MADISON — To paraphrase New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra: Janice Vining wants to thank everyone who made this day necessary.

Vining, the physical education teacher at Madison High School and Junior High School for more than 30 years, is retiring in two weeks. So the staff at the junior high, where she works now, decided to throw her a party on Wednesday — cake, ice cream, flowers, gifts, the usual.

But there was a surprise waiting for Vining — a huge Yankees fan — after she gave a short speech saying she was thankful for her time in Madison.

The surprise was a visit from former Yankees manager and Maine native Stump Merrill, who walked in with an authentic Yankees uniform shirt, complete with Merrill’s number 22.

She was aghast.

“I think it’s incredible,” she said after donning the uniform shirt emblazoned with the New York Yankees logo. “I’m very, very blessed. I’m very shocked by all this. It’s more than I can think about. I had no idea it was going to happen.”

The junior high cafeteria, where the surprise party happened, was full of teachers and staff members, many wearing Boston Red Sox apparel for the occasion, and others wearing New York Yankees shirts and caps. For dessert there were two cakes — one Red Sox-themed, one Yankees.

“That’s the biggest applause I’ve got since I got fired,” Merrill, the Yankees’ manager in 1990-91, said after being introduced.

“I wanted to make sure there was at least one Yankees fan in Madison,” he said to Vining.

“We’ve got a few,” Vining said.

“You do? Well, there’s a lot of smart people in Madison,” Merrill said. “There’s no question about that.”

Merrill, who lives in Harpswell, said it was an honor for him to be invited to the retirement of such a big Yankees fan. He said he has a lot of friends in the area, including Dr. Richard Berry, a dentist, with whom he had lunch Wednesday.

Carl Harrison “Stump” Merrill was born in 1944 in Brunswick. He attended the University of Maine and was a catcher on the varsity baseball team. He coached at Maine for six years and later spend 38 years in the Yankees organization, managing many of the minor league affiliates.

Midway through the 1990 season he replaced Bucky Dent as the Yankees’ manager. On Wednesday he was wearing his 2009 World Series ring — “the last time we won,” Merrill said, noting that he was special assistant to general manager Brian Cashman at the time.

Vining said she was a physical education teacher for 36 years, starting at the high school in 1980. She taught some of the current teachers when they were in school, she said to a large party crowd in the cafeteria.

Along with the Yankees uniform shirt, Vining received a Yankees baseball cap signed by Merrill and a Yankees pennant.

“I’ve been blessed,” she said. “I’m so thankful and very appreciative.”

School Administrative District 59 Superintendent Bonnie Levesque said Vining will be sorely missed.

“Janice Vining is a legend in MSAD 59,” she said. “She will be missed for her warm smile and caring ways. Her eagerness and enthusiasm for physical fitness for the students through her classes and many after-school activities will be difficult to replace. We wish her well on this next path in her life’s journey.”

Vining also runs Madison’s version of the Move More Kids program for youth health and physical fitness.

Merrill, who was a close friend of Yogi Berra, was himself appreciated during the 2012 Yankees Old Timers game at the stadium, according to an article in The New York Times, where he was referred to as a Yankees legend. “Mention Merrill, and watch Jeter smile,” former Yankee great and Hall of Famer Joe Torre said in the article.

A lot of preparation went into Vining’s surprise, as Merrill arrived and was hidden away in Principal Ryan Arnold’s office while the staff tried to guide her away from the area. Two of the staff members — guidance councilor Brandy Hill and computer technology teacher Lisa Pierpont — wore Yankees regalia, while secretary Shari Berry wore a New England Patriots shirt. The rest wore Red Sox gear.

Principal Ryan Arnold, who wore a Red Sox jersey Wednesday and a backward Detroit Tigers cap, said a friend of his father’s was a college roommate of Merrill. He said they contacted Merrill at his home in Harpswell and asked him if he could contribute an autographed cap for Vining.

Merrill told Arnold he could do better than that; he’d come in person.

“I kind of explained on the phone with Stump — I said, ‘Hey, I think I’ve got the number one Yankee fan here,'” Arnold said. “He just said, ‘I’ll be there.'”

Merrill also agreed to give a short address on the importance of team-building in schools and education to the children.

“You don’t take this as a sermon; you take this as a plea,” Merrill told the group of assembled educators. “They need your help. You are their safety blanket. They need discipline, love and tough love.”

As for his friendship with Berra, who died last year, Merrill said he had been close to his fellow former catcher since the baseball strike of 1981, and the friendship lasted until the end. Berra brought Merrill from the minors to the majors as a coach in 1984.

“We took care of him the last three or four years of his life when he came to spring training,” Merrill said. “They would put him next to me in the hotel and I’d take him back and forth to the ballpark, and my wife would take him to church. We were very, very close.”

So as Janice Vining comes to another fork in the road of her professional and personal life, she could well heed another one of Yogi’s Berra’s famous quotes: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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