What exactly makes a hero a hero?

Heroes come in many sizes, shapes and forms, our Souhegan Valley readers agree. But one isn’t born a hero, many are quick to add – it takes a special combination of trust, bravery, humanitarianism, selflessness and a genuine willingness to stick their neck out for their neighbor.

So say a couple dozen residents across the Valley and into Merrimack and Bedford, who graciously took a minute to answer our question, “What, in your opinion, is a hero?” over the past couple of weeks.

Nominations were taken as part of our “Valley Heroes: Recognizing Good Deeds and Great People” program, the results of which are published in this special section in your Milford Cabinet, Hollis-Brookline Journal, Merrimack Journal and Bedford Journal, as well as on www.cabinet.com.

Sponsored by Fidelity Investments, BAE Systems, St. Joseph Hospital’s Milford Medical Center and The Cabinet Press, the program is aimed at recognizing heroes who step forward every day to help, to save, to mentor and to comfort others in their community.

This publication thanks those people, whether their actions are courageous or quiet, or their efforts assist one person or hundreds.

“To me, anyone who sticks their neck out for someone other than themselves would be a hero to me,” said Alan North, who rested with a friend on a bench in front of Milford’s Red Arrow Diner last week.

“That could be a cop, firefighter, soldier, or someone who does charity work, even someone who just picks up trash on the weekend,” added North, who said he’s currently out of work and hunting for a job.

Sean Trombly, of Milford, admitted he’s a bit biased when he called farmers heroes – he’s part of the Trombly Farms family – but kept it all in perspective: “We’re not superheroes, of course, but take a couple of years ago, when all that rain came in the spring,” he said, adding that the wet weather sent farmers scrambling to raise their crops that year.

To Brookline resident P.J. Flaum, a hero is “someone who has the courage to do what they (need) to do without being afraid of the consequences,” the teen said in between pickup basketball games last week.

Heroes, he said, can range from the actions of military personnel to everyday friends and neighbors, and “whether they do something small or huge,” they’re still heroes.

Friend Quinn Buckley, who’s from Hollis, sees a hero as someone who’s “courageous, brave and willing to stand up for others.

“It’s someone who puts others first in their decisions,” Buckley added. “Someone who will give up something for someone else.”

P.J. Flaum’s mom, Fannie, sees heroes in teachers, emergency medical people and military personnel. “Heroes often work quietly, and without expectation of recognition,” she said. “They’re heroes because they work hard to help others, not to put themselves first.”

Up in Bedford, 21-year-old Katie Noyes didn’t hesitate when asked her opinion of a hero.

“My parents are heroes to me, because they’re strong and caring,” Noyes said. “And they think of others before themselves.”

Enjoying a cold treat on a hot day at The Inside Scoop on Wallace Road, Calem Iversen, 12, said a hero is someone “who is trustful,” while 13-year-old Philip Sherwin sees heroes as “someone you can look up to, who gives you good advice and helps you if you have trouble.”

For David Still, it’s “someone who is probably always thinking of others before themselves” that makes heroes. “It all boils down to that.”

Over at the Bedford Public Library, young Clayton Hagy heard the question and didn’t mince words: “Guts. Real guts, and they’re few and far between,” he answered without hesitation.

Ten-year-old Hannah Feldman believes a hero is “someone who is helpful,” while Kimberly Coughlin feels it’s “someone who is confident in who they are.”

To Diane Marshall, a hero is someone who “acts selflessly and without regard to personal safety,” while 11-year-old Devon O’Hara surely made his mom’s day by answering, “a hero is someone who can help others without helping themselves.

My mom’s my hero,” Devon said.

In Amherst, Heather Stickney agreed with other respondents in saying a real hero is someone who does things for the good of the whole rather than for recognition.

“To me heroism is contributing to the community, contributing to the betterment of society in a humble way,” Stickney said. “It’s about having an impact without seeking recognition.”

Wilton resident Robin Goodwin, dining with friend Robyn Courtemarche on the patio at Amigo’s in Milford, said she considers servicemen and women the nation’s heroes. “They’re definitely heroes, the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for our freedom,” she said.

Courtemarche agreed, but said special needs parents top her list of heroes.

“To me, parents raising a handicapped child are heroes,” she said, citing the many challenges that families face on several fronts.

Over in Merrimack, the heat of the day turned Candice Hancock’s thoughts to those who were trying to keep people cool.

“Today’s a hot day, all those people who are volunteering to help people stay cool and help elderly people stay hydrated” surely rank among her heroes, she said. “A soldier is definitely a hero, but I think a hero can be anyone who really volunteers their time to give people a helping hand.”

She especially thought of those whose jobs involve heat even in the winter.

“The firefighters, on such a hot day … dear God,” she said.

Beating the heat with ice cream, Bedford resident Samantha Morse said “a hero is somebody who makes a difference, whether it be local or long distances.

“All our soldiers, our firefighters, all of our law enforcement, they make a difference,” Morse said. “But people like doctors can be heroes too.”

Grace Bodine of Merrimack agreed.

“A hero doesn’t have to do something outstanding. It can be someone in the background who doesn’t usually get a lot of credit, like a teacher or a parent,” she said.

For Angelica Andrade, also of Merrimack, “a hero in my opinion is someone who does the right thing. A firefighter is a hero, but also, someone who is walking down the street, picks up a wallet and gives it over to the police, that’s heroic,” Andrade said.

Denise Tassi, who was beating the heat at Merrimack favorite King Kone, singled out parents.

“A good parent is a hero. It always starts at home,” she said. “A good parent can be giving a gift to the whole next generation.”

To Scott Lauziere, “a soldier coming back from war, that’s a real hero. They’re fighting for our freedom,” he said.

“I don’t think anything compares to that.”

The meaning of heroism hits especially close to home for Jacqueline Cronin, who also enjoyed a treat at King Kone.

“To me, my nephew is a hero. In a very short period of time, he was diagnosed with leukemia…went through treatment, the bone marrow transplants, and never once complained,” Cronin said.

“He never once said ‘why me?’ He handled himself with such dignity. He knew he was going to die and he never once complained. He was 24 years old,” Cronin said.

“To me, all those cancer victims, they are heroes.”

Staff writers Maryalice Gill and Jake Berry contributed to this report.

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 31, or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.