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Sucker fish, Sammy Davis Jr. and the Himalayas
NORWAY – Now 75 years old, Dick Onofrio grew up in Bethel. He currently resides on the lake and heads to Florida for the winters. He was a teacher and spent his entire career at the same school.
He recently took time to tell us about his life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born in Bethel on January 10, 1936. My mom always told me that when it was time, Doctor Twaddle had to get a sleigh and hook up the horse and come to the house.
I was brought up in Bethel as well.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I have one sister and her name is Beverly. She is a commercial artist for Paramount Greeting Card Company and she lives in Rhode Island.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My dad came through the depression so he did a variety of things, but worked at Ekco Wood Mill and retired from there.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom and worked at another dowel mill back in Bethel when my sister and I got a bit older.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: We lived in the Steam Mill area, which was about a mile out of town.
My father had torn down an old school house and built a bungalow home from the used wood. He didn’t hire anyone to help with anything; he did it all himself.
We had a pump in the kitchen for water and we took baths in a galvanized bath tub in the middle of the kitchen floor. We also had an outhouse.
Because it was a remote section, we pretty much had to entertain ourselves, so my sister and I had to play together a lot. Like normal kids, we were sometimes at odds and I remember one time she chased me around the house with a bottle of iodine. The cover was off and she got me as I was going out the door. Then she told Mom that she had tripped. Mom wasn’t happy and had to throw out my clothes. Later I got a bike and that was my ticket to playing with other boys in town.
We did have a good upbringing and lots of woods behind the house to play and explore in. We had a ski run and I had my own 22 by the time I was 12.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: Oh yes. My uncle was a noted pilot and would take me for rides, so I wanted to be just like him. He started flying back in the early days of aviation and he was a very clever mechanic and built his own plane. It looked like a Wright brothers plane with a bicycle engine, and he actually got about a foot airborne when he realized he didn’t have enough power.
He ran the airport in Milan, New Hampshire and in 1947 he was approached by the U.S. Army and asked to land a plane on top of Mt. Washington to get people and supplies back and forth.
Q: Did he?
A: Yes; it had never been done but he had flown over it several times and found one, semi-flat area near the railroad tracks.
He had told the people on the mountain to be ready to grab the plane when he landed because he was counting on a head wind to stop him and he didn’t want to fly backwards. It was a two-seater Piper Cub and he ended up making 43 trips to the mountain.
Q: How did he get off the mountain?
A: He had to take off downwind, which no pilot wants to do, but there was a great gulf that dropped off 1000 feet and he knew if he got his speed up enough to get to that drop off, he could pick up speed there and get the lift he needed. When he went down the drop off, people on the mountain figured he was gone because he had just disappeared.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went through Bethel and was fortunate enough to go to Gould Academy because that was our high school then. I got a prep school education with first-rate teachers.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: My buddy and I were in junior high school and we went fishing and caught 30 fish, but they were all suckers and chubs, so my buddy decided we would lay them across the road, head to tail. Sure enough a few cars went by and splat! Then a car with New York plates stopped and the people got out. The lady said the fish looked fresh and they took them. They probably thought they were trout. It was hard to stay quiet watching that.
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: Besides a paper route, my first real job was caddying at the Bethel Inn. I was maybe in the eighth grade, but I was not very big. It was OK most of the time, but now and then I would caddy for two people and that was tough, especially after 36 holes.
That’s where I picked up the game. I remember my first clubs were hickory shafts and they were mismatched and given to me by guests at the club.
In high school I worked in the A & P grocery store and worked one summer in a planer mill.
Q: Did you go to college?
A: After I graduated from Gould, I went to Boston University. I went there for two years and then I transferred to Gorham State. I studied to be a teacher.
Q: How did you meet your spouse?
A: I met Mary Lou at a dance in Otisfield. It was Christmastime and I was home from BU. Her uncle played the piano and my father played the banjo and guitar. It was love at first sight. We dated for 10 months and were married on October 26, 1956. That following year is when I did my two years at Gorham. Mary Lou stayed with her parents until I finished school, but I got home as often as I could.
Q: What did you do for work?
A: I got out in January and there aren’t many jobs at that time of year. So I got a job subbing at Woodstock High for three weeks. That was a wake-up call! I was teaching things like second-year French and some of the kids knew more than I did.
After that I lucked out and got another long term subbing job in South Paris. It was the junior high. The teacher never came back and so I stayed ... actually stayed there my entire teaching career.
Q: Did you like teaching?
A: I loved it! I taught mostly English and also went back for my masters in administration. I was the assistant principal for 12 years and that went from part-time to full-time. I missed the contact with the students and did my last years back in the classroom.
Teaching then was much more flexible and I enjoyed being creative. One year for writing, we got pen pals from Europe and Asia. And one year I had the students write pretend legends for places like Moosehead Lake. I also would have the students draw a cartoon and make up captions. And I found great results in writing a crazy story on the blackboard with no punctuation ... they seemed to like that way of learning.
I also coached tennis and later was the assistant golf coach at the high school.
Q: Where did you live?
A: At first we lived in the downtown Norway area and in 1978 moved to Lake Pennesseewassee.
A: We have three. Sherry teaches at Rowe, Michael builds guitars and David is a supervisor for Waterford Homes. They all live here on the lake.
Q: Anyone said you look like someone famous?
A: My wife accused me one time of looking like Sammy Davis Junior ... . The next day the mustache disappeared.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: We love to travel. We’ve been to quite a few places and took a driving tour of the country. We visited many national parks out west and there are only four states we have not seen.
We are now snowbirds and make stops on our way home to places like the Smokey Mountains and Valley Forge
We've traveled in eight countries in Europe, such as Italy and France. We went on our own and got a Euro pass and backpacked. The Euro Bus came by every two days, so you could stay for as many days as you wanted to. We sometimes stayed at youth hostels; some had private rooms and others were like dorms. Some places were pretty bad, but when you are traveling like that, you are just happy to find a place to sleep.
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: Personally speaking it was the trip I took to Bhutan, which is next to Nepal. I was invited to go on a trek and back pack. We stopped in India and Nepal and just soaked in the flavor of the developing countries. We went through seven climate zones; from jungle to bare rocks at 20,000 feet. The trip was like stepping back in time. The Himalayas were just amazing and there was nothing but paths ... no electricity or roads.
Q: Did anyone influence you to the point of changing your direction in life?
A: Yes, actually there were a few. At Gould, I had taken manual arts, which was shop back then. All my buddies were going that route so I did too. I never cracked open a book and never studied. At the end of my sophomore year, my English teacher, who was in guidance part time took me aside and said he signed me up for college prep classes. All of a sudden, I woke up and realized I needed to start working at school; taking all those classes, like algebra made me become a student overnight. I ended up fifth in my class.
The school really took an interest in all the kids and they knew I didn’t have much money. The headmaster’s assistant asked me where I was going to college and I told him I couldn’t afford it. He told me he had contacts at BU and got me in. And with scholarships from Gould and BU I was able to go.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A: Hiking, golf and I played tennis till my elbow started to bother me. I’m an avid reader and I also like woodcarving and have tried painting. I also enjoy building my own golf clubs.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: Larry McMurtry’s, "Anything for Billy," which is loosely based on the life of Billy the Kid. McMurtry was the author of "Lonesome Dove."
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: My health. It is the key to an enjoyable life. Second place would be golf. I really love golf and would play more often if I got the chance.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I taught school for so long and I hope that my former students look upon their time with me knowing I was kind, thoughtful and had their best interest at heart.
Q: Last day on earth; what would you do and who with?
A: I would like to take the whole family on a hike to the top of a mountain with a beautiful view. We pretty much do that every year with them at Baxter.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: I'd like to meet with some of the real movers and shakers of history. It would be interesting to ask Shakespeare if he wrote all of his works, or ask daVinci who is actually in his painting and are there really hidden messages in it.