Lincoln, New Hampshire

Category: Meet the Flock (Page 1 of 2)

Meet the Flock: Buz Benza

Today’s math assignment: Solve the equation:  If  (X) + (Y) = (Z) such that  (X) = Buzz Lightyear (the Toy Story movie’s astronaut), and (Y) = Buzz Aldrin (the real life Apollo 11 astronaut who walked on the moon’s surface this very month in 1969, 50 years ago), then how many subsets of shared common denominators between the lives of  (X) + (Y) can you find to equal the man who spells his name with only one (Z), and who ‘buzzes around our orbit’ here at St. Joseph Church—Buz Benza?

It’s a trick question, as our Buz, (A): is obviously not an astronaut, but a calm, gentleman-like career banker and family man with a keen intellect and mathematical mind, and, (B): no amount of people named Buzz (spelled with either one Z or two Zs) can ever add up to the one in our midst. Buz Benza, you see, is unique. He maintains and refreshes himself in both body and spirit by remaining physically active and spiritually alive. He has the reserved, business-like personality of a professional banker, yet is the antithesis of a ‘heartless-by-the-numbers’ kind of guy. That stereotype is so ‘out- of-this-world’ foreign to Buz, as he always remains grounded and down-to-earth. He keeps his eyes forever focused on his goals and higher purpose in life. WWJD is his motto: What Would Jesus Do?  He strives to see the world’s problems through the lens of differing viewpoints, and is measured at all times in his speech and thought processes. (Measured…hmmm, brings us back to the math)…

So, though you may find some similarities of coincidence throughout this short biographical summary of our Buz to the lives of the other two famous (X and Y ‘Buzzes’), the comparisons end there. The first similarity of coincidence you may find, however, has to do with the nickname itself. Buz’s real name is Sebastian. Since Buz’s fraternal twin brother, Frank, could not pronounce the name “Sebastian” when he was a child, it became Buster and Bus, until Buz’s wife, Pat, much later in life, dubbed him Buz with one Z, as “two are superfluous,” she felt. (Coincidentally, Buzz Aldrin’s sibling had the same problem with mispronunciation of the word brother, hence his Buzz nickname).

Our Buz was born to Italian Immigrants, Salvatore and Anna. “I want to give them credit for what they accomplished in their lives.” (That’s Buz, always giving credit where it’s due.)  He knows life was hard for them, his Dad a shipyard worker in New Jersey, and his mother, a dressmaker.  Buz grew up in a 5-story walk-up apartment in the Bronx of New York until his parents moved the family of 5 (a sister, 2 brothers, and the twins: Buz and Frank) to a home in Pelham Gardens, NY. (In typical Buz fashion, he rattles off from deep within his mathematical mind, all his siblings’ages, dates of their births, and other pertinent numbers.)  As for the twins, Buz is older by 15 minutes. Frank always joked that he kicked Buz out earlier “to check the weather.” They were a good balance. Buz teases, “I was the good twin.” He continues on with another family tale, recounting a story about his much older sister:  “She was the one that kind of raised us. When my twin and I were 4, my sister was 15.” He continues: “I guess, for my sister I was a little toy soldier to play with.”  (Gee, a ‘toy’ story—does it remind you of Buzz Lightyear?). Anyway, as this ‘Toy Story’ goes, when they moved to New York, his sister entered the twins in a local department store’s beauty contest, got them dressed, and Buz and his twin won! “I still have the silver trophy cup with our names on it, and 4 years old.” 

Beauty, again, entered his life when Buz was around the age of 16.  “God works in mysterious ways,” he says. His father passed away in February of 1947 (Buz quickly calculates here)…“at the age of 52.  It was a turning point in my life, as that is when I started dating the joy of my life,” his beauty, his future bride, Pat. As they say, it happened by chance, or in Buz’s case, by accident, a true accident on November 11th, 1947. Buz was playing football (as did Buzz Aldrin). It was a scrimmage game, with no helmet on his head. He ended up hitting his head hard, landing head-first into the player on the other team’s helmeted head. Buz was diagnosed with a resultant concussion. When home, the ‘dazed and confused’ Buz, ordered his twin to: “Get Pat!”  Frank, his twin, did proceed to get Pat, a neighbor, a guy named Pat…the wrong Pat! Buz insisted, “Get Pat…Pat Lynch!” She was one of the neighbor girls in their group that they hung around with. Though he hardly knew her, she came over, they bonded, and the rest became history—60 years of marital history, to be exact. (But, more on that romantic tale to follow: it was now time to concentrate on schooling and career.)

Buz attended public high school, Columbus High in NY with his twin, Frank, who ended up graduating 6 months after Buz. Frank failed an Italian class while Buz took Spanish, passed, and left high school ahead of his twin. “It seems I went to school all my life.”  He reminisces: “After high school, I went to New York University. Igraduated from Iona College and the Stonier College Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers, and the Advanced Management School, also at Rutgers University, achieving the equivalent of a Master’s degree.”  Buz also graduated from the American Institute of Banking (where he became President of the Westchester County Chapter of the American Institute of Banking). He also went to the Columbia Society of Real Estate Appraisers at Columbia University to get his certificate in that field.

As one would imagine, all this education landed Buz with many opportunities for prestigious positions within his chosen career path, as he moved up the rungs of the banking world’s ladder in New York. At one point, Buz was the youngest regional Vice President for the County Trust Company at the age of 42, a long climb from his first job as a messenger and file clerk at the Dollar Savings Bank in 1949. Buz was ambitious with his education goals, attending school 4 nights a week, taking the train after work at 18 years-old to NYU. He was also ambitious in those early years with his romantic goals. He and the then, Pat Lynch (the woman who came to his bedside to visit during his football concussion) had been dating since he was 16. When the Korean War broke out, Buz volunteered to go, as both he and his twin were summoned. (Yet another Buzz Aldrin coincidence, as Aldrin also served in Korea.) Buz went through basic training and leadership school, and OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. (This is so fitting of his personality: Buz Benza: “The Officer and a Gentleman!”) At any rate, it was 1953, when he and the love of his life tied the knot. Buz was still in the Army. They got married on a 3-day pass. He flew out for the big wedding in New Rochelle, NY where they danced to their song: “Too Young (To Really Be in Love). The Mass before the reception had 5 priests on the altar. (No waiting in line for communion at that wedding! Another coincidence:  there was no waiting in line either for Buzz Aldrin:  he took communion privately on the moon when he landed there in 1969.).  Anyway, back to earth for the rest of the story: Buz and Pat later left for the honeymoon suite at the Waldorf Astoria. When Buz returned to report back to base at Ft. Hood, Texas from hismoon-shot (the 3-day pass), he was considered AWOL on a technicality, as he was not supposed to be more than 50 miles away from Ft. Hood. Thankfully, his company punishment (that he decided to take, instead of going to trial) consisted of getting up at 5 a.m. daily for a month to report to his duty officer.

Career and marriage pressed on after the war, first in Texas and later in New York. Buz and Pat’s love blossomed, their union giving life to 5 children in 7 years. Life was good. When the County Trust Company later merged with the Bank of New York, Buz made a decision. After a 40-year-career in banking, he took an early retirement at the age of 57.

In July of 1982, Buz and Pat came looking to move to the quieter country life of NH from the hectic pace of city-life in NY. His twin, Frank, owned property in Woodstock, NH, and suggested they search out a place nearby, across a lake, as there was property for sale. “My Mom always wanted her twins to be together.” As luck would have it, they put in an offer and have been in Woodstock ever since. For 20 of those years, Buz and Pat would vacation in winters down to Florida’s Satellite Beach. (Hmmm, sounds like a place an astronaut would visit!) Satellite Beach is located right next to Kennedy Space Center where they would watch rocket launches from the front of their house. Their kids would come and visit too. “Family has been my whole life,” Buz proudly announces. At present, Buz has 11 grandkids and 9 great-grandchildren.

Buz has enjoyed many leisure activities with family, enjoying all the beauty that nature in the mountains has to offer. In the past, also in winter, he and Pat went skiing and snowmobiling. These days, he enjoys gardening in the spring, tennis and golf in the summer. He is literally ‘A Man For All Seasons,’ adding: “The sum of all my hobbies is my love of golf,” Buz has been playing the game since he was 14. He jokes, “I think I have more mileage on a golf cart than on a regular car.”  (Buz still drives at the age of 88, a Chevy Colorado truck.)  But, it is the game of golf that has sustained him in retirement, working at Jack O’Lantern for 10 years and now entering his 21st year at Owl’s Nest Golf Course off of Exit 28 as a starter and a ranger.

Golf has given him some perspective in life too. He tells how he doesn’t look to have the best cars or personal things in life. “I try to set an example primarily to live a good life according to the gospels. I’m hoping that I leave the world a better place than I found it. Just like on the golf course, you always replace your divots and fix your ball marks.” He believes everyone should share their 3 Ts: Time/Treasure/Talent. In Buz’s case, though, it’s Time as Treasurer and his Talent as such. Buz has served as Treasurer on more charitable organizations and committees than you can count, everything from Boy Scouts to the Red Cross.  He has continued to share that talent here at Saint Joseph Church, serving in the past as Chairman of the Finance Committee, and now as a Trustee of the Knights of Columbus. He also serves as an usher and greeter at the 10 o’clock Mass on Sundays. He requests many of those Masses for his beloved wife, Pat, who passed away in 2013 from pancreatic cancer. Their hearts will always be intertwined; they have been since the tender “Too Young” age of 16 years-old. He tells a story that illustrates their bond beautifully: “In 2004, Pat had a heart attack and was operated on at CMC for bypass surgery.” While visiting his wife there, Buz was told by doctors that he didn’t look so good himself. “We ended up being operated on in the same hospital within a day of each other for the same heart surgery.”  (Now, that’s two hearts that are one!)  He also is deeply saddened by the very recent loss of his twin, Frank. These two loves of his life are now buried in Woodstock under the same cemetery stone. He misses both of them dearly. Many years from now, Buz, will take that ‘giant leap’ into the unknown and join them. When he does, I’m willing to bet he’ll shout with joy at each ‘small step’ of the way: “To Infinity and Beyond!”  (That, my friends, you can take to the bank.)

Meet the Flock: Gloria Morin

Be Not Afraid of the “Mama Bear” known as Gloria Morin. Sure, she can be fierce when poked the wrong way (and she’ll let you know it)…but, other than the occasional instance when she rears the head of her animal kingdom’s counterpart,  you will find that underneath what some perceive as an outward “untamed” persona, beats within it, the warm, tender heart of a softly-stuffed Teddy Bear—the authentic Gloria.  Always truthful, never fake or phony, she adds: “I’m just me, take me or leave me, your choice.” 

The self-admittedly direct-and to-the-point-no-nonsense-Gloria puts it this way:  “I can be your best friend, but I can also be your worst enemy.”  There when you need her, she’ll always help or defend a friend. When cornered, she will always stand her ground. Conversely, she will let you know where you stand in her eyes, as she never talks behind your back. If you may think this is an over-“bearing” attitude…think again.  If you interpret Gloria to “grumble or groan” it is only an indication of the passions she defends and personifies when in her “Mama Bear” mode, protecting her “cubbies” (and I don’t mean the Chicago baseball team). This very town, her family, her friends, her Veterans, and her church, St. Joseph’s (even the actual building itself), are her babies, ones that she cares deeply about, ones she feels are in need of her watchful guidance, and ones deserving of her equal protection and preservation. Like any good mother, she doesn’t play favorites, either.

Always to hold a special place in her heart is this very town itself.  Gloria’s roots run deep within Lincoln. Even her own mother was born here! Gloria is the middle child of 7 children (2 younger brothers and 1 older—all deceased; 2 older sisters and 1 younger – all living.)  Gloria has lived on the same street in town for 74 of her 76 years.  In fact, her parents lived only five houses up from Gloria’s current abode, until her parents’ house had a fire and theirs burned down.  Later, when Gloria’s father died, she took in her mother to the house that is now Gloria’s present home, and, for 27 years, lovingly cared for all her mother’s needs until she passed. It is now Gloria’s hope and plan to preserve this house until her very own passing, so that she can keep it in the family for her three children: Kim, Darlene, and Drew (or for some of her 7 grandkids, and/or the 20 great-grandchildren that she has as of this date). Until that time comes, however, (and with the help of God’s good grace), Gloria’s demise will, hopefully, be put off a long way into the far-off future. In the meantime, for now, this house serves as Gloria’s “den” of happiness. It is where she “hibernates” when she is not roaming about this mountain town doing her volunteer work. It is where she finds her solace, and where she can reminisce about the town and people she loves.

She recalls how when her kids were growing up, life in Lincoln was different. She remembers a time when the Paper Mill was the town employer; both her parents and her husband worked there for years. She actually met him at the Lincoln Restaurant, at what is now The Gypsy. She was a loyal wife to Claude for nearly 45 years. He passed-on 12 years ago. Gloria, however, prefers to dwell on the good-ol’ days of Lincoln. She continues: “We had a bowling alley (now the Riverbank Motel); a drive-in theatre (Deer Park); the movie theatre was where the Knights of Columbus Hall was (behind what is now the Union Bank at the end of Coolidge Street); the hospital where I was born (now the building housing Udderly Delicious, next to El Greco’s); the high school (now the Penguin Ski Club); and the company store (what is now Lahout’s) which was owned by the Paper Mill.” At that, she excitedly beams, “You never left town to go shopping. It had everything; it was a grocery store, it had women’s and men’s apparel, and at Christmas time, upstairs, you could do all your shopping. There was a soda fountain and a meat department. Back then, she continues, “My street was a community by itself. At one point, over 21 kids lived on it. They played games like Kick the Can, Statue, and Red Rover. We had our own softball team, football team, baseball team. The telephone pole was home plate.” Now, she laments, “There are no kids anymore, no families anymore, just tourists, and a few local kids.” She feels there is not enough here for kids to do, except for skiing in the winter. If she had the money, she says, “I would buy the old IGA building (now a collectibles store) and make it into a roller skating rink and arcade. Kids need a place to go.”

Way back as a child herself, though, she always found something to do, like ice skating in winter. But one time, that activity nearly took a tragic turn. Thankfully, Gloria was there to save the day. In the days of Lincoln-of -old, kids skated on what was called Mill Pond, where large logs from the Paper Mill lurked haphazardly beneath the darkened water’s icy surface. Gloria was probably 10. She recounts the story: “My brother fell in. He was maybe 8-years-old. My other brothers and my sisters held onto my skates, as I was the tallest and the skinniest, and they put me under the water.”  Gloria literally fished him out—and saved his life! (To this day, she can only bathe using a hand-held shower, as she cannot be under any water at all; it just brings back that traumatic memory.) However, that day is telling and symbolic of the way her siblings felt about her: “I was the one who had to get things done.”

It would seem that was—and continues to be—the case. As a young mother, Gloria kept very busy, waiting tables and cleaning hotel rooms. She even ran a deli at the Kanc Country Store and worked at the Village of Loon’s “Not So General Store” restaurant. There, she made everything from scratch from homemade potato salad to soups and more.  She likes to cook—something she continues to do to this very day—both for her Veterans and her church families.

Gloria is very active with the American Legion Auxiliary #83 in town, located on Main Street. She has helped with Veteran’s Day breakfasts. For the last 15 years, she was the organization’s Treasurer. Gloria actually serves as the V.A.V.S. representative for the Manchester facility of the State of N.H. for the Veterans American Legion Auxiliary. She explains:  “I go every single Wednesday to the Manchester V.A. to pass out personal items for the vets, like body wash, shampoos, etc.”  She has done that for the past 10-11 years, with the exception of two winters ago when she fell through a glass slider and shattered her arm, requiring 4½ hours of surgery and something like 41 stitches, a minor setback for the on-the-go Gloria. When it comes to her Vets and her attendance at church, she is unstoppable.

Over the years, Gloria has been very active within the St. Joseph’s church and senior citizen communities. She made all her sacraments and was even married at St. Joseph’s.  As a child, she sang in the choir; her kids were altar servers at Mass. At one time, and for 32-35 years, she ran the Christmas parties, spring flings, and fall things for local seniors, sometimes at the parish hall or at the Community Center, and sometimes at Mr. W’s (the old pancake place, where the Union Bank is now.)  At some of the seniors’ summer cookouts, she would take on the role of  “blender-of-the-drink-blenders” making any of their requested concoctions; these were held on the grounds of the Legion Hall. In winter, for every single one of the seniors, Gloria bought Christmas gifts. One year, she made May baskets for all of them, each one filled with candy. She explains: “You delivered them to your friend’s house, knocked on their door, left it, and ran.” And, of course, she cooked, boy did she cook! Gloria has run the bereavement committee at St. Joseph’s for the past 12 years, catering countless Mercy Meals for those parishioners unable to pay for one, or unwilling to hold one at a not-so-intimate venue like a restaurant. “I love doing it because I feel I can give some family some rest and they can socialize here…you can be yourself,” she explains. She and her two BFFs (Lorraine Logiudice) and (Patty Papio, on occasion) work diligently to put on a huge spread of varied food choices for grieving families and friends of deceased parishioners after a memorial service or a funeral Mass.

Meanwhile, ever-the-organized and plan-ahead-person, Gloria has all her funeral and final arrangements made—and the terms are very specific. She has her outfit all picked out: a country western number, one with black jeans and a matching top, just the way her husband was dressed when he passed.­­­­­­ For herself, at the cemetery, there will be a battery-operated bubble machine with a cassette playing Anne Murray’s Could I Have This Dance, their wedding song. After the funeral Mass with a casket, she is to be cremated; her ashes placed in two separate urns, one mixed with her husband’s to be buried, and one scattered with his at their favorite picnic spot in town, up on the Kanc. Gloria hopes that her own Mercy Meal will be held at St. Joseph’s.  She explains why:  “That is where the most important things began in my life, and I would like it to end there.” Also, as she was never a fan of the current interior design of the church, she is adamant about where she is to be placed during her funeral Mass: “I want my casket where the kneelers were. If not, I’ll jump up and that’ll be it.”  But, most importantly, Gloria’s favorite hymn, Be Not Afraid, will be sung (in its entirety). When all of those requirements for her final wishes are met, then—and only then—will Gloria Morin, the affectionately named “Mama Bear” be tamed…her Teddy Bear heart at rest.

P.S. When Gloria is not running around town completing all her volunteer activities, she can be found enjoying two of her favorite playtime passions: shopping, and/or gambling with Lady Luck. She regularly attends Bingo down at Fun Spot in Laconia with her friend, Lorraine. “She drives, and I make the lunch.” (Figures Gloria would make the lunch, right?)

P.P.S.  If you would like to view some photos from the days of Lincoln-of-old-through-the-years (that include some of its residents during town celebrations, etc.), Gloria has donated many of her photo albums to the Historical Society (now located in the old Protestant Church) for all to view, and as a means to protect and preserve that legacy.

                                                                                                                                                 — By: Denise Rush

Meet the Flock: Ronnie Comesana

by Denise Rush

Unbeknownst to even himself, Ronnie Comesana has a superpower—his self-proclaimed “goofy” sense of humor. Day-by-day, throughout his entire life, it has empowered him to get through the tough times. More recently, as he ages, it has been a godsend to help deal with the pains of his multiple medical diagnoses. When doctors tell him: “Ronnie, your body is like an old, beat-up Ford pick-up truck,” Ronnie’s response with a big laugh is: “That’s okay cuz I’ve got one!”  When his legs just give out without warning and he falls down, friends say to him: “Ronnie, when are you getting a cane?” Again, he jokes, “Well, my Dad, bless his heart, was 72 when he used a cane, I’m only 70. I just may have to wait 2 years, and use a ski pole if I have to…Oh Lord!” His present-day health crisis is one of needle-like pain jabbing at him in—of all places—his “funny bone.”

He inherited that great “sense-of-humor-superpower” from his father, who, like Ronnie used it to laugh away his own diabetic pain. Both his Cajun born mother and, for that matter, Ronnie’s entire extended family seem to possess it— they all know that trick to happiness. It is the Cajun code: “Life is just better when you’re happy. I always try to make people laugh and make them happy like I was,” says Ronnie, who really did have a happy childhood. This admittedly not-so-po’-boy was raised in New Orleans (or, as Ronnie says it: “NuAwlins”) with his father’s family. They all visited frequently the Cajun land of Vermilion parish on his mother’s side, land that has been in the family since the 1700s. It was there that rowdy, friendly, brotherly wrestling matches and extended family gatherings (served Southern-style with po’-boy sandwiches, juicy fried catfish, and other Cajun delicacies) took place. These happened especially during the 11 days of Cajun Mardi Gras festivities. Yet, as joy-filled as his childhood was, Ronnie, the runt of Mary Jane and Clement’s five boys, had a needling to leave the flatland of Louisiana and head for the proverbial hills.  My mother always said, “At some point, I had to be vaccinated with a gypsy needle.” Ronnie’s strong desire for travel and adventure all started as a child. Once, at his godfather’s house, he eyed a rocking chair with a quilt draped over it of crocheted leaves. He knew right then and there that he had to go in search of those leaves that didn’t exist anywhere in Cajun country, and when he was told they could only be found in New England, his “thirst” for this area was born. Another time, as a 10-year-old, it snowed just outside “NuAwlins.” Ronnie was literally captivated by this new and strange phenomenon. He enjoyed it so much so, that he forgot all about his two younger brothers who were with him as he played away the day in the fresh powder. That’s when he knew the mountain life was in his future. The way it became a reality for him was that, at one point in his life, he went to visit his brother in Vermont, staying there with him for 5-6 months. Since it was always his wish back then to work at a ski resort, he quickly sought and found a job at the front desk of Loon Mountain and then made the move to Lincoln. While here, he made many friendships and began hiking (Mt. Washington and other 4000-footers). He also biked, swam, and skied with his local buddies. “Now,” Ronnie jokes, “my body laughs if I even look at skis.”  

Way before his Lincoln adventures, though, in the late 1960s, the tip-top-physically-fit-Ronnie decided to join the Army, thinking that if he enlisted he wouldn’t be sent to Vietnam. He completed his basic training in Louisiana and Indianapolis. Ronnie turned 21 in ’Nam, serving in the Artillery unit there for a year. Interestingly, he missed seeing a Bob Hope U.S.O. show because he drew the short straw (Ronnie’s luck) and was assigned to guard duty that day instead. He did have one bit of luck while there, however. He was sent on R&R to Japan. There, he climbed Mt. Fuji, this time not while hiking, but from the luxury of a cable car. Post-Vietnam, he was sent to Washington, D.C. for 1-1/2 years.

In 1981, he moved from New Orleans seeking employment in the lucrative work of the “awl”/oil fields knowing that he could work 7 days on/7 days off. He worked from Mobile, Alabama to Southern Texas, and all along the Gulf, as a logistics manager where, from Ronnie’s desk, he controlled 19-passenger helicopters, boats, and personnel (130-180 people) switching back and forth at all times of the day from 6-story high oil rigs (if drilling, 6K-7K ft. deep). He worked 7 years, 200 miles offshore in the Gulf, and also 4 years on land rigs, and 8 years on land bases. Ronnie actually knew some friends from the ill-fated Deep Water Horizon oil rig disaster in 2011. Thankfully, those friends all got out alive. For his own training, however, every Saturday there were fire and abandon drills, survival training, where they would muster and board a lifeboat without actually leaving the rig. It was practice to know exactly what to do in order to escape in an unfortunate event like that. Also, every 2 years, he would have to undergo underwater training where he was strapped inside a makeshift helicopter for 10 seconds (upside-down and blindfolded) and would have to memorize where the window was and feel around for it in order to escape. As for his employment, he continued on in that line of work on the rigs, as he was offered (and accepted) a position in the frozen tundra off the northern slopes of Alaska in Prudhoe Bay where he sling-loaded containers onto helicopters. (What that means is to attach hooks to a hovering overhead helicopter flying out to the oil rig that carries supplies to the personnel on the rig.) Ronnie was one of those men who literally stood on top of those containers doing just that. He explains, “I worked in 40 degrees below zero in the frozen Arctic where your gear is only good for 20 minutes before you freeze to death.”  In the 1990s, when the oil field industry tanked, and the economy was hurting, Ronnie switched gears and set out for Glacier Park in Montana. He spent 5 months there, hiking seven days a week both there and into the Canadian Rockies. He also worked as a “Dorm Dad” to the male students housed in the Park. “It was the best summer of my life,” he adds. That gypsy needle had been fast at work, as his adventures continued. In fact, when he was 52, Ronnie was, as he puts it, “flat-footed in all 50 states,” something that was on his bucket list to achieve.

Now, keep in mind that that bucket, though filled with a litany of good times and travels, also contained a few mis-adventures during his life, and they continue to affect him to this day. The heavy cigarette smoking of get-togethers with his chain-smoking friends that took place in his younger days of the ’70s, have now resulted in a diagnosis for Ronnie of COPD, even though he (and his parents) never smoked. It is that second-hand smoke back then that is the culprit of his scarred lungs today. Also, while helping his cousin raise a porch on the Cajun homestead, the propped-up porch fell on his head as it collapsed. In 1967, he was involved in a head-on car accident. These last two traumas, Ronnie believes, are the probable cause of his present-day back, leg, and neck injuries, of which he has had to receive shots (needles!) to attempt to relieve the neuropathy pain. He has had spinal compression surgeries in his back. As mentioned earlier, sometimes his legs give out from under him. He has vertigo too, and has had cervical (neck) disc removals, where his disc came out in 3 pieces.  This, he believes is what may be the cause of his present day symptoms, as Ronnie has stabbing jolts and jabs of needle-like pain (up to 50-60 times a day) that run down into his “funny bone.” Ronnie laughs it off, however, “Gee, I sound like a wreck!” But wait; as if that’s not enough in the Ronnie Comesana saga, he had yet another wrecking-type event that happened to him in 2005—Hurricane Rita destroyed his home in Louisiana. It was just after Katrina hit New Orleans and the tidal surge from Rita threw several hundred pounds of marsh grass and mud into the walls of his and other’s homes on the family’s Cajun land. He was turning 60 at the time, so he raised the land up 5-6 feet on a hill, bought a mobile home there, and later sold it to a cousin’s son. Yet, he carried on, and, later in life, returned to Louisiana to care for his parents in their failing health (attending to their every need, and being there for their respective funerals.) In 2013, he retired to Lincoln and his beloved mountain area on a permanent basis, adding, “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” He loves our parish and the people; particularly those at the 4:30 Mass. He participates there as a greeter, collector, and usher. He is also a money counter, and serves on the budget committee. His favorite hymn is Day-By-Day, which coincidentally, he listens to daily. It helps him to stay cheerful. Ronnie lives to help others. One example of this is that he takes out trash for some of his elderly friends (though he, himself, could use a hand, as his hands tingle with nerve endings firing up and down, literally jolting his arm away from his body.)

Thank God Ronnie learned the Cajun code for happiness: be happy, cherish your family and friends, help others, take problems Day-By-Day, and never, ever “cage-in” your sense of humor. Ronnie personifies that mantra. His positivity is plastered all over his beaming face, just check out his broad smile (even when he’s in pain). “I’ve had the best life of anyone, but my hobby now,” as he laughs, “is getting up in the morning!” There’s that “goofy” sense of humor again! Not only is it Ronnie’s superpower…it is his saving grace.

Meet the Flock: Paula King

by Denise Rush

Here’s a riddle: When is Paula not a King?
Answer: When she is a Queen.

You see, Paula is a cross between a Queen of Hearts and a Queen Mother. Though her surname might hint at royalty in the lineage, the comparison ends there, for Paula is not the slightest bit pretentious or uppity. If you want proof, just watch her little “subjects” who gather at her side. It is those children entrusted to her care as an educator to whom she is their “Queen Mother.” She gives her heart and soul to teaching the sweetly innocent and young upon whom she showers love, and to whom she provides nurturing comfort, guidance, discipline, and equaled compassion. Paula always stresses a rule of respect to the little ones she teaches. It is her life’s credo: “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” Yes, it is this “Golden Rule” that she brings to the ‘kingdom of the classroom setting’ and to her personal life. In fact, this universal truth is so prevalent in her mind and strikingly important in her estimation, that she has a Norman Rockwell poster displayed in her home that has those same sage words of wisdom superimposed upon faces of peoples of all nations and races. She has also gifted this core belief to her own children: Tyler, Cameron, and Nathan, as well as to her grandchildren: Tyson, Zana, and Zina. “It’s something we taught our kids,” Paula says. “I try to live by the teachings and rules that I learned through my religion and through my faith.” Actually, at one point in her life, she thought she wanted to be a nun, adding “I was determined I was going to be a missionary, but life took hold and took me in a different path.”

Thankfully, for our parish, life did take hold and took her to Lincoln on a different path, and with a different mission…it just took a while, and it was a circuitous path at that. Paula was born in Pennsylvania, the oldest of five children with one sister and three brothers. Up until the age of 12 when her family moved to RI, Paula and her family were part of a vibrant Catholic parish, St. Alphonsus. In RI, she attended a public junior high and then attended and graduated from a Catholic high school, Prout Memorial, so named for Sr. Mary Prout. It was there that she participated in many clubs, such as drama and music, and shared in many other activities associated with another local Catholic boys’ high school. She also enjoyed being a member of the Metronomes, a marching team, performing in local and state parades.

Paula continued to march onward with her studies, attending Holy Cross College in Worcester, starting in Pre-Med, before switching to Psychology as her major. Eventually, she earned her B.A. there, and later received a certificate in teaching. Her Master’s in Special Education from Rhode Island College was her next achievement, graduating diploma in hand from there in 1981. Upon entering the work force, she was first employed at Bradley Hospital (a psychiatric hospital in East Providence Rhode Island, well known for being on the cutting edge of autism research) before moving to Meredith in 1986. It was there she was afforded the opportunity to teach and create a Special Education preschool program at the Inter-Lakes Elementary School, a position she then held for the next 11 years. This entire time, Paula was commuting from Lincoln to Meredith, as she was then living in a small apartment in the condo that her parents owned at The Village of Loon. It was at that point in her life that she reached out to a family friend and acquaintance that they had bonded with over many ski trips to the area. That friend soon became Paula’s future husband, Bart. They married, settling in North Woodstock as their home. Then, as luck and fate would intervene, a job at Linwood Elementary School opened up for an Elementary Special Education professional, a position she has held for the past 21 years. It is there where she presently teaches the little ones she loves: preschoolers through third graders. Paula also brings that expertise into the voluntary ministry she chairs here at St. Joseph parish as the Faith Formation Director, a role which she has been involved in since Fr. Dave has been the pastor. Prior to that, she was one of the volunteer teachers in the program for approximately 20+ years, starting when her own children were in Religious Ed. At the beginning, she admits, “It gave me an excuse to be a part of their lives, but then, I really enjoyed it.” She thoughtfully muses: “God gives us certain gifts and we need to ask, what, in turn, are we going to do with those gifts? I think the gift God gave me is a passion for working with kids, and so to turn that around and continue to give it (back) is how I see it.”

She has done that—and so much more—is the way we all should see it. Just take a look at the list of her involvements and accomplishments for our parish, not to mention the fact that she juggles all of that with the duties and demands of her day job. Paula serves as the Parish Pastoral Council Chairperson, as well as being the chairperson of the annual parish Christmas Festival (a gargantuan duty in-and-of itself!) And, as if there were not enough responsibilities in those appointments, she serves as Religious Education/Faith Formation Director, coordinating activities and events for the children in the program—and there are many. Students, under her direction, have gotten to bond with the elderly residents of Lincoln Green, playing Bingo or baking and sharing seasonal cookies alongside each of them. Paula creates and organizes these happenings and others, such as the students’ annual bus field trip, this past year’s to the Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette, in Enfield, NH. She also coordinates the bake sale fundraisers that help to financially enable an event like that to take place. Her goal for the children in the Religious Education program is simple, “I want to instill in them a love for how to live your faith, not just learn about it.” This is the reason why she also loves to see them participate in other faith-based activities such as the Living Stations at Lent, or the children’s Christmas Pageant. A prime example of this is how she feels about this year’s performance, “The Christmas Eve Mass really warmed my heart because the kids are learning about all of this, and they are participating, and they all have Elves on the Shelves and they all believe in Santa…but this is really what the story should be about, and the fact that so many of them wanted to be in that little pageant meant so much.” Also, seeing so many Moms and Dads at that Mass who went to Religious Ed with her own children gave her that same warm feeling for the faith, “It is my prayer or my hope that there is still that thread that some of them will reconnect with the Catholic church.” She continues, “So, when I see kids and families embracing an idea that we have to get the kids involved in X,Y, or Z, I’m like, YES!!! This is what it’s all about—and that’s where I get my energy from.” The goal, she explains, is “to keep the kids and families invested.”

And, to achieve that goal, requires a lot of creative ideas. “I let God sort of help me figure out ways to make that happen.” she says. Strangely, she finds that inspiration comes during Mass a lot of the time. She explains, “It is one hour a week where I just sort of let go of everything, and that’s when He inspires me. There are no distractions, no TV, no screens, or black “Day-Timer” calling me.” She definitely puts that big, black day-organizer of hers to good use, with the current enrollment in Faith Formation as it stands now at 12 families and 19 children. It certainly is a challenging task trying to keep all the kids on track for them to make their Restored Order sacraments. Yet, even with all the work and organization required of that, Paula admits she doesn’t mind staying on as the current Director, “I don’t mind doing it, unless somebody else comes along with better ideas and more energy.” She adds, “I’m always looking for ways to rejuvenate things.”

As for Paula, she rejuvenates and re-energizes her own spirit when she gets the time to relax. And, even at that, she excels, as she also brings that “Midas touch” of hers to those activities: painting, making dollhouses, gardening, and exercising at her hip-hop class. She also enjoys traveling, cooking, and watching TV and quality films with her husband, Bart, a self-professed movie buff. Oh, and, one more thing—she teaches piano—mainly to children at her home, or theirs, if, and when, appropriate. That is our Paula King, always the teacher, whose “kingdom” is the classroom, no matter where that room may be, and one whose little “subjects” always learn the Golden Rule. It is her mission in life. Guess she did become a missionary after all!

P.S. If you would like to stay at the Kings (and Queen’s) castle, Paula and her husband, Bart, rent out a room within their home through the web-site Air B‘n’B.

Paula’s artwork: Paula’s credo poster (reads at the bottom “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”)

Meet the Flock: Rita Tamulonis

by Denise Rush

Rita Tamulonis is a treasure trove of love and wisdom through the ages. She is our parish’s cherished keepsake. And, as is the case with all precious heirlooms, they unlock “secrets” of the past to teach lessons for the future. So, too, does our Rita.

Born December 15, 1918, a month after the Armistice agreement was signed (the document that officially ended World War I), Rita, at now 100-years-young, holds keen, eyewitness knowledge of a century’s worth of historical significance for all who wish to listen and learn. She recalls the stock market crash of 1929: “My parents lost their savings. I remember standing in line with them at the bank.” Then, there’s the aviator, Charles Lindbergh, his historic flight overseas, and the kidnapping and murder of his son: “He flew his plane over Lowell where I lived on his way to Paris. And, oh, I remember seeing the Boston Advertiser magazine covers about his son everywhere.” And, then, of course, there’s World War II: “I remember the ration books for sugar, flour, and butter.” We can all learn from the history of time.

That is a true statement. There are many important, good and bad newsworthy events that took place throughout Rita’s lifetime, ones that she experienced on a firsthand basis. And, they all can teach. But, it is not only those event-filled happenings over the decades that contain history lessons for us all, but, rather, it is her past that holds the hidden one or two “secrets” (or maybe even as much as 7) that hold the more important spiritual knowledge. In fact, her entire lifespan, at every juncture, teaches us all how to age with grace, by way of faith and devotion to the love of God. You may wonder, why the #7? Well, during the course of my interviews with Rita, she generously gifted me an extra copy of a book she had ordered entitled The 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy, by Vinny Flynn. That’s the type of book she reads. And, it is that book, that gift, which provided the inspiration for me to realize that Rita’s life story holds secrets, as well.

As for the main secret that she is frequently asked about, the one that would offer the key to unlock the mystery as to what to attribute her 100-year longevity…that one, she cannot answer in one simple sentence. In my opinion, it takes a lot more than a one-sentence synopsis. To that question, though, she gives her sweet characteristic little laugh, “If there’s a secret, it’s a secret to me!” Then, she adds, “I never smoked, never went on a diet, no drinking a lot of water, had whole milk. I just went along.” And, she does just that to this day, as Rita is a marvel at 100.

Imagine…she still drives! (Locally, that is). “I passed the test with flying colors,” she beams. She has an account on Facebook! She has The Holy Rosary with Mother Angelica (the EWTN nun) downloaded onto her computer, so she can recite it along with her and the nuns of the monastery! Rita does her own laundry! She completes her own light housekeeping and cooking! (Breakfast consists. alternately of oatmeal one day and an egg on toast the next). She drinks a cup of coffee only every other day. She performs her own personal hygiene (something most elderly need assistance to complete at her age). She keeps her mind sharp with word jumble puzzles and reads voraciously, sometimes even without glasses! Oh, one little trivial secret I found out about Rita—she’s not particularly fond of chocolate! These are just a few of the lesser known things about her present, everyday life that I discovered during our talks. However, if you take a stroll with me throughout the chronicle of her life as outlined below, you will, perhaps, glean even more insight, and maybe uncover for yourself the 7-or-so more “secrets” that I spoke of earlier.

Secret #1: Lessons in Her Ancestry and Early Years

Rita was born in Nashua, NH, as mentioned, on December 15, 1918. She is the eldest of her parents union: (Rita, Ruth, and Clare), all the children of Ann and John, both Lithuanian immigrants. Her parents arrived separately from Lithuania to America. They did not speak English, but learned the language, customs, and soon became citizens. The household was one of rented rooms to immigrants for 50 cents to $1 a week. Water closets (the toilets) were built as just that, closets, under the stairways, and shared with the tenants between the floors of the residence. Children bathed in aluminum tubs between chairs on Saturday nights, just to be squeaky clean for church on Sundays. It was a time when every little girl dressed accordingly for that, she said, “You wore a hat, you had gloves, you had a little pocketbook, and special shoes.” The family had moved to Lowell after Nashua, so her father could open a barber shop. Their rented house was in a courtyard. Rita continues, “All roads, not just ours, were lined with lanterns that required the job of a lamplighter to come and light the lanterns with oil on a nightly basis to illuminate the streets.” During the day, however, Rita walked those same streets on her way to her elementary schools—and church. (My take on the secret here: Parents, take heed: getting your kids to school—and church—matters, no matter the hardship. It will pay-off in the future.)

Secret #2: Lessons in Education

As the family’s parish did not offer parochial school instruction, she then attended public schools in Lowell from grades 1-9: The Lakeview Avenue School from first grade to the third. It is important here to note that Rita, the child of Lithuanian immigrants, did not speak English until she got to the first grade.

(FYI: For fun, as a young child, Rita played a Lithuanian board game, similar to Chutes-and-Ladders, with ladders of charity leading up, and chutes of penance, well…down. The game itself is illustrated strictly in Lithuanian. It is called Dangus, which translates to the English word as the game of Heaven. She still has it to this day! It is all worn and tattered.)

Continuing on in her education, she attended the local Moody School from grades 4-9. She later went away to a boarding-school-high-school, St. Francis Academy in Pittsburgh, PA, where tuition with room and board was a whopping $20 per month. She was taught there by Lithuanian nuns. After receiving a scholarship, she left to attend the University of Detroit in Michigan, when, in 1938, she received her teaching degree. She came home during the depression and took a job in the woolen mill in Dracut, MA for all of $12 a week! She worked there for only about a year, turning over the large majority of her earnings to her mother, as was commonplace in those days. (My take on the secret here: Keep and honor the 4th commandment.)

Secret #3: Lessons within Marriage

Word from a family friend had filtered out that she had returned to the Lowell area, and Rita’s secret admirer, a gentleman named Walter Tamulonis, knocked on her door. They began dating and within a year were married in St. Joseph’s Church in Lowell in 1941. (Her husband was a graduate of St. Anselm’s College.) When first married, they rented an apartment in Bennington, VT. Later on, he worked for American Locomotive in Schenectady, NY, and then they moved into an apartment in Amsterdam, NY.

Much later in married life, after all her six children (1 girl and 5 boys) were born, Rita kept busy being a good wife and mother. She did lots of cooking when the whole family was together. She explains: “I always made meals for 8 every day. Families always came down to eat with each other, and kids always came home for meals.” When her eldest child, Ann, went to kindergarten, Rita returned to her educational background and went back to work as a teacher. Rita’s mother, who lived two doors down from them, helped watch the children during that endeavor. (My take on the secret here: Family sticks together; meals shared as a family are important!)

Secret #4: Lessons from the teacher, A.K.A., Miss Black

Around the time of 1949, married women could not be appointed as a teacher in a school system, “You had to be a permanent sub.” Therefore, she took that position as a sub for a year at the Middlesex Village School in Lowell, making $10 a day with absolutely no benefits to teach an entire class of children. It seemed there was a color-pattern of names of the teachers there at that school: Miss White (kindergarten), and Miss Brown (first grade). When Rita filled in for Miss Brown, who was out sick with arthritis, she didn’t want to confuse the kids with them learning the long name of Tamulonis, so she called herself Miss Black! When Miss Brown didn’t return, the name, Miss Black, stuck. She stayed with that alias, Miss Black, for the rest of the school year.

Later, thinking that she would make more money in a different field, she left teaching to work at Raytheon in Cost Accounting, where she handled the ledger and spreadsheets. But, after 3 years of traveling and wear-and-tear on the car, she realized it wasn’t worth it, and she returned to her true love, teaching. She continued to teach at various schools in Lowell, and to differing grade levels.” She even taught Title I and pupils with learning disabilities, long before people knew how to best help them, or even what caused their problems. So, she researched the subject herself at the library. “Two of them had eye problems,” she discovered. But, she says, “The nicest feeling for a teacher is that by Christmas the children are reading, and by June, they were reading 2 books!)

Recently, some of Rita’s first grade parents (and pupils) have looked her up in Lincoln, and knocked on her door. “That touched me,” she points to her heart, “It really touches me.” (FYI: In 1965, Rita took the exam for married women to become appointed when it opened up for them—she passed.) Rita continued to teach in the Lowell school system until she retired at the end of 1978. (My take on the secret here: You never know the impact you make on someone’s life.)

Secret #5: Lessons from the Retirement Years

On January 9, 1979, Rita was the guest of honor at her retirement party. The time had come now for Walter and her to enjoy life together. For years, they had been residing as a family in what she called “The Big House” in Lowell, MA. She explains, “After selling that, we bought a place in Gilford and a place in Florida in Tampa, and then at Pinellas Park.” They went back and forth for 18 years, but Rita, didn’t really like it in Florida due to the heat. Nevertheless, she made the best of it, availing herself of the many courses for seniors taught there. The tables now reversed, Rita became the pupil. She took many craft classes: knitting, quilting, crocheting, macramé, tatting, and ceramics. She continued to keep busy doing all this and traveling back and forth to Florida until the day Walter surprised her, saying, “Let’s go back home.” That’s when they moved back to the area to be near relatives. They then purchased the mobile home on the lot where she has lived for the past 22 years. “When I came to Lincoln, I felt welcome, and I felt very much at home, finally.” (My take on the secret here: Sometimes you sacrifice for your spouse, make the best of it. Keep busy. Keep learning.)

Secret #6: Lessons from Loss

It was only 5 weeks upon returning to Lincoln when tragedy struck. Her beloved husband, Walter, had a heart attack, right in the kitchen of their new abode. It was all a devastating haze to Rita. Yet, she picked up the pieces of her life and carried on in Rita’s typical way of strength through faith: “God had a plan for me.” She needed to rely on that faith again when she encountered the loss of her eldest son on 9-11-2017. He had COPD and passed away in the backyard, again, right here in Lincoln. Rita continues to have her own health challenges, losing some of her physical vitality due to growing older. She still walks surprisingly fluidly, in spite of her physical ailments. They do not stop her. She still can’t believe she is 100-years-old. “My Dad died at 69 and my mother at 88,” she ponders. Her two sisters have also passed on. She gets help these days from her “choir of angels,” as she calls them. Her son, Mike, Rita’s other children, and extended family members help her out on a regular basis by visiting, delivering meals, fixing things around the house, or calling with reminders for her to take her medication, etc.

At present tally, she has 20 grandchildren, 31 great grandchildren and 2 great, great grandchildren. Between all of them, she pretty much has an “expert” in just about any and all professional fields. However, she remains as independent as possible, relying on local friends to help her in a pinch too. (My take on the secret here: It is true, you can get by with a little help from your friends (and family). Be thankful for your “choir of angels.”)

Secret #7: Lessons from Rita’s Spirituality

This last secret, I believe, defines Rita Tamulonis, and may just hold the key to her longevity. She credits so much power to prayer. “It’s proven to me as I went along that prayer matters. It’s our survival kit. God takes care of us, I found that out, I have little miracles that happen almost every day.” Rita adds, “Talk to God about it. I always say, ‘God, I’m asking.’” Every day Rita prays the Rosary. As mentioned earlier, she recites the Chaplet of Divine Mercy anytime during the day that she remembers. (She can talk at length about St. Faustina and the famous painting of Our Lord.) Her favorite prayer is For the Virtue of Faith, which seeks out enlightenment from the Holy Spirit. She faithfully attends church weekly and Adoration every Wednesday here at St. Joseph’s, missing only twice in 12 years!

FYI: A little story, actually… About 7 years ago, after a long day with friends at the Community Center, playing cards, etc, Rita drove her last friend home who lived near St. Joseph’s church. She, on the spur-of-the-moment, decided to pay a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament. But, it was a Wednesday, and Rita’s assigned day for Eucharistic Adoration was a Monday. A woman, who had already been there for 1-1/2 hours who was alone in the church, left abruptly upon Rita’s arrival, thinking that Rita was her “adorer” replacement. Now, Rita was alone in the church. She didn’t want to leave the Blessed Sacrament alone, so, she sat, walked around, lit a candle, talked to God, and repeated that routine until she sat down some more, and…well, after being very tired from the long day, ended up dozing off in the pew! At around 6 o’clock, Fr. John, pastor at the time, arrived with some church workers. He tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Are you all right?” She jumped! Rita had been there for about 2 hours herself! “You see, it wasn’t my time to be there,” she said, “but I think either myself or Fr. John (Rita can’t exactly recall) gave me the nickname: ‘The Sleeping Disciple,’ Peter, James, John…and I was the fourth!”

Cute story, right? It perfectly illustrates Rita’s devotion to Jesus, as she didn’t want Him to be exposed and alone in the church. Her eyes twinkle and she beams excitedly as she recalls a picture she once found of Jesus on the Internet: “He was in a purple robe, stooping down, and I thought to myself, “Now, that is what Jesus looks like.” Even more profoundly, Rita points out a lesson here for us all: “Think about it…Christ was born 2,000 years ago. Take 20 people at 100 years, and that’s me. That isn’t long. I’m one of the 100 years. One might think Christ is so far removed, but he’s only 20 people removed…only 20 people. They can fit right here in this room.” (My take on the secret here: This is a very important and powerful lesson for Rita to teach us: Jesus is closer to us than we think.)

Yes, that’s our Rita, she is and always will be a teacher. Her entire life is a lesson for all those who are willing to learn from the past for the sake of the future. Actually, it’s precisely that which concerns her. “Technology is moving too fast. Kids today have relationships with little boxes. Friends text each other instead of talking.” As for our country’s fate, “They took God out of everything,” she laments. She actually says she is glad she is at the tail-end of her life, as she worries for the future. As for hers, however, she continues to “keep plugging along” working her way up the ladder on the road to Dangus, reminiscent of the now worn and tattered board game still in her possession that she played with as a child. As you recall, the English translation of Dangus is: Heaven. That’s the end-game for Rita. She is optimistic she’ll get there: “I hope!” she giggles. Then, she thoughtfully muses, “I thank God He’s merciful.”

In closing, last April, Rita received the Boston Post Cane, a tradition started in 1903 by the newspaper, The Boston Post that bestows the ceremonial cane to a town’s oldest resident; Rita received it for being Lincoln’s. (My take on the secret here: Something tells me, she’ll never need any cane to reach Dangus.)

Our Parish Keepsake: The Beautiful Rita Tamulonis
A Treasure Through the Ages

Happy 100th Birthday, Rita!!!

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