Happy Anniversary to the Lexington List

Harry Forsdick’s community email forum has been connecting Lexington for twenty years—and it’s still going strong.

By Jeri Zeder

Step aside, Mark Zuckerberg. By the time Facebook launched on February 4, 2004, our very own Harry Forsdick had been running the Lexington List for nearly two years, with Lexington residents sharing everything from the dates of the East Village Fair to out-of-town restaurant recommendations to announcements of School Committee meetings to questions on snow-blower repairs. And way, way, way more.
The Lexington List, an email-based community bulletin board and discussion forum founded by Forsdick on September 22, 2002, turned twenty this year. It was, and still is, a private (not Town-run) forum hosted, administered, and moderated by Forsdick himself, with membership open to people who live and work in Lexington, and to METCO families with children in Lexington schools. The List’s first member was Hank Manz.

Membership slowly increased in its first three years, took a steep upturn from 2010 through 2015, then saw a surge in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It boasts just over 1,800 members today, with an archive of some 43,600 messages. It costs around $100 a year to run. In a fundraiser several years ago, List members donated enough money to cover List expenses for the next ten years—a tribute to its value and popularity.

Harry Forsdick

Harry’s Vision

When Forsdick started the List, he did so knowing its potential. “I had been living the internet since I started grad school at MIT in 1971, and I’d seen all these things that could be done,” he says. “I thought there were not enough opportunities for people to share their tips and tricks for living in Lexington. I had a slightly loftier goal than just, oh, who was your roofer, but also, did you see a good play, did you go to a good concert.” From the start, Forsdick has let topics flow organically, following whatever happens to be going on in town that people wish to talk about.

The first subscribers were friends Forsdick had invited to join, and also members of Town Meeting, who learned of it from little business cards that Forsdick left on information tables. The first three messages to the List were by Forsdick’s. Message #1 introduced the List. Message #2 demonstrated possible topics drawn from actual subject lines from the Arlington List, on which the Lexington List was modeled, including: “can you identify this insect?”; “dog play group”; “reliable silver coin dealer”; and “holy moly (was grass fed beef)”. Message #3 was Forsdick’s query about where to find wooden shipping palettes. Then, on September 26, 2002, the first message that wasn’t Forsdick’s was posted: Message #4, by Jon Dreyer, asking how to get a school bus policy changed.
And off it went.

Early Challenges

The first challenge Forsdick encountered in those early days involved discussions of controversial subjects. Whenever conversations got too heated or prolonged, Forsdick noticed an uptick in membership resignations. In response, Forsdick started a separate email discussion group and called it Lex Pol-Rel, a nod to the adage “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” Members of the Lexington List can join Lex Pol-Rel and talk about anything they want to, for as long as they want to, provided they comply with Forsdick’s rules of civility (no name-calling or personal abuse). In further service of civility, Forsdick requires people to sign their full names whenever they post to either list. “People have their own reputation to think about when they say things on the List, and I think that can result in civility,” Forsdick says. “People do value their own reputation.”

The Covid Connection

The Lexington List is often where people hear news as it’s unfolding. “I like serving that civic function of having a place where you could go and find out the latest,” says Forsdick, who estimates that he spends a total of about an hour a week administering and moderating the List. He says that, in the early confusing days of what became the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of messages skyrocketed, and membership surged. It was a touching demonstration of neighborly concern and support. “I think there’s something about closing your eyes and imagining someone writing what they’re writing and sort of trying to put yourself in their shoes,” Forsdick says. “COVID was particularly emotional like that, because you knew a lot of people were scared.”

List member Melanie Lin learned just how potent community-level information-sharing can be in a crisis like COVID. Lin, who is co-president of the Chinese American Association of Lexington (CAAL), frequently posts CAAL news to the Lexington List, and disseminates information from the Lexington List to the Chinese American community. When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted and medical-grade masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) were scarce, CAAL raised $280,000 to buy PPE to support hospitals, nursing homes, and individuals. Lin informed the Lexington community about the availability of PPE from CAAL primarily through the Lexington List.

Fast forward a couple of years to a party Lin recently attended. When a man there heard of her connection to CAAL, he told her, in a voice filled with emotion, that early in the pandemic, his sister had to care for her very sick husband at home and desperately needed PPE. He learned about CAAL’s PPE program, and was able to get his sister what they needed. “They felt very isolated and desperate,” Lin says, recounting the conversation. With resources from CAAL, publicized through the List and elsewhere, “they felt like someone cared about them.”
Lin has used the List for personal purposes, too. She attended high school in China, but many of her high school classmates are here in the United States. When she was organizing a high school reunion, she posted a message to the List asking for recommendations on a venue. Thanks to advice she received from John Rudy, a devoted Lexington List member, the reunion was held at a place in Newport. Seventy people attended. “It turned out to be a really great choice,” Lin says.

And Even the Weather…

List member JJ Krawczyk uses the list to, among other things, post his highly popular messages about local weather. He serves as a storm spotter for the National Weather Service, helping the NWS to track severe weather and its impact on communities. “The National Weather Service really likes getting pictures and information to document when there are extreme weather situations,” Krawczyk says. “If I send out a message to the List saying ‘send me pictures of damage or anything,’ people have really been good about that. I have a bunch of different eyes around town.” He sends the documentation along to the NWS, which allows them to see the actual storm results and correlate that to the data they were looking at. NWS uses the information to provide timely and accurate reports and help keep communities safer.

Sharing Ideas; Creating Community

Irene Dondley, one of the original List members, misses the small community that the List was in its early days, but still finds merit in hearing views that are unlike her own, in learning about town issues she might not have otherwise known about, and in staying connected to the larger community. “I had a window that was rotting and I put out a question about it and somebody contacted me off-list and I hired the person and it worked out well,” she says. “I think I found my electrician on the list. Things like that have been worthwhile.”
Umesh Shelat, a Town Meeting Member from Precinct 7, says that the lists help him stay informed about the many perspectives on various issues that he’ll have to vote on at Town Meeting. “The Lexington List,” he says, “is a great resource because Lexington by and large is a town of relatively thoughtful, intelligent people who spend a lot of time doing research for their day to day lives, and this is a forum that allows them to share the results of that intelligent, thoughtful analysis for everybody.”

Andrei Rădeulescu-Banu is a heavy user of Lex Pol-Rel, where he enjoys posting and reading about national and international issues. He reads widely, and when he comes upon something particularly striking, he feels a compulsion to share it. Lex Pol-Rel is his outlet. “You can put it on Facebook, but Facebook is not really that good a medium for these things because that’s more with friends and family,” he says. Pol-Rel is where he’s likely to find people interested in that information, and in sharing what they find.

A Lifeline

For Olga Guttag, the Lexington List has been nothing short of a lifeline. Even before the pandemic, health issues were keeping her cooped up in her house. “This was my connection to the world,” she says about the List. “I was a prisoner in my own home, and the List was definitely one of the ways I still felt that I was part of the community.” Guttag is known for sharing her knowledge of do-it-yourself home repair projects. In response to a recent question, she posted a message about how she fixed her driveway without having to redo the entire thing. “If I know something, I’ve probably done a lot of research, and it really irks me that all that research is used only by me, so if somebody asks a question on a topic that I know a lot about, I try to answer in detail,” she says. These days, Guttag is using the List to collect items needed by Ukrainian refugees.

A Gift and a Resource

As a person who loves information and is intellectually curious about the world, Forsdick has enjoyed watching the List grow and change and become a vital piece of the fabric of Lexington. He has archived every message ever sent to the Lexington List—a wonderful resource for history buffs, data geeks, and anyone wishing to look back at early 21st century Lexington history—and he welcomes as subscribers anyone who meets membership requirements. “I’ve learned a lot about the people who live in Lexington, how many different points of view and talents they have,” he says. “I’m glad that people feel that this is where they can turn to, to talk.”


Hank Manz, a three-term Select Board member and popular Scout leader, passed away in 2020, but his engaging posts to the Lexington List are still community favorites. Take, for example, Message No. 18,700, from June 18, 2011.

A resident who was uncomfortable with reptiles had turned to the List for advice on shooing away a garter snake that had taken up residence by her back door. Manz responded with a delightful riff on the wildlife in his and his wife Wendy’s yard: “When we had grubs in the lawn,” he wrote, “we had skunks. Seven of them to be exact.

Hank holding one of his campaign signs autographed by well-wishers at his retirement from the Select Board.

When the apple trees were really producing, we had a resident woodchuck. The compost pile attracts voles and the woodpile attracts shrews so we now have animals who drop in to hunt them including the neighborhood cats.

And we have a bumper crop of dandelions this year so now we have two resident rabbits. Storing seed in the shed brought us tons of mice and more than a few mini-bears, also known as chipmunks. Now we store leftover seed in metal bins. Oh, yes, we stopped putting out trash the night before so now the raccoons have moved on. They were entertaining, but very noisy … If a snake moves into our yard, he will have plenty to eat and we will welcome him.”



Membership on the Lexington List is open to residents of Lexington, METCO families whose children attend Lexington schools, and people who work for a company or organization at an office that’s located in Lexington. Posts are archived and visible to the public.

To join, read up on the rules at https://forsdick.weebly.com/lexlist.html , then click the blue “+Apply For Membership In This Group” button at https://groups.io/g/lexington/, or send an email to lexington+subscribe@groups.io . Subscribers can choose to receive each message as an individual email, or get messages in a digest (up to twelve messages grouped together in one email) or a daily summary.


Jeri Zeder is a long-time member of the Lexington List.

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