Windham icon, Kay Soldier, dies at 79

Kathleen "Kay" Soldier

WINDHAM – Kathleen “Kay” Soldier loved her town. And as fellow Windham residents and former coworkers recall their time with her, it appears the feeling was mutual.

Soldier, 79, died on Monday, June 26, after battling Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for several years, her sister said.

Soldier was known as the town’s unofficial historian, spending untold hours researching genealogy questions and other historic queries from residents. She wrote about the town’s history in her “It Happened in Windham” column for the Lakes Region Weekly, along with a column about town news and another on senior issues.

“Kay Soldier was a fixture in the local news arena,” said Lee Hews, publisher of the Lakes Region Weekly. “We were honored to have her working with us for the past 14 years. I know her sharp wit and knowledge of the community will be missed.”

A Windham native, Soldier was the oldest of six children in the Kelley family. While most of the town knew Soldier as Kay, her sister Ellen Jordan said her family always called her Kathleen.

Soldier felt strongly about doing her job, even when she was sick. After Soldier died, Jordan found a note that Soldier had written reminding herself to ask if there was a laptop she could borrow at her medical facility so she could still meet the deadlines for her columns.

“Leave it to Kathleen, she needed to ask the activities department if they could loan her a laptop,” Jordan said.

“Kay brought a dedicated perspective to the Lakes Region Weekly that was invaluable — from her knowledge of the town’s history, to her focus on senior and veteran issues and making sure the word always got out about the Food Pantry and other local organizations. She contributed a lot to us, right up to the very end, and she is irreplaceable,” said Amy Canfield, managing editor.

Soldier was a fixture at the Windham Historical Society, where she was both the historian and publicity chairwoman. She had also previously been the curator.

“I can’t even tell you what all this knowledge means to me that she’s passed on,” said current curator Penny Loura. “She knew Windham like the back of her hand. She was so knowledgeable about a lot of things.”

Soldier was also a “strong supporter of veterans,” said Dave Tanguay, the adjutant at American Legion 148 in Windham.

“I could always count on Kay to get a vet-related or American Legion article in her ‘Inside Windham’ column,” said Tanguay, who also worked with Soldier at the historical society. “She could also be counted on to provide a pot of beans for the Legion bean suppers.”

Soldier was involved with the legion’s auxiliary and really enjoyed the meetings, Jordan said. Soldier’s father, brothers and son served in the military.

The family has received numerous phone calls from people expressing appreciation for Soldier’s work with local veterans and with the historical society, Jordan said.

“She was always baking for some baked beans supper or making three dozen cookies when she was feeling so crummy.” Jordan said. “I said to her, ‘Kathleen, I hope you’re not up here baking three dozen cookies for something that the vets are having.’

“She said, ‘No I’m not, Ellen. Leave me alone, I will do what I want to do,'” Jordan remembered Soldier saying.

Soldier’s youngest sister, Barbara Kelley, who works at the Windham Public Library, said although Soldier as a young woman had moved to Boston, New York and out West, she came back home.

“She was a Windham girl,” Kelley said.

“She loved this town more than anything else, more than life itself,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who described Soldier as a “tough old Mainer.”

Diamond, an owner of the former Suburban News where Soldier was an editor before it was bought by Current Publishing and then merged into Lakes Region Weekly, visited with his former employee last Friday.

“Even though I was the owner, she was the boss,” said Diamond. “She knew about publishing, she knew about newspapers … she forgot more than I know, as they say. So I really relied on her and all of her expertise and professionalism.

John Balentine, a former editor and current opinion columnist with the Lakes Region Weekly, also worked at the Suburban News with Soldier. He credits Soldier with helping him learn about the town and its residents.

“She made me really appreciate Windham, and I appreciated her for all her guidance with crafting news stories,” Balentine said, adding that she was “more interested in the people than politics.”

During the annual Windham Town Meeting on Saturday, June 17, moderator Will Plumley noted that Soldier was gravely ill and recognized the role that she has played in the town over the years.

“Kay is sort of our unofficial-official historian in the town,” Plumley said at the time, also saying that she was in people’s thoughts and prayers.

Town Manager Tony Plante said in an interview that Soldier was one of the first people he met in 1996 when he first arrived in Windham.

With her death, Plante said, “we really lost a great store of knowledge and sense of what Windham was and what Windham is.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

Kathleen “Kay” Soldier