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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Reunion set for park staff

HUDSON – As Benson Park closes in on its one-year anniversary as reborn land in Hudson, a group will remember its long life as Benson’s Wild Animal Farm with a public reunion this weekend.

Cindy Provencher, 52, of New Boston, has organized a reunion for Saturday , for former visitors and employees of Benson’s to share pictures and stories of their time at the animal park before it closed in 1987.

“A lot of the workers are getting up there in age, so we wanted to do one last hurrah,” she said. “This is to celebrate the workers throughout the years. They can bring in pictures and stories, and we’ll be just reminiscing what it was.”

The reunion will run 12-5 p.m. Saturday in “old-fashioned picnic style,” Provencher said, just like past days at Benson’s when families could bring their own food to the park.

“Benson’s was famous for that,” she said. “You could bring a picnic lunch; you didn’t have to buy food on the property.”

At least 200 people have contacted her about coming, Provencher said, including people from as far as Virginia.

Provencher reached out through Hudson’s Senior Council on Aging, where committee leader Lucille Boucher sent out information in the monthly newsletter to 700 homes. Provencher also got the word out through all small newspapers in New England.

One couple from Gilmanton contacted Provencher and said they first met at Benson’s Wild Animal Farm more than half a century ago. They celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this month and plan to come down for the reunion Saturday, she said.

Former manager Bob Lovejoy has also said he will attend, Provencher said.

“He’s real excited,” Provencher said of Lovejoy. “Many people have said they’ve waited a long time for this.”

There will be some food offered, Provencher said, but anyone attending is encouraged to bring a picnic. She will also set up a table in the park where people can tack photos and share memories of their time at Benson’s.

Provencher worked at Benson’s Wild Animal Farm from 1979 to 1987 on the animal crew. Her uncle, Arthur Provencher, was the last man to own the park before it closed in 1987.

Cindy Provencher looks back on her time at Benson’s fondly and said the elephant barn was “like my home.”

She spent most of her time there but helped clean and take care of most of the park’s animals as well.

“It’s something I’ll never forget; that’s for sure,” she said. “That’s what this whole thing is about. There’s people in their 80s that feel the same way. I want to get that frame of mind together again.”

Provencher said she organized a small, informal reunion for former Benson employees several years ago, which had good attendance, but this time she wanted to make the event more public.

Provencher also said she wanted to have the reunion at Benson Park so the old employees can “see what it’s becoming.”

“I think it’s gorgeous,” she said. “The volunteers are doing one hell of a job. The gorilla house has been painted; it looks beautiful. There’s always something new to see. And people are utilizing it, walking around or hiking.

“They’re bringing it back to life.”

Anyone with questions about the reunion or to RSVP, contact Cindy Provencher at dennisprovencher@comcast.net.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com; also check out Cameron Kittle (@Telegraph_CK) on Twitter.