Thanksgiving is a Time for Remembering  
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Let's remember some of our friends this Thanksgiving Day.

Searching for staples in our first post-power purchase last month at the Dudley Park ¡¥N Shop Supermarket, I happened to pass by longtime friend Robert ¡§Bob¡¨ Prince.

Although remembered mostly for his educational contributions, for service as a teacher-coach at the former Dudley Junior High School ¡X the West Main Street building converted for Town Hall use in recent times ¡X the Quinebaug, Conn., resident walks behind a long list of accomplishments.

They start with victories on track and open running courses, and date back to when the region held a Modified Marathon, Oxford Town Hall to Webster Town Hall, every Patriot's Day.

Bob won his share of the races when he was a high school and college student and a part-time worker at Cranston Print Works Co. in Webster.

Patriot's Day was just another work day when Mr. Prince raced between the towns. His friends in the East Village factory had monitors on the track, keeping tabs on his lead. They climbed to the factory roof, offering shouts and cheers as Bob raced by. Their bravo left Bob with a smile that carried the last plus mile to the race. He was ever the happy winner.

His coaching and classroom experience started at a time when Dudley teacher salaries were near a minimum, and educators with a young family, like Mr. Prince, found part-time pursuits. He managed a drive-in movie theater for a while, and turned to sports writing for the weekly Webster Times.

Bob promoted a different approach to the annual Southbridge-Bartlett of Webster Thanksgiving Day game one year, turning the newspaper's art budget into a series of quality illustrations by the late Francis ¡§Skippy¡¨ Sczepanski, then director of art studies in the Dudley system.

It was one of those ¡§favor for¡¨ things, but reader response was positive, and Mr. Prince was pleased. So was his publisher.

Without getting into an educational list of Prince positives, he managed the better part of Dudley's long educational divide; that's the time frame after Dudley secondary students were evicted as tuition students at Bartlett High School in Webster and the years to formation of the Dudley-Charlton Regional School District. This is not to question or defend either side in the secondary fiasco, primarily because we're turning back four and five decades, but it is to say that Robert J. Prince was the picture of stability at a time when the towns suffered from too many self-appointed experts.

This has never been said, if only to my knowledge, so the thought this 2011 holiday is to applaud the only modern-times superintendent of schools Dudley ever had. Yes, we're talking about something that took place a long, long time ago, something that gained form over several years, even state Department of Education mandates, but it's never too late to remember excellence.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mr. Prince!

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This is a reiteration, nothing new but said today because it is Thanksgiving, and a good time to salute a couple of Webster couples, Gerald and Marilyn T. Fels and Randell V. and Donna F. Becker.

Their contributions will forgive a great share of the municipal costs to build a new police station and a redesigned fire house. Mr. and Mrs. Fels will share construction costs with the town, make this millions over a 25-year stretch; and Mr. and Mrs. Becker contributed $500,000 to buy a downtown parcel for the police facility.

Mr. and Mrs. Fels have become the area's major philanthropists, giving of themselves as well, as Mr. Fels recent service as acting president of Nichols College attests.

The greetings here are shared Thanksgiving blessings, because it is in the making already.

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Finally, this is to remember Nov. 22, 1963, when the nation's resolve was called to the fore and its faith questioned.

An assassin's bullet felled the nation's leader, President John F. Kennedy, in Dallas, just days before Thanksgiving. A grieving public lost a reason for thanks.

This was the background to a banquet honoring the late George H. Finnegan, then the recently retired teacher-coach at Bartlett High School. His championship tabulations in football, basketball and baseball had a national ring to them.

The Finnegan fete was on the eve of Thanksgiving, and the charge to celebrants was to make it as pleasant as possible. Their circumstances were probably shared by like groups the nation over, and going forward was a way to honor the late president.

Mr. and Mrs. Finnegan were gracious guests at the festivities and the master of ceremonies, BHS administrator Anthony J. Sitkowski, added the touch of reverence circumstances required.

There was one no-show of consequence. Former town resident John J. McNally, who served on President Kennedy's White House staff, had hopes of attending.

His absence was naturally forgiven, made necessary by his role in handling details of the president's funeral. Mrs. Kennedy subsequently expressed ¡§deep appreciation¡¨ in a note to Mr. McNally. She added, ¡§Your loyalty and devotion meant so much to the President. You helped so much to make his White House years such happy ones.¡¨

The note, published in one of Mr. McNally's books, ¡§From the Little Green House (in Webster) to the White House and beyond, was simply signed, ¡§Jackie.¡¨
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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