The Saba Islander

by Will Johnson

Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Tribute to teacher Thomas Frank Hassell

The St. Martin he loved.

The St. Martin he loved.

Frank Hassell
The late Thomas Frank Hassell was born on Saba on December 12th, 1930. We now celebrate the life of our dear friend Frank who served his community in many different ways. Whereas in the great economy of Divine Providence, Thomas Frank Hassell, a much beloved member of the Anglican community was removed from our midst by sudden death after a prolonged illness on the 26th day of August 2013, and though we deeply deplore the loss of our friend, yet we bow submissively to the will of our Creator, who doeth all things well.
He grew up here on Saba and was very much influenced by members of the Anglican clergy especially by Father Frank Prior who also served as his Sunday school teacher. Frank and his sisters attended the Public School in Windwardside where later the Hospital was located and then the Captains Quarter Hotel. The school was later moved to the back of the Old Post office which later became a library. His first teacher was Mrs. Sadie Dowling born Every.
In 1948 he went to Saint Maarten to follow a teachers training program. He went along with a number of young people with whom he became life long friends. Among them were Leo Chance, Floyd and Henry Every, my brother Freddie, Carl Hassell known as “Fela’s Carl”, Howard Leverock and from St. Eustatius Cynthia and other members of the Heyliger family, Louise van Putten, Dennis Sprott, Elsie Woods and so on. He shared many experiences with them including surviving the hurricane of September 1st, 1950 at sea.
The schooner the “Blue Peter” was not in service and the group left Saba on a sloop called the “Surprise” owned by Milo Tackling in Grand Case. It was under the command of Captain Ferdinand Brin of St. Barths. The sloop had first stopped at Statia and picked up the students from that island and then stopped at Saba. Frank said that when they left Saba in the afternoon of August 30th it looked very calm. Back then there were no weather reports like now. The weather picked up later on. Frank said that Capt. Brin was “drunk as a crow” and went down below to weather out the storm after suggesting that they should draw lots as there was a Jonah and board and should be thrown overboard. It was the mate Honora Flabian Richardson of Grand Case better known as “Captain No-No” who saved the day. When they arrived at St. Maarten the hurricane was already having a great effect and the waves crashing over the sand bar which protects the Great Bay harbor were so ferocious that Capt. No-No told them to go to the back hold on to the railing and he rushed the sloop through the waves and over the bar. Then the problem was how to get everyone safely to shore as many on board could not swim. Lt. Governor Walter Buncamper was also on board and a small boat managed to get a line from the wharf out to the sloop and the passengers were told to hold on to the rope and try and get in that way. The small boat moved back and forth with passengers and finally managed to get everyone safely to shore while the sloop ended up being tossed ashore and into Capt. Hodge’s back yard.
The boys from Saba stayed at different homes in Philipsburg and Mr. Frank stayed at the home of Miss Browlia Maillard a retired Methodist school teacher who used her home as a guesthouse.
After he became a teacher he became known as “Mijnheer Frank”. In our English speaking islands the Dutch word “Mijnheer” or “Sir” has become a term of endearment by pupils for their former male teachers.
He started teaching at the Mount William Hill primary school. Among the pupils he taught there were Engineer Julius Lambert of the electric light company and Neville York the famous steel pan master.
Mister Frank also taught on Aruba. Although he told me the years that he went to teach there and that he stayed with his father Thomas and a cousin Lovelock, neither his sisters or I can remember the exact dates. It must have not been more than a year or two in the early nineteen fifties.
He came back to St. Maarten and continued teaching there. He gave night lessons as well at the Orange School the public school on Front street and helped out with playing the organ at the Methodist church. He learned the rudiments of playing the organ from his aunt Lena Hassell, but with lots of practice he became an outstanding organ player.
As for the night classes all sorts of people attended these classes. I accompanied him once. I remember a character known as “Rumbero” who often had run-ins with the police. He walked into the class which was already in progress that night and sat in the back. One of the sentences on the blackboard was “Honesty is the best policy”. Mr. Frank read it off came back to it later on and called on “Rumbero” to explain what was written on the board. “Rumbero” obviously had policemen on his mind and enthusiastically shouted out; “Anderson (Vlaun) is the best police,” which brought with it a roar of laughter from the class.
On St. Maarten he made many friends some of whom have remained his life long friends.
He came back to Saba to teach after his father’s sudden death in 1958 and he taught first at the Public School in The Bottom but then moved over to teach with the nuns at the Roman Catholic School.
After he started to live on Saba he became more involved with his church. He and his sisters became such a part of the Holy Trinity church that many in our community are wondering about the future of the church. He was a lay reader for his church as well and used to deliver a powerful sermon. Although as the old timers would say he was a “rank” Anglican that did not stop him from serving the Church of Rome as well when they needed an organist. Especially the village of Zion’s Hill has always been grateful for the many times he served as an organist for their church.
Mister Frank loved history and was instrumental in writing the history of the Anglican Church and also helping Dr. Johan Hartog with his “History of Saba”, not only with the translation but also in correcting certain assumptions of Dr. Hartog’s which were not based on the true history of the island. Mister Frank was always preparing documents on the history of our people for the schools on the island as well. The life of a teacher was not easy back then. There were no photo-copiers or computers. Everything had to be done by hand and typed out on old manual typewriters. And what a lovely handwriting he had. A few weeks ago when I took his last will and testament for him to sign he doubted whether he would be able to sign the document. I said to him jokingly: “Come on Mister Frank let me see that lovely signature of yours one more time.” And he went on to deliver his usual great signature. Little did I know that it would be his last signature in life.He was very helpful in organizing the first Saba Day celebrations and he later on also wrote the Saba Flag song. He was always active in Queens Birthday organization. He received a distinction from Her Majesty the Queen for his years as a teacher and organizer of various events on the island.
I did not know Mr. Frank as a boy growing up. By the time I was old enough to know who was who he was away to school on St. Maarten and would come here on school vacations. He was from my brother Freddie’s generation and they were good friends all their lives.
I came to know him in 1955 when I was 13 years old and on my way to school on Curacao. I stayed at Miss Browlia’s home and guesthouse. Mister Frank and Dennis Sprott of St. Eustatius rented the small house in the yard. After school Mr. Frank walked me around the quaint little town and familiarized me with the people we met and the buildings which we passed. In 1955 St. Martin was a special place and Philipsburg situated between the Great Salt Pond and the beautiful white sand beach on the Great Bay, was the jewel in the crown of West Indian small towns along the seashore. I have written much about the idyllic life as it was back then with only 1500 people on the Dutch side and some 83 motor vehicles on the entire island. Up until shortly before he passed away he and I would be sharing stories about friends we knew over there and characters we both knew and cared for. Frederick Froston was the source of endless laughter when we talked about the antics he would pull off on his fellow citizens. Mr. Frank appreciated a good joke and people like Ruth Ann, the Methodist lady from Middle Region, who was always first to arrive at the chapel amidst lots of display and commotion, also “Mother-in-Trouble”, Camille Richardson or “Cam Brown” and a host of island characters who livened up the tranquil mode of life back in the day. It was a time when there was no television or other distractions so that there was much more concentration on people and on how they lived life and acted it out to the amusement of their fellow islanders.
Mister Frank loved pulling jokes on people and once got me in trouble with our mutual friend Jocelyn Gordon who like his mother Emma, was very gullible. Jocelyn had promised to vote for me in the election. One day he called me from my sister-in-law Wilda’s house almost in tears. He told me he had to go back on his promise to me. Mr. Frank had also asked for his vote. He told me that Mr. Frank was his main source of transportation and thus his benefactor. He went ahead to quote Biblical verse to me as how one should reward benefactors. No matter how I tried I could not convince Jocelyn that our friend Mister Frank was no lover of politics and was certainly not running for office. Even though Mr. Frank told him the truth afterwards Jocelyn was still skeptical. The solution was that Jocelyn would ask for help at the voting booth and Mr. Frank would help him to vote and Mr. Frank saw to it that the vote was placed on the correct name. Each election after that Mr. Frank would warn me before the list of candidates was entered that the other party had asked him to run with them and he was taking it into consideration.
Mr. Frank was an important source of information for my various writing projects. I have spent many pleasant hours on the phone with him and visiting his home trying to fill in the blank spaces of events and people we both knew. He pointed out omissions in my books which should be taken into future account. Up until a few weeks before his death he was correcting mistakes for me.
I miss him already. Just this past week I was writing an article on a certain aspect of the history of St. Barths and I thought of him and said to myself:” I wish Mr. Frank was around to help me with this.”
Mr. Frank leaves behind a grateful community and many friends on all the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. His memory will not be erased however but will live on in his research and in his writing. His passing reminds me of a poem I recently read by an unknown author who eloquently puts it this way:
” The tide recedes but leaves behind
bright sea-shells on the sand.
The sun goes down, but gentle
warmth still lingers on the land.
The music stops, and yet it echoes
on in sweet refrains.
For every joy that passes
something beautiful remains.”
Farewell Mister Frank and may you rest softly.
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A chapter in the life of Father I. de Bruyn


I am busy with a translation of the history of the Dutch Dominican priests who served St. Barths and French St. Martin from 1911 to 1951. This article is an advance of more to come and only deals with one subject. The great contributions made by Father I. de Bruyn to the people of St. Barthelemey in their time of great need will be dealt with in a separate article.

“After the schools were built, the chapel of Colombier was enlarged, which was made possible because of the fact that Father de Bruyn knew many benefactors on Curacao.

Bruyn - Image (1946)To motivate the faithful the Belgian Redemptorist , father Van den Bemden from St. Kitts came over to hold a mission. That is always something which is much appreciated on St. Barthelemy and processions of penance were held to the mission cross, which is planted on the hill on the border between the two parishes. There had been a prior mission which had made the men so enthusiastic, that spontaneously they had made a large wooden cross which they placed on the top of the hill as public remembrance of the mission and that cross is still honoured. There is another cross along the road of L’Orient but that is from ancient times; at that location a murder had taken place.

Although Father de Bruyn also was a farmer (on the lands around Colombier he kept cows and used the money from the sale of milk to help finance his school), the architect in him claimed the upper hand.

The health situation of the population was neglected. Years would go by without there being a doctor on the island; Guadeloupe simply said: they could not pay for it, and the priest could not act as doctor without much difficulty, although father de Bruyn during his vacation had followed the mission course on medicine in Rotterdam, but what was possible, was done. The priest distributed some medicines and once father de Bruyn fetched the doctor from the French Man-o-War, which would pay an annual visit to show off the flag. For the most part this resulted that yet another report was made to the government and a doctor would be sent for a shorter or longer period. Father de Bruyn came on the idea to start a hospital, which for the French law is far less difficult than starting a school. He would then bring religious people to take care of the patient’s and then as a matter of decency the government would always have to provide a doctor. And he was right, as events unfurled in that  manner.

The hospital would be placed in Gustavia. He could get a property in the town, but the local Judge, mister Pellicani, a Corsican, said to him:” don’t do that, because in the army I always served with the troops who had to prepare camp and we would never choose such a low lying terrain which would be a half swamp; see to it that you end up on that hill close by.

On enquiry it turned out that the hillside property belonged to two elderly Ayes ladies, one of which helped the priest as sexton in the church. Now there were no more problems. Plans were sent to Guadeloupe which could not do otherwise than to approve them. Only it was said that it was absolutely superfluous as the government was going to build a hospital on St. Martin and that would also serve St. Barthelemey and who on St. Barthelemey could have anything against that as besides on St. Martin a convent was planned for the religious nurses. You already feel ill with the thought that you first would have to wait on a boat and in one week that can be three at the same time, and in two weeks nothing; then you had to transport the sick person in a hammock to Gustavia and then in a sailboat without any kind of comfort and it is only to be hoped that you had a good trip as it would be a seven hour trip by sea to Marigot, where most probably you would arrive more dead than alive. They did build a hospital in Marigot which was completed in 1933 but until today (1952) it has never been used as a hospital and no sisters ever came to that part of the island. In 1951, there was a doctor who cleaned up the place somewhat and now the plan is to install a hospital in the building and nuns will also be brought to help out. It is but a good thing that St. Barthelemey did not heed the suggestion and chose to go its own course.

In the meantime a doctor was sent, Dr. Tara, an influential free mason, who knew how to fight and it did not take long before Dr. Tara managed to get himself elected as the Mayor which made it easy to play the boss. This doctor was the man who would have to see to it that he would have to break the growing influence of the church, and if not that at least see to it that things would not go smooth. His purpose was clearly to divide the population in two camps, those who supported father de Bruyn and those who were against him, and he worked hard to grow the camp of those who were against. But one day he had to draw his own conclusion as a doctor. Father de Bruyn got a pimple on his neck which became larger and larger and which proved to be severely infected. Home remedies proved to have no effect, neither the good care of the sisters and the good advice of friends. There was little left to be done than to go to the doctor. Doctor Tara took a look at it and warned that it had to be cut and that it was not without danger. But said Dr. Tara; “I will not do it, as if it does not go well, then the people will say that I have made away with you.” And so nothing else remained than to search for a boat to go to St. Maarten. And so Father de Bruyn, who was not a good seaman, accompanied by Sister Armelle sailed to Great Bay, where Dr. Spitzer with great pleasure did the operation and just in time. And for that to happen to a man who he himself had just started planning a hospital on St. Barthelemey.

The building was not yet finished when in November 1932 the nuns arrived already, numbering three with sister Armelle in charge of the group. Those are sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, an old and large congregation, who worked in all the old French colonies, and with their motherhouse, an old Dominican convent, South of Paris. Soeur Armelle knew somewhat of the problems on St. Barthelemey, as not only had she previously worked six years on St. Martin, but she had also visited St. Barthelemey in the past to look for applicants for the convent. Father Paanakker had accommodated her once at L’Orient. Since the arrival of our priests several girls from there went to the convent, some to the Franciscan nuns on Curacao, the most however to the French nuns.

Bruyn - Image (1941)

Seeing that their residence was not yet finished the sisters found lodging with Mrs. Sourd one of the last descendants of the old dignified families, whose origins are from the glory period of St. Barthelemey but who are nearly all died out. While the nuns were still living in her house, Mrs. Sourd died rather suddenly, but had the consolation to have her guests with her around her death bed.

As soon as the construction was finished, the hospital was opened, a small hospital with 16 beds and an operating room, but the influence of Sister Armelle soon went much further. She was certainly a person with much experience; as a young nun she learned the nursing profession in her fatherland behind the front in the First World War, after that she served in the mission on Guadeloupe. She did not have enemies, even though she bravely dared to tell the truth, but her affection was so dominant in everything she did, that everyone considered her easily sympathetic, even with all of her mistakes. As a good French woman she was against women in politics; the right for women to vote she considered an abomination, but hardly had the rudder been turned around in the first world war, Sister Armelle was the first to be elected to the municipal council of St. Barthelemey and the good natured Mayor Deravin experienced one of the most troublesome councilors in her person, because in her zeal she fiercely defended matters, which were far removed from the subject matter under discussion. Sister Armelle did much for St. Barthelemy and it was Gods marvelous decision that it is there that she found her last resting place.

Bruyn - Image (1940)

Her death on May 22nd, 1947 was very tragic. In their main convent on Martinique she had followed the retreat and was returning via Guadeloupe to where she was stationed. She travelled by airplane of a private French company, which appeared on the islands after the war. In a seaplane she departed Guadeloupe as the only passengers for St. Barthelemy and the rest were for St. Martin. When they arrived at St. Barthelemy they circled over the bay, but because the sea was too rough, they continued on to St. Martin to land in the bay of Marigot which was calmer. There the passengers for St. Martin disembarked and Sister Armelle flew on to Flat Island, also known as Tintamarre, an uninhabited island close to St. Martin, which the aviation company had as its headquarters. There they landed and transferred to a two passenger fixed wing plane and took to the air. But not very far. A few hundred meters outside the coast the motor stopped and the personnel on the base saw the drama unfolding. The pilot Saintouga, tried gliding to reach the airport but did not have enough height and landed the plane in the water. They saw that the pilot had helped sister Armelle to get out of the plane, and before dark they saw the pilot swimming and Sister Armelle drifting and in their vicinity there were rubber boats which had been thrown out. St. Martin was soon notified of the accident and fishing boats went to offer help without much hope however, as exactly there is an area full of sharks. In the middle of the night they found Sister Armelle, who had been swept up against a rock, close to the coast of St. Martin. She was dead but not mutilated, only some scrapes on her hands and forehead where she had washed ashore against the rocks. The doctor concluded that she did not drown but had died of a heart attack. The rubber boats were found empty the following morning, the pilot found an unknown grave among the waves.  That was already the second accident within a week of the airline company. A few days before Ganthomme, one of their best pilots, took off at dusk and flew into one of the two coconut trees located there where he met his death in the conflagration which followed the accident.  But now that such a well-known person as Sister Armelle had died the authorities in Guadeloupe took action against the company. Until further order no more passengers could be accepted, which did not prevent, that the following week three people of their own personnel also crashed on Tintamarre and were burned to death.

The body of Sister Armelle was stored in one of the rooms of the empty hospital in Marigot and Father Boradori made preparations for the funeral, but there came flaming protests from St. Barthelemey. Sister Juanna took the lead in these protests. In the early afternoon hours the seaplane flew to St. Barthelemey to see if it was now possible to land, but that looked impossible. When sister Juanna heard that she signaled that a boat would be sent from St. Barthelemey to the Great Bay, the closest harbor on St. Martin. A sailboat left, and somewhat later a larger sailboat with a motor, the Nina II, arrived at St. Bartelemey, who as soon as he heard the news headed in the direction of Great Bay. Just before dusk, thanks to the boat with the motor, the funeral was possible on St. Barthelemey. Father Weyers and practically the entire population were at the Kings wharf awaiting the arrival of the body, which under the supervision of Dr. Vialenc was received. In the church the evensong for the dead and the funeral ceremonies were very impressive; all the more that it all took place in the dark church with candles as the only source of light.

Sister Armelle found her last resting place, not in the cemetery, but the in the small garden around the Holy Heart statue, close to the front of the church of Gustavia. A small chapel was built at her grave in remembrance of all the good which she had done for the people.

Bruyn - Image (1938)

As for the hospital, just before the departure of Father de Bruyn in January 1934, the hospital which was already in use was blessed by him and his successor Father D. Hart. In a future article we will give more on this interesting period in the history of St. Barthelemey. In fact the information I have, and which is written in Dutch by Father P. Willibrord de Barbanson O.P. should be translated into French and would be of great interest to the people of St. Barthelemey on this aspect of their history.

Peter Johnson in New Zealand

As some of you know, my son Peter is in New Zealand to advance his studies on geothermal energy.  I spoke to him the day before his birthday in the afternoon and it was already his birthday over there. He was headed out today to visit geothermal power plants from which New Zealand gets a lot of its energy.

He also made the University’s Department of Engineering  Science News (DES News) distributed on campus, which you can review here. His article is on page five.

Ten companies you might not know are (partly) Dutch

The Dutch act sometimes as if they are a third world country when you need a project financed, but they own a lot of big companies besides these mentioned here.

The Netherlands by numbers

The Dutch get everywhere. Here are 10 companies which are at least partly Dutch but which do a good job of hiding their origins.

Australian Homemade

Yep – that nice company with the chocolates decorated with aboriginal drawings is based in Veenendaal and was set up by a Belgian called Frederik van Isacker. The Aborigines aparently protested and Australian Homemade then said its designs were by a Dutch artist inspired by indigenous art

The company producing the world’s most trendy baby strollers was launched by Eindhoven Design Academy graduate Max Barenbrug in 1996 and now has over 800 staff and is sold in 50 countries. Single-handedly responsible for filling trams, buses and pavements the world over.

Clothing group C&A traces its roots back to 1841 when brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer started trading in linen goods and textiles in the Frisian town of Sneek. They opened their first…

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10 ways to be polite to Dutch people

I am a West Indian of Scottish/Irish/English origin and a Dutch passport holder since they were first issued by the Netherlands.

The Netherlands by numbers

The Dutch have a reputation for being blunt and direct to the point of rudeness. But there is such a thing as Dutch etiquette. Here are the main things to look out for.

1. Shaking hands
Shaking hands is a Dutch obsession and one of those norms and values all foreigners have to adopt in order to be truly integrated. The Dutch shake hands all the time. You walk into a party full of strangers and you are expected to introduce yourself and shake hands with everyone there. When you come back from holiday, you shake hands with your office colleagues.

You will shake hands with your doctor, germs and all, with your children’s teachers, with the man who sells you a second-hand car and, well, with just about anyone. If you don’t automatically shake hands with all and sundry you will be marked as a foreigner, and probably a…

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The Saba Electric Company

H O R S E P O W E R Saba Electric Company INC.

Saba Electric Company INC.

The Saba Electric Company was started by Mrs. Othello Maude Edwards-Linzey and her nephew Elmer Linzey. It was later purchased by the G.E.B.E. around 1962.

I take full responsibility for making it possible that the assets of the G.E.B.E. were transferred to the three Dutch Windward Islands in December 2005. At the time it was agreed between the three Commissioners of the islands Roy Marlin (St. Maarten), Roy Hooker (St. Eustatius) and Will Johnson (Saba) to split up the company after a series of investments would be made on the islands. The three Commissioner were mandated by their respective governments to do this.

For many years the people of St. Maarten were led to believe that they were subsidizing Saba and St. Eustatius. Although the G.E.B.E. was ONE company three different bookkeeping’s were kept so to continue letting the St. Maarten people believe that Saba and Statia were losing money at their expense. It was a fictitious bookkeeping and charges were made to the bookkeeping of Saba and St. Eustatius (like Management fees etc.) so as to reflect that loss.

We all know the politics of St. Maarten. Especially Commissioner Theo Heyliger wanted the company broken up. The news will play it out as a victory for him and the people of St. Maarten.

Saba now will enter a phase towards more independence in an important  area. Solid people will be on the Supervisory Board of Directors who can withstand any kind of integrity test. Three people are more than enough for such a small company. The survival of the company is first and foremost. I see on Facebook that there are efforts to misinform people on Saba and I have stated before I will not sit back and allow that to happen.

    There was no other choice for Saba other than privatization. The late Elmer Linzey and I discussed that very often. Do not let ANYONE try to demean this great achievement for Saba. Since that agreement was reached at my house in 2005, the WIPM government continued negotiating with the two other islands. In the end Saba got investments, like a new building, underground cabling and many other things. I salute my son Chris Johnson backed up by the rest of the WIPM government who has brought these negotiations to a successful ending. Also bringing back the Saba Electric Company was in keeping with my idea of Saba fulfilling a more independent role.

We should not always put everything in a negative light. NO ONE from St. Maarten after this week can throw in our face that they are subsidizing anything or anybody on Saba. To the contrary every dollar coming into Saba at least fifty cents goes into the economy of St. Maarten and it is about time that someone on St. Maarten thank Saba for that.

    My congratulations to the people of Saba on this achievement. There is no turning back. Just as people tried to confuse you with the referendum, the same is happening with the G.E.B.E. It was known for years after the referendum on St. Maarten that the Netherlands Antilles could not be maintained. And so I campaigned for the option to go under Holland at the time. I myself am not happy with everything Dutch, but you tell me what other option do we have? Prime Minister Rutte recently stated that independence is one telephone call away. I myself would like that. However I am a realist and know that a referendum would not bring a vote for independence even though I would try to convince as many people as I can and I will vote for independence when a referendum comes around.

With the G.E.B.E. for years already it has been known that the company would be split up. I take full responsibility for defending Saba’s rights in the company, both as Commissioner and also as a Member of Parliament and later on as a Board Member of the company.In 2010 when I was reelected to parliament the Curacao politicians wanted to back away from the agreement to transfer the assets of the company to the Windward Islands. They claimed that the transfer deed by the Notary had only taken place by Notary Alexander in January 2006. However I was able in the coalition to put up a heavy defense that all the agreements were for the company to be transferred to the islands in December 2005. If 2006 had prevailed then Curacao would have ended up owning 73% of the company based on the division of assets. Fidel Castro said “You have to write your own history”. In other words do not let others write history for you.

My congratulations to the Saba People. Free at Last. Free at Last. Thank God we are free at last, from people accusing us that we are  sponging on them and that they are paying our electrical bills.

We too will be watching the operations of the company more carefully so that no misuse is made of anyone’s position in the company and that every effort is made to reduce costs of operating the company so that costs can be reduced to consumers. But it is not our intention to fool people that suddenly they will be getting free electricity. My whole political career has been one of telling people to assume responsibility for their own affairs and also by proving that in my own private dealings.

Just remind yourselves that “Yes We Can”, if we want to. Build up yourselves and do not let people set a negative agenda for you. Long Live the SABA ELECTRIC COMPANY, and I am sure that Brother Elmer Linzey is smiling as  I write this.

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