Published April 30, 2012 11:45 am
By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

BRATTLEBORO — First came a fire, then a flood.

But despite disasters that battered Brattleboro’s downtown last year, a hopeful spirit is visible today in the streets of the bustling town just over the New Hampshire border.

And residents and business owners displaced by last April’s devastating fire who spoke to The Sentinel last week say they’ve been able to find some good among the challenges of the past year.

There are obvious signs, such as a bright yellow banner hanging from the corner of the Brooks House — the four-story building in the heart of downtown that was severely damaged in a fire April 17, 2011. It reads: “The One and Only Brattleboro — Brooks House Rising 2011-2012.”

But it can be noticed in more subtle ways, too, from the dozens of pedestrians crisscrossing the streets and sidewalks on a recent weekday afternoon, to the acoustic guitar notes coming from a street performer seated on the stoop of the gutted building.

The scene is a far cry from just over a year ago, when several streets including Main and High streets, were blocked off by fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. Back then, the thrum of traffic was replaced by the hammering and sawing of workers removing the charred bits of roof from part of the building, and the air smelled like a campfire. (more…)

Local composer drew from Martin Luther King’s words

Published Jan. 17, 2012 12:15 pm
By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

Amid the deep thrumming of drums and swelling notes of brass instruments came the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

“There comes a time when people get tired; tired of being segregated and humiliated, tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression.”

As the notes faded Monday afternoon, Joseph C. Schwantner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer of the orchestral piece “New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom,” clicked off the recording.

Racial justice, equality, brotherhood and non-violence are themes in the words Schwantner collected from among King’s lesser-known speeches, personal letters and writings and interspersed in the 25-minute piece, Schwantner told a group of Keene Rotary Club members on the holiday that marks King’s birthday.

As keynote speaker at the organization’s weekly luncheon, the Spofford composer discussed the piece, which was written in 1982 and first performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington on King’s birthday, Jan. 15, 1983.

A Baptist minister and civil rights leader who was assassinated outside an Memphis motel in 1968, King would have been 83 this year.

“We cannot walk alone. As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.” (more…)

Published Jan. 2, 2012 12:15 pm
By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

Louisiana Gov. Charles E. “Buddy” Roemer 3rd had a fight on his hands.

MICHAEL MOORE / Sentinel Staff

After four terms as a Democratic U.S. congressman, two-term Gov. Roemer found himself in an uphill battle for re-election in 1991.

Staunchly opposed to accepting large campaign contributions, his wasn’t a well-funded campaign.

Behind the scenes, Roemer was picking up the pieces of his personal life after his second wife left him, and while he had balanced the state’s budget and made other notable policy strides, his aloof political style had done little to garner allies in the state’s Legislature, according to a book by Raymond D. Strother, a now-retired strategist who worked on the campaign.

Amidst all this, Roemer was taking heat from national Republicans to cross the aisle and join them, Strother later wrote in “Falling Up: How A Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting.”

On March 11, 1991, Roemer flipped the switch and changed his party affiliation to Republican.

“I think for once the man was being pragmatic,” Strother said during an interview last month. “He’s about two steps in front of everyone in politics and I think he saw that the South was shifting and I think he wanted to ride the wave.
“He didn’t care about political parties, and he still doesn’t.”

It was a wave Roemer wouldn’t catch.

The party switch pitted Roemer in a three-way battle for the Republican nomination. His opponents were a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, and a past Louisiana governor with ties to corruption who Roemer had beaten for the seat four years earlier.

Strother felt Roemer had a chance in the race if he publicly criticized his two opponents, but Roemer flat-out refused.

The battle captured national media attention and ended when the former Klansman, David Duke, received the party nod. Roemer came in third, behind Edwin Edwards, the former governor who Roemer’s father had worked for at one point.

After the loss, Roemer slid quietly out of the political spotlight for nearly two decades, shifting into private business as the founder and CEO of Louisiana-based Union First Business Bank.

Now, in a move that has surprised many in his home state, the 68-year-old politician-turned-banker is back in politics — and making a bid for the nation’s highest office.

Again, his war chest is smaller than his opponents’, due to a pledge he calls “Free to Lead” to take campaign contributions of $100 or less. And he’s been blocked from nationally televised debates because paltry poll numbers mark him to debate organizers as a fringe candidate.

But, according to those familiar with Roemer’s political style, running on the edges is perhaps where he is most comfortable. (more…)

Published Dec. 29, 2011 12:15 pm
By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

Fred Karger grew up near Chicago and spent his college years in Colorado before settling in California for most of his adult life.

Michael Moore / Keene Sentinel

But it could be said that the roots of his campaign for the top seat in the White House are right here in New Hampshire.

He told his family during a gathering in 2009 in Hawaii that he was considering throwing his hat in the ring and a couple months later, during a February 2010 visit to see his aunt in Peterborough, started talking to people about running.

“That was trip one (to New Hampshire),” he said. “A lot of it, initially, was just going around, meeting people.
“I had my first town meeting in May of last year in Keene.”

A few months later, in April 2010 at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, he officially announced he was considering waging a campaign.

He’s rented a house in Manchester that doubles as his campaign office and has made more than two dozen visits to the state.

His reasons for running are many: He wants to bring the topic of marriage equality to the national stage and push for fiscal conservatism in the federal government. He’s also called himself a “protest vote” for Republicans and undeclared voters who want to support a moderate Republican for president.

But one of the driving forces behind his run, in which he is billing himself as the first openly gay candidate for president, is far more simple: because he can.

“One of the reasons I could never run for office was because I had this secret,” he said. “Having worked in dozens and dozens of campaigns, I would just sit there, always wanting to be a candidate.

“I’ve got great love of country, I think I’m a great leader and motivator, and I was always a frustrated candidate.”

For his three-decade career as a political strategist for the Republican Party, Karger had kept his sexuality secret from everyone except his family. (more…)

Published Dec. 13, 2011 12:15 pm
By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

SWANZEY — Evan T. Casavant and Ryan R. Morgan aren’t your typical college students.

Sure, they go to classes and try to keep up with the seemingly never-ending stream of homework.

But, home to them isn’t a cramped dorm room on campus. It’s a Swanzey firehouse.

Since September, Casavant, 21, and Morgan, 22, have been resident student interns at the Swanzey Fire Department.
The Keene State College seniors live and work at one of the department’s three fire stations, spending their down time responding to emergency calls where they do everything from assess injuries at motor vehicle crashes to learn how firefighters investigate the cause of building fires.

As part of the recently expanded program, they each work 24 hours a week at the station and serve among the department’s roster of about 50 on-call firefighters.

Town and fire officials say the program — which began in 2008 as a daytime internship — has been a low-cost way to keep up with routine station and equipment maintenance and helped improve response times during the day when on-call firefighters are frequently working or unavailable.

For Casavant and Morgan, the internship has already provided valuable experience they hope will put them ahead when they enter the job market after graduation, they said in an interview at the fire station last week. (more…)

Published Nov. 16, 2011 12:15 pm
CASEY FARRAR / Sentinel Staff

Prosecutors in the case against a former Keene man accused in a fatal 1989 fire plan to appeal a ruling that could damage their case.

David B. McLeod, 55, most recently of Sacramento, Calif., was charged in June 2010 with four counts of second-degree murder for the 1989 deaths of newlyweds Carl R. and Lori M. Hina, their 4-month-old daughter Lillian, and Carl’s 12-year-old daughter Sara Jean.

The case — originally slated for trial in August — has been delayed twice and will remain on hold indefinitely while the N.H. Supreme Court considers whether to hear an appeal from the N.H. Attorney General’s Office of a pre-trial ruling by Judge Marguerite L. Wageling, who is presiding over the case.

In the meantime, defense attorneys for McLeod have filed a motion requesting he be allowed bail while the Supreme Court considers the appeal. (more…)

In vivid detail, Keene veteran Earle Quimby Jr. reflects on life, military service

Published Nov. 11, 2011 12:15 pm

By Casey Farrar Sentinel Staff

The force of the blast rocketed an iron chimney grate across the room and flipped an exhausted Earle C. Quimby Jr. under the heavy bed he was lying on in an abandoned German house.

Steve Hooper Sentinel Staff

Out on a mission, the Army reconnaissance officer and his driver had run into a German unit, and now the 24-year-old Quimby was holed up in the house, waiting.

It was the midst of World War II, and Quimby had spent the first few months after landing in Europe speeding along snowy roads in an open-top Jeep. Crossing enemy lines, he reported troop positions and access routes back to Army brass.

“When I showed up, they had six drivers and a Jeep waiting for me,” Quimby, now 90, recalled during a recent interview in his Keene home. “So I knew their intention was I would be in German territory more than I’d be in American territory.”

Arriving in December 1944, Quimby was one of tens of thousands of replacement troops sent to bolster American forces that suffered some of the heaviest casualties of the war during the month-long clash known as the Battle of the Bulge.

“Right off the bat, I started getting shot at with the 88 mm field artillery piece, and they put grooves in the projectiles so if they were spinning very fast at high speeds it would make a very high screeching noise,” he said. “Demoralizing. We called them Screaming Mimis.”

It was an 88 mm that had hammered the side of the house where Quimby hunkered down after meeting the German unit in Belgium. The outfit had taken out Quimby’s Jeep, but he and his driver — who took cover in another building — made it through mostly unscathed.

“I got all covered with soot and I went to see my colonel and he just laughed at me because I was all black and I had no way to clean up,” he said. “You can’t use cold water to try to get soot off you. So I lived with it for a long time.” (more…)