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For the love of people — and pickleball — Farina gets it done

It is a gorgeous summer day, not a single cloud in the sky, and Ron Farina sits at the kitchen table at his West Keene residence of 44 years, looking out a rear window at what might be one of the best views of Mount Monadnock in the city.

The man is 81 years old but could easily pass for 70 or perhaps even younger, his relaxed manner and engaging smile conveying a sense of bonhomie — a cheerfulness and good humor about life. Some people are blessed with that disposition.

“I love this city,” he says, gazing out at the mountain. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

The story of Farina’s life so far is one that in ways reflects the history of Keene, as he has been so connected to people past and present who’ve made the city what it is. His experience is a bridge that spans what Keene used to be and what it is today — a present that he played a part in shaping.

Farina’s story began March 18, 1938, at Elliot Community Hospital on Main Street, the city’s former hospital before a new one was opened at 590 Court St. in 1973.

His parents were Mario and Lena Farina, who themselves played a role in Keene’s history. Mario and his three brothers, Gino, Leonard and Dick, owned and operated Princess Shoe in Keene, a significant industry in the city at the time. Their father, Luigi — Ron’s grandfather — had brought the thriving company to Keene from Lynn, Mass., in 1934. Factories were unionizing in the Boston area, something he wanted to avoid, and he’d found the Keene area had an ample supply of “stitchers” — workers who knew how to make shoes.

The company was initially in the second story of what is now Carriage House condominiums on Church and Wells Street downtown, the first floor at that time home to an automobile dealership. The company later moved to a building that was originally home to Beaver Mills on Railroad Street, just past Community Way, which now houses a variety of businesses and organizations. Farina owns the building.

He discovered only recently why the company was named “Princess.” His grandparents had four daughters in addition to Ron’s four uncles. One of them — Yolanda — had died young. “My grandfather was devastated by her death,” Farina explains. “At the time, the king of Italy had a daughter who was named Yolanda, and she was a princess, therefore the name.”

He describes the Keene of his youth as a near-idyllic place for kids.

“It was wonderful,” he says. “I can remember them closing off Beaver Street so we could sled down to Beaver Street Market. It was a time of being with neighborhood buddies. We walked everywhere, and there were pick-up baseball games. We’d go to the old Boy’s Club at St. James Church, and we’d do such things as when a new car model would come out, we’d race down to the dealership and grab the catalogs to check it out.”

After graduating from Keene High School in 1956, in the final class before the school moved to Arch Street, Farina enrolled at the University of New Hampshire and later graduated with a degree in business. Two weeks after graduation, he married Cynthia Nicholls, a girlfriend he had met at the old Ice Creamery on Park Avenue.

He began working at the family company. “They put me through a lot of jobs there, and I learned the shoe business,” he says.

“It was all family,” he notes of the firm’s makeup, “and after a while, I wanted to do something on my own.”

Proving a quick study

At a Lions Club meeting he attended, an executive with a drug company spoke about that industry. “It sounded fascinating,” he recalls, and he peppered the man with questions about pharmaceuticals. “I didn’t know an aspirin from a tranquilizer,” he says.

He went to the two drugstores in Keene at the time, Bullard & Shedd and Medical Hall, and got a list of all the pharmaceutical companies in the United States. “I wrote to all of them asking for a job interview.”

He ended up securing a position as a sales representative with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.

“I remember that a man by the name of Ogden Owens, a district manager of Wyeth, interviewed me in Keene while he was on a sales trip. He asked me what I knew about pharmaceuticals, and I answered, ‘Nothing.’ But I told him that I’m a fast learner.”

He was hired on the spot and given the option of moving to either Pittsfield, Mass., or Burlington, Vt.

With two children in tow, he and his wife headed to Burlington, where a third child was born. After three years, Farina took a job with another pharmaceuticals company, Hoffmann-La Roche, assigned to an office in Concord, N.H.

“My territory was the northern part of New Hampshire, and I recall meeting with all these older country doctors,” he says. “I loved that job.”

Unfortunately, bad news was ahead, as his wife died in 1970, leaving him a 32-year-old widower with three young children.

He moved back to Keene, and by this time, the shoe company had been sold. His father had purchased a store called The Melody Shop on Main Street and asked Ron to manage it. “That store was the largest home-entertainment center around. We sold records, musical instruments, organs, everything.”

In 1972, he was introduced to Jocelyn Fairbanks, and the two married, moving into the West Keene house where he lives now, which he’d bought from one of his uncles. With his three children and his wife’s two, the merged family made for a lively household, he says. They built a swimming pool in the backyard that became a magnet for kids in the neighborhood.

That same year, his father suffered a stroke, and Farina took over his business affairs, including The Melody Shop, and bought out his uncles’ shares in the Railroad Street building that had housed the shoe company.

In addition to running The Melody Shop, Farina also started the Fitness Factory workout facility on the third floor of the former shoe company.

By 1994, Farina says he saw the writing on the wall for independent retail stores such as The Melody Shop, and shuttered it. “I saw that the big-box stores and catalogs were coming, and I couldn’t compete with them, so I just closed the doors.” The Fitness Factory eventually closed, as well.

He then became a real estate agent and joined Prudential Brown & Tent, which is now closed. He joined what’s now called Better Homes and Gardens/The Masiello Group real estate in 2000, where he continues to be associated.

His second wife died in 2016, after suffering from Alzheimer’s. “It was the most difficult time of my life,” he says. “With Alzheimer’s, you’ve lost them as a person.”

A president and ambassador

The story of Farina’s business ventures is simply one facet of the man. Perhaps the more significant part is his deep involvement in the community.

“No matter what it is, Ron’s there for you. He has an uncanny ability to get things done,” says Deb Hogancamp, a longtime friend and fellow member of the Keene Lions Club, where Farina has been a member since 1970.

This year, Farina received the International President’s Medal, the second-highest award bestowed by Lions Clubs International. It’s given to members who “distinguish themselves for exemplary service that significantly strengthens their community,” according to the statement issued by Lions Club International President Gudrun Bjort Yngvadottir of Iceland.

During his time with the Lions, Farina has served as president three times and produced several of the club’s annual musicals, one of the most popular yearly events in the city.

“Ron’s a very giving man,” Hogancamp says. “I think much of that comes from his dad, who left a great deal of love and fellowship in his footsteps.”

Farina is also responsible for the explosion in popularity of pickleball in Keene, a paddle sport he says is now played by more than 300 residents in the city. In fact, he spearheaded a Lions Club initiative to build pickleball courts on the former tennis courts behind Jonathan Daniels School on Maple Avenue.

“Pickleball is an important part of my life. I love it, and I’m an ambassador for the game. It’s fun, it’s exercise, and it’s camaraderie.”

The kinship with people the game fosters dovetails with Farina’s overall philosophy of life.

“I love people. Treat people right, and be honest with them. Listen to people, don’t talk to them; you’ll learn things. You treat people the way you want to be treated. The Golden Rule.”

He references a very popular book published in 1989, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey.

“One of the ‘habits’ is about character,” he says. “You can’t say that you have character; you build character over time.”

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There was magic in the Post 4 legion team's summer of '69

The pages are conspicuously yellowed — a sign of true preservation — as scrapbooks go. Full, oversized, neatly organized, the books chronicle in newspaper clippings — stories and photos, some torn, some faded — a summer 50 years ago that captivated the region.

It was, as one popular song goes, the summer of ’69.

Brian Tremblay remembers it as “a magical time.”

And he admits that the Bryan Adams song evokes memories for him still.

But this story is not one of burgeoning teenage romance, as the song’s lyrics convey; rather, it’s one of a legendary baseball season in a region with a long, rich and ever-evolving history with the sport.

The Keene Gordon-Bissell Post 4 Legion baseball team was stout from the get-go that year. It went 26-6 in the regular season and won its district with a 7-1 record, the lone blemish a 3-2, 10-inning loss to three-time defending state champion Post 79 of Manchester.

But really, for all of the games, all of the good baseball and the occasional close-game drama, it was all buildup, for the best was yet to come.

It’s here that the scrapbook pages spring to life: big headlines; big photos; box scores; editorials.

That’s because the story that played out in early August in Berlin — the small town to the north where towering and billowing paper-mill smoke stacks dwarfed homes — became a sort of chapter and verse unto its own.

It’s where the state tournament was played that year. Post 4 went on to win the title — its first since 1958, its fourth overall and its last one to date. It also won in 1954 and 1948.

Following the ’69 win, in fact later that same night, the city of Keene threw the team a party, and what a party it was.

The pride was palpable; it swelled for days. Back then, of course, the legion baseball program was the big show in town. And titles didn’t come easily.

Friday, many of the living members of that team gathered in Keene to begin a weekend reunion, to stitch together old memories, some hazy, some fresh. They will watch some legion baseball, play golf, joke, cajole, lament the passage of time, and be teammates again — differently, but at least in a shared space.

They are forever bound by their baseball history and brotherhood, but it’s good to shake hands and toast to old times ... good times.

Frank Underwood will no doubt rib Phil Hebert, that, yes, “maybe he did lead the team in hits, but how many of those ever made it out of the infield?

“As a lefty, when he bunted, it was like he was running to first base alongside the ball the entire time,” he quipped this week from his home in Berwick, Maine, chuckling as memories flowed quickly and clearly.

By the time Post 4 returned from Berlin that August Monday, around 9 p.m., having hung a second straight championship-round defeat on Sweeney Post to clinch the title, word had gotten out about the result. Part of downtown was lined with more than 150 well-wishers; a caravan of vehicles carrying the players and coaches made a couple of passes by the crowd.

From there, the squad stopped at the legion post, then on West Street.

Coach John Watterson introduced each player to a full room of friends, family and baseball enthusiasts. He spoke about each player, the special season and its still-very-fresh-and-exhilarating culmination.

It was an improbable victory, in that mighty Sweeney Post bumped Post 4 into the loser’s bracket in the teams’ tournament opener, staging an eighth-inning, three-run rally to prevail 5-2 in the completion of a game suspended after three innings because of rain the day before.

Adding to the drama was the absence of Post 4’s coveted ace, Brian Tremblay. He was in a bed in an area hospital, diagnosed with pleurisy, a condition in which inflammation causes serious chest pain and impaired breathing.

Doctors deemed him fine after a one-night, two-day stay, but said it’d be a week before he could likely play again and sent him home that Sunday.

Tremblay never found the highway out of town. Instead, he headed straight for the field. “I had my uniform, my glove and my spikes in my bag,” he said earlier this week, as if to suggest there was only one option in his mind.

While Tremblay was making his way back, Post 4 right-handed pitcher Ted Ferguson was extending the team’s stay by spinning a gem — a complete-game, four-hit win over Dover that sent Keene into the championship round, and Tremblay to the hill for the first time in the tournament later that day.

That was no small deal. Tremblay — a left-hander who could throw with power and guile and who went on to play collegiately at Arizona on a scholarship — was 10-0 on the season with three no-hitters, a 0.23 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 79 innings.

But he was ailing, and the Sweeney Post hitters, including seven starters batting .300 or better, were not. Still, Tremblay was Tremblay; he tossed all nine innings, fanned eight, scattered seven hits, and Post 4 won 3-2 to force an if-necessary game. As reported in The Sentinel, but for a lack of color in his face, Tremblay appeared himself.

In the eighth, Sweeney, having scored twice with two outs, loaded the bases for its leading hitter, George Grott. Tremblay threw three pitches by him to end the threat.

In the ninth, his tournament storyline not dramatic enough already, Tremblay took a line drive to the groin, threw the runner out and fell to his knees in pain. He recovered long enough to induce two more grounders, the latter to himself, to secure the win and set up a Monday winner-take-all finale.

In the victory, Tremblay also had the winning hit.

Post 4 was not a gaudy team offensively, at least in the power department. But it had a bunch of solid bats, players who could string hits together and who were adept at moving runners along. And it didn’t take much; as first baseman Hebert said, “Our pitching would almost always hold.”

Another southpaw, Doug Sidilau, was part of Keene’s deep and talented pitching stable. He was the smooth guy, who made throwing a baseball look effortless, who competed with an indifference and coolness for the moment, and who had a wicked pick-off move, teammates said.

All Sidilau did during the regular season was finish 7-1, strikeout 106 in 75 innings and fashion a 0.72 ERA.

Kris Bergeron, a righty, was 4-0 and the winning pitcher in an important bounce-back win against Laconia in the team’s second game; and Ferguson was 4-2. Mike Carey and Steve Cutter bolstered the team’s pitching depth.

“The 1969 team was all about our older stud pitchers: Tremblay, Sidilau and Ferguson,” Kevin Watterson, the team’s flashy shortstop, said, “and playing great defense behind that threesome. A ridiculously talented pitching staff.”

In the title game, Sidilau got early run support and worked six strong innings, fanning two and allowing two runs. Tremblay went the final three, striking out six, an emphatic finish. Watterson, Tremblay and Hebert had three hits each to power a 14-hit attack against Sweeney’s Don Huot. Mike Flanagan — whose Major League fame later in his career included a Cy Young Award in 1979 and a World Series win in 1983 with the Baltimore Orioles — pitched the final frame, which was his remaining inning of eligibility.

Sidilau had just the six innings, and made the most of them.

Underwood and Jim Ganley, who led the team in runs scored and batted .353 that season, came out of the Monadnock program; Kevin Kingsman was from Winchester; and the rest of the players from Keene. Dick Ouellette was a slugger who hit for power, as did Tony Trubiano. They often batted cleanup and No. 5 in the order, respectively, and played side by side in the outfield. Around the horn, it was Hebert, Bergeron, Watterson and Ganley. Underwood, who played his final two years of high-school-age baseball at Deerfield Academy, opened eyes and turned heads with his all-around game and was considered perhaps the best catcher in the state at that level then.

Its non-starters are familiar baseball names in these parts who would go on to make their marks, but were the younger members of this squad at the time: namely Cutter, Daryl Watterson, Tom Durling and Kingsman.

Its bat boys were Tom Underwood and Tobey Watterson.

Kingsman passed away in 2018 in Georgia; he was 65. Cutter was just 62 when he died in 2015, at his home in Nashua. Cutter later was the ace of Bucky Main’s 1971 Keene High team; he went 8-2 with a 0.50 ERA and threw consecutive no-hitters to start the season. John Watterson passed earlier, as did Chet Poliks, the team manager and media liaison.

Carey and Pete Fresco, the team’s assistant coach, were not expected to make the reunion. A Vietnam veteran, Fresco will be with another group of his closest friends visiting that war’s memorial wall in Washington, D.C., and Arlington National Cemetery.

Underwood said the Post 4 team was close-knit; that all of the players loved baseball and thrived on challenging one another.

Hebert said the team played the game intuitively, a product of a strong work ethic and a good baseball IQ.

“All of those guys were great,” Underwood said. “I did have a unique relationship with Brian [Tremblay]; we trusted each other. He had those three no-hitters; we just played catch those three games.”

There was one particular under-the-radar motivation driving the team those three days in Berlin, he said.

That year, the national legion organization enacted a format change that provided the host team for the New England Regional tournament an automatic bid as a way to help drive fan attendance. “Our goal,” Underwood said, “was not to get a token pass. Our focus was on getting in as state champion.”

Interestingly, the Sunday of the first championship-round game, then-Gov. Walter Peterson was in attendance at Memorial Field in Berlin, presumably to present the winning trophy to Sweeney Post. Only Sweeney, after all, could win it all that day. Peterson was not there a day later, when Trubiano drove in two runs; the clutch-hitting Ganley, out of the leadoff spot, delivered a huge eighth-inning insurance run; and Sidilau and Tremblay painted their joint masterpiece on the mound.

Added up, Post 4 played more games — 44 — than any team in the state that memorable summer. Its boys went 3-2 in the regional at Alumni Field, with losses against Rhode Island and eventual runner-up Lynn, Mass. Naugatuck, Conn., went on to win it all, eliminating Sweeney along the way and defeating Lynn in the final.

Buoyed by three double plays and a catch-of-the-year in center by Ouellette, Post 4 owned as one of its wins in the regional another decision against Sweeney.

Major League scouts were about that week in Keene; more than two dozen, in fact, on opening day.

Great baseball was played. Fans turned out; attendance at three of the games was just shy of 1,000.

Keene played proudly and trademark hard, knowing that its regionals ticket had been earned, not given.

All told, Keene finished 35-9. That summer seems distant because it is, but three extra-large scrapbooks filled with black-and-white memories help to bridge the decades.

It’s good reading ... and reminiscing.

There sure is a lot to talk about this weekend.

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Welcome to the library of the past, present and future, by Steve Gilbert

The light is striking, enlightening, as libraries are meant to be. Except the Keene Public Library is no longer just a library; it’s a multimedia, multi-building community campus that is modern, airy, bright and pivoting toward the future.

Light seemingly flows outward in all directions from the Putnam Atrium, the brand-new connector that melds the traditional library and its former neighbor, the Masonic temple, into one entity. It’s a gathering place and a welcome center, funneling patrons into the rest of the campus.

Come see for yourself.

On a weekend bursting with activity in Keene — Walldogs to baseball — the library’s expansion dedication is right up there in grandeur. The ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place Sunday at 2 p.m., but that’s merely the kickoff to an afternoon immersed in music, theater, the arts and — of course — books. The dedication is the culmination of an $8.8 million project that featured renovations, infrastructure upgrades (lighting, heating, etc.) and construction of the new atrium. It’s a collaboration between the library’s board of trustees, Friends of the Library and the city of Keene.

“It really doesn’t happen without all of these partners,” said Judy Putnam, co-chairwoman of the capital campaign and a library trustee for more than 20 years.

This week, workers were scurrying throughout the buildings trying to complete a multitude of last-minute tasks in time for Sunday’s dedication. Though finishing touches will continue beyond Sunday, ongoing modifications are a metaphor for the library itself.

“In a certain way, the whole thing is a work in progress,” Putnam said. “It’s potential. It’s for everybody’s ideas.”

The celebration will begin with an official greeting from Mayor Kendall W. Lane, and the formal ribbon-cutting in front of the new entrance on West Street. Those glass doors lead directly into the new Putnam Atrium, which will be used as an informal public gathering space, under the supervision of library staff. Turn left, and you enter the renovated library annex, originally the Masonic temple; turn right, and you come into the main library, the stacks spread out before you; go straight, and you’ll end up back outside on Winter Street.

After the ribbon-cutting Sunday, most people will turn left into the annex and file into renovated Heberton Hall, where representatives of the trustees, Friends of the Library and the capital campaign will offer brief remarks.

Acclaimed author Ernie Hebert of Westmoreland is the guest speaker, and he will reflect upon the impact the Keene library had in shaping his life as a writer and teacher. Hebert, the campaign’s honorary chairman and a retired English professor at Dartmouth College, has written previously about his experiences as a boy in the Keene library:

“The first thing I remember about the Keene Public Library as a boy is that nobody said ‘don’t.’ I wandered the stacks looking for … what? Well, I didn’t know. I kept waiting to be admonished, but it never happened. The result is that I began to think of the library as a sanctuary.”

Hebert writes that “Swiss Family Robinson” was one of the first books he discovered and read as a child, because upon opening it in the middle, one of the characters was named Ernest.

Decades later, the library of Hebert’s youth still exists — “Swiss Family Robinson” is still in the stacks and available (j FIC WYSS).

Or, perhaps, instead of a book, a 3D printer better fits your futuristic needs.

That’s where the Kingsbury Maker Space comes in, a place in the annex where users have access to a 3D printer and other high-tech gadgets. And who would have thought a library card would allow you to check out garden tools? On Sunday, representatives from Monadnock Grows Together will introduce the library’s seed and garden tool lending area, all part of the new annex.

After the ceremonies conclude, the buildings will be open for tours, both guided and self. An array of artists and musicians will be on hand to showcase the available performance art space in the annex, particularly Heberton Hall and Cohen Hall, which is on the second floor. Simply, Cohen Hall is acoustically magnificent.

“I’m particularly drawn to this space,” Putnam says. “It’s the only space that has no natural light. If you’re in the theater and want total control, it’s perfect.”

Performers Sunday will include Virginia Eskin on piano, MoCo Arts, the Elm City Saxophone Quartet and Fireside Winds. Also, the Edge Ensemble Theatre Company, which is based in Heberton Hall, will do a reading of “Love Letters,” which is currently being staged there. And the Monadnock International Film Festival will screen a short feature.

The library’s youth department will offer STEM activities in conjunction with a program being developed as part of its Institute of Museum and Library Services grant titled “Little Makers: Library STEM and Maker Activities for Very Young Learners.” The new teen room in the main library is also open.

The festivities will climax at 5:30 p.m. with a performance by the Cecilia Ensemble from the Grand Monadnock Youth Choirs in the new courtyard on Winter Street.

The annex features several rooms for meeting and classroom space, and Cheshire TV’s studios have been relocated to the second floor. The annex also features a new elevator with five stops, new ramps and stairways. All will be open for the public to explore Sunday.

Of the money raised, $5 million came from many locally prominent individuals, foundations and businesses. Those who gave $100,000 or more have spaces named after them, including: the Timken Teen Space, the Henkel Room, the Eppes Room, the Booras Room, the Kingsbury Maker Space, the Masiello Classroom, Cohen Hall, Putnam Atrium, Gallup-Minard Courtyard and the Gallup Porch.

Patrons can also view commemorative pieces of two stately sugar maple trees that had to be removed from the West Street side of the building for the renovations. Members of the Monadnock Woodturners asked if they could use the wood to commemorate the existence of the trees, and the results are several wooden sculptures on display.

Putnam said the entire experience should be a boon to the city.

“I think this will be a really appealing place for people to come,” Putnam says. “And when you drive by, it just sort of fits into the scene.”

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Granite Gorge Ski Area scheduled for foreclosure auction

ROXBURY — A prominent local ski area has been scheduled for foreclosure auction, although the ski area said the auction will not happen.

Granite Gorge Ski Area is slated for sale by the mortgage holder, Hampshire First Bank, according to a listing via Epping-based James R. St. Jean Auctioneers. The public auction is planned for July 8 at 11 a.m. at the ski area off Route 9.

However, a post on Granite Gorge’s Facebook page roughly midday Friday says there will be no auction “as bank loan terms are being satisfied.

“Granite Gorge is looking forward to a great 2019-2020 season, our 17th consecutive season of providing safe, fun ski/tube/ride!” the statement continues.

As of Friday evening, the auction was still listed online as scheduled.

A representative from the auction company referred questions to the attorney who is handling the sale, Nicholas A. Kanakis of the Nashua-based firm Merra & Kanakis. Kanakis was not immediately reachable for comment Friday.

The 146-acre ski area, owned by Granite Gorge LLC, is worth $543,595, the auction site says, and has more than $13,000 in 2018 taxes associated with it. Granite Gorge LLC lists Fred Baybutt as a manager in its N.H. Secretary of State filings. Baybutt did not respond to email and phone interview requests Friday.

In response to a Facebook message Friday evening seeking comment, Baybutt referred The Sentinel to the statement on Granite Gorge’s Facebook page.

According to its website, Granite Gorge offered tubing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing last winter. The ski area previously offered downhill skiing, but its chairlift didn’t run last season. Baybutt said in February that there wasn’t enough snow and that he expected to add more equipment as the season progressed. The Tramway and Amusement Ride Safety department, which oversees the state’s ski industry, said at the end of March that Granite Gorge didn’t get the chairlift inspected in the 2019 season.

Granite Gorge has also hosted several community events over the years, including the East Coast Snowcross series’ Hillclimb, a 2015 benefit race for Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and the Motor Mayhem drag race.

The auction listing says the property has 20 trails; a lodge with a lobby, a rental center, and a bar and grill; as well as a yurt and a maintenance building.

Granite Gorge also owned and operated a summer camp on the property for two years.

Last year, the N.H. Department of Environmental Services revoked the Granite Gorge Summer Adventure Camp’s license last July after parents alleged that children there were poorly supervised. A department inspection found 12 violations, including a lack of a certified lifeguard to supervise children while swimming in nearby Otter Brook. On June 4, the department proposed a fine of $24,000 for the 12 alleged violations.