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2/11/07   LaBonte Family Has Rich Gilford History

Written by Carol Anderson

Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical Society is extremely fortunate in the fact that its town possesses so many families who are willing to share their artifacts, memories, and stories. One such Gilford family is the LaBonte family. Pete LaBonte is a frequent attendee to T-AHS programs and has donated numerous historical items to the Society.

On a recent blustery winter's morning, however, it was Pete's wife, Dottie LaBonte's turn to reminisce about old-time Gilford and the substantial changes that have occurred in this town over the last half century.

Sitting in their Gilford home which overlooks the former pastures of the LaBonte Dairy Farm, Dottie recalled many happy memories from Gilford's past. The family farm is long gone and houses now dot the landscape where Holstein cows once grazed.

Dottie was born in Lakeport and lived there until she met Pete LaBonte on a blind date and they subsequently married in 1953. Dottie's tales of growing up in Laconia become a history lesson in themselves. Working papers could be obtained at the age of 12 or 13 and the "old" Main Street in Laconia possessed a wealth of places for young people to work. Dottie worked at Woolworth's, the local five and dime store, and was an usherette at the Colonial Theatre. Both Dottie and Pete chuckled as they recalled some of the simple and fun times that were had in Laconia; movie tickets went for twenty-five cents as did a banana split. Since Gilford was still a very rural town at that time, Laconia was most definitely the place to go for entertainment.

Once married, Dottie settled quickly into life in Gilford after their family home was built by Pete himself. The house still stands on a corner of one of the many pastures of the family farm. The lumber used to build the house was cut from the timber on the property and was milled in a neighboring town.

Being an ever-humble woman, Dottie is not one to brag on her accomplishments. She is a woman who doesn't just talk about "doing", she just "does". School children in the l960's may recall Dottie working in the Gilford Elementary School cafeteria where she began as a dishwasher. Once the new middle-high school was built in 1974, Dottie then headed over to the cafeteria as second cook and became the number one cook/manager and stayed in that position for 20 years.

Work and family, however, were not enough for this community-minded woman. Dottie has become a very familiar face in the kitchen of the Gilford Community Church. She is a member of the church's Social Action Committee and is always willing to pitch in and help with such events as potluck and harvest suppers.

Where Dottie sees a need in the community, she quietly finds a way to fill it. Almost twenty years ago, after having tests done at Lakes Region General Hospital and awaiting a ride home, she noticed that there were people who needed a place to go; to have a hot meal. She made a phone call to Reverend Ray Wixson of the Gilford Community Church and conveyed to him her desire to create a community kitchen.

It was not only Dottie who thought that this kitchen should become a reality. Many groups in the area combined to create "The Friendly Kitchen", which is located in Laconia. Almost twenty years later, it is a project that is still proving that it was a great idea. Once a month, Dottie still heads over to the Salvation Army in Laconia and helps out in the kitchen, which serves up a full meal for as many as 60 people, twice a week. Dottie replied, when asked if she had ever missed working a day at the kitchen, "No, never, not in twenty years. What's really nice is that the people who stop in have become like family to one another; over the years they have gotten to know each other very well and that's so important."

Being part of one of Gilford's largest families brings Dottie much happiness. "At my house, it's all about family," said Dottie, as she tells stories about her two sons, Raymond and Mark, and her numerous grandchildren. The entire LaBonte family comes together for a family reunion once a year. How fortunate we are in Gilford that Dottie's love of family has extended into the community; it has served us all well.

As the LaBonte family has proved, sharing family information is a vital part of helping any community preserve its history. If you would like to share your family's stories, memories or artifacts, please e-mail Gilford's Thompson-Ames Historical Society at thomames@worldpath.net. The Society is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of the cultural heritage of historic Gilford, NH.