• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #27: New England Center, Durham


I can still taste the wedding cake and it's sweet after all these years

With some of the places on this list, the relationship is fairly straightforward. With others, there are layers upon layers, and the unpacking takes some effort. One such place is the old New England Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, the university-owned and -operated conference center, hotel, and restaurant that still awaits reinvention almost seven years after being shuttered. (Though I understand the hotel portion has become student housing. Swanky.) There are three very distinct portions of my life that have been intertwined with that strange structure nestled amongst the trees off Strafford Ave. I'll revisit them in order of chronology, if not importance.

First: It's hard to look back at my college experience without remembering the hours spent in that building, and many of my UNH Student Senate contemporaries probably feel the same. Meetings, receptions, meals, seminars - we went toe-to-toe with the Board of Trustees, celebrated the opening of new facilities, and broke bread with administrators. The MUB, Horton, the NEC - these were my true homes on campus as much as Hitchcock Hall or the Woodsides. I have a particularly fond memory of a several-hour farewell dinner there just before graduation with fellow retiring student agitator Geoff Grant and a couple of our favorite administrators to torment, Gary Armitage and Anthony Zizos. I know Shelagh and Mike and Daryl and Ben and Becky and a host of others have similar memories of those days.

Second: The NEC wasn't out of my life for long after Commencement. I came back to UNH in 1999 to work for Ted Kirkpatrick and Justiceworks, and the place became a second office for us, hosting meetings of NH justice system leaders as we hustled to get that enterprise off the ground. And when I transferred my Rotary membership from the Portsmouth Club to Durham, the Wednesday morning breakfast meetings at Acorns Lounge became a weekly staple for nearly a decade. Arthur Bradbury and Andrew Wood and Chuck Cressy and Sean Fitzgerald and John Belcher and Cellissa Hoyt and a host of others will remember all the eggs we ate and good we tried to do from that cozy little spot. I can't imagine my life without RYLA, and RYLA would never have happened - for me or for anyone - without the contributions of that intrepid little club.

Third: Finally - and most importantly - the New England Center in 2005 was where Sarah and I held the reception following our wedding, where we were able to eat and drink and dance and celebrate surrounded by our family and friends in a place so saturated with personal history and relevance. It makes me sad to think of it sitting vacant, of those beautiful rooms with the high glass walls that saw so much laughter and life, now dark and lonely. But that's the way of it, I suppose - nothing lasts forever except memory.

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