Carolyn Shores Ness is Recorder’s 2021 Citizen of the Year

  • Selectboard member Carolyn Shores Ness, seen in Deerfield Town Hall, has served on countless local and state boards and has worked to further many causes. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Deerfield Selectboard member and Board of Health Chair Carolyn Shores Ness holds a “forever stamp” honoring the South County Emergency Dispensing Group’s efforts in navigating the pandemic and organizing a vaccination drive in August. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 12/16/2021 11:55:39 PM
Modified: 12/16/2021 11:55:05 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Pick up any of Carolyn Shores Ness’ weekly planners over the years and you’ll find the same quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The quote, which is attributed to American anthropologist Margaret Mead, was the topic of a writing assignment when Shores Ness was a student at Northfield Mount Hermon School, and it has found its way onto the front page of every single one of her planners as a philosophy she ingrained in herself throughout her decades of public service.

This year, Shores Ness, who has served on the Deerfield Selectboard/Board of Health for 18 years and has spent years upon years on countless other local and state boards, has been named the Greenfield Recorder’s 39th Citizen of the Year. Shores Ness will be honored at Friday’s Franklin County Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

“Honestly, I was really surprised,” Shores Ness said while sitting in Deerfield’s Town Hall last week, “because I don’t really do anything by myself. I have really great partners and people to work with.”

Shores Ness and that group of thoughtful, committed citizens brought positive change to Franklin County this year in the form of the South County Emergency Dispensing Group’s COVID-19 vaccine clinics at Tree House Brewing. For years, Shores Ness has helped the group train in case of public health emergencies, and because of that training, they were able to get shots into the arms of thousands of residents.

“It’s a wonderful feeling we were able to do everything we could to protect our community,” Shores Ness said. “It’s the commitment by my volunteers that I’m proud of.”

Nominations

The Greenfield Recorder selects its Citizen of the Year through nominations submitted by its readers. The newspaper’s editorial board makes the final decision on who will be honored. This year, the Recorder received nominations for 36 people who are heavily involved in the area’s communities.

Deerfield resident Janice James nominated Shores Ness for her “commitment to keeping the people in not only our town safe, but our community as well.”

“What has impressed me the most currently and I feel has impacted us all, is her tireless effort to coordinate the COVID-19 vaccine clinics at the Tree House Brewing Company in South Deerfield,” James wrote. “Carolyn was there from start to finish, along with others, to make the clinics run smoothly and to help us survive these tough times.”

In her nomination, Deerfield Planning Board Chair Analee Wulfkuhle highlighted Shores Ness’ modest approach to town government and her willingness to always get the job done.

“Self-effacing and always ready to collaborate, Carolyn works to keep Franklin County in the foreground while she stays in the background. She is a mentor, tireless worker, advocate for emotional and physical health, and a truly loving, giving person who always has a smile and a ready laugh, even in the toughest of times,” Wulfkuhle wrote. “She is a role model truly worthy of the Citizen of the Year award.”

Fellow Deerfield resident Ava Gips called Shores Ness the “Mother of Deerfield” and said she is a “truly remarkable person.”

“Carolyn really cares about people, and is a cooperator and a collaborator,” Gips wrote. “Those are her secret powers for getting things done.”

Family matters

Shores Ness is not the first in the family to be named Citizen of the Year. Her father, William Shores, was named Citizen of the Year in 1997 for his 16-year role as a Bernardston Selectboard member and his contributions to the community. Shores Ness said her father died earlier this year and her thoughts immediately went to him when she was informed she had won.

“I was really shocked I was singled out for it, and then my second thought was that it was really sad my dad had passed and he wasn’t here to see it,” she said. “My mother’s obviously pleased, but I think just having my father know up there is a good thing.”

With her father’s dedicated service to Bernardston and her mother’s work with the Historical Society, public service runs in Shores Ness’ blood. She said “there was always someone at the house sitting down, discussing how they were going to solve a problem,” which she noted was legal before the state’s Open Meeting Law was passed.

“My dad was a selectman in Bernardston and always involved in town stuff, and my mom always had a pot of coffee on the stove and a piece of pie. They just solved stuff at the kitchen table, so I sort of do that, except with sticky buns,” she said. “They were great role models … so that’s why it’s hard my dad’s not here to see this and appreciate that. He was such a great influence.”

Shores Ness has four kids herself and two grandchildren that can often be heard in the background of Zoom calls during town meetings. She said she carried on her family’s style of meeting at home when she helped create the Deerfield Land Trust.

“We were signing the 501(c)(3) papers (tax-exemption forms) as I was in labor with my daughter, my fourth kid,” Shores Ness said. “We’d have meetings at my kitchen table because I had four kids under 6, and for me, going to a meeting was very tough.”

Regional network

From her time serving on regional boards such as the Shelburne Control Oversight Board or Massachusetts Watershed Coalition, Shores Ness has built a wide-ranging web of connections across the county and the state.

This sort of networking led to Shores Ness helping organize the Municipal Coalition Against Pipelines, which was established in opposition to the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline. The group was composed of many Franklin County towns opposing a pipeline proposed by Texas-based energy company Kinder Morgan, which pulled the plug on the project in 2016.

To succeed on these broad issues, she said collaboration is essential.

“I just encourage everyone to work together and come up with a solution because the solution is better as a group,” she said. “You always try to do the right thing, and it’s not always the popular thing. … It pans out in the end.”

A short list of committees and boards Shores Ness has served on includes, but is not limited to, Deerfield’s Selectboard/Board of Health and Planning Board, and the Massachusetts State Commission for Conservation of Soil, Water and Related Resources. She also founded the Pioneer Valley Mosquito Control District, the county Regional Emergency Planning Committee and the Western Region Homeland Security Council. Additionally, she was involved in the process of forming the “outstanding” South County EMS and is still the fiscal agent today.

“I’m proud of big things, as well as little things,” she said.

Shores Ness said the engine behind many of these communities is being able to work well with others.

“All of this stuff boils down to having good relationships with people and appreciating what everybody brings to the table,” Shores Ness said. “Certainly, I don’t do this by myself and it’s always so satisfactory to have these wonderful relationships with people.”

She highlighted her relationship with Charlemont Fire Chief Dennis Annear as an example of something that has come out of her time working on regional partnerships such as Creating Resilient Communities, a working group within the Franklin Conservation District formed in response to the devastating events of Hurricane Irene. She said Annear will often call her with updates from farther upstream on the Deerfield River to let her know when to expect flooding during heavy rain events.

“People still answer their phone when I call them,” Shores Ness said with a laugh. “When you have these things bear fruit, it is really satisfying.”

Shores Ness said the Creating Resilient Communities group has been able to raise approximately $80 million toward the $160 million in damages caused by Hurricane Irene in the 10 years the group has been working.

Shores Ness also highlighted her involvement with the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts, which worked with other states in New England to create additional language in the national farm bill to support Pioneer Valley farmers. She said the region secured approximately $30 million to $35 million in New England agricultural funding over the five-year period the bill is in effect.

“We organized New England and leveraged that regional equity,” she said. “I really feel proud about that.”

On a more recent note, Shores Ness commended the efforts of the Deerfield, Conway, Sunderland and Whately boards of health, plus all five Union 38 and Frontier Regional school committees for their efforts to keep the schools open during the pandemic while keeping COVID-19 cases down. Shores Ness helped lead those meetings as the Deerfield Selectboard and Board of Health hosted them.

“People willingly came to Zoom meetings and listened and worked together,” Shores Ness said. “I attribute that again, to having a history of working together and being able to have a relationship.”

A lifetime of service

After decades of serving the public in various capacities, the finish line is still not in sight, but the 65-year-old public servant said it’s getting closer.

“I definitely don’t have as much energy as I used to have and the problems are more complex,” she said. “Some things are frustrating. … For the most part I gather together really good, creative, wonderful people and we try to figure out how we’re going to solve a problem.”

She said the feeling of accomplishment when working with others is what drives her to continue working with so many different people.

I think it’s the satisfaction of being with really great, wonderful, energized people,” Shores Ness said. “It’s fun to get stuff done. … You never stop learning, you never stop trying to figure out solutions.”


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