Around Town

Thanks a million: Local leaders grateful for a wide variety of reasons

WESTFIELD — Family, coworkers, COVID-19 vaccines, volunteers, the military and America itself are in for some thank-yous when people sit down for some turkey and cranberry sauce today.

The Westfield News asked local elected officials, school administrators and other public figures to share what they are thankful for today, and many of them started with the people they’ll be sharing supper with.

“I am thankful for my wife and son, my family and friends,” said Westfield Mayor Donald Humason Jr. “I am thankful for all God’s blessings, known and unknown. And I am thankful to live in the land of opportunity where I am free to pursue happiness. If life is all about collecting stories, then I’m thankful that I’ve got so many stories to tell.”

“I’m very thankful for the tremendous support and encouragement from family and friends I have received this past year,” said Southwick Select Board member Russell Fox. “When you are dealing with a challenging situation, knowing you have that incredible backing makes all the difference in the world.”

“I am especially thankful for family and all those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect and preserve our great democracy,” said Doreen Goyette-Crowley, chair of the Southwick Democratic Town Committee.

“I am grateful to my parents, who consistently offer love and support day in and day out, as well as my beautiful daughter, Charlotte, who brightens every day with her genuine love of life and boundless energy,” said Jessica Kennedy, principal of Westfield Middle School.

Westfield City Councilor Nicholas Morganelli thanked “my wife Jeanne and our children, friends, our church family, business owners, and acquaintances who genuinely exemplify a heart of love for other humans around them. They fulfill the great need for caring and kindness in our community and our world, especially now.”

Charles Jendrysik, the principal of Westfield High School, said he is thankful for his family — and “grateful to be able to celebrate a more traditional Thanksgiving this year with most of my family, and especially my mom and dad.

“They are two of the hardest working and most selfless people I know,” Jendrysik said of his parents. “They have taught me so much about life, love, and the importance of family.”

He also said he is thankful for his wife Julie, “a great wife, an unbelievable mother, and one of the best people that I know,” and their teenage children Nathan and Emily, who “keep me grounded and have helped to make me a better person.”

“I’m grateful for my family, their good health, and all the smiles, laughter and love throughout the holidays,” said state Rep. Nicholas Boldyga of Southwick.

“This Thanksgiving I have so much to be thankful for, but most of all, I am grateful for my family,” said state Sen. John Velis of Westfield. “After the crazy year we’ve had, I am overjoyed and incredibly excited that my wife Emily and I will welcoming a new addition to our family come January. We could not be more thrilled and thankful.”

“This is a great time of year to give pause and be thankful for what we have,” said state Rep. Kelly Pease of Westfield. “I am very thankful for my family and friends, and look forward to spending Thanksgiving at the home of my sister and brother-in-law, Shelley and Lee King. Thank you for hosting us for Thanksgiving dinner. I will miss my oldest son, Christopher Pease, who is currently serving in the Air Force at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany. As we give thanks for who and what we have in our lives, please say a prayer for the safety of those in the military and our first responders who will be serving and cannot be with their family during the holidays.”

Others echoed the gratitude for America, its democratic way of life, and its defenders in the military.

Deborah Herath, who has served on several town committees in Southwick, also said she is “thankful to be living in the USA, as I have lived in other, very repressive countries. Even with the current polarization, I believe we are a good and generous people. I’m grateful for a free press, voting, and opportunities to volunteer with caring community members. My husband and I are blessed to have friends and relatives we respect and love. Thanksgiving is a year-round state of being.”

Julie Barnes, Westfield’s director of veterans services, called caring for veterans “the best job I’ve ever had,” and said she’s also thankful for those who are currently serving in the armed services, National Guard and reserves.

“We all sign up with the expectation of being involved in a wartime conflict. That sacrifice is something none of us should take for granted,” Barnes said. She added: “I am grateful for those in the military chain of command who are placed in leadership positions. Most of these folks have been serving in the military for decades. I am thankful they dedicated their lives to the betterment of our nation. We may not agree with all their decisions, but whether it’s your squadron or battalion commander, your wing, fleet or division commander, secretary of defense or our presidents, all these individuals have devoted themselves to service to our country in hopes of making life better for everyone in the United States of America. Today, I say thank you — we are a grateful nation.”


Seniors and safety

Some government department heads said they were most thankful for their staff and coworkers in 2021. Tina Gorman, director of the Westfield Senior Center, said the “guidance, direction and reassurance” provided by Joe Rouse and Deb Mulvenna from the city’s Health Department have been “immeasurable,” and that she was “humbled and honored” to serve with a committed Senior Center staff and volunteer corps.

“On a good day, meeting the diverse physical, psychological and emotional needs of Westfield’s older adults can be daunting,” Gorman said. “Doing so during a prolonged pandemic has been overwhelming. I am incredibly grateful for the staff at the Council on Aging. They have continually readjusted to an ever-changing pandemic protocol landscape in order to effectively meet the needs of Westfield’s older adults. And they have done so with compassion, humor, and dogged determination.”

Two of the region’s public safety chiefs said they appreciate how much their communities appreciate them.

“I’m grateful to work in a community that supports and appreciates what we do,” said Westfield Police Chief Lawrence Valliere.

Russell Anderson, Southwick’s fire chief, said he is thankful first for his family, including the birth and continued health of twin grandchildren during the height of COVID-19. He also said he is thankful for the expansion of paramedic service in town.

“I am grateful for the support of Select Board and Finance Committee over the last few years having the commitment in bringing our service to the paramedic level of service 24 hours a day,” Anderson said. “This, blended with our call force, is making a huge difference in a reduction in response times and our effectiveness on scene. We are seeing first-hand both on medical and fire calls a big difference in the safety of the community.”

Jim Putnam II, Southwick’s former town moderator and chair of this year’s Southwick 250th anniversary celebration, said he is thankful for “COVID vaccinations and living in New England with high vax rates. This has saved so many lives, reduced suffering and eased the stress on ICU and other front-line health care personnel. It has allowed people to get back to work and our children back to school.”

He also said he is thankful for the success of the pandemic-delayed Southwick 250 events in October, and “grateful that we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Democracy has prevailed.”


Local community

“We live in a crazy world and it’s far too easy to only see the negative around us,” said Westfield School Committee member Diane Mayhew. “I am so grateful every time I see someone do a good deed for someone else. Even a small gesture can have a huge impact. Whether it’s helping to carry groceries for the elderly, or holding a door open for someone, good deeds rekindle my belief in the good of humanity. It is easy to get bogged down by society, but opening your eyes and seeing the good makes me thankful that there are still good people in the world.”

Westfield School Committee member Bo Sullivan said he is “thankful for this city. It was great to see that when times got tough, this city rallied and helped each other out. Great sense of community.”

Kathleen Hillman, who was recently elected to the Westfield School Committee, said she is grateful that the positive things she sees in Westfield can serve as a balance to the “lies, cheating, fraud, violence and trying to get away with things on technicalities” that she sees in national news.

“I am disillusioned. I want goodness, kindness and joy back,” Hillman said. “As Thanksgiving is approaching, I started to look inward into all of the wonderful public servants in our city. On the water issues in town I am thankful for Kristen Mello, Al Giguere, Fran Cain and Jane Okscin. Our city is a richer community by our arts community, Bill Westerlind, Shannon Chiba, Kathi Palmer, Bob Plasse and Jason Polan. Our local media is fortunate to have Peter Cowles, Ken Stomski and Amy Porter for keeping us informed. Our educational system and personnel have been superheroes. I am encouraged to know that Dave Flaherty is always watching out for the taxpayers. I am grateful for all of the Westfield dedicated public workers and citizens who take the time to be kind. It takes all of us to create a strong, loving community.”

“Anyone who knows me knows I have so many things to be thankful for in my life,” said Joseph Deedy, chair of the Southwick Select Board and owner of a restaurant and ice cream shop in town. “I’m thankful for my wonderful staff at Moolicious (some of which have been around for five or six years) for sticking with me and getting us through the ups and downs of the past couple of summers.

“I’m very thankful for everyone in our town who were able to put aside their differences and come together to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Southwick,” Deedy continued. “On the same note, I’m thankful for my fellow members of the Southwick Civic Fund for getting together the funds and organizing the entire event after the original plans fell through. I’m extremely fortunate to run this nonprofit with some amazing people who go nameless, yet at one phone call drop everything to help put together an event that flowed perfectly on the outside, despite the chaos behind the scenes. I truly could not have pulled it off without enormous help from Jim Putnam. Lastly, I’m thankful for my family. My wife of 30-plus years that has had my back through thick and thin — just another unsung hero that manages to put up with me. I’m thankful for my two great kids who have blessed me with one grandchild already and another on the way. As I’m writing this, I am thankful for the wonderful volunteers who are currently working tirelessly to put together more than 200 free Thanksgiving meals for our community, as well as the people and businesses whose generous donations make it possible.”

Kimberly Saso, principal at Woodland School in Southwick, expressed gratitude for the sense of community she feels at work.

“I am so thankful for the support of my Woodland School family who always rally to support each other during challenging times and celebrate each other’s joys and accomplishments.”

Cindy Gaylord, chair of the Westfield Historical Commission, wrote: “After the obvious family and friends, what I am very grateful for is our community’s continued interest in Westfield’s history. As a member of the Westfield Historical Commission, one of our goals is to preserve our city’s rich history while making it more accessible to the public. We have been delighted with the overwhelmingly positive support of our Historic Ghost Tours and are so grateful for the donations that fund our work in the Old Burying Ground. The other commissioners and I are also so thankful for Jay Pagluicca and all of the volunteers who helped at the Ghost Tours, and also for those who came to help at our gravestone cleaning days, in particular, Gene Theroux. We also want to give our thanks to Dave Procopio from Iron Pioneer for the fabulous restoration he recently completed on the front gate at the Old Burying Ground, and to Fred Gore and Adam Wright for their work to make our Virtual Historic Tours such a success. Finally, thank you to Bruce Cortis for all of his work on the updated inventory of the Old Burying Ground. We give our grateful thanks to all who do so much for Westfield and make it a great city in which to live.”

Westfield City Councilor David Flaherty said he is “thankful for my family and friends, our service men and women, our first responders, and all of the great public servants, board and commission members, and volunteers we have in Westfield — particularly the volunteers who help with so many of our youth and cultural programs. Big thanks to everyone who helped with any of our local holiday food drives.”


School staff

Several school leaders thanked their fellow educators for the work they have done in the past year, including weathering the changes in their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am thankful for my colleagues throughout Westfield Public Schools,” said Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski. “We see the effort that they are putting forth for our students. We see all the hard work that they are doing on behalf of the district. We see them and we thank them for all that they do.”

“This year, more than ever, I’m thankful for the Westfield Public School educators who come in each and every day to make sure all of our students feel safe, comfortable, and supported,” said Sal Frieri, principal at Munger Hill Elementary School. “I’m thankful that our kids are shown kindness, love, and acceptance by these wonderful professionals. And, I’m thankful that the children at our school are surrounded by such exemplary adults as they model grit, determination, and always show that there is a path to success for everyone.”

Jendrysik, at Westfield High, also said he thankful to be an educator.

“I have had the privilege to work with hundreds of students over 20-plus years in education,” he said. “Every day I get to see great things from students, and I am always impressed. They continually find ways to persevere, even when presented with obstacles. Our future is brighter than many may think. As an educator, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with countless individuals over the years who truly care about students and who put the needs of students first. Being an educator can be challenging, but I am truly encouraged by those in the profession who find a way to motivate, connect with, and inspire students to always reach higher and persevere.”

Superintendent Jennifer Willard said she is thankful for the staff and parents of the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District.

“I am thankful for our dedicated teachers and staff who prioritize the needs of our students and  work to ensure that our schools are a safe place for all students to learn to their full potential, and the parents of our school community who have worked collaboratively with our district to ensure student success throughout the pandemic,” she said.

“I am truly thankful for our students who, in spite of the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic, continue to work each and every day with great dedication and determination in pursuing their goals,” said Joseph Langone, principal of Westfield Technical Academy. “And I am especially grateful for our faculty and staff who never waver in their commitment to assisting them in achieving success.”

Kennedy, the principal of WMS, said “this year, I am grateful to be back in school with all of our staff and students under one roof. It is a genuine gift to see students learning in classrooms together.” She also said she is grateful for the parents at her school, “who have been kind, gracious, and supportive in assisting our students and staff.”

Franklin Avenue Elementary School Principal Chris Tolpa said she is “grateful for the shoes I walk in,” and “for our generous community who volunteer regularly in our schools, and those who assist our schools in providing Thanksgiving meals and Christmas presents to our Westfield families,” and “our staff — from teachers, paraprofessionals, kitchen, secretarial, and custodial employees — who continue to support, love, and nurture our children to be the best they can be each and every day.”

She also thanked the men and women who serve in the military, and expressed gratitude for her family.


Thanks for thanks

Heather Paparella, young adult librarian at the Southwick Public Library, said she is thankful for “the little things,” and added a reflection on the word “mindfulness”: “It’s become a commonplace word that can sometimes be interpreted in different ways; to mean paying attention to what you are doing or perhaps living in the moment. I’ve come to understand it as an act of gratitude. It’s taking the time to breathe a fresh breath of air in, and being grateful for it. It’s feeling the cool autumn air on my face and enjoying it. Eating a bite of food and savoring it. When going through a difficult time in life, noticing the littlest things moment by moment can see one through a dark day. When one is in a fortunate time in life, noticing the little things can make these times even sweeter, and joy will spread. Neither good times nor bad last forever, but taking the time to appreciate the little things will both help get through the bad times and appreciate the good ones. Cheers to the little things!”

“This is truly a season to give thanks,” commented Southwick Select Board member Douglas Moglin. “I’m thankful that my daughter is coming home for Thanksgiving after her first semester at college. She and I plan to again participate in helping prepare the Southwick Civic Fund Thanksgiving for All meal, as we have done for the last several years. It’s times like these that one can pause to give thanks for all that we have.”

Tim O’Connor, vice chair of the Westfield School Committee, gave thanks for the holiday itself.

“Thanksgiving is an opportunity to spend some special time with family and friends, counting your blessings for what you have, and remembering those who may not be as fortunate as you,” O’Connor said. “Happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope you have a wonderful holiday!”

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