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Teacher couple named Citizens of the Year

Couple Jack and Jule Finley wear many hats in Franklin. Between the two, they teach at Franklin High School, run local theater organizations and help Franklin’s fire department preserve its history.

“In both of them there is a ‘never quit’ kind of personality, where if they get an idea that they think is a good idea they pursue it to its fruition,” said state Rep. Leigh Webb, a Franklin resident.

Last night they added to their list of community titles when both were named Citizen of the Year by Franklin Mayor Ken Merrifield. He gave them the award at the city council’s inaugural meeting of 2013, where he also gave a State of the City address and the council discussed regular business.

“It is a slight bit of a departure to choose two people as Citizen of the Year, but there has certainly been precedent set in the past, and I think you’ll agree that this married couple are a team very deserving of the honor,” Merrifield said before announcing the award.

Neither had any idea they would receive the award – both came to support friend Peter Heath, who was being sworn in as a school board member. Jule wiped away tears as she addressed the crowd after Merrifield handed them each a plaque.

“Everything that matters to us is in this city right now, and the more that we can continue to do I think the happier we’ll both be,” she said.

Jule began teaching in Franklin in 1995, and Jack in 1999; both teach English and she also teaches drama. The couple met in Franklin and married eight years ago. In addition to teaching, Jule founded theater organizations Franklin Footlight Theater, Franklin High School Players and a children’s theater group. Jack is president of the teacher’s union, volunteers as a firefighter and serves as president of the Franklin Firefighter’s Relief Association.

“Everything you get involved in, their name is always attached to it somehow,” said Fire Chief Kevin LaChapelle.

As teachers, both Finleys have a unique way of inspiring their students, said John Masse, a 2010 graduate of Franklin High School. He had Jack as an English teacher sophomore year and Jule senior year. The two have very different yet effective teaching styles, he said.

Jack “connects with the students on a one-to-one basis, even if it’s a class of like 30 people it’s still like you’re the only one there with him; it’s a special kind of attention to detail,” Masse said.

“And with Jule, it’s very fun. You get a lot done but you don’t really realize how much you’ve gotten done because of the way it’s gotten done,” he added.

Without the two, Franklin would not have a thriving arts scene, Webb said. Both in the classroom and the theater, the Finleys are major proponents of the arts, he said.

“We give short shrift to the arts in many cases,” he said. “Jule and Jack certainly get it that the arts are part of the complete package that we should be giving our children.”

Heath, the incoming school board member, was the one who first suggested the Finleys to Merrifield as candidates for the award. His son has both as teachers, and he’s also gotten to know them through local theater. Jack teaches his students about the history of Franklin, which is valuable today, and Jule’s passion for working with community theater is infectious, Heath said.

Although the two aren’t Franklin natives, “their heart is in the city of Franklin,” he said.

City councilors, community members and students who came to the meeting lined up to hug and congratulate the two after the announcement.

“I had absolutely no idea, and honestly to share it with (Jack) is amazing,” Jule said.

Merrifield said the Finleys dedication to the community fit in with the theme of his State of the City address: Progress and sacrifice. In his brief speech, he highlighted the progress the city has made in the past year and the sacrifices people have given, today and throughout Franklin’s history, to make that progress possible.

On progress, Merrifield cited the former Bessie Rowell Elementary School becoming a community center, the building of a water treatment facility and the high school football team’s state championship win. He also praised City Manager Elizabeth Dragon for her hard work.

On the topic of sacrifice, Merrifield highlighted war heroes from Franklin who fought in World War II and the Vietnam War, including Marine Lance Cpl. Jedh Colby Barker, the only New Hampshire recipient of the Medal of Honor during Vietnam. He told the audience that no matter how difficult budget negotiations or school-city relations may get, everyone must remember Barker and others made far greater sacrifices.

The council also held a regular meeting following the inaugural activities. At the meeting, the councilors discussed potentially changing ward lines and voting locations so that voting would not happen at the middle school anymore. School board member Al Warner stood up, not on behalf of the school board, and said that after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., the city might not want large number of people to have access to the school. The council debated the issue but requested Warner ask the school board to discuss the matter as well before making decisions.

Dragon, city manager, also said she plans on using $1,000 of city funds to hire a lobbyist to represent Franklin’s interests in State House discussions on the Northern Pass Project.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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