Southport Central School honors Gaudette with woodland playground

Mon, 07/08/2024 - 12:00pm

    About 100 people gathered Saturday, July 6 at Southport Central School for the ribbon cutting, dedication ceremony, and grand opening of the new natural woodland playground. Principal Lisa Clarke gave opening remarks and was followed by Sarah Sherman, who gave the dedication speech in honor of Ramona Thompson Gaudette, the school’s cook for 57 years. Steve and Madison Gaudette cut the ribbon.

    “Ramona helped feed the island’s children with kindness, laughter, and love, and an occasional ice pack when needed. She doted on all the kids who would visit her in the cafeteria to share some exciting news or for a hug and a much needed kind word on what seemed like a hard day. And let’s not forget her cookies – thumbprint with raspberry jam or peanut butter depending on the day, and if they were still warm, well that was just a bonus,” said Sherman. “It’s the committee’s great privilege to welcome you to explore the school’s new natural playground and to dedicate the Ramona Gaudette Mud Kitchen in her honor.”

    The new playground extends from the back of the existing playspace, winding through the forest on cleared pathways of woodchips and stone. It includes natural jungle-gym-type equipment, all made from wood, an oversized nest swing, log tunnels, tic-tac-toe board, and a model kitchen, made from wood with a sink, burners, utensils, and framed pictures of Gaudette. After the ribbon was cut, children stormed down the path to immediately put the new playground to use.

    The opening marked the culmination of many years of work on the project, from the initial idea to the ribbon cutting. The Southport Community Project Committee, which spearheaded the project, had the goal of retaining the natural wooded ambiance while designing an outdoor play area that supported students’ motor development.

    “Speaking for myself and other committee members, I hope you recognize our goals of creating a space where multi-generations will gather to play and socialize, where children will get off their screens and build relationships with nature, where there are opportunities to build their gross and fine motor development, and where people of all ages can enjoy creative, unstructured play in a natural wooded playspace,” said Clarke.

    Several groups and people were thanked by Clarke including the school board, the town selectboard, William Joyce of Carson Douglas Landscape Architecture, John Copeland of Kennebec Trail Company, and Mike Wallace Lawn and Landscaping Company. Copeland received special recognition for hard work constructing the trails and designing the features of the playground for durability and safety.

    Gaudette’s legacy to the children of Southport continues to leave a lasting impression. “Ramona truly embodied the island’s ethic of ‘love what you do, and it will never be work’ and over the 57 years she cooked, she fed three generations of island families – an astonishing feat in itself and a tribute to our three-room schoolhouse,” said Sherman. “Her love for breaking into spontaneous song and dance was legendary and infectious, and before you knew it the whole cafeteria would be on their feet singing and dancing with Ramona.”

    Gaudette died June 4, 2023. She was an active community member, part of the community band, Southport Library, Southport Methodist Church and served as grand marshal for the Windjammer Days parade. She was recognized by Maine Department of Education for her 57 years of outstanding service and in 2012 she was interviewed by the Institute of Child Nutrition.

    In lieu of flowers to honor her memory, Gaudette requested donations be made to SCS for a woodland play area.