November 11, 2012

Family of Mount Vernon orchard owner appreciates kindness, affection of neighbors and friends

Manley Damren died in a September motor vehicle accident; family 'astounded' by outpouring of support

By Craig Crosby
Staff Writer

MOUNT VERNON -- Manley Damren's family members are grateful for the assistance they received after a shocking accident in early September.

What friends and neighbors did after Damren died was much more than running an apple orchard or stacking firewood. It was a communal embrace of a reeling family.

Each act of kindness was proof that the good things Damren always did so quietly for others had been remembered.

"It's astounding how this community has pulled together and donated so generously of their time," said Damren's daughter, Joyce Olson. "It's just been so overwhelming. It doesn't seem like there's much of that anymore. It almost seems like we've gone back in time. It brought that closeness back."

Damren, 76, was killed Sept. 4 when he was hit by a car while driving his John Deere lawn tractor on the side of Wings Mills Road near his home.

Friends and neighbors in the close-knit community began organizing help for the beloved family the morning after Damren's accident. That effort was in full swing a week later when dozens of people organized a fundraiser at the Damrens' Mount Nebo Apple Orchard. Emily Webber, who helped organize the fundraiser, said even strangers who read or heard about Damren's accident drove hours just to volunteer.

Webber said about 60 people helped run the orchard during the season, including Ginny Lewis and Ann Parker. Ron and Marie Hodgdon spent many hours cutting and splitting firewood for Damren's widow, Barbara Damren.

"All to fill one man's shoes," Webber said. "There are countless stories of self-sacrifice."

Olson credits Webber, who grew up and continues to live almost directly across the road, for spearheading much of the volunteer effort.

"She's been nothing short of Wonder Woman," Olson said.

Mount Vernon Community School, where Olson is a teacher, has stepped forward to help; and Maranacook High School's string band held a benefit concert with the Sandy River Ramblers.

Barbara Damren, Manley's wife of 57 years, is still moved by the outpouring of support from the community. It's a reflection, she believes, of how people felt about her husband.

"He was a caring person and he helped others," she said.

Beyond the acts of service, there were the kind words spoken and written to the family, Olson said. Many of them recalled the deep affection for Damren that buoyed the family as they dealt with his loss.

"I think he would be very pleased, but also, being a humble man, a bit surprised as well," Olson said. "I think he was very well respected and well liked, more than he realized."

"More than we realized," Barbara Damren added.

Olson said her family will ponder the apple orchard's future over the winter, but she speaks as though the decision already has been made. Now it's just a matter of figuring how to make it work.

"It's a huge undertaking, but it was a labor of love for him," Olson said. "I suspect we'll try running it."

There probably will be no shortage of people ready to lend a hand if the family decides to re-open the orchard. Mount Vernon residents know how to pull together, said Webber, who experienced that support firsthand last year when she and her parents lost their home and everything they own to a fire. The Damrens were the first family to take in the Webbers that day.

This fall, residents helped others in their midst, building and stocking a woodshed for a family suffering significant health problems and helping work a farm for a family that lost a child.

"Mount Vernon is a model community," Webber said. "We believe in lending a helping hand. We raise our children in the spirit of caring for your neighbors. When tragedy strikes, you are not alone."

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642

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