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Pastor who suffered devastating loss of 4 daughters in fire never lost his faith

GILMANTON — A memorial service will be held Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at the Living Word Assembly of God Church on Old Stage Road for Millie Stevens, the mother of 17 children who died on June 4 of this year in Jacksonville, Florida and was lovingly known as ''Shoebox Millie'' by her friends and family.
Her husband, Pastor Sherman Stevens, who founded and helped build the church building where the memorial service will be held, says that she got the Shoebox tag because when she was born she only weighed two pounds and would be placed in a shoebox by her parents and kept warm on the end of the open door of a wood stove oven.
Stevens says that the service will feature remembrances of his wife by those who knew her from the time when he and she first arrived in town in the early 1960s and they established the Evangelical Baptist Fellowship, a popular church which drew members from many nearby communities, including Laconia and at one time had 300 showing up for Sunday School .
''I remember digging the cellar hole and working when the foundation was poured,'' Stevens, who would later go on to start churches in Pittsfield, Mass., and in Athens, Georgia.
He said that he first met Millie in South Paris, Maine, where they both grew up, when he had gone through the school lunch line in high school and was walking with his tray, looking for a place to sit, when she said ''You can sit with me.''
It was the start of a relationship which went over for over 66 years, including more than 63 years of married life and saw them involved in ministries in such remote places Gayuna and Ecuador in South America as well as eight missionary visits to Russia in the 1990s to churches founded by one their sons, who was involved in the underground church movement there prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He said that his wife, also known as ''Mother Millie'', for the loving care that she provided to all who knew her and that the couple had 46 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Much of what they accomplished together came after the devastating loss of four of their daughters, three of whom were teenagers and one who was a little over a year old, in a explosion and fire at their farmhouse home in Gilmanton on Sunday, June 29, 1969.
Stevens describes what happened that night in a widely circulated Christian testimony, entitled ''When There's No Hope'' which has been translated into at least a dozen languages.
''About four a.m. we were jolted from sleep by an explosion that rocked the foundation of our farm house. As we opened our bedroom door we were faced with a roaring inferno. It was impossible to reach little Hope, who was just outside our bedroom door. Millie snatched Grace from the crib in our room and we went up the old stairs that led to the attic. We passed through a small opening over the fire and found our way to the back stairs. The door at the foot of the stairs opened toward us and was locked from the other side. We were hopelessly trapped.

''Kevin, our 16-year- old son, had already led Peter, Carl, Andy, Tim, Faith, and Jesse outside the burning building. Above the roar of the fire, he somehow heard our cry. Leaving Peter in charge of those on the lawn, he made his fourth trip into the raging inferno, unlocked the door and led us to safety.

''Immediately, we began to count the children. Mike, the oldest, was away for the night. That left twelve at home. Only eight were accounted for: Vicki, Bonny, Debbie and Hope were still inside the house.

''A ladder from the barn was used to try and enter the girl's window on the second floor. The heat and smoke drove us back again and again. Soon the fire department arrived and began rescue operations. The great intensity of the fire made it impossible to save the lives of our girls.

''It is my honest prayer that you will never stand beside a burning building with the realization that members of your family have left this life for the life hereafter. It is my hope that you never have to watch as everything you own goes up in flames. Believe me, it is the most hopeless feeling that you can ever experience.''
The entire family, wearing clothes donated by their neighbors, were at church several hours after the fire and Pastor Stevens told the assembled congregation that despite the loss, his faith was unshaken. ''I am as sure that God is still God as I have ever been. If I didn't believe that I would nail the door of this church shut and never enter it again.''
He says that ''four of our girls went home to heaven that Sunday morning'' and that it was the love of Christ and the grace of God that held his family together and flooded their hearts with peace, enabling them to withstand the trial brought on by the deaths of the four girls.
Stevens says he is intensely proud of his children and the careers in law enforcement, nursing and the ministry which they have created for themselves and that one of his great joys is family reunions, at which he gets to see them and their children and grandchildren and is looking forward to being reunited with former members of his congregation at Sunday's memorial service, where those who knew his wife will get to express in their own words what she meant to them.


Pastor Sherman Stevens kneels next to the graves of four of his daughters who died in a fire 45 years ago in Gilmanton Iron Works. A memorial service is planned Sunday at the Living Word Assembly of God Church on Old Stage Road for Steven's wife, Millie, mother of 17, who died last month and whose ashes will be interred next to her daughters at the family grave site. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 10:52

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Belmont man charged with striking wife

BELMONT — A Cherry Street man was charged with one count of simple assault and one count of criminal mischief for allegedly hitting his wife and smashing the windshield of her car.

Affidavits submitted by police and obtained from the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division said Douglas Schnelle, 34, of 26 Cherry St. was having a verbal argument with his wife when he backhanded her in the face.

While they were driving over Winnisquam Bridge, he allegedly punched her windshield, causing it to crack.

Police said they found the cracked windshield and that Schnelle admitted to breaking it.

After appearing by video in the court yesterday, he was ordered held on $500 cash bail. He was further ordered to not to have any contact with his wife and shall not go to Cherry Street until the case is resolved.

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 01:10

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Congresswoman in Laconia to announce grant to provide help to small businesses

LACONIA — The Vintage Cafe on Main Street was the venue when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development yesterday officially awarded $175,000 in Rural Business Enterprise Grants to seven organizations across the state, including the Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC).
U.S. Representative Carol Shea-Porter, described by Ted Brady, state director of the USDA, as "one of our agency's greatest supporters," said that "these grants are a boost. That's what this is all about — a boost."
The BEDC was awarded $20,234, which executive director Justin Slattery said will sustain its partnership with the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to provide counseling and assistance to small and emergent businesses in the region. Almost a year ago a similar grant from the USDA enabled the BEDC to arrange with the SBDC to secure the presence of a business counselor in Laconia.
The grant," Slattery said, "has allowed the BEDC to build a great partnership with the Small Business Development Center in Belknap County. We look forward to continuing to collaborate in the coming year to assist local businesses just like the Vintage Cafe."
The Vintage Cafe, owned and operated by Richard Dargy and his daughter Nicole, is one of more than 100 clients in Belknap County and Grafton County served by Sally Holder, the business counselor.
Richard Dargy recalled the challenges he faced in starting the business, adding "that's when I met Sally." He said that she not only provided advice "but even gave me homework." From Sally, he said, he learned two valuable lessons — "measure twice and cut once" and "if you're going to make mistakes, make them on paper."
With Holder's helping hand, Nicole Dargy said that the business turned a profit in its first year, during which sales grew more than 40 percent. She indicated that shortly the product line will be expanded to included specialty coffees and a line of "take and bake" products. "We're very happy," she remarked.
Holder expressed nothing but enthusiasm for her work. She said that she helps individual entrepreneurs and small businesses address all sorts of financial, marketing and operational issues to ensure profitability and growth. "I have clients in every kind of business you can think of," she said. She observed that "staying focused" posed the stiffest test for most small businesses, noting that growth raises issues that distract from the fundamentals of the enterprise.
Shea-Porter stressed that New Hampshire is a state of small communities that draw their health and prosperity from locally owned and operated businesses. "They are our treasures," she said. Professing her support for the USDA and its programs, she reminded everyone to "recognize the contributions of public employees who support their communities" then remarked "I'm just here to celebrate with everybody."
Brady noted that since 1994 the USDA has awarded $1.4 million to the BEDC, which he estimated has generated or preserved 750 jobs in Belknap County.


CAPTION: U.S. Representative Carol Shea-Porter (center) was joined by, from left, Nicole Dargy, Brad Taylor and Richard Dargy of the Vintage Cafe, and from right, Ted Brady, state director of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Rural Development, and Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council as the USDA awarded the BEDC a Rural Business Enterprise Grant. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)

Last Updated on Thursday, 03 July 2014 01:04

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Thieves steal brass spigots from Union Cemetery

LACONIA — For the second time this year, a thief or thieves have stolen some of the brass spigots from the watering pipes at the Union Cemetery.

Union Cemetery Board of Trustees President John Perley said this time eight of the fittings were taken. He said two of the pipes were also stolen, apparently cut with a hack saw.

He said the other six were unscrewed and said the caretaker assumed it was either someone who is very strong or who used a wrench because the spigots are on fairly tight.

Perley said one of the biggest problems created by the theft is that the water runs all night and drains the system.

Perley said that about 80 spigots were stolen about two years ago and since then the cemetery has been replacing them with plastic to make them less attractive to thieves.

Last year, thieves broke into the storage house and stole two brand new riding movers and some other lawn and maintenance equipment.

Anyone with any information is is asked to call the Laconia Police at 524-5252.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 July 2014 12:39

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