Woman whose family was displaced by Wingate fire grateful for all the help

LACONIA — A family that lost all of its belongings in a fast-moving apartment building fire on Blueberry Lane on July 28 may have found her family's savior in the form of an area contractor who has recently renovated an apartment.

"Michelle" and her husband have two children who are 16 and 11 and they reached out to Jim French of Jim French Home Improvements, who had listed an apartment in the newspaper.

"He called us first this this morning," she said Tuesday afternoon. "He's willing to work with us on the paperwork and on the first month's rent and security deposit."

"He is a really nice landlord," she said. "Jim has made us the happiest people on earth."

French said yesterday he is working with the family but the process is not yet complete. "I'm trying to do my best," he said.

Michelle lived in one of the apartments that was heavily damaged by a three-alarm fire that officials believe was caused by the careless disposal of smoking materials. The family lost all of its belongings — except a washer and — and she said they have been staying at a local hotel for which the Red Cross paid five days and the Laconia Police Relief Association paid two more.

With the exception of the washer and dryer, she said the only other things that was saved was a football from their apartment signed by New England Patriots running back and special teams receiver Brandon Boldon. She said Boldon signed it at last year's training camp. The family was planning to return to training camp this year in the hopes that quarterback Tom Brady would autograph a football for him but the fire prevented that.

Fire Chief Ken Erickson said the ceiling in the top floor of this family's apartment had collapsed but once the fire was extinguished, two of his firefighters were able to find the football. Told it was the child's prized possession, Erickson said it was nice to see how comforted the boy was when he got his football.

While still shaken by the blaze, Michelle and her husband wanted to thank the many members of the community — most of whom were total strangers — for their kindness and generosity.

She said the fire and police departments have been wonderful to them but her real personal thanks go to a woman she identified as Mrs. P who works at Walgreen's and who gave them a gift card to help with personal hygiene items.

"She gave my kids money so they could each get a few items of clothing," Sarah said.

She said Wingate Village, the owners of the buildings at 103 Blueberry Lane, have also been very helpful. She said they have set up a fund for the families who were permanently displaced. She had special thanks for the company maintenance team members who ran around the building banging on doors until everyone was out of the unit.

She said the New Beginnings family crisis center has been helping her family as have a number of other agencies in the area.

Michelle also said she has a friend named Jessica who is the single parent of three children who is reluctant to ask for help but who is desperately seeking an affordable three-bedroom apartment and some clothing for her children who are a 9-year-old boy, a 7-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. Jessica herself wears a medium to large and she is tall.

At the National Night Out event hosted at Wingate Village by the Police Department on Tuesday, a different friend of Jessica's was distributing a flier reiterating the same things Michelle said.

Wingate Village administrative assistant Ann Cochrane said that her agency helped distribute some of the fliers as well. She also said that all security deposits being held by the company for the people who cannot return will be returned to them no later than 30 days.

"There is a process but it can take up to 30 days," she said.

Donations of clothes, furniture, bedding, money and other items are are being accepted at New Beginnings on North Main Street said Cochrane and Wingate Village has distributed a list of agencies that can help the victims.

"These folks are in a bad spot. When people are in a bad spot you should take the time to help them," Cochrane said.
Cochrane added that there are no vacancies at Wingate Village at this time so the permanently displaced families will have to go elsewhere.

As for Michelle, she said that while this is a very trying time for her and her family, the initial help of Wingate Village, the Red Cross, and the fire and police departments have kept her her family safe and together. As for all of the people who came out of the blue to help her and the other families, she said she can only express great gratitude.

"There are so many nice people out there who offered to help us with so many things," she said.

Selectmen okay planting of Japanese cherry tree in Hesky Park; approval for display beneath it still in question

MEREDITH — The Board of Selectmen this week approved the planting of a Japanese cherry tree in Hesky Park to To mark the 110th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth on September 5, 1905 which ended the Russo-Japanese War, pending a review of the final design of the memorial.
The Japanese-American Society of New Hampshire has chosen Meredith among other towns to receive a Japanese cherry tree to commemorate the occasion. Miller Lovett, a member of the Design Committee of the Greater Meredith Program told the board that the tree will be a descendant of those that ring the Tidal Basin and line the Potomac River in Washington, which the Japanese government gave to the United States in 1912 in appreciation of its role in hosting the peace conference and assisting the treaty negotiations.
Lovett presented a sketch indicating that the tree would be planted along a path just north of where the spillway from Mill Falls empties into the lake. The tree, projected to reach a height of 30 feet with a canopy 30 feet around, would be the centerpiece of a small flagstone patio with two rocks, one either side of the tree serving as resting places. An inscribed granite marker explaining the purpose of the memorial would be embedded in the patio.
Lovett told the board that a ceremony dedicating the memorial is scheduled to be held on September 5, which will feature the ringing of church bells marking the day and hour the treaty was signed.
Selectman Michael Pelczar said that while he liked the design of the memorial very much, he thought that the Selectboard should make it clear that it was not setting a precedent that would entitle other organizations to place monuments in the park.
Noting that "quite a large memorial" was proposed, Karen Sticht said "I believe you are setting a precedent" and asked will you be voting? When Nate Torr, the chairman of the board replied "we're still in the process", she countered "it sounds like a done deal."
Selectman Ray Moritz said that when the proposal was first presented on July 6, the board asked for more information, which it has received. "We've had two discussions," he said.
Lovett reminded the board that plans to install the memorial have been set, the ceremony has been scheduled and "we're going with publicity in a week. We're between a rock and a hard place," he remarked.
Without taking a formal vote, the board expressed its unanimous approval of the project, but specified that a final plan, specifying the measurements of the patio and the two stones, be presented to the next meeting of the board on August 17.
Meredith has a unique connection to the Treaty of Portsmouth in the person of Komura Jutaro, the Japanese foreign minister who led his country's delegation in the negotiations. The son of a samurai family, Komura mastered English as a schoolboy and was the most gifted student of his time at the "Kaisei Gakko", which later became Tokyo University. As a student he persuaded the government to establish a scholarship program to enable students to study abroad and in 1875 was among the first group of 10 to come to America, where he enrolled at Harvard Law School.
During his three years of law school, Komura, who had always tended his uncle's farm during the growing season, did the same in Meredith, working on a farm that Lovett said has yet to be identified. Returning to Japan, Komura joined the foreign service, serving in China and Korea before being named ambassador to the United States in 1898 and foreign minister in 1901.
After the Treaty of Portsmouth was concluded, Komura bequeathed $10,000 to the state of New Hampshire to be put to charitable purposes. The Japanese Charitable Fund remains an active charity to this day.

Edward Jones moves Laconia office into completely renovated Union Square building

LACONIA — Twenty-three years ago, when Edward Jones, the financial services firm, moved its office from Union Square to downtown, Priscilla Kaiser, the office manager, went with it and this summer, when the firm returned to Union Square, she returned with it.

"I've gone full circle," she remarked.

Explaining the odyssey, financial advisor Ben Wilson said that last year, as the business began outgrowing its space at 588 Main Street, he began scouting around the city for new digs. He recalled that after looking at half a dozen offices and only to reject them all he found himself enjoying an ice cream cone at the Happy Cow on Union Avenue. Across the street at Union Square, he noticed an empty Victorian duplex with peeling paint and frayed shingles.

"It was really in bad shape," Wilson said. The front door led directly two staircases, each serving a separate two-story unit. "The space was unusable," he remarked," and the building had been flooded."

Nevertheless, Wilson and building owner David Livingston reached an agreement and the building was thoroughly renovated. "It was a total gut job," Wilson said, "inside and out." A winding path, which Wilson said a friend has dubbed "the yellow brick road", provides handicapped access from Union Avenue to a newly constructed side entrance leading to a foyer graced with artwork. The porch facing Union Avenue, once struck by a wayward automobile, will no longer serve as an entrance but instead will be landscaped. Edward Jones occupies the ground floor, which includes a reception area, three corner offices, a conference room and a kitchenette. While a separate entrance and staircase to the second floor was added to the building, for the moment the space is vacant.

"I had some trepidation about leaving downtown," Wilson confessed, "but we doubled our space and got access to plenty of parking. And we restored an old Victorian building and contributed to revitalizing Union Square."

Edward Jones, founded in 1922 and headquartered in Missouri, is a unique financial services firm catering primarily to individual investors and small business owners. Offices are staffed by less than a handful of people, generally with only one financial advisor, who is a licensed broker, and located in communities where large operations would not be profitable. Wilson said that while he will continue to serve the Laconia market he expects two of his associates to open offices in Gilford and Belmont in the near future. "We work as individuals with the backing of a nationwide firm," Wilson said.

Meanwhile, Kaiser, who was busy seeking to position a houseplant, said that she was pleased to return to Union Square, especially in her new surroundings.

CAPTION: Financial advisor Ben Wilson of Edward Jones is proud of his firm's new quarters at Union Square, renovated in cooperation with its owner David Livingston, which offers a fresh face on to Union Avenue. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)