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The annual Art Hathaway Dinner is open to anyone who shows up.

Bob Pytko, manager of Adams' Hometown Market. The supermarket supplied the coffee and cake for the event

Retired Police Chief Donald Poirot washes dishes.

Volunteers for the Hathaway Dinner gather in the kitchen at Hoosac Valley.

Members of the Hoosac Valley Student Council organize another successful Hathaway dinner.

Hoosac Valley Band members entertain diners with Christmas music.

Hoosac Valley Kicks Off Holidays With Annual Hathaway Dinner

By Jeff Snoonian
iBerkshires Correspondent
02:19AM / Thursday, December 05, 2019
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Sophia Acquista serves meals Wednesday night at the Art Hathaway Dinner.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Fifty-plus years ago, Art Hathaway wanted to do something for the community around the holidays. 
 
The late Adams fire chief decided to throw a turkey dinner for any senior citizen able to show up on the first Wednesday in December. All the fixings, no charge, no questions asked. All run by himself and his fellow firefighters.
 
"He was a true New Englander. Did a lot of things under the radar for people. If he believed in something he would take it to the end. He started all of this," said Adams Selectman Joe Nowak about Hathaway.
 
The first few dinners were held at the fire station on Park Street before moving just up the road to Adams Memorial School. The dinner eventually found a permanent home at Hoosac Valley High School and is now run by the Student Council. Other than switching the main course to ham, there have been few changes to the event. The Hoosac Valley band still plays Christmas music, volunteers still serve and provide the meal for free, and there is still a raffle at the end. 
 
Adams Council on Aging's Barbara Proper, attending her first Hathaway Dinner, did mention one thing that has changed.
 
"When my mom came here way back she used to love it because all the seniors would dance. I don't think they do that anymore," she said smiling.
 
There might not have been any dancing but the cafeteria was full and buzzing with conversation among friends who were filling each other in on their Thanksgivings and holiday plans. Several pictures came out around tables (more on phones than in wallets). And grandkids were bragged about.
 
Rosanne Schutz has worked about 20 of these dinners. She first volunteered when she was working part time at the school. She is now the food service director and still never misses the Hathaway event.
 
"Years ago we used to have about 250 elderly that would come. They would dance and sing, but as the years have gone by it's started to dwindle. We still had about 90 this year though," she said. "Hathaway started it down at the fire station but it kept getting bigger so we moved it up here. It's always been free. They don't ask who you are or where you come from. All the seniors know it's always the first Wednesday in December. They call my office starting in September asking, 'Are you having the dinner this year?' they really look forward to it."
 
Student Council President Doug Ledouceur talked about the special place the Hathaway dinner holds for him and the other students.
 
"Everybody says he really cared about people in the community so much. I've been on Student Council for four years and I first heard about it when I was a freshman. The council has been putting it on for years. It's one of our favorite events," he said.
 
Council Vice President Sophia Acquista is a second-generation volunteer and agrees with Ledouceur.
 
"It's a tradition that we've carried on for years and years. My mom (English teacher Nancy Pedercini-Acquista) used to do this when she was in high school. I feel very grateful to carry it on," she said.
 
"It's definitely something the town looks forward to every year," Ledouceur added.
 
The event has lasted nearly three generations and seen several eras come and go. From protests and bell-bottoms through disco and eight tracks to streaming and hip-hop. It has brought Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials together for the sake of providing local Golden-Agers with a fun way to kick off the holidays.
 
Even new Hoosac Valley Superintendent Aaron Dean, now 45,  has memories of attending more than 30 years ago.
 
"When I was in middle school and high school I used to play in the band at this event. It was well established back then even," he said. "It's a phenomenal group of kids who run it, and all the volunteers, it's a great connection with the community. Bringing new people into the school to see what it is we're doing. And for me this event is a kind of homecoming. A lot of people I've known for years. A lot of my father's old friends. It was nice to reconnect for myself."
 
Adams native Shirley Fachini taught for 40-plus years in the district. Even though she recently started working at Drury High School in North Adams, she said she was still looking forward to helping out at this year's dinner.
 
"It's just very fulfilling to bring people together like this. I was really excited for it this year. All of us have so much fun volunteering it's not really work. It's a great start to the holidays for everyone," she said.
 
By the time volunteers and students and staff were fed, they probably served 125 meals. After cake and coffee a very familiar looking Santa showed up to help hand out the raffle prizes. (Coincidentally Adams Selectman Jim Bush was nowhere to be found). Shortly after, volunteers and the custodial crew had the cafeteria broken down and cleaned up and another Art Hathaway was in the books. 
 
Next year they will do it all again. A few different students, perhaps some different volunteers, but the same spirit of community and togetherness Art Hathaway imagined many decades ago.

Tags: annual dinner,   holiday event,   

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