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Editorial: Thankful for Sandy Sayers’ impact on United Way


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Here are some brief thoughts on some of the events making news from around Franklin County and the North Quabbin area:

At the end of the Franklin County United Way’s annual campaign in June, Sandy Sayers will retire from her position as executive director after three years on the job.

At 63, with a husband recently retired and sandwiched between generations, she’s making a sensible choice, although one that will create a hole hard to fill at the charity.

“We just want to be able to enjoy some time while we are still healthy,” Sayers said recently, still dealing with the fact that 35 years of fundraising work for various agencies in Franklin County is coming to a close.

Sayers has worked with the local United Way for the past five years, while serving as its executive director beginning in 2015.

She came on at a time when the organization, both locally and nationally, was figuring out how to deal with a decline in workplace campaigns, particularly with the decline of industrial jobs that are locally owned and run.

“She was brought in to try to help us … build relationships with the community,” Larry Geiser, president of the United Way board of directors, explained. It was her job to steady the ship, he said, and that she did.

On top of the ice

Everyone in Athol deserves credit for a very professional and effective response to localized flooding and potential damage to a downtown bridge from an ice jam on the Miller River last week.

Ice broke free from somewhere upriver early in the morning, sweeping away three steel brackets securing a 10-inch water main beneath the Exchange Street Bridge and causing localized flooding, prompting emergency officials to evacuate senior citizens from Morton Meadows complex on South Main Street.

The emergency response saw rescue crews and Orange-Athol Housing Authority employees immediately helping move the dozens of tenants to safety, placing them with family, friends, in a local nursing home or in lodging provided by The Salvation Army Athol Corps, housing authority and United Way.

Morton Meadows’ office was bustling with a full staff Tuesday.

Housing Authority Executive Director Christi Martin said safety of tenants is “top priority,” crediting the Athol Fire Department with keeping tabs on “everything.”

Funded mandate

Wow. For once the state government may pay for a state-mandated law.

Some Franklin County towns got word last week they may be reimbursed for the costs of early voting last November, as the state auditor has recommended $1,063,978 in compensation to the 351 municipalities in Massachusetts.

Suzanne Bump ruled the 2014 state law requiring all voters have the option of early voting in the general election must be paid by the state. Municipalities are required by the early voting law to permit residents to vote up to 12 days before Election Day.

Bump has recommended $14,707.15 be dispersed throughout 16 Franklin County towns.

All reimbursements must be approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor before cities and towns receive the money. We’ll see.

Renaissance man

Bernardston lost a good person when Ed Phelps, a town native, died recently. He studied about Bernardston, wrote about Bernardston, sang about Bernardston, and although he loved playing old-time music as a self-taught fiddler, he also did organic gardening and sustainable forestry in town long before most people knew what those were. He also was a beekeeper.

When Phelps died at 82 in Greenfield’s Buckley Nursing Home, where he’d been for just three days, he was remembered as a Renaissance man with an “old Yankee sensibility,” as well as a dry, wry sense of humor, according to a Bernardston cousin, Marvin Shedd, who became part of the Falltown String Band that Phelps helped found 30 years ago.

Phelps taught English at Greenfield Junior High School from the mid-1960s until retirement in 1994.

“I’d call him a Jack-of-all-trades,” said Jim Fotopoulos, who taught social studies with him for three decades. He was called a master teacher by long-time friends and remembered as a serious, if down-home, musician.

He gave back to the community by serving as a selectman in the 1980s, as well as a Bernardston Historical Society member who was dedicated to restoration of Powers Institute.

We could use more people like him.