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Ossipee celebrates park opening

June 03, 2009
OSSIPEE — Center Ossipee was alive with excitement on May 30, as about 100 local residents attended the festive grand opening of Ossipee Main Street Program's new park on a sunny Saturday morning.

It was a big day for Ossipee Main Street Executive Director Sarah Millette who periodically wondered if she'd ever see the results of her hard work. "There were times when I didn't think we'd get here, but now I think it's pretty amazing," she said. "Everyone out there [in the park] that I've seen so far helped us—they picked up a rake, or they scraped paint, or they lugged boxes when we moved back in, or they bought a ticket to the duck race or barbeque—to get us where we are."

The long road to green space in Center Ossipee began about three years ago. "A couple of people were at PB&J one morning and looked across at the vacant lots—which had a half foundation of concrete on three sides and a board, very derelict—and this building was peeling and everything, and went, 'You know, you've got to make a park out of that,'" explained Millette. Main Street, a fairly new organization in town founded in 2004, got involved.

In March 2006, voters supported a Main Street warrant article to purchase the vacant downtown lots for $65,000. The group then launched a series of fundraising and volunteer efforts, including barbeques and rubber duck races during Old Home Week.

Millette signed on as director in the summer of 2006, despite some reservations about leaving her job. "This was something I really believed in and I really wanted to do, so after a weekend I said yes—and I said yes without looking at the building or really driving up here by the park," she said.

The property needed a lot of work, and Millette quickly worried she was over her head. The building, which had been used for storage, had broken windows and water, sewer and electricity had yet to be hooked up. "Foolish me, I thought it was just paint, paper and flooring—a woman's dream come true," said Millette. The inside was littered with debris, mattresses, old bikes and other evidence that young people had been using the structure uninvited.

Addressing the crowd assembled in the park on Saturday, Selectman Kathleen Maloney recalled the history of Main Street and the project. "If you remember what this property once looked like, you should be pleasantly surprised at the drastic changes that have taken place," she said. "This did not happen overnight, and it is not quite finished. However, with the continued support of the town's citizens and local businesses, it will eventually be complete."

In 2007, a grant from N.H. Electric Co-op assisted with building renovations, while a warrant article funded roof repairs. Another warrant article passed in 2008 to complete the building renovation. Despite some delays and a few small miscalculations, Main Street was well on its way.

At this point, volunteers and local businesses rolled up their sleeves and got to work providing the necessary skills and labor; Main Street paid only for materials. Three students and a professor from a horticulture club at the University of New Hampshire designed and installed irrigation systems, a landscaper got the group started on edging, a gardener oversaw planting, and a mason showed volunteers how to create the park's stone pathways with materials donated by Ossipee Aggregates. An electrician volunteered with his entire crew, and a young, local carpenter got to work on the building.

Acknowledging how people came together, Maloney said, "All of this occurred due to those who love this town and believe this could happen."

The inside of the building—Ossipee Main Street's new headquarters—is furnished almost entirely with furniture donated by two local businesses.

Another person instrumental in the project was Charlie Smith, who collaborated with Main Street to provide the land for the park. The park was dedicated in the memory of his parents, Earl and Celeste Smith.

Smith family friend John Hardie described Earl as an "old-school" gentleman who didn't own jeans or sneakers and never used foul language. "He grew up in Vermont, but his speaking and mannerisms were more like that of a proper English gentleman," he said, adding, "His wife Celeste was the grandmother type everyone wished they had. She loved jokes—even if they were a little naughty—and she was always smiling and had a twinkle in her eye."

The couple was remembered for their quiet philanthropy. "One of the bonds that Earl and Celeste shared was their love for the little people—children," continued Hardie. "They continually reached out to help children in need, but they never wanted anyone to know where the help came from." The park was dedicated in the spirit of giving and selflessly helping others in their memory.

The park also carries the memory of the Center Ossipee of yesteryear. Main Street President Anne Ward looked back fondly at her childhood summering in Ossipee. She treasures the memories of skiing on Mount Whittier, fishing on the lake, and shopping in the bustling village. "Those were the happiest days of my life," she said, listing the beloved mom-and-pop businesses of old—the drug store, the IGA (now the Chamberlain Building), Abbott & Staples, the barbershop, the movie theater (now town hall) and the hardware store (now Ossipee Crossings).

"I hope one day my grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about the good old days in Center Ossipee. This is why the Main Street Program means so very much to me," she said, thanking the volunteers, the Main Street board and committees, the Town of Ossipee, and "the park angels."

"Everyone who picked up a hammer, a rake or a paintbrush; who donated their time, wisdom and experience, or money; who purchased a barbeque ticket, T-shirt or sweatshirt, or adopted a duck: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping us accomplish the beginning of our dream to revitalize and rejuvenate our village. We couldn't have done it without you," said Ward.

The next step for Main Street is to begin fundraising for an oblong, covered performance stage that will allow the program to host concerts and maybe even summer plays or Friday night films in the park.

Lee Dearborn, the young architect and summer resident designing the structure, modeled it on the truss system used in Ossipee's iconic Whittier Bridge. Introducing his design, Dearborn told the crowd that the truss system—the strength of the bridge—represents the strength of Ossipee Main Street and the community.

Starting June 26, the park will get regular use on Fridays for the Ossipee Farmer's Market. So far five vendors are signed on to sell produce, baked goods, crafts, jewelry, cheese and meat.

But this is just the beginning for the Ossipee Main Street Program and its volunteers.

"We've got more work to do. Our dream is bigger than just the park and the building," said Millette. "We want to revitalize and make our little community close to what it was again."

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