Narragansett alumna Bernadette Arsenault loves life in Homer, Alaska
Bernadette (Meunier) Arsenault’s mother was three months pregnant with her in early May 1959 when the family suffered a terrible tragedy.
Their eldest son, Bernard, 15, accidentally drowned at Queen Lake while trying to save a schoolmate, Martin Laitinen, who had fallen from a boat they had taken across the lake from a scout camp to another camp.
Unfortunately, the two boys drowned.
When she was born in November of that year, Bernadette was named after her brother Bernie (which was also her father’s first name) and felt that his life may have channeled his.
“My whole family was grieving and I feel like everyone was praying for my family,” Arsenault, 62, said by phone from his home in Homer, Alaska. “I feel like I got a head start with a lot of care in the womb.”
His brother was president of the second grade class at the new Narragansett Regional High School at the time of his death. He was also president of the Catholic Youth Council of Holy Cross Church in East Templeton. Bernadette would become vice-president of her class at Narragansett as a sophomore and junior, and later serve as class president of 1977.
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She was also president of the National Honor Society, Girls’ State Representative and varsity athlete in three sports and All-American High School in field hockey and basketball.
“Bernie’s death has affected our family in so many ways,” she continued. “When a family loses a child, I don’t think there’s ever a case where another child can fill those shoes. The grief is always there.”
Arsenault remembers hearing stories of how the death of the two young boys was a profound loss for the entire town of Templeton. At the funerals of Laitinen, a Protestant, and Meunier, a Catholic, people of both faiths were present.
“At that time, Protestants and Catholics did not enter each other’s churches,” she said, noting that all schools in the city were closing for funerals. “It was the first time, I think, in the history of Templeton that Protestants entered the Catholic Church and vice versa. This form of unity was something Templeton had never seen before.
Arsenault was born into a family of four other brothers, Richard, David, Roland and Kevin Meunier, and one sister, Mary, and was later joined by younger siblings John and Amy.
Because Bernadette was such a long name, she started going by the name Bernie (like her brother) and quickly embarked on a life filled with sports and outdoor experiences.
“I’ve been playing sports since I can remember. I used to spend hours in elementary school shooting hoops in my backyard,” she said. Plus, she’d hop on her bike and ride to the Templeton Center School where she played football, basketball and baseball.
“There were kids hanging out there all the time,” Arsenault said, adding that she also enjoys playing ice hockey on the dugout on her family’s property on Patriot Road.
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Additionally, she also enjoyed sport fishing, spending many Saturdays fishing Quabbin Reservoir with future teammates Janice Ryder, Tammy Laine and Beth Zalewski.
Making his mark for Narragansett Sports Teams
Her athletic ability gave her a leg up once she reached Narragansett where she was raised on the varsity field hockey and softball teams as an eighth grader.
“It was so cool to play with older girls of that caliber,” Arsenault said, referring to older teammates Jean Dow, Cheryl Nygard, Mary Stone and Carla Stoddard. “We admired them and we learned a lot from them.”
Eventually, she teamed up with Cindy MacEwan, Kerri Kitto, Diana Geyster, Heidi Dow, Laine, Ginny Bockus, Ryder, and Jane LaRoche, among others, to form some of Narragansett’s first district qualifying teams.
“Playing sports in high school and the camaraderie was what I think I enjoyed most about my high school years,” she said.
As a junior, she was part of the first Warriors women’s basketball team to win a district game when they defeated Bromfield, 68-25, in 1976, only to lose in the next round to Lunenburg.
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During his junior and senior softball seasons, the Warriors qualified for the district playoffs. In his senior year in 1977, ‘Gansett earned his first softball playoff victory over Hudson, 8-4, with Arsenault and Ryder leading the team with three hits apiece.
Narragansett’s playoff series ended in the next round with a 6-2 loss to eventual state champion St. Peter-Marian. Arsenault, a team captain, was also named the team’s MVP.
“It was disappointing and I would have liked to go further,” said Arsenault, “but it was a great season.”
Arsenault said her professional ambitions as a youngster had always revolved around being a physical education teacher and coach but, at the suggestion of family friend Barbara Karl, she chose instead to study physiotherapy at the University of Connecticut.
“Barbara was a good friend of my parents and she became my mentor whom I looked up to,” she said. “And that’s what I decided to do as a career.”
Due to his rigorous academic schedule, Arsenault did not play college field hockey, but spent four years on the JV team at UConn.
“I looked up to Coach (Diane) Wright immediately, as soon as I met her,” she said. “I was totally satisfied playing JV field hockey for the four years at UConn.”
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It was through Arsenault’s participation in the sport at UConn that allowed future Narragansett field hockey players to attend the university’s pre-season camps.
“When I found out that UConn had a field hockey camp every summer – which I honestly had never heard of or would have considered – I convinced Coach (Ellie) Putnam to do leaving some of the ‘Gansett players’,” she said. . “I think that has helped Gansett hockey improve. Coach Putnam was an incredible woman and coach.
Head northwest to Alaska
She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and, in the early 1980s, reconnected with Randy Arsenault, whose family lived in East Templeton and were longtime friends of the Meuniers, camping and skiing trips together.
“Randy was living in Alaska and came home one Christmas. We were good friends and he was ready for a more serious relationship,” she said. “We eventually fell in love and I followed him there. down and I don’t regret it at all.”
She noted that at the time there were seven people from the Templeton and Phillipston area who lived in a similar area in Alaska.
The couple moved from Anchorage to Homer in the fall of 1985, married in the spring of 1986, and had two daughters, Sara and Katelin, whom Bernadette homeschooled until they reached high school. The family also lived on a houseboat for six months of the year.
Bernadette works as a physical therapist at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, although she lives across Kachemet Bay during the summer months, traveling 10 miles by water to get to work. Her husband Randy is a commercial fisherman.
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Arsenault said she enjoys cross-country skiing, fishing, swimming, camping and hiking. She notes that she is two years away from retirement and spending more time with her four grandchildren.
“Every year, one of my goals is to teach someone new how to cross-country ski,” she said.
Unfortunately, her family went through their own recent tragedy when Katelin lost a child at birth after a full term pregnancy and the whole family went through this grieving process.
“(Katelin) told me that she felt I could help her through this, after what our family went through with our brother Bernie,” she said.
(Do you have a suggestion for a future “Where Are They Now” segment? Please contact Mike Richard at [email protected] or in writing Mike Richard, 92 Boardley Road, Sandwich, MA 02563)