BERLIN - Four hundred celebrants enjoyed the 100th annual banquet of the Androscoggin Valley Fish and Game Association, Inc. on Friday evening, April 26, at St. Anne's Hall. Most were associate members of the association, but distinguished banquet guests included District 1 Executive Councilor Mike Cryans, Mayor Paul Grenier, Rep. Larry Laflamme of the N.H. House Fish & Game Committee, and N.H. Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen jump-started the evening earlier than the announced 6 p.m. start by stopping by to offer her congratulations to all 26 "red shirt" members of the board of directors as well as the scores of associate members. Speaking briefly at the microphone on stage, Shaheen said that this 100th annual gathering represented an historic milestone in the association's distinguished record of conserving the area’s natural beauty, abundant fish, wildlife and other natural resources plus its ongoing commitment to ensuring that the youngest generation enjoys and appreciates the great outdoors.
She recognized the association’s work, including that of president Robert "Bobby" Rodrigue and the entire board, which resulted in the nonprofit’s recently winning the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Boom Pier Award.
Sheheen also commended the work of Nancy Bell of Vermont, now heading into retirement from her work for The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit conservation organization. Bell, she pointed out, had worked for three years on this remarkable project to give away a 20.6-acre parcel of land in Milan on which both the Association and the Berlin Police Department maintain shooting ranges - one for firearm sports and the other for law enforcement — to the City of Berlin.
Shaheen also praised the spirit of cooperation in the valley. In contrast to Congress, she said, this is a place where everybody pulls together. Rodrigue presented Shaheen with two commemorative coins.
The Rev. Kyle Stanton of Good Shepherd & Holy Family Parishes in Berlin and Gorham offered the invocation, thanking God for the region’s natural resources and its bounty. He also suggested that all on hand remember those people who had taught them the skills that allow them to enjoy the out-of-doors. Stanton has been in the valley for eight years, and his assistant, the Rev. Michael Sartori, three years.
Sen. Maggie Hassan’s North Country aide, A.V.F.G.A. member Ben Belanger, who maintains an office at Berlin City Hall, read a letter on her behalf, praising the association’s protection of its rich traditions, the region’s natural beauty, and members’ interest in the conservation of the great outdoors.
Grenier thanked the Fish and Game Conservation Officers on hand — Col. Kevin Jordan, Lt. Mark Ober, Sgt. Glen Lucas, Matt Holmes, Chris Egan, Eric Fluette — and department biologists — Andrew Schafemeyer, Dianne Timmins, Will Staats, and Jillian Kelly Kilborn — for the work they do. "I have a sense of pride in the professionalism I see on the TV show 'North Woods Law,'"he said.
The mayor read a commendation from Gov. Chris Sununu, who noted the many volunteer activities in which the association is involved, such as the fishing derby, firearm safety training, paying the cost of two tuitions to Barry Camp each year, and providing two $500 book money scholarships for two local high school graduates heading to college.
Coos County Fish and Game Commissioner Eric Stoh of Columbia, a former state representative, was also on hand, as were retired C.O. Wayne Saunders, City Manager James Wheeler and Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency.
Sixteen living past presidents of the association were on hand for the festive occasion: Donald Huot, Roger Pelletier, Marcel Belanger, Mike Riendeau, Marc Bizier, Rene Gagnon, Bill Maddalena, Richard Coulombe, Dick Desilets, Peter Marquis, Eddy L’Heureux, Dave Canter, Bob Rodrigue, master of ceremonies Roland Turgeon, Paul Lafleur and Robert Pelchat.
Four additional officers were also present: vice president Mitch Dumont, treasurer Paul Lafleur, secretary Kelly Irwin and quartermaster Tom Dinardo. Other directors not otherwise listed included: Peter L’Heureux, Richard Guay, Robert Demers, Russell Douglass, Paul Partenope, Paul Herman, Lloyd Murray, Michael Turgeon, Doug Gralenski, Colton O’Neil, Richard Lafleur, Ray Cotnoir, Danielle Cotnoir, Jason Coggins, Mark Miller, Leo Robichaud, Jared Wyra and Ron Gilbert.
Col. Jordan explained to members of the attentive audience that when the N.H. Fish and Game Department testifies on bills that are before legislative committees in Concord, it is fighting "for your rights," that are "under attack." He and others urged Great North Woods citizens to stand up for "their heritage and traditions" by letting Rep. Laflamme know their opinions on specific bills.
Shawn Hanlon, president of Plymouth Ford in Plymouth and AutoNorth pre-owned Superstore in Gorham, went to the podium to explain why he had written a check for $1,000 to give to the Association to help celebrate its centennial.
His intent was to honor two men who died recently. The association decided to pay the tuition to the Barry 4-H Camp to two more girls and two more boys, in addition to the two they already pledged to sponsor.
At least 50 door prizes as well as other special raffles were won by those who had bought $35 dinner tickets and/or raffle tickets.
In an innovative first, there were 10 theme-based "Grand Prizes" — packages worth at least $1,000 made up of compatible components bundled together: firearm special, hunting, archery, canoeing, emergency power, backpacking, woodcutters, fishing, winter riding and ice fishing.
"The businesses up and down the Androscoggin Valley were very, very generous," Rodrigue explained. Businesses also bought ads in the 72-page information-packed commemorative booklet.
The association usually honors a sportsperson of the year as well as a director of the year at the banquet. But this year the association decided to recognize its entire membership and all directors past and present as the recipients of the two awards respectively.