Hometown Heroes: Normandie Blake has been documenting Webster life for 38 years

  • Normandie Blake at the Webster Town Hall in March. Blake has produced a local paper for the community for more than three decades. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Normandie Blake at the Webster Town Hall on Friday, March 25, 2022. Blake has produced a local paper for the community for the past 35 years. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Normandie Blake at the Webster Town Hall on Friday, March 25, 2022. Blake has produced a local paper for the community for the past 35 years. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/24/2022 4:27:25 PM

Normandie Blake didn’t grow up in a small town, but for more than 50 years, she’s been an essential part of everything that makes life in Webster special.

Blake, better known by her nickname Dee, became the first woman to sit on the town’s select board, founded Webster’s first kindergarten and served as a member of the Merrimack Valley School Board for three decades. For nearly 40 years, she has informed the residents of Webster, Salisbury and Boscawen with monthly newspapers she edits and prints at home.

Blake started out her newspaper career as a Webster correspondent for the Concord Monitor, back when she was so shy that she brought a friend along to the newsroom to ask for a job. Her own operation is run from home, which was crucial when she was raising five kids and maintaining a household that included her mother-in-law.

Now, her boyfriend helps her hand-deliver The Webster Grapevine to residents’ homes. “He drives and I hang out the car, and we deliver,” Blake said. “I like people, so this is a perfect job for me.”

Blake moved to New Hampshire from Connecticut with her family in 1970 to escape the “rat race,” and was shocked to find there was no kindergarten available for her kids. With the help of a few other parents, Blake opened a kindergarten in Webster for eight students — 24 years before Merrimack Valley School District had its own.

Soon, kids from Webster entering first grade were outperforming kids from other Merrimack Valley schools on tests. They did so well that the district thought the test may have been administered wrong in Webster, Blake said. “When people say kindergarten is not valuable, I say ‘baloney.’ ”

Small town life suits Blake well. She loves her neighbors and the fact that people volunteer their time and energy to create events like Old Home Day. There’s also the communal caretaking that comes from everyone knowing everyone else. “When my kids were young, if somebody saw my kids doing something wrong, they would stop them, and vice versa,” Blake said.

She raised five kids and a foster son, meaning at one point she was responsible for feeding and washing clothes for four teenagers at once.

One reason she has remained in Webster for so long is that her own upbringing was more nomadic: as a child, she lived in 11 different homes. Her kids grew up on the same property, although some of that time was in a new house after the last one burned down.

The fire happened one May, when despite a bad cold, she rallied fellow members of the firefighters’ auxiliary to prepare juice and food for the crew responding to a different fire. As she bounced along in the pickup truck, a man she didn’t know turned to her and told her that her house was in flames.

Luckily, her kids were safe at a neighbor’s house across the street, but the fire department lost many of the records that were stored there for good.

Blake said it wasn’t easy being the first woman elected to the select board in 1994. “The two guys, they outvoted me,” she said. “It was frustrating. Sometimes men’s egos get in the way.” Since then, she has served on an all-woman board. She also sits on Webster’s current select board.

One of the biggest changes she has seen in Webster over the past 50 years is the amount of time that people have to contribute to town life. When she first moved there, many mothers stayed home to take care of children as she did. Now for many families, both parents must work to make ends meet.

However, the important things like food and community participation, don’t change. This spring, a resident prepared American chop suey while ballots were being counted during the March 8 election. After a relatively short town meeting on March 12, waffles served with blueberries were ready downstairs.

“You don’t get that in the big city,” Blake said.


Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.



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