Hemmingford’s got talent – Mary Ducharme
by Susan Fisch (October 2019)
I met Mary while volunteering at the Archives and thought of her as a real lady with a gentle grace from another era. She has been the cornerstone of the Archives, is a great storyteller, and the keeper of our history with genuine care and passion. But she is also an accomplished painter. Her paintings are filled with life, soul and beauty.
Mary was born in Plattsburgh in 1943, during wartime, the oldest of 10 children. At 9 years old, a flu epidemic hit Plattsburgh that weakened Mary and she developed asthma. So she turned to books and read an average of 7 books per week through her teen years, which got her into writing. She also developed a love for drawing and painting.
When she was in Grade 11, her family moved to Chazy, NY, where she met Richard, her husband. This August they celebrated 55 years of marriage.
Graduating from highschool, she was inspired to become an English teacher. She enrolled in the very first English teaching programme ever given at Plattsburgh State College and taught close to home. She also obtained her Master’s Degree while raising her two children and working full time at Northeastern Clinton Central School, and all her extra-curricular activities, like directing several major musicals.
After 16 years of teaching, they bought a 100-year-old house on 450 acres of land in Cape Breton, intending to raise sheep. But growing strawberries turned out to be an extremely successful business.
Mary also became editor of a county-wide monthly magazine and wrote for other papers. She wrote and collaborated on several books and belonged to numerous organizations dealing with arts and culture. She was recognized for her literary contributions by the Mayor of Dartmouth in the 1993 Book and Writing Award.
In 2001, they moved to Hemmingford. The children were grown and gone, and Mary’s parents were aging and ill. They couldn’t find an affordable property in the U.S, as the rate of exchange was too high. And due to Mary’s health, our health care system was a great advantage.
Around 2005, Mary shared with Andy Latour that she was bored and needed something to do. He introduced her to Betty McKenzie, who was aging, and the Archives was slowly dying. Mary was asked if she would look into ways to give the Archives a new beginning. She was named temporary Chair. Temporary became Permanent It was exciting, challenging, wonderful, and gave her life purpose and direction. She met so many really nice people. With a dedicated Board of Directors and the many volunteers, much work has been accomplished in creating an Archives that is functional and pride worthy.
The Archives began in the basement of Town Hall, in an inadequate, invisible space. Gregg Edwards, principal of Hemmingford Elementary, and Kim Wilson persuaded the school board to allow the Archives to take over their library room, a bright, spacious, and accessible room, with enough space for volunteers, visitors, and school projects with students.
Myrna Paquette came on board while at the school. With her total dedication and strong secretarial and organizational skills, she has been a pillar for the Archives. Over the years, Mary and Myrna have become very close in working together towards a common goal.
Donations poured in, and soon the space was again too small. Paul Viau suggested the quonset of St. Andrews Presbyterian. Sally Kyle and Darby Hill went to bat with Presbytery to donate the building to the Archives. Then the hard work began. Getting grants and funding. The community, as well as governments, including our two Municipalities, rallied with generous donations. With Leonard Priest’s skills, more than 240,000$ were gathered. Leonard went above and beyond the call of duty in helping with the administration and planning stages, and in supervising the renovations of the building. There have been so many volunteers to be thankful for. Like Sharon and Dan Mark, who have looked after the website and advertising over the years.
But just as the building was almost completed, Mary was diagnosed with cancer and heart disease. Then she had a fall that will affect her for the rest of her life. She had to withdraw from her beloved Archives. This made her sad. The Archives has been an overwhelming part of her life. The friendships she has developed over the years are truly cherished. She deeply appreciates all the notes and cards she has received through her illness. But there is a silver lining. She can now dedicate her time to her painting.
Dear Mary, you have given so much to this community. We wish you health and well-being, and peace in your new chapter.