Friday, September 26, 2014

Insight - A welcome surprise

Last Thursday I arrived at the stadium at Windham High School moments before the varsity boys soccer team started their game. I was still walking to the bleachers when everyone stood for the National Anthem. I always like to see what happens when the music begins to play. Would the people walking in front of me stop, would people take off their hats and put their hands over their hearts?
On that day there were many teams practicing on the fields around the stadium. The football teams were loud as they ran their drills. The night was full of fall excitement, the smells from the snack bar made my mouth water and I was excited to watch the game. 

What happened next would make my friend Fred Collins very proud.

I stopped in my spot as the patriotic music played. I faced the flag and put my hand over my heart. I glanced around and everyone had stopped. The music echoed across the fields and then I realized that the football players had all stopped. I lifted my sunglasses with my free hand to get a better look. 

The entire football practice had stopped what they were doing and turned to face the flag. The birds chirped in time with the music and I got goosebumps. 

This is the America I love, the one worth fighting for. This is where we come together as a nation, republican, democrat, black, white, gay, straight, we all stand and salute the flag of our country together.
When an entire town within hearing distance of that song stops to show respect, that is not a night I will soon forget. The team may have lost, but in the end the memory of that game will be more about the minutes before the game, then the actual game. 

The playing of the National Anthem isn’t required as far as I know, but it’s an amazing tradition that I’m glad Windham participates in. It says to anyone visiting our town that “We are Windham, but most importantly, we are Americans.”

Letter to the editor from Tammy Mulholland of Windham about the Hope Elephants

Dear Editor,
I would like to respond to Cheryl Whitten's letter about the recent loss of Hope Elephants founder Dr. Jim Laurita. So many untruthful, uninformed, hurtful, negative things have been written and said about the organization, I felt compelled to second Cheryl Whitten's letter about the need for the real story to be given. Most, if not all, of the negative, hurtful, uninformed people obviously did not have a chance to go to Hope Elephants or meet Dr. Laurita. I feel sorry for them, I really do. Our family, like Mrs. Whitten's, was lucky enough to visit Hope Elephants twice and speak with Dr. Laurita. He was kind, intelligent, patient, caring, honest, and completely passionate about the plight of the endangered elephant. We first visited Hope in the summer of 2013 and the girls were still adjusting, staying close to their oversize barn, and basking in the hands on care, medical treatment, and love they received at their new home. We visited again on Mother's Day 2014 and I was so happy and pleased with the progress of the girls. They had more flexibility in their injured areas, and had gained the hundreds of pounds they needed for optimum health. It was also easy for even me to tell that their skin and foot condition had also improved. They had a carefully designed diet/exercise/enrichment program to which they had obviously responded. As a veterinarian, Dr. Laurita dedicated his life to animals and the education of the public concerning the terrible threat to elephants. They are on track to be extinct in 10 to 15 years. It is unimaginable that in this day and age, a cornerstone species which helps sustain the world's ecosystem would be allowed to be hunted to extinction. 

Dr. Jim also made it his life's mission to improve the conditions and health of captive elephants. He made groundbreaking progress in the physical rehabilitation of Rosie and Opal and we will be watching to see if his methods are carried on to help other captive elephants. He was clear about wanting to help other elephants besides the girls and was only limited by funds and space. He worked with Rosie as a young man and because Rosie was hand-raised by humans, she lacked some social skills in dealing with other elephants. He found that Opal got along with Rosie was able to provide the social aspect they both needed. No elephant should ever be kept without a companion because like humans, they have an intense need for family.

Dr. Laurita, his brother Tom, and the countless volunteers at Hope Elephants were onto something big and the potential benefit to captive, injured elephants was unlimited. Being captive in a circus or for any other reason, is not an ideal situation but he was trying to help these animals. 

Contrary to some uninformed people's opinions, this was not a money making enterprise. At the time of his death, Hope Elephants owed Dr. Laurita in excess of $300,000 because he invested everything he had and sometimes even refused what Tom Laurita called his "meager" paycheck if the money was needed for the girls. They depended on fundraising and donations for food, medical equipment, and salaries for their few paid employees.

In response to the fact that the girls had to be sent to the Endangered Ark Foundation in Oklahoma upon Dr. Laurita's death, according to their Facebook page the answer is simple, they had no choice. The girls were only on loan and the permits they had were based on the fact Dr. Laurita would be handling their care. Hope Elephants did not own the girls and I am not sure if it was lack of funds or being unable to imagine that Dr. Laurita would not outlive the girls. Dr. Jim made it a point to tell everyone at their visits that Hope Elephants was Rosie and Opal's forever home, I believe, because he honestly believed he would always be able to take care of his girls.

The accident that killed Dr. Laurita was tragic, and definitely an accident. The girls loved Dr. Jim and would never hurt him. Elephants are very intelligent, empathetic, nurturing, social animals. They are not aggressive unless threatened and have no natural predators except humans. They know when someone loves them and is trying to care for them. 

Tom Laurita released this statement on the Facebook page:

"Jim was my brother and the best person I have ever known. He believed that the only life worth living is one of passion and conviction, kindness and honesty, and he completely lived out his beliefs. He was everyone’s favorite vet, a marvelous husband, father, son, brother, friend. He was the heart and soul of Hope Elephants and he threw his whole life into caring for Rosie and Opal. He loved them and they loved him. This was obvious to anyone who visited our facility. I will never forget how Rosie reacted to thunder. It scared her and she ran over to Jim and hugged him with her trunk like a child. His passing leaves hundreds of people in shock and grief. Thousands of people have been inspired to love elephants and care about their preservation through his tireless work.

Many people have asked me how this accident happened. Nobody will ever know for sure. Here is what I know. Jim fell and hit his head on the concrete walkway. We don’t know whether this occurred because his hip gave out (he needed a hip replacement), whether he had a cardiac event, or whether he fell for some other reason. He was incapacitated and could not get up. From what I know and believe, Rosie was trying to help him get up using her leg and injured trunk. It is instinctual for elephants to help a herd member who cannot get up by using their trunk and legs. Rosie weighs over 7,500 pounds so her attempts to help Jim, as he had helped her so faithfully, may have resulted in Jim’s death. The Maine State Medical Examiner’s office said, “The elephant was not aggressive in any way. It was clearly an accident.” It was a tragedy, too.

As we all work through our sadness, the Hope Elephants family and community is determined to do what Jim would certainly have wanted us to do; to take care of those without a voice and help stop the extinction of elephants. I believe that Jim gave his life for this cause."

---Tom Laurita

Hope Elephants, the Laurita family, their board of directors, and their countless supporters are reeling from the loss of both Dr. Jim and the girls. I am hopeful that when they are able to start their recovery, they will be able to continue their mission to educate the public about the need to help both captive and wild elephants in Dr. Jim's memory.

Tammy Mulholland

Friday, September 19, 2014

Insight - Watching the Eagles fly by - by Michelle Libby

It’s happening. Everything I’ve wanted has finally happened and I haven’t had to nag or freak out in any way. My college freshman is succeeding in college. I know it’s probably too soon to say that, but from what I’ve heard, she’s making her way, has some good friends, is learning to deal with a roommate and has successfully navigated the work study job market, all on her own. She’s making it to practice and to her classes, of which she loves. Mom is very proud.
I love hearing from my daughter at UMaine Presque Isle. For those who don’t know, Presque Isle is an hour past the end of 95. Go North and then go North again. 

It’s too far away for me to drop by or drive her anywhere. I love how resourceful she is now that she’s on her own. 

She called a week ago to tell me that her work study job was in facilities. She was going to be cleaning the dorm she lives in. All I could think of was the bathrooms after a Friday or Saturday night. Poor girl. I encouraged her to make the best of it.

Before she was assigned this job, she went to the pool and spoke with the director there. She is well qualified for lifeguarding, since she spent the summer with people attempting to drown her (on purpose, as a training) at Camp Hinds Boy Scout Camp in Raymond. I was sad for her not getting the job she wanted, but what could I do…nothing.

However, she received an email a few days ago saying that she had a position as a lifeguard if she wanted it. They needed one more and she’d been over to speak with the director, so it was hers if she wanted it. I guess freshmen don’t always get the coveted jobs. Now she is elated. She went to her first inservice training for lifeguarding and said that Boy Scout camp really prepared her well for anything UMPI might throw at her. 

My favorite part is that she did all of this on her own. 

I’m hoping that other parents are finding that our children are making their way and their mark on their new schools and in life. I’ve seen a few students post good news and pictures of college life. They are making friends, learning about independence and succeeding.

-         Michelle Libby

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Insight - Waiting for a miracle

For weeks Windham has been waiting, praying and hoping for a miracle after the tragic motorcycle accident that put Toby Pennels into the hospital and into a coma. To date, he has not been able to communicate with his family and as of Tuesday was admitted into the Hospice House in Auburn according to his wife on the website www.Caring, where she updated the thousands of people who care about Toby. 

For those who never met him, I’m sorry. For those who loved him, I’ve even more sorry, for every day must seem like an eternity without him.

Toby has been a part of Windham since before he graduated from Windham High School and since he served on the Windham School Board and the board for RSU14. He has been seen in all the parades marching in his military uniform, because Colonel Pennels was that type of man - one who served his country and fought for our freedoms. He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the president of Windham Veterans Association. 

I by no means know him more than our brief interactions for a casual interview or to get a signature for a Boy Scout form, since he was the representative for the VFW. Those who know him can tell you many more stories, but I felt like to Toby what I said mattered and that he genuinely loves people.
When I think of what he’s going through now, I wonder how something like this can happen. The injustice of the whole situation is monumental. 

We at The Windham Eagle offer our prayers to the thousands out there. We are praying for that miracle, because sometimes when hope is forsaken, others have to take over the praying for those who can’t. 

No one should have to go through what the Pennels’ family is at this time. So hug your families extra tight, kiss them goodbye before they leave and remember, every second is a gift.

If you want to help, there are ways. 

Toby received over 43 pints of blood during his treatment at Central Maine Medical Center. His friends have had blood drives in Toby’s honor and another one hosted by the VFW will take place this week at the Veteran’s Center behind Hannaford in Windham. On Wednesday, September 10, between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., give blood in Toby’s honor. 

Editor's note:  Toby passed away last Thursday. Our thoughts are with Toby's family. The funeral will be on Sept. 20 at the Windham High School auditorium at 4 p.m.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Insight - Back to school means back to work

I can’t help but write about back to school again. With the kiddos starting school there is also a work mentality that goes with it for the parents. We see it in the writing world, in the business world and I feel it in myself. 

There’s the extra energy of fall and the children going back to school puts us in the mood to buckle down and get new projects completed. When the children are around we are constantly trying to find things for them to do, trips to the beach, daycare, summer camp, volunteer opportunities, anything but let them sit at home watching TV or playing video games. Now that they are learning, I feel like I should be getting things done too. (Of course with weather like we’ve had this week I’ve wanted to be at the beach. Not helpful.) 

It’s possible that there’s a nesting time for Mainers because we know that once school starts, fall is not far behind and then right on into winter, so we only have so much time to harvest our gardens, pick the remaining flowers, tune up our heating systems and get ready. 

Maybe there’s a race going on to see how much we can get done before the winter blahs set in. Those crisp days are coming and we want to be ready to get work done. Do you have your projects planned?
In the work place there is a renewed sense of purpose. No longer are you worried that your child is slipping backwards in math and reading, you know they are in good hands and will make gains this year no matter the grade level.  Some of their excitement is bound to rub off on us. So if you haven’t planned your fall to-do list, get on it. It’s like New Year’s with better weather. And, as they say, “There’s no time like the present.”

-          Michelle Libby