It was baseball and a desire to attend a strong academic college that moved Charlie Jodka to enroll at Colby College four years ago.

He had a great time there, majoring in government, playing on the baseball team and making lifelong friends, but it would be in his last year that he experienced something that would change his perspective of Waterville, the city he called home, for those four years.

He and Quinn Burke, a friend and fellow baseball player, took part in a community service project in the city’s South End, one of many off-campus activities Colby encourages students to get involved in. It was an annual cleanup day, and they worked with other volunteers, picking up trash and getting to know people, including Paula Raymond, longtime South end resident, educator and volunteer on many fronts.

Jodka, 21, and Burke, 22, a science, technology and society major, became fascinated with the history of the South End, which many years ago was referred to as “The Plains,” as it is a flat stretch of Water Street along the Kennebec River with short streets branching off to the west. The South End was settled by French Canadians who came down from Quebec and other places to work in the mills at the turn of the century. In its heyday, there were many businesses along Water Street, children played in the streets and most families went to church on Sundays. After manufacturing declined and businesses closed, the South End became poorer, people moved out and crime increased. Some families stayed, but many houses that once were owner-occupied became rentals and the tenants came and went.

Jodka, of North Andover, Massachusetts, and Burke, of Woodbridge, Connecticut, heard all these stories. They decided to make a documentary. Six months ago, they received sponsorship from Colby cinema studies professor, Seth Kim, and American studies professor, Laura Saltz, hooked up with Raymond, who served as their guide, and got to work.

Using a standard, hand-held Sony video camera, Jodka and Burke interviewed South End residents and recorded their stories, filmed the old homes along the narrow, snow-filled streets and included scenes of the former C.F. Hathaway Co. shirt factory, which several years ago was developed into apartments, offices and retail businesses. They visited the South End Teen Center, and spoke with Waterville’s deputy police chief, Bill Bonney, who many years ago was the South End police officer, dedicated to that area of the city.


They heard stories about what it was like growing up in a neighborhood where youth were stigmatized for being poor and where even their parents didn’t expect them to become successful financially, so didn’t encourage them to aspire for anything beyond high school graduation.

Jodka and Burke at first imagined their documentary, “The South End,” to be about five minutes long but after digging in, turned out a nearly-hour-long piece, for which they received four Colby credits. They premiered it Tuesday at Railroad Square Cinema to an audience that was much larger than they envisioned. As they stood in the empty theater just before show time, they watched guests starting to file in, expecting a handful, and surprised when it was much more.

“There were 150 seats in the theater, and it filled up,” Jodka recalled.

Many South End neighbors attended, as did other Waterville residents and the filmmakers’ friends and family. Jodka, a videographer who works in the summers for a media company, was heartened by the turnout and the positive response. He and Burke hope to pitch the documentary to film festivals, including the annual Maine International Film Festival, which is held in Waterville over 10 days in July.

They are both scheduled to graduate from Colby on Sunday and will leave Waterville armed with more than just the experience of baseball and academia. They will have seen real life in a small neighborhood struggling to maintain its roots — and its identity.

“I had never learned about it before,” Jodka said. “Up here at Colby it can be a little bit of a bubble. Sometimes a lot of students can be sheltered. It was really great to kind of open a huge door and learn about this culture and history. It was a great experience, and the people of the South End are awesome. It was an honor to be able to do it.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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