Random Thoughts

The advent of a senior center ...

... with his infectious laugh and positive attitude, Jim took on the fund raising

by Jack Beckley

A long-time member of the Council on Aging, Jim and the board were photographed in the 2001 version: from the left are Fred Rosseland, Bill Ahearn, Priscilla Belcher, Jack Beckley, Eileen Olson, Gene Baldi, Jim Driscoll, Kay McCarte

In December 1993, city planner Jeff Luxenberg learned that the $800,000 Massachusetts Small Cities Program grant he had written to create a senior center on the grounds of the Beebe Estate was approved. It came with the stipulation that the city contribute $50,000 to the project. Given the cityís financial woes in the early nineties, a decision was made to raise the money privately.   

Mayor at the time, Dick Lyons, arranged a meeting with Jim to ask him to help raise the $50,000.  Having never worked with a fund raiser, as the executive director of the Council on Aging, I was excited to meet Jim. After all, here was a person who, based on his reputation, could cast a spell and get people to reach into their wallets and make substantial contributions to good causes. He had done it time and again at the YMCA and Chamber of Commerce.

When Mayor Lyons explained the project, Jim was immediately enthusiastic about it. He thought a senior center was a great idea.  As to raising $50,000, though not easy, he thought it could be done. His two conditions before agreeing to help were that we have a good computer and software program to keep track of the donations and a meticulous person to enter data and do correspondence. Once assured that we would provide them, Jim presented a well-conceived fund raising plan and we met weekly to work on it.

Jim turned out to be a tireless optimist with an infectious laugh that came easily and often. He enjoyed strategizing and was a master at involving people. My most enduring memory of Jim was his whole-hearted belief in peopleís desire to be a part of something good. Believing that the senior center was a great idea, he knew without question that Melrosians would support it in large numbers.  

Jimís optimism was challenged repeatedly as site and building problems raised the cost of the project time and again. I remember the trepidation I felt when Jim was asked if we could raise $75,000 instead of $50,000, then $100,000, then $200,000? Each time, he answered that he thought it could be done. Then, he would revise the fund raising plan and move on. In the end, we raised over $300,000. Jim was right, it was a good idea and everyone wanted to make it happen.

In 1998, three years after the opening of the Milano Senior Center, Jim came on the Council on Aging board and soon served as vice-chair under Eileen Olsen. For the next 13 years, we  worked on many projects together. He was a person who truly cherished his family, community and country. He felt privileged to be involved in progressive projects and was remarkably talented at moving work forward in a quiet, unassuming way.   

I feel privileged to have known and become friends with Jim and am so grateful for all he did for Melrose.  

January 7, 2011

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