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Town hires new Treasurer – Jim Brown returning

The Town of St. Marys has announced that they have hired Jim Brown as their new Treasurer. The announcement was made by Mayor Al Strathdee in an e-mail issued this week. The release stated “On behalf of Town Council and the CAO, I’m pleased to announce that Jim Brown will be returning to the position of Treasurer with the Town of St. Marys effective April 20, 2015. Jim held the position previously for 6 years. His breadth of experience, knowledge and professionalism will instill a sense of confidence in the new Council. During Jim’s prior employment, a number of improved efficiencies were introduced, laying a strong foundation for the Treasury. The Team is excited to welcome Jim back to St. Marys.” Brown held the position previously resigning in February 2013 to accept a similar job in Ingersoll.

Business Excellence Awards Nominees announced – St. Marys well represented

The Stratford and Area Chamber of Commerce have released their nominees for the latest Annual Business Excellence Awards and ten businesses from St. Marys are on the list. Under the “Retail” category is “Pass-it-On” and ‘The Flower Shop & More”. In the “Commercial” category are AllRoads, Bickell Built Homes and Ward Electric. Waghorn, Stephens, Sipos & Poulton are in the “professional” category while “The Enchanted Crystal” is in the “Entrepreneur” category. Under the “Hospitality” category is “Little Red’s Pub and Eatery” along with St. Marys Golf & Country Club. The winners will be announced on May 7th at the presentation event at the Arden Park Hotel in Stratford. For Personal Excellence, Roger Quinn was nominated.

Two downtown businesses closing

After this weekend there will be another two empty stores in the downtown. New Orleans Pizza who have been in business since the early 1990’s will be closing this Sunday at 5 pm. Since June 2014 the present location has been under the direction of Wiebe Bergsma who is at New Orleans Pizza head office. St. Marys manager Kelly Hodgins said that sales have been below expectations and as a result the decision was made to close the business in St. Marys.

Another business that has closed is “Pastime Consignments:” which was opened in early March on Queen Street. Rhonda Chevalier said she made the decision to close the business because of irreconcilable differences with the landlord. She has relocated the business to 219 Erie Street in Stratford (Unit 2) and will be opening that store in early April.

Blind athlete Rhonda-Marie Avery running Avon Trail April 11th. 110 km Run begins 5:00 am at St. Marys Tennis Courts – By Dan Rankin

The Avon Trail, which recognizes its 40th anniversary in 2015, runs for 110 km northeast from St. Marys to Conestogo, Ontario, connecting the Thames Valley Trail and Grand Valley Trail. It’s a part of a network of walking paths in the province that make it possible to walk from Lake Erie to either Tobermory or Niagara Falls.

Some hikers might choose to cover some of that ground to check out the scenic vistas, but that’s not why ultra-marathoner Rhonda-Marie Avery, 36, of Barrie does it. Avery is legally blind. Since birth she’s only had about 8 per cent vision, with basically no daytime vision, due to a genetic condition that left her without cones – one of the two types of photoreceptors in the retina. But that’s not going to stop her from running the Avon Trail – the whole trail from end-to-end – beginning at the St. Marys Tennis Courts April 11 at 5:00 am.

Avery runs with her Envisions team to raise awareness about people with disabilities participating in sports. “Disability and sport don’t often end up in the same sentence,” she said. “That’s our goal, to create this space where people can dialogue about disability in sport. We are definitely active and trying to take part in different activities. It’s just not very often seen.”

Last August, Avery and a team of volunteers spent 20 days running the 885 km Bruce Trail. She was the first disabled person to attempt the feat. But, just because the Avon Trail is eight times shorter than the Bruce, that doesn’t mean it will be eight times easier to conquer, she said.

“The Bruce was every day for a couple weeks,” she said. “This is all at once.”

She expects the run to take her and her team of about 20 people between 17 and 20 hours. “We travel together and it really depends on who’s tired at what time and when we’re taking walk breaks,” she said. “I’m most definitely the slowest person. But that’s okay. Someone has to bring up the back.”

Avery began running back in 2009 while she was studying to become a registered massage therapist. Between studying and raising her infant son, she was interested in getting some personal time. “When I contacted Fleming College to get information on their track team, they connected me with Achilles Canada.” Avery learned how to run using a guide through Achilles, a non-profit group committed to getting people with disabilities involved in running. From there, she also took up tethered swimming and tandem biking, always striving for ultra-distances and endurance in every discipline she tried.

Since the fundamentals of tethered swimming or guided running for the visually impaired are not that well known, Avery has been a trailblazer for the activities locally.

“There are definitely more things happening internationally,” she said. “There are a few pioneers I have been connected with. I just connected with a blind trail runner in Japan that talks about using trekking poles on trails for self-maneuvering. There’s also someone in Chicago who is involved in a pilot project for running guide dogs. Those are big steps because it changes our independence level.”

Three other runners with disabilities will be joining Avery for portions of her Avon Trail run April 11. “I’m hoping we can recruit a couple more between now and go time, but three for sure,” she said.

Their efforts will be supported by a crew of volunteer guide runners. For Avery, the guide’s role involves calling out upcoming obstacles such as rocks and roots, but for other disabled runners their roles will vary, she said.

“Guide runners don’t grow on trees,” she said. “They’re very difficult to find, especially for trail running because it’s more complicated – for ultra-endeavours in particular.”

For more information on Envisions, find them on Facebook, Twitter (@Envisions2014) or by email at Envisions2014@gmail.com. Their web site EnvisionsProject.com is currently in development.

Anyone interested in taking part in the April 11 Avon Trail run should contact Karen Hill, president of the Avon Trail Hiking Association, by email at Karen@quadro.net.

Stranded DCVI students, staff back from Spain – By Dan Rankin

An eight-night tour of Portugal and Spain turned into a 12-night trip for a group of 18 DCVI students and three teachers, following a strike by their airline’s pilots.

“It’s been a long week,” Brock Jeffrey, one of the affected students who returned home late Wednesday night, told the Independent.

Jeffrey, 17, said the school holds a trip to Europe every two years for a group students and this year the destination of choice was Portugal and Spain. They flew from Toronto to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, on March 13.

“We hit the ground running basically,” he said. “We spent two days in Portugal, then we took a bus to Spain and we spent the rest of the days there.”

That included time in Granada, in southern Spain, Toledo, and Madrid to close out the trip. “We toured three or four cathedrals in Madrid, then on the last day we were touring this art museum and the teacher who organized everything, Ms. Jewson, and our tour guide, they left the art gallery early to go and sort some stuff out,” Jeffrey, who is in Grade 12, said.

Earlier in that week, on March 18, some of the students had seen on the news that pilots from their airline, Lufthansa, were striking, but they didn’t find out until late on March 20, the night before they scheduled to fly home, that their return flight was cancelled.

Back home in St. Marys, Brock’s parents were concerned about the news. “The first thing I thought of was ‘where will you stay? Do you have enough money?’,” Brock’s mother Julie Jeffrey said. “I called my brother-in-law who works for Nav Canada to see if there was anything we could do. Brock kept in contact with us the whole time. He loved his trip, but was ready to come home and I felt helpless.”

Insurance and the airlines covered the costs of their extended stay in Spain, Brock said.

“It worked out well actually,” he said. “Insurance covered it all, so [the teachers] just had to keep the receipts and they’d get reimbursed. So we just found a hotel and stayed there.”

However, the extended stay didn’t provide the students the opportunity to see too much more of Spain. “After all the stuff they had planned, they didn’t have extra money to do much extra sightseeing – that was all included in the cost of the trip,” he said. “But we did go on a tram tour one of those days, sort of an overview of Madrid.”

Julie said that they got a text from Brock Wednesday evening, when his group’s plane touched down, saying he was happy to be back on Canadian soil. “We are so happy that they were well taken care of and were in good hands with great chaperones,” she said.

Reflecting back on when he found out their flight was cancelled, Brock said he was “a little upset” at first, “but then I thought, whatever – we’ve got a few more days in Madrid.”

Friend remembers Stella Marziali as kind, giving “Nonna” – By Dan Rankin

The word used to describe someone who lives to or past their 110th birthday is “supercentenarian.” Only one person in 1,000 who reaches his or her 100th birthday is expected to achieve supercentenarian status. But it was a life event achieved Sept. 26 last year by longtime St. Marys resident Stella Marziali. She passed away at the Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care on March 10.

Born in Porto Sant’Elpidio, Italy in 1904, Marziali first came to Canada in 1929 to be with her husband Luigi. Luigi had come to St. Marys several years earlier, along with a wave of other Italian immigrants, to work at the cement plant. Thus, Marziali was already well-established in town, at the Catholic Church and in the Catholic Women’s League, when another Italian woman arrived in town in 1968.

“When I came, it was just me from my family,” said Sylvia Boscarato, longtime friend of Marziali. “I followed my love. So, when I came here I didn’t know any English. Most of the people I would hang out with were Italian, even if they were older.”

Boscarato said when she first met Marziali, Stella was already in her 60s, and her children had both married and moved out. “I was just starting my family, but, to me, these women that were in St. Marys, the Marcaccios and Marizialis – all the Italians that came here around 1926-27 because of the cement plant – to me, they were mothers. My kids used to call them ‘Nonna,’ because in Italian that’s ‘grandma’.”

Boscarato said Marziali took her under her wing when she was new to town.

“She was just living in the little white house on the corner of Victoria and Water Streets, so it wasn’t very far for me to go and drop in,” she said. “When I used to look after her and visit, I would bring my knitting and we would crochet together. She was good at making sweaters and stuff like that. She was good at everything.”

She recalled Marziali as an avid gardener and cook, who also loved making preserves with the many fruits and vegetables she grew in her garden. “She still baked her own bread when she was 98,” she said. “She was wonderful.”

Boscarato remembers her as someone full of good advice as well. “She always said, ‘don’t look at what you spend to eat; buy always the best. But, save on other things. They’re not necessary’,” she said.

Further, Boscarato recalled Marziali as a proud mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, and an “iron woman,” who was hardly ever sick, owing, she thought, to her hearty, healthy Mediterranean diet.

For years after her husband Luigi died in 1991, Stella remained living independently on her own until finally at age 98, she agreed to move to a retirement home in London to be near her son, Boscarato said.

When Marziali turned 100 in 2004, she received special signed certificates from Pope Jean Paul II and Prime Minister Paul Martin.

The last time Boscarato saw Marziali was around this time last year. “She was still smart,” she said. “She never let me talk; she was talking, giving me advice.”

A list online shows that fewer than five people are currently living in Canada aged older than Marziali’s 110 years and 165 days. According to Boscarato, living past 100 years is somewhat common in Marziali’s home region of Marche in Italy. “They must have something in their genes in that region that they live that long,” she said. “They eat everything they grow. You don’t eat for living, you live to eat.”

News of Marziali’s passing was also felt back in Italy, with several obituaries online proclaiming hers the longest life of anyone from Porto Sant’Elpidio. The town’s mayor Alessio Terrenzi is quoted in several of the articles calling Stella their “longest running compatriot” who had the noble values of “devotion to family and a strong spirit of volunteerism.”

“May she rest in peace after a long happy life next to her family, albeit far from her native land,” he said.