WESTFIELD – “Happy Birthday, Westfield!” shouted Westfield 350 President Harry Rock Friday afternoon at the kick-off event for the city’s 350th anniversary celebration.
The City Council Chamber was filled with residents and city officials as Rock and Mayor Brian P. Sullivan hosted the first of many events planned for the weekend.
Rock said when he was asked to lead the effort, he was overwhelmed. But, he said, it was an opportunity to tout all Westfield has to offer and give back.
“I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be a lot of work’,” said Rock. “But, the way I spell Westfield is H-O-M-E. Is it not our responsibility to give back to our community?”
Rock said the citizens are the reason he and the entire Westfield 350 have worked so hard the past two years to create nearly a year’s worth of events, culminating in this one weekend.
Rock thanked the many volunteers and city employees who came together to bring his vision of a fun, memorable and educational celebration to fruition.
“And it will be fun, it will be education, and it WILL be memorable,” Rock said.
The Westfield High School Choir performed for the audience and proclamations and greetings were offered by state Sen. Donald F. Humason and state Rep. John Velis. Humason also offered recognition from Gov. Charlie Baker.
Rock was visibly emotional and wiped away tears a few times as he spoke about the great effort of many people and the support of residents.
“It takes a village,” he said. “And what a village! This could not have happened without you.”
At the end of the ceremony, a mural by local artist Pat Conant was unveiled in the second-floor hallway at City Hall.
Even Rock had not seen the piece ahead of the unveiling.
“I wanted to peek, but I didn’t,” he said.
When the black drape was removed, Conant’s work depicting images of Westfield from 1669 to the present were revealed.
The photographic images – given to Conant by the Westfield Athenaeum – were reproduced on metal and framed in wood.
Current Mayor Sullivan and his brother, former Mayor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. and recent Mayor Daniel Knapik are depicted, as well as Rock.
“I am so stunned,” Rock said. “I never imagined my face would be there. I’m stunned and flattered and most of all, honored.”
Conantsaid the art piece is 14-feet long and was fabricated by Valley Etching in Holyoke. She also has a mural in the Westfield District Courthouse.
While the more recent images were familiar to everyone at the unveiling, one woman recognized a face from the past – her grandmother.
“I saw her and I just said ‘Wow’,” said Sue Whalen.
Her grandmother Katherine (Foster) Price was a nurse at Noble Hospital in the 1920s and is pictured with a group of nurses in one of the images. Whalen said it was a nice surprise and felt connected to the piece.
“She met my grandfather at Noble, who also worked there and many members of my family have worked at the hospital,” said Whalen, who works at Baystate Noble Hospital today. “It’s family.”
Another art piece with images of Westfield today was displayed at the event. Students in Sue Willey’s Introduction to Photography class at Westfield High School created a collage of photos that they worked on all year.
Willey said she received a grant from the Westfield Cultural Council to purchase ink and paper and students were given assignments throughout the year.
“They had to have two pictures of houses, two professions, people over age 50 and under age 18 and pictures of significant locations in the city,” she said. The background of the piece includes full-color photographs of places, while inside the letters spelling out Westfield are black and white faces.
“We brought it to show the students’ work, but if the city wants to display it, we are happy to give it as a gift to Westfield,” she said.
The Westfield 350 celebration continues throughout Saturday and ends with a parade Sunday. Details are available at westfield350.org.