NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Drury High School has received two memorial gifts that will benefit students in English and science courses.
The School Committee on Tuesday accepted a gift of $1,885 in memory of former Drury High School teacher Francis Merrigan, who died Nov. 2, and a $40,000 trust from estate of John and Joyce Brooks.
In their letter to the committee, Merrigan's family said their father would be happy to see the funds donated in his memory benefit the high school's cinema and screenwriting course, which could use some upgraded film production technology.
"When Dad spoke of his time teaching, some of his favorite memories were of a filmmaking class that he was able to teach as a side project. In our family, we've all had the experience of running into his former students and hearing their fond memories of a particular movie project that involved shooting scenes around North Adams and that was one of their most vivid memories of high school. In whatever small way, if these funds can help other students work on projects that help bring their learning to life, we would be thrilled," wrote his daughters Erin, Meghan and former City Councilor Kate Merrigan.
Frank Merrigan was a graduate of the former St. Joseph's High School and taught in the English department at Drury for 26 years, retiring in 1987. Superintendent Barbara Malkas said she had found some old teacher evaluations of Merrigan that lauded both this teaching style and ability to reach and engage students.
"That really speaks to the quality of the man, the professional educator, Mr. Merrigan," she said. "When Kate approached Tim and I about this very generous gift to support our schools it became very apparent to us that we wanted to really be able to pay tribute to the contributions of Mr. Merrigan."
Drury Principal Timothy Callahan said he had not realized he had been following in Merrigan's footsteps when he had taught a screenwriting course at Drury "back in the day." The school has greatly expanded its screenwriting program in recent years and now has a teacher very interested in shifting it toward cinema and film production. Drury has been looking at how it could expand its technical capabilities in that area.
"We have 102 students enrolled in those screenwriting and TV production class, so it's actually a big population," Callahan said. "We don't really have funding for the production for film, or video production.
"And so we're absolutely honored to receive this gift from the Merrigan family that helps provide the technology we can use to actually make video production for 2021."
Kate Merrigan, attending the Zoom meeting, thanked school officials for their response to the family's inquiries and to those who had donated in her father's memory.
"Thank you so much for your kind words during this time," she said. "They mean a lot to us and my dad would have loved to hear it."
Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman of the committee, said he had been contacted by attorney John DeRosa on behalf of the Brooks estate to inform the city of the couple's generous gift.
The Brookses, who had both died in February last year, were Drury graduates who had long been involved in the community, including the Fall Foliage Parade, of which Jack Brooks was a parade marshal in 2017. Brooks also worked at the former Sprague Electric Co. for many years and then as a quality assurance specialist in Naval Ordnance for General Dynamics from 1989 until his retirement in 1995.
The Brookses had set up a separate trust "to be applied for the use and benefit of Drury in their discretion with priority for computer language or science facilities." The trustees are directed to consult with the superintendent, principal and School Committee on the use of the funds.
The initial amount is $40,000 "with the understanding that there may be a further distribution once the estate is finally settled," said Bernard. He said the next step would be for the superintendent and principal to set a meeting with the trustees to discuss what the principal from the trust would be used for.
The language in the agreement refers to the establishment of specific facilities such as laboratories for the study of computer language or other sciences. With the committee's unanimous consent, the gift will be placed on the City Council agenda for approval at its Jan. 12 meeting.
"Then hopefully we'll be able to move forward and make some determinations on how this gift can be used," said Bernard. "Extraordinary people, extraordinary generosity and again, testament to the reputation of the school and the regard for education so many in our community have."
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