Newcomer contributes to the revitalization of Winchester

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WINCHESTER, N.H. — Originally from New Jersey, Robert Leustek and his wife, Gloria, knew they wanted to live in a quaint New England town, so 13 years ago they bought property in Winchester.

However, due to family responsibilities they didn't physically move to their new address 2014 and they haven't looked back.

"We wanted to live in a place that felt like home, to us this felt like home," said Robert Leustek.

Most of Leustek's time, prior to the move, was spent working at the Sisters of Saint John the Baptist convent in PeaPack-Gladstone, N.J. There, he became what is known as a jack-of- all-trades, honing his skills in roofing, masonry, tree work, and boiler maintenance. On several occasions he was even called upon to be an animal wrangler and had to save the sisters from bats that had entered the building as well as extract a vulture from the boiler room.

When he and his wife made the move to Winchester and were finally settled into their new home they wanted to be active community members and began by attending the Board of Selectmen meetings, getting to know the town and their new neighbors.

They started cleaning up trash strewn on the side of the road that they live on and neighbors were more than willing to pitch it. Now, it is a familiar scene to be driving on that same road and seeing neighbors on their lawn tractors pulling a wagon behind and filling it with trash.

"We take pride in our street and we are keeping it clean," said Leustek, who became friendly with Selectman Jack Marsh. In September of 2016 the two started a conversation about the church tower and the clock that was installed in that tower in 1877 by the E. Howard Company out of Boston, Mass.

Marsh said town folk might hear the chimes accidentally or sometimes on the half hour, but that they hadn't heard the clock ring regularly in some years. He wondered if Leustek could make the clock run again so that it would ring as it was originally intended to, which was every hour on the hour.

Leustek said he had done a lot of things, "but never restored a clock before."

He was up for the challenge and in November of 2016 he began volunteering two to three hours a week of his time, in the cold of winter, at the tower.

There are a great deal of brass parts that need attention and the Leustek's dining room table currently serves as a work space for gears that he takes home from the tower to clean. His goal is to rebuild and restore the clock but not to make it look brand new.

At the March 1 Board of Selectmen's meeting, Leustek was unanimously voted in to be the Town Clock Custodian.

Leustek initially looked to the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors messaging board to see if he could receive any assistance for his project to rehab the clock. There he found Brian Tanguay, owner of Tanguay Jewelers in Gardner, Mass., who just so happened to be restoring the same clock at Saint Paul's Church in Barton, Vt. Tanguay, like Leustek, is providing his services to the town at no cost.

Leustek then contacted Toy City, in Keene, for advice on the process of adding the appearance of age to the restored and new pieces of the clock. It was suggested that using a procedure known as patina and using coffee and paint would add the distressed, aged antique look that he was seeking.

Leustek hopes to finish the clock revitalization in a year and will consider himself lucky if he is able to meet that deadline. He is also concerned that, although the town owns the clock, it does not own the Center Church building where the clock is located. He stated that the church, as well as other historic buildings in Winchester, is in need of repair.

There is now a warrant article to protect the building by providing money to pay the salary for a grant writer who was instrumental in a successful Keene project.

Leustek isn't only interested in revitalizing the clock. He is passionate about putting Winchester on the map. He stated that the town's location at Route 10, Route 119 and Route 78 there is continual traffic, whether drivers are going to the races or heading to the ski slopes, or on their way camping up north, and he wants them to, "stop and see what Winchester has to offer."

Winchester is home of the annual Pickle Festival but there is so much more being offered. There are several unique places to dine for instance, said Leustek. "There is the Sweetwater Distillery, A1 Pizza and the Rustic Table. I don't want to change the it. I want to restore it to the way it was. I want to bring community back to the town. I would like to rejuvenate the community and with a little bit of elbow grease we could have people stop and enjoy our town instead of just driving through it."

Not only is he greasing the gears of the clock, Leustek is actively involved in local community projects that are encouraging locals and passersby to stop and enjoy downtown Winchester and its side streets.

He is a member of the Revitalization and Economic Development Committee, which oversees several programs including the Music in the Park Series that occurs every Thursday for 12 weeks in the summer months from 6 p.m. until dark.

Leustek spoke of a female farmer who simply could not make it to town for the music series, as she was so tired from working all day that she just wanted to soak in her tub after her labors. Thanks to the filming of the concert series she was able to watch the series live on Facebook.

One night, besides bringing chairs to the gazebo to enjoy the music, there were groups of spectators sitting on their doorsteps listening to one of the bands. The response was so positive that the band played three encores that lasted well past dark.

Gloria, his wife, is the market manager of the Winchester Farmer's Market located at the town hall in the winter months and at the gazebo on Main Street in the summer months. Vendors sell pastries and pies from the Cat Den Market Bakery, bread from the Kernal Bakery, jelly and jams from Shire Sunshine Preserves, pork from the Lazy Dogs Farm and Winery and framed photos by photographer Beth Pelton of Eight Cattails Imagery. You can also shop for farm fresh eggs and honey from Leustek's own Porcupine Acres. The market runs year round on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information go to www.winchesterfarmersmarketnh.org.

Other on going projects that the RED Committee is involved in are improving parking downtown, preserving old buildings, hosting the spring clean up on earth day and providing hot dogs and soda to participants, commissioning an artist to paint the iron bridge downtown, and securing an EBT machine.

"I want to help out," said Leustek. "I volunteer so much of my time I want to polish it up, shine it, restore it, the clock and the town. I want to protect our way of life."

Leustek put his hat in the ring for the Board of Selectmen last year and, although he didn't win a seat, he did well with votes and decided to run for selectmen and the planning board this year.

Robert and Gloria Leustek live on 2.1 acres with a goose Lexi, a cat they call Murray, and their chickens. They have nine hives that all survived the winter and have 10 trees tapped to make maple syrup that they give to their family members for Christmas every year.

Laura Wilson can be contacted at lawtrekking@gmail.com.

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