Cease Fire House in 1991 and continues to operate it. She also continues to advocate on behalf of veterans. Noel said her work is a way for her to give back to those who put their lives on the line for their country.
“Freedom is not free,” she concluded, to a standing ovation from the crowd.
After Noel’s speech about her experiences, the veterans were asked to share stories of their experiences of entering the service, serving in harm’s way, and returning home. The reasons for entering ranged from a family history of military service and a desire to serve to those drafted or seeking to see the world. The discussion turned more emotional as some described their service and the reaction they received when returning.
Speaking from first hand experience, Noel urged the veterans to share their pain as a way to deal with it. Her husband, a former Green Beret she met in Vietnam, ended up committing suicide.
Jay Sprinkle, chair of the North Country Veterans Committee, said about 200 veterans and their families registered for the conference. He said the local community really welcomed Noel with the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce presenting her with one of its boom pier awards at a ceremony Thursday night.

Colebrook man killed in accident

DIXVILLE - A Colebrook man was killed Friday afternoon when his car struck some paving equipment parked off the shoulder of a section of Route 26 under construction.
George Heald, 60 of Colebrook was driving a 2001 Toyota Celica west on Route 26 when his vehicle hit some traffic cones and went off the right side of the road, striking the guardrail which caused the vehicle to veer off the left side of the road. The vehicle then struck an embankment, went airborne, striking a piece of paving equipment before coming to a rest. Heald suffered fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene.
The construction zone was inactive at the time of the accident. Police do not believe speed or alcohol were factors.
State police Troop F were notified of the accident at about 3:30 p.m. Assisting at the scene were State Police Troop G as well as the department’s Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit, Colebrook police, Colebrook and Errol Fire and EMS.
The investigation is on-going and anyone who witnessed the collision is being asked to contact Trooper Michael Petrillo at State Police, Troop F at (603)-846-3333.

Berlin nursing home to seek skilled nursing facility status


By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Daily Sun

WEST STEWARTSTOWN — The Coos County Nursing Home in Berlin is laying the groundwork now to become a skilled nursing facility as of July 1, 2017, under the federal Medicare Part A and B programs.

“This will reduce the dollars we will have to raise by taxes,” explained Commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin at the commission’s regular monthly on Oct. 12.
“There are, of course, challenges,” explained nursing home administrator Louise Belanger.

Fortunately, she said, both Hillsborough and Carroll counties have previously taken this same step, bringing more rehabilitation into their nursing homes.

The Hillsborough facility in Goffstown is a 300-bed skilled and intermediate care facility that includes a 24-bed skilled unit.

Carroll County’s 103-bed facility, Mountain View Community in Ossipee, discusses the rationale for its skilled admissions in its online October newsletter.

“Let me assure you that money is not the main reason that we offer skilled nursing care — also known as rehabilitation — here at MVC,” writes administrator Howard Chandler. “We offer skilled nursing-rehabilitation in order to benefit our own long-term-care residents.”

A skilled nursing failicty requires a program manager, speech therapist, physical therapist and occupational therapist, and 103 beds would provide enough business to justify having them at the Berlin facility, he explained. “But if we allow short-term admissions from the outside. We help pay the bills and ensure that if a resident requires skilled nursing/rehab, that we will be ready,” Chandler points out. It also allows Mountain View Community to serve more county residents.

On Oct. 12, the census stood at 87 at the Berlin home: 10 private pay and four Medicaid pending with an average September daily census of 88.7 percent.
Grenier pointed out that the two county nursing homes are heading towards a combined deficit of $8.3 million.

The September occupancy at the West Stewartstown facility was 80 percent.

The Van Dyke assisted living facility on Main Street in Colebrook is closing.

Berlanger announced that two Berlin nursing home employees had been presented with awards at the annual meeting of the New Hampshire Association of Counties.

Helen Couture received the Edna Mckenna Public Service Award for her outstanding dedication.

Karen Berube, R.N., was given the Coos County Nursing Home Employee of the Year Award for her many years of dedicated service.

The roof replacement and HVAC upgrades are underway at the Berlin facility, and, Belanger said, the contractor is working hard to minimize disruption.

Coos Botanical Garden Club blossoms in Berlin and Gorham

By Rachael Brown

The Coos Botanical Garden Club grew out of a passion. Will O’Brien planted the seed. His idea was to get local growers and the community to work together to share their knowledge of organic growing, conservation and beautification.

It has been 10 years since the club began, O’Brien says things are going well, change is happening.

“I started this in 2006. It was my brainchild. I thought about starting a club where growers would work together with the Berlin and Gorham rec departments and Northern Human Services in conservation and beautification,” said the affable and enthusiastic O’Brien, director and ambassador of the Coos Botanical Club.

O’Brien has the agricultural background. He created a botanical garden club which includes a botanical garden park, labeled theme gardens and a wildlife habitat garden club, all the while educating children and adults.

“I lived in Tennessee, and grew up on a dairy farm, as a kid I knew how to grow things organically. We had 700 chickens. We used to put the eggs in shopping carts and peddle them throughout the neighborhood. We did pretty well,” he beamed, adding he also studied conservation and worked with N.H. Fish and Game.

The club collaborates with Northern Human Services at the Community Services Center in Berlin, the Berlin Rec Department, the Gorham Rec Department, the National Wildlife Federation, WREN, Berlin Farmer’s Market Community Garden, Peabody Farm House Museum of Shelburne, Top Notch Inn and Mount Moriah Cottage of Gorham, N.H. Arts and Libations and local farms.

"This year the theme of the club is 'club to farm' and 'club to garden,'" O’Brien said. “We mange gardens in Berlin and Gorham with volunteer staff and the help of Northern Human Services. We couldn’t do it without the support of human services.”

The locations include Laura Lee Vigor Botanical Garden in Berlin, Gorham Community Planters and Gardens, Wildlife Habitat Garden at Peabody Farm House Museum and Berlin Farmer’s Market Community Garden.

“We have a couple of freebies, too, the gardens at Rite-Aid, the White Mountain Cafe and Sears in Gorham. We also put in 73 hours at WREN. Don Myers donated the vegetables,” added O’Brien.


A garden to cultivate the senses

Taste, touch, smell, see and hear. That’s what the sensory garden at Gorham Common exhibits.

“The sensory garden and planter at the podium, which Josh Labonville built, is filled with herbs and bright flowers. Children can taste and touch, adults, too. We show people how to utilize herbs,” explained O’Brien.

One of the group's goals is to educate.

“We want to teach youth and children to grow organically. Teachers help educate kids about plants that attract animals, O’Brien said. Children are excited to see how things grow, they like to touch and harvest. Some say they didn’t know green beans taste like that, and there is nothing like a garden tomato, especially grown organically,” he added.

We talk about and experience wildlife habitats, said O’Brien.

Speaking of habitats, the club is in the process of being certified by the National Wildlife Federation.

“We supply the four things needed for wildlife: a place for animals to have young, food, shelter and water. We have sent in all the information to become certified and are just waiting for the approval,” said O’Brien.

The club is not dormant in the winter.

"The Gorham Library is our satellite. During the winter we have monthly presentations," said O'Brien.  And just before the winter season on Nov. 14 is the Golden Shovel Award.

“The Northland Dairy Bar is our sponsor for the awards dinner. We recognize three people for their outstanding work and the Best Favored Club Event,” O’Brien said.

Speaking of dinners, Merrily Lepage’s Joyful Farm in Gorham hosts the potluck, Yankee swap Christmas Party and other dinners.

“Will and I met and he asked me to join the club. I went to the first club meeting two years ago. We have some events here, the Christmas party, we had a maple syrup gathering last spring,” said Lepage, an ambassador for the club.

The 2-acre farm is home to chickens, goats and abundance of tomatoes, peppers, beans, cucumbers, squashes, corn, hay, elderberries and apples. Lepage cans what ever she is able to and is making her own dandelion wine.

“We hope the wine is ready for Christmas,” she added.

‘We like to talk to people, to promote a healthy way of living. People seem to be more interested in what they put in their bodies and on their bodies. While Lepage was talking, Dick Downs, a customer, came in for his goat milk and eggs.

He said, “This is the most interesting place in town. Well, actually the North Country. And this is the coolest stuff.” Downs was referring to one of the natural healing balms, Baack-Off, which is made from goat’s milk.

Lepage’s products can be found on her farm, at the Berlin Farmer’s Market and at the Gorham Corner Market.

Allen and Tina Binette, owners of the Corner Market and gas station since July, are excited about featuring local products and food. They see change happening.

“Anyone who has a farm, we take them in for our products. Our big seller is bread and eggs. People request pork, too,” said Tina Binette.

“People want to know where their food comes from, what am I ingesting?,” added Allen Binette.

“Just the other day, a customer came in and purchased green pepper, onion and hamburger, just about a whole meal from local products,” smiled Tina.

To celebrate local, this past June, New Hampshire Arts and Libations held a benefit for the club at the Mount Moriah Cottage next to the Top Notch Inn in Gorham. The event brings together artists, gardeners and the community.

“We have fancy dishes and live music, it is a fund-raiser for the club. Will does so much for the club, I can’t say enough about him,” said Sally Brassill, inn owner and one of the organizers of the event.

O’Brien suggests people check their website for events and to give a call first, sometimes dates are adjusted because of the weather.

A schedule of events, along with membership information, can also be found at Gorham Public Library.

“We have a lot of fun and the dishes are extraordinary,” said O’Brien.

For more information: visit, call Will O’Brien, (603) 466-2181 or visit the club on Facebook.