Friday, February 26, 2021

Before the memory fades: Windham’s high-flying high school senior

By Walter Lunt

Next to his graduation picture in the 1965 Windonian, the Windham High School yearbook, John Francis Mannette is portrayed as “high flying and free falling,” a description that might bring to mind various personal characteristics. The meaning, however, was quite literal.

As a rising senior in the summer of 1964, John nose-dived out of a Cessna-180 3000 feet above North Windham; a static line deployed his parachute and, to the fascination of open-mouthed spectators, drifted onto a golf driving range adjacent to Route 302 (Don Rich Plaza today). The stunt wasn’t entirely his idea.

John Mannette as shown in the 1965
Windham High School yearbook.
Marshall Libby was a family friend who was home on leave from the U.S. Army that summer.  It seems he had picked up an exhilarating pastime while serving in Germany: parachuting. John and his family listened to stories of Libby’s new-found hobby. With encouragement from his dad, who had served as a coastal reconnaissance pilot during World War II, John soon found himself under Libby’s tutelage learning how to bail out of the aircraft, control the chute’s steering mechanism and perform landing falls.

On the day of the jump, there was no grand announcement about what was going to happen in the golfing field. “But,” said Mannette, “there was word-of-mouth, you know, it was a smaller town back then.”

Mannette said he and Libby drove to a small airfield in South Portland where the Cessna and a pilot awaited to take them over North Windham. The golf range had been selected as the drop spot; a friend, Teddy Riley, had parked his convertible on the edge of the field, “I knew that car and it gave me something to aim for on the landing.”

Libby continued to give Mannette advice and pointers during the flight from South Portland. “I remember thinking,” said Mannette, “How the hell did I ever get talked into this?”

The weather was good, but Libby, fearing wind might cause Mannette’s fall to veer off course, called for two passes over North Windham. On the first, flying over Sebago Lake toward the shopping district, Libby dropped a streamer (ribbon strapped to a dowel) to test wind strength and direction. It dropped into Little Sebago Lake; the cautionary maneuver had prevented a potentially dangerous jump.

Mannette said that on the second approach toward North Windham, “…the door on one side of the plane had been removed. I was standing, one foot (inside the aircraft) and the other on the (wheel) fender outside the plane; I was holding on to the wing struts, waiting for Libby to signal me that it was time to jump.”

Asked what went through his mind when he finally took the leap, Mannette said he remembers being struck by the sudden sensation of silence. “Inside the plane was the noise of the engine, and rattling – then after the jump, all of a sudden, everything was calm and dead silent.” That’s what I remember most.”

“Also, looking down, there was only the ground – I could feel the fall, but as the chute opened, it felt like somebody was picking me up. Now my feet were below me. As I was drifting down it was quite beautiful. (The experience) was intimidating, but actually quite fun.”

Mannette said he was initially worried about hitting the ground in the right spot, “…but I was surprised at how well (the chute) could be steered.”

He landed within feet of Teddy Riley’s convertible. A crowd assembled, including his dad and other members of the family.

  Mannette said there was never another opportunity for him to soar out of an airplane, but that was okay because he’ll always have the memory of that wonderous, unforgettable day in 1964.

Looking back, Mannette says, “When I drive through North Windham today and pass that spot (where I landed) I always think about the jump, and wonder ‘How the hell did I ever get talked into that.”  <

Friday, February 19, 2021

Riding To The Top salutes volunteer and horse for outstanding service

Every year PATH Intl. (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International) selects regional winners in a variety of categories who demonstrate extraordinary service and dedication to the field of equine assisted services. This year two of Riding To The Top’s team members were selected as Region 1 (all of New England and eastern maritime Canada provinces) winners. Pat Niboli, was named the Region I Volunteer of the Year, and Luke, one of RTT trustworthy Haflingers, was named the Region 1 Horse of the Year.

Riding To The Top is a Premier Accredited Center with PATH Intl.—the organization that advocates for equine assisted services and sets industry standards for safe and ethical human-equine interactions.

Riding to The Top team member Pat Niboli of
Windham has been honored as the Region I 
Volunteer of the Year and Luke, a 27-year-old
Haflinger gelding, was named Region 1 Horse 
of the Year by the Professional Association of
Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
 Pat Niboli of Windham has volunteered at Riding To The Top for more than 10 years. She is a dedicated and passionate advocate for RTT assisting in the barn, working in lessons (both therapeutic horseback riding and carriage driving), exercising and training horses, and leading fundraising efforts. Niboli is a friend to all and she strives to recognize the best in every person. She has been extraordinary through thick and thin and shows up in snowstorms, during pandemics and lends a hand with many special projects.

RTT Volunteer Coordinator, Nick Doria, said she is reliable and versatile.

“Pat is one of Riding to the top’s most dedicated volunteers, she is always ready to lend a hand wherever help is needed,” Doria said.

Luke is a 27-year-old Haflinger Gelding and has been a member of the RTT herd for nearly 15 years. Luke is an amazing horse (actually a pony, but don’t tell him that); steady and calm for those needing a lot of support, and responsive yet challenging for emerging independent riders.

His versatility is matched by a larger-than-life personality that endears him to his riders, volunteers and instructors.

According to Kristin Meaney, PATH Intl. Certified Instructor and RTT Equine Manager, Luke is a perfect fit for RTT and its clients.

“Luke has given confidence and happiness to countless riders and is adored and trusted by all of our instructors and volunteers. This award is well deserved, and we are so proud of him,” Meaney said.

Next, Niboli and Luke join all of the Regional winners as they move on to the International competition, with the winners announced in October.

Founded in 1993, Riding To The Top Therapeutic Riding Center’s (RTT) mission is enhancing health and wellness through equine assisted services. RTT is a PATH Intl. Premier Accredited Center (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International).

Located in Windham, RTT is the state’s only year-round PATH Intl. Premier Accredited Center solely dedicated to serving people with disabilities through equine assisted services. RTT is a community-based nonprofit, receives no federal or state funding and provides scholarships to more than 60 percent of its clients.

Currently visitors at the farm are limited due to COVID-19.

For more information about client services, volunteering, or making a gift, please visit or call 207-892-2813. <

Friday, February 12, 2021

Hands on the historical record: Seventh graders display a burning desire to showcase and share Windham history

By Walter Lunt

“It’s not just learning history facts; it’s learning while having fun doing activities.” Sophie Villanueva

Grasping wood burning pens and leaning intently over their work on a creative map project, junior historians at Windham Middle School plot and mark places of historic interest on small sheets of pine board.

Such is an almost typical day, after school, in the middle school library where the History Club meets each Tuesday, masked and socially distanced. Seventh graders Delia Tomkus, Aeden Leighton, Ty Stahle and Sophie Villanueva engage each week with co-leaders Paula Sparks and Brian Brigham to explore topics in Windham history, and other far-ranging subjects like wars and Victorian Santa Claus.

History Club member Ty Stahle
displays his half-completed
wood-burned map of Windham. The
finished project will include
locations and labels of historic sites.
“(The club) reinforces what they are learning in Social Studies,” says Sparks, “…it provides an opportunity for them to talk about history from today’s perspective.” And how what was going in other places influenced the way people in Windham lived. A study of Victorian times, for example, spawned a discussion of a famous letter sent by a child to the New York Sun newspaper in 1897. Following a discussion of “Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus,” and how it prompted a slew of ‘letters to the editor’ from other children, History Club member Aeden Leighton solemnly observed how “…it was sad knowing what kids were asking for (back then), and how little some of them had and wanted.”

Delia Tomkus liked making the wood-burned maps and learning about historical places in Windham. Using the town maps found in the history back packs at Windham Library, the students placed carbon paper (historical in itself) between the map and the wood surface, traced the outline, wood-burned some of the geographical features, added paint to bodies of water and applied a natural stain. 

Later, they plan to identify and label historical sites (old fort, powder mills, Quaker district, etc.) utilizing push-pins and string.

The History Club is in its second year at WMS. Sparks says this year has been a real challenge. Some kids miss sessions because of quarantine, “Any time there is an active case (of the virus), anyone determined to have had close contact must quarantine.” Due to a rotating schedule, half of the student population can attend in-school classes on Mondays and Wednesdays; the other half attend on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So, as Sparks points out, “…the only kids who attend are those who come to school on Tuesdays. (I have) no way of knowing if the lack of a late bus or no transportation on a non-school day impacts who can participate.”

Upcoming projects and activities will include more (Windham) trivia games and crosswords, constructing pinhole cameras to record modern history and a chance to showcase artifacts and the class’ handiwork in a display case at the school library.

The History Club is sponsored by the Windham Historical Society. <

Friday, February 5, 2021

Tenny River shoreland to be conserved by Loon Echo Land Trust

Loon Echo Land Trust is conserving 25 acres of forested land along the eastern shore of the Tenny River in Raymond.

While remaining privately owned by the Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the newly conserved land is legally protected by a conservation easement held by Loon Echo Land Trust. The property is managed by Pine Tree Council as a part of Camp Hinds, a wilderness camp in existence for more than 85 years.

The protected land includes 900 feet along the river, as well as several streams and a wetland. The conservation of the 25 acres protects the water quality of the Tenny River and the waters it connects to, preserves the forested river corridor for nature observation and education as well as low-impact boating and fishing, and allows for habitat preservation and sustainable forest management. The land and river provide a rich habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife.

A kayaker paddles on the Tenny River last fall in
Raymond, opposite from the shoreline just
conserved by the Loon Echo Land Trust.
The terms of the perpetual conservation easement, which will run with the land regardless of future ownership, will preserve the quality of the water resources, plant and animal habitat, and scenic character of the property, while also encouraging the use of the property for educational and recreational opportunities managed by Pine Tree Council.

Conserving this land is part of an effort to protect the Tenny River that began six years ago. In 2014, LELT worked with community members and PTC to permanently protect 28 acres of forest and nearly 800 feet of shoreline on the Tenny River. The newly conserved land is directly adjacent, creating over 50 acres of contiguous conservation land and 1,700 feet of shoreline on the river, protected forever.

“Thanks to the foresight of local landowners and community members, the Tenny River remains almost entirely undeveloped, a rare occurrence in this area of the State,” said LELT Executive Director Matt Markot. “The conservation of this land ensures future generations will enjoy kayak paddles and the excitement of landing a fish on a wild and scenic Tenny River.”

Just 45 minutes north of Portland, the Tenny River allows boaters to experience an undeveloped river habitat. The river is bookended at one end by Panther Pond and the PTC’s Camp Hinds, and at the other by Route 85 and Crescent Lake. A public boat launch on the south end of Crescent Lake provides access for boaters; lake residents and visitors travel through the Tenny to enjoy its natural beauty and to explore the lakes on either end.

The protection of the Tenny River corridor in turn protects the water quality of Panther Pond, Sebago Lake and the Casco Bay watershed. The river and its forested banks have been identified by both the Town of Raymond’s Open Space Plan and the conservation partnership Sebago Clean Waters as a high priority for protection.

SCW, a collaborative of nine organizations, including LELT, contributed funds toward the long-term management, stewardship, and enforcement of the easement. The funds are the result of support from forward-thinking Portland-area businesses—such as Woodard & Curran and Allagash Brewing Company—that recognize the importance of clean Sebago Lake water for their communities and businesses to thrive.

The conservation easement was made possible by the Pine Tree Council, a group of Panther Pond landowners, the support of many individual donors, and Sebago Clean Waters. If you’re interested in learning about the conservation options available for your land, contact LELT Executive Director Matt Markot at 207-647-4352 or by email at

Loon Echo Land Trust is a member supported, non-profit land trust that works to protect the land and natural resources of the northern Sebago Lake region for future generations. Loon Echo conserves more than 8,000 acres of land and manages 32 miles of public trails in the towns of Bridgton, Casco, Denmark, Harrison, Naples, Raymond and Sebago. For more information on Loon Echo, local trails and preserves, or conserving your land, visit

Sebago Clean Waters is a partnership between the Portland Water District and eight local, regional, and national conservation organizations working collaboratively to protect water quality, community well-being, a vibrant economy, and fish and wildlife habitat in the Sebago region through voluntary forest conservation and stewardship. For more information visit <