2012 Sharyn Wong-Chan / Sara Harrington Diversity Award Recipients

Melissa Buttaro and Donese Sylvester

During a recess at the beginning of last Wednesday night’s Town Meeting, the SHARYN WONG-CHAN / SARA HARRINGTON DIVERSITY AWARD was presented to this year’s co-recipients, Melissa Buttaro, a guidance counselor at Lexington High School, and Donese Sylvester, a fifth-grade teacher at the Hasting Elementary School. The award is given annually by the Lexington Public Schools Diversity Task Force with the generous financial support of the Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL).

The women for whom this award is named, Sharyn Wong-Chan and Sara Harrington, were both passionate about civil rights and unceasing in their efforts to make Lexington a warm and welcoming community that embraced diversity in its schools. In his remarks, Assistant Superintendent Bob Harris, described Ms. Buttaro’s and Ms. Sylvester’s deep commitment to diversity in the Lexington Public Schools and within the broader Lexington community.

Melissa Buttaro  Melissa (Mel) Buttaro epitomizes the role of a caring educator who celebrates diversity in her work. Since coming to Lexington as a guidance counselor 14 years ago, Melissa has been instrumental in making the Gay-Straight Alliance one of the most visible and active clubs at Lexington High School. Mel’s students participate in the GSA Youth Pride Parade in Boston annually, she coordinates a regular speaking engagement at Lesley University each year where GSA members speak to university students who are pursuing careers in school counseling, and she has spoken at an Open and Affirming congregation meeting at Pilgrim Congregational Church. Mel also maintains the Big Queer Bookcase (BQB) which contains fiction and non-fiction books and movies on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer issues. She has been on various achievement gap committees and discussion groups, has participated in a retreat to Thompson Island attended by METCO and other female students at LHS, has participated in LHS Diversity Day, and has attended numerous diversity related conferences including, “Empowering Multicultural Initiatives” offered through the EDCO Collaborative, “A World of Difference” sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, “Teaching Tolerance” put on by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and “Safe Schools” training through the Middlesex Partnership for Youth. Last, but not least, Mel is a valued member of the town-wide Human Rights Committee.

Donese Sylvester  Donese Sylvester has been a fifth grade teacher at the Hastings School for twelve years. Entering her classroom one is struck by the visual celebration of diversity, the non-verbal cues of respect and caring, and the explicit instruction she provides to students in building a community in her classroom, the school and beyond. Coming to Lexington after teaching in Zambia and Bostwana, Africa, for 24 years, Mrs. Sylvester has first-hand knowledge of working and parenting in other cultures. The depth and breadth of her past experience permeates her current practice.

Her classroom environment enables students to practice a set of values that will sustain them through life and enhance their ability to celebrate diversity in people they will meet and come to know. A prominent focal point in Mrs. Sylvester’s classroom is a large folding screen featuring a world map that symbolizes many learning opportunities. Students research their ancestry and mark the map to show where their family members came from. Book selection, whether read aloud or a book group choice, often focuses on multicultural themes. Projects such as writing to pen pals across the world, teaches students that they are part of the much larger global community.

Donese’s commitment to building community can also be seen when her students visit the Golden Living Center long-term care facility. Donese’s fifth graders plan each visit, bringing musical instruments, hobbies and social skills to share with the seniors. It is humbling to watch the residents respond to the children, their sensitivity, and the behavior modeled by Mrs. Sylvester. Last, but not least, Donese, as the chair of the Diversity Committee, has helped to organize the multicultural potluck dinner at the Hastings School for over 10 years. At this annual event, the entire school community basks in the opportunity to share their heritage through games, dances and traditions of their native cultures. The Diversity Committee is also responsible for filling Diversity Book Bags with books appropriate for each grade level that contain stories and activities that promote discussions about diversity.

At the conclusion of Mr. Harris’s remarks, Ms. Buttaro and Ms. Sylvester each received an engraved plaque, a bouquet of flowers, and small honorarium from Stephen Chan, CAAL representative and husband of the late Sharyn Wong-Chan.


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Town Meeting says ‘yes’ to inn proposal; Kennealy says ‘real work begins tomorrow’

Pictured above: Trisha Perez Kennealy is congratulated by Helen Cohen while precinct 2 Town meeting Member Peter Lee looks on. (Photo by Jim Shaw)

By Jim Shaw  |

Months of debate about whether or not a New England-style inn would be an appropriate use for the former Dana Home on Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington Center concluded Wednesday when Town Meeting voted to approve the zoning change necessary for the Inn at Hastings Park proposal to move forward. The debate lasted several hours, and in the end, the proponents prevailed 138-44, giving them the required 2/3 margin that is needed for zoning changes in Lexington.

Trisha Perez Kennealy, the lead proponent was clearly overwhelmed with the victory, but noted that the work is just now beginning. After the vote she said, “The work is only just beginning. We are excited and appreciative about the vote of confidence we have received from the community. There are so many people to thank.”

She continued, “We look forward to being this town’s inn-keepers, and we understand that there has to be ongoing communication with the community. Always! My telephone number is published and I encourage people to call anytime.”

Longtime Lexington resident and attorney Ed Grant who served as legal counsel for the hearing/Town Meeting process was equally enthusiastic about the outcome. He said, “Clearly, Town Meeting was satisfied with the process. We spent a great deal of time meeting with boards, committees, Town Meeting Members and concerned citizens. Tonight’s vote illustrates that Town Meeting was satisfied with the vetting process.”

Opponents of the project made several passionate pleas to keep the proposal from passing. However, as the evening wore on, support for the inn gained momentum. Even persuasive comments from my friend and mentor Dan Fenn, who spoke eloquently in opposition, failed to stop passage of the proposal. Proponents and opponents alike filled the balcony and shared their opinions with Town Meeting. After listening to Town meeting members speak from both the “yes” and “no” microphones, one thing was evident, both sides were well organized. One after another, Town Meeting members, both pro and con, reported a flurry of emails and telephone calls from residents who wanted to make their positions known. In the end, the proposal prevailed and as Trisha pointed out, the real work begins now, and it’s clear that there’s a great amount of enthusiasm for Lexington to have its very own New England-style inn.


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The Tourists are coming, the tourists are coming!

Above, Tourists take photos at the Lexington Minute Man Statue.

By Laurie Atwater  |

It’s National Tourism Week and like it or not the tourism season is underway in Lexington!

Over the past ten years tourism efforts in Lexington have increased and our offerings have been greatly enhanced. The Tourism Committee focused on creating and building the capacity of The Liberty Ride (a guided trolley tour that runs between Lexington and Concord four times daily) and the Historical Society has tackled the business of converting our historic houses from worn-out to welcoming. They are now impressive house museums with historically researched interpretations, climate controlled systems and visitor friendly program centers.

Ten years ago many tourists merely passed through Lexington on their way to Concord without eating, shopping or staying. Many felt that Lexington was missing out on the economic benefits of tourism, which most communities would embrace. Dawn Mckenna, Chair of the Lexington Tourism Committee was one of them. “Our mission is to create economic development opportunities through tourism,” McKenna says. The Tourism Committee was created a little over a decade ago by the Selectmen and placed under the umbrella of the Economic Development Office. “When we started with tourism ten years ago the issue was that everyone would come to the Battle Green and go directly to Concord,” she says. “We partnered with Concord precisely because The Massachusetts Department of Tourism (MOTT) released statistics that revealed that Lexington/Concord was the fourth most visited region in the state, but tourists would stop at the Battle Green and then go to Concord. We’d never see them again.” McKenna’s initial goal was to create a mechanism to capture that visitor and the revenue that he or she could bring to the town. The Liberty Ride was devised in direct response to that goal. McKenna says they have been very successful, increasing ridership and revenue each year. The Liberty Ride is fully self-funding and no taxpayer dollars have been used to fund the Liberty Ride.

In the intervening years the Lexington Historical Society, under the direction of Executive Director Susan Bennett, has worked very hard to restore two of their historic sites and is preparing to tackle the third. They have raised money through countless volunteer-run fundraisers, sought out grants and taken advantage of Community Preservation Funds (an assessment on Lexington property owners with a state match) to create a much richer set of tourism offerings in Lexington. Add to that the completion of two new state of the art hotels and a growing assortment of restaurants, and Lexington has a lot to offer these days! For the town that means hotel-lodging property taxes, sales tax, meals tax and revenue to support our businesses.


With increased success comes increased demand. Tourists need more time in Lexington to take in all of the sites and spend more dollars than they did ten years ago. The Liberty Ride, with only one trolley, has its limitations. The length of the trip from Lexington to Concord makes it difficult for tourists to get on and off the trolley to tour the historic houses. A quick read of the comments on the much-used website Trip Advisor confirms that—people want to get off but the 90 minute wait for the return of The Liberty Ride deters them from getting off the tour. However, The Liberty Ride has been very successful at capturing the visitor by offering them a service that is innovative and unique. And, we have to recognize that there are different types of tourists and many of them prefer this type of tour. Most importantly the tour originates in Lexington and ends in Lexington and that is something that has been invaluable to bring tourists to town.

What a great problem to have! We’ve gone from having too little to keep a tourist in Lexington for the day, to having so much to offer that we need to develop new transportation plans to make the most of the taxpayers and the Historical Society’ investment.

In this era of economic challenge, many cities and towns across the country would love to have this dilemma. In the quest to shift some of the revenue creation from the backs of property owners many towns seek to create tourism opportunities by developing attractions—but here in Lexington we have a significant historic resource that, if managed properly, could be a greater source of pride for Lexington and contribute even more to the economic well-being of the town with some savvy management.

People will come to Lexington whether we want them to or not—so the question is: What do we want to have them take away from a visit to our historic community and what do we want them to leave behind?


Lexington has a unique situation when it comes to tourism. Three entities the Town of Lexington: the Tourism Committee, The Lexington Chamber of Commerce and the Lexington Historical Society share responsibility for different pieces of the tourism puzzle.

Lexington is not a part of the National Park System having chosen to retain ownership of its historic Battle Green and therefore hasn’t enjoyed the benefit of federal dollars or federal marketing programs. The Battle Green is managed ultimately by the Selectmen with operation assigned to the town’s Tourism Committee which also has responsibility for hiring, training and managing the Battle Green Guides that provide information about April 19, 1775 to thousands of visitors each year.

The Visitor’s Center is owned and maintained by the town. Responsibility for providing staffing is provided by the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. The Tourism Committee works closely with the Chamber to improve the quality of the visitor experience to the Visitor’s Center.

The Hancock Clarke House and the Munroe Tavern are owned by the Lexington Historical Society. The Buckman Tavern is co-owned by the Historical Society and the town of Lexington. The Historical Society manages the property and houses its gift shop on the premises.

With so many parties involved it is difficult to develop a coordinated plan for tourism. While each group has its own interests, it is essential to look at the big picture and move toward a model that utilizes the individual strengths of each organization and nurtures collaboration for the ultimate health of tourism as a whole.


In looking at how Lexington may benefit more robustly from its considerable tourism assets, Town Manager Carl Valente takes a measured approach.

Valente has been watching carefully as he has gently increased the tourism marketing budget over the past few years from a meager $0 to $15K, to $25K this year.

According to Valente, the Tourism Committee has gotten support from the Selectmen and from town hall for a good reason. “You know, the Tourism Committee made a really good point about how much they have accomplished with no money and how much more marketing they could do with just a little money—like getting on different websites and participating in different events that promote tourism. So for real short money it made sense and we continued to see growth.”

The Town Manager understands better than anyone the importance of testing the waters and bringing the community along gently. And, in a town like Lexington he understands the great importance of thorough study and planning and community buy-in.

“We have to do it right. We can’t just let it happen and not have thought it through. We have to do this in a thoughtful and planned way and that’s what I see the Tourism Committee working on.”

McKenna sees a natural tension between town politics and tourism. “There is a dichotomy,” she says. “Towns are by nature conservative; tourism is by nature entrepreneurial. But, she adds, “Tourism [the Tourism Committee] has gotten support from the Selectmen year after year.”

Valente also admits that the receipts to the town from the hotel and meals taxes have surprised him. “It’s been really strong here,” he says. “Although it’s hard to get good metrics, the information that we are getting—and some of it is anecdotal—all seems to be positive.” Valente says that Chris Hartzell of the Aloft and Element hotels “has done a fabulous job building the business,” and he appreciates the shuttle that they send into Lexington Center.

But some of the information is more than anecdotal. The Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism has supplied McKenna with data that suggests that Lexington gained $50 million in total revenue from tourism in FY 2010. At the local level, $550,000 in room taxes was generated by the 6% local option room tax. Meal taxes in FY 2010 when the measure was approved in March by town meeting were $98,367 (for the remainder of the fiscal year) and the subsequent full year (FY 2011) the total was $338,449.

Of course, not all room taxes or meal taxes are attributable to tourism. “Whether its $50 million or $20 million, it’s a whole lot more millions than people ever conceived,” Mckenna says.

Tourism dollars are important to the businesses in town. According to Kathy Fields owner of Crafty Yankee, “A nice portion of our business is tourism… Summer and fall are the biggest months, but we do have year-round visitors because of our proximity to Hanscom, Harvard, MIT and Boston. Summer tourists include more families. Bus groups are mostly in the late spring and fall but they are allocated minimal time in the center, so they do not have too many extra minutes to shop. The tourists that come by car are generally good spenders and they love anything local. We try very hard to engage them and talk about the other businesses in town and always are recommending places to eat.”

The Visitor's Center- photos by Jim Shaw

Any increase in tourism would certainly not hurt the town’s bottom line as long as disproportionate infrastructure investments are not required. Of course striking that perfect balance is both both the challenge and the opportunity for Valente.

For the more adventurous, this toe-in approach is often cited as Lexington’s downfall. Too much talk, study and review often takes many a good project around the barn and back with nothing to show for the trip. However, in building a case for investment in tourism, Lexington has proceeded with caution and the results are piquing interest. According to McKenna, the town hosted between 100,000 (the number of visitors that actually signed in at the Lexington Visitors Center) and 1 million (the number of visitors clicked in at the National Park) visitors last year.

“Culturally, I don’t think the town will ever step back from what it sees as an obligation to educate people about what went on here in 1775,” comments Town Manager Carl Valente. “What happened here in Lexington is such a critical piece of what it took to settle this country that I think the town feels an obligation to bring the message to generations to come—I don’t see us ever stepping away from that responsibility.”

However, Valente is wary about moving too quickly. “If we had tour bus after tour bus tying up the center I don’t think that people would want to put up with that,” he says. Valente trusts the Tourism Committee to move ahead sensibly. “From that perspective, I have to credit Dawn [McKenna] and the Tourism Committee for going forward in a thoughtful, planned way. We want to do things in a way that will be supported by the community,” he says.

Valente acknowledges that tourism, and increasing tourism, could bring needed funds into the town. The down-zoning of much of Lexington’s commercial property in the 80s has placed a burden on the property owner that the town has been trying to manage ever since. Toward that end, a new economic development officer has been hired to replace Susan Yanofsky who left last year. Her name is Melisa Tintocalis. “The first thing on her list is commercial development, specifically Hartwell Avenue, then Spring Street and Hayden Ave.,” Valente says. “That’s tax base for us. We lost so much tax base when we down-zoned in ’86. That pushed the burden off onto the residential tax base. The second priority is the center because having a vibrant center is important to the community.”

Where does tourism fall on her list? “Its number three,” Valente says, “Just like I told the Center Committee—you come after commercial development.”

Valente acknowledges that tourism and the center have lots in common—one is good for the other. It’s also worth noting that both Lexington’s historic roots and its center are assets when trying to attract that all important commercial development.

Dawn McKenna says, “Building the tax base is only one leg of a multi-leg economic development stool.” She believes that the community is ready to “take it to the next level.”

The Historical Society is also ready for the next step. “We view ourselves as a real player in the economic well-being of the town,” says Paul Ross, President of the group. At their annual meeting he stated that the society wants to become more involved with generating tourism for the town.

Susan Bennett concurs. “We have made significant upgrades to the houses and reinvigorated our tours to attract more visitors,” she says.


Several exciting projects are in various phases of planning that will enhance Lexington for both residents and tourists.

The Battle Green Master Plan- In 2009 the Selectmen authorized the Master Planning process for the Lexington Battle Green. In 2010 the Community Preservation Committee appropriated $25,000 to hire a professional consultant (Past Designs LLC) to prepare a master plan that would fully explore the issues surrounding the use of the Battle Green. From interpretation, to signage, to management responsibility, the report outlines a course of improvements to what it calls a “complex piece of real estate” acknowledging that the many stakeholders who are involved in the stewardship of this “national shrine” make it a property that is “managed by committee” and therefore difficult to change. The repost also recommends that a professional traffic study be conducted to address bus parking and traffic flow around the Battle Green and its surrounding neighborhoods.

Visitor’s Center Needs Assessment- Prepared jointly by the Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Committee, this report lays out three paths for improvement to the Visitor’s Center. The preferred plan will improve the bathrooms, allocate space for programming and create a back entrance maximizing the traffic from the bike path.

Buckman Tavern Restoration-The Historical Society has been awarded CPA funding to proceed with the first step of the project to restore Buckman Tavern which is a professional assessment of the needs for the building. According to Susan Bennett, the work on Buckman will not be as extensive as what they have done on the other buildings, and they are hoping for completion in 2013. “We want to make some changes to be fully ADA compliant and to improve wiring, fire suppression and climate control,” she says. They would like to make some minor changes to improve the flow for ticketing and the gift shop.

Lexington Center Streetscape Plan-Though not explicitly associated with tourism, the impressive work of the Lexington Center Streetscape Project team will work hand in hand to create a better Lexington experience for residents and tourists alike. Increased integration of the bike path, improved seating and signage, landscaping enhancements and historically integrated elements from lampposts to paving materials will improve the overall aesthetic of Lexington. Improved sidewalks, safety and circulation between the public and private spaces will create a more walk-able downtown.

Improved Marketing-Both the historical Society and the Tourism Committee have improved their marketing materials and the distribution of the materials throughout New England. The Historical Society has developed a partnership with the Historical Society has a very active program with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History which is sending hundreds of teachers to Lexington each year. They have also redesigned their website and continue to utilize recommendations made by a group of Bentley College students that used the society as a case study.

The Tourism Committee has worked with Diamond Tours to supply walk-on tour guides to narrate a tour to Concord and return to Lexington for dinner. They advertise on various tourism websites, attend tourism conferences and work with the Boston Concierge Association to educate frontline hotel staff about Lexington tourism.

This summer the Historical Society will be introducing Living History programming to the Hancock-Clarke House including craftsmen doing colonial crafts that is sure to be popular with families.

Although there are overlapping interests when it comes to tourism in Lexington, it is fundamentally clear that close collaboration between the town Economic Development Officer, the Historical Society and the Tourism Committee is needed to solve transportation issues and develop a coordinated plan for promoting all tourism opportunities in Lexington as the landscape continues to evolve. Increasing tourism and prolonging the stay of tourists has paid dividends for the restaurants, shops and hotels in Lexington and has ultimately come back to the town in taxes and fees.

Both the Tourism Committee and the Historical Society are encouraged that the town is taking a greater interest in tourism. “I have the greatest respect for Carl and the professionalism that he has brought to town hall,” Bennett comments. “We are looking forward to meeting with Melissa and working with her. Professional expertise from town hall can only enhance the tourism efforts in Lexington.”

“As I go around the state,” McKenna says, “All these cities and towns are doing everything they can to convince people to visit their town. We don’t have to make that case—Lexington is in all the history books!”

“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” comments Carl Valente. “It’s typical of government—it goes in small steps, but I think that’s a good thing. It allows us to be measured. If I had a magic wand here, I would like to have a staff person to deal with both tourism and the center piece.”

Now, maybe that’s a logical next step.


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“It’s the ‘Everybody’ Thing of It” – Shirley Stolz establishes a legacy for Cary Memorial Library.

In addition to supporting the Library through planned giving, Shirley Stolz served on the Building Campaign, which helped finance the latest renovations completed in 2004. Photo by Jeri Zeder

By Jeri Zeder  |

In 1931, when Shirley Stolz was six years old, she borrowed her very first book from Cary Memorial Library. It was The Little Dutch Tulip Girl, by Madeline Brandeis. On the cover was a drawing of a girl in wooden shoes and a bright red skirt, sitting outside her tidy house, admiring the red and white tulips in her yard as a windmill turned in the background. It isn’t hard to imagine a very young Shirley, a reader before she even started school, skipping home with her mother, father, and sister on their weekly Friday night library outing, proudly carrying her brand new library card, eager to start reading about the faraway land of Holland.

But Shirley has another memory of books—a searing one. At the end of first grade, she fell ill with scarlet fever and was quarantined to her bedroom. When she got better, she faced what was then the practice to keep the illness from spreading: the burning of everything in her room. Everything. “I can remember looking out and seeing them burning my books,” Shirley says. “It just made books more precious than ever.”

Today, Shirley is making the ultimate gesture toward her life-long love of books and of Cary Memorial Library: she is providing for the Library in her will. “Cary Library has always been home to me,” Shirley says. “I feel so secure and happy here. It seems so important to support this one institution so it can go on forever.”

Her will establishes the Norman and Shirley Stolz Fund, named for herself and her husband, who passed away in 2010. Jeanne Krieger, president of the Cary Memorial Library Foundation, says she is grateful for Shirley’s planned gift. “Planned giving is the way to share your legacy with future readers,” she says. “Contributions are what make this great library extraordinary.” The Foundation raises needed funds to sustain and further the mission of Lexington’s public library.

Norman’s route to books took a very different path from Shirley’s. Where Shirley read voraciously from childhood, Norman had no time for reading. Growing up during the Great Depression, he always had to work. As a young man, he spent five years in the Navy during World War II and then decided to apply to MIT for college. To prepare for his college interview, Norman read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin—only the second book he’d ever read in his life. In 1946, he and Shirley, who had graduated from Vassar, met on a blind date sailing on the Charles River, when Norman was a sophomore at MIT. “We hit it off on the first date, but I wasn’t ready to get married,” Shirley recalls. “I think he proposed on the third date or something. He wasn’t ready either, for goodness sakes.”

The couple settled down in Shirley’s hometown of Lexington and raised four children, whom they read to regularly. Norman made a career in insurance, while Shirley stayed home with the family, though she did earn a librarian’s degree from Simmons College when she turned 50. When their children were in college and graduate school, Norman and Shirley bought a 40-foot boat and lived on it for eight years, sailing up and down the East Coast, from Canada to the Bahamas. Books were always part of the adventure. Shirley learned to sail by borrowing books from Cary Library, and amassed a book collection of her own on women and the sea, whaling, and other nautical topics—interests that dovetailed with Norman’s background; his ancestors were sailors who settled on Nantucket. Shirley always made sure to check out the libraries along their sailing route. “I have to say, we’ve got one of the best libraries from here to Key West!” she says.

Eventually, books—and Cary Memorial Library—became a centerpiece of Shirley and Norman’s partnership. “When Norman retired, he decided that books were the most important thing in his life, other than me,” Shirley says. “It kept me busy just keeping him in books. I’d go to the Library all the time. He read whatever I picked out. He’d just go through the books like gangbusters.”

Shirley, meanwhile, became active in town affairs. She has served on the Conservation Commission, and has been a Town Meeting Member and member of the Capital Expenditures Committee for years. And, of course, she has been involved with the Library, first as a representative to the Library’s Board of Trustees, and later as a founding member of the Cary Memorial Library Foundation. Her friend and former Town Moderator, Marge Battin, says, “While Shirley has been productively involved in myriad community activities over the years, she has always been ready to drop everything else when a call for help came from the Library.”

Reflecting on her planned gift, Shirley notes that public libraries are facing considerable change, and says that legacy giving can help them adapt to future challenges. “How are we going to handle the 21st Century and the way people are reading?” she says. “What will be the result of technology, of e-books? Librarians are struggling to understand where that’s going to go. What better thing to do than support the Library?”

“I’d give up a lot to keep the Library open for everyone,” Shirley continues. “It’s the ‘everybody’ thing of it. There it is for everybody. And it’s free. What a deal.”

*Jeri Zeder is a member of the Planned Giving Committee of the Cary Memorial Library Foundation.*


Norman Stolz’s booklist – Two-and-a-Half Books

Back in the 1970s, Norman and Shirley Stolz took a number of boating courses to become proficient sailors. Here, Norman practices navigation using a sextant. Courtesy photo.

When Norman met Shirley on a blind date in the fall of 1946, she was already a Vassar graduate. Norman was a 26-year-old MIT sophomore who had spent five years in the Navy during World War II. At that point in his life, he had read only two and a half books.

His first book was a paperback that he picked up on his Atlantic voyage home from the war, Donald McKay and the Clipper Ships. It led Norman to dream bigger dreams for himself and his life. The second was The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, which helped get him successfully through his admissions interview for MIT. The half-read book was The Brothers Karamazov. He trotted that one out on his first date with Shirley both to impress her and to cover up for his own thin reading history.

Eventually, Norman also became a voracious reader. In 1998, he compiled the very first “Norm Stolz P&L [pleasure and learning] Booklist” for his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren. Over the years, the list grew to hundreds of titles, most in the category of biography, but including an impressive showing of volumes under the headings “Spies (Nonfiction)” and “Antarctica.” In a short history accompanying the booklist, Norman wrote this: “It would be a much better world if more people could be shown both the fun and value of reading. Norm knows that he undoubtedly would have been a better man if he had been exposed earlier in his life to the Pleasure & Learning of good books.” —JZ

The Maria Hastings CaryLegacy Society
Leaving Something Magical

The Cary Memorial Library Foundation has a comprehensive program of giving that allows everyone to support the Library in ways that are most meaningful to them. One of those ways is through legacy gifts. Koren Stembridge, the Library’s director, explains their impact:

“Gifts and legacies allowed for this library to be created and this building to be built. The future is uncertain and libraries are changing. There is a likelihood that legacy gifts made today will fund a new service or idea, allow us to maintain or grow a treasured collection, help us adapt our building to new uses. Legacy gifts have the advantage of providing a windfall—money that falls outside the normal operating budget and allows for something magical to happen.”

The Foundation created the Maria Hastings Legacy Society to recognize those who have provided for Cary Memorial Library in their estate plans. To join the society, simply inform the Foundation’s Director of Development, Kathryn Benjamin, that you have made arrangements to leave the Library a legacy gift. You can leave a legacy gift to the Library through your will, IRA, or life insurance policy. Or, you can invest in a charitable gift annuity or name the Library as a charitable beneficiary of your donor-advised fund. Find out more at http://www.carymemoriallibraryfoundation.org. —JZ



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Need Help Around the House? Find it at HelpAroundTown.com

By Laurie Atwater  |

Reem Yared is concerned about young people today and the lack of employment opportunities for them both before and after college. “My friend’s children are graduating and not finding jobs,” she says. “Kids who used to be able to find jobs in local businesses are being shut out by people with more experience. “With the economy the way it is the downward pressure on jobs is really hurting young people,” she says.

“I did some research and found that the age group from teens to 22 is the hardest hit in the recession,” she observes. With so many adults looking for work the kids are being squeezed out. “It’s a crisis,” she says. “It’s a dynamic where if they can’t work they can’t save money and then maybe they can’t go to college. And if they’re not getting an education or work experience…” Reem’s voice trails off as she sighs, “What’s going to happen to these kids?” As a mom of high school and college age kids she knows parents are concerned.

Not one to sit by and just worry, Reem began to actively attack the problem. Yared is a graduate of Harvard and has an MBA from the Wharton School. She consulted for fifteen years working on internet programs for businesses large and small.

Yared relied on that extensive background in online information services as she mentally attacked the problem and came up with a local solution. So many of us have long to-do lists and we don’t know where to turn when it comes to small jobs—things that don’t require a contractor or professional service.

And since kids don’t go around the neighborhood knocking on doors like they did in the Leave it to Beaver era, most people don’t know if there’s someone right around the corner looking for work.

“What’s holding us back from hiring these kids?” she questioned. The answer came to her from the online world she knows so well. Why not create an online neighborhood exchange where folks could post their odd jobs and kids could apply for those jobs. Help Around Town was born as a neighbor-to-neighbor network.

“We create the marketplace where people meet,” she says. “The idea is since this is a neighborhood service—I may not know you, but I may know your mom or someone else who hired you.”

And the jobs are amazingly varied. Everything from babysitting, pet sitting, sewing, running errands and yard work. With spring apparently here, yard cleanups would fit right in. This is not a professional job board, although Reem did add a bulletin board section to the site where people can post a description of their qualifications and their contact information for a nominal fee.

“It’s been really interesting to see the types of jobs that have been posted. “One job was sorting a collection of 3,000 books!” Reem also notes that students have been very helpful as amateur computer geeks helping older citizens figure out their email, or Skype or using their digital photo software.

Currently both parties—the person doing the hiring and the person taking the job—can rate each other. “I thought very carefully about the ratings and decided that this would ensure checks and balances in the process,” Reem says thoughtfully. She hopes the mutual ratings will tap into a desire to maintain a great reputation and make it very reliable. An additional comment section allows for some give and take. Reem also hopes the service will bring community to our often isolated lives.

“We have a whole generation of kids who have been told not to talk to strangers,” she says. “They often don’t even know their next door neighbors. Reem hopes that Help Around Town will help establish relationships between young and old in an era when there is little inter-generational contact.

“I was volunteering at Big Lex this year,” she says, “and this mother came up to me to explain that her son had registered on the site and ended up doing several jobs for an elderly neighbor. He just loved doing it so much that he has done three or four more jobs for her. The mom said that it has created a relationship and I love that. That’s really what this is all about.”

Reem is also hoping that businesses will post their internship opportunities and nonprofits will post volunteer opportunities. “The high school students have community service hours to complete and many empty-nesters have some time to devote to volunteer work.”

Yared understands parental concerns about on-line safety. There are several security measures built into the site. Children under 14 may not use the service. When a minor (14 & 15) applies for a job an email is sent to their parents and the parents must submit a $3 check as approval. Parents can opt their child out if they don’t want them to participate and home addresses of minors never appear.. Older teens can participate without parental consent. Profiles are protected; you must give your link to a prospective employer before they can view your profile.

If you are looking for a job, some help around the house or the yard, a ride or a volunteer opportunity visit Help Around Town at




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Notorious swindler Charles Ponzi once called Lexington his home

Charles Ponzi

By Jim Shaw  |  The ghost of Charles Ponzi is alive and well and thrives in the greed of modern day swindlers like Brad Bleidt and Bernard Madoff. And, for at least one Lexington resident who fell victim to Madoff’s $50 billion swindle, this is not an amusing story or a whimsical account of an interesting fellow who happened to live in Lexington. For this 85 year-old victim whom we have chosen not to identify, the pain is very real and his future is now uncertain.

With the recent arrests of Massachusetts money manager and radio mogul Brad Bleidt and Wall Street billionaire Bernie Madoff, the “Ponzi scheme” has become the focus of national and international news coverage. It has also surfaced as dinnertime banter in homes across the country. But just who is Charles Ponzi, and why are people so fascinated with his story?

Here in Lexington, the name Ponzi holds a different connotation — neighbor. You see, the world’s most notorious swindler – Charles Ponzi – lived right here in Lexington in a beautiful estate on Slocum Road. At the height of his most infamous criminal enterprise, Ponzi called Lexington his home town.

Ponzi first arrived in Boston by ship in 1903. He claimed to have only $2.50 when he first arrived. With no real luck securing gainful employment, Ponzi soon moved to Montreal, Quebec where he found work as an assistant teller at the newly opened Banco Zarossi. At the time, the bank was paying 6% interest on deposits, which was twice the average rate. This created a huge influx of new depositors. Soon, however, the bank’s real estate investments began to collapse causing economic chaos. In an effort to prevent a mass exodus of depositors, they began paying the interest with money from new deposits. Ponzi took notice of this and the seed was planted.

When the number new depositors drastically declined and they could no longer meet their obligations to existing depositors, the bank was shuttered and its owner fled to Mexico with much of the bank’s remaining cash.

Once again, penniless and unemployed, Ponzi went to visit one of the bank’s former clients. Finding no one there, Ponzi helped himself to the company’s checkbook and forged a check for over $400. He was caught and convicted and spent three years in a Quebec prison.

Ponzi returned to the US and quickly got caught up in an effort to bring illegal Italian immigrants into the country. He was convicted and spent two years in an Atlanta, Georgia prison.

After his release, Ponzi made his way back to Boston where he met and married Rose Gnecco. Ponzi made a lame attempt at honest employment, but his greed and the promise of great riches lured him towards what many consider to be the crime of the century.

One day while opening his mail, Ponzi happened across an International Reply Coupon (IRC). These coupons were intended to be sent overseas for the purpose of return postage. But Ponzi soon realized that there was a value differential. For instance, with the Italian post-war economy in a major decline, the cost of postage in Italy had decreased. So, theoretically, someone could buy IRC coupons in Italy and send them to the US where they could be sold for a higher value. Ponzi went to work and soon bragged that after all of his costs, he was realizing a profit of 400%.

Ponzi decided to bring in investors and promised them a 50% return within six months. His scheme immediately attracted hundreds of eager investors who blindly handed over tens of thousands of dollars. Overnight, Ponzi was a very wealthy man.


The Ponzi House

Ponzi was now part of high society and required all of the trappings of his great wealth. He lavished expensive gifts upon his wife and friends, and dined in the fanciest restaurants. The only thing left was a home appropriate to his stature. He settled on a beautiful estate on Slocum Road in Lexington.

I’m not certain if Ponzi had the home built or if it already existed, but the beautiful stucco mansion that was built in 1913 still stands today. For Ponzi, the home showcased his need to flaunt his new found success.

Now, there are several accounts of just how much money Ponzi had amassed and how many investors fell victim to his scheme. One account says that Ponzi duped over 10,000 individuals for $9.5 million. Another account places the number of victims at 40,000 with over $15 million invested with Ponzi. A quick calculation at www.measuringworth.com indicates that $9.5 million in 1920 dollars is worth over $1.5 billion in GDP value (yes, that’s billion with a “B”) in 2009.

Nearly as fast as his meteoric rise in wealth and influence, came his precipitous downfall. You see, like any pyramid scheme – the basis of Ponzi’s big idea – success only thrives as long as there are new investors to pay back original investors. When the pool of new investors dried up, the jig was up for Ponzi.

In a story printed in the Boston Post in July of 1920, Ponzi’s character, and business acumen was called into question. Most of Ponzi’s early investors stuck with him because they had experienced tremendous profits. Ponzi was forced to hire a publicity person who eventually turned on him as well. The PR guy, William McMasters, quickly determined that Ponzi was a fraud and later stated, “The man is a financial idiot. He can hardly add…He sits with his feet on the desk smoking expensive cigars in a diamond holder and talking complete gibberish about postal coupons.”

Postal regulators soon raided Ponzi’s Boston office and found to their amazement that Ponzi actually had very few of the postal coupons that had fueled the frenzy of his multi-million dollar empire. It was all a complete fraud. Because Ponzi had used the U.S. Postal Service to communicate with his investors, he faced serious mail fraud charges. In all, he was charged with 86 counts of federal mail fraud in two separate indictments. In return for a lighter sentence, Ponzi pled guilty to one of the charges and served five years in prison. After about 3 years, he was released to face state charges for swindling investors. While awaiting trial, Ponzi jumped bail and fled to Florida where he was eventually captured and went on to serve another nine years in prison.

After his release, Ponzi was deported to Italy and eventually traveled to Brazil where he died in 1949 penniless and alone.

Wikipedia refers to Ponzi as “one of the greatest swindlers in American history.” I have a little trouble with that because I associate the word great with people who have had a profoundly positive impact on society. I’m happy that Wikipedia allows people to edit it’s content because I think I’ll go back and correct it so it more accurately reflects who Ponzi was: “one of the most notorious swindlers in American history.”

That would be more appropriate. And, I think our 85-year-old neighbor who was victimized by Bernie Madoff would agree.

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A Personal Connection-The Economic Impact of a Light Winter

Hank Manz

By Hank Manz  |  Shortly after I was elected as a selectman in Lexington, my outlook on snow began to change.   No longer was it that attractive blanket which made the town look like a Norman Rockwell painting and which, thankfully, covered the leaves I hadn’t raked in the fall.  Snow costs money.  Not only must the town pay overtime for DPW workers, but they must also contract with private plowers to augment town equipment and personnel.  The town must pay for salt and sand and then, after the salt and sand has eaten away and abraded the road surface, the town must pay again for early maintenance.  Plowing sometimes rips up curbing and tears out patches in the road.  More money for repairs.  When budget time comes around as it inevitably does, then the realization hits that, once again, taxes are going to go up if we wish to maintain services.

Fall came and went this year without much in the way of brilliant colors and also without much bad weather except for a hurricane and a winter storm which cost us some trees, but did little in the way of damage to buildings.  I stopped in at Ranc’s for some ice cream on one of the few cold days in January and found Joe less than enthusiastic about the temporarily freezing weather. For the most part, however, the weather has been mild.  At home, with a new, more efficient, heating system installed last summer, we have been much more comfortable, both physically and fiscally than we were last winter. Even with the price of oil up, consumption is far below that of last year—a combination of a better boiler and better weather. The woodpile which feeds our woodstove is getting a bit low so I will have to split some more wood soon. This is a lot easier job that usual given the lack of snow. I suspect that Curt, an owner of a local insurance company, is happier because with no snow and ice, the claims rate has not yet taken the usual seasonal jump. The weather is so warm that the family cat has not had to take up his winter place under the woodstove where I am sure he passes the time wondering why humans insist on making it cold and wet outside. If I spoke Cat, I would probably find out that what he is saying when snow is falling is “Do I have to draw you doltish humans a diagram?”

So it was with a light heart that I broached the topic of no snow with Susan who was until recently the manager of the local branch of Brookline Bank. That led to an extended conversation while she filled me in on the other side of the coin.  No snow means no plowing which is how the private plowers, most of them landscapers or contractors in the building trades, pay for the trucks they use all year round.  No cold weather means fewer oil deliveries which has a heavy impact on oil dealers because they have contracted to buy a minimum number of gallons of fuel from the distributors and now they might not be able to meet those minimums so they could be in trouble.  No cold weather means that even if the local shoe stores avoid getting stuck with a huge inventory of boots which will be out of style by next year, there is a good chance that somebody will lose money on that inventory somewhere.  Of course no snow means that people like me will make their boots last another year even though the pair I wear most often has several hot-glue patches on them. No snow means many local stores are carrying large inventories of shovels, scrapers, sand, salt, and windshield washer fluid.  They should have sold at least half of the stock by now, but now they may be stuck twice—they are paying for storage and eventually they may have to fire sale the leftovers. Susan had at least two dozen examples and I could think of even more as we talked.  It means, for instance, that I might have trouble getting donations for the youth hockey league I help run because local businesses are the main source of those donations.

This was an amazing revelation—snow is an economic engine for the economy of the small town in which I live.  Could it be that the half a million dollars or more the town spends in most years for removal is nothing compared to the economic boost it gives many of the citizens who pay for that removal with their tax dollars? Then they, in turn, can afford to pay their taxes which helps keep the town solvent.

Bursting with my new-found knowledge, I started the task of convincing the citizenry by talking to my spouse.  She wasn’t buying it, even after I pointed out that her own windshield scraper, broken last winter, has not had to be replaced.  Sad to say, only a very small number immediately bought my explanation, including guys like Mike who runs a landscaping business and plows in the winter.  Fortunately, with the Super Bowl over, a weekend snowstorm may excite more interest in plowing than it would have just a few weeks ago.

But I still believe in the economic engine theory and should it snow, I will be sad that the town’s financial problems will be worse in the short term, but glad that Dick will sell some boots, that Mike might get some plowing time in, and that Lexington Ace Hardware will sell at least a few shovels.  To prepare for what must surely come, I will buy my wife a new windshield brush and scraper for her car, but while I am on that errand, I will stop at Joe’s for an ice cream sundae and I will drive very carefully so Curt will not suffer. You know—my boots are looking a bit the worse for wear so just maybe I will be paying a visit to Michelson’s very soon. It has to snow eventually, right? But please, not in April …

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A French A Faire~Click to View Slideshow


The Lexington – Antony Sister City Association’s French A Faire fundraising event was the place to be on last Sunday!

With joie de vivre to spare, the event featured French cheeses provided by Wilson Farms, a delightful assortment of pâtés donated by Christina and George Gamota, French wines donated by Joel Berman, chocolate from Taza and Clear Flour bread.

Auctioneer extraordinaire Paul O’Shaughnessy (otherwise known as Major Pitcairn) handled the bidding on several unique items (an insiders tour of Lexington donated by Town Manager Varl Valente, Crêpe Suzettes for 10) with his usual enthusiasm and skill! Event organizer and emcee John Patrick introduced all of the speakers including State Senator Ken Donnelly, State Representative Jay Kaufman, Town Manager Carl Valente and very special guest, the French Consul General of Boston Christophe Guilhou. Monsieur Guilhou commended the group for having one of the strongest sister city relationships in New England.

The LASCA group is currently raising funds to support the creation of a monument dedicated to the Anton relationship similar to Place de Lexington in Antony. If you would like to contribute to the Lexington – Antony Fund for the building of the Park, mail a check to the Lexington Tourism Committee, Town of Lexington, 1625 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington, MA 02420.


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Cary’s Cupids 2012~Click to View Slideshow


It was Valentine’s Day weekend and the Cary Memorial Library Foundation threw a party to support the town’s treasured library. Cary’s Cupids was a huge undertaking for the organization, but a small army of volunteers collaborated to create a truly memorable event.

“We might just have another great Lexington tradition,” commented Jeanne Krieger, current President of the Board of Directors. “Lots of people enjoying good company in the library—a wonderful way to help make a great Library extraordinary!”

The event was sponsored by The Crafty Yankee, Higgins Group Realtors, Lexington Toyota, Deaconess Residences at Newbury Court, and Watertown Savings.

Lexingtonians turned out to show their love for the library by supporting this great event and having a great time doing it! There was dancing, specialty beer, great silent auction items and lots of mingling as neighbors took the opportunity to see the library in a whole new light. Festooned for the occasion with decorations by members of the LABBB program, the library came to life in the after-hours proving once again what a great investment the library renovation was and continues to be for the town of Lexington.

Jay Kaufman and wife along with Norman and Linda Cohen were spotted dancing in the “Cary Commons” to tunes supplied by DJ Jon Mansfield.

Everyone lined up to taste the creations of Lexington native Dan Kramer, founder of Element Brewing in Millers Falls and those who prefer wine enjoyed selections provided by Burlington Wine & Spirits.

The auction was led by committee member Anne Lee. So many great items were available from a beautiful handmade table donated by local artisan Adam Curtis to hot air balloon rides donated by Soaring Adventures of America! Many local Lexington businesses and artists also made generous donations to the silent auction.

According to Kathryn Benjamin Director of Development for the Cary Memorial Library Foundation, the event was a huge success. “I am happy to announce that Cary’s Cupids exceeded its goal of $20,000 by raising just over $21,000! Over 250 tickets were sold, with about 200 people were in attendance,” she said.

Cary’s Cupids is the single largest fundraising event of the year for the CMLF. The proceeds from this event support its collections and programming.


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Rene Rancourt Makes an Appearance at the Lexington Bedford Youth Hockey Parents Night Out~View Slideshow

Rene Rancourt wowed hundreds of guests as he arrived with the coveted Wallex Trophy at the annual Lexington Bedford Youth Hockey Parents Night Out.

The annual event raises funds for scholarships and other program needs. The evening’s emcee, Curt Everett reported that it was their best year ever. He explained that Maura Fiske and her team of volunteers organized a tremendously successful event.

LBYH has an annual tournament with the hockey program in Waltham. The winner gets to retain and display the Wallex Trophy. Everett reports that Lexington has held the trophy for four years now. Rancourt is famous for singing the US and Canadian National Anthems for the Boston Bruins for over 35 years. After singing the National Anthem, Rene greeted the throngs, took pictures and allowed guests to try on his “Stanley Cup” ring. Martina Hunt treated her husband Patrick to a visit from Rene Rancourt in honor of his 45th birthday.

Martina Hunt treated her husband Patrick to a visit from Rene Rancourt in honor of his 45th birthday. Pictured with Martina are her husband Pat, their sons Liam and Joseph, and of course, Rene Rancourt. Their daughter Niamh is not pictured. (Photos by Jim Shaw).


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