If you're paying attention to events in Woonsocket it's hard not to notice Jeanne Pepin-Budnick, an owner of Pepin Lumber, life-long resident, frequent sight at meetings, popular local business activist and willing volunteer.
"She really stepped up to the plate with the monument," said Mayor Leo Fontaine, referring to the Freedom From Religion Foundation's demand that the cross atop the Place Jolicoeur monument be removed.
Jeanne took notice of the memorial's deteriorating condition, and led the organization of Woonsocket War Memorial Committee to arrange for its care. Lorraine Corey, publisher of MyWoonsocket.com, said she first heard about the Committee from Jeanne, who is demure on the topic. "I think it was the group's idea," she said.
Jeanne, also chair of the Blackstone Valley Independent Business Alliance, helped organize the April 17 cash mob at Kay's Restaurant and Vose Hardware.
She's a founding member of the Woonsocket Taxpayer's Coalition. "She's been with us since May 2009," said Sharon Geving, a member of the Coalition's executive committee.
Geving said Jeanne regularly volunteers as a greeter during the WTC's meetings and is routinely helping behind the scenes. "She's not always looking for the limelight," Geving said, "I've never heard her say, 'No.' "
Jeanne was not always so involved in city events. In 2007, "They had something going on in the city called the Med Zone," Jeanne said. The name is short for Municipal Economic Zone, an area encompassing 18 acres in Woonsocket and 122 acres in North Smithfield where sales tax would have be cut in half, giving the big box stores located there an unfair advantage over local businesses, she said.
The Valley Alliance For Smart Growth opposed the Med Zone. "I joined them," Jeanne said. She rallied local businesses, spoke at public hearings and drew attention to the unfair advantage the Med Zone would give large stores. "You see it on the tax days," Jeanne said, "They go crazy."
"That's when I first met her," said Geving. She had her car parked in front of city hall with signs all over it, she said, "She's just a great person."
The Med Zone project was unanimously passed by the City Council in 2005 but was ultimately blocked by the state. "They put a moratorium on Med Zones," Jeanne said.
"It seemed like I became more outgoing after the Med Zone thing," Jeanne said. She started attending city meetings and staying on top of local events. She said she realized that the Med Zone issue had been brewing for years before she became involved. "It was something that I probably should have known about," Jeanne said.
She said she's learned people can make a difference by speaking their conscience, but, "You've got to be respectful, you have to agree to disagree."
Jeanne grew up attending St. Joseph's Parish. She still volunteers there, cooking for the two priests once a month. "Priests need to eat, too, right?" she said.
She went to Greater Woonsocket Catholic Regional School (Now Good Shepherd) for 10 years before attending Woonsocket High School, and grew up playing in Pepin Lumber's lumber yard with her brother and sisters. Now she lives in east Woonsocket with her husband, Kenneth Budnick. They've got two children, Rachel, 21, and Steven, 23.
Jeanne said the city has its challenges, "But there's a lot of good positive people in this city," she said.