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Bernardston Senior Center director celebrates retirement

  • Retiring Bernardston Senior Center Director Dianne Cornwell with a quilt signed by Senior Center users during a luncheon honoring her on Wednesday. February 28, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Retiring Bernardston Senior Center Director Dianne Cornwell, center, shares a laugh with Emmett Schmersow, the State Program Manager for Council on Aging, left, and former BSC Director Joanne Balzarini Wednesday during a luncheon honoring her. February 28, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Retiring Bernardston Senior Center Director Dianne Cornwell, center, shares a laugh with Emmett Schmersow, the State Program Manager for Council on Aging, left, and former BSC Director Joanne Balzarini Wednesday during a luncheon honoring her. February 28, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...



Recorder Staff
Wednesday, February 28, 2018

BERNARDSTON — Many say Dianne Cornwell has brought the Bernardston Senior Center and Council on Aging to greatness over the past 15 years, working tirelessly to ensure the local senior population is cared for.

This Thursday may very well be her first truly free day in the past 15 years, since she is officially retiring from her position as director. A day before that, her coworkers, volunteers and the senior community threw her a lively farewell party.

The senior center’s function room was filled with food, balloons and a substantial crowd of senior community members who wished to bid farewell to the director. Cornwell could be seen walking up to each new person who entered the room, greeting them and sharing stories of her time at the center.

Appreciation for Cornwell didn’t stop at those she knew at the center.

State Rep. Paul Mark stopped by on his way to Boston to award Cornwell with an official proclamation from the House of Representatives that offered its “sincere congratulations” to Cornwell. The gift was signed by Mark and the Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo.

“This is awesome,” Cornwell exclaimed.

Widespread appreciation

“She’s done a lot for the senior center. She built the programs and fundraised for them,” said Nora Bixby, a member of the Council on Aging.

Some of the programs she introduced to the senior center over her 15 years are exercise programs, movie nights, Monday night dinner, tax prep and a foot clinic. She even arranged to have YMCA instructors come to the center so elderly people don’t have to find transportation to get there.

“This is the busiest senior center in Franklin County, I think,” said Bixby.

Bixby mentioned that loneliness and isolation are two of the “main factors” that lead to seniors’ early demise, and Cornwell’s work was an integral part of assuring that seniors felt cared for and were entertained.

Another local, Ann Marie Meltzer, had nothing but kind words to say about Cornwell.

“Seven or eight years ago ... my whole life got changed,” she said.

Meltzer attended a retired senior volunteer program, and Cornwell asked her to substitute teach an exercise class. Now, in her late 70s, she teaches five group exercise classes at the senior center.

“It’s all because of (Cornwell),” she said, beaming. “She changed my life.”

Cornwell’s predecessor, Joanne Balzarini, also attended Cornwell’s party. The two sat in chairs, chatting with each other like old friends.

Balzarini was director for 17 years before she retired and Cornwell took over.

According to Balzarini, Cornwell was trying to find funding for renovating the current senior center even before she knew she’d eventually be running it.

“Dianne has been an excellent director,” Balzarini said. “I’m so proud she’s taken it this direction.”

The former director believes the immense support for Cornwell and her programs will help the Selectboard see how important the senior center is to the town.

Emmett Schmarsow, program manager for councils on aging and senior centers, walked into the room and was immediately wrapped in a bear hug by Cornwell.

“Virtually every director is great to work with,” said Schmarsow. “But Dianne ... she just makes things happen.”

He went on to say that it will be difficult to replace Cornwell’s determination, sense of humor and hard work in the senior center.

“Aging is not a sentence. It’s an opportunity,” he said. “She’s made it an opportunity.”

Schmarsow later read a poem about Cornwell’s selfless work and made a speech about his appreciation for her.

“It’s hard to put ‘love’ and ‘government’ in the same sentence, but I think you did it,” he said to Cornwell.

A special gift

The room quieted as Cornwell was presented with a silver-wrapped gift. As she opened it, a green and white quilt unfurled. The soon-to-be retiree gasped and smiled as she admired its geometric patterns.

While she found the patterns beautiful, she quickly noticed something even more special. More than a hundred signatures graced the back of the quilt, all from people who knew and admired her.

“This is the best gift ever,” Cornwell exclaimed.

Also among the signatures were former U.S. Rep. John Olver, seniors who have retired and moved to Florida, and the Romeos music group that often play at the senior center, including at Cornwell’s farewell party.

A selfless worker

In 15 years, Cornwell received a $1 raise, and she didn’t take it.

Instead, she told the Selectboard to use that money to bring someone else on board to the senior center.

Thanks to the efforts of Cornwell, this senior center is the only five-day weekly meal site and exercise class site for seniors in Franklin County. Volunteers bring seniors to the center in vans if they can’t drive. In addition to Bernardston, seniors come from Northfield to the center.

“I’ve been lucky through the years to have a group of people behind me,” Cornwell said, thanking all of her volunteers and those who supported her for the past 15 years. She still plans to be involved with the center even after she is officially retired.

“I thank you for the privilege of being your director,” she said. “I’ll be taking that hat off. Tomorrow I’ll be retired.”

She paused and grinned.

“I’ll see you all Monday!” she exclaimed as the audience erupted with laughter.

Reach Christie Wisniewski at:

cwisniewski@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 280