Today marks the final full day of Mayor Patrick Murphy’s term. On Friday, Mayor Murphy and his aide signed the Mayoral guest book, which contains signatures dating back to 1905. Notables include the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and Hollywood greats Alfred Hitchcock and Dorothy Lamour (see this post: http://room50.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/hollywood-greats-signed-mayors-guest-book/) as well as decades worth of the who’s who of Lowell and the region.
By Jennifer Myers
Theresa Quigley was 16-years-old when she and her sister Dorothy were trapped inside the burning Omaha Packing Company meat packing plant on January 6, 1943; her clothing burned away from her chest and shoulders. Her hair was burned to the scalp in spots; her shoulders ribboned with blisters.
If this story sounds familiar to you, it may be because I blogged about it last May. Revisit that post here: http://room50.wordpress.com/2013/05/24/omaha-packing-company-fire-1943/
The catalyst to that post was a Christmas card sent to Lowell Fire Chief Edward “Skip” Pitta from Ms. Quigley, the first correspondence he had ever received from her. At the time I attempted to contact her, but having not received a response to my letter, wrote the story anyway in May.
Last week, I was pleasantly surprised when a Christmas card arrived in Room 50, addressed to me from Vidalia, Georgia. Inside the card was a handwritten letter from Theresa Quigley Mapes, now 87-years-old, which she begins by apologizing for her late reply.
In 1945 she married Edwin Walker from Newburyport; they were married for 42 years. She has five children, 24 grandchildren, 54 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren. Whew!
“I keep myself busy by doing a lot of sewing,” she wrote. “I also keep myself busy helping some homeless get back on their feet and taking them to Drs, shopping, or wherever they need to go.”
As if that wasn’t great enough . . . Theresa also knits legwarmers for people living in nursing homes and calls bingo twice a week.
“The people I helped I took in my home where they could take hot showers and have hot meals and a place to sleep until they get back on their feet,” she wrote. “And having them around was good company for me. It was good to hear them talk about how they became homeless.”
She explained she is no longer able to help the homeless the way she used to because last May she fell and broke her hip; the limited mobility led her to move from Florida to Georgia to live with her daughter.
“I am sorry I didn’t get to answer any sooner,” she added. “But next time I’ll be quicker. I got to go now so I can get this in the mail.”
The six-acre solar farm upon the hill that once served as the city’s landfill has begun producing electricity. An initial 333kW has been permitted to be put on line, City Manager Bernie Lynch’s office announced today.
All design, construction, operation and maintenance costs for the solar farm are covered by Framingham-based energy services company Ameresco.
In return, Ameresco will provide the city with discounted electricity from the panels over the next 20 years; then the city will retain ownership of the array.
At the September 2012 groundbreaking of the solar farm, City Manager Bernie Lynch said repurposing the site will save the city $1.5 million to $2 million over the next 20 years.
Once complete the landfill site will include 1.5 megawatts solar array producing clean electricity. When fully operational and combined with existing installations, solar will supply 6% of the City’s electricity usage, half of which will be provided by the landfill installation. Total electricity used by the City last year was 43.4 million kWh.
“This innovative project exemplifies the progress we have made to make Lowell an energy efficient community and an example of what can be done to reduce energy costs, improve efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions,” City Manager Bernie Lynch said in a press release. “It is a remarkable re-use of the City’s former landfill site and we look forward to finding new opportunities to utilize sustainable approaches to reduce our energy costs along with our carbon footprint.”
Ameresco has invested in solar panel projects throughout the city including the landfill, the Reilly, Shaughnessy and Pawtucketville Memorial elementary schools, the Butler Middle School and Lowell Memorial Auditorium, as well as the Water Utility headquarters on Pawtucket Boulevard and the Wastewater treatment plan on First Street.
In late 2008, after entertaining proposals from six firms Lynch entered into a 20-year performance contract with Ameresco, aimed at increasing energy efficiency and saving energy costs.
In April 2010, the City Council, in a 7-2 vote with Councilors Bud Caulfield and Rodney Elliott in opposition, approved the borrowing of $21 million to fund a wide range of energy efficiency projects impacting 28 schools and 19 city facilities by replacing roofs, installing new windows, energy-efficient heating systems and instituting conservation measures.
The $21 million loan is paid back by the $1.5 million in annual savings brought forth by the project, resulting in no cost to the city’s taxpayers and leaving the city with sustainable buildings, a much smaller carbon footprint and a 25 percent smaller energy bill.
The project is anticipated to save the city $43 million over the next two decades, as well as the equivalent of 6,158 tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is equivalent to taking 1,023 cars off the road for one year.
At the groundbreaking, Mayor Patrick Murphy, who has championed green projects and initiatives since joining the City Council in January 2010, said the project will leave a “lasting impact,” and credited the Lynch administration with working the Ameresco to “get the best deal possible for the city.”
Looking up at the mountain that is the capped landfill, Murphy stated Lowell will continue to “be a leader in sustainability,” and harkened back to the words of John Winthrop, the state’s first governor who said “we should be a city upon a hill.”
“Lowell is a can-do city with a vision; that is what distinguishes Lowell from many other communities we work with,” Jim Walker, Ameresco’s director of solar grid-tie projects said at the groundbreaking, singling out then-CFO Tom Moses and Procurement Officer Michael Vaughn for their cooperation in making the project a reality. “They are people who are dedicated to the community, who have a vision for the community.”
The city has received several awards for the Ameresco project to date including:
The 2012 New England Region Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Project of the Year from the U.S. Department of Energy.
A $129,000 Green Communities grant, a competitive grant for energy projects in schools.
The 2011 Municipal Leading by Example Award.
By Jennifer Myers
2013 was a fun and busy year in Room 50. Here is a look back:
LRTA and City officials joined Mayor Patrick Murphy in opening the first of several new bus shelters. This one is at Lincoln Park on Chelmsford Street. Bus shelters were one of the initiatives brought forward by Murphy in his first term as a City Councilor, as part of his vision to increase accessibility, convenience and ease of public transportation.
Murphy invoked the Mayor of Bogota, Colombia, who last year said: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It is one where the rich use public transportation.”
The shelters were purchased by the LRTA using funding from a Federal Transportation Administration Grant from the U.S. Dept of Transportation. The city is responsible for installing and maintaining the shelters, eight of which are equipped with advertising cabinets — the revenue from which will offset the maintenance costs.
Mayor Murphy joined in a roundtable discussion with Attorney General Martha Coakley, City Manager Bernie Lynch, Assistant City Manager/Director of Planning and Development Adam Baacke, and other stakeholders regarding the impact of the foreclosure crisis on the city and region.
He was also on-hand at the grand opening of UMass Lowell ‘s NERVE (New England Robotic Validation and Experimentation) Center on Pawtucket Boulevard, under the direction of Professor Holly Yanco.
“As the University goes, so goes the city,” said Mayor Patrick Murphy, lauding the partnership between the city and university, a key to the region’s economic vitality.
And . . . at the grand opening of Lowell Community Health Center’s impressive $42 million 100,000 sq. foot headquarters in the Hamilton Manufacturing Co. mills at 161 Jackson Street. The LCHC serves 50,000 patients annually — half of the city’s population.
Mayor Murphy participated in Read Across America at the Lincoln Elementary School along with several members of the Lowell Police Department including then-Superintendent Ken Lavallee and Deputy Superintendent Arthur Ryan Jr.
He also . . . got all dressed up and uh . . . told some jokes . . . at the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center.
Muphy read from Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s “The Cure at Troy,” an adaptation of Sophocles’ play Philoctetes, which reads in part:
History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.
“As Mayor, I hope and pray for peace in our hearts and on the streets,” Murphy concluded.
Mayor Murphy joined the Merrimack Valley Food Bank and then-USDA Northeast Region Regional Administrator James Arena-DeRosa (now running for Lt. Governor), at the Healthy Summer press conference at City Hall.
And celebrated St. Jean Baptiste Day and Franco-American Week with the city’s Franco-American community.
July was a month of multicultural celebration in the Mill City, starting with a ribbon cutting welcoming KhmerPostUSA, a bi-weekly Khmer/English newspaper to their new headquarters on Merrimack Street. The party continued with a Dominican flag raising at City Hall.
The event was organized by Pastor Rafael Najem of the Community Christian Fellowship, who has created a relationship with officials in several Dominican cities to bolster his parish’s efforts to aid the poor of that island nation. More than 100 people, including a delegation of 30 visiting from the Dominican Republic, as well as contingents from Spain and Holland attended.
August was BUSY . . . starting with a Puerto Rican flag raising.
In the middle of the month, Mayor Murphy and City Manager Bernie Lynch welcomed the young men and women of the Career Center’s Van Crew to City Hall to thank them for the hard clean-up and landscaping work they did during the summer, in heat and in rain, in the city’s parks and green spaces.
August concluded with a press conference at the Gallagher Terminal announcing the LRTA would be expanding the hours of its nighty bus service, an expansion Mayor Murphy had championed for several years.
George Murphy was a bus driver for the Eastern Bus Company, who used his platform as a city councilor, to advocate for expanded bus service.
“I’m happy to follow in that line,” said Mayor Murphy, adding that the LRTA has been a great partner with the city and very responsive to the needs of its residents, unlike Eastern Bus, who never complied with the elder Murphy’s requests.“The LRTA recognizes the importance of public transportation not only to our city, but the importance of public transportation to sustainable development for years to come.”
In mid-September Mayor Murphy enjoyed a visit by a second grade class from the Immaculate Conception School. He gave them the real scoop about the City Council . . . and tried to recruit a few of them to run for office.
Cortron, founded in 1969, designs and manufactures rugged keyboards used by the U.S. Armed Forces as well as NASA. Their work can be found in submarines, fighter jets and in outer space. The company had been located in Lowell, on Walker Street, until moving to Methuen in the late 1980′s.
And that night was off to UTEC, for the Pollard Memorial Library’s “Lowell Reads What Lowell Writes Event,” where several Lowell authors including Paul Marion, Ryan Gallagher, Ricky Orng, Dave Robinson and Rachel Norton read from their work. Murphy read from the works of one of his favorite poets, Seamus Heaney.
In October it was time to christen the new housing units at Perkins Park.
The project, developed by Mira Development and Charter Environmental, joins their initial development the 183-unit Lofts at Perkins Park in the former Hub Hoisery and McQuade buildings (opened in 2009), as well as a 370-space parking garage, in bringing life back to that section of the neighborhood.
The project, spearheaded by City Councilor Marty Lorrey, also includes a renovation of the park’s tennis courts.
November saw the opening of Lowell Makes, a membership-driven collaborative space. A place where people can access and utilize tools and equipment too cost prohibitive to keep in their garage like laser cutters and 3D printers; a place to learn or practice trades like wood and metal working, or to get involved with electronics or software.
November also brought a very special visitor to Lowell. Former Irish President Dr. Mary McAleese visited and spoke at St. Patrick’s Church and later enjoyed a reception at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center.
The City Council Chamber hosted two very special occasions in November. The first happened on the 20th when Mayor Murphy presented Alfred Buckley with his Lowell High School diploma. Buckley, 67 of Pepperell, dropped out of school in 1963 to join the U.S. Army.
Under Massachusetts state law, school committees have the authority to issue high school diplomas to honorably discharged veterans who fought in World War II, the Korean or Vietnam Wars, who joined the Armed Forces prior to completing their high school graduation requirements.
Later that week, Mayor Murphy was in the Acre, welcoming the Medeiros and Pol families to their new homes, which they helped build along with Habitat for Humanity on a Rock Street site donated by the city.
And in the downtown he welcomed Pawsitive Thoughts, a dog bakery and boutique to Central Street.
The City of Lights wasn’t enough. We continued the party into December with the best Mayor’s Holiday Reception ever. More than 300 people who live and/or work in the city stopped by during the two-hour fete.
Mayor Murphy was at the Lowell Community Charter Public School on Friday December 13 to celebrate the life of former South African President and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela along with the African Cultural Association of Greater Lowell.
As the year and the term come to an end, I’d like to thank all who have read this blog over the last year and 5 months. In that time, 255 posts were written, attracting more than 64,000 hits from 96 nations around the world.
Bored sitting through class after class of material he did not think he would ever use, led to some . . . uh . . . “outspoken” behavior that left Dave Ouellette off the invitation list to return to Lowell High School his senior year.
Instead, he was placed in a program with, as he recalls, “the 40 worst kids.” Essentially it was a type of alternative high school program for the troubled kids who were not progressing in a traditional educational model.
It was in this program that Ouellette, the 17-year-old kid from the Acre, developed an idea for a board game based on the historical attributes of his hometown . . . The Old Mill Town on the Merrimack River. It was an idea supported by Superintendent of Schools (and Father of the Lowell National Historical Park) Pat Mogan, who mentored Ouellette and assisted in the development of the game that takes players from the County Jail on Thorndike Street to the Ladd and Whitney monument, Lowell City Hall, the Old Post Office and beyond . . . purchasing souvenirs along the way.
“I wanted it to be a fun game where you could learn little facts about the city as you go,” said Ouellette.
Young Dave, today the Senior Code Enforcement Inspector for the City of Lowell and President of ACTION (Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood) , did manage to graduate from Lowell High School in 1979. Upon his graduation, he was presented with a check for $500 from LHS teacher David Delisle, who had become his mentor and friend. The money was for start -up costs to have the game printed.
Twenty-Five hundred games were printed by Nancy Sales Company of Watertown. Dave signed and sold hundreds of them through the Lowell Museum. Ouellette Enterprises also designed and sold Lowell ashtrays, bells, coffee mugs and jigsaw puzzles.
When the feds moved in and took over the Lowell Museum for the Lowell National Historical Park, “they killed the business of a young entrepreneur” Ouellette said.
They would not sell the “knick-knacks” and were slow in ordering and paying for the games, no longer making it profitable to produce them, despite continued demand.
The dozen games that remained were stored in Dave’s basement; the edition he gifted to me this week is the first to be opened in more than 20 years.
Given the renewed interest in Lowell history, Dave is considering starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to create an updated version of the game. Anyone interested?
It started in Union Square, Somerville in 2006 . . . the El Potro revolution. Fresh, scratch-made Mexican favorites served in a festive, cozy atmosphere.
Thursday afternoon, city officials gathered at 124 Merrimack Street to welcome El Potro papi Elias Interiano to his restaurant’s newest location, right here in Downtown Lowell in the space formerly occupied by Mr. Jalapeno.
For more information about El Potro, including the menu, visit http://elpotromexicangrill.com/
He was known as the Father of Africa, but the influence of Nelson Mandela reached much further than the shores of the Africa, an influence and legacy that was on display Friday night at the Lowell Community Charter Public School where the African Cultural Association of Greater Lowell and members of the community celebrated the life of the freedom fighter and icon known affectionately as Madiba.
“We have all lost a strong voice for peace and justice in the world,” said Mayor Patrick Murphy. “In his life, Nelson Mandela struggled for no less than the freedom of his people, at great cost to himself and his family. Jailed away for three decades, he later prevailed in the end to Apartheid, and began as president to heal a nation divided by its history of tyranny and oppression.
“It is perhaps tempting for some to bury that struggle with its fallen leader, to extricate it from part of a wider, deeper, living pursuit of justice throughout the world,” Murphy continued. “It’s always worthwhile, then, at times like these, to not only celebrate how far we have come because of the efforts of people like Mandela, but also to remind ourselves of the work undone.”
In addition to Murphy, other elected officials who attended the celebration included State Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Middlesex North Register of Deeds Richard Howe Jr. and City Councilor Rita Mercier.
Although there was sadness in the room as the community mourned the December 5 passing of the former South African President at the age of 95, the prevailing feeling throughout the auditorium was one of hope, appreciation and celebration embodied in the performances of the LCCPS Percussion Ensemble, singers Daniela Deny and Samone Cobb, the Osibi Drumming and Singing Group of Lowell and the Singo Dance Group from Vermont.
African Cultural Association President Levenia Furusa reminded those assembled of one of Mandela’s most famous quotes “lead from behind and let others believe they are in front.”
“Viva Mandela!” she yelled to a chorus of “Viva!” from the crowd.
Donoghue spoke of Mandela’s remarkable influence, illustrated by the number of world leaders who flocked to South African this week to memorialize him, as well as the tens of thousands who stood in the pouring rain to pay their respects.
“He lived his entire 95 years with dignity,” she said, adding Mandela’s lived life with grace and foregiveness despite the injustices done to him and his people. Despite the adversity he faced, Mandela continued fighting for “equality, dignity and justice for all.”
On December 31, 1999 at the turn of the Millennium, Mandela visited the prison cell at Robins Island he had called home for so many years and lit a candle, Gordon Halm told the crowd.
“The light of the candle symbolizes freedom,” Halm said. Tonight let the light shine upon him. That light in the cell — may that light continue to shine upon our lives.”