Marblehead’s top stories of 2022

From a municipal election ballot shortage and the death of a longtime town moderator to a purported monk allegedly conspiring to commit fraud and the election of the successor to former state rep. Lori Ehrlich, there was no dearth of Marblehead news stories in 2022. And so the Marblehead Current’s top stories in 2022 are a wide-ranging mix. 

Bike park agreement signed

Teens ride their mountain bikes at Lead Mills in January 2021 but would later be banned from the property by the Conservation Commission. CURRENT PHOTO/ LEIGH BLANDER

After two years of heated public meetings and setbacks, it appears a bike park will finally open this spring in the Green Street woods across from the transfer station.

The New England Mountain Bike Association has signed a five-year agreement with the Marblehead Recreation and Parks Department to build and maintain bike trails on the site.

“We are incredibly grateful to our friends at NEMBA for their support in getting the Marblehead off-road bike park officially underway,” said Pat Milner with Bike MOR (Marblehead Off-Road). Milner has been leading the campaign to build the park.

Hopes for a bike park began during COVID when a group of teenagers started searching for places to ride their mountain bikes. In January 2021, they built small bike jumps at Lead Mills, which is conservation land.

Longtime Marblehead tailor retires at 96

Longtime Marblehead tailor Charles Katsouilakos retired after 55 years. CURRENT PHOTO/ LEIGH BLANDER

One of Marblehead’s longest-running businesses closed in 2022, and its owner reluctantly retired at 96 years old. 

“What am I going to do now?” asked Charles Katsoulakos, who opened his tailor shop more than 55 years ago. “Maybe I’ll sleep a little later.”

Katsoulakos said he has served “hundreds and hundreds” of customers over the decades.

Abbot Public Library staff settles into new digs

Joann Curtis and her son, Brayden, 9, peruse books in the Abbot Public Library’s interim space, the shuttered Eveleth Elementary School. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Abbot Public Library staff swung open the front doors to their new home and welcomed patrons into the former Eveleth Elementary School, 3 Brook Road, after a five-week, Herculean relocation. 

From this interim space, library staff will serve Marblehead residents and patrons for roughly the next 18 months as a multi-million dollar renovation to the Pleasant Street location plays out.

Jenny Armini wins

State Rep. Jenny Armini with her dog, Wallace, a Scottish terrier mix. COURTESY PHOTO / VICTORIA DOSCH

Marbleheaders’ appetite for the 8th Essex District race was quite voracious as six candidates vied for the Democratic party’s nomination through the summer months. And Jenny Armini’s victory in the September primary positioned her as the successor to former state rep. Lori Ehrlich, who served as the district’s representative for 14 years. Armini had no Republican challengers.  

Armini’s swearing-in this January restores the district’s representation after nearly a yearlong vacancy. She steps into the state representative post with extensive political acumen. She has worked as a senior advisor and legislative aid, speechwriter and policy expert. She co-founded Elect Blue, a grassroots political group dedicated to electing Democrats in 2018, and served as head of communication for MassINC, a leading nonpartisan policy think tank in the state. 

Armini’s election extended Marblehead’s decades-long monopoly on the 8th Essex District seat, following not only Ehrlich but her predecessor Douglas W. Petersen, and his predecessor, Larry Alexander. 

A notable municipal election

Folks canvassing outside the Judy and Gene Jacobi Community Center on June 21, 2022. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Before the 8th Essex District became the talk of the town, there was the town election on June 21.

Jean-Jacques Yarmoff unseated incumbent Walter Homan for a seat on the Marblehead Light Commission in a municipal election that saw a townwide ballot shortage.  A recount held July 11 at Marblehead High School expanded the margin by 19 votes.

Voters elected Jack Attridge to succeed longtime town moderator Gary Spiess, who held the post for 16 years and has since passed away.  Meanwhile, ‘Headers backed a Proposition 2 1/2 debt-exclusion override to finance a $24.3 million smorgasbord of capital improvement projects over the next five years.  Voters rejected a $3 million general override to fund what school officials billed as “unmet needs.”

The matter remains unresolved, and it may resurface in the march to Town Meeting.

Garry Spiess, longtime town moderator, dies at 82

Gary Spiess, who served as town moderator for 16 years, died on Nov. 25. He was 82. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Gary Spiess’s death came months after he decided not to run for a 17th term as town moderator, opening an elected office that for nearly 60 years had been held by only two men, Spiess and Steve Howe. 

Select Board Chair Moses Grader said Spiess had an ability to read the direction of Town Meeting debate. He understood that Marbleheaders valued brevity, and when debate became redundant, Spiess would say, “I think we’re getting to that point where everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet.”

“He kind of was that classic Marbleheader in the sense that he didn’t beat around the bush,” Grader said. “He told you what he thought, but he was also very generous and caring.”

Select Board member Jackie Belf-Becker agreed. “His town meetings were tight and to the point.”

Grader said Spiess worked to create a welcoming Town Meeting where citizens could feel free to weigh in.

“Running a good Town Meeting was very important,” said Grader. “But I will tell you he really respected the whole process, including the importance and courage that it takes for people to stand up and speak, and he certainly encouraged that.”

The School Committee vacancy

Marblehead School Committee will fill the Emily Barron vacancy in the new year. COURTESY PHOTO

A Marblehead vacancy earned much attention after former School Committee member Emily Barron submitted her resignation in late October. In that action’s wake, 10 people submitted their names to fill the vacancy until the June election.  

The Select Board intervened in the filling-the-vacancy process following a split vote among the remaining four School Committee members. The Select Board and School Committee members will come together in a joint meeting to appoint a temporary successor to Barron in the new year.

The Marblehead Community Store shutters

A throng of people inside the Marblehead Community Store after the business’s owners posted over Facebook that they were giving their inventory away for free.  CURRENT  PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

A throng cleared Marblehead Community Store shelves in late August after the Beacon Street’s business owner posted on Facebook, “Please come and grab whatever you need.” 

Folks jammed aisles, grabbing what they could. Some loaded up their car trunks while others filled plastic trash bags. It was the final act for a truly local business, which subsequently closed. For more than 50 years, it filled a small-town niche. It sold regular market wares, but also garnered a reputation for making sandwiches and employed an on-site butcher. 

The Fort Sewall renovation wraps

Celebrating the completion of a $1.8 million renovation at Fort Sewall CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

More than 3,000 people streamed into Fort Sewall to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the federal government turning the fort over to the town – and the completion of a $1.8 renovation project. The renovation started in 2018 with planning and fundraising. Town Meeting approved $750,000 in 2019 and supporters raised more than $1 million.

The transfer station fire

Marblehead was on edge Aug. 1 as firefighters battled a suspicious blaze at the transfer station.

The late-afternoon fire erupted in a yard-waste section of the Woodfin Terrace property and spread to multiple brush piles, threatening abutting homes and an industrial complex. While no one was injured, the fire’s intensity broke nearby windows. It also spread to the dry grass near the yard-waste area. Smoke engulfed Marblehead’s west side and billowed across Salem Sound.

Once firefighters got the blaze under control, the response transitioned to monitoring hot spots, putting water on small fires as they broke out and separating piles. Workers from the Marblehead Department of Public Works were called in to assist by breaking up the yard-waste piles using front-end loaders.

Public safety officials and law enforcement opened an arson investigation into the fire.

Select Board hires new Town Administrator  

Marblehead Select Board interviews Thatcher Kezer for the job of town administrator in May. COURTESY PHOTO / TOWN OF MARBLEHEAD

The Marblehead Select Board hired former Amesbury mayor Thatcher Kezer in the spring, filling a vacancy created after Jason Silva’s abrupt resignation roughly six months prior. Kezer took over from John McGinn, who served as interim town administrator. He came out of retirement to help during the transition period. 

FBI arrests purported monk on fraud charges

Marblehead resident Brian Andrew Bushell, 47, a purported Orthodox Christian monk, was arrested on charges of allegedly committing wire fraud and unlawful monetary transactions of $3.6 million in federal aid earmarked for COVID benefits. COURTESY PHOTO

Marblehead was captivated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s arrest of two residents in mid-October. 

Brian Andrew Bushell, 47, and Tracey M.A. Stockton, 64, were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and unlawful monetary transactions of some $3.6 million in federal aid earmarked for COVID benefits, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Massachusetts.

Bushell and Stockton allegedly used their various for-profit and nonprofit outfits (they founded and ran the Marblehead Salt Company and the Marblehead Brewing Company) as vehicles to funnel COVID funds into their pockets. 

Bushell, a purported monk who took a vow of poverty, was the executive director behind the St. Paul’s Foundation, a reported monastic religious organization of the monks of Mount Athos in Greece. 

Kris Olson and Leigh Blander contributed to this writing and reporting. 

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