Hollis Brookline battles back from latest emotional blow

HOLLIS – Sadness hung thick over Hollis Brookline High School on Dec. 11 as administrators, teachers and students alike struggled to soldier on in the aftermath of Dec. 9’s tragic death of senior Cam Ricard.

It’s a feeling that, unfortunately, has infiltrated not only the school hallways and classrooms but the entire two-town community far too often this school year. And it’s a gloomy, grueling streak that has more than a few people saying “Enough, already.”

Ricard’s death in a one-vehicle
rollover crash on an icy F.E. Everett Turnpike on-ramp late the night of Dec. 9 is the most recent of the tragedies, which also include the deaths of two recent HBHS graduates and four others who interim SAU 41 Superintendent John Moody said were connected with, or “direct relatives” of, HBHS staff members.

“We’re reeling from the constant emotion that comes with each one of these events,” Moody said last week, only a couple of hours before a public forum was to take place to help the school community and residents grieve and cope in the aftermath of Ricard’s accident.

It was just a month ago that 21-year-old Sebastian Abt, a 2010 HBHS graduate, was killed when his car collided with a commercial truck on Route 130 in Hollis.

Abt, whom friends called “a computer genius,” had been studying computer engineering at Daniel Webster College in Nashua and was scheduled to graduate in the spring.

In August, just as everyone was getting ready to return to the classrooms and athletic fields, word came down that well-known 2011 HBHS graduate Kendall Van Schoick had lost his life in an accident in Pepperell, Mass.

Van Schoick was about to start his junior year at the University of Northwestern Ohio, where he was studying the high-performance automotive field, said to be his passion – as hockey and Motocross were Ricard’s.

The October loss of Hollis resident Thomas Leon Oliver, at 48 still quite young but a generation older than Ricard, Abt and Von Schoick, also saddened the community.

He was a 1983 graduate of Hollis Area High School, the predecessor of Hollis Brookline High School. Oliver had battled Lou Gehrig’s disease which he developed while serving as a fighter-jet crew chief with the Air Force in Operation Desert Storm.

That generation of Hollis and Brookline residents lost another friend a week before Thanksgiving, when 51-year-old longtime Brookline firefighter Curt Jensen died unexpectedly at his home.

Jensen, who graduated from Hollis Area High in 1980, also was a manager at Wetherbee Plumbing and Heating in Milford.

Few current students and teachers knew Wilma Margaret Sherman, but many a longtime resident likely recalled the venerable, 40-year Hollis educator when she died Oct. 9 at age 77.

Described as a dedicated and caring teacher, Sherman taught high school English and was perhaps best remembered for her work in establishing the school’s drama program.

Moody, who came out of retirement to head the district this year, said tragic, unexpected deaths like this year’s in the relatively small Hollis-Brookline community seem to hit everyone harder.

“I was in Salem and Derry, which are very large school systems,” Moody said. “Not that there aren’t tragedies that affect a lot of people in big districts, but I’ve found that it’s very different here, because everything that happens here touches everyone.”

While Ricard’s family and closest friends, of course, are most affected by his death, the next level of mourners isn’t very far removed – and it’s all-inclusive, Moody said.

“Everyone knows Cam, or knows someone who knew Cam,” he said. “No way you can find anyone who can say they’re not touched in some way by this. Nobody is exempt; if they’re not directly related, they’re a member of his extended family.”

There were a few bright spots in all the gloom, Moody said.

“I couldn’t have been more impressed with how these kids handled walking up to the microphone and speaking about Cam,” he said, referring to a group counseling session for juniors and seniors held Dec. 11 in the gym.

“I clearly remember what one student said, … ‘Remember what Cam gave to us, and what we gave to him: that mutual respect,’?” Moody said. “Now that’s very impressive.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Shalhoup on Twitter (@Telegraph_DeanS).