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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Profile: Donna Thomas

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, February 26, 2006

Donna Dilego Thomas
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident whose actions contribute to the Berkshires way of life.

North Adams - When Donna Dilego Thomas moved from a spacious Ashland Street apartment to a Quincy Street home she'd purchased, packing took more than seven months.

And although about a decade has passed, she has yet to completely unpack, she said during a Feb. 25 interview.

"I had over 500 boxes of stuff by the time I finished packing," she said.

Thomas, 59, is enamored with collectibles, and after nearly 30 years of living in one place, her collections of white enamelware, carnival glass, vintage coffee, salt, and baking supply tins, kitchen gadgets and more covered almost every interior vertical surface.

Another passion is creating "vignettes [small replicas]," using wooden boxes and a clever eye to fashion miniature bakeries, fabric shops, and "homes" with electric lights and furnished rooms. The creations, and Thomas' house, were included as part of a 2003 city tour initiated by artist/real estate developer Eric Rudd.

No Place Like Home

Thomas is well-traveled. The city native has visited Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Florida, California, Virginia, and North Carolina, but she insisted that there truly is no place like home.

"I love the safety here," she said. "This is a place where there are people who still leave their doors unlocked. Not as many as before, but some still do. When my children were young, we took lots of walks and I never had to worry about walking in the evening. And I am still able to walk safely in the evenings with my grandchildren."

Thomas is the daughter of Frank and Josephine Dilego, one of the family's six children who grew up in the city. When he died in 1970, Frank Dilego had owned Dilego's jewelry store for about 50 years, Thomas said. The store remains in business and is operated by Dilego cousins Cynthia Lamore and Pamela Costine.

Thomas attended local schools and after a marriage and a divorce, she operated the Small Package gift shop on Eagle Street for 12 years. The business allowed her the income and flexibility she needed to parent her three children.

Remembering When

Her memories include the heydays of the Mohawk Theater and the Paramount Theater, summer nights at one of the area's two drive-in movie theaters, [Coury's and the Hoosac, both closed], shopping at the Boston Store, Peggy Parker, and Roberts Co., and a busy, bustling Newberry's lunch counter. Moulton's General Store now occupies the former Newberry's space.

Her sons Floyd and Erik Thomas continue to live in the city; daughter Lynn owns and operates a beauty salon/spa in North Carolina. Thomas has five grandchildren.

As a young, single mother, Thomas said that she was always on the lookout for inexpensive family outings. Evening strolls and bottle-digging expeditions were family favorites, and the trips within city limits as well as those that led to wooded areas enhanced regional appreciation, she said.

Seeing With Fresh Eyes

Ultimately, her enjoyment of the region and her eye for detail led her to a real estate career. Thomas became a real estate agent for Century 21 Harold Dupee Realtors about 12 years ago, and she said the job involves much more than simply selling properties.

"I like working with new people who are from out of town," she said. "I give them a tour of the city and even though I've lived here my entire life, I see the town with fresh eyes every time. There's always something new to notice. I've sold quite a few homes to people who are from outside of the city."

New residents hail from places that include New York City, Florida, and urban areas of Connecticut, she said.

"When people come here and visit this town, they see that a lot of things are within walking distance," she said. "People love the quietness, the thought of knowing your neighbors. Some of the people live in places where you can't walk at night, where everybody travels by taxi - it's a fast life and a lot of people are ready for a change."

She remembers her pleasure when she purchased her home and enjoys revisiting that excitement through her work.

"One thing I really do love is the feeling of helping first-time home buyers get into a home," she said. "And I'm happy when I can help someone find a buyer for their home so they can get on with their lives."

The efforts of Mayor John Barrett III have led to significant improvements affecting several neighborhoods, she said.

"People are taking care of their properties," she said. "This has been a priority for the city and it should be. Being in real estate, I know the difference it makes. There isn't any more nonsense with some of the property owners."

Thomas is a familiar face at events such as the weekly summer concerts at Windsor Lake and similar activities hosted in Adams and at the Western Heritage Gateway State Park.

Where Her Life Is

She recently became a member of the Downtown Health Spa at the Holiday Inn. She and her grandchildren escape to the indoor pool on a weekly basis, she said, and added that while her grandchildren swim for fun, she has another agenda.

"I do it to lose weight," she confessed.

Whether the strategy will work remains to be seen, she said.

"I don't feel any thinner, but I do feel healthier."

She has no plans to leave her home and move to a kinder climate, she said.

"This is where my roots are," Thomas said. "This is where most of my children and grandchildren are. My friends are here. This is where my life was, is, and will always be."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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