NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — I didn't expect to see wildlife in the midst of the city but there it was — a deer on Main Street.
He scurried into the bushes and I scurried to my assignment, hoping he'd look both ways before crossing the street.
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Alcombright Dedicates City Report To Longtime Clerk
Mayor Richard Alcombright surprised longtime City Clerk Mary Ann Abuisi on Tuesday morning when he announced that the city report is dedicated to her.
Abuisi shared stories of her 28 years as city clerk for about an hour Tuesday morning.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — When it comes to city records nobody knows them better Mary Ann Abuisi, longtime city clerk.
Now the annual report will be dedicated to her nearly 30 years overseeing the city's paperwork.
"I think it's wonderful. It's an honor. I've seen many dedications but I never thought it would be me," the retired clerk said after being surprised with the announcement Tuesday morning.
Mayor Richard Alcombright said he was pouring over records for his first report when he made the connection. It was fitting for Abuisi to be honored this way, he said.
Abuisi started as assistant city clerk in 1975 and worked under former Mayors Joseph Bianco, Richard Lamb, John Taft and John Barrett III. She retired in 2003.
"My fondest memories of Mary Ann goes back to my dad," Alcombright, whose father, Daniel Alcombright, was a longtime city councilor, said. "For me this is gratifying. I think my dad would be happy that we are doing this."
Abuisi's husband helped provide a photo and a short biography for the inside page of the annual report and then on Tuesday brought her to the mayor's office without telling her about it. Abuisi sat with Alcombright and members of the press for about an hour reminiscing of her time in City Hall.
The aspect she misses the most of the job is watching people grow. Abuisi, also a justice of the peace, said she would marry a couple, then issue a birth certificate to their baby. Later that child would come to her for various licenses and paperwork and eventually to her for their own wedding.
"It's like you know everybody but they don't know you," Abuisi said. "To watch these people grow. It's a fun thing."
Abuisi married more than 500 couples and is still a justice of the peace until 2013, when she will give up the post.
Alcombright gave Abuisi a hardbound copy of the report with a special note on the inside thanking her for her time.
"The most exciting thing was the elections," Abuisi said. "It's like being the mother of the city."
After making sure all registered voters' information was up to date and in the correct ward, Abuisi would hand-count ballots until the sun came up. The ballots would be tallied at a City Hall that would be packed with people.
Alcombright added that men would be dressed up in suits and smoking cigars while Abuisi would write vote totals on a large chalkboard.
"It was just a different time," Alcombright said.
Abuisi's biggest challenge came in 1979 when the city population dropped and city officials had to drop from 12 to five wards. While officials were perplexed at where those boundaries would be outlined, Abuisi had figured out a way it would work. However, it involved moving Ward 7's voting to Ashland Street, which triggered outrage in the ward's Italian neighborhood near Walnut and Furnace streets.
When the first election was held with the new districts, Abuisi said one of the boxes of supplies randomly fell from the top shelf and she joked it was an old Italian ghost upset with the new districts.
"The biggest change I've noticed is population," Abuisi said. "But I think the city is coming around."
Since retiring, Abuisi has been filling her time with her family and spends time in Florida.
"I'm very, very busy doing nothing," Abuisi said. "Once you retire, you wonder how you ever found time to work."
Abuisi was given a hardbound copy of the report with an inscription from Alcombright on the inside thanking her for her work. The report will be presented to the City Council on June 14, Alcombright said.
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North Adams Honors Former Tree Commissioner
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Alma Benedetti was honored on Friday morning for her many years of making the city beautiful with the planting of a lilac tree at the entrance of Windsor Lake.
The longtime tree commissioner and retired art teacher was joined by family, friends and city officials (and a very busy woodpecker) as the Tree Commission celebrated Arbor Day in the city. Drury High School freshmen Catherine Record, Allison Meehan and Morgan Michaels provided musical selections under the guidance of music teacher Christopher Caproni.
The former chairman of the commission has helped to honor others on Arbor Day, but commission member Erica Uchman described her as "the most deserving honoree."
Fellow Commissioner Christine Petri spoke of Benedetti's other activities, including teaching art to so many residents who had been educated in the North Adams school system.
"For 35 years, she was not only on the Tree Commission but also the Garden Club and is currently on the board of the Friends of the Library," said Petri.
Uchman said she and Benedetti had worked on many projects over the years and while she had been surprised to learn Benedetti's age, she joked she wouldn't reveal it now. (Benedetti graduated from then North Adams State Teachers College in 1937.)
Reading from a large card she'd made for her friend, Uchman said, "serving with you quite a few years gave me the opportunity to find out what a special lady you are ... I admire so much how you devoted yourself to be the ideal chairperson; how you pursued all responsibilities as diverse as they could be ...
"In my book, you will always be the lovely, contributing, so-devoted chairperson of the North Adams Tree Commission."
Benedetti, after posing for some "shovel photos" by the already- planted tree, said she'd worked with some very dedicated people over the years. "We've planted over 200 trees," she said and, as a member of the Garden Club, helped install the garden on Union Street at the entrance to the city.
Her walks take her up by Fish Pond so she'll see the now-budded lilac coming into bloom.
"I wanted something flowering," said Benedetti. "So this was a good choice."
Mayor Richard Alcombright read a proclamation declaring May 13 as Arbor Day in the city and that called for residents to "support the effort to protect our trees and woodlands."
"Thank you so much for your service and dedication over the years," he said to Benedetti. "You set a true example of volunteerism and what is really meaningful in our community. It's really what makes a community like ours succeed."
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Historic Valley Campground Sets Open House
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Historic Valley Campground at Windsor Lake is hosting an open house on Saturday from 10 to 3 to meet the new managers and check out the improvements made to the city's camping area.
Area residents are invited to meet Susan and Steven Landry, who are managing the family campground this season, and their family. Free refreshments and hot dogs will be available.
The Landrys have been working on improvements to the 100-acre campground. They also are planning themed weekend activities throughout this year's camping season
The city recently refurbished the bathrooms, with the help of students from McCann Technical School, and last week's citywide cleanup brought volunteers and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students to paint and rake.
You can also meet the new concession manager, Eric Dean. He is opening Coastal Smokin', a new barbecue food and snack bar at the public beach at Fish Pond.
The campground is open from May 1 to Oct. 15. It offers a private beach for campers and is within walking distance of the larger public beach and concession area. Fish Pond is also a favorite spot for anglers, canoeing and kayaking.
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Wilco Setting 'Solid Ground' at Noel Field
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — What's now a field of snow will bloom with tents in June as music lovers descend on the city for the Solid Sound 2 Festival.
The city is teaming with Solid Sound host Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts and the local ROPES program to organize and operate the temporary camping area, dubbed "Solid Ground." Up to 300 tent campsites and 10 recreational vehicle spots will be marked out at the Noel Field Athletic Complex between Steele and Disanti fields behind the former Modern Liquors for June 24, 25 and 26.
Commissioner Mark Vadnais points out where 'Solid Ground' will be situated to the Parks and Recreation Commission.
More than 5,000 people attended last August's festival — curated by band Wilco — filling inns and hotels and packing into the Historic Valley Campground. Noel Field was suggested last year as a possible camping site; this year, the city's being proactive in placing Wilco fans within walking distance of MoCA and the downtown.
Half the tent sites and all but one of the RV lots have been reserved as of Friday, said Chiara Morrison at MoCA's box office.
The Parks and Recreation Commission last Wednesday reviewed preliminary plans for usage of the fields and where the tents will be located. Portable showers and toilets will be placed at the field and Paul Markland, public works director, said his department would mark out the sites with lime. Open fires will be prohibited. Golf carts will be used to shuttle campers and equipment from the parking areas and ROPES will provide an element of security and a concession.
"I went to ROPES because they have a solid support in place," said Mayor Richard Alcombright. "A good majority of them either were or are involved in law enforcement. ... It puts some form of security automatically in place."
ROPES, or Respecting Other People, Encouraging Self-esteem, is an annual summer day camp for kids that the North Adams Police Department has been operating for years. Many of its volunteer staff are local emergency responders.
"They just needed an organization willing to take on this event," said police Lt. David Sacco, one of ROPES' founders. "Because it is a city-based organization, it's kind of a win-win for the city."
Campers are being charged $80 for a 15-by-18-foot, single tent site for the weekend. An RV spot is $100. The MoCA box office is handling reservations and notifications and will get a small slice of the fee; the rest will be shared between the city and ROPES after costs, such as field repair or portable conveniences.
The Parks Commission expressed concern over damage to the field but the mayor said he expected the costs to be covered by the fees.
"Unless we have a really, really soggy weekend, I don't see a problem," he said. "Basically we committed to the fact that any repairs will come out of the proceeds."
Sacco said he didn't also see an issue with security at the site, based on last year's family-friendly, laidback crowd.
"I have never ever seen a more well-behaved crowd," said Sacco. "We're not anticipating any problems."
The dates will bump the annual LaFesta Baseball Exchange to July.
For more information on Solid Ground, click here.
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