Archives for September 2015

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:

In Full Bloom

Photo Courtesy of Mary Lou Chamberland

Spring prep for the garden.  Photo Courtesy of Mary Lou Chamberland

By Jane Whitehead

The garden is the result of an innovative collaboration among various Town departments: LPS, the Department of Public Facilities (DPF) and the Department of Public Works (DPW), with expert input from Lexington Community Farm (LexFarm), and LPS food service providers, Whitsons.


 

“Look at the size of the pumpkins – I’ve never seen them this early!” said Don Chamberland. He was admiring a riot of vines and Cinderella’s-coach-worthy gourds overspilling one corner of the new Employee Wellness Garden in the field behind the Lexington Public Schools (LPS) Central Administration Building on Maple Street.

Chamberland’s wife Mary Lou, a kindergarten assistant at Fiske Elementary School, is one of 25 LPS employees who signed up for a season of organic gardening under the umbrella of the LPS Employee Wellness Program. On a warm late July evening, while bees buzzed around colorful clumps of cornflowers, zinnias and sunflowers in the shared cutting-garden, she was harvesting eggplants and giant knobbly summer squash from the 4-foot by 8-foot plot she shares with ESL instructor Carolyn Hine.

The garden is the result of an innovative collaboration among various Town departments: LPS, the Department of Public Facilities (DPF) and the Department of Public Works (DPW), with expert input from Lexington Community Farm (LexFarm), and LPS food service providers, Whitsons. “It’s so much fun just to watch it grow and see the progress of it all,” said Chamberland. “I’m just so glad Bob Harris came up with this great idea!”

 


 

Quotation MarkThe garden is the best example of what we in education call ‘the growth mindset.”

Bob Harris,
LPS Assistant Superintendent


 

START WITH COMPOST
In December 2013, Bob Harris, LPS Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, came across a magazine article about a new Massachusetts law concerning the disposal of organic waste. That prompted him to investigate the waste generated by LPS food services, and explore the possibility of setting up an internal composting system. In the end, the composting scheme was never pursued, but the germ of an idea had been sown.

Harris’s office in the Central Administration Building overlooks a former playground, bounded by woodland. With his mind still revolving thoughts of compost and the food supply, he realized that there was an un-utilized resource right outside his window – a sunny field that could be turned into a garden for the use of LPS employees. Learning about and then practicing organic gardening would be an extra benefit that fit right into the holistic model of wellness embodied in the wide-ranging LPS Employee Wellness Program, launched in 2012-13.

In early 2014, Harris marshaled a planning team to help determine the viability of the Employee Wellness Garden, and figure out how to deploy existing resources to make it a reality. The group included Jacky Dick, Coordinator of the LPS Employee Wellness Program, Kevin Silvia, Food Services Director, of Whitsons, Bill Whitson, coordinator of student garden projects for Whitsons, Shawn Newall, Lexington’s Assistant Director of Public Facilities, and Nancy Gold, of LexFarm’s Education Committee.

FROM FIELD TO GARDEN
After identifying a specific site, for its sunny aspect, easy access to parking, and proximity to a water supply, and getting the all-clear from the Lexington Conservation Commission and the Board of Health, Harris and the team broke ground in Fall 2014.

With documentary footage from his smartphone, Harris replayed the multi-stage process by which a dormant piece of land was brought back to life. “DPF came in with a bobcat and just tore it up,” he said, showing a video of the first stage in the creation of the 2400-square-foot garden. “We wanted to get really high grade material to amend the soil,” he said, scrolling to another clip documenting the delivery of 42 cubic yards of rich black compost from an organic farm on the North Shore.

In all decisions about the site including location, preparation, soil analysis and improvement, Harris enlisted the expert advice of Charlie Radoslovich, LexFarm’s backyard garden guru. For the last six years Radoslovich, whose motto is “Don’t mow it, eat it!” has been urging people to dig up their lawns and plant vegetables (www.radurbanfarmers.com).


 

Quotation MarkIt’s just so great to go out there and be surrounded by so much lush green and color. It makes me feel really happy that the place where I work has given us something like this.”

Beverly Quirk


 Harvest! Mary Lou Chamberland with one of her first eggplants.

Harvest! Mary Lou Chamberland with one of her first eggplants.

 

When his initial analysis showed the soil to be acidic and low in nitrogen, Radoslovich recommended adding the organic compost, and insulating half of the plot through the winter with a mixture of “green cover” provided by rye-grass and vetch, and the other with a layer of salt-marsh hay. “You’re nurturing the soil back to life, trying to encourage as much microbiology as possible,” he said.

Radoslovich emphasized the collaborative nature of the project. “This was a town wide effort,” he said. “DPF and DPW were excellent partners,” said Harris. “DPF lined up all the other contractors for things we couldn’t do internally, like moving the shed and putting in the fence.” He was referring to the toolshed, that needed to be moved from the far side of the field – and got stuck in the mud in the process – and the installation of a sturdy wire perimeter fence set in a two-foot deep trench, to keep out animal pests. With the addition of four wooden raised beds and the installation of pathways, to ensure disabled access, the garden was ready for planting in Spring 2015.

AN ORGANIC LEARNING CURVE
Connecting gardening with learning was always a central aim of the project. “The garden is the best example of what we in education call ‘the growth mindset,’” said Harris, as it is both literally and metaphorically a place of growth, not only for plants, but also for the people tending and learning about them. So in Spring 2014, while the garden was still in the planning stage, LPS Employee Wellness Program Coordinator Jacky Dick contacted LexFarm about offering a class on organic gardening.

Taught by Radoslovich, Nancy Gold and former fourth-grade teacher and LexFarm volunteer Linda Levin, the seven-session hands-on class was a prerequisite for any aspiring gardener applying for a plot in the Employee Wellness Garden. The class has now run for three terms, the most recent being in Spring 2015, starting out in LexFarm’s greenhouse at Lowell Street on the Arlington border, and moving to the garden itself in late April.

“I’ve never really grown anything myself, apart from a couple of tomatoes in a flower pot,” said data specialist Beverly Quirk, who signed up for the class as an experiment and to challenge herself to learn something new. “Charlie and Nancy were just really helpful, friendly and informative,” she said. With the information, skills and confidence she gained, she has successfully grown cucumbers, radishes, peas and spinach, and is impatiently waiting for her tomatoes to ripen.

A seasoned gardener who retired as an Occupational Therapist from Estabrook Elementary School in June, Cynthia Kimball found she still had much to learn from the class, “mainly about the need to choose seeds carefully, and think about companion gardening and how to rotate our plots.”

“I’ve never worked with such good soil,” said Kimball, and she has found that the organic seeds from the new Lexington Seed Library at Cary Library, which Gold coordinates, “have germinated so much better than those from regular seed companies.” Of the garden itself, she said: “I feel I’m in a magic land when I go there – it’s truly like a dream to see how fast things grow.”

A GROWING COMMUNITY
“It’s not just a garden – it’s a place for people to make connections with other people,” said Harris, who has been struck by the wide range of employees who have signed up as gardeners. “We have teachers, instructional support staff, clerical staff, custodians, administrators – they say it’s a really great place for them to connect with other people in the school system,” he said.

The garden also bridges generations, as it includes a large raised bed for the use of Harrington first graders – that’s the one currently filled with pumpkins – and a plot for LABBB students (special needs students from Lexington, Arlington, Burlington, Bedford and Belmont), who have volunteered to weed and water other gardeners’ patches during the vacation.

The project has multiple benefits, said Employee Wellness Program Coordinator Jacky Dick. “Spending time in the garden gives employees a peaceful place where they can get exercise, be creative and enjoy the outdoors,” she said. Along with supporting sustainability and providing healthy chemical-free produce, she noted, the garden has also “promoted community by our collaboration with LexFarm and by the arrangement of plot sharing –where employees chose to share a plot and work with each other to cultivate the garden.”

No garden is trouble free, and the gardeners of the Employee Wellness Garden are currently dealing with an outbreak of powdery mildew, with hands-on and email assistance from Nancy Gold. But many are already looking forward to the next season. “I will definitely do it next year – I’ll be wiser and smarter and know what to plant!” said Mary Lou Chamberland. For Beverly Quirk, the garden has given her more than just the discovery of an unexpected green thumb. “It’s just so great to go out there and be surrounded by so much lush green and color,” she said. She paused, then added: “It makes me feel really happy that the place where I work has given us something like this.”

Share this: