A look back at those who passed away in 2020

  • CLOCKWISE from top left: Amber Boedeker holds a photo of her and her grandmother Jackie Perron; Sirkka Tuomi Holm, a proud voter; National Guard Spc. Pamela Anne Usanase; aisle-crossing former state senator Harold Janeway; Korean War veteran Irving Gross; Jake Deware, the 20-year-old Belmont man; (center) World War II Army Ranger Michael Lakowicz is greeted by fellow Ranger Aaron Chase. spearson

  • Caretakers from Forest View Nursing Home in Meredith take Irving Gross around in a wheelchair on Veterans Day last November at a local elementary school in Meredith. Gross served in the Korean War and lived in Pembroke. Courtesy

  • Amber Boedeker holds a photo of her and her grandmother at her Concord apartment on Monday, May 11, 2020 before heading out to the funeral home to meet with her father. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Cassidy Huckins (left), Carly Huckins (right) with Bill “Duke” Duquette. COURTESY

  • New Hampshire House Majority Leader Dick Hinch gestures as he addresses legislators in Concord, N.H., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Hinch died Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 just a week after he was sworn in as leader of the state’s newly Republican-led Legislature. He was 71. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa

  • Pamela Usanase —Courtesy

  • The memorial service for U.S Army Ranger Michael Lakowicz at the New Hampshire Veterans Cemetery for the former POW on Thursday, October 7, 2020. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Duane and Norma Keeler at Bear Island on Lake Winnipesaukee.

  • Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, second from left, describes the new civil rights unit being added to his office, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Concord, N.H. He is surrounded by Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Lahey, left, Gov. Chris Sununu, second from right, and Rogers Johnson, right, chairman of the new Governor's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. (AP Photo/Holly Ramer) Holly Ramer

  • Betsy Janeway who with her husband, Harold, has donated 477 acres, including their home, to the Concord-based Five Rivers Conservation Trust. “We’re getting on, and it’s time to start thinking of the future,” said Janeway. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Sirkka Tuomi Holm holds her absentee voter ballot at her nursing home in Peterborough. Courtesy

  • Janet Hillson of Penacook says goodbye to her friend Liz Blanchard at her burial service at Woodlawn Cemetery in Penacook on Monday, August 10, 2020. Janet and her husband Ted knew both Liz and her husband Al Blanchard since 1966. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Pamela Usanase

  • Irving Gross with his younger sister in a Korean War era photo. Courtesy

  • Editorial review board with City Councilor Liz Blanchard; Thursday, October 20, 2011. Alexander Cohn

Monitor columnist
Published: 12/30/2020 5:24:29 PM

The death of Pembroke’s Irving Gross last April from COVID-19 was a sign of things to come.

That became more apparent as 2020 moved forward. The pandemic spread through the summer and rages today, leaving nearly 750 dead, each with their own story that will be told again and again.

Gross was an Air Force veteran who survived being shot down during the Korean War. Here, though, he had no defense against the pandemic, dying at the age of 87.

His death came early on, months before 35 more veterans died at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton from COVID, which turned into a national story and served as a microcosm for the dangers senior care facilities faced everywhere.

The virus killed and left family members with broken spirits. They were not allowed to visit loved ones who were near death. They had to die alone.

“No one could have seen what was waiting on the horizon,” Irving’s son, Matthew Gross of Concord said last spring. “You could not have dreamed that one day there would be a worldwide pandemic. Having a loved one pass is difficult enough, but it’s worse when you have to say goodbye on an iPad.”

That’s what happened to Amber Boedeker of Concord. Just one month after Gross died, her grandmother, Jackie Perron, was dying from cancer in an assisted living facility in Concord. The place was quarantined. No visitors.

Boedeker sat in the parking lot during those final few days, eating Milky Ways and Cheerios, two of Perron’s favorite goodies.

“I don’t know how much Grammy knew or how lonely she felt,” Boedeker said back in May. “Maybe she needed someone’s hand to squeeze. There should always be someone by their side when they are dying.”

Familiar faces in the Concord area disappeared, like the man everyone called Duke.  

His real name was Bill Duquette, and no one loved cheering for Merrimack Valley High School basketball and baseball teams more than him. Duke was one of the many residents at the New Hampshire Veterans Home who died from COVID in early December.

He was 83, old enough to have made a major impact on his local sports community. Coaches and former students insisted that Duke rarely – if ever – missed a varsity hoops or baseball game over a 50-year span.

“In small communities, you have a guy who has always been around the sports scene and everyone knew him,” said Merrimack Valley Athletic Director Kevin O’Brien, who coached boys’ basketball at MV for 17 seasons.

“He was always with us, every game. I do not think he missed one game or practice during that entire time I was coaching, until he went to the Veterans Home.”

Around the same time, as if to add an exclamation point to its destructive ways, COVID-19 took the life newly-elected Speaker of the House Richard Hinch, just one week after he’d been sworn in. He was 71.

“We were so looking forward to serving together because we had so many plans,” said fellow Republican Chuck Morse, who was sworn in as Speaker of the Senate the same day as Hinch. “Going forward without Dick will be very difficult.”

Gone, suddenly

Amid COVID’s staggering death toll, lives were lost to tragic accidents – young people, in the primes of their lives.

The Concord area was reminded of the Merrimack River’s strong and deceptive currents after three people drowned in two separate incidents.

In May, National Guard Spc. Pamela Anne Usanase of Concord and a 27-year-old man trying to rescue her both drowned near Pebble Beach in Canterbury. She was 21.

And in August, near the Boscawen/Canterbury line, a 15-year-old junior at Merrimack Valley High School named Zach Lacy drowned in the Merrimack.

“They are such a kind, close-knit family,” family friend Patrick Malfait said in August, “and we’re going to do whatever we can to help and maybe get some meals together for them in the next week or so.”

Just last month a freak accident took the life of Jake Deware, a 20-year-old Belmont man who was considered a dirt-bike expert.

Deware died at the scene, an open, hilly area of Canterbury, after colliding with his 21-year-old cousin after their dirt bikes collided during a family gathering in November.

“He was an unbelievably good soul,” said Jake’s mother, Jenn Deware. “I want people to know he had a huge heart.”

Ryan Frew, a giant within the state’s hockey community, also died too soon, succumbing to a sudden illness in October at 40 years old.

Frew, a husband for 13 years and father of three, starred at Concord High School under longtime coach Dunc Walsh. Later, he led the prestigious New Hampshire Monarchs to the USA Hockey Junior National Championship.

His obituary praised his life off-the-ice, mentioning his Cold Ice, Warm Feet program, which collected more than 2,500 pairs of socks for the homeless.

A life, a legacy

Many of those lost in 2020 lived long, full lives, but that doesn’t mean they will be missed any less.

Duane Keeler, who built a real estate empire in the area and raised eight sons, died in October at the age of 94.

By then, though, his impact had long been established, with signs everywhere promoting his ever-growing business.

“There’s always going to be a mix of sadness,” said Duane’s son Jeff Keeler, who sold the business last year and remains there as a salesman. “The sadness is there, the sense of lost opportunity as far as spending time with him. But also, there’s a lot of people in the world who have not been given the chance to live the life he did and then the peace he had moving on.”

We lost Liz Blanchard, the former state representative and Concord city councilor, who died Aug. 4 at the age of 81, living out her last few weeks at her family homestead in Boscawen.

She was known for her passion for planning and reaching goals, earning the nickname, Dizzy Lizzy.

The racing community, both locally and internationally, said goodbye to Bob Bahre, who owned the speedway in Loudon and died in July at the age of 93.

After bringing a high level of racing to Maine at Oxford Plains Speedway, Bahre remodeled the Loudon track in the late 1980s, naming it New Hampshire International Speedway and introducing the top tier of NASCAR racing to New England for the first time.

“I am very sorry to hear this sad news about Bob,” former local NASCAR driver Ricky Craven tweeted shortly after Bahre’s death. “He loved racing and race fans, and when he built the New Hampshire race track he wanted it to be the best.”

Former State Senator Harold Janeway of Webster passed away from cancer in August at the age of 84.

Janeway had a strong supply of olive branches to offer, trying to blend ideas from both sides of the aisle, create a more perfect union, if you will.

He left us as a fiscal conservative with liberal social views. And no one loved the preservation of the state’s natural beauty more than Janeway.

The state lost other notable pillars, including Sirkka Tuomi Holm of Peterborough. She and the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, were born 100 years ago last August, three days apart.

Holm embraced women's suffrage passionately before she died in October, one week before the presidential election, and 76 years after she voted for the first time, choosing FDR in 1944.

Rogers Johnson, a civil rights leader in the state, died in November. He was 62.

Johnson, who lived near the Seacoast, was admired by Black people for raising awareness about racism in the country's police departments, while always careful to praise the police and caution citizens not to prejudge them.

Two years ago, at an assisted living facility in Penacook, former World War II Army Ranger Michael Lakowicz was losing his hearing and had trouble recognizing faces, even those belonging to family members.

One day, Aaron Chase of Concord, a family friend’s son and complete stranger to Lakowicz, wore his Ranger uniform to the assisted living facility and sought advice from the old wardog. He had questions about the Rangers.

Chase hoped for a handshake from the old man, then 94, maybe a nugget of encouragement. But, realistically, he went just to pay tribute to the former Ranger who rarely stood or spoke.

This time, though, that old man rose to his feet upon spotting the fresh-faced recruit, just 23 years old.

“There is an officer!” Lakowicz said without skipping a beat.

Then he rose, shook Chase’s hand and saluted him.

Michael died in September. He was 96. He was buried in the State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen in October. The funeral included an Honor Guard, an ear-splitting gun salute, taps and rain.

Chase, commanding 90 soldiers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, couldn’t make it home for the service. He sent a memo to Carl Lakowicz, Michael’s son.

“I am truly inspired that I could meet with a man with such an inspiring history and who has experienced true excellence in our profession.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.


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