For the seventh year, the Sentinel & Enterprise is looking back at the people who won our hearts, stimulated our minds and piqued our curiosity over the past 12 months.
These local people — among them politicians, public servants, professors, performers and community advocates — helped make 2016 memorable.
1. Kevin Roy
Roy’s quick response to a fire in the early hours of Feb. 10 earned the Fitchburg Fire Chief and 41-year department veteran a Medal of Valor during the Firefighter of the Year awards this November.
When a fire started in a house at 174 Walton St., Roy could see the blaze from his home.
He entered the duplex and pulled an unconscious 60-year-old man to safety.
Roy was not the only Fitchburg firefighter recognized at the ceremony this year. The 15 firefighters on shift that February night were also lauded for their efforts to fight the blaze, which left two dead.
2. Peter Stephens
Stephens graduated from the Fitchburg School system in 1958, but, aside from a few years in his 20s, he has never spent long away from the district.
The Massachusetts Association of School Committees awarded Stephens this year for his work with the school committee and long career as a teacher and administrator in the Fitchburg School District.
Stephens said he has concentrated his efforts on preserving the arts programs and providing resources for special needs students.
3. Natalie Higgins
Leominster’s 2016 state representative race also revealed a fascinating newcomer in state and local politics in the form of Democrat Natalie Higgins, who is slated to take office as the representative of the 4th Worcester District next week.
At age 28, Higgins, who had never before served in elected office, follows in the footsteps of her friend and mentor state Sen. Jen Flanagan, who had been elected to the same rep seat in 2004 at age 29.
Like Higgins, who had served as an intern in Flanagan’s office in 2007, Flanagan was also mentored by her predecessor, Mary Jane Simmons, for whom she had worked as a legislative aide.
4. Roger Lavoie
Of all the individuals profiled in the Sentinel & Enterprise in 2016, few were as fascinating as semi-retired escape artist and reformed criminal Roger Lavoie.
The Leominster native spent much of his life in and out of prison when he wasn’t performing highly publicized feats of escape, all of which served as the basis for his recent memoir “I Escaped to Tell You.”
Despite being able to pick locks while chained under water or dangling 60 feet above the ground (once going as far as to actually escape from a Gardner Police Department jail cell for charity) Lavoie never used his talents to escape from prison after being arrested.
5. Paul Boudreau
When the CEO of UrthPact was discussing his lifetime of work in Leominster’s plastics industry and his partnership with a San Francisco company to develop an environmentally friendly “K-Cup” he said, “I kind of thought, ‘Is that what it’s going to say on my tombstone?’ That I was the guy that created all of this plastic waste?'”
His Leominster company, Innovative Mold Solutions, had designed and manufactured an array of plastic products over the years, but it was beginning to weigh on his mind, so he founded UrthPact devoted to finding green solutions to plastics manufacturing.
What followed was the development of the environmentally friendly OneCup created using a plant-based polymer that is heat resistant and completely biodegradable.
Selling in stores across the country, Boudreau said over 1 billion had been sold and prevented 6.6 million pounds of plastic waste going into landfills.
6. Stephen Mullaney
Proving wrong the cliché that you “can’t fight city hall,” the Leominster engineer never waivered over four years to get paid nearly $80,000 by the city for his work on revising the city’s zoning regulations in 2012.
The twists and turns in his attempt to get the money he rightfully deserved included a bill adopted by the state Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Deval Patrick, and several petitions adopted by the City Council demanding comptroller John Richard cut him a check — but Richard wouldn’t until Mullaney filed a civil suit against him and the city.
Days before the case was scheduled to go to trial in August, the city settled and paid him $87,000, which included $10,000 in interest.
7. Justin Krook
He’s one of Lunenburg’s brightest entrepreneurs.
Krook is the president of Viz Reflectives North America, which sells construction garments that use a photoluminescent pigment he developed to increase the visibility of workers.
The garments keep construction workers lit up even when they are not in the light, and the glow lasts up to eight hours.
Krook studied business at Fitchburg State University and in 2006, after six years in the construction industry, he fell while working on a project and was impaled by a metal rod that went 9 inches into his back. He feared he was paralyzed.
“It was one of those life-changing experiences,” Krook said in June.
From there he wanted to do something he loved and began fooling around with chemistry and pigments in his garage. He was able to take time off and work on the product because of the money he had saved from winning $2 million from a scratch off ticket in 1999. He began the patenting process for the product in December 2012.
Krook has met with companies such as ExxonMobil, National Grid and others to pitch his product.
8. Loxi Jo Calmes
The Lunenburg Public School’s superintendent played a key role in the town opening a $72 million middle-high school on time and under budget.
Calmes, who has been working for the school district for 19 years, was the superintendent when the plans for the new building began nearly a decade ago, and when the doors opened this August, she was the one ushering the students through the halls.
She has also pushed for the town to see the building as more than just a school, but a community center for students and adults.
“We want it to be a place for the community,” she said in August. “We have built this beautiful school, but we also want to make sure the community gets as much use of it as possible.”
The school system has created an adult education program to enhance its community value.
9. Kelly Morgan
For those familiar with the theater scene in the Twin Cities, the Fitchburg State University communications media professor’s artistic talents are well-known.
Most recently, Morgan, whose been teaching at FSU for nearly 20 years, directed an all-student cast in the production of “12 Angry Jurors,” an adaptation of the Reginald Rose play and Academy Award nominated film, “12 Angry Men.”
But directing FSU and local theater productions is only a small part of his abilities and his achievements.
In 1992, he founded the legendary Mint Theater Company in New York City and the university’s AmeriCulture Arts Festival in 2001.
He earned a Kennedy Center Gold Medallion Award for Outstanding Service to the region, was recognized by the state Senate for service to the arts community, and established the bachelor of fine arts program for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.
10. Carol Hatch
Fourteen years ago, Hatch joined a bone-marrow registry and nearly forgot she had until she received a call two years ago that she was a match.
The Lunenburg resident did not hesitate to take the blood tests and quickly learned that she was not only a match, but she was the “perfect” match.
That perfect match has saved a man’s life and created a friendship between two people on opposite sides of the country.
Hatch has developed a friendship with Andy Michaels, the man suffering from non-Hodgkins lymphoma whom she donated 500 million stem cells to in 2014. She donated 20 billion T-cells to Michaels in May.
The two, who talk on the phone, Facebook and text messages, finally met this June at the Gift of Line Bone Marrow Foundation gala in New York City.
“Honestly, I felt like I was hanging out with my little brother,” Hatch said.
11. Harvey Price
The Price family is a staple in the Lunenburg community for the jugs of apple cider the family has been selling in town since 1936.
Harvey Price has been there since the beginning.
The 93-year-old former television repairman in town continues to make the apple cider for local residents with the same press his father, Ralph, bought in 1935.
“Honestly, when the fall comes around, I make sure I stop by there, drop some money in the bin and grab some cider,” said Jennifer Sanderson, the Lunenburg Historical Society curator. “That has been a fall tradition forever.”
Often when people stop by to buy the cider, which customers pay for on the honor system, Price will be around to share colorful stories from his near century of life or show off his collection of antique cars.
Sanderson described Price as a “splash of local color.”
12. Richard Lapidus
Almost a year and a half after taking the reins at Fitchburg State University, Lapidus was officially inaugurated as the institution’s 11th president in October.
While his vision for the school includes providing additional resources for student veterans and strengthening the institution’s academic options, perhaps the most talked about action of his administration so far is the purchase of the Fitchburg Theater Block.
The Theater Block on Main Street, has sat underutilized for nearly 30 years. The university announced the purchase of the block in November along with plans to start a business incubator, teach and, eventually, host performances in the over 40,000-square-foot building.
Lapidus may be a transplant from California, but in his speeches and interviews he has made clear his vision for FSU is about the school as well as the surrounding community.
13. Peter Capodagli
Where others saw rocks, Capodagli saw opportunity.
Capodagli may be the owner of Boulder Art Gallery, but it’s his work establishing a guided rock walk from Rollstone Boulder in Upper Common and up Rollstone Hill that got his name in the headlines this year.
“I had previously done a presentation on the Rollstone Boulder, and I began to think this could be developed into a walk to bring people into the city,” he said.
Capodagli has been working with Fitchburg Greenway Committee to establish a permanent, self-guided tour in addition to his walking tours.
14. Joe Firmani
Despite never having served in the military himself, Leominster native Joe Firmani’s efforts to honor and assist local veterans soared to new heights this year.
The current Fitchburg resident had already been known for the work he and his wife did alongside Leominster’s Gardener’s Spot to provide free Christmas trees to veterans active, service members, and their families.
In 2016 Firmani’s attention was greatly focused on his goal of bring the Wall that Heals, a moving replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washinton D.C., to Leominster in November.
15. Roderick MacDonald
The music director of the the Lancaster-based New England Symphony Orchestra was no stranger to holding the baton when he was appointed conductor of the orchestra, formerly known as the Thayer Symphony Orchestra, in 2014.
Holding a master’s degree in music from the New England Conservatory, he won a conducting competition in Leipzig, Germany, and served as both the music director of the Leipzig Philharmonic and Stelzen Music Festival in Germany.
With residences in Dresden, Germany, and Fredonia, New York, where he is an associate professor of trumpet at SUNY Fredonia, MacDonald commutes nearly 500 miles to lead the NESO and is committed to its future success.
“We are getting NESO off the ground and working to increase our audience that is of such an age that many can’t out to concerts as they once did. We need to appeal to the new generation.”
16. Theresa Malcolm
Quite possibly the best family reunion of 2015 was when Theresa Malcolm was reunited with her biological mother after over 50 years apart.
Malcolm had been adopted by a Leominster couple soon after she was born, but then moved to Canada where she has lived ever since.
Years of wondering came to an end Mother’s Day last year, when the two were finally reunited. Malcolm’s search had been aided by several Leominster residents who were able to help her track down some of her biological relatives.
Though her biological mother has since passed away, Malcolm remains close with her newfound family members.
17. Donata Martin
Her steady hand and vision as the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster is helping enrich the lives of our local children by allowing them the chance to experience the joy of learning and give them a fighting chance at a successful life.
From beekeeping to building robots to just simply helping with math homework, Martin and her staff are constantly pushing students’ boundaries, and this year, for the first time ever, the club was the home of the state Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, Leominster High School senior Laura Jenny.
18. A.J. Tourigny
When you see Mayor Stephen DiNatale at nearly every event in Fitchburg, chances are you have seen and met Tourigny, who is the mayor’s chief of staff.
Tourigny, who grew up in Fitchurg and graduated from Montachustt Regional Vocational Technical School, was selected as DiNatale’s in December 2015 before DiNatale took office the next month.
Tourigny graduated from Ohio State University with a B.A. in American Politics in 2014. He was recruited to the university as a pistol shooter. Tourigny was recruited to lead DiNatale’s staff because of his high energy and work ethic.
“He’s very energetic, and that’s what I need,” DiNatale said when choosing Tourigny. “I have every confidence that he’ll do a wonderful job.”
19. Bill McSheehy
McSheehy has put a lot of time and effort into organizing and bringing events to Fitchburg.
The longtime resident is the chairman of the Fitchburg Historical Society’s annual Holiday House Tour, an event that annually draws hundreds of people on a tour through the city. He helps raise money for Civic Days by participating in the toll both fundraisers set up on Main Street throughout the year. He is also a co-chair of the Fitchburg Holiday Decorating Committee.
In 2014, McSheehy and his wife, Maureen, were crowned king and queen of Fitchburg. McSheehy is among a dedicated group of people who do everything they can to make Fitchburg a better place to live.
20. Josh Sanderski
Without question the most controversial, candidate to run to represent the 4th Worcester District in 2016, Josh Sanderski led a campaign unlike anything recently seen in Leominster.
The United Independent Party candidate most notably attracted attention in the spring when, after failing to submit the required 150 signatures before the May 3 deadline, argued that he was intentionally being left off the Sept. 8 primary ballot because he was gay and an Independent, an action that led to United Independent Party Chairman Evan Falchuck to disavowing the state representative candidate.
Suggesting that Leominster City Clerk Lynn Bouchard had not followed through with a promised hearing about two disputed signatures on his primary ballot petitions, he requested she “resign immediately.” She didn’t.
Following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Sanderski publicly clashed with Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella over not flying a gay pride flag outside City Hall as a show of support.
Sanderski withdrew from the race July 21.