Don’t take lunacy too seriously

By Garrison Keillor

 

Riding on a bus in the middle of the night through Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska, it’s impressive, the sheer volume of traffic, hour after hour. Tanker trucks and semis and auto carriers, thousands of tons of goods moving to market, like a train of ants carrying leaves to their anthill. Out here, you don’t see the “American carnage” referred to in the inaugural address back in January. Evidently the speaker who portrayed the country as a beached whale and a victim of international conspiracies has now fixed the problems and we’re booming again. Good.

I’m on this bus because I’m living the dream of every 75-year-old American male to travel around with a band and put on shows. People imagine I’m working hard so I get sympathy (poor old guy) even as I’m having the time of my life. To be pitied for three weeks of sheer pleasure: life doesn’t get better than that.

I am a happy man and I feel a love of country that I could work up into a really bad song, which the country doesn’t need. We have about six very good patriotic songs, including “America” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the one about the rockets’ red glare, and that’s enough.
This is freeway America, the land of strip malls and Walmart and economy motels, not scenic postcard America, but I love its bounding vitality and good humor. In the Holiday Inn Express, we line up for the free breakfast of watery oatmeal and generic eggs and nondescript coffee, ignoring the yammer of TV news, and I take an empty seat at a long table and am drawn into a conversation with three women and two men, strangers to me, on classic topics: This Beautiful Summer & The Number of Persons I Know Who’ve Contracted Tick-Borne Disease, How Does One Correct The Bad Parenting of One’s Children, The Misery of Attending One’s Spouse’s Reunion, Hip Replacements I Have Known That Went Bad, Why (Name of Winter Paradise) Is Not What It Used To Be, and so on. The amiable complaints of my age group.

I’m an old Democrat traveling through Republican territory and I feel welcome. Geniality is all around. Nobody mentions You Know Who, the scowly man with projectile eyebrows whose last name sounds like someone dropped a fruitcake on the floor. A bad breakfast among strangers but everyone’s in a good mood or trying to be. I love this. This is America, a congenial country. Welcome, one and all. Respect the rules. Don’t throw food. If you need to be crazy, go out in the woods.

Over in the Universe Cafe where righteous Democrats gather to eat organic eggs from cooperative chickens, I imagine that you’d hear his name twenty times a minute, like a sump pump, but here, no. Democrats are forever wringing their hands about something they just read a book about, and then last weekend they got to talk about the parade of certified lunatics in Charlottesville protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. As if that were something of lasting significance.

It is more than sad that we have a president whom lunatics look up to as a hero and who tried not to offend them in his statement of semi-condemnation on Saturday that he then, without apology, had to re-do on Monday. His cluelessness is a national embarrassment. And it was an ugly, ugly day.

But let us, good people, not grant significance to crazy people. This is a gang of freaks that social media gives the power to unite — in a nation of 323 million, you can Google the secret words and get 700 sociopaths to come to Charlottesville. This is not a meaningful phenomenon. You could also get 700 people who are getting messages from Lucifer through their dental fillings or 700 apocalyptic Episcopalians who know the world will end on Thursday.

The young Teutons who converged are actors in a fantasy, men who got kicked out of Civil War re-enactments for over-enthusiasm. Maybe we create a special place for them in a wilderness canyon out West where they could goosestep and Sieg Heil, express their whiteness, feel uber Alles, feast on knockwurst, light each other’s Pupser, the whole schmegeggy. Mr. Angry Eyebrows can chopper in and visit them there with his sidekick Mr. Mask. In 2020, assuming the White House allows an election, let’s get a president who is civil and has a sense of humor. Now go enjoy your breakfast.


©Garrison Keillor distributed by The Washington Post News Service with Bloomberg News.

Garrison Keillor was born in 1942 in Anoka, Minnesota, and began his radio career as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, from which he graduated in 1966. He went to work for Minnesota Public Radio in 1969, and from July 6, 1974 through July 1, 2016, he created and hosted his popular variety show, A Prairie Home Companion, for some 3.5 million listeners on 700 public radio stations coast to coast and beyond. Keillor has been honored with Grammy, ACE, and George Foster Peabody awards, the National Humanities Medal, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His many books include Lake Wobegon Days, The Book of Guys, Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny, and The Keillor Reader (Viking). He is the host of the daily program The Writer’s Almanac and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, most recently, Good Poems: American Places (Viking). In 2006, Keillor played himself in the movie adaptation of his show, a film directed by Robert Altman. He has two grandsons and in 2007, he opened an independent bookstore, Common Good Books, in St. Paul, the city where he and his wife and daughter make their home.

Share this:

Lexington Park

By S. Levi Doran

Many of the quotes used herein are from advertising brochures in the collections of the Lexington Historical Society Archives.

Today, the 48 acres on Bedford Street opposite Westview Cemetery are home to dozens of families. A regular residential neighborhood, very few passing through here would give thought to how it appeared one century ago. And still fewer would guess that this was where Lexington Park stood and operated for nearly two decades, during which time it was one of the premier such parks in the area — right up there with Norumbega. [Read more…]

Share this:

Lexington’s Walking Man

 

Rick Abrams

Rick Abrams


 

The Pied Piper of ACROSS Lexington

A year after Rick left us, ACROSS Lexington, the work of his final months, is being rededicated in his memory. This is a tribute to Rick and his indefatigable devotion to this project and his special talent for creating connections, leading and inspiring with quiet, grace, determination and humor.


 

By Laurie Atwater

 

He loved to walk in nature. He fell in love with footpaths in England while attending York University and continued the practice when he wanted a quiet meditative place to think away from traffic and the hectic business of life. When he became ill, he found walking to be therapeutic and life affirming, and it sustained him throughout a decade-long battle with thyroid cancer.

In his final years, Rick Abrams turned his attention to an ambitious community project in Lexington that would make it easier for the entire community to share his love of walking in nature. Linking the many protected conservation areas in Lexington to form a coherent network of walking trails, ACROSS (Accessing Conservation land, Recreation areas, Open space, Schools and Streets) Lexington is Rick’s legacy and a gift to all Lexingtonians.  He worked tirelessly to make this idea a reality and now, just about one year after Rick’s death, ACROSS Lexington: the Rick Abrams Memorial Trail Network will be officially dedicated to his memory on June 14th.

And what a memory it is for people who knew and loved him and even those who met him briefly—Rick Abrams was one of those rare people who made good things happen all around him, inspired respect and affection and left the world a better place. He had a gift.


 

Grey QuoteIt was Rick’s spirit and enthusiasm, that was the spark, his constant encouragement, positive attitude, and smile—that kept all of us coming back every month.”

Mark Sandeen, Chairman
Sustainable Lexington Committee


 

AN ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT 

Starting young, Rick learned to work hard. I recently visited with his wife Susan Kenyon and she told me that Rick’s parents raised chickens on a farm in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. The family left the farm when Rick was six and moved to Providence. Then in 1969, when Rick was 12, they bought a “rundown rooming house on Block Island.” Rick’s father was a “visionary” according to Susan—one of those entrepreneurial spirits who was always ahead of the curve. Block Island didn’t have any prestige in those days, but his parents thought it would be good for the kids—they could have summer jobs at the inn and start on a new adventure. No small nod to dad’s instincts, the inn is a vibrant business to this day as the locale has grown into a popular vacation spot. His sister Rita Draper runs it now, but in the early years all the kids pitched in. Susan often tells the story of Rick’s humble culinary beginnings as an assistant to the Chef when he was 14. In a dramatic moment, after the chef burned his hand, young Rick jumped in to cook breakfast for 160 guests! Cooking was a skill that Rick continued to develop and enjoy.  In thirty-five years of marriage, Susan says she never cooked a meal, while Rick’s skills became legend among his friends. “It was good because I come from a long line of bad cooks,” Susan says with a laugh.

Rick and his brother Mark started a sandwich shop on the island and Susan says people still say, ‘I remember those sandwiches!’ with a nostalgic lick of the lips. As fledgling entrepreneurs, they stayed open late and would sell their sandwiches to the hungry bar crowds after hours. “They would sleep till 1 or 2 the next day,” Susan says with a laugh.

Ironically Susan and Rick started out just miles from one another in Rhode Island; Rick on the chicken farm and Susan in potato country in South Kingstown, but they wouldn’t meet for years down the road. They both landed at Colby College in Waterville, Maine in the 1970s, but for the 4 years on campus they only spoke a few times. Rick was a dedicated student and applied himself enthusiastically to his studies at the expense of a social life—often disappearing into the library stacks. (He graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in economics and mathematics. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa.)

Susan did know Rick’s roommate Doug Kaplan at Colby. After graduation when Susan was in law school and needed a place to crash while she started a summer associateship at Mintz Levin, she contacted Doug. He was in Boston and still rooming with Rick. Finally Susan and Rick got to know each other and discovered everything that they had in common! They were married in 1982 and moved to Lexington in 1993.

Rick was a family man first. Rick with his wife Susan Kenyon and beloved children (left to right) Archie, Sydney and Stan.

Rick was a family man first. Rick with his wife Susan Kenyon and beloved children (left to right) Archie, Sydney and Stan.

In the early years Rick worked for Data Resources in Lexington and Susan was practicing law at Mintz Levin. They had a great life for two young people, but Rick was itching to do something else. Susan says he was toying with going back to graduate school, but wasn’t really that interested. His inner entrepreneur was just dying to get out! Rick had a regular squash game with a venture capitalist named Jerry Dykama. One day Jerry hinted around at a possible business opportunity. Eventually Jerry introduced Rick to Tom Snyder, a teacher from the Shady Hill School who had started a business called Computer Learning Connection. Snyder would eventually become Rick’s business partner in something that was called “educational software.”

SOFTWARE, WHAT’S SOFTWARE?  

Susan can laugh about it now, but it must have been pretty scary at the time. “Rick took a fifty percent cut in pay,” she says and moved to an office in a 3rd story walk-up. His desk was a piece of plywood on hinges that rested atop the sink in the kitchen! “Back then, no one understood computers,” she says. “Everyone thought he was crazy!”

It appears that Rick had inherited some of that visionary gift from his father because the field of educational software was in its infancy and their company, Tom Snyder Productions (TSP), went on to pioneer innovative, creative products, even expanding into animation with Soup2Nuts Studios.

“The notion of combining business with a social agenda like education was something that appealed to Rick,” Susan says. “Their products were never designed to replace teachers, they were made for teachers who wanted to enhance the curriculum and enrich the learning experience.”

Eventually the partners sold TSP to Scholastic. Rick stayed on as General Manager and was still working when he discovered a lump while shaving. The lump turned out to be thyroid cancer.

THYROID CANCER

Rick attacked the new challenge with the same inquisitive, hard-working, optimistic attitude that shaped his every endeavor. He researched and learned everything he could. He met his treatment regimen with mettle and everything seemed to follow the predictably curable path of the most common thyroid cancers for a short while. But when it came roaring back and it was obvious that Rick’s was a more virulent form of thyroid cancer—a cancer that is actually rather rare.

He underwent grueling radiation and chemotherapy. During his therapy, Rick contacted a group called ITOG (International Thyroid Oncology Group) and went on to become the only patient advocate on the ITOG board.  Susan explains that Rick spent hours advocating, helped the organization develop their website and made a short video about his experience to help other patients (still on the website) all during his difficult illness.

He continued to work for as long as he could, reduced his hours to part-time, and began to look outside his professional life for sources of strength. He loved photography, cooking and reading. He was well-known for his men-only book club with paired meals—the menu matched the topic of the book!

He connected with Ramel (Rami) Rones, a Tai Chi instructor after seeing a flyer at Dana Farber and learned to expand his understanding of the mind-body connection through Tai Chi and meditation—a practice and friendship that sustained him on his journey.

And he kept walking.

When he decided to go on disability, he experienced the stress that anyone experiences when they stop working. “He said, ‘What am I going to do?’” Susan says, and he was really worried about the idea of “retiring.”

For Rick, “retirement” meant continued work with the ITOG board, a position with the Woods Hole Corporation, the Wheelock College Board of Directors, the Lexington Greenways Corridor Committee, the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition, Sustainable Lexington, and the Battle Road Historic Byway Committee.

ACROSS Lexington   

The sinage that marks the trails of ACROSS Lexington.

The sinage that marks the trails of ACROSS Lexington.

Despite his fears, Susan says, “The timing worked out really well. When the Greenways Corridor Committee was formed there were people involved who were thinking about creating trails and linking paths in Lexington.” Susan says that their son Archie, a former member of the LHS cross country team used to tell them that he could go for a 10 mile run and “his feet would barely hit pavement.” The idea of interconnected footpaths really appealed to Rick’s love of walking in nature.

“We were always big walkers. Route B, as it’s now known, is the trail that we would walk together.”

Susan explains, “Over time ACROSS Lexington became like his full-time job!” He threw himself into the project and worked tirelessly with Keith Ohmart and other committee members. “He went to 22 boards to gain approvals,” Susan says. Soon he became the public face of ACROSS Lexington. He had the time and seemingly endless stores of energy. It was hard not to wonder how he was managing it all in the face of his illness. He never talked about it. “I think in the last two years of his life he was in bed maybe for a day or two,” Susan says. “He was always busy with meetings and things to do for ACROSS Lexington.”

Rick, ever the technology advocate, even made a connection with David Neal, an IOS developer and Lexington resident, to create the ACROSS Lexington App which is available for free download from the Apple App Store and provides GPS guidance while walking the trails.

Members of the Greenways Corridor Committee. Front row- Alex Dohan, Eileen Entin, Rick Abrams, Keith Ohmart. Back row- Peggy Enders, Paul Knight, Mike Tabaczynski, Bob Hausselein, Stew Kennedy. Photo by David Tabeling.

Members of the Greenways Corridor Committee. Front row- Alex Dohan, Eileen Entin, Rick Abrams, Keith Ohmart. Back row- Peggy Enders, Paul Knight, Mike Tabaczynski, Bob Hausselein, Stew Kennedy. Photo by David Tabeling.

Keith Ohmart, Chair of the Greenways Corridor Committee says, “Rick seemingly came out of nowhere, blazed across my life and those of my colleagues on the Greenways Corridor Committee for a much too short period of time, made what became the ACROSS Lexington project his own including creating the name for the project, and will be forever remembered.”

The members of the committee loved working with Rick. Much as he had done in his professional life, he infused his work with energy, creativity, inclusiveness and fun. He was a motivator. When several college students reached out to the Sustainable Lexington Committee Rick offered to be their mentor. Mark Sandeen, Chairman of the Sustainable Lexington Committee says that Rick thought it was a good way to pass on their concern and keen interest for the future of the planet to the next generation.

“When you think about climate change and sustainability,” Sandeen explains, “you can get lost in numbers and graphs and reports, but Rick said, ‘We’re talking about quality of life. How can we make this town a better place to live and how can we do the right thing for ourselves and for our kids?’”

“Rick touched many lives through his work with Sustainable Lexington. Rick was the first person who gave me hope that we really could pull a group of great people together who would be willing to work together to make a sustainable difference in Lexington. It was Rick’s spirit and enthusiasm, that was the spark, his constant encouragement, positive attitude, and smile—that kept all of us coming back every month,” Mark says. “Rick was an amazing guy who had more friends than you can count, because Rick made a new friend every time he met someone new. That is a rare gift indeed!”

Sheryl Rosner, who was new to the committee at the time says, “Rick brought such an important perspective to the Sustainable Lexington Committee as he was so committed and enthusiastic about connecting people to nature and very savvy about messaging and technology. His passion and vision about the protected parcels not only led to the success of ACROSS Lexington but was the catalyst for creating an app for the routes. He would have been thrilled with last weekend’s Hidden Treasures event that also tied in art to the trails.”

A year ago in April Rick found out that the last of the experimental drugs was not working and the cancer had spread. He was facing two surgeries over the next couple of months. According to Susan, he was most worried about getting things done for ACROSS Lexington. “He was working on the first map and it was Bike Walk ‘n Bus Week—he led 3 walks that week!” He was thinking ahead to the future and never lost his hopeful attitude.

Susan is working on approval for a memorial bench on Route B in Dunback Meadow, Rick’s favorite spot. It will hopefully inspire walkers to stop for a few moments, breathe deeply and connect with the beauty of nature. Rick would like that.


 

Brochure

To download the complete ACROSS Lexington  brochure visit: www.acrosslexington.org

 

Visit ACROSS Lexington on facebook: www.facebook.com/acrosslex and post a picture of yourself enjoying the trails!

 

Download the FREE ACROSS Lexington App at the Apple App Store:

ACROSS LEXINGTON

 


HatThe Board of Selectmen has established
the Rick Abrams ACROSS Lexington Fund
to support the trail network by creating:

• New directional and interpretive signage,
• Electronic and/or print maps, and
• Web/software development to incorporate current technologies.

The mailing address for donations is:

Board of Selectmen
ACROSS Lexington Trust Fund
Town of Lexington
1625 Massachusetts Ave.
Lexington, MA 02420

Please make checks out to “Town of Lexington”
and write “Rick Abrams ACROSS Lexington Trust Fund”
on the memo line.

Share this:

DIY Sisters find business inspiration in mid-century modern furniture and a shared love for design

Sisters Lisa Berland of Lexington and Laura Berland-Wyman of Lincoln are partners in Retrocraft Design

Sisters Lisa Berland of Lexington and Laura Berland-Wyman of Lincoln are partners in Retrocraft Design

Header

In an airy light industrial space in West Concord, sisters Laura Berland-Wyman and Lisa Berland renovate and transform vintage furnishings to enhance contemporary homes.

They launched Retrocraft Design studio in 2011 (www.retrocraftdesign.com) and also have online stores on the e-commerce website Etsy (www.etsy.com) and the new vintage design website Chairish (www.chairish.com).

By Jane Whitehead

On a recent sunny afternoon, the sisters sat with me around a refurbished 1960s Park dining table in their showroom and talked about their mother’s genius for creative dumpster-diving, their enthusiasm for mid-century modern design, their evolving business model, and the dynamics of being sisters in business together.

A DIY INHERITANCE    “We all grew up with a strong sense of design,” says Berland-Wyman, recalling their childhood on the Chelsea/Greenwich Village border in Manhattan in the late 1950s and 1960s. Both sisters attended PS 41, “where all the bohemian kids went,” she says, laughing. Their mother, a modern dancer by training, was an intrepid DIY decorator who furnished their home with curbside trophies.

“Nothing daunted her,” says Berland-Wyman: “She was always cutting legs off things, repurposing them.” Two memorable transformations were the grafting of hairpin legs on to an antique oak pedestal table, and the conversion of a rattan chair into a giant hanging lampshade. Their father, a social worker by profession, was also a photographer who commandeered a bathroom as a darkroom and improvised sculpture out of found objects like pieces of driftwood.

Apart from a sense of design, color and the aesthetics of everyday life, the sisters also inherited their parents’ can-do attitude. “That generation came out of the Depression, and they were just used to doing whatever needed to be done,” says Berland. So whether it was upholstering a chair, making curtains or refinishing a floor: “You learned that you could just do it, you could figure it out,” she says.

A TRAINED EYE    Both sisters have fine art training. While working as an editor and later, school administrator, and raising three children, Berland took many art classes at the De Cordova Museum in Lincoln. “Art was always there,” she says, “something I did in the background.” As a continuing education student at the Museum of Fine Art School in Boston, her younger sister Berland-Wyman honed skills she used for many years as a decorative painter – “faux everything” – and color consultant. “I love working with color, I like materials and I like working with my hands,” she says. Working primarily in other people’s houses had its frustrations, she admits, and part of the appeal of launching a small business was the prospect of more autonomy and creative freedom.

As they started working together on the projects that would evolve into Retrocraft, the sisters studied upholstery at the Elliot School in Jamaica Plain.  “We did a very complicated chair as our project,” says Berland-Wyman, who also took wood-working classes at the school.

A fine mess! The sisters acquire pieces with good bones just waiting for their moment to shine once again!

A fine mess! The sisters acquire pieces with good bones just waiting for their moment to shine once again!

THE ALLURE OF MID-CENTURY MODERN   The idea for Retrocraft grew organically out of the sisters’ shared DIY projects over the years. Berland lives in Lexington, Berland-Wyman in Lincoln, and they’ve always helped each other with home decorating. “When we first thought of it, we thought of taking pieces that we liked, and transforming them in some way,” says Berland. “We went out looking, and we really had no clue what we were doing,” she says. “People gave us all kinds of things, we picked up stuff on the street.”

At first, says Berland-Wyman, “we just found things that we liked, and we really weren’t looking for mid-century particularly, although we found those things and we loved them.”  They found premises in the crumbling Bradford Mill in West Concord, “huge space, cheap, lots of light,” and worked a few days a week, mainly painting antique pieces in bold colors and selling them on Craigslist, reaching customers throughout the Greater Boston area. As the mill buildings were upgraded, the rent went up, the footage shrank, and in 2013 the sisters found new space at 152 Commonwealth Avenue, West Concord, near the Nashoba Bakery.

The interior of Retrocraft in West Concord is filled with lovingly transformed pieces.

The interior of Retrocraft in West Concord is filled with lovingly transformed pieces.

As the business gained traction, it became clear that “the mid-century stuff got so much more attention than anything else,” says Berland. Berland-Wyman thinks the current enthusiasm for mid-century modern design comes from an appreciation of its simple lines and good craftsmanship, as well as a hunger for “eclectic, different, unique pieces.”

Both sisters emphasize that they’re not restorers – they often choose to alter the look of a piece with paint or a colored stain, or add a stenciled design, or other custom element. An example is a rosewood coffee table made from a piece of wood discarded during a renovation project at a local museum where it served as a bench. The rosewood top, with subtly rounded edges and corners, carries the seal of the well known mid century Danish cabinet-maker, Ludvig Pontoppidan. The sisters commissioned welded steel legs to complement the rosewood grain and refinished the top, to create a handsome and unique piece. “We’re always thinking about what we can change up and make more interesting,” says Berland.

Lane Acclaim Dining Table

Lane Acclaim Dining Table

Lane Altavista Credenza

Lane Altavista Credenza

The downside to the boom in all things mid-century modern is increasing competition. “The problem for us is that it’s very competitive to buy this stuff now – it’s getting harder to find, harder to afford,” says Berland. To keep Retrocraft’s inventory fresh, she says, they work with a handful of dealers and businesses that specialize in cleanouts, and as the profile of the business grows they find that more and more people bring mid-century pieces to them.

Before

Before: Custom upholstery gives this drab chair a new life.

After

After: Ready to add a beautiful accent to any decor.

A BUSINESS EVOLVES    From selling a handful of pieces monthly on Craigslist, the sisters have developed a hybrid operation that relies on their constantly updated website, and online stores at Etsy, Chairish and Krrb, to bring customers into the store. They also send out a monthly email newsletter to around 600 clients, highlighting new items in stock.

“The idea is that people can go to the website and see what we have before they truck out here,” says Berland, “and mostly people come because there’s something specific they want to buy.” Recently, they have added a range of accessories including Austrian-made patterned throws by David Fusseneger Textiles, colorful mid-century cased-glass decorative pieces, and sturdy handcrafted brooms from rural Pennsylvania.

Early on, Berland and Berland-Wyman decided that shipping would not be part of their services, so clients buying directly from Retrocraft and through the Etsy store arrange their own shipping – a fact that has not deterred a growing base of fans in California, Texas and New York. Retrocraft’s latest online venture is a store on the website www.Chairish.com, which bills itself as “the first online consignment marketplace,” and handles all shipping arrangements, for a cut of 20 per cent on sales. It’s a mark of Retrocraft’s growing reputation that Chairish invited their participation on the new site.

In the growing local market for mid-century modern design, the sisters see Retrocraft as occupying a unique niche. “There are some very high end mid-century modern retailers who are doing restoration,” says Berland. “We’re not competing with those guys.” At the other end of the scale, she says Retrocraft offers much more than the average consignment store. “When we sell something we want it to be structurally sound and in good working order,” says Berland-Wyman. “We try to make people happy, and if something’s not the way they want, we try to make it right,” she says – an attitude that has garnered many enthusiastic reviews at Retrocraft’s Etsy store.

SISTER ACT    Asked about how they divide up the work, and how they get on as business partners, both sisters laugh. “We get on each other’s nerves,” says Berland. “We have different obsessions.” “I’m also a perfectionist!” admits Berland-Wyman. “Yes! To the nth degree!” agrees her sister.

Retrocraft seems to thrive on the sisters’ complementary talents. “I’m the CFO – I do all the books. I’m a little compulsive about keeping things in order,” says Berland-Wyman, laughing. “I ended up doing the website and the photography,” says Berland, “and Laurie advises on colors and fabrics.” They employ one part-time assistant, and switch off working Saturdays at the showroom.

“I don’t think people realize how hard it is to have a small business and make it work and have an income from it,” says Berland. Trying to figure out the next move for the business is “on our brains all the time,” she says. And yet when the sisters pause to take stock of what they’ve achieved, they share a certain pride. “We didn’t start with a business plan,” says Berland, “but here we are five years later with a business that people know about, that has a profile.”


Untitled

RETROCRAFT DESIGN STUDIO

152 Commonwealth Avenue, West Concord. Tel: 781-320-9749/781-710-3911; email: contact@retrocraftdesign.com; showroom open Thurs. 1:00 pm-7:00 pm, Fri. and Sat. 11:00 am – 4:00 pm and by appointment.

Share this:

Building Community Around the Supper Table

COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS SEEK TO HELP THOSE IN NEED

From L. to R: Harriet Kaufman, John Bernhard, George Murnaghan and Laura Derby stir the pot for Lex Eat Together. Photo courtesy of D. Peter Lund.

From L. to R: Harriet Kaufman, John Bernhard, George Murnaghan and Laura Derby stir the pot for LexEat Together. Photo courtesy of D. Peter Lund.

 

By E. Ashley Rooney

On Tuesday, May 26, a group of 35 residents met to discuss how we as a community could help those in need. Though not easily visible, there are those among us who struggle with not having enough food and social interaction.  By providing a free, nutritious and regularly scheduled community meal, open to all, we can address these needs and build community with those whose circumstances serve to isolate them.

It is difficult to imagine as the bulldozers raze older homes and turn them into multi-million-dollar dwellings, that we could be hungry because we didn’t have enough money to buy food, but a husband can die, a job disappear, a family or medical emergency can devastate our savings. As Laura Derby, one of the organizers, pointed out, once you lose your financial security, you may drift into social isolation. Life becomes a vicious spiral downward.

PROVIDING A FREE COMMUNITY MEAL

Laura, Harriet Kaufman, John Bernhard, and George Murnaghan have been meeting for several months to understand how Lexington can help those in need with a free weekly meal, open to all, which they have named Lex Eat Together.  They have researched similar efforts in Concord and Bedford, worked with the Town’s human services director Charlotte Rodgers, and met with community activists to get their suggestions and input.

Harriet Kaufman pointed out that we have many individuals and groups in town with a strong commitment to service.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ”Life’s most persistent and important question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ Here is an opportunity for connection, for change, and for performing a valuable service.”

She then described the Open Table in Concord and Maynard, which provides a pantry and dinner to all who come, with no questions asked. She spent twenty-five years as a volunteer there, in a variety of roles, including pantry manager, cook, president, board member, and head of guest support services.  The spirit of Open Table, she said, is one of kindness, dignity, inclusion and community.  This spirit is what the group envisions replicating In Lexington.

HARNESSING LEXINGTON’S VOLUNTEER SPIRIT

Their overall plan is to have a weekly meal on Wednesday evenings from 5:30-7 pm, starting, in mid-October, and they are working with the Church of Our Redeemer, located in Lexington Center, to hold the meal in Redeemer’s renovated parish hall and kitchen.  They believe a central location, with suitable kitchen and dining facilities, ample parking and handicap access will serve the guests best.  Redeemer, which has hosted the food pantry for 25 years, fulfills all those requirements.

The 35 attendees broke into teams to discuss obtaining volunteers for cooking, serving, setup/cleanup, outreach and promotion, and organization and fundraising. In the next several months, they plan to build awareness about the Lex Eats Together program, to inform and invite potential guests and our community at large about the meal. They plan to seek funds to secure at least six months of operation.  The organizers believe it will cost around $500 per meal to purchase, prepare and serve 80 individual guests, or $12,500 for six months. They will establish a non-profit group to receive donations in the next several weeks.

To volunteer, contribute or obtain more information, contact John Bernhard jhbernhard2@gmail.com, Laura Derby lauraderby32@gmail.com, Harriet Kaufman harrietkaufman@rcn.com, or George Murnaghan gmurnaghan@verizon.net.  Or email lexeattogether@gmail.com.

Share this:

Conductor Jonathan McPhee Celebrates a Decade with the Lexington Symphony

Banner McPhee

 

By Karen Sampson

Lexington Symphony’s 2014–2015 season has been a milestone year. Not only has it been the 20th consecutive year of operation for this successful nonprofit professional orchestra, but it has also marked the 10th anniversary for the organization’s Music Director, Jonathan McPhee.
A leading musical figure in New England, McPhee officially joined Lexington Symphony in 2005, after he guest conducted for the orchestra during its conductor search. “I originally came to Lexington Symphony (which was then Lexington Sinfonietta) because of the people in the orchestra. I had guest conducted for them, and there was an intensity — and a true love for making music — that came through. That kind of joy is infectious.”
During the past decade, McPhee has strived to maintain the player-centered spirit of the orchestra while also acting as a catalyst for tremendous organizational and artistic growth. His tireless focus and his penchant for challenging classical music audiences with innovative programming have helped the organization to flourish. “When we moved to Cary Hall [from the National Heritage Museum] in 2005, the entire organization blossomed,” recounts McPhee. “What resonated with me was the fact that the orchestra was located in an ideal community that was intelligent and cared about culture and, of course, history. The potential was all around to build, and I am a builder.”

4_15 Symphony Collage
Working with a solid foundation comprised of a group of exceptionally talented and passionate musicians, devoted board and staff members, and supportive patrons and volunteers, McPhee has expanded the Symphony’s programming, enabling the orchestra to reach new artistic heights. “Looking back over the past 10 years, I can think of many fabulous experiences,” says McPhee. “We have explored new music and old favorites; popular music and music from the movies. Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 was a milestone for the orchestra, the community, and for me personally. Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 and Elgar’s Enigma Variations also stand out as personal favorites.”
Striving to find new ways to broaden the musical repertoire, McPhee has also worked with the Symphony to commission new classical compositions by contemporary composers. During the 2012–2013 season, the Symphony’s “3 for 300th” campaign led to the creation — and performance — of three new works by composers Sky Macklay, Michael Gandolfi, and John Tarrh in celebration of the town of Lexington’s 300th anniversary. McPhee has also nurtured collaborative relationships with other cultural organizations on behalf of the Symphony. In 2007, the Symphony presented a two-part multimedia concert series, Sight and Sound, which featured specially selected photographs from the Polaroid Collections. Other collaborations from the past decade include performances with New World Chorale, The Master Singers, and the Nashua Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. McPhee has also regularly engaged guest performers from near and far, the likes of which have included British violinist Ruth Palmer, Estonian pianist Diana Liiv, Boston-based pianist Max Levinson, soprano Dominique LaBelle, and numerous young, up-and-coming musicians from Lexington.
Programming directed at diverse audiences has been another area of focus for the Symphony and for McPhee, who believes wholeheartedly in the importance of educating young people about classical music. “One of the most fun experiences I’ve had with the Symphony was the first Holiday Pops concert for kids in 2009. We had no idea that adding a 4 p.m. Holiday Pops performance would draw an audience of kids under the age of six with their parents. It was so good to see so many young people at their first live orchestra concert! What an opportunity.” The Symphony also launched its award-winning educational outreach program for third and fourth graders, Orchestrating Kids Through Classics™, during McPhee’s tenure.
The important work McPhee has done on behalf of — and the positive impact has had on — Lexington Symphony isn’t lost on the organization, which hosted a surprise party for him on Monday, January 19 in celebration of his 10th anniversary with the orchestra. Held in Lexington at the home of board member Miyana Bovan, the event — planned by violinist Barbara Hughey and cellist Susan Griffith — was attended by members of the orchestra; past and current board members; Jonathan’s wife, Deborah; staff members, and volunteers. A commemorative book (created by Griffith) containing pictures and programs from the past 10 years, along with personal notes from musicians, board members, and others who have been involved with the orchestra, was presented to McPhee. “He is an inspiring conductor with a leadership style that encourages the highest level of performance and cooperation from all musicians, board members, and staff,” says Epp Sonin, the Symphony’s board president.
In the end, McPhee says the work he does as Lexington Symphony’s music director all boils down to one thing: the audience. “The audience is really special in Lexington, and they are critical to feeling satisfied with a well-played concert,” he explains. “An orchestra is a living, breathing thing, and the audience is what we live for. Our job is to inspire, entertain, and educate. Providing that balance in Lexington has been, and continues to be, exhilarating.”

 

For more information about Jonathan McPhee and his full schedule, visit his website: http://jonathanmcphee.com. For more information about the LSO, performance schedule details and subscription information see www.lexingtonsymphony.org.

Share this:

The History of the Lexington Fire Department

Below, the Lexington Fire Department assembled before the Minute Man Statue in Lexington Center.

Below, the Lexington Fire Department assembled before the Minute Man Statue in Lexington Center.

 

By Digney Fignus

 

When I was a little I loved playing with my fire truck. I even had a bright red pedal car fashioned after a hook and ladder. I was awed by the big shiny trucks rolling along at the end of the Patriot’s Day parade blasting their sirens and bells. Doesn’t every school child at some point want to be a fire fighter?

Fire was one of the first elements of nature that we supposedly tamed.  But Prometheus’ gift to civilization is still held by the most tenuous grasp.  Like a powerful genie, fire is always ready to escape its restraints and wreak havoc upon those who would try to be its master.  Since ancient times, fire was both a great comforter and a great destroyer.  It cooked our food and warmed our homes but could also take our lives and reduce our property to ashes.  Fire was the scourge of every city large and small from the beginning of known civilization.

Rome was the first to try to solve the problem.  Rome was often plagued by fire, most famously when Nero was blamed for burning down 70% of the city in a fire that lasted six days and seven nights.  Emperor Augustus in 24 BC is credited with creating the first fire fighters called “vigiles,” Latin for watchmen.  This was the model for fire prevention up until the early Industrial Age.  The water bucket was the main firefighting tool.  Needless to say, it was hardly effective against a massive blaze.

As a result, as cities became larger and more densely populated conflagrations became more costly.  The problem of urban fires befuddled governments and politicians.  Fire brigades were only established after the tremendous destruction of the Great Fire of London in 1666.  Surprisingly they were first organized by insurance companies in an effort to avoid the massive financial losses that large fires created.  Government lagged far behind, only becoming involved after nearly 200 years when in 1865 London’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade was established.

In North America, Boston was the first city in the then Massachusetts Bay Colony to enact fire prevention legislation.  A year after the city was founded it suffered a major fire, so in 1631 the city banned thatched roofs and wooden chimneys.  But despite the best efforts of governments and insurance companies, until the twentieth century, cities burned to the ground fairly regularly.  Although fire departments started to become more common throughout the nineteenth century, large fires remained an urban nightmare.  The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, supposedly started in a small barn when Mrs. Murphy’s cow knocked over a lantern, burned for three days.  It destroyed much of the city’s business district, killing nearly 300, and left 100,000 homeless.  After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, deadly fires destroyed 80% of the city, and left a death toll of nearly 3000.

Throughout the 1800s Boston continued to burn down periodically.  On July 6, 1861, the New York Herald reported “Terrible Conflagrations in Boston” that started in a rigging shop and burned down most of the seaport.  A year after the Chicago fire made headlines, Boston’s Great Fire of 1872 consumed a huge section of the city’s downtown and finally led to the appointment of the first board of fire commissioners.

During this time new fire codes were enacted and there were many improvements made to firefighting equipment in an effort to curb the great destruction caused by these disasters.  In addition to the time-tested water bucket and fire axe, which had been around since Roman times, leather hoses had been added to the Boston firefighting arsenal by 1799.  Firefighting wagons began to arrive on the scene in the 1800s.

At first these were little more than a big water tub on wheels to aid the bucket brigade.  Most Colonial homes had a fire bucket ready to be deployed at the first sign of smoke.  An example of one still hangs by the stairs in the Hancock Clarke House.  Wagons with hand pumps were soon replaced by controlled chemical reactions that increased water pressure so fires could be fought from a safer distance.  These first machines were hand-drawn or horse-drawn carriages.  Even though the carriages were equipped with large water containers, pumps, hoses, and ladders, they remained only marginally effective.  Most cities still had watchmen that reported fires until 1851 when the first fire alarm was installed in Boston using the then new invention: the telegraph.  Until 1895 Lexington had fire bells that were rung in East Village and the Centre to alert citizens of a fire.

As innovations continued, cities and towns scrambled to update their firefighting equipment with the most modern improvements.  Lexington was no different.  In 1855 Massachusetts passed legislation requiring cities and towns to establish fire departments.  The Fireman’s Standard of March 1, 1915 reports that prior to the Lexington Water Company laying water lines in 1885, fires were fought by “valiant attempts in which practically all the people participated, (using) hand tubs, (and) buckets such as the Liberty, the first known machine in town.”  The Liberty was essentially a bucket on two wheels. According to The Fireman’s Standard, it was painted “ bright yellow and kept in the barn of Bowen Harrington…There were no suction pipes in these machines…the tubs being filled by the use of buckets in a double line.”  At the start, fire equipment was often provided by private citizens.  Soon after the Liberty was put in service, a similar machine the “Water Witch” was purchased by Benjamin Muzzey and presented to the town.

The legislation of 1855 demanded that towns have a suction engine before they could create their fire departments.  In 1857 Lexington budgeted $2100.00 to purchase “two of the most up-to-date suction engines known, the Hancock and the Adams.”  A suction engine could draw water from any water source.  It was a huge improvement on the bucket brigade approach.  Areas that were not close to a natural source of water were encouraged to dig a “fire pond” that would feed water to the engine in case of fire.  An example of one can be seen today near Wilson Farm.  Built in 1856, after many years of service, the Adams suction engine still survives.  It has been lovingly preserved and is currently in the care of the Lexington Historical Society.

Since its early days, the Lexington Fire Department has gone through many changes.  One man has made it his life work to chart those changes.  Bob “The Goose” Washburn is a self-described dedicated fire buff.  He’s also a Lexington treasure.   Over the years he has compiled a complete history of Lexington’s Fire Department and its equipment.  Bob has written several detailed books regarding the subject.  He not only talks the talk, but with 31 years of service on the Lexington Fire Department, “The Goose” is an expert on how to walk the walk.  I had a chance to talk with this local legend about a subject that he loves: “Most of the first firemen were Civil War veterans or their sons. Before the Civil War, all firemen were volunteers.” We sat down over a cup of Joe at the “Dunk” on Woburn St. just outside the center.  “The pumpers weren’t very effective.  Hoses were made out of leather.  You had to oil the hose so it wouldn’t crack.  Horses were rented from the residents of the town.”

Bob Washburn was dressed casually in his Lexington fireman’s T-shirt and arrived with a stack of research papers.  He lit up when we began to talk about his research, fire engines he’d known, and the fires he’d put out.  The Dunk is a regular stop for our local fire crews and I soon began to notice the nods of recognition and respect for “The Goose” from the men waiting to order.   Even though Bob has been retired since 2002 he knew every one of the fire fighters in line, and every one of them knew him.  Bob can’t remember when he wasn’t fascinated by fire fighting.  In large part he thanks his mother Gladys.  She would often bring him to the fire house to play when he was a child.  Gladys encouraged her two boys to be fire fighters.  Both Bob and his older brother Arthur became firemen and for many years served together on the Lexington Fire Department.

Up until 1895 there were few changes in Lexington’s firefighting tactics.  The Adams and Hancock were upgraded and retired for chemical engines that provided better water pressure. But it wasn’t until the Cary Mansion fire on January 24, 1895 that real changes began to take place.  The Cary Estate was built by one of the town’s most beloved benefactors, Maria Hastings Cary.  In 1895 her adopted daughter Alice lived there.  While Alice was visiting her niece in Boston, a fire in the laundry quickly got out of control and consumed the mansion.  Efforts to put out the inferno were hampered by an inadequate water supply.  The Boston Herald reports a bit of mischief as well: “At some point during the blaze the firemen came across a large amount of stored liquor in the mansion and partook of same.  Some of the men evidentially indulged too much.  Two of the firemen were removed from the scene by Lexington Police Chief WB Foster.”

After the fire, in Miss Cary’s letter of thanks to the town she writes, “if only this calamity should result in a better equipped fire department and more generous and progressive town government, I shall feel I have not suffered in vain.” Her message was heard loud and clear. Before the end of the year, a town water system was established, a fire alarm box system was approved, three new pieces of firefighting equipment were ordered, the fire department was reorganized, and the first permanent fireman was employed.

The “father” of the modern Lexington Fire Department is considered George W. Taylor.  Taylor was one of the most powerful insurance men in North America and for a time Chairman of Lexington’s Board of Selectmen.  He pushed hard to improve the fire department.  In 1913 Edward Taylor, George’s son, was appointed Chief of the Lexington Fire Department.  He served as Chief until 1942.  Shortly after his appointment in 1915 The Fireman’s Standard concluded that the “Lexington fire department has evolved from a bucket brigade to one of the most up-to-date firefighting machines in the State.”

The current steward of much of the Lexington Fire Department’s history is the Lexington Historical Society.  I had a chance to talk with Elaine Doran, Archivist  and Collections Manager for the Historical Society, who invited me to research the archives that are in the basement of the Hancock Clarke House.  Besides a wonderful pictorial history of the Fire Department the Historical Society maintains two of the Lexington Fire Department’s most precious artifacts: the 1856 Adams suction engine, and the 1911 La France, Lexington’s first motorized fire engine.  Both are proudly displayed along with the rest of Lexington’s firefighting equipment at the annual Patriots’ Day parade.

Lexington’s newest Fire Chief, John Wilson, was appointed in 2012.  I had a chance to talk with Chief Wilson about the future of the Lexington Fire Department. This year the Department is celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the fire department’s Ambulance Service started in 1940.  Before that, if you needed an ambulance, the McCarthy Funeral Home dispatched one of its hearses to transport you to the hospital. With new state-of-the-art fire engines costing up to a million dollars things have certainly changed since the department’s meager beginnings.  The Chief likens the fire fighters to a large family, “It’s unlike any other job.  You eat, sleep, and train together.”  Chief Wilson is a lifelong Lexington resident.  When he was growing up “one of the Lexington firefighters lived across the street” and like Bob Washburn, when the Chief was growing up he was a frequent visitor to the fire station.  The Chief admits, “I always wanted to be a fireman.  Every little kid wants to be a fireman.”

The Lexington Fire Department has a long and proud history.  They are pledged to be there to help you when you need them most.  Be sure to give these career heroes a loud cheer this year at the Patriots’ Day parade, as they celebrate their 75th Anniversary and continue their tradition of service to the community.

 

Colonial Times contributor DIGNEY FIGNUS is a Lexington native and musician. His band perform in clubs and festivals around New England.  Check www.digney.com for the latest information on upcoming shows.

 

Share this:

LACS Holiday Marketplace & more…

1. MarketplaceLEXINGTON ARTS & CRAFTS SOCIETY

HOLIDAY MARKETPLACE

FIRST FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5
10AM to 9:00PM
DECEMBER 3 – 23
Mon.-Sat. 10AM – 6PM
Sundays: 12PM – 6PM
Final Day: December 24
10am to 5:00pm
A great place to do all your holiday shopping!

For all those on your gift lists: Excellent, one-of-a-kind gifts: Baskets, Fine Jewelry, Paintings, cards and prints, Polymer Clay/Beading, Decorative Arts, Needle Arts, Weaving, Ceramics, Ornaments, Photography, Woodworks and Gift Certificates

Admission and Parking are free. For more information and directions please call:  781 862 9696 or visit www.LACSma.org

 


 

CERAMICS GUILD AND JUNIOR MEMBERS TEEN POTTERY CLASS PRESENT

8th ANNUAL SOUP BOWLS for HUNGER

Members of the Teen Pottery Class along with Ceramics Guild potters created one-of-a-kind bowls which will be on sale through December 31st for $15 at Lexington Center’s Via Lago 1845 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington.  All procedse will go to Lexington Food Pantry.

 


 

PARACHUTE CLASSES:  “JUMP INTO SOMETHING NEW AT LACS!”

These short-term classes will keep turning up, so keep checking our website: www.lacsma.org for complete details. Introduce yourself to a new skill, meet a new instructor, or make a unique item!

Preregistration required.  Some examples:  Special Lecture Series: Get Yourself Organized:

Take just one, or sign up for two or three, Product Photography Class, Painting a Color Chart – learning to use watercolors,  Decorative Arts Projects or Assembling a Swedish Star/Snowflake

Adding art enriches our lives!

Classes fill up quickly so stop by the Society Office,

call 781 862 9696 or visit our website at www.LACSma.org for a detailed listing

Share this:

Cary Library Celebrates a Retiring Lady of Letters

Cynthia Johnson

Cynthia Johnson

By Jane Whitehead

Cynthia Johnson wanted no fanfare to mark the end of her three decades’ service at Cary Library, most recently as Assistant Director. No speeches, no presentations, she pleaded. But colleagues stealthily plotted an elegant, low-key Regency-themed tea party that took place in the Administrative offices on Thursday, October 30. (The theme was a salute to Johnson’s authorship of 15 historical novels set in the British Regency period, from 1811-1820.)

Among the guests who gathered to eat scones and wish Johnson well were all four Directors of Cary Library with whom she has worked; Bob Hilton, Carol Mahoney, Connie Rawson, and current Director Koren Stembridge, together with current and former staff, Library Trustees, patrons, and members of the Cary Memorial Library Foundation and the Friends.

Recently retired Cary librarian Elizabeth Dickinson presented Johnson with a handsome scrapbook filled with pages created by colleagues and friends. The volume reflects her wit, kindness, sense of humor, athleticism (she swims and runs every day), writing, style (think Burberry raincoats and Mont Blanc pens), and her years of service to Cary Library from her arrival in 1983 as Reference and Young Adult Librarian through two stints as Head of Reference Services, and two periods as Assistant Director. In all these roles, said former Library Director Carol Mahoney, Johnson proved herself “the consummate professional librarian.”

On October 30, 2014, Cynthia Johnson retired after 31 years of service in various capacities at the Cary Library. On hand to celebrate with Cynthia were all 4 library directors with whom she has served.  From left to right, Koren Stembridge, Connie Rawson, Cynthia Johnson, Carol Mahoney, and Robert Hilton.

On October 30, 2014, Cynthia Johnson retired after 31 years of service in various capacities at the Cary Library. On hand to celebrate with Cynthia were all 4 library directors with whom she has served.
From left to right, Koren Stembridge, Connie Rawson, Cynthia Johnson, Carol Mahoney, and Robert Hilton.

To the surprise of no Cary Library insiders, Dickinson appeared in a raccoon mask and tail. Raccoon references also peppered the scrapbook. A page headed “Cynthia’s Retirement Reading” featured spoof titles including Day of the Raccoon, and Raccoon on a Cold Slate Roof. Teen Librarian Jennifer Forgit explained that on a winter evening in 2004, a patron at one of the internet terminals gave a cry of alarm as a raccoon fell out of the ceiling, where a tile had become dislodged.

“Wearing her suit and high heels, and not a hair out of place, Cynthia captured it in a recycling bin and took it up Belfry Hill to release it,” said Forgit. “Raccoons have been showing up in her office ever since then,” said Stembridge. “Cynthia’s so well known for being a lover of nature that the staff have endless fun redecorating her office every time she goes away – there’s always some tableau, with animals in costume.”

Jane Eastman, Johnson’s long time colleague on the Reference desk, also witnessed the raccoon ejection. “Cynthia will tackle anything – she’s very dauntless!” said Eastman. Eastman, who retired in 2003, but still works occasional hours in the Library, recalled challenging queries she and Johnson fielded in the pre-internet era. “Do you have a video on making rubber gloves?” “How many stoplights are there in Rio de Janeiro?” “What’s the electrical code of Las Vegas?” From Johnson, said Eastman, she learned two essential qualities of the public reference librarian: “to listen well and have endless patience.”

“Cynthia set a high bar for the rest of us to aspire to,” said Stembridge, noting that Johnson’s “deep research capability” and boundless curiosity made her an excellent match for the intellectually demanding Lexington community. Cary’s impressively broad and deep adult book collection is “really Cynthia’s creation, after all these years,” said Eastman. “She would think about things that people needed to know about, and if she could find a book that would meet the need, she would get it.”

Another part of Johnson’s legacy, said Eastman, is the Lexington Authors’ Collection now housed in the Periodicals Reading Room. Building on a small collection started in the late 1960s, Johnson has gathered over 500 volumes by people who live and work in town, from Nobel Prize winners to first-time novelists. “It’s a great way to demonstrate what a diverse community Lexington is,” said Johnson, noting that the collection spans subject matter from “religion to radar to Shakespeare to politics.”

“I’ve been in denial about Cynthia leaving,” admitted Forgit. “I can’t imagine the library without her,” she said. Calling Johnson “the first real mentor of my adult life,” Forgit recalled how tactfully Johnson had made her realize that she needed to upgrade her fresh-from-campus sartorial style, by asking her to re-write the Library’s dress code.  “She is amazingly good at leading you gently into the light,” said Forgit.

In a conversation in her airy office a couple of weeks before her retirement, Johnson was keen to deflect attention away from her personal history and focus instead on the “outstanding organization” that has been her professional home for decades. Over the years, she said, Cary Library has been “blessed with wonderful directors who hired great staff and let them do their thing while quietly orchestrating possibilities in the background: Bob Hilton set the gold standard for the collection with his bibliographic knowledge and expertise; Carol [Mahoney] built us the building, Connie [Rawson] heard the community when they said they wanted programming, and Koren  [Stembridge] is the most fabulous yet, identifying community talent and showcasing it here so that Cary remains at the heart of the community in so many ways.”

The library was also the heart of Rockford, Illinois, the prosperous manufacturing town where Johnson grew up. “My mother always took us to the library,” she said, describing her family as “bookish to a fault.” “We had complete sets of Thackeray and Walter Scott, and you never knew that Dumas wrote so many books,” she said. As a girl, she devoured biographies of American historical figures, historical fiction, and on a snow day when she was in high school, discovered Jane Austen. “That was my true love,” she said, and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice still stands as her “all time favorite” novel, closely followed by George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

Growing up in a house full of books and no television, with parents who read the Wall Street Journal rather than the Rockford Register Star, Johnson said she often felt “totally isolated” from her schoolmates. Ahead of their time in many ways, Johnson’s parents rode bicycles, kept a compost heap, did their own yard work, and drove a foreign car, the first in town. Johnson’s father, a reconstructive plastic surgeon who learned his skills treating scarred Battle of Britain pilots in England and leprosy patients in India, “felt firmly that you should leave a place better than you found it, and he instilled that in all of us,” said Johnson, the eldest of three children.

After majoring in English and French at Wellesley College, where another Illinois native, Hillary Rodham, headed the student government in Johnson’s freshman year, Johnson took a Master’s in Library Science at Simmons College. Her first full-time job as a librarian was a four-year stint as Reference and Young Adult Librarian at Memorial Hall Library in Andover, Massachusetts.

Although Johnson enjoyed her time in Andover, she returned to the world of academic scholarship, taking a master’s degree from Northwestern University in 18th-century English and French literature. On completing the degree, poor academic job prospects made her give up the idea of continuing with doctoral studies, but she had polished the research skills that would underpin her success both as reference librarian and writer.

“They do say you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to sell a book without an agent,” said Johnson. But her experience shows that persistence and knowledge of the publishing industry can sometimes lift a manuscript out of the slush pile. Johnson wrote her first novel in the early 1980s, as a diversion from the stress of job-hunting. When she tried to sell it in 1988, she received polite rejections from three publishers before approaching Signet: New American Library.

Cynthia Johnson’s publicity photo as Evelyn Richardson. Cynthia has published fifteen Regency Romances under her pen name.

Cynthia Johnson’s publicity photo as Evelyn Richardson. Cynthia has published fifteen Regency Romances under her pen name.

After losing the first copy of the story, Signet asked her to send it again, then called her at the reference desk at Cary to offer her a two-book contract. The Education of Lady Frances, published in 1989, was the first of fifteen Regency romances written under the pen name Evelyn Richardson. (The pseudonym is a nod to English novelist and diarist Fanny Burney’s most famous heroine, Evelina, and Johnson’s maternal grandmother, whose name was Richardson.) Johnson’s “Regencies” have been praised by Booklist for their deft incorporation of historical details and “superbly nuanced characters.”

Johnson’s current writing projects are a “fictional biography” of the scandal-prone Swiss-born painter Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807) that she has been working on for five years, and the first book in a trilogy of “Regency Historical” novels. The distinction between the “Regency” and the “Regency Historical” genre is very fine, explained Johnson: the latter being slightly longer, with “more sex.”

As she moves on from full-time work at Cary, Johnson looks forward to writing more, skiing more, and learning to travel at a more leisurely pace. “I just want not to be rushing from one thing to another,” she said. But Cary is a famously difficult place to truly retire from, as attested by the many former librarians, including Eastman and Dickinson, who regularly make encore appearances when needed.

“We’re not going to let Cynthia go!” said Stembridge, laughing. “She’s still going to stay connected and we’ll benefit from her institutional knowledge and her years of experience. This is her library, and she won’t abandon us completely!”

 


 

FB Share

11/24/2014

Share this:

Residents at Brookhaven Celebrate the Launch of “A Common Purpose”

Pictured from left: Joan Keenan, Michael Bentley, Nancy Hubert, Joe Byron of Honor Flight New England and Jim Freehling, President of Brookhaven at Lexington.

Pictured from left: Joan Keenan, Michael Bentley, Nancy Hubert, Joe Byron of Honor Flight New England and Jim Freehling, President of Brookhaven at Lexington.

Before a packed room, Brookhaven president Jim Freehling took the podium to pay tribute to a team of “greatest generation” residents gathered to celebrate the publication of their new book of essays entitled A Common Purpose.

The book is a collection of personal stories and first-hand accounts of the World War II era. “We wanted to capture the stories,” Freehling said. “These are fading memories and it is very important.”

Freehling paid tribute to Nancy Hubert who he said “really didn’t know what she was getting into!” Nancy acted as the editor for the book and Freehling credits her energy and determination for the success of the project. He also acknowledged Bob Kingston who coordinated the photos for the book. The project was funded in part through a generous grant from The Dana Foundation.

In addition Freehling acknowledged the gracious assistance of Michael Bentley of Bentley Publishing who donated his services to the project. Freehling said, “It is very professionally done and we couldn’t have done it without Michael and his crew.”

Finally, Freehling announced that proceeds from the book sales would go to Honor Flight New England, a company that provides flights to the Washington WWII memorial.

Nancy Hubert thanked her fellow residents who were very supportive of the project “Even if they didn’t have a story in the book, people encouraged me, people asked me about the book and you can’t know what a boost that gave me as I was struggling with finding this or that,” she said. She also expressed special appreciation to Joan Keenan, Heidi White and Kathryn McCarthy who first had the idea to publish the WWII memories of their fellow residents. Hubert also thanked Brookhaven staffer Laura Anderson who “bailed me out many times.”

A special highlight of the program was several personal reminiscences Joan Kennan told of joining the army as a WAV and taking a secret Naval Security Course course at Radcliffe. Bob Solo described a special trip to Rome and a visit to a restaurant where he an his buddies “ordered and ate everything on the menu.”

Most touching was a battlefield recollection of Charles Ketcham who described meeting the eyes of a wounded German soldier: “We were two blue eyed boys in a woods of chaos.”

A Common Purpose is a very personal record of WWII with seventy-two stories by sixty-nine authors.


 

 

An enthusiastic crowd purchased books after the speaking program.

An enthusiastic crowd purchased books after the speaking program.

To purchase the book, visit www.linnaeanpress.com

"A Common Purpose"

“A Common Purpose”

 

 

Share this:

Warning: Unknown: open(/home/content/76/3361076/tmp/sess_tqsn4bc914a39peo0n2assfkm2, O_RDWR) failed: No such file or directory (2) in Unknown on line 0

Warning: Unknown: Failed to write session data (files). Please verify that the current setting of session.save_path is correct () in Unknown on line 0