Area students named to Colby’s dean’s list

Area students were among more than 500 students named to the highly selective dean’s list at Colby College, in Waterville, for the fall semester of the 2018-19 academic year.

Jonathan A. Allard, a member of the class of 2021, attended Medomak Valley High School and is the son of Laura Roberts, of Washington. He majored in computer science.

Christine Clark, a member of the class of 2019, attended Nokomis Regional High School, in Newport, and is the daughter of Robert and Melissa Clark, of Oakland. She majored in classics.

Ethan C. Pullen, a member of the class of 2021, attended Messalonskee High School, in Oakland, and is the son of Charles and Tammy Pullen, of Oakland. He majored in computer science.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Local resident advocates for new state of Maine flag

The original Maine flag, flown from 1901 to 1909.

by Matt Bourque
China resident

As the new Maine Legislature begins its work of improving our state, and Maine’s bicentennial edges closer, an interesting bill proposed by Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, could possibly help Maine’s image abroad and boost our economy.

LD 687 “An Act to Restore the Former State of Maine Flag” seeks to replace the current Maine state flag with the original flag flown from 1901 to 1909. Our original flag is simple, prominently displaying a pine tree and star on a beige background. This design is a far cry from our current flag, which resembles many other state flags such as New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota and a host of others.

Maine has an image. We are portrayed as a rural vacationland nestled along the coast away from the bustle of the busy cities which sprawl across the United States. We are the last outpost of simple living, surrounded by sparkling lakes and deep forests. We are distinct. However, we lack a unifying symbol which we could rally around domestically and also spread the image of Maine across the country. Adopting a distinct flag could help boost our image, and subsequently, our economy.

Some states, and many American cities, have adopted unmistakable flags which positively portray their characteristics and are recognizable at first sight. There are few Americans who would not recognize the unique design of Colorado’s flag or the striking power of Chicago’s city flag. These flags serve both as a rallying point for their citizens, but also as a symbol their residents carry with them as they travel within the United States and across the world.

Of course, adopting a new state flag is not without its difficulties. Two obstacles face its implementation, namely the cost of replacing the flag and determining the legitimacy of the new flag. The cost to instantly replace all current state flags with new ones would be high, yet if older flags were phased out over a period of time, money earmarked for the purchase of new flags could be spent at no extra cost to the taxpayer.

Most importantly, however, is determining whether the Maine people want a new flag to represent them. The old flag, despite resembling many other U.S. state flags, has been flown for over 100 years and many might still remain attached to it. If a new flag were to be used to symbolize our Maine, it must be accepted by a majority of the Maine people.

Maine is unique and we deserve a flag which best represents us. The simple pine tree, a nod to our nickname as the “Pine Tree State,” and the blue star symbolizing our motto “Dirigo,” would serve us well as we continue to improve our tourism industry and seek to diversify our economy to be more competitive on the American stage.

Community Commentary is a forum The Town Line makes available for citizens to express their opinions on subjects of interest to our readers. The Town Line welcomes, and encourages, supportive comments, differing opinions, counterpoints or opposing views. Keep the rebuttals positive, and informative. Submissions containing personal attacks will be rejected.

To submit a Community Commentary send it to or visit our Contact page.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Local man announces presidential candidacy

The following article does not constitute an endorsement by The Town Line staff or its board of directors.

by Fred Wian
China resident

Today, I’m announcing that I am a presidential candidate for 2020. My campaign, “Running for You,” will have all the aspects of a government which is Of, By and For the People.

From the onset I will tirelessly perform the duties of president and lead our country with positive and progressive ideas further into the 21st century. Second, I am not from ‘within the beltway,’ but will bring viewpoints from all areas of our country. I have traveled in all 50 states, without exception, and very many of them, multiple times. Of that total I have lived in five states, coast to coast, north and south, for at least a year.

I will select a vice president who has the qualifications, intelligence and patience to work for all the people of our great nation. Further, my choice would also have the insight and demeanor to cooperate with other countries and also the United Nations and NATO.

Of the many priority issues, I will work diligently to solve the following:

Infrastructure – immediate funding. This will ensure safety and provide jobs.

Healthcare – Universal care for all.

Tax reform – Shift the tax burden away from the poorer and beleaguered to those who are the most able to pay more.

Campaign finance reform – My campaign is an example of how this can be accomplished. Money in elections is bribery. I will not accept PAC money, none, zip, zero…even though this puts me at a severe disadvantage with my opponents. We should develop a system in which the government will provide candidates a moderate and equal amount of funding. Elections should be won, not bought. This will ensure leadership of, by and for all the people.

Immigration – We must revise our immigration system to continue reasonable immigration and the issue of DACA must be solved. Those legitimately seeking asylum must be taken in and treated as people, not cardboard boxes on a conveyor belt.

Border security – Modern, mostly electronic, security measures will be added to ensure security.

Gun Safety, Me-Too and LGBT – These issues are not at all the same; however, they share the same concept overall for solutions. In our newer world, we need to adapt and adjust. We are all human, the same species, we have equal rights, let’s get past gender bias as well as bias against minorities. Let’s have a country that allows gun ownership but with reasonable guidelines. Military type weapons only for the military, hunting guns only for hunting. We have computers, we can have valid background checks for all gun users and wherever guns are sold.

Climate change/Global warming – We must act, and the time is now! First day in office, return to the Paris Climate Agreement. The issue of global warming/climate change has affected many people in our country and world. This issue WILL AFFECT EVERY PERSON ADVERSELY IN OUR COUNTRY AND GLOBALLY! It is just a matter of time, location and the specific way it will happen. We have a finite planet to live on and past and present actions and policies continue to make life on Earth much more vulnerable. These actions and policies are man-made, they are proven scientifically to be detrimental and must be reversed for all people on our Earth. It can be done! The economics, the work force and health and safety of us all will be positive. It is a symbiotic situation.

Press friendly – I will provide a civil atmosphere for press briefings. The press is our friend, not our enemy, and cooperation with the press will prevail. Truth, honor and dignity are three words that best describe communications from the White House and Cabinet.

Government shutdowns – To be avoided if at all possible! They are detrimental for all the people. The recent shut down, which started in December 2018, compromised health, safety and jobs significantly in all walks of life and in many ways. It was politically motivated, and as of this writing, another shutdown is being threatened by the White House. Crisis management is not quality management. I will lead with a steady hand, aided by highly-qualified Cabinet members who have expertise in their respective positions.

Foreign Policy – We will interact with other countries from the basis of mutual friendship, interests and civility. If and when adverse issues arise we will seek understanding and peaceful solutions first.

In the near future I will start my national tour. I look forward to meeting as many people as possible and will look forward to your ideas and suggestions. My website,

My Campaign Tour – Stay tuned and I leave you now with three words that I stand for: TRUTH, HONOR AND DIGNITY.

Obituaries for Thursday, February 28, 2019


FAIRFIELD CENTER – Betty M. Veilleux, 92, of Fairfield Center, passed away on Saturday, February 16, 2019. She was born in Waterville on January 14, 1927, the daughter of the late Hugh and Fern (Donna) Andrews.

She graduated from Waterville High School, class of 1945. She spent 59 wonderful years of marriage to her husband, Kaiser, who passed away in 2006.

When her children were young, Betty taught Sunday school at Getchell Street Baptist Church and Fairfield Center United Methodist Church.

She was a member of the Red Hat Society, Knitting Club, and Quilting Clubs, and made many beautiful quilts for each of her children, and grandchildren, and showed her work at many quilt shows.

Betty volunteered at MaineGeneral Medical Center in the “Doll Factory” for 13 years, making dolls for sick children, and in her later years was a member of the “Silver Sneakers” at Champions Fitness Club, in Waterville.

Besides her parents and her husband, Betty was predeceased by her infant daughter, Paula, and her siblings, Donald Andrews, Charles Andrews, Hugh Andrews, Beverly Bickford and Leone Marble.

Betty will be sadly missed by her children, Gail Berry and her husband, David, Steve Veilleux, Jayne Woods, Kim Denis and her husband, Paul, and Melanie Veilleux; her granddaughters, Amy Foss and her husband, Gerald, and Emily Veilleux; her grandsons, Brad Bessey and his wife, Vicki, Brock Dennis and his wife, Rileigh, Alex Gerald, and Blake Gerald; and her great-grandsons, Noah Denis, Elliot Gerald, Ryker Hillman, and Jack Gerald.

Spring burial will be at Pine Grove Cemetery, in Waterville.

An online guestbook may be signed and memories shared at

Arrangements are by Lawry Brothers Funeral & Cremation Care, 107 Main St., Fairfield.


FAIRFIELD – Pamela Baker, 60, passed away on Saturday, February 16, 2019, following a courageous battle with leukemia. Pam was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on March 3, 1958. She was the daughter of Kenneth A. and Virginia Galipo.

She graduated from Shrewsbury High School, in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, in 1976.

Pamela owned and operated Lighthouse Bible & Gift from 1999 until it closed 2016. She knew hundreds of customers by name along with their interests.

Pam was married for 42 years to her high school sweetheart. She met Dennis at church when she was 15. They dated until she graduated high school and were married on August 28, 1976.

Pam was a member of Kennebec Valley Baptist Church. She has decorated the church for the past 29 years. She decorated for every holiday and especially enjoyed making the auditorium look special during Easter and Christmas. She also assisted in the tech booth each Sunday. She loved to crochet, making various animals and other creations.

She was predeceased by her mother, Virginia, father, Kenneth and brother, Kenneth.

She is survived by her husband, Dennis; her son, David; and daughter, Julie and husband, Scott. She had three grandchildren who live in Australia, Noah, Christoper and Gabrella.

An online guestbook may be signed and memories shared at

Arrangements are by Lawry Brothers Funeral & Cremations Care, 107 Main St., Fairfield.


VASSALBORO – Douglas Paul Perry, 69, passed away on Sunday, February 17, 2019, following an extended period of ill health. Doug was born to Marie I. and Benedict E. Perry on July 17, 1949, living his whole life in North Vassalboro.

He attended elementary school there, graduated from Winslow High School in 1967, and attended Unity College. He was married to Gail Lindsey in Owl’s Head, on June 30, 1973. They made their home in North Vassalboro.

Doug was a member of the Maine Army National Guard froom 1969 through 1975. He was employed by Scott Paper, SD Warren, Sappi Fine Paper for 35 years, retiring in 2004. Doug was a member of Augusta Elks Lodge, Masonic Lodge, and American Legion Post #126. He was a licensed Ham Radio Operator; call sign KA1YBJ

An avid NASCAR fan, he rarely missed a televised race and a chance to see his favorite driver, Kevin Harvick, be victorious.

Doug enjoyed golfing when he was able and RV camping with friends and family, yearly trips to Eustis, Rangeley, the Camden area and Acadia were a must. In 2013, the Perrys took a cross country trip via motorhome to South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona. Seeing the Grand Canyon was the highlight of his trip.

Doug was predeceased by his parents Marie and Benedict Perry; and a brother-in-law, James F. Oldroyd.

He is survived by his wife of 45 years, Gail; his brother Reginald Perry and wife Julia, of Clinton; his sister Cynthia Brown, of Vassalboro; sister-in-law. Sada L. Oldroyd and brother-in-law, Wayne E. Lindsey, Sr., both of Owl’s Head; cousins Carol and Wayne Brown, of South Thomaston; as well as numerous cousins, nieces, and nephews.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at Notre Dame Catholic Church, 112 Silver Street, Waterville, on Saturday, March 9, 2019, at 11 a.m., with a reception to follow.

Please visit to view a video collage of Doug’s life and to share condolences, memories and tributes with his family.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to local animal shelters.


PALERMO – Patricia B. Jones, 76, of Palermo, passed away on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, following a courageous battle with cancer. She was born in Augusta, on April 4, 1942, the daughter of the late Merton (Glidden) Brann and Mary (Sabin) Brann French.

A graduate of Erskine Academy, she then received her diploma in nursing from Maine Medical Center School of Nursing. She continued her education at University of Maine at Farmington and earned a bachelor’]s degree in health education. Following graduation from nursing school, Patricia worked briefly at the State Hospital in Augusta. She then continued her nursing career at Augusta General Hospital (now Maine General) where she worked for 40 years, primarily in the coronary care unit and as a night shift supervisor. She was also instrumental in developing the cardiac rehab program at Augusta General Hospital.

She was a devoted member of the Palermo Christian Church and was active in many ministries over the years, including missions committee, clothing exchange shop, and deacons. She even participated in a medical mission trip to Haiti to better understand her son-in-law’s culture.

Patricia was a very creative person. She made countless quilts for her children, grandchildren, friends, and charitable organizations as well. She was a member of several quilting guilds. She was also an active member of the Windsor Historical Society and had a great interest in genealogy. She spent years researching family roots.

Patricia was an incredibly kind and selfless person, always helping and thinking of others. She had a very special relationship with her great-granddaughter, Ava Foster. They had many adventures and explored the world together, by visiting libraries and museums in various towns, and shopping at thrift stores.

She was predeceased by her parents and a stepsister, Delores Witham.

She is survived by her husband, David Jones, of Palermo; daughter, Elizabeth Chamberlain, of Palermo, daughter, Rebecca D’Haiti and husband Carrel, of Newburgh; son Peter Jones and his wife Lisa, of Orrington, son Andrew Jones and his wife, Michele, of Matawan, New Jersey; brothers, Dave Brann and wife, Molly, of Homer, Alaska, Richmond Brann and wife, Nancy, of Somerville, Robert Brann and wife, Priscilla, of Windsor, Timothy Brann and wife, Sue, of Keyport, Washington, Steven French and wife, Jane, of Palermo; stepbrother Laurice French, of Somerville; 12 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

A memorial service will be held on March 2, at 1 p.m., at the Palermo Christian Church, in Palermo. A family burial will be held at a later date in Alna.

Arrangements have been entrusted to Plummer Funeral Home, 16 Pleasant Street, Augusta.

Condolences, photos and memories may be shared at


PETER M. JOHNSON, 71, of Sidney, passed awaty on Monday, February 4, 2019, at MaineGeneral Rehab and Nursing at Glenridge, Comfort and Care, following a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. Locally, he is survived by a step-daughter, Lea Studholme and husband Joe, of South China.

ROGER A. FORTIN II, 47, of East Pittston, passed away unexpectedly on Wednesday, February 6, 2019. Locally, he is survived by his sister, Greta Cuimmings and husband Todd, of Whitefield; nephew Patrick Doe and significant other, Rikki Bryant, and niece Stephanie Doe and significant other Peter Schultz, all of Windsor.

DANIEL N. VEILLEUX, 55, of Rumford, passed away on Friday, February 8, 2019. Locally, he is survived by a niece, Brittany (Yorks) Vought and husband Luke, of Oakland.

TIF committee gives manager OK on land offer

by Mary Grow

China TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee members held a short Feb. 25 meeting, with decisions made on two agenda items and absences blocking progress on two others.

By unanimous votes, committee members:

  • Authorized Town Manager Dennis Heath to request that selectmen make an offer to Susan Bailey for the small piece of land across from the boat landing at the head of China Lake’s east basin, based on a real estate agent’s opinion of a fair value. Committee member H. David Cotta suggested any purchase be made conditional on state approval to continue to use the space for boat landing parking.
  • Authorized a request to selectmen to approve a payment on the Causeway Street replacement bridge just west of the boat landing. Heath said a little over $75,000 will be left to cover final paving and other remaining work.

Committee members expected someone from Kennebec Valley Council of Governments to attend the meeting to discuss KVCOG’s role in the proposed revolving loan fund, but no one came.

As committee member Any Gartley explained the plan, China will offer supplementary loans from TIF money to people needing a few thousand dollars in additional resources to open a new business, expand a business or otherwise add to economic development in town.

A subcommittee including TIF Committee and budget committee members has been working on the program. They envision a resident filling out an application that is reviewed by the subcommittee and the full TIF Committee and approved by selectmen. KVCOG staff would help with the mechanics of executing the loan.

So far, Gartley said, there is no final application form.

TIF Committee Chairman Frank Soares is ready to start planning for the second phase of the causeway project, intended to create improved recreational access along the shore between the bridge and the boat landing. However, he is waiting for the return from Florida of committee member Tom Michaud, head of the subcommittee that oversaw the bridge work.

China’s TIF money comes from taxes assessed on Central Maine Power Company’s transmission line that runs through town and the substation in South China.

Committee members scheduled their next meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 25.

Vassalboro selectmen ready to forward budget to committee

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen wrestled with the 2019-2020 municipal budget for three hours at their Feb. 21 meeting. They concluded they were ready to forward it to the budget committee, whose members will review the selectmen’s figures before a final budget goes to voters at the annual town meeting in June.

The first budget committee meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 5. On Thursday, March 7, the selectmen meet at 6 p.m. and the budget committee at 7 p.m., the latter to begin discussions with town department heads. Interested residents are welcome at all three meetings.

Representatives of the town Public Works Department and the volunteer fire department attended the Feb. 21 selectmen’s meeting to talk about their budget requests.

Among the many public works topics covered were paving plans for this summer; repairs to a large culvert on Cross Hill Road, currently on hold while the state Department of Environmental Protection reviews the situation; planned vehicle repairs and replacements; adding a half-time employee, who might also work half-time at the transfer station; and how to make Foreman Eugene Field’s computer talk to his copier.

At a future meeting, selectmen intend to discuss sidewalks, in relation to the state’s planned rebuilding of Route 32 (Main Street in East and North Vassalboro). Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said the most recent proposed date for the project is 2021 or 2022.

Board members want to consider the need for sidewalks in both villages, including the possibility of asking that the existing North Vassalboro sidewalks be eliminated. Titus, who lives in North Vassalboro, said they are not used much.

Selectmen made one unanimous decision on public works, authorizing Field to buy a new power washer from Motor Supply out of the current year’s budget without going through a bid process. Field presented five price quotes and expressed his preference for Motor Supply.

Another budget topic was salary increases for town employees, which have fallen below comparable averages in the Maine Municipal Association’s salary survey. Titus remembered that a few years ago, selectmen chose a three-year plan to bring salaries up; by the end of the three years, enough other towns had increased theirs to leave Vassalboro again toward the low end of the scale. A decision was postponed for discussion with the budget committee.

Solid waste management, another major budget item, was not ready for discussion, because bids for hauling trash are not due until Feb. 28. This year’s bid documents invite bidders to propose alternative hauling methods to the 50-yard containers the town now uses, making costs potentially more variable than usual. Town Manager Mary Sabins said two bids had already been received.

Police Chief Mark Brown hopes for a new vehicle, as the current one needs frequent repairs, Sabins said. Selectmen tentatively planned to buy a new vehicle, financing it over three years, and to reduce Brown’s recommended repair budget for next year.

Board member John Melrose proposed a brand-new expenditure: $1,000 to refurbish the memorial in East Vassalboro as “a centerpiece” for observances celebrating the town’s 250th anniversary in 2021.

China selectmen put warrant in final form

by Mary Grow

China selectmen put a 31-article warrant for the April 6 town business meeting in final form at their Feb. 19 meeting, though Town Manager Dennis Heath made a couple of minor wording changes after the meeting.

The town meeting opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 6, at China Middle School. At 8:50 a.m. Selectman Irene Belanger is scheduled to make the annual presentation of Spirit of America awards recognizing volunteers in town.

Most of the questions ask voters to approve appropriations for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019, and ends June 30, 2020. The articles contain summaries; voters seeking details are referred to a “budget book” about 15 pages long that will be part of the 2017 town report.

For example, the warrant asks voters to approve more than $686,000 for the administration and administration other accounts. The budget book lists the 42 separate items in the two accounts and the revenues, including taxation, to be used to fund them.

The town report is usually available at least a week before town meeting.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said the quorum requirement to open the meeting is 119 registered voters. She and Heath have joked about expecting all 1,241 residents who voted last November not to repeal the town’s Quorum Ordinance to show up at the meeting.

Before approving the warrant selectmen discussed yet again the volunteer fire departments’ use of stipends to help defray expenses for members who respond to calls. Selectmen recommends less money for stipends than the departments requested; the budget committee recommends voters grant the full amount.

In other business Feb. 19, selectmen approved a consent agreement with Ralph and Linda Howe, doing business as Bio Renewable Fuels at 168 Dirigo Road. The lengthy agreement essentially allows the Howes to continue to operate the business with a state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit, but not to expand it without local planning board approval.

The Howes had a DEP permit for the operation when it was in Fairfield, and Heath said a renewal is pending. They also obtained local permits for two new structures and one expansion, he said.

Under the agreement, a DEP odor control plan is to be implemented and a fence built to screen part of the property. The Howes are to pay $1,500 to China to help defray legal costs, which Heath said added up to a little over $11,800 this fiscal year and last. The agreement was approved on a 3-0-1 vote, with Board Chairman Robert MacFarland abstaining because he considers the business inappropriate for a residential area. Heath said DEP staff checked some wells in the area last year and found “no cause for concern.”

Hapgood reported there are two vacancies on the planning board, the alternate seat that can be filled by a resident from any part of town and the District 3 (southeastern China) seat from which Milton Dudley recently resigned. Interested residents should apply at the town office.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, March 4, according to the calendar on the town website.

Local Town Meetings Schedule 2019

Town meetings 2019


Town meeting, Mon., June 3, 6:30 p.m.
Vassalboro Community School
Voting: Tuesday, June 11
Polls open 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Vassalboro Town Office


Voting: Tues., June 11, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Town meeting: Wed., June 12, 6:30 p.m.
Upstairs at Town Hall
If more than 75 attend, it will be moved to the school.

To be included in this list, visit our Contact Us page or send an email to The Town Line at

STATE OF THE TOWN LINE: The importance of the printed paper

The Town Line office in South China, ME..

by Neil Farrington
former China selectman
member of The Town Line board of directors

I have been associated with The Town Line since it became a nonprofit, membership-owned newspaper in 1999. Here are a few reasons I feel the printed paper is very important in our community.

First and foremost, it gives us a consistent recording of our area’s small but important community accomplishments. Not just as towns but as townspeople. Youth recognition, organizations helping others and individuals showing their talents that would otherwise be too small to print in normal news media outlets.

Second, it’s printed. With today’s media information going digital-only, our news is deleted from our minds very quickly. Local news print allows information to travel outside of your internet service. In the case of The Town Line, over half of their operating cost is used to print and distribute each issue.

As a member of the board of directors of The Town Line, I have seen the flow of advertising revenue drastically reduced over the past five years. Small businesses in our area claim that it is more effective to use their own website, Facebook, radio and TV. Businesses that do advertise with us recognize what the paper has meant to our communities over the past 30 years.

I would personally like the paper to continue for another 30 years, so I’m asking our readership to take some ownership in The Town Line. A $35 yearly membership donation could save our little printed paper from being swallowed up by the digital 21st century world.

Once this gets printed in The Town Line it cannot be deleted (only burned).

(Please donate with credit card or Paypal here.)

Jack’s: Where everybody knows your name

Jack, right, and Ann Sylvester at their home in 2019. (Photo by Eric Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

Growing up near China Village in the latter half of the last century, there was one place everyone visited at least once a week. Officially named China General Store, Incorporated, most of us knew it simply as “Jack’s.” It was the center of life in China Village for more than 50 years.

This is the story of Jack’s General Store, and the man who ran it.

Jack Sylvester was born to a family from Eustis, Maine, on Friday, October 13, 1938. From this inauspicious beginning, young Jack would grow up to have a profound influence on another community far to the south of the place of his birth.

Jack’s father and grandfather operated a livestock business in Eustis, providing horses to businesses all over the state of Maine, especially those involved in the logging and farming industries, which at the time still relied on horsepower to get the job done.

By the early 1940s, however, the horse business in Eustis was flagging, and the Sylvester family moved south to Albion when Jack was only six. Jack’s maternal grandparents had a residence in Albion, and the Sylvesters hoped the busier metro-area of Waterville and Augusta would keep the horse business going for a few more years.

A fire at Besse High School, in Albion, in 1958.

In Albion, Jack Sylvester attended Besse High School, which was located in the brick building that now houses the Albion Town Office. Jack vividly remembers the day in 1957 when, during his senior year, the school burned down.

“I was on the fire department at that time, and I can tell you exactly where I was,” he says. “I was cleaning out the horses of manure.” The Sylvesters’ livestock farm was located not far from the school. He continues: “I heard the fire alarm go off, and I turned ‘round to look and that old black smoke was just roaring.”

Teenage Jack dropped his shovel and rushed to the scene of the fire. He wasn’t happy. “You’d think I’d feel good that the school burned down — you don’t have to go to school no more,” he says, flashing a characteristic Jack-grin. “But I felt terrible ‘cause the school was burning down. I set there with a hose, puttin’ water on it, and cryin’ like crazy!”

The cause of the fire was never discovered. The superintendent at the time, who will go unnamed, was the only one in the building, in his office on the upper floor. The superintendent wanted Albion to join the local School Administrative District (SAD), and there was talk around town that he had started the fire in an effort to force a decision on the matter. Nothing was ever proven, however, but after the fire, Jack tells me, “He moved out of town right off quick.”

After high school, Jack worked as a grease monkey for Yeaton’s Garage for a couple of years, and then got hired by Lee Brothers’ Construction, work that sent him all over the state of Maine. That’s where he met Roy Dow.

At this point, we need to pause for a bit of backstory. The tale of how Jack Sylvester came to own China General Store is the story of another fire, this time in China.

Main Street in China Village used to be quite a bit more commercial than it is now. The Masonic Lodge was on the north side of Main Street, opposite where it is now; and next to that, heading east, was the post office; a small house that is no longer there; then a bean factory (”Most every small town around had a bean factory,” says Alene Smiley, Jack’s older sister); a printing shop; a mechanics garage operated by Roy Coombs, who got his start fixing wagon wheels, and then transitioned to transmissions; and finally the old China General store, owned by the Bailey family, but later sold to the Fenlasons. The Village’s one-room schoolhouse was also located here, directly across the street from where the China library is currently.

Then on Sunday, August 20, 1961, the old China General Store caught fire and burned down. The blaze also claimed the garage and the bean factory next door, both owned by Roy Coombs. Flames from the fire leapt more than 100 feet into the air and could be seen up to 10 miles away. In a single night, nearly the entire commercial district in China Village was destroyed. Coombs, who was also serving as fire chief at the time, suspected arson as “three or four fires of suspicious nature have occurred in the town within recent months,” according to an article published the next day in the Morning Sentinel.

Photo of the aftermath of the fire at the old China General Store in 1961. (submitted by Susan Natalie Dow White)

Since the current owners, the Fenlasons, weren’t interested in rebuilding, Roy Dow and his father-in-law, Tommy James, who both worked in construction, decided to take on the job of building a new one themselves. They enlisted the help of Ben Avery, of Windsor, and chose as the location for the new establishment a spot on the eastern end of Main Street. It would turn out to be a propitious choice of location when the 202 throughway was built a decade later.

“I’d always loved the store business,” says Jack. “So, one day I was down there [at the new store], visiting Roy. He was sittin’ in front of the cash register in an old recliner. He said, ‘What’re you doin’? Why don’t you come work for me? I need a meat cutter.’ I said, ‘For God’s sake, Roy, I’m a truck driver; I ain’t a meat cutter!’ He said, ‘I’ll teach you.’”

And Roy did, and much else besides. Jack learned how to cut meat, how to manage a store, and how to select the best cuts of beef for the store freezer. He also got to know the store’s customers, and there was one customer in particular he was interested in. Her name was Ann Gaunce.

Ann’s family lived just down the road from the store, and she frequently passed by on her way to the post office. “Oh, she was beautiful!” Jack says, his eyes a little glassy at the memory. “Ann was walking by one day, and I was filling a car full of gas. I hollered at her and I said, ‘How ya doin’? Why don’t you come over here,’ I says, ‘I wanna talk to ya.’ So, she came over and I talked to her for a while. I got a date for that night.”

They went to see the movie “Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay!”, a flick from 1948, at the old Haines Theater, which used to exist on Main Street, in Waterville, across from where Maine-ly Brews is now. Jack and Ann’s was a romance destined to last a lifetime.

“I don’t call her Ann anymore,” Jack tells me, a twinkle in his eye. “It’s Saint Ann now. She’s put up with me for 54 years!”

Jack worked at the general store for Roy Dow until 1974. “He came in one day,” Jack recalls, “and says, ‘Wanna buy this place?’ I said, ‘I’d like to.’”

And he did. Together with his wife, Ann, and his son Chris, who became his right-hand man in later years, they took over management of China General Store, Incorporated. Jack Sylvester was 36 years old.

I ask Jack if owning a business in a small town like China had been a struggle. “No, sir,” he says. “I had a business that was wicked good. The last year I owned that business, I did over a million dollars.”

And Jack didn’t just manage one of the most successful businesses in China, he also served as selectman from 1965-67, belonged to the Masons since the age of 21, and joined the Volunteer Fire Department, first in Albion and then in China, where he served as fire chief for a number of years in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“Jack was always really good about his employees volunteering for the fire department and the rescue,” says Ron Morrell, who pastors the China Baptist Church and has lived across the street from Jack’s store since the early 1980s. “You’d go in sometimes and Ann might be the only one in the store, because all the guys were gone on a fire call. It left him short-handed sometimes.”

Jack Sylvester, right, and son Chris, during Halloween one year. (Contributed photo)

Jack’s favorite time of the year was Halloween, when he dressed up in a variety of creative costumes and hosted upwards of 350 neighborhood kids at his store, who came for the free chocolate milk and the bag of chips that he gave out every year.

That wasn’t the only interaction Jack had with the kids of China Village. He would, on occasion, catch a child shoplifting from his store. Pastor Ron relates one such incident that he witnessed firsthand. “One day, I came across the street for an afternoon cup of coffee,” he tells me. “Jack had some kid in the back, talking to him. I could tell something serious was going on.”

Totally coincidentally, a few minutes later a Kennebec County sheriff’s deputy also came into the store. Without missing a beat, Jack exclaimed, “See, here he is!”

Apparently, Jack had faked a call to the sheriff in an attempt to scare the kid straight. The sudden appearance of the deputy was a complete surprise to everyone, excepting, perhaps, the poor kid being interrogated.

“The sheriff’s deputy caught on real quick as to what was going on,” Pastor Ron recalls. “They had not worked this out ahead of time. The cop was really good about it, and they scared the kid good. And more than one kid, when they were an adult, came back and thanked Jack for what he’d done to set them straight, and for not getting the authorities involved. He could put the fear of God into them though,” Pastor Ron finishes with a hearty chuckle.

In April 2002, at the age of 64, Jack Sylvester finally hung up his apron and sold the general store. The new owners kept the store open for a few more years, but eventually closed it.

“It was never the same after Jack left,” Pastor Ron remembers. “People came because of Jack.”