What a year it was.

It certainly was not an expected way for 2020 to go and as the year began, it seemed all communities were ensconced in typical town and school budget work, public hearings, and planning for how to spend money and how voters might choose to help appropriate those funds.

But only a short time in, 2020 took a big turn, with the coronavirus taking hold in area towns, bringing changes to our way of life.

Schools closed abruptly, masks and social distancing were encouraged and people found new ways to support each other and honor special times.

Graduations were held with drive-in efforts and masks. Diplomas were awarded at a distance while families and friends also gathered safely to watch ceremonies.

Communities also worked for months on how to keep their residents safe while taking on the typical business of running a town.

And in November, communities celebrated big numbers at the polls for the General Election to choose a new President of the United States. Voters came to polling places that were all set up for optimal safety.

Here is a look back at some top stories in our towns and how the year 2020 played out.

Presidential primaries

The year started with presidential hopefuls still making a run to visit as many Granite State communities as possible before the first-in-the-nation primary in February. Candidates filled local breweries, event centers and small spaces to shake hands and give their take on what should be done if elected as President of the United States.

Schools shutter

Pinkerton Academy announced an early coronavirus cases in mid-March; schools then soon shuttered their doors in the weeks to follow due to the spreading virus numbers.

The swift switch to remote learning for students in pre-school up through high school put district administrators and staff in a quick move to make sure students were learning at home during the ongoing challenging times.

After months of hard work and planning, school districts came up with plans to reopen for the new year in the fall, putting safety guidelines in place, hosting task force groups made up of physicians, staff, administrators and other experts, all hoping students would be able to come back to the physical buildings.

During the fall, coronavirus numbers forced schools to re-think their planning, and make adjustments on when or if to return to a fully remote learning model or a hybrid, part-time in-person/remote learning plan. By year's end, many districts had chosen to finish out the year and even head into the new year with a full remote learning model.

DERRY

Holy Cross closes

A local Catholic parish in Derry officially closed its doors in April due to an expired occupancy permit and concerns over the building’s failing fire sprinkler system.

“As good citizens who value the lives and safety of our people, the sacrifices of our firefighters and all our public servants, we must close this building until all the necessary issues are resolved,” said the Most Rev. Peter A. Libasci, Bishop of Manchester, in a statement announcing the closing.

Holy Cross had a strong, long history.

Catholics hoping to start a new parish in the East Derry area originally celebrated Mass and other church events through an agreement with East Derry Memorial Elementary School, with families attending Mass and other ceremonies at the school for many years prior to the church officially being built in the late 1990s.

More than 200 families attended the new church building once it opened, and then dedicated in 2000. Father Roger Croteau served the church since then and officially announced his retirement this year.

Tupelo reinvents itself

A popular live music venue in Derry found a unique way to offer continuing live shows for audiences, all done safely and at a distance.

The Tupelo Music Hall changed its model to a drive-in style operation, offering music lovers an opportunity to purchase tickets and drive to the venue on A Street, park within a safe distance of others and enjoy a night of live, outdoor music.

When the Tupelo had to close its doors this past March due to COVID-19, owner Scott Hayward spoke out online about the challenges and heartache he had to deal with, canceling shows, and wondering if any of those shows would be rescheduled.

Many artists planned for the Tupelo stage had canceled their complete tours.

Once the drive-in effort stopped, live indoor performances were still put on hold to keep patrons and musicians safe.

“We need music and movies but we also need to be smart and safe,” Tupelo owner Scott Hayward said in an email statement."

 

Exit 4A stalls

A project with a decades-old history in the area may need some more time to get started.

This past summer, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (NHDOT) announced that its Exit 4A project would be delayed due to high costs presented during the bidding process.

The state had opened price proposals for the Design-Build project to construct Exit 4A on Interstate 93 between Derry and Londonderry.

Unfortunately, according to a statement from NHDOT, the lowest of the three price proposals exceeded the department's cost estimate and the project construction budget by more than $30 million.

The Exit 4A plan has a long history, dating back decades and was often a controversial topic among those either for or against the project.

The planned route involves a new diamond interchange on I-93 in Londonderry, approximately one mile north of Exit 4.

Former Derry man dies in state facility

Roderick Munstis, 81, formerly of Derry, died near year's end at Glencliff Home for the Elderly, three months after he was admitted to the state facility following a superior court decision to drop murder charges against him because he was deemed unfit to stand trial.

Allegations that he fatally shot his wife, 74-year-old Ellen Munstis in August of 2019, were dropped with the condition that he live at the state elder care facility for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, court documents stated.

Munstis was held without bail at the Rockingham County House of Corrections for a year prior, records show. He was facing alternative counts of knowing and reckless second-degree murder.

Investigators said he called 911 for help at 12:03 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2019, and admitted to shooting and killing his wife.

Only this summer — after months of awaiting an open bed at the mental health facility — was Munstis admitted to Glencliff Home for the Elderly, according to court documents.

First shots of hope

As 2020 neared its end, some signs of hope were offered at a local hospital. Parkland Medical Center frontline medical staff were among the first in the state to receive the new coronavirus vaccine. The first shots were administered on Dec. 16 at the Derry facility.

The hospital began to administer its first doses to frontline caregivers who are most at risk of COVID-19 during their day-to-day care of patients.

Dr. Marc Grossman, Parkland's Medical Director of Emergency Medical Services, along with Dr. Alaa Azoukka, Parkland hospitalist, were among the first to receive the shot.

"This is a huge step for us as a hospital and as human beings and I, along with fellow frontline caregivers are proud to be among the first in the nation to receive the COVID-19 vaccine," Grossman said.

Grossman continued saying the virus is real and staff at Parkland sees the effects every day.

"I have chosen to get the vaccine because it makes it safer for me to care for patients," Grossman said. "We must all do everything we can to stop the spread of this virus and can only put an end to this pandemic if we all work together. This includes members of our community who must fend off virus fatigue and wear masks, socially distance, and wash hands."

LONDONDERRY

Hair's to helping others

Londonderry High started off the year with its annual celebration for those battling cancer. The school's "Day of Giving" drew many stepping up to have hair cut off to help create wigs for cancer patients while also giving big shout outs to other community efforts students supported throughout the past year.

The 2020 event, also called "Lancer Lengths," was the school's 14th annual. Longtime event coordinator and high school English teacher Steve Juster said every year he is humbled by the student and community support for this cause.

In 2020, 70 students pledged to cut their hair to donate, with Juster calling those who give his "angels."

Londonderry High alumnus Noelle Lambert was on hand to give the official countdown for the hair cutting to simultaneously start. Lambert, now a celebrated para-athlete, also told her own personal story of overcoming hardship and pain, after losing her leg following a moped accident in 2016.

Trump rallies near airport

Two times in 2020 brought out the President of the United States to rally in New Hampshire prior to the presidential elections in November. Both of the Trump rallies were held at ProStar Aviation near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.

Having the President come to the area twice within months of each other drew big rally crowds, many not wearing masks, although New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu put rules in place calling for masks on crowds bigger than 100 people.

Trump's visits were part of a final push for Granite State voters to come out to give him the top vote tally against Democratic challenger Joe Biden in the November General Election.

BLM rallies at Mack's

A collective gathering of many wearing masks, holding signs and offering cheers for a cause filled the parking lot at Mack's this past summer, part of a Black Lives Matter rally organized at the local farm stand.

The rally followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, bringing out people to peacefully protest against incidents of police brutality.

Londonderry police Chief William Hart kicked off the rally, offering his own views and sentiments about police departments, what is wrong, what is right following Floyd's tragic death.

"We as police have a greater responsibility," Hart said, "for respect and decency."

Hart, supporting a role in making social injustices right, said he stands with those who feel oppressed and said he hopes for a better community and nation.

"I stand for hope," he said, adding he hopes for kindness to one another, a promise to "bend our arc" toward justice and compassion.

The Londonderry rally joined several others held in past weeks in area communities, calling for racial justice and equality, with people coming out from all areas to take part in the event, show their support and hold up signs of protest and community.

A new look at old traditions

Londonderry's centuries-old celebration every August had a new, safer look this year.

The annual Old Home Day celebration, a five-day event held every year, was scaled down this year due to the coronavirus. That included not holding the popular parade, or other crowd-gathering events to make sure people stayed safe and distanced apart.

A long list of annual events was pared down to two events: the annual road race and fireworks.

Earlier in 2020, a new committee was put in place to organize the celebration, held in Londonderry for more than 100 years. Popular events like the parade, Senior Night, Kidz Night, and booths on the Common were deemed too risky to be held due to virus concerns this year.

Argie trial pushed out

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continued to push New Hampshire court hearings further into 2021, including the trial of accused Londonderry murderer William Argie.

Argie was arrested last year after his wife was found strangled to death in their Londonderry home. His trial was slated for January 2021, but he will instead face a jury sometime in June.

Argie is charged with purposeful first-degree murder, an alternative count of reckless second-degree murder, and falsifying evidence.

WINDHAM

Zachary's Chop House gets new life

It was a dream come true this past summer as a longstanding Windham icon got a new name and new future. 

The Lobster Tail on Cobbetts Pond Road and its owner Zachary Woodard unveiled a new name in August, now called Zachary’s Chop House. Surrounded by community supporters, including friend and rock band Godsmack frontman Salvatore “Sully” Erna, Woodard said his new restaurant is an updated chapter in his life as a chef and business owner as he hopes to bring a new tradition to Windham.

Woodard has been in the restaurant industry for 20 years. In addition to working as a cook/kitchen manager for Weathervane Seafood, Woodard was a commercial fisherman just prior to starting work at Lobster Tail 17 years ago and eventually buying the business in 2016.

The last few years were a struggle, Woodward said, even before COVID-19 set in.

“We weren’t allowed to do anything, we had to lay off everybody off, we hired a few back but things were still a struggle,” Woodard said.

For Erna, the Lobster Tail was a frequent destination. He was not only a customer, but became a friend to Woodard.

 

Blackout Cancer takes colorful turn

In a typical year, Nathan Road neighbors in Windham would gather at one of the Blackout Cancer games in town together. This year they spent time together, but in a different, safer way.

The neighbors, along with other residents in town, were spaced apart in their driveways or on a nearby sidewalk drawing chalk murals. The “Chalk the Walk” murals represent the unity and togetherness of the Windham community for the annual Blackout Cancer events.

Project Blackout is a Windham-based nonprofit created in honor of Cole Stoddard, a 5-year-old who died of cancer. The organization’s goals are to generate awareness about the disease, raise funds in support of research efforts, and care for the children and families currently battling pediatric cancer in town.

“I think the most important thing is that we still come together and unite this year,” organizer Joan Potter said. “It brings the community together for a really important cause, and brings the community together in a special way. And next year we will come together in even bigger force to raise money.”

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