Hometown Heroes: Nina Gardner combines skill, resolve and passion


Monitor staff

Published: 01-15-2023 4:16 PM

Nina Gardner’s fingerprints are all over Sanbornton.

Few residents in town have spread themselves this thin. Gardner contributed to Sanbornton’s school system, its historical society and its overall look. She’s 76, and her arms still extend in various directions like an octopus as she juggles her responsibilities, which nearly always are designed to improve the town in which she grew up and has lived for 44 years.

That’s why her friend, Lynn Chong, nominated Gardner for the Monitor’s weekly Hometown Hero Series.

“Nina speaks up for what is needed in town,” Chong said. “She does the footwork for organizing and telephoning and getting things done. She sits on the committees that (represent) everything that is good about Sanbornton.”

The town is undergoing a facelift that began last fall, but actually had gone through more than two decades of debates and arguments concerning the price tag to update the police and fire departments and the town hall.

Law enforcement and rescue agencies in town have shared one building with the town offices for years. And each spring during its town meeting, a request for millions of dollars to update the facilities has been rejected by voters.

That made it impossible to purchase updated equipment needed for security, prisoner transfers, evidence, weaponry and other features that most police departments take for granted.

“It was a non-partisan decision to spend on our new town office building, much needed,” Chong said.

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When told her friend had nominated her for Monitor recognition, Gardner, in a bit of an understatement, said, “I just do a lot of things.”

She was born and raised in town, attending grade school before moving to Tilton. She returned to Sanbornton 44 years ago and raised a family. Then she had some free time.

“I began to get involved in stuff,” Gardner said “I was here and I found it was meaningful to be involved, and so it began.”

Her community involvement is rich. She made her mark in the New Hampshire legal and legislative systems. She was named the executive director of the judicial council and secured funding for New Hampshire Legal Assistance and to help juveniles who have entered the court system.

Former Gov. John Lynch declared Oct. 22, 2012, as Nina Gardner Day after she announced her retirement from the judicial council.

Elsewhere, Gardner has served on her local school board; the school district’s budget committee; the capital improvement plan committee, and the Sanbornton Historical Society.

Her leadership and voice as a member of the Sanbornton Building Construction Committee paved the way for a plan that many in town felt was long overdue, while others believed the cost was too high.

In the end, Gardner balanced the financial burden with the need to improve basic town office space, convincing the town in 2021 to pass funding to improve or build law enforcement agencies and town hall offices at a greatly reduced price of about $3 million.

The budget committee met more than 60 times during the lengthy process; the warrant article passed with 86 percent of the vote. The town offices were recently completed, moving from the former police/fire departments into a new building.

Work on the new police facility will begin next week and should be finished by the summer, an officer with the Sanbornton Police Department said. The fire department will remain in the old facility. More room will be added there.

Gardner’s bold approach and tireless research through the decades convinced town officials to dedicate last spring’s town report to her.

All in a day’s work.

“It was important to me,” Gardner said. “It gives me a sense of purpose. I love where I live.”