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By Anne O’Connor

Norman Rockwell painted a romantic view of small-town America. The images of a family eating a turkey dinner, the kindly doctor or the cop sitting at a lunch bar with a runaway boy show a strong sense of community that people yearn for and hope to find.

But, that community does not exist without lots of hard work. It takes effort to create cohesion between people who may disagree on things or may simply not have the time or opportunity to meet their neighbors.

Two men are planning separate events that will bring strangers together.

“We really need camaraderie,” said Townsend’s John Whittemore. The 20-year constable saw something he did not like while working the last election.

The atmosphere was morbid and full of hatred, he said.

Among other things, Townsend has seen two failed attempts at holding a recall election and investigations of police personnel that resulted in the termination of a chief and the resignation of an officer.

“People are taking politics personal and it’s not personal,” Whittemore said. “It’s a difference of opinion.”

To help heal the rifts, he decided to take matters into his own hands and hold an all-are-welcome picnic. He owns two grills, a cotton candy machine and an ice cone machine that his wife found out about when he mentioned it to the reporter.

He booked the common, plans to buy hot dogs and hamburgers and has begun to enlist help to get things done. Two musical groups are already lined up.

He does have a couple of requests for people who plan to come. Sit with someone you don’t know and bring something for the dessert table.

“It should be a fun day,” he said.

The town-wide picnic will be held on the common Saturday, Aug. 26 from noon to 4 p.m. The rain date is the following day. No sign-up is needed.

In Shirley, Jay Duffner has been kicking around the idea of a town-wide campout for a few years now.

The town is just the right size, he said. “If you want to make a difference you can go ahead and do it.”

Like Townsend, Shirley has seen political turmoil. Duffner decided to go ahead with the planned campout in spite of the division in town.

Two selectmen were recalled and replaced, the police chief is on paid administrative leave and solar installations in town are protested.

Duffner, the leader of an Ayer Cub Scout den and member of the Shirley Recreation Commission is organizing the event with the help of some friends, “people who thought it would be a fun thing to do.” The campout is not associated with a formal groups.

“I kind of think of it as a camporee,” he said. Activities, games and doing some community-type things, similar to what might happen at scout camp, are planned.

Duffner used email and Facebook to get the word out, attracting mostly families. A camping community is coming closer together already.

“I’ve actually met a few people around town who saw the post and said they would like to be involved,” he said.

The Shirley Community Campout will be held Aug. 5 and 6 at Benjamin Hill Park. There is a charge to attend, maxing out at $20 per family. Almost 30 people were signed up the first week of July and there will be a cap of 60 attendees.

For more information and to register visit or contact Duffner at

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.

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