The Weirdos Return

Jane Sutton

How a middle-school musical in Utah brought Lexington author Jane Sutton’s most popular book to a new generation.


By Jane Whitehead

“I write because I can’t be a rock star,” says Lexington-based children’s author Jane Sutton, laughing. But a musical adventure in a small town in Utah in January 2018 gave her a taste of star treatment and prompted her to publish a new version of her award-winning novel, Me and the Weirdos.

Sutton’s books include seven picture books, three middle-grade novels, and one YA novel. Back in 1981, she wrote Me and the Weirdos, the story of Cindy Krinkle, a little girl who is embarrassed by her family. (Her mother does cartwheels, her father rides to work on a bike with an umbrella while singing operatic arias, and her sister has a pet sea urchin.) The book, originally published by Houghton Mifflin, was an ALA-CBC Children’s Choice, won the Utah Children’s Book Award and sold over 90,000 copies.

“The book brought me loads of fan letters from children, and from adults who said it was their favorite book, and made them feel being different was OK,” says Sutton. But Me and the Weirdos has been out of print for decades, so in 2017 she was surprised to receive a “long, sweet email, very polite and respectful,” from two high school seniors in Blanding, Utah, Eva Perkins, and Ashley Berrett, asking her permission to turn the book into a musical, Me and the Krinkles.

As a child, Perkins had read Me and the Weirdos, a favorite of her mother’s, and thought the story would translate well into a musical. She and Berrett wrote to Sutton, not at all sure that she would reply, and “screamed with excitement” when they received her positive response.

“I, of course, said yes,” says Sutton, “and asked to look at the script.” The script and lyrics impressed her with their professionalism and smart changes to make the plot more workable on stage, with a middle-school cast. As they exchanged drafts and comments, Sutton learned that the pair held scholarships in music and drama, and had appeared in and directed other productions.

Braving the flight from Boston to Salt Lake City – in January – followed by a five and half hour drive to Blanding (population 4000), Sutton and her husband, science writer and educator Alan Ticotsky, attended the premiere performance of Me and the Krinkles on January 22, 2018, at San Juan High School.

“We were blown away by the professionalism and wonderfulness of the play, as well as the warm welcome from Eva’s and Ashley’s families and the whole town,” says Sutton. From the motel to the visitor center to the museum, Sutton was feted as “the author” from out of town, and she and Al enjoyed private tours of local natural wonders, including a visit to Bears Ears National Monument with a Navajo guide.

The excited middle school cast asked Sutton to sign everything from programs and posters to phone cases and a plaster cast. Searching online for the original book, they were disappointed only to find second-hand copies at high prices. So Sutton came home with a mission to bring Me and the Weirdos back into circulation.

For years, Sutton has taught a sold-out class on “Writing Children’s Books” for Lexington Community Education. Now she turned for advice to long-time students who have become successful authors and illustrators, Josh Funk and Doreen Buchinski. “You should just get it out there,” said software engineer and prize-winning author Funk.

In the interests of quick turnaround, controlling the editorial process, and the freedom to choose her own illustrator, Sutton decided to self-publish the book using the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform. She invited graphic designer and illustrator Buchinski to design the new edition and provide new illustrations, and the two started work in April 2018.

Illustrator Doreen Buchinski with the new edition of Me and the Weirdos.

Buchinski enjoyed turning Sutton’s “rich descriptions” into graphite and wash drawings, and designed a new cover using her niece as the body-model for the heroine. But even as an experienced graphic designer, she found online self-publishing challenging. Unlike working with a printer with whom you have a personal relationship, with KDP “you don’t always get to talk to a person,” says Buchinski, so glitches that would be quickly solved in a traditional setting sometimes led to frustrating email chains.

“I’d always be finding things I wanted to change,” says Sutton, a self-described perfectionist. But by September, she had “revised, tweaked and pared” the text to her satisfaction, and by October the new edition was available in paperback and on Kindle. Sutton dedicated it to Eva Perkins and Ashley Berrett, in recognition of the creative partnership between two Mormon teenagers from Utah and a Jewish grandmother from Boston, an unlikely collaboration that’s real-life proof of the message of both book and musical, that “it’s perfectly fine to be different!”

The new paperback edition of Me and the Weirdos is available from independent booksellers and online. For more information, see

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Notorious swindler Charles Ponzi once called Lexington his home

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 hometown.

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 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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Ray Ciccolo: Living Legacy

New MA Auto Dealers Hall of Fame inducts only living member


Ray Ciccolo, President and Founder of Village Automotive Group, is the only living nominee inducted into the 2018 Massachusetts Auto Dealers Hall of Fame, chosen by members of the MA State Automotive Dealers Association (MSADA).

The longtime Lexington resident is one of five in the Hall of Fame’s inaugural class, alongside Paul Balise, Ernie Boch, Sr., Herb Connolly and Alvan Fuller. Active in all sectors of the automotive world as well as other philanthropic, business and artistic endeavors, these leaders left their mark on New England’s automotive industry over the last century. The inductees were formally recognized in a ceremony early this month at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod.

“It’s an honor to be recognized alongside such esteemed leaders who have played a vital role in shaping the automotive industry in Massachusetts,” Ciccolo said. He owns Village Automotive Group – one of the largest automobile dealers in the state – which includes the oldest and largest Volvo dealer in New England. Boston Volvo Cars recently relocated to a state-of-the-art showroom in a newly-renovated historic 1925 Allston building that once housed the likes of New Balance and International Harvester.

“In 1963, our original Volvo showroom was bare-bones and simple. Just as 21st century Volvos have transformed from solid and boxy to sleek and stylish, so has their flagship showroom in Boston,” Ciccolo said. “While our home has changed, you can still expect the same family-owned dealership and service.”

Even with this new honor, Ciccolo has no intention of slowing down. “We’ve changed over the years, but our goal has remained steadfast – to provide our customers with an overwhelmingly exceptional customer service experience.”

In addition to automotive dominance in the marketplace, Ciccolo is actively involved in developing residential and commercial properties, as well as expanding green initiatives at his dealerships in an effort to become more environmentally conscious. The new Boston Volvo dealership in Allston is equipped with high-efficiency windows, fixtures and lighting, sustainable building products and a complete solar-array on the roof. “As one of the oldest Volvo dealers in America, we have a lot to live up to,” he added.

Ciccolo holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Suffolk University and a Masters from Northeastern University. He completed the Owner and Presidents Management Program at Harvard Business School.  Ciccolo and his wife Grace have been married for over 50 years and have three daughters and seven grandchildren. The couple happily resides in Lexington, MA.

About Village Automotive Group:

Owned by Ray Ciccolo, Village Automotive Group is a leading Massachusetts automobile dealer group serving the Greater Boston Area. Comprising six locations and selling five quality brands, its respected group of dealerships has maintained a solid and growing presence in New England for 60 years.  It serves the drivers of Boston, Danvers, Norwell, and Newton MA – and beyond.  Village Automotive Group has maintained a steady reputation for excellence in customer service and in selling quality new and used Honda, Hyundai, Volvo, Audi and Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs. Its dealerships include Boston Volvo Cars in Allston/Brighton, Honda Village of Newton, Audi Norwell, Porsche Norwell, Volvo Village of Danvers in MA and Hyundai Village of Danvers.

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Adlers Leave Lexington with Meaningful Gift

By Martha Crosier Wood

When Nancy and Joel Adler moved this summer, they wanted to leave something for Lexington because felt so attached to the town and the Community Center, thus they established The Adler Fund for the capital improvement and expansion of the Community Center.

Members of the community are encouraged to make contributions. Checks should be made payable to the Friends of the Council on Aging with “Adler Fund” written in the memo line on the front of the check and mailed to the FCOA, Box 344, Lexington, MA 02420.
Nancy is a former chair of the Council on Aging was very involved in the development of the Community Center. She served on the Center’s advisory board until the couple left.

Joel served the town on the Conservation Commission and later as a member of the Community Preservation Committee. Most recently he led a financial course on Money Matters for seniors which met at the Community Center weekly.

Both Nancy and Joel served in Town Meeting for more than 40 years.
“Community activism has always been the Adler’s ‘thing’,” pointed out Janice Kennedy, chair of the Friends. “They both love and used the Community Center and want it to expand. Money raised will go for anything that will benefit the Center including physical expansion that will allow even more programs.”

“The Adlers will retain control of the Fund and how it is used,” Kennedy explained.

The Adlers moved to Lexington forty-four years ago because they were looking for a town with a real sense of community, Nancy said in an interview last summer. “I just hope that what I do is beneficial to the community.”

The Adler Fund will be used to continue that goal.

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Greg Conrad

Lexington High’s Rising Senior Who’s Educating Seniors on Tech

By Andrew Cook

A show of hands if this sounds familiar:

You’re home watching TV, and either in the actual program itself or in the commercial breaks in-between, there’s a dramatization of a phone conversation with an elderly relative, who’s talking much too loudly into their mouthpiece.

“Sheesh,” the other person grumbles, holding the receiver further and further away from their assaulted eardrum, “they don’t even need the phone for me to hear them two towns over.”
Their TV remote is malfunctioning and the expletive-thing doesn’t work at all, there’s too many buttons and we never should have gotten it in the first place – when, really, it just needed a change of batteries.

It’s a trope so widespread that you could call it lazy without any fear of retaliation: it’s generally believed that senior citizens just don’t understand technology. Their Herculean struggles to use social media and smart-home devices like Amazon’s Alexa have been mined for inspiration without mercy by skit writers on Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central, and every third smartphone commercial seems to boast “it’s so easy, grandma could do it!”

Frankly, after a while, such ads and skits add up into a grossly unfair, one-way bullying campaign against elder members of the community who may have grown up without televisions, let alone modern pocket-sized miracle devices.

But one rising senior at Lexington High School is here to change all that.

Sixteen year-old Greg Conrad describes himself as always having been, “curious… always hitting the keyboard and stuff, trying to figure out how things work.” He’s one of those people who, for lack of a better term, gets technology. If computers are a language, Conrad just seems to have been born with an innate fluency in it.

“In middle school,” he recalls, “I learned this thing called Scratch, which is basically like an introductory programming language. I actually ended up teaching a class on it to some of my peers, and it was pretty successful, and I ended up getting asked by my principal to do it again because so many people liked it. That’s where I really think my computer skills and interest in computer science started, and I realized ‘Wow, I really like this a lot!’”

Conrad carried on through middle and high school, creating waves on Lexington High’s competitive swim team and working as a lifeguard at local swimming pools (whenever he wasn’t delving into new computer programs), when he suddenly stumbled across the beginnings of an intriguing idea. He was visiting his grandmother, who he sees frequently and shares a close relationship with, and was enlisted by her for some tech support at her Peabody apartment. She’d gotten a new computer, and was having the usual difficulties with operating it.
“At first I was just helping her a lot,” says Conrad, “then afterwards, some of her friends needed help with their stuff, and I was just like, ‘Huh, this would be a really good idea if there was a company in this area to help seniors who need assistance with tech.’ I looked around, and found out there wasn’t really any Lexington-based local company that was geared towards seniors, so I decided to start up my own.”

Conrad created Senior Technology Services, a local help program dedicated exclusively towards educating seniors about technology usage while lending a helping hand for any problems that arise along the way.

“I really take my time and make sure that whoever I’m helping understands the steps of whatever issue it is we’re working through. If it’s something really complicated, I’ll do it for them, and then explain why I’m doing what I’m doing so they’ll know what to do if or when it happens the next time, and I’ll say it in a really easy-to-understand way.”

This more comprehensive, quality-over-quantity type approach is just one of several reasons Conrad believes his Senior Technology Services might be a better option for area seniors, rather than more widespread tech-help groups such as Best Buy’s Geek Squad. The Geek Squad and other similar agencies perform the same kind of services as Conrad, and have an added pedigree of professionalism to their credit. However, the scale of these larger groups and their clientele often dictates, by simple business math, that they move on to the next customer as soon as a short-term solution has been reached – leaving many seniors feeling perplexed as to what exactly occurred, and totally ill-prepared should it ever happen again.  “Plus,” Conrad continues, “their services can sometimes be really expensive, and I try and keep it cheaper, so it’s more affordable for more people, and more of a community service aspect than just a for-profit thing.”

In truth, it’d be hard to find better rates anywhere than the ones Conrad offers. “I came up with three prices,” he explains. “I normally do it for $25 per hour, but if the person I’m helping doesn’t have any money or resources available, I can work for free. Or you can pay me in baked goods, because I really love eating!”

The tech world has never had a more literal meaning for “brownie points.”

It’s a charming business model, and one Conrad hopes others can soon begin to take part in. He’s entering his college application process, and is already mindful about what Senior Technology Service’s next chapter will be. “I really want Senior Technology Services to grow,” he says, “and I don’t say that just from my end. I want the Lexington-area senior community to really benefit from it, and stay connected with their friends or whatever. I’m heading off to college soon, and obviously it’ll be a lot harder for me to run it except during the summers, so maybe I’ll find someone who’s younger who can take over and still continue to run it.”

Some eyebrows might raise at a tech business led by someone Conrad’s age (or even younger, as he hopes), but the way he sees it, youth here is an advantage, a crucial factor that enables him to provide these services in the first place. “As people my age have been growing up,” he says, “we’ve never not been without technology… we’ve always had computers and smartphones just around us in the general world, so a basic part of my growing up has just meant that I’ve had loads of opportunities to learn about tech very early. And once you learn the first time, it’s easy to do, so I guess it’s just lucky for me.”

Therein lies the likely root cause for Senior Technology Service’s existence, however – the same unfair reason that Saturday Night Live can milk laughs at seniors’ expense. It may indeed have been a lucky break for Conrad and others of his generation to grow up in a smart-phone world, but it’s important to remember that tech education and similar opportunities just didn’t exist for people of a certain age, many of whom have to wonder (rightly so) if all this new-fangled tech even has a worthwhile purpose. It’s no enviable world, after all, where hand-helds and hashtags could replace genuine face-to-face interaction.

Conrad, however, has an answer to this as well. “I don’t view social media as a replacement for [human interaction],” he says, “I view it as an addition. It should be a tool to help you get more connections, not stand as a substitute in place of them.”
“A lot of my clientele have a hard time moving around and interacting with people like they used to,” he continues. “[They’re] people who are disabled or can’t get out easily (that’s why I take Senior Technology Services to their homes, instead of vice versa). Technology and social media are great ways to stay connected to others, especially now in the 21st century. People, and not just older people either, are so busy that it can be harder to stay connected… hour-long phone conversations aren’t really a thing anymore. On social media, you can just quickly post something and then everyone can see it. And we help with all of that.”

While tech ignorance may be the unwanted trope of Senior Technology Service’s clientele, tech obsession is undoubtedly the one society attaches to the generation of its founder: oblivious, self-obsessed, and with no appreciation for the world outside or around their device screens. Conrad dispels each with equal ease: this young man is bright, engaging, and above all, here to help… and all at the rate of a plate of cookies.

To learn more about Senior Technology Services, or to request its services, visit




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Remembering Ken Donnelly

By Jim Shaw

Ken Donnelly

Few people in life have that special something, Ken Donnelly was such a person. He knew early on that his calling was to serve.  Whether it was as a fire fighter, a union leader, or as a state senator, Ken Donnelly epitomized the meaning public service.  Senator Donnelly, or simply Ken as he preferred to be called, recently lost his battle with brain cancer. And, although he may be gone, his legacy will carry on through the lives he touched along the way.

I first met Ken soon after I took my first job after college.  I was hired by the Massachusetts AFL/CIO to serve as the program director for young union members.  The program was intended to motivate young union members to be more involved in the political process.  One of the first people I was introduced to was a young legislative agent from the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts (PFFM), his name was Ken Donnelly.  The fact that he was a Lexington fire fighter was completely coincidental. Ken took me around and introduced me to several young union activists who became the core of our program.  Most of them went on to do great things.  Ironworker Steve Lynch is now a Congressman, Red Cap Steve Tolman is a former senator and current president of the Mass AFL/CIO, assembly worker George Noel became Commissioner of Labor in Massachusetts, and Ken Donnelly went on to become the second highest ranking fire fighter and a powerful member of the State Senate.

My relationship with Ken continued for a longtime.  We became friends.  Good friends.  That was easy with Ken.  He made everyone feel as though they were a good friend.  That was his gift.

Ken spent nearly four decades as a full-time Lexington Fire Fighter.  He soon became president of the local union, then turned his attention to the state fire fighter organization.  In the early 1980s, he was elected Legislative Agent for the PFFM.  He became close to Bob McCarthy who served at the time as president of the Watertown local. Then tragedy struck the PFFM when longtime president Dusty Alward was killed in an automobile accident.  McCarthy and Donnelly took the helm of the PFFM and worked together until Ken’s election to the State Senate in 2008.

Ken was a teacher by nature.  He liked to identify talented young people and help bring them along.  Current Lexington Fire Lieutenant Mark Ferreira was one of his proteges.  Mark explained that Ken was a special kind of leader.  Almost as if he led from behind, because he was always pushing you along trying to bring the best out.  Mark said, “I first met Ken when I joined the fire department 31 years ago. I was a young kid of 21 years and he took me under his wing. He was 21 when he joined the Department too. He eventually became my lieutenant and I was on the truck with him on a regular basis. He taught me how to be a good firefighter and introduced me to the importance of being involved in the union. Serving the public was important to him, so was his desire to serve his fellow firefighters.”

Ferreira explains that Ken spent the greater part of his career at the East Lexington fire house. He said, “He was the union president for the Lexington local and eventually became the legislative agent for the state fire fighters union or the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. After several years of serving as legislative agent, he was elected statewide secretary-treasurer of the PFFM. Ken was the best! He always took good care of his crew. He was always fun to be around. He had a great sense of humor, but he took his responsibilities as a fire fighter very seriously. One of the things I remember most fondly is that his crew always ate very well. Ken was a great cook. He would cook every Sunday at the East Lexington station. I remember one time we were working a shift on New Year’s Eve and when the other station called to say they ordered Chinese food, Ken wanted better.  He decided we weren’t going to eat “that junk” and he cooked beautiful homemade Chinese food for everyone at the East Lexington station. It was the most delicious Chinese food I’ve ever eaten.”

Mark talks about Ken’s dedication to fire fighters who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Mark said, “Ken felt that fallen fire fighters had waited too long to be recognized in way befitting to their sacrifice, so he helped to move forward the Massachusetts Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial.”   Ferreira continued, “He served on the original board of directors. He was very active in securing the site, raising the needed funds, and the effort to construct the memorial. He was particularly involved with the design of the memorial. He served as chairman of the board for a while right up until the time he passed away. We will be adding his name to the memorial at a ceremony this fall”

In a final thought, Mark shared what might be Ken’s greatest legacy.  He said, “What made Ken great and where he succeeded, was that he could always find common ground with both sides. His gift was his ability to educate. Whether it was negotiating in Lexington or as a member of the Senate, he was effective because he was fair and he educated those he dealt with. He was a special kind of a person who left an indelible impression, not only here in Lexington but in the town of Arlington where he lived and in the Senate where in nine short years he became a top member of the leadership.”

Ken had the ability to affect change and motivate people.  A longtime friend of Ken’s is United States Senator Ed Markey.  I talked with Senator Markey about Ken and as you might guess, he said Ken was one of his “go to guys for advice and counsel.”  Senator Markey said, “Ken Donnelly was Massachusetts. He was a guy who worked his way up, worked his way through UMass, was a fire fighter for thirty-seven years. He was a happy warrior. I always thought of him as a sort of Hubert Humphrey, fighting as hard as he could for the causes which he cared about, while at the same time enjoying the battle. He communicated that to everyone with a wink and a smile.”

Recalling a night of just unwinding with his friend Ken, Senator Markey talked about spending time at Fenway Park. He said, “I miss him. I took him in 2013 to the deciding game of the ALCS championship at Fenway Park. You might remember that was the game where Shane Victorino hit a grand slam to win the series. We sat in the third row next to Mike Pence and his wife. For Kenny it was a beautiful moment. He got the Red Sox, the Governor of Indiana, and the new U.S. Senator. We talked politics and baseball for 4 hours culminating in Victorino’s grand slam to win the game 5-2. We left and went back to his car and he drove me back home to Malden. That’s a great memory for me. I remember him as a good friend, and just an all around decent guy. He was a down-to-earth guy who loved politics and loved everything about life itself. He never forgot where he came from.”

Ken walked with kings and commoners alike.  Everyone was equal in his eyes.  After a long day of fighting fires, negotiating with governmental leaders, writing pension policy, or sitting through long legislative hearings, Ken was at his best when he was home on the grill or in the kitchen.  That’s how Ken showed his love.  Good food and companionship.  Ken and I spent lots of time together during his campaigns and driving to political conventions.  He always made me feel needed by asking me for advice, even though he already had the answers.  He was a friend to me and my family.  I will always remember his kindness, guidance and generosity of spirit.

Ken was a Senator and a fire fighter, but his deepest devotion was reserved for his family. His wife Judy was at the center of his existence.  The same is true about his children Ryan, Keith and Brenna. His grand children too.  He valued his time with family.  I remember Ken telling me that being a Senator was not going to interfere with spending time with his family.  And it didn’t. He valued his time at home and visiting their place in New Hampshire.  He loved the outdoors and spending time with his kids.

The pageantry at his funeral was nothing less than spectacular.  Flagged-draped fire trucks, hundreds of fire fighters lined up in formal uniforms, hundreds of friends and family were all there to pay respect to a simple man who made a lasting impression.


Rest in peace my good friend.

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Question Everything


By Laurie Atwater

We’ve become an answer culture.

Do we have time for questions anymore? As busy parents, do we reward the constant why, why, why that is the hallmark of childhood? Do teachers entertain questions in time-crunched classrooms? Do our leaders encourage questioning and transparency as they represent us? Do our doctors have enough time to ask the questions that would aid a proper diagnosis?

The lowly question has lost its appeal in the information age. Answers are so easy—why ask questions?

Dan Rothstein


Dan Rothstein is a Lexington resident, and co-founder (with Luz Santana) and director of The Right Question Institute (RQI). RQI is a nonprofit based in Boston.

Rothstein is a big fan of questions. His professional experience has taught him that thinking in questions—like little kids—may be the key to becoming better problem solvers and decision-makers, more creative thinkers, better students and more engaged citizens. In fact, Rothstein and RQI think that formulating effective questions—strategic questions that lead us to the answers we seek—may be the foundational skill for critical-thinking and higher learning. But, it is a skill that is rarely, if ever taught in school.

Early in his career Rothstein worked as the Director of Neighborhood Planning Director in Lawrence, Massachusetts trying to curb high dropout rates in the city. It was Rothstein’s job to work with parents from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and get them involved in their children’s education—to convince them that they could make a difference and encourage them to engage with the schools.

In these conversations they learned that many parents didn’t participate in their children’s education and didn’t engage with their kid’s teachers because they “didn’t even know what to ask.”
That was an epiphany for Rothstein and his team. “The parents named an insight that had never really been fully recognized—not knowing what to ask as a major obstacle to effective participation,” he explains.

Rothstein set out with other members of his team to explore this problem in their community-building work. They first tried a simple fix: supplying the parents with prepared questions to take with them to a school meeting. “We discovered that it only created greater dependency on us which was the opposite of what we were trying to accomplish.”

They needed to teach the parents to come up with their own questions so that they would take ownership. “We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s the simplest way to teach what is really a very sophisticated thinking skill—learning to ask your own questions and getting better at asking questions,” he says.

They found that the skill did not come naturally to most people. Initial barriers to participation—fear of judgment, embarrassment or shyness could be overcome as a group built trust. “But we started to understand that this was a dramatic change in practice,” Rothstein explains. “People were accustomed to being asked questions not to actually being invited to work on asking their own questions.”

Working with small groups, they observed how people formed questions and that producing questions (not statements, ideas or facts) was very difficult. “We then had to create these rules for producing questions that are similar to brainstorming rules, but also very different because you are working only with questions.”


“QFT helps you organize your thinking around what you don’t know.”  

                                                 -Stephen Quatrano, RQI board member


They tested out lots of ways to lead people through the process of developing questions and determined that an essential element was a stimulus or focus for question formation. “We came to understand how important that was. We created this term Question Focus (QFocus).” The QFocus is an initial prompt that focuses the group to form more directed and relevant questions. It can be a description of the problem at hand or a statement or subject depending on the setting.

The Question Formulation Technique includes the following steps:

  • Design a question focus (QFocus)
  • Produce questions
  • Work with closed-ended and open-ended questions
  • Prioritize questions
  • Plan next steps
  • Reflect

Once a group has a QFocus, each member must pose as many questions as they can and one member records the questions without stopping for discussion. No question is judged, reworded or rejected. When the questions have been formulated, the group works on improving the questions (changing close-ended questions to open-ended and any statements to questions). They then prioritize the questions and select three key questions. They decide how they will act on each question and finally they reflect on what they have learned from the process.

It took years of trial and error to refine the process—to make it simple, usable, repeatable and reliable. The Right Question Institute calls this protocol the Question Formulation Technique (QFT).

Rothstein points out that this is not a technique that was created in a think-tank or by academics or communications experts—this is a ground-up process that began with regular people in challenging circumstances. Although they started their work with adults in low-income communities, it soon became apparent that the protocol could be effective in almost unlimited settings across age groups, disciplines and education levels.

These days QFT is used by Lexington Public Schools, Harvard graduate students, Microsoft Corporation, Kaiser Permanente, schools in rural Appalachia and many more organizations around the globe to stimulate participation, aid in self-advocacy, unlock creative potential and facilitate learning.


Why is the Question Formulation Technique so powerful?
As participants learn to produce their own questions, they are thinking divergently—that is, more broadly and creatively. When they focus on the kinds of questions they are asking and choose their priority questions, they are thinking convergently—narrowing down, analyzing, assessing, comparing, and synthesizing. And when they reflect on what they have learned through the process, students are engaged in metacognition—they are thinking about their thinking. -RQI


HOW CAN QUESTIONS CREATE BETTER CITIZENS? The Hawaiian Sugar Cane Plantation Experience
When sugar cane plantation workers were about to lose their livelihood in Hawaii, RQI was brought in to help the workers through the transition.

“The plantation was being sold off,” Rothstein explains. “The department of public health brought us in. They were worried about how company owned housing was going to be divided up, how the land was going to be used, how healthcare was going to be provided all of these things that the company had provided.”

Working with these farm workers, RQI gained insight about how the QFT could empower people to take ownership and participate in decisions that could affect their immediate welfare and their future. Like their work in Lawrence, they observed that the simple act of asking questions was empowering to those who felt disempowered.

“That was a major point in our development—in understanding how to help people learn to focus on decisions right in front of them as the first step in learning how to participate effectively,” Rothstein says. ”What people learned was they needed to ask questions about the decisions that were going to be made locally—about the housing and the healthcare but that they were not able the change the decision made by a corporate board in London.” RQI witnessed that this process engendered a sense of control in people who felt helpless. “This process changes the dynamic and says that it’s not just the person with more power who gets to ask the questions,” Rothstein says, “but it’s the person who needs the service or the information or the help that also is entitled to question.”

What RQI observed through this experience and other advocacy work they conducted around the country was the many ways that positive interactions by disenfranchised people with institutions or figures in power could improve their self-esteem and increase engagement. “The process of asking questions sets up the expectation for responsible decision making from that authority figure,” Rothstein says. It’s a way to hold the system accountable.

This led RQI to the insight that each of these advocacy situations had produced citizens that were more prepared and therefore more engaged with their communities through each productive interaction. Government agencies like Medicaid, Social Security, immigration, schools, courts or housing authorities can be little gymnasiums for the “small d” democratic muscle necessary for citizenship. “They need an opportunity to see how all those services and programs are affected by decisions made by elected officials who are usually invisible,” Rothstein says. “It’s a muscle that develops over time through action. If you don’t develop the muscle it atrophies.”

RQI calls this network of public institutions “outposts of democracy or a Microdemocracy” where citizens or prospective citizens are often discouraged from participating in their own government. “When they experience participation on the micro level they discover the value of participating in traditional forms of democratic action,” he adds.

RQI’s Better Questions Better Decisions (BQBD) Voter Engagement Workshop uses the Question Formulation Technique to help citizens become more involved with the democratic process. “It’s a voter engagement strategy that starts where people are and allows them to ask questions about decisions that are affecting them all the way up the democratic decision-making chain. It’s a different way to approach voter education,” Rothstein says. RQI thinks their strategy can make democracy work better.

It’s actually fascinating that Rothstein and Santana, who started their work so many years ago with adults, have come up with an insight and a protocol that has perhaps its most natural application in the classroom.

And, it could not be timelier. As intellectuals, college educators, employers and innovators reflect more and more on our current testing-centric education system—the decline of creativity, the collapse of critical thinking and the crisis of school funding—RQI enters with a decidedly low tech, low cost protocol that can radically transform learning. Switching the classroom dynamic and allowing kids to do what used to come naturally—ask questions—paves the way toward a coveted educational goal—creating critical thinkers for 21st century jobs and lives.

Naysayers believe that there can’t possibly be time for student generated questioning in the modern classroom with its performance demands and multiple assessments. To the contrary Rothstein says, “When students spend time on forming questions about what they need to learn it’s not a detour—it’s actually a shortcut. They just get there much more quickly and more effectively.” He’s not guessing about this; he’s seen it in practice. “This is what we have seen from educators all around the world—there are now over 200,000 educators using the question formulation technique.”

Teachers continue to inspire Rothstein and his colleagues at RQI. “There’s an art and a science to the question formulation technique. The science is—it’s a protocol. The art is in learning how to adapt it to what you need to be teaching what the students need to be learning,” he explains. RQI has now developed an extensive library of tools available for download from their site to help educators deploy the protocol in their classrooms.

As a Lexington resident, Rothstein is particularly pleased about the enthusiasm that the Lexington Public Schools have expressed for the QFT program. “So many Lexington educators are using the QF technique and it’s really great,” he says. “When successful communities also recognize that they want their students to be asking better questions, that’s inspiring.”

The Lexington Education Foundation awarded a grant to Lexington middle schools to attend a RQI summer seminar. Social Studies specialists were interested in using the technique to foster “higher order thinking skills.” RQI did further professional development across the district to enhance teachers’ understanding and implementation of the protocol.

Karen Russell, an English teacher at LHS, was one of the QFT pioneers in Lexington. I talked with Russell by phone and she was very enthusiastic about using the QFT in the classroom.

“I often use it when I begin a text,” she says. “Students’ questions inform me about their interests and [through the process] they take ownership over where we are going with the text,” she explains. “It gives me a chance to listen to their concerns about what the text might address. Great texts have plasticity that way and can lead in many different directions.” Russell says it works particularly well with students who may not be so quick to speak up in a regular setting. “I often worry about the students who take more time to process and want to go deeper—where do we give them a chance for their voices to be heard? This process values that.”

Russell also refers back to the student’s questions throughout their study of the text. “They’re given permission…their thinking is valued and they know it’s not just the right answer I’m looking for. When they ask their own questions, the seed of their ideas has been planted early on and they’re growing their own ideas.”

Russell also appreciates that the QFT is being used across the history curriculum at LHS so the language and process is familiar to students. She finds the common practice creates fluency and ease for the students. “In a place like Lexington where so many students are articulate and so quick to have the answers, it’s a chance to slow down. It’s a very different way of thinking and it often frustrates the kids who always have a quick answer which isn’t a bad thing,” she says. “To work together and listen to what other students have to say is a benefit for them.”

Rothstein says all teachers like this about the QFT. “It creates a better community and it creates respect for different perspectives among the students.”


Through creation of this invaluable protocol, the Right Question Institute has taken a complicated skill and made it accessible to everyone in any setting that requires engagement, advocacy or problem-solving.

In education, where problems often seem insurmountable, this technique is low-tech, affordable and transformative. Encouraging collaboration, sparking curiosity and creativity, creating confidence and laying the groundwork for critical thinking can only increase our capacity as a nation to thrive in the 21st century and help our kids realize their potential in these challenging times.

To learn more about the work of the Right question Institute, visit them online at

Right Question Institute

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Lexington Remembers

Remembers Committee members (left to right) Francine Edwards, Mary Gillespie, and Bob Edwards . Photo by Digney Fignus.

Remembers Committee members (left to right) Francine Edwards, Mary Gillespie, and Bob Edwards . Photo by Digney Fignus.


By Digney Fignus

“Know what’s under your feet.”  It’s the familiar mantra of Mary Gillespie, the driving force and Chair of the Committee for the long-running Lexington Remembers television series.  One of the staples of LexMedia’s local programming, the show documents an oral history of the Lexington community.  Mary recalls what inspired the project: “I was a Social Studies Specialist at the Harrington School.  I was surprised to find that many of my students didn’t know anything about the history of their own neighborhoods.  One day I brought members of the Busa family in to talk about their farm and personal history with the town.  What was supposed to be a one-hour talk ended up lasting the whole morning.  The Busas went home for lunch and then came back and spent the rest of the afternoon talking with the children.”  The school program was an instant success.  At the time, Mary was also involved with the Lexington Historical Society.  After enthusiastic responses to the program at a number of other Lexington Elementary Schools she felt a real need to create a more permanent record of this unwritten history.  The die was cast when Mary approached LexMedia with the idea of putting on a show about the “people behind the woodwork.”  As Mary says, “to preserve the contributions of the people who served our community and helped to make it what it is.”

Mary began to gather together a small team to produce what she thought would be “just a few shows.”  The project was seeded with a $500.00 grant from the Lexington Friends of the Council on Aging to purchase equipment and supplies.  Everyone involved in the project is a volunteer.  The shows don’t need a fancy sound stage.  Most of the interviews are shot right in front of Mary’s big white brick fireplace.

Bob and Francine Edwards are the show’s production team.  Bob is a retired Electrical Engineer who worked at Raytheon and helped to father the technology that led to the invention of the microwave oven. Bob heard about Mary’s idea for a community access show through the Council on Aging.  Being an engineer, Bob liked the idea of learning a new technical skill.  Francine was very involved in the Girl Scouts in Lexington.  Her outstanding work as a leader had earned her a “Wonder Woman Grant.”  As part of the prestigious award she attended a seminar about how to study and record woman’s oral history.  Francine recalls, “I only came to the first meeting to give a talk about what I had leaned from the seminar.” She laughs, “They roped me in.”

Francine and Bob Edwards filming at Hancock-Clarke House. After Francine and Bob were "roped in" to the project, they took a production class at LexMedia and they have been the production team on Lexington Remembers ever since.

Francine and Bob Edwards filming at Hancock-Clarke House. After Francine and Bob were “roped in” to the project, they took a production class at LexMedia and they have been the production team on Lexington Remembers ever since.

Francine and Bob both took a production class at LexMedia to learn how to operate the cameras and run the editing programs. That was nearly ten years ago.  What started out to be “just a few shows” has grown to a collection of 43 episodes.  Bob and Francine have been working with Mary since the beginning of the project and have shot and edited most of the current catalog.  They make four copies of each show, one for broadcast at LexMedia, and one each for the Council on Aging, Lexington Historical Society, and the Cary Library.  For the Edwards it’s a true labor of love.  Between shooting the show (yes, Bob and Francine each run a camera, set up the lighting, and do the sound recording), formatting, synchronizing, editing, laying the sound track, and making copies, it takes nearly 10 hours of effort to produce each hour of the show.  Their hard work really paid off when in 2010 they were presented with LexMedia’s Producer of the Year award.

Part of the shows longevity and success has to be attributed to the incredible team that Mary was able to assemble at the start of the project. One of the first recruits was longtime resident and Lexington Town Meeting member Dan Fenn.  Dan grew up in Lexington and has had a storied career.  Nationally known, Dan was an advisor to JFK, taught at Harvard University, and was former head of the Kennedy Library.  Dan brings a wealth of experience to the project and is one of the shows principle interviewers.  Almost everyone working on the show has lived in Lexington for years. All in all, they are a testimonial to the adage: you’re never too old to learn.  Most of the current crew is over 80.  Nonagenarians Bob and Dan are 92.

Dan Fenn (right) with Sam Doran appearing on-camera for a Lexington Remembers segment. Dan was one of the first recruits for the Lexington Remembers team.

Dan Fenn (right) with Sam Doran appearing on-camera for a Lexington Remembers segment. Dan was one of the first recruits for the Lexington Remembers team.

The story behind the show should be enough to inspire you, but the lasting value of these first-hand recollections of life in Lexington are priceless.  Any researcher would give their eye teeth to have access to this kind of information.  Yes, it’s community television.  There is nothing slick about it, no fancy special effects, just real people talking about their life and times. But isn’t that the point?

I binge-watched over a dozen Lexington Remembers episodes in between Patriot’s games and the World Series.  As I watched, I couldn’t help reminisce about my own experiences growing up in Lexington.  I remember bouncing rocks off the water tower and scrounging for a baby carriage wheel in the Lincoln Street dump just as one of the “Leading Ladies of Lexington,” long-time Town Meeting Member Shirley Stoltz, did when she was a kid growing up near the Stone Store on Mass Ave.  I recall graduating from a Sinker to a Pollywog at the town pool just as Helen Millican did as she recounted her days as a swimming instructor in Lexington.

The shows cover a range of topics and have no rigid time restrictions.  Some of them are as short as 15 minutes, some are just over an hour.  Some are already tremendously important because the people who were interviewed, like Dr. Winthrop Harrington, have since passed away.  Dr. Harrington is a direct descendant of the Harrington family who fought in the Battle of Lexington.  He was also an avid bird watcher.  Bob and Francine joked that this made the show particularly hard to edit because all he wanted to talk about was birds and not his family’s history.

One of my favorite shows was the piece on Lexington Gardens.  The Millican brothers, Harold and John Hall, told the remarkable story of how their father had lost the family’s 70-acre Lexington farm during the 1929 crash.  Never the type to give up, the family turned its fortune around when their dad was able to purchase the land that eventually became Lexington Gardens from a Harvard professor who had been using it to grow exotic plants for his Botany classes.  The brothers recount how they were able to get started for “$50.00, some furniture, and an old truck.”  It’s an inspiring story of success and hard work.  Lexington Gardens became famous as the home of the “Victory Garden” show that ran for many seasons on public television.

Over the years, Mary and her Committee have been able to secure interviews with some of Lexington’s most prominent citizens.  How refreshing is it to see Bill Dailey, former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, take us back to a time when Lexington was primarily a farm community.  His family originally came to Lexington in 1828.  What a treasure to hear him talk with pride about the “Dailey Wall” that his family built on Waltham Street and his experience as a pinsetter in the bowling alley that still exists under the floorboards of one of the downtown shops.  He grew up in a Lexington where Carroll’s cows would stop traffic on Waltham Street to cross to the lower pasture where a golf driving range now exists.

Bill Dailey, former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen (center) with Father Colletti and Lillian McArthur at one of Bill's "East Lexington Reunions" held at the Dailey Farm on Marrett Road.

Bill Dailey, former Chairman of the Board of Selectmen (center) with Father Colletti and Lillian McArthur at one of Bill’s “East Lexington Reunions” held at the Dailey Farm on Marrett Road.

I came to Lexington in the ‘50s and I still remember that world: a world where you could buy a nice house in Lexington for $12,500 and tuition at Tufts University was a whopping $250.00 (Harvard was only $500.00).  A recurring theme almost everyone interviewed talks about is how Lexington was so much more a blue-collar community then.  My father and his father were bus drivers for the Boston Elevated, and later the MTA, and then the MBTA.  My granddad had a house on Waltham Street with an upstairs apartment that I lived in as a toddler with my mom and dad.  My grandfather, who had been born in England, kept a pigeon coop in the backyard.  The pigeons are long gone, but some of our family still lives there today.

Lexington was typical small-town America not that long ago.  My dad’s sister Eleanor married Morris Bloomberg who owned Morris Motors that was just a few blocks down Waltham Street at Four Corners.  My cousin Barbara married Larry Carroll, one of the Carroll boys whose farm was a short walk down the street in the opposite direction.  Middleby Road was a just a dirt road in the mid-50s when my dad and mom saved up enough money to get their own little house.  There was no Bridge School.  There was an open meadow with a hollowed out crab apple tree we hid in during games of “52 Scatter.”  The two big chestnut trees near the current entrance to the school were our jungle gyms and just off the path were patches of blackberries, raspberries, and wild grapes.  For me, watching the Lexington Remembers episodes was not only nostalgic, it was informative.  Even though I’m related to the Carroll’s, I didn’t know that the Carroll family was once recognized as “The National Catholic Farm Family of America.”

Lexington was a place where it was not uncommon for a family to have roots that ran back multiple generations.  The show “A Conversation with Dick Michelson” traces that family back five generations.  Michelson’s Shoes was opened in 1919 by Dick’s grandfather who originally came to Lexington because the town needed a harness repairman.  From harness repair, to mending boots, to selling and stocking custom-fit shoes, Michelson’s has been a landmark in Lexington Center for almost 100 years.  Even today it is run as a successful family business.  I happened into the shop this last Halloween to take a photo or two.  Not only were three generations of Michelson’s working that day, they were celebrating Dick’s 82nd birthday.

Michelson’s has been a landmark in Lexington Center for almost 100 years. Three generations of Michelsons: (left to right) Mark Solomon, Dick Michelson, Barbara Michelson, Andrea Michelson, and Jerry Michelson. Photo by Digney Fignus.

Michelson’s has been a landmark in Lexington Center for almost 100 years. Three generations of Michelsons: (left to right) Mark Solomon, Dick Michelson, Barbara Michelson, Andrea Michelson, and Jerry Michelson. Photo by Digney Fignus.

Besides the archived copies, most of the Lexington Remembers shows are currently available for viewing On Demand at the LexMedia website.  From the history of the Boy Scouts, the Police and Fire Departments, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, to recollections of town leaders, and the inspiring stories of well-known families like the Busas and Dorans, there is bound to be something of interest to anyone with a Lexington connection.  The shows are always informative and have a genuine historic value.  The episodes are first-and-foremost entertaining.  How can you not chuckle when Mickey Khazam deadpans the “catchy title” of one of the Friends of the Council on Aging upcoming lectures: “New Neurons in the Adult Brain, Stem Cell Surprises.”

As they approach their 50th show, the Lexington Remembers Committee is putting out the call for more people to get involved.  Mary Gillespie has certainly realized her vision of a program “not only historical, but to honor some of the people who have made a difference in the community.”  In the last ten years Mary and her exceptional seniors didn’t just hit the mark, they struck a bull’s-eye and had lots of fun in the process.

The editing suite at LexMedia where Lexington Remembers is produced.

The editing suite at LexMedia where Lexington Remembers is produced.

If you are interested in volunteering, learning more, or contributing to this important non-profit project please contact:

Lexington Remembers Committee Chair Mary Gillespie 781-862-9166

LexMedia – 781-862-5388

Lexington Friends of the Council on Aging –




To view episodes of Lexington Remembers visit the LexMedia Website at and search Lexington Remembers in the On Demand section.

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CEL Matching Gift Challenge!

CEL ArtTis the season

While there is no shortage of energy and commitment among volunteers in Lexington, often it is a struggle for nonprofit organizations to secure funding for programs that fall outside of the regular town operating budget.

The Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) which is focused on educational initiatives and the Dana Home Foundation, which addresses senior needs, have been successfully increasing funding in their targeted areas for many years However, there are programs that fall outside of the mission of these organizations and for these deserving community-building programs it is too-often impossible to thrive because of funding issues.

To address these unmet needs, a small group of determined volunteers got together and rolled up their sleeves. The result: The Community Endowment of Lexington (CEL), a community fund that provides grants to worthy nonprofit projects in Lexington.


The Community Endowment of Lexington was established in 2013 by three Lexingtonians:  Stephanie Lawrence, Pauline Benninga and Amy Garbis.

Stephanie says, “I was introduced to a couple of women who had children in the schools and they were hearing from their school principals about the increase in requests for holiday assistance from families.” Alarm was also growing in the community about homeless families being housed at a Lexington motel.  At the time Stephanie was also serving on the Lexington Human Services Committee which was experiencing a sharp uptick in requests for emergency services—needs that are addressed through The Fund for Lexington.

It was a challenging time in Lexington and many other communities. Middle class families were under continuous pressure from the financial meltdown and subsequent business failures, personnel trimming and corporate reorganizations. Mortgages were under siege. The insecurity in the economy had a double-whammy effect on non-profits simultaneously increasing need and decreasing resources as donations crashed from both private and corporate sources.

“I knew that most Lexingtonians would be surprised to hear about the significance of the need,” Stephanie says. “We started to talk about what sort of initiative could be put into place that could be effective for Lexington.” They wanted to act quickly. That’s when Stephanie thought of the Foundation for MetroWest. As a nonprofit professional she was familiar with their work. “I thought if we partnered with the foundation we could really hit the ground running,” she says.  They had some “very promising” discussions with the with the folks at MetroWest that increased their enthusiasm for the project. Their first consideration was making sure that any new resource would not be stepping on the toes of existing organizations. “There are public agencies and nonprofits doing wonderful work for the town of Lexington,” Stephanie says.

The women met with Selectman Norm Cohen and the Director of Lexington Human Services, Charlotte Rodgers to learn more about the various programs run through the Human Services Department like The Fund for Lexington, which responds to emergency requests from individuals and families in Lexington for rent, groceries or fuel.

Rather than duplicate effective programs like this one, the women wanted to identify gaps—local nonprofits that might be struggling. “So many organizations frequently struggle to raise the funds necessary to develop their programs and services,” she says.

For organizations that are struggling to thrive in a difficult funding environment, it can make the difference between continuing their important work, or having to surrender when the money dries up leaving their constituencies to scramble.

“The Community Endowment of Lexington is an excellent vehicle to provide grants to local groups that benefit the Lexington community as a whole.  The Fund for Lexington is primarily for individuals and families impacted by financial crises,” explains Norman Cohen.

Left to right are CEL board member Stephanie Wolk Lawrence, current board chair Leslie Zales, and CEL board member Nancy White.

Left to right are CEL board member Stephanie Wolk Lawrence, current board chair Leslie Zales, and CEL board member Nancy White.


After meeting with Norm and Charlotte, the women became convinced that they could create something that would have meaningful impact in the community and they decided to broaden their mission giving them latitude to consider grant applications from a wide variety of organizations. This is the mission statement from their website:

The Community Endowment of Lexington supports programs and services that help make life healthier and more enjoyable for all members of the community in the areas of health and human services, arts and culture, ecological well-being, and community building. It encourages grant applications from nonprofit organizations and public agencies that bring innovative thinking to big issues and small ones.

They ultimately partnered with the Foundation for MetroWest to take advantage of their structure which provides financial management, legal counsel and the guidance of a highly qualified board of directors.

As an endowed fund of the Foundation for MetroWest, CEL is designed to be a permanent, steady source of funding for the town of Lexington. Each year, spending is limited to a designated percentage of the fund, leaving the rest to build for the future. While the Foundation for MetroWest provides fund administration, grants are reviewed and awarded by the Community Endowment of Lexington Community Board.

CEL has so far raised over $300,000 from its Founding Members—34 individuals, businesses,  family foundations and community groups each who have contributed $5,000 or more. The goal of the fund is to build the endowment to $1 million and to concurrently identify and award grants as it is growing.

According to Lexingtonian Janet Kern, Director of Development and Community Relations for the Foundation for MetroWest, the initial goal is to build the fund to $1M as a starting point to be able to deliver $50,000 year of impact annually. “That felt like a very achievable goal in Lexington,” she says. “We certainly hope to grow the fund beyond the $1M mark with future fundraising programs enabling even greater impact.”

CEL has awarded over $50,000 in grants in just two years to nine ono-profit organixations serving Lexington across a diverse spectrum of needs. (Check out the quotes from several grant recipients on pages 16 and 17.)


This season—between now and December 31st, CEL has a very exciting opportunity to increase the size of their fund thanks to two of CEL’s founding members, Leslie and Colin Masson. The Massons have very generously offered to match all gifts made to the Community Endowment of Lexington dollar for dollar up to $100,000!

Current CEL board chair Leslie Zales hopes this short, but significant opportunity will inspire the entire community to come together to help grow this fund and keep it healthy into the future.

“We are incredibly thankful to Leslie & Colin for their ongoing commitment to CEL and this exciting challenge,” Zales says. “This campaign will bring us to the halfway mark of CEL’s ultimate fundraising goal.  The time has never been better to support CEL.  Every dollar counts.”


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GIANT Accomplishment! Lexington’s Chris Shaw Chosen in the 1ST Round of the MLB Draft

Chris Shaw_WebHeaderBy Devin Shaw

Every young athlete has dreamed of playing professional sports. In almost all cases the dream fades with age. The realization is painful yet necessary for most, but for a select few, like Lexington’s own Chris Shaw, the dream becomes real.

Chris Shaw will remember June 8, 2015 for the rest of his life—that is the day that the San Francisco Giants selected him 31st overall in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft.

Chris played baseball at Lexington High School and was so good that the New York Mets drafted him directly out of high school with the 800th overall pick, but he chose instead to pursue his education and play ball at Boston College.

I recently spoke to Chris and he told me this time the draft was different, “out of high school I had no intentions of signing professionally; I wanted to go to college and honor my commitment to BC. So this time around it was pretty nerve-racking leading up to the draft because I knew I was signing and I wanted to go as high as possible and end up with the best organization I could. And when I was selected by San Francisco I was excited—because of their track record and the kind of organization they are top-to-bottom.”

Since 2010 the San Francisco Giants have been inarguably the best franchise in professional baseball. Not including this current season, the Giants have won three of the last five World Series. And most of the key-contributors for this baseball dynasty have been developed within the farm system that Chris is about to enter.

Chris possesses what is known in the scouting world as “plus-plus” power. Essentially, the hulking left-hander can hit the ball a mile. His batting practices regularly drew massive crowds of scouts prepared for a show. Power hitters have become increasingly scarce in professional baseball making someone with as much power as Shaw rare and valuable.

Chris has always been a standout athlete; he played both baseball and hockey at LHS. The Lexington baseball team helped shape who he is as a ballplayer. He says, “It taught me all my fundamentals obviously, both on and off field. I learned how to be a good teammate and what it takes to be successful with regards to hard work. It definitely played a huge role in my development in allowing me to get to the position I am in now.”

Chris’ Lexington baseball career was hugely successful; it included an undefeated regular season and the prodigious statistics that got scouts from both the college and professional ranks to give him a look. Chris knew he wanted to go to Boston College from the beginning, it provided him a unique opportunity to not only go to a school in what is considered a premiere conference for baseball but also to continue a family tradition of a attending the college—from his grandfather to his mother to most recently his little brother.

Boston College is in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and for baseball it continually provides some of the best competition for budding Major Leaguers. Chris began his freshman season with incredibly high expectations from both himself and outsiders. He played in 50 games his freshman year at multiple positions including first base and right field and ended his season with a .165 batting average with 27 hits, including five doubles and six home runs (HRs), and ended the season with 27 runs batted in (RBIs).

Though he led the team in home runs, Chris wanted to improve. And during his sophomore year Chris exploded onto the national scene with a breakout season. He told me what helped him do that, “I was able to manage expectations far better going into my sophomore year, my freshman year allowed me to see what it takes to be successful at that level. I think my freshman year I went in there expecting to be a freshman All-American and all this stuff but I learned going from a Massachusetts public high school to the ACC is a pretty significant jump.”

“Every single day I am going to the field

with the short-term goal of getting better

today and don’t worry about tomorrow.”


The ACC features some of the best pitchers in the nation, making it more difficult to hit, especially while Chris was there. “You look at some of the guys I faced and they’re in the big leagues already. We faced some very, very good arms and going into my sophomore year I wanted to be a harder worker and not be as result oriented as much as just going out there and having fun and working hard.”

Well it worked.

Chris’ numbers during his sophomore year were absolutely ridiculous. All of his individual statistics went up exponentially. He finished the season with a .329 batting average 68 hits 18 doubles 9 HRs 45 RBIs and a .502 slugging percentage. All of this led to numerous accolades including being named to the First-Team All-ACC Team (essentially, he was the best player at his position in his conference).

Baseball is a game of whispered stories. Before the advent of video and the Internet,tales of unbelievable feats on the diamond traveled ear-to-ear across the country. Mostly exaggerated, these stories grew in proportion until they were deemed unbelievable or would go down as myth (who really hit the longest home run of all time?). During Chris’ summer on the Cape playing for the Chatham Anglers he built his own myths one massive home run after another. Stories of 450-foot home runs to dead center flooded the Internet and scouting circles.

Chris took it all in stride, and ended up leading the Cape Cod league in home runs which is a major accomplishment considering this is the summer league where all the nation’s best collegiate players go to show off their talent in front of major league scouts.

His performance during the summer raised his profile in the eyes of scouts, he said “I’ve had it described to me that after my sophomore year I was viewed as anywhere from a third to fourth round guy but then after my summer on the cape I was put in the discussion of a top-50 guy.”

It also put the pressure on Chris to perform during his junior season which he did—leading all NCAA players in home runs until an injury interrupted his torrid pace. Though inconvenient, it’s an injury that will not impact his future.

And most importantly it did not prevent the Giants from picking Chris in the first round.

Which brings us back to June 8—Chris was in Lexington to watch the draft at home with mom Karen, dad Doug brother Brendan and close friends and family. Everyone was glued to the TV waiting to hear Chris’ name called. Certainly a night filled with stress and excitement but when the moment finally happened Chris says it got very loud—“A lot of yelling, a lot of celebration. We knew at around the 23 pick that the Giants were gonna take me they called and said ‘Hey, if you’re available we’re gonna take you’ it was kind of anti-climatic because we knew they were going to select me. Nevertheless it was still an incredible moment.”

Chris Shaw signs his contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Chris Shaw signs his contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Now Chris is in Arizona practicing every day waiting to find out what the Giants have planned for him. As he says, “I’m ready to take it day-to-day, just go out there keep my head down and try to live in the moment.”

The minor leagues are set up to allow players to develop their skills to a professional level while playing competition of similar ability. There are multiple levels and various teams all over the United States—from Portland, Maine to Salem, Oregon. Some players skyrocket through their systems on their way to superstardom while others play in the minors their entire careers.

Chris wants to stay in the present and work hard as he moves up the ranks, when asked about his goals as a professional entering the minor leagues he says “I think they’re pretty short-term goals—get better every day. I think if I get caught up in thinking about progressing as quickly as possible or setting a date for when I get to the big leagues I may become a bit overwhelmed. Every single day I am going to the field with the short-term goal of getting better today and don’t worry about tomorrow.”

For Chris baseball isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. Becoming a professional athlete is not something that just happens, it requires a lot of love and dedication that usually starts at a very young age, “I’d go and hit whenever I could. I’d be bugging my dad to go and throw me batting practice. Growing up my neighbors and me were always outside playing, I was never a kid that played video games and stayed away from that stuff—I was just always outside. But I think it’s very important to play multiple sports. I played baseball and hockey in high school and once baseball season was over I hung them up and got on the ice.”

Unfortunately Chris won’t be allowed to play hockey anymore. Admittedly he will miss it “a lot” but I think he has more-than-enough baseball games ahead of him to keep busy!

Hopefully we will see Chris in San Francisco under the bright lights playing for the Giants as soon as possible. From what we knew he’ll work tirelessly day-to-day and game-to-game to improve until he’s ready for the big leagues.

Baseball is a game of repetition and one thing will never change for Chris Shaw, whether it’s dad tossing batting practice or facing the best pitcher in the world: “Try to find a good pitch to hit and hit it hard.”

I’m certain of one thing, stories will be told all over the country of Lexington’s Chris Shaw doing just that.


Below: Chris (in Bowdoin tee shirt) marches with his LHS teammates in the Patriots Day Parade.

Below: Chris (in Bowdoin tee shirt) marches with his LHS teammates in the Lexington Little League Parade.

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