2017 will be remembered as the year the 83-year-old Athol Daily News was sold
AREA — For residents of the North Quabbin region, 2017 will be remembered as the year ownership of the Athol Daily News was transferred to Newspapers of New England Inc., following three generations of the same family at the helm.
Publisher Richard Chase Jr. informed employees of the changeover on Dec. 19, and the public was made aware in a page 1 article in the Dec. 20 edition.
The announcement, said Chase, was the culmination of a two-year process to ensure that, upon his retirement, a community newspaper would continue to bring North Quabbin area residents the local and regional news they had come to expect.
Michael Rifanburg, publisher of NNE’s Massachusetts newspapers, offered an assurance in that regard, saying, in part, “We will honor the strong tradition of community journalism built by the Chase family and hope that, with our experience in the region, we will be able to build on that tradition. Readers and advertisers will continue to receive their hometown papers as they always have.”
Comes To Town
The year also saw Hollywood come to town.
From August through December, streaming service Hulu’s Stephen King-inspired psychological-horror series “Castle Rock” filmed extensively in Orange, which was chosen to stand in as the fictional Maine locale of the same name, as well as in Athol and Royalston. Other scenes were shot elsewhere in the state and at New England Studios at Devens.
Many area Hollywood hopefuls applied to be considered as extras in the J.J. Abrams-helmed show, which is set to premiere sometime after the start of the new year.
“Castle Rock” was created by Dustin Thomason and Sam Shaw, and is directed by Michael Uppendahl and Daniel Attias. The two directors’ resumes each include stints with AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
The cast includes King movie veteran Sissy Spacek of “Carrie” fame, “It” remake star Bill Skarsgård, Andrè Holland (“Moonlight,” “Selma” and “42”), Jane Levy (”Don’t Breath” and “Suburgatory”), Melanie Lynskey (TV’s “Two and a Half Men”), Scott Glenn (“Urban Cowboy” and “The Right Stuff”) and Terry O’Quinn (“Young Guns” and TV’s “Lost”).
It was reported at this year’s Comic Con event in New York City that a second season of the anthology series is planned and there are talks about a possible third season.
Other Top Stories
Other top news stories for the year included Athol parting ways with Gardner to form its own central dispatch center for local EMS, fire and police dispatching; the state suspending its plan to place a colony of endangered Eastern timber rattlesnakes on Mt. Zion Island at the Quabbin Reservoir in the face of strong opposition to the plan from area businesses and residents; the continued addition of retail outlets, restaurants, an eight-screen cinema and other businesses at the North Quabbin Commons and North Quabbin Business Park in Athol; the opening of the Dana Day Treatment Center at the Quabbin Retreat in Petersham; the beginning of a major expansion at Athol Hospital; the end of the regional MAX Bus service due to funding cuts; the introduction of the Athol Police Department’s new K-9, “Gronk;” and the introduction of the Athol Daily News’ new sports reporter, Adam Lewis.
Tragedy also struck locally in 2017, with the death of a mother, Lucinda Seago, 42, and her four children in a Warwick house fire in March.
Major area arrests included those of Lewis H. Starkey III, 53, of Wendell, in connection with the fatal shooting of Amanda Glover, 48, in that town; and Chris Vinsant, 30, on a charge of murder in connection with the 2013 death of 10-year-old Isaiah A. Buckner in Athol.
Also making front page news was the release in February from a Florida prison of Athol native Floyd LaFountain Jr., after spending over 20 years behind bars for his part in a home invasion and the murder of elderly Tampa resident Manuel Huerta in 1994, when LaFountain was a teenager.
Month-by-month highlights from the past year include:
Robert Legare, of Petersham, was introduced to the selectboard as the town’s new building inspector/zoning agent.
Hometown Realtors celebrated its 10th year in business.
Shea Nicholas, born Jan. 1, at 6:25 a.m., and the son of Kellie and Scott Nicholas of town, was declared the winner of the 2017 Athol Daily News’ First Baby Contest.
Parents gave mixed reviews on the Orange Elementary School District’s first use of “Blizzard Bag” distance learning on a snow day that occurred on Dec. 12, 2016.
Eugene Litchfield, of town, received the Member of the Year Award at the Orange Gun Club’s annual meeting.
Hunter Richardson, who was injured in a hunting accident in December 2016, was released from the hospital the same month.
Craig Lundgren was formally appointed as police chief by the selectboard.
Barbara Richardson was hired as the town’s new building custodian.
Dr. Sari Miettinen was appointed medical director of Heywood Medical Group.
The regional Cub Scout Polar Derby was held at Athol High School on Jan. 28, the first time it was held in town.
Hobby Lobby was announced as the anchor store of the second phase at the North Quabbin Commons development.
The 95th annual Hatchet Hunt was held at the Athol-Royalston Middle School.
The first group of students was issued Precision Measuring Instrument certifications from the Athol Starrett Lab at Athol High School.
The Athol-Orange Aero Club celebrated its 80th anniversary.
The Athol Credit Union hosted a ribbon cutting for its new branch ATM at 85 East Main St.
Caraline White, a 6th grade student at the Dexter Park Innovation School, won the school competition of the National Geographic Bee on Jan. 30 and a chance at a $50,000 college scholarship.
A management restructuring was under way at Hannaford Supermarket.
Members Alfred “Ohlie” Ohlson and Donald “Spin” Ainsworth were each honored for their years of service to the North Quabbin Lodge of Freemasons and the 26th Massachusetts Masonic District.
Fedencia Fitch, of Princeton, was selected as the next director of veterans services for the Northeast Quabbin Veterans District, replacing Neil McGuirk who was retiring at the end of the fiscal year.
The North Central Massachusetts Development Corporation granted a $12,400 small business loan to allow for the expansion of Orange Graphix.
Local musicians held a benefit at the Athol-Orange Lodge of Elks to assist Athol native Mike Jones during his battle with multiple sclerosis.
The Wyncote Foundation gifted a new canine police cruiser to the town.
Voters at the annual town election approved $584,202 for the abatement of hazardous materials at the former Nichewaug Inn property.
The Petersham Country Store renewed its lease for five years with building owner East Quabbin Land Trust.
A total of 177 acres of Jason Hakkila’s family land was protected under a conservation agreement.
The Royalston Community School held a D.A.R.E. graduation, with 23 fifth graders completing the program.
It was reported the Athol Community Elementary School project came in at $3.78 million under budget, resulting in a savings to taxpayers in the form of “borrowing that did not have to take place.”
Athol-Royalston Regional School Superintendent Steven Meyer resigned to take a similar position with the Clinton school district.
The search for a new town counsel was set to get under way following the appointment of longtime town counsel Mark Goldstein to a judgeship at Worcester District Court by Gov. Charlie Baker.
Several students at the Athol-Royalston Middle School began an anti-bullying club.
The Friends of the Athol Council on Aging commemorated the 10th anniversary of the group with a founders’ reception held at the senior center.
A fire totally destroyed a multi-family home at 275 Hapgood St.
The Mahar JETS teams qualified for the national competition.
The town’s wage and compensation proposal was withdrawn, after three members of the committee, which was dissolved, were deemed to be in violation of the town’s conflict of interest laws.
Write-in candidate Roland Hamel won a seat on the selectboard in the annual town election to fill a two-year vacancy resulting from the passing of Jack Morse.
A celebration was held to honor retiring library trustee Polly Longsworth.
Lori Bolasevich was hired as the town’s interim accountant.
It was announced Deja Brew would cease operating as a restaurant on April 15.
The conservation commissions of Petersham, Royalston and Warwick signed a letter urging Gov. Charlie Baker to drop his support for fracked-gas pipelines in Massachusetts.
During their April vacation, several Athol High School students repainted a United States bicentennial mural on an exterior wall of the Athol General Store at the corner of Crescent and Orange streets, which was originally painted in 1976.
The Friends of Lake Ellis partnered with the town’s parks and recreation department and the Department of Public Works for a spring clean-up at the lake.
The Athol-Orange Rotary Club revived Summerfest.
Darcy Fernandes was selected as the next superintendent of the Athol-Royalston Regional School District.
A grand opening for the new Riverfront Park was held.
Gov. Charlie Baker declared May 20 and May 21 as Massachusetts Military History Exposition Weekend ahead of the Military History Expo being held at the Orange Municipal Airport on those dates.
Anti-war activists protested the Military History Expo weekend.
A 2-year-old boy reported missing behind Pine Crest Apartments was found safe at a daycare in Athol.
The town was seeking to terminate its Franklin Regional Transit Authority Membership.
Alleging bias and threats, Kristen Stanley, a member of the finance committee, resigned her position at the start of the annual town meeting.
Opal Clark requested to step down as marshal of the of the town’s Memorial Day observance, after 46 years in the role.
The selectboard was advised that a $500,000 small bridge improvement grant would not be enough to cover the Gale Road bridge replacement.
The 14th annual North Quabbin Food-a-thon was held; Pete’s Tire Barns Inc. and corporate sponsors teamed up to match dollar-for-dollar the first $10,000 received during the Food-a-thon.
A Uniquely Quabbin weekend was held May 18 through May 21.
Mitchell Grosky was chosen as this year’s recipient of the annual Margaret Grazis Citizen of the Year Award.
Town employees Ann Cutler-Russo and Karen McNiff were co-recipients of this year’s annual Margaret Grazis Employee of the Year Award.
Atty. John B. Barrett, of Townsend, was appointed as Athol’s new town counsel.
The Athol Savings Bank announced it was celebrating its 150th year in business with customer appreciation events and charitable efforts throughout the year.
The Athol Police Department re-instituted bike patrols.
The 41st annual Yankee Engine-uity show was held at the Orange Municipal Airport.
The fourth annual Solstice RiverFest was held along Millers River at Riverfront Park.
Jeff Cole, of Witty’s Funeral Home, was presented the North Orange Grange’s Community Citizen Award.
The North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau presented the Orange Innovation Center with its Business of the Year Award.
Marilyn Holway, of town, was the recipient of the Secretary of the Year Award at the advisory meeting of the Massachusetts Lions District 33A.
A groundbreaking for the new Village School building took place.
Voters at town meeting approved an article allowing 16-year-olds to vote at town meetings and in town elections, to afford them “life experience.”
Arthur Cummings, 49, formerly of 186 Crescent St., pleaded guilty to possession of child porn charges in U.S. District Court in Worcester and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
It was announced a 110 Grill was coming to the North Quabbin Commons on Templeton Road.
The inspection of food establishments by the health agent and/or assistant health agent came under the scrutiny of the Board of Health.
Police Det. Peter Buck reported a pile of hypodermic needles found at Silver Lake Park in June were stolen during a break-in and robbery at a residence in Athol where heroin was sold and being used.
The annual Old Home Day event was held.
Voters in a special election approved a debt exclusion for a tanker truck for the fire department.
Phil Harris was appointed the town’s new building inspector.
The selectboard presented Hazel Lackey with the Shirley Page Community Pride Award for her many years of operating the Community Clothing Center on West Main Street.
Teacher Helene Holmes announced her retirement after 42 years on the job.
The former Rodney Hunt-Fontaine facility, which had been closed since 2015, was sold and was to be re-opened on a smaller scale.
The 20th annual July 4th parade was dedicated to its founder, Beth “Paulette Revere” Cummings; following the parade it was renamed the Beth Cummings Memorial Parade in her honor.
Recognized for 50 years of participation in the Petersham Brass Band at the 818th concert held July 30 were Maureen Riendeau and Elaine Guertin.
The state was to assist the town with a review of the town’s fiscal practices.
Ronald Amidon, of town, was named commissioner of the state’s Department of Fish and Game.
A 500-foot boating setback was put in place to prevent loon harassment at the Quabbin Reservoir.
Members of the Athol High School class of 1947 held their 70th reunion at the King Phillip Restaurant in Phillipston.
A store clerk at Larry’s Variety Store, at 1503 Main St., was held up at knifepoint and an undisclosed amount of cash was taken.
A handicap accessible boat dock was installed along the Millers River at the Alan E. Rich Environmental Park.
Tully Family Medicine opened at 81 Reservoir Dr. at the North Quabbin Commons development off Templeton Road.
Several area residents viewed a partial solar eclipse from the Adams Farm hilltop.
Orange Oil, headquartered in New Salem, marked its 70th year in business with a customer appreciation day on Aug. 26.
Kevin Flynn was appointed as the selectboard’s new administrative assistant.
Second Franklin District State Rep. Susannah Whipps (I-Athol) changed her voter registration from Republican to Unenrolled.
A 1.7-magnitude earthquake rattled Athol on Sept. 5.
John Wilson and Rose Castro, co-owners of Yours, His & Ours on Main Street, were arraigned in Orange District Court following their arrest on charges related to the sale of stolen goods.
The police and fire departments hosted a September 11th Remembrance Ceremony at the Veterans Park at Main and Exchange streets.
Ron’s Fuel celebrated its 31st year in business with a Customer Appreciation Day.
Tammy M. Coller was hired as the town’s new treasurer/collector.
A grand opening and ribbon cutting was held at Athol Pharmacy.
A feasibility study, to determine a viable solution, was planned for Dexter Park School that would survey the town’s entire educational infrastructure, as Dexter Park was one of nine schools in the state with the worst structural grade issued by the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
The annual Garlic and Arts Festival was held on Sept. 23 and 24.
Jon Gleason of Orange and Jake Strait of Gardner traveled to the Praise Chapel in Webster, Texas, with two 40-foot trailers of relief items for victims of Hurricane Harvey. The regional Red Cross and Salvation Army organizations also offered aid.
The Athol Lions Club held its 19th annual Haunted Hayrides at Silver Lake Park.
The town’s new administrative assistant, Bridget Sullivan, of town, was introduced to the selectboard and general public at a meeting of the selectboard.
The Athol Police Department held its second annual “No-Shave November” fundraiser for the benefit of the Athol Daily News’ Santa Fund.
The Athol Congregational Church held its annual Veteran Breakfast.
Lt. Cameron Dunbar of the New Salem Fire Department was deployed for 14 days to Puerto Rico with the Northwest Massachusetts Incident Management Team to assist with hurricane relief efforts.
The 12th annual Mahar Cancer Walk was held Oct. 7, and raised $5,004.
Irene Ballou was honored for her over 50 years of service to the Orange Historical Society.
The 114th South Royalston School reunion was held.
Voters at a special town meeting approved the sale of the Meetinghouse.
The former manager of Zedas in Athol, Jason Chandler, 39, of Fitchburg, pleaded innocent in Orange District Court on a charge of larceny over $250 after allegedly stealing $11,819.02 from the restaurant prior to its change of ownership in January 2017.
Members of the Northwestern District Attorney’s drug task force and the Athol Police Department conducted early-morning raids on two residences; a body of a deceased male — later identified as Jonathan Baker, 32 — was removed from one at 51 Pierce St.
Members of the Athol-Orange Lions Club participated in the 10th annual Boston Vision Walk at Artesani Park.
The Athol Veterans Council held its annual Veterans Day observance.
Pequoig Detachment 1168 Marine Corps League celebrated the 242nd anniversary of the Marines; the group presented Peter Gerry, of Pete’s Tire Barns Inc., with the Carey Award for his commitment to the community.
The Salvation Army Athol Corps celebrated its 130th year of serving the needs of area residents with a Fun Fest event on Nov. 18 to kick off its annual Red Kettle Fundraiser campaign.
The Athol-Orange Baptist Church filled 258 shoeboxes for Samartin’s Purse for delivery to children in need around the world.
Kristina A. Pickup, 30, of Orange, was killed in a one-car crash on Athol Road, near Royalston Road, on Nov. 19.
Rev. Shaun O. Connor was appointed as the new pastor at St. Mary’s Church.
LaunchSpace at the Orange Innovation Center was awarded a $250,000 state grant to re-purpose empty industrial space and make other upgrades.
Police Officer Clay Rushford was honored by the North Orange Grange for his years of service to the local community and other police departments.
Adrienne Menges accepted the position of town community development administrator.
American Legion Post 172 held its annual Veterans Day parade and observance on Nov. 11.
The Literacy Volunteers of Orange/Athol welcomed Louise Doud as the new program coordinator.
Margery Stevens was recognized as the recipient of the town’s Boston Post cane.
Veterans and supporters took part in a Veterans Walk from the Veterans Park at Main and Exchange streets in Athol to Memorial Park in Orange on Veterans Day.
Firefighters and police responded to a boiler room fire at Athol Savings Bank, at 444 Main St., on the morning of Dec. 2.
The Athol Police Department responded to three drug overdoses over a period of 24 hours; no deaths resulted.
Over $400,000 was realized by the town via a tax title property auction.
The new Wendy’s restaurant, at the North Quabbin Business Park, held a soft opening on Dec. 9.
The selectboard approved a single tax rate of $19.57 per $1,000 valuation for fiscal year 2018 for both residential and commercial/industrial properties, as recommended by the assessors.
Volunteers for the 70th annual Athol Daily News Santa Fund delivered gifts to more than 400 youngsters in need in the North Quabbin area.
The Council on Aging staff, board members and volunteers, for the 24th consecutive year, delivered hot ham dinners with all the fixings to elderly and shut-in residents in the nine-town North Quabbin area on Christmas Day.
Hobby Lobby at the North Quabbin Commons opened with a “soft opening” on Dec. 26.
The Board of Health welcomed new, full-time assistant health agent Jane O’Brien, of Royalston.
The Salvation Army’s Christmas Castle aided 275 area families and 480 children.
The 50th Athol Christmas Bird Count tallied 9,313 individual birds from 61 species.
Aiden Walsh, of town, was named the Athol Daily News’ Carrier of the Year for 2017.
Abbi Green, of town, was set to perform in the 2018 Tournament of Roses Parade.
Retired sanitation superintendent Priscilla Curtis was recognized by the selectboard for her three decades of service to the town.
On Dec. 9, an Athol Fire Department ambulance crew delivered a baby on Route 2 between exits 15 and 16, while in transit with the mother to Heywood Hospital in Gardner.
Hi-De Liners was awarded a $5,000 grant from the state to be used, in part, for job retention and creation.
The annual Starry Starry Night New Year’s Eve event was held.
Hamshaw Lumber hosted its first annual Hat and Mitten Drive to help local and surrounding school districts during the holiday season.
Rick French was selected as the town’s citizen of year.
The death of Randy S. Vaillancourt, 56, on Dec. 9 was ruled a homicide by blunt-force trauma.
The city filed a federal lawsuit against several distributors and manufacturers of opioid medications, joining a growing list of municipalities and states seeking to recoup costs of dealing with the nationwide opioid abuse epidemic.
Twenty locally-owned shops and restaurants throughout the region took part in the annual Country Roads Christmas weekend.
Businesses in Athol and Orange participated in the annual Midnight Madness event.