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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Governor honors state’s role models

  • As her sweat shirt says, Helene Lorden from Concord (left) is a "Soccer Mom". She shares a well deserved laugh with Joan Jesus, as they encourage each other at the "Grandparents Club", a family support group that aids grandparents in the issues of raising children. Every Tuesday night, Joan Jesus attends these meetings, and takes her family along, so that they can also meet other children in similar situations, and to receive counseling.

    As her sweat shirt says, Helene Lorden from Concord (left) is a "Soccer Mom". She shares a well deserved laugh with Joan Jesus, as they encourage each other at the "Grandparents Club", a family support group that aids grandparents in the issues of raising children. Every Tuesday night, Joan Jesus attends these meetings, and takes her family along, so that they can also meet other children in similar situations, and to receive counseling.

  • Christine Letendre sits with her daughter Brynlee Morein, 2, at their home in Pembroke on Monday, December 3, 2012. Brynlee has an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, an aggressive cancer that affects young children. She is undergoing another round of chemotherapy. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Christine Letendre sits with her daughter Brynlee Morein, 2, at their home in Pembroke on Monday, December 3, 2012. Brynlee has an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, an aggressive cancer that affects young children. She is undergoing another round of chemotherapy.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Helene Lorden looks at her award while surrounded by her grandchildren after the Unsung Heroes ceremony at the State House. Lorden was one of 28 parents recognized by the New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office. She is the legal guardian and parent to her five grandchildren after it was necessary for their well-being.  Along with Lorden, the parents were nominated by others in the community for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Helene Lorden looks at her award while surrounded by her grandchildren after the Unsung Heroes ceremony at the State House. Lorden was one of 28 parents recognized by the New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office. She is the legal guardian and parent to her five grandchildren after it was necessary for their well-being. Along with Lorden, the parents were nominated by others in the community for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Christine Letendre, black dress, poses for a photo with Governor Hassan while her daughter Brynlee claps from the floor. <br/><br/>The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Christine Letendre, black dress, poses for a photo with Governor Hassan while her daughter Brynlee claps from the floor.

    The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Matthew Fox, center, sits with his five children. The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Matthew Fox, center, sits with his five children. The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Helene Lorden gets a hug from her friend Hellen Kenney while surrounded by her grandchildren after the Unsung Heroes ceremony at the State House. Lorden was one of 28 parents recognized by the New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office. She got custody of her five grandchildren and has been raising them. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Helene Lorden gets a hug from her friend Hellen Kenney while surrounded by her grandchildren after the Unsung Heroes ceremony at the State House. Lorden was one of 28 parents recognized by the New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office. She got custody of her five grandchildren and has been raising them. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Lucy Murayda and her daughter Josey. Lucy's efforts to make opportunities for Josey, who is blind, are part of what got her nominated. <br/><br/>The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Lucy Murayda and her daughter Josey. Lucy's efforts to make opportunities for Josey, who is blind, are part of what got her nominated.

    The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • As her sweat shirt says, Helene Lorden from Concord (left) is a "Soccer Mom". She shares a well deserved laugh with Joan Jesus, as they encourage each other at the "Grandparents Club", a family support group that aids grandparents in the issues of raising children. Every Tuesday night, Joan Jesus attends these meetings, and takes her family along, so that they can also meet other children in similar situations, and to receive counseling.
  • Christine Letendre sits with her daughter Brynlee Morein, 2, at their home in Pembroke on Monday, December 3, 2012. Brynlee has an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, an aggressive cancer that affects young children. She is undergoing another round of chemotherapy. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Helene Lorden looks at her award while surrounded by her grandchildren after the Unsung Heroes ceremony at the State House. Lorden was one of 28 parents recognized by the New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office. She is the legal guardian and parent to her five grandchildren after it was necessary for their well-being.  Along with Lorden, the parents were nominated by others in the community for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Christine Letendre, black dress, poses for a photo with Governor Hassan while her daughter Brynlee claps from the floor. <br/><br/>The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Matthew Fox, center, sits with his five children. The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Helene Lorden gets a hug from her friend Hellen Kenney while surrounded by her grandchildren after the Unsung Heroes ceremony at the State House. Lorden was one of 28 parents recognized by the New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office. She got custody of her five grandchildren and has been raising them. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Lucy Murayda and her daughter Josey. Lucy's efforts to make opportunities for Josey, who is blind, are part of what got her nominated. <br/><br/>The New Hampshire Children's Trust in partnership with the Governor's office recognized 28 parents at the State House on Tuesday afternoon as Unsung Heroes. The parents were nominated for the award based on admirable qualities as a parent and role model. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

No one saw this coming.

Not Matthew Fox, not Christine Letendre, not Lucy Murayda, and not the other 25 people honored yesterday by the New Hampshire Children’s Trust, an agency that fights child abuse and neglect.

Unsung Hero Award? Presented by the governor? At the State House?

We’re just regular people, they all thought, working and struggling and loving and crying.

Fox certainly knew nothing. He’s been raising his five kids the best way he knows how, after their mom’s death from cancer last year.

Letendre? She’s been providing as much love as she can for her 2-year-old daughter, Brynlee, who’s suffering from a cancer rarer than an exploding meteor over Russia.

Meanwhile, Murayda has raised her blind 12-year-old daughter, a full-time job with plenty of overtime.

They’ve given and given and given some more, never dreaming anyone was watching.

Someone, though, was.

Presented for the sixth time by the New Hampshire Children’s Trust, the winners’ circle is wide open, to parents and grandparents, aunt and uncles, foster parents and adoptive parents. Friends and family submitted their nominations, telling why their candidate should win.

The winners and their supporters jammed the Executive Council chamber, spilling out into the office area. They heard praise from Gov. Maggie Hassan and they received their plaques for jobs well done.

Jobs that so often fly under the radar.

“I got a text from my sister asking if I received a letter in the mail, and I didn’t know what she was talking about,” said Fox, who owns the Old House Smoke House in Canterbury. “I hadn’t heard anything about it and she sent me a link to the website, and I clicked on it and saw my name on the list.”

His wife’s name was Sarah, a full-time firefighter in Portsmouth. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the same day she delivered her twins, on her birthday, in 2007. For the next four years, Sarah fought hard, rebounding enough to return to work, then falling back after the cancer had spread.

The Portsmouth firefighters, big guys, her brothers, took time off and went to the Fox home, fluffing and folding laundry, bouncing the twins on their knees, working at the smoke house, giving Matthew a break.

Sarah died Dec. 9, 2011.

“I really struggled,” Fox says. “I did function, and I look back now and I can’t believe how depressed I was or how I functioned, how I felt lost.”

Don’t ask Fox to explain it, to make

sense of how or why the human spirit refortifies itself, but he’s back. He takes one of his daughters to horseback lessons. He enjoyed the holidays with family. He ran the Mount Washington Road Race. He took his kids hiking last fall, enjoying the foliage, like he’d always done with Sarah.

“I’m so much better off,” Fox says. “Not to say I don’t get sad, but I look forward to raising my kids. I feel fortunate that I’m able to do so.”

‘Above and beyond’

Letendre, a 25-year-old single mother, tells a similar story as Fox, including the part about being caught off guard. “I was forwarded an email from a former schoolmate who I haven’t seen in years,” said Letendre, who graduated from Pembroke Academy. “She had written the director explaining what had happened to Brynlee and that I’ve been caring for her the whole year and I deserved this award. I feel really honored.”

Brynlee was born with a rare form of brain cancer, one that takes all but 10 percent of children before the age of 2. But, after surgery, and with the last of 16 chemotherapy sessions scheduled for the end of next month, try telling that to the little girl who rarely stopped moving while her mom was honored by the governor.

The one with the black rose attached to the black headband, the one with the pearl necklace and the ruffled dress.

The one with plenty of life.

“She’s excelled above and beyond my expectations after everything she’s been through,” Letendre said. “She surprises the doctors and nurses every day.”

Mother’s protection

Meanwhile, Murayda’s daughter, Josey, lost her sight within days of her birth from something called optic nerve hypoplasia.

She needs a cane to walk and shots of synthetic growth hormones daily.

“Instincts come in, and you just have to protect,” said Murayda, her British accent still strong after living in the United States for 30 years. “With the blindness, I feel like I’ll be protecting her as long as I live.

She’s done a nice job, always in contact with administrators and faculty at Rundlett Middle School, teaching them how to teach Josey.

Josey is a great student, and she sings, too. She sang the National Anthem at President Obama’s recent appearances, both in Concord and in Nashua. She sings at Manchester Monarchs games, and she sings at New Hampshire Fisher Cats games.

Murayda pulls out her phone and scrolls across the screen to show photos of Josey hugging the president and posing with former governor John Lynch.

“I kind of sit and reflect and look at all the things she’s done,” Murayda says.

Adds Josey, “She loves me so much. She makes sure school is going well and she feeds me healthy food.”

Overwhelmed and surprised

There were other stories, of course, lots of them. Kellie Denoncourt of Concord volunteers for the homeless resource center. She runs a support group for mothers of children with emotional and behavioral problems. She’s provided a home for at-risk children, once caring for a troubled teen for 14 months. She’s back in college, a 40-year-old student seeking her degree in psychology and family studies.

Oh, and by the way, she has five kids of her own, ages 7 to 21. They were all there yesterday.

“I’ve been overwhelmed all day,” Denoncourt said.

Overwhelmed and surprised.

As these people see it, they were merely doing their job.

“I’m honored to be receiving this, but I don’t find myself doing anything out of the ordinary,” Fox said. “I don’t see any way other than to do the best I can with what I’ve been dealt.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter
@rayduckler
.)

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