June 16, 2013

Madison woman goes the extra miles for schoolchildren

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Some of us can claim having done some community service.

click image to enlarge

Linda Theberge, of Madison, and her son, Ryan, outside the Mount Merici Academy in Waterville on Thursda. Linda Theberge has logged more than 300,000 miles transporting Ryan and other kids to school for 25 years.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Others can boast a fair amount.

Linda Theberge fits a category difficult to define.

Over the last 25 years, she has driven about 50 children to and from Mount Merici Academy, a private school in Waterville, from Madison, where she lives.

She has logged more than 300,000 miles, first driving a van provided by St. Sebastian Parish in Madison and then in her own car.

She not only drove her four children the 100-mile round trip to school during those 25 years; she also ferried many others from towns including Skowhegan, Cornville and Mercer, picking them up at Cumberland Farms in Norridgewock as she passed through on her way to Waterville and then stopping at children's homes in Fairfield Center.

She did not get paid for her work and didn't expect it.

"Most of the parents had to work," Theberge, 47, said Thursday. "I was a stay-at-home mom and eventually I took it on, full time, because it was so hard for parents to juggle their time."

As a lifelong Catholic, Theberge said, it was important to both her and her husband, Martin, to have their children attend Mount Merici.

Ironically, Martin, 50, is a tractor-trailer driver who, Linda proudly boasts, has driven 3 million miles himself during his 30-year career.

If not for his support, she said, she would not have been able to be a volunteer driver.

"You know how they say behind a great man is a greater woman? With me, it's behind me is a great husband; very supportive."

Mount Merici has afforded their children — Nicholas, now 29, Erica, 25, Alison, 18, and Ryan, 12 — a great education in an environment that is caring, nurturing, and giving, she said.

"It's worth it; the education is really worth it."

I first saw Linda Theberge on Wednesday night at Mount Merici, where she was called to the stage during the school's sixth-grade graduation ceremony.

She was surprised with a "serviam" award for her work driving students to school and on field trips for so many years. Serviam is Latin for "I will serve."

Her son, Ryan, was one of 17 students to graduate and is the last of the Theberge children to attend Mount Merici, so this is the last year his mother will drive students to school.

Ryan also received a serviam award for volunteering many times at the Muskie Center and Sacred Heart Soup Kitchen, where he served food and helped clean up.

He gave a speech Wednesday about loyalty, citing his grandparents' loving, 57-year marriage that ended when his grandmother died two months ago.

Ryan spoke eloquently, as did the 16 other sixth-graders who gave speeches about responsibility, honesty, integrity, kindness, compassion and other virtues.

I was amazed by the poise, patience, and apparent lack of nerves with which they delivered their speeches, standing there on the stage before a crowded gymnasium. Their elocution was impeccable; their speeches, insightful, focused and moving.

The evening was filled with music, singing and accolades, with teachers and staff members paying tribute to the children who would be leaving the nest, and the sixth-graders thanking them for their mentorship.

The next day, after the excitement of the previous evening and just before the school's final assembly, I met Linda and Ryan Theberge in the school library. They spoke of the school and the effect it has had on their family.

"I really like that teachers are always loving and caring and welcoming," Ryan said. "They teach you loyalty and respect and all the virtues that could be named."

He also praised his mother, his most loyal supporter.

"I really thank her, because without the good education this school provides, I wouldn't have a good foundation."

There is a distinctly good feeling one gets from being at Mount Merici — a sense that love, kindness and genuine respect for others is of high priority here.

Schooling in any other kind of environment, I believe, is for naught.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at acalder@mainetoday.com.

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