Community in mourning for family’s loss

TRAGEDY IN NEW IPSWICH

  • Anne Vaillencourt pours coffee for customers at Nennie's 5 Star Cafe and Catering in New Ipswich, where a collection jar has been set up to take donations for the Prince family, who lost two family members and their home in a fire Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Anne Vaillencourt pours coffee for customers at Nennie's 5 Star Cafe and Catering in New Ipswich, where a collection jar has been set up to take donations for the Prince family, who lost two family members and their home in a fire Sunday.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Several local businesses in New Ipswich and Greenville band together to collect donations for a family displaced by a fatal fire on Sunday. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Several local businesses in New Ipswich and Greenville band together to collect donations for a family displaced by a fatal fire on Sunday.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

  • Anne Vaillencourt pours coffee for customers at Nennie's 5 Star Cafe and Catering in New Ipswich, where a collection jar has been set up to take donations for the Prince family, who lost two family members and their home in a fire Sunday.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • Several local businesses in New Ipswich and Greenville band together to collect donations for a family displaced by a fatal fire on Sunday. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

NEW IPSWICH — For one New Ipswich family, this year’s Christmas was consumed with grief after an early morning fire on Sunday claimed the life of two of its members.

Beth and Richard Prince of 36 Huse Rd. in New Ipswich remain in critical condition, following a fire that killed the couple’s grandson, 23-month-old Gregory Prince Jr., who was staying the night, and the life of another 26-year-old man, who family friends have said is one of the Prince’s grown sons and Gregory Prince Jr.’s uncle, Joshua Prince.

The family’s home was a complete loss, said Fire Chief David Leel. The members of the household who were not at the hospital overnight have been staying with a family member, and arrangements are currently being made to furnish an apartment for their use while they decide their next step.

The family is known around town for two things, said family friends in interviews on Wednesday: how close they were as a family and their generosity.

“Beth was the type to open her home to anyone,” said Heather Mahoney, the owner of the New Ipswich Market, who has set up a collection for the family at her store. “She would let anyone stay with her for as long as they needed.”

A longtime friend of the Princes, Mark Walden, agreed with Mahoney.

“The family is a very well-known, giving family, and I think that’s coming back to them now,” said Walden.

The family was known for being very devoted to each other, said Thomas Gallagher, the owner of Nennie’s 5 Star Cafe and Catering in New Ipswich.

“If you look up the definition of family, they’re it,” said Gallagher. “They get together on a weekly basis. You never see one without another family member next to them. They’re a tight-knit group. They like to joke around and have a great sense of humor, and when we’ve had our problems, they were right there for us. They’re the definition of a true American family.”

Over the course of only a few days following the fire, residents of Greenville and New Ipswich dropped off a huge number of clothes and cash donations at several local drop-offs set up for the family.

“What happened was absolutely horrible,” said New Ipswich resident Matt Heath, while shopping at the New Ipswich Market on Wednesday. Heath said he graduated in the same year as Greg Prince, the father of the young boy who perished in the fire. “God bless them, and I hope they pull together and get through this.”

Another New Ipswich resident and New Ipswich Market worker, Megan Cain, said Gregory Prince Jr. and his family were frequent visitors of the store, and she knew the little boy well.

“He really did have the best personality,” said Cain. “Every time he would come in here, I would laugh. He made the best faces.”

A former neighbor of the Princes, Jeralee Pare of New Ipswich, said her young son would often play with Gregory Prince Jr., who was about the same age.

“It just breaks my heart,” she said while working at Marcus P’s Diner on Wednesday. “All our love and prayers go out to them.”

Another part of the community that is grieving for the loss are the people that were on the scene Sunday fighting the blaze. The men and women that make up New Ipswich’s volunteer Fire Department are taking the loss of life hard, said Fire Chief David Leel in an interview Wednesday.

In his 43 years of experience, Leel has seen three fatal fires. Even though he’s seen fatal fires firsthand before, it was still difficult for him, he said, especially knowing one of the deaths was of a young child. But for many of the firefighters on his crew, this was the first fatal fire they’ve seen.

“Some of the members are taking it hard,” said Leel. “The hardest part for me is that it happened on my watch. As the fire chief, you feel like you’re responsible, and that’s the hardest for me to deal with.”

A Critical Stress Team from the N.H. State Fire Marshal’s Office will be meeting with members of the Fire Department in the coming days, said Leel.

Residents and local
businesses offer support

While nothing can replace the loss of two lives, the local community has come together to help the family replace some of the other things that were lost on Sunday. There has been a tremendous amount of support from people donating not only cash and clothes, but things like Christmas presents for the family and even furniture.

Both the towns of New Ipswich and Greenville have pulled together to give the Prince Family an outpouring of support. Collection boxes have been placed at Nennie’s 5 Star Cafe, the Greenville American Legion, the New Ipswich Market and Marcus P’s Diner, and an account has been opened in the Princes name at TD Bank North to handle the incoming donations. There was also an effort by family friends, Mike Wescott and Doug Case, to collect furniture to equip a temporary apartment for the family to live in.

The Gallaghers, co-owners of Nennie’s 5 Star Cafe and Catering in New Ipswich, set up a collection fund for the family after learning of the fire. The Princes ares longtime customers of Nennie’s, having dined there since the cafe was located in Greenville. And the community has jumped into action to supply the family with whatever they need, said Annette Gallagher in an interview Wednesday.

“I’m overwhelmed with how many people came out to support them,” she said. “I think it’s great that so many people are willing to give.”

“Over the course of the last few days, it’s been a three-to-one ratio,” said Thomas Gallagher. “Where we have one patron, we’ll have three people coming in to donate. The other day, we must have sent out five truckloads of clothes and presents for the family for Christmas. We had people donating time to wrap donations so they’d have something at Christmas. It’s been pretty overwhelming.”

The New Ipswich Market also set up a collection for clothes, gifts, and a donation jar, both for the replacement of the family’s possessions and to help with the funeral costs.

“People have brought in things like clothing and gift cards. I’ve seen some people come in twice, just to drop off donations,” said Heather Mahoney, the owner of the New Ipswich Market. She said the market has raised at least $600 in donations from a change jar on the counter. That’s not counting donation checks which have been dropped off at the market to be deposited at TD Bank North.

But it’s not just New Ipswich residents who are dipping into their reserves to help out the Princes. Greenville, where Gregory Prince Jr. lived, also saw it’s share of donations through Marcus P’s Diner, owned by Mark Walden, and the American Legion.

In the space of a day, local businesses collected several thousand dollars to support the family, said Walden in a phone interview Wednesday.

“The real heroes are the people that gave,” said Walden. “There are people in this town that have very little that found something to give on Christmas Eve.”

“The amount of support they’ve gotten is awesome,” said Matt Heath, who graduated with Gregory Prince Sr. “That’s what small communities like ours have to do to help with a tragedy like that: Come together.”

Megan Cain, a worker at the New Ipswich Market, agreed. “I’ve never seen this community come together this fast and this willingly,” she said. “I really haven’t. It’s amazing.”

Walden said he spoke to John Prince, Richard Prince’s brother, on Wednesday, and learned the family was awed by the amount of donations that had been collected in such a short time.

While the family has a nearly complete furniture set and replacement clothing, there are still needs to be met. The biggest needs currently are gas cards, to allow the family to drive back and forth from UMass Medical Center, and help with heating oil, said Walden, noting all donations are welcome.

Marcus P’s Diner and the American Legion will be joining forces next week to host a benefit dinner at the legion on Jan. 6, with all of the proceeds going to the Prince family. Ticket prices are $12 per person and are available at the American Legion or Marcus P’s.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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