News Feature

Surry
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 9, 2019
Surry woman honored for community service

Gete Thomson

Gete Thomson received the Community Citizen Award from the Arbutus Grange April 30 for her service to the community, including taking on renovations of the 1872-built Old Village Schoolhouse.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

The Arbutus Grange honored Surry resident Gete Thomson with a Community Citizen Award on April 30, recognizing her efforts in restoring the Old Village Schoolhouse.

“She does an awful lot for the community,” Grange Overseer Miriam Black said after the ceremony. “That’s quite a thing to save that school[house].”

Altina Salzarulo received flowers and a pin marking her 80 years of membership in the grange. Salzarulo, who currently holds the Boston Cane as the town’s oldest resident, joined the grange in 1937.

Thomson, who served as a Cemetery Trustee for 10 years and is active in the Surry Historical Society, first took on the Old Village Schoolhouse three years ago. At that time, selectmen were considering using the structure for a training burn for the fire department.

“We just knew that the bones in this building could be salvaged,” Thomson said. “It was a no-brainer.”

The building was listed in 2015 as one of Maine’s 10 most endangered historic places by nonprofit organization Maine Preservation.

Thomson formed a committee and raised nearly $100,000 in donations and through fundraisers to renovate the 1872 building, used as a school until 1952, and then as a fire house.

“I tell everybody it was a lot of brownies and a lot of apple pies,” she laughed.

A core of 20 “hardcore” volunteers worked on the renovations, with more helping out at the annual fall festival, and about 30 “fabulous Surry bakers” volunteering for the crab roll luncheon and yard sale/bake sale, three annual fundraisers, Thomson said.

The schoolhouse opens its doors June 8 with an open house. The yard sale/bake sale is set for June 23.

Community members, friends and family filled the grange for the ceremony. “It went great,” Black said.

The grange is going strong, with more members coming every week, Black said. “The making of a good grange is music, which we don’t have, but also fun. That’s the main thing.” However, she added, for the Community Citizen Award ceremony, former county district attorney, grange member and piano player Michael Povich supplied the music.

Original blackboard

Gete Thomson, who received the Community Citizen Award from the Arbutus Grange April 30, shows the original blackboard in the Old Village Schoolhouse, discovered and preserved during renovations.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Gete Thomson

Gete Thomson received the Community Citizen Award from the Arbutus Grange April 30 for her service to the community, including taking on renovations of the 1872-built Old Village Schoolhouse.

Photo by Anne Berleant