2016-12-30 / Front Page

Voting begins for Great Person Award

By Molly Lovell-Keely
Managing Editor

It’s time to vote for Sentry Great Person Award nominees.

Each year we ask our readers to tell us who has influenced their lives. There are no special qualifications for the Great Person Award – it’s simply to honor those who make this community a special place to live.

The winner will be interviewed for a newspaper article.

Nominations so far include an employee of Avesta Housing.

“Nicholas Kjelgaard’s official title is resident service coordinator, but a more accurate title would be Superman,” said South Portland resident Adrian Dowling, who nominated Kjelgaard.

An employee of Avesta Housing, Kjelgaard began working at the Brick Hill apartment community three years ago. His job description reads, in part:

“Assist residents with services and responsibilities related to tenancy; help tenants resolve challenges or difficulties related to occupancy; handle resident complaints, problems, and requests for assistance; make referrals to social service agencies as needed.”

“Nick does all of that, and so much more,” Dowling said, adding, “In the relatively short time that Nick has been working in Brick Hill, I have seen so many positive changes in this neighborhood. Morale among the residents is the highest it has ever been. Problems that languished for years under the previous (resident service coordinators) have been resolved. Neighbors tell me about the myriad ways Nick has helped them, not only with tenancy issues but also with accessing services related to employment, education, and health care.”

Dowling said Brick Hill’s community room was rarely used more than once a month before Kjelgaard came along. Today there are events and programs in that room several days a week, thanks to Nick’s proactive and creative leadership, Dowling said.

Kjelgaard work even extends beyond Brick Hill and into the entire West End neighborhood.

“Nick has also done something that few thought possible and fewer could have accomplished: He has helped many residents of the West End to become more involved in the broader South Portland community.”

“Kjelgaard is always there to help. Always there to listen. Always going above and beyond,” Dowling added. “Those are just a few of the many reasons why Nicholas Kjelgaard is a Great Person.”

South Portland resident Ray Mileson was nominated by fellow city resident Nina Hyssong.

According to her nomination, Mileson was the Scoutmaster of Cub Scout Troop 37 for several years and restarted Boy Scout Troop 37 in 2010.

“He has been an excellent role model and mentor for the youth of South Portland,” Hyssong said. “Ray has had a significant impact on our son, Josh’s, character development and is currently advising him as he works on his Eagle Scout rank service project. Mr. Mileson has also been key in guiding four other scouts in attaining their Eagle rank award. His service to the youth and families of our community has been tremendous and this is why I would like to nominate him for the Sentry’s 2016 Great Person.”

Mileson was also nominated by fellow South Portland High School graduate of the class of 1983, Lori Gaudreau.

“Ray and I graduated from SPHS in 1983. We really didn’t know each other then, but in the past 10-plus years I have come to know Ray and his family well through our mutual involvement in Scouting,” she said. “I was a leader in Cub Scout Pack 37, here in South Portland, when Ray’s son Brad joined my den as a Wolf Scout.” Mileson became involved with the troop from the beginning and eventually became the Scoutmaster.

“He is one of the most organized and hard working people that I know. He did wonders for our pack and the boys flourished under his leadership, Gaudreau said. “At that time, Troop 37 was not actively functioning, but Ray had an idea to reinstate the troop. There were eight or so boys ready to cross over to Boy Scouts, and Ray took on the challenge. Those first years, the boys had to learn quickly. At 12 years old, they didn’t have the skills that many older Scouts possessed. Ray and other parents helped to develop those skills and the troop continued to grow with each year.”

“Ray’s dedication and attention to detail have brought recognition to the boys. His expectations are high, and the boys rise to meet them. The troop, in just a few short years, has already produced four Eagle Scouts. I am thankful that two of my boys have had the opportunity to learn from Ray. He’s an excellent role model for our youth and very deserving of a Great Person Award.”

Jennifer Hughes and Angel Blier also separately nominated Mileson. While Blier has only known Mileson for three years, she recognized him as a dedicated member of the community.

“Especially as a leader and mentor to many young men who are Boy Scouts,” she said. “He has shown integrity and demonstrated true leadership to these boys as well as the parents.”

Another nomination for Mileson, from Julie Lefebvre, was submitted: “Ray is the leader of my son’s Boy Scout Troop 37. Ray is a tireless and dedicated leader that goes above and beyond helping the boys succeed in Scouts. He coordinates meetings and has volunteered countless hours helping the boys earn merit badges and meet other requirements. He has gone camping multiple times with the boys and is inspiring role model.”

Paula and Eric Small also nominated him.

“Our son is an Eagle Scout thanks to all his hard work helping Tim keep up with requirements and deadlines to accomplish this. Ray has been leading South Portland Boy Scout Troop 37 from Tiger Cubs right through Boy Scouts – the youngest members are graduating this spring. Four boys (so far) have attained the Eagle rank thanks to Ray. Ray himself is an Eagle Scout. The year round time he commits to the troop is amazing. During the school year they meet once a week at Thornton Heights United Methodist Church, he camps with them winter, summer and fall and organizes court of honor functions periodically as well as hiking, and the annual pinewood derby. Ray truly puts much effort into getting to know each boy and their families. His efforts should be recognized as these boys will be an asset as the future leaders and citizens of South Portland.

Howard S. Kohn, a South Portland resident, is nominating his wife, Patty Fortula-Kohn, noting that after emailing in the nomination from his wife’s computer, he would have to delete any sign of the email.

“I have a progressive degenerative disorder, which was diagnosed as a form of Parkinsonism. I have freezing episodes while I walk which in turns affects my balance. I use a power chair and I can walk a little with the help of a laser walker but I take a few steps, freeze and it takes 10 to 15 minutes to unfreeze. Going through doors are a big problem. I can no longer drive. My wife does not drive. However, we feel it could be worse,” he said.

“There are people worse off then me. I have a wonderful loving wife standing by me. We have faith, hope and love. Without faith, hope and love you have nothing,” Kohn said of his wife. “She is always there for me: Encouraging and loving, and, yes, giving tough love when needed. She is my best friend, my 24/7 caregiver and most important, she truly gives meaning to “in sickness and in health.” Besides taking care of me and our 2-year-old Siamese cat, she is also the president of the resident council where we live. She also volunteers from home for ITN, writing out monthly birthday cards. I know she has times when it gets her down. Who wouldn’t? But our love, prayer and faith makes us strong. Therefore, she is my hero and I nominate her for this award.”

South Portland resident Liz Darling was nominated by her daughter, Samantha Darling.

“My mother is the co-owner of Maine Roofing, Inc. a commercial roofing company located in South Portland. Not only does she work 40-plus hours a week running a business and the household she also spends countless hours giving back to the community,” Samantha Darling wrote in the nomination.

“Liz is involved in several different programs and task forces within the community. One of the most visible programs is the South Portland Christmas Toy Drive she started more than five years ago along with the owner of Evelyn’s Tavern. Working with the South Portland Police Department and the teachers in the South Portland schools, children are identified that could use some help to brighten their holidays. This year 206 South Portland children were helped with new coats, boots and toys. Countless hours are spent organizing, fundraising and reaching out to friends, families and businesses to get these families taken care of.”

Samantha Darling said Christmas is her mother’s favorite time of the year.

“She doesn’t want anyone to go without. When she started the toy drive she thought she would just be providing toys to a few children in South Portland. She was heartbroken to find out that so many right here in our own community needed help and not just with toys but warm winter clothing. The list has grown substantially over the past five years and she works hard to make sure everyone has a wonderful Christmas.”

Liz Darling is also a wish granter for the Make-A-Wish foundation. The Make A Wish program grants wishes to children with life threatening illnesses.

“The stories can be heartbreaking but she always says it is one of the most humbling yet rewarding programs she has ever been part of. You don’t realize how blessed you are when your children are healthy.”

“Mom is also part of TRIAD, which is a partnership between South Portland and Cape Elizabeth police departments, seniors and community members. This program works to help our communities most vulnerable…the elderly,” Samantha Darling said. “The group takes an active role in enhancing their quality of life and safety. She is currently working on developing a program to “adopt a grandparent” which will reach out to those who are shut in and may not have family or friends to look after their well-being.”

Liz Darling is also a member of the South Portland Drug Task Force. The coalition called SoPo Unite works on programs and initiatives to help combat the drug crisis within the schools and South Portland’s youth.

“She is a very dedicated mother, wife and community member and spends any free time she has giving back to her community,” Samantha Darling said. “Anyone who knows her knows she is a very giving person and takes very little time for herself. Last weekend was her first weekend off in months and instead of relaxing she volunteered to be a part of Wreaths Across America. She spent a full day in freezing temperatures and a snowstorm laying memorial wreaths on the graves of veterans in three cemeteries in Augusta. When I talked to her on the phone I said, ‘Mom, you did that in the middle of a snow storm? You must have been freezing all day.’ Her response is just what I expected: ‘Yeah it was cold, but it was nothing compared to what these veterans went through, they paid the ultimate sacrifice.’ That’s the kind of person she is.”

“I really believe my mom Liz Darling deserves the honor of the Great Person Award. She is a great person, mother, friend and I am proud to nominate her.”

South Portland resident Jeannie Dunnigan was nominated by Jim Vander Schaaf, also a South Portland resident, who calls her “a force for good in Knightville.”

Dunnigan and her husband Bill started CIA Café.

“It has been a successful addition to the community,” Vander Schaaf said. “Jeannie is always cheery, interested in what is going on in people’s lives and is a great promoter and organizer of businesses and community development in South Portland. She promotes a wide variety of local artists through her store and supports them by selling their art.”

Vander Schaaf said Dunnigan has been instrumental in revitalizing Knightville, which was in a somewhat rundown condition when she opened her business in 2013.

“She has encouraged others in opening their business and has brought many, many people into their stores through the welcoming manner she engages with customers in her store,” Vander Schaaf said. “I met Jeannie since I am one of the artists who displays and sells wood art in CIA – I have my own furniture and woodworking business and I have known Jeannie to be a great person, business manager, store owner, promoter and all around great additional to our community for some time and highly recommend her for this honor.”

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