Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series called Maine Acts of Kindness, highlighting volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

Nancy Cartier, a first-grade teacher in Dayton, with her father, Vincent Nuccio. Cartier’s students have been sending letters to Nuccio, who has been isolated at home during the virus outbreak. Photo courtesy of Nancy Cartier

At 92, Vincent Nuccio is at high risk during the coronavirus pandemic. He seldom leaves his home and receives no visitors other than his health care aide.

He is part of a retired-men’s glee club, which had all its events canceled and cannot get together to rehearse.

“My exercise,” he said, “is walking around my house.”

His daughter, Nancy Cartier, a first-grade teacher at Dayton Consolidated School, worried about her father in isolation. So she asked her students to write him letters. In just a short time, children in Maine have formed a bond with him that transcends distance and generations.

“Believe me, they have filled a tremendous void in my life,” said Nuccio, who was born in Camden on Halloween in 1927 and now lives in Needham, Massachusetts. “I wait eagerly for the mailman. They’ve been wonderful.”

“He calls them his Dayton Angels,” said Cartier, who has been teaching at the school for 16 years.

Nuccio lives alone. His wife, Mary, died in October 2018. Then his son Mark died unexpectedly last summer at the age of 62. When Maine schools first shifted to online learning, Cartier thought of ways to engage her students.

“I needed to give my kids something that would be fun, but wasn’t an assignment,” she said. “I knew my dad was lonely. He wasn’t sad, but I thought he still might need some cheering up.”

So she asked her students if they would be willing to write letters to him. Many did. Nuccio said he has received letters or postcards from 10 of her students.

“I thought it was very nice,” said 6-year-old Owen Underwood. “Writing letters is nice, it makes people happy.”

“It’s just a nice thing to do,” said Tess Howard, 7. “If no one’s with him and no one can speak with him, that’s why you write.”

Winnie Herrick, a first-grader at Dayton Consolidated School, shows a card she received from Vincent Nuccio. Photo courtesy of Jill Herrick

Many of the children have written to Nuccio more than once. Sometimes they even send Nuccio drawings. “I drew an Easter picture of me,” said 7-year-old Winnie Herrick, proud of her artwork. “I like writing notes to him.”

Nuccio, who retired from Boston College in 1993 after a career in education, has responded to each child. And they eagerly await his letters now, because as Tess Howard said, “I barely get letters. Mostly my mom and dad get letters.”

Besides, sometimes his letters include a surprise. “He gave me a smiley sticker,” Winnie Herrick said of her last correspondence from Nuccio.

Nuccio made a video that Cartier shared with her students. In it, he tells the children that he was born in Camden and moved to Beverly, Massachusetts, at a young age. But he would return to Maine for summer vacations.

“I recalled in the video, as a little boy, going on a train from Beverly to Portsmouth (New Hampshire) to Portland and then to Rockland, where my aunt would pick me up and we would climb Mt. Battie. I asked them if they could trace my route.”

The children did, or tried to. “One girl told me she had climbed Mt. Battie,” he said. “She told me, ‘I was very tired but felt very strong.’ I am very interested in their comments.”

“That was all his idea,” said Cartier, of the video. “It was kind of mind-blowing actually. He’s always thinking about making other people feel good.”

Six-year-old Owen Underwood, a first-grader at Dayton Consolidated School, sent this post card to Vincent Nuccio. Photo courtesy of Nancy Cartier

As a retired educator, he still loves to teach and plans on providing more videos, with more lessons. “I’m going to film the next one in my kitchen,” he said. “That’s where I’m going to show them a quilt that my wife made. It’s all angels. My wife loved angels. I have named that quilt my Dayton Angels.”

For Nuccio, the correspondence gives him not only a social connection, but a sense of his past. Communicating with the children, he said, has “really caused me to reflect on my youth” and the path that his father, an immigrant from Sicily, and his mother, a native of Lincolnville, put him on.

For Cartier, it provides peace of mind. “It means a lot to me because I can’t see him,” she said. “And since I can’t see him, (her students) are filling his heart with the love I can’t give him.”

And the children? They have a new friend, someone they will remain in touch with long after first grade ends.

“I want to meet him someday,” said Tess Howard.

“I want to keep him as my pen pal,” said Owen Underwood. “I want to make his heart happy.”

Are there folks in your community going out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about their efforts to [email protected]

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