The Wanderer Announces 2022 Keel Award Recipients

            The Wanderer created the Keel Award in 1994 and ever since has recognized a dedicated person in each of the three Tri-Towns whose actions exemplify the spirit of community and volunteerism. Like the keel of the ship that keeps the vessel from sinking, the recipients of the annual Keel Award are recognized for their stalwart efforts in keeping the community on an “even keel.”

            The year 2022 has been an economic rollercoaster, as stimulus packages and heavy competition for a dwindling workforce have given way to skyrocketing prices for just about everything from real estate to the grocery store and the gas pump. It’s amidst tumultuous times that the world relies heavily on volunteers who serve their community.

            We are proud to present to you the 2022 Wanderer Keel Award winners: Merry Conway, Dianne Cosman and Harry Norweb (Marion); Sandy Hering (Mattapoisett); and Mike and Sheila Daniel (Rochester.)

            On a recent vacation to Hilton Head, South Carolina, Mike and Sheila Daniel poked their heads into the local Walmart, just to see what sales that store had that their local stores did not have. And so they would jam their personal items into one suitcase, filling the other with the things for others.

            The mission never stops for the Daniels, who dedicate an empty bedroom in their Rochester home to 19 storage totes that organize everything they buy for the purpose of charitable distribution. Mike’s renowned gift baskets are in one section of the room, and the shoebox items are in another section. “That was supposed to be my craft room,” said Mike with a smile. “I have all that I need, and I just want to help those that (don’t.) We’re both very fortunate and blessed.”

            “We both come from big families that really struggled, and we know,” said Sheila, who has lived her entire life in Rochester. She worked 23 years in admissions at Vibra Hospital in New Bedford, where hers was the first face that the families of critical-care patients would see.

            Originally from Acushnet, Mike has been in Rochester 44 years. He spent 41 years working for UPS not as a driver but with people.” In different kinds of ways, you’re always helping people,” said Mike. “We try to do that.”

            In retirement, the couple’s orientation toward recognizing and meeting others’ needs has never waned, only been redirected. The Daniels are not to be found on a committee, their entire energy being applied to grassroots, community service.

            “They don’t like to be in the spotlight. They do so much for the COA, and they’re equally at the (First) Congregational Church,” said COA president Pauline Munroe, who together with her husband Richard nominated the Daniels for the Keel Award. “If we run out of something, there’s a board,” Pauline explained, noting that anyone can post a needed item. The Daniels are known to snare the list and return with the goods. “They do this for nothing,” she said.

            Having been retired for eight years, Mike has brought his experience with Wareham-based Damien’s Pantry to the Rochester Council on Aging and to the First Congregational Church, where he and Sheila serve as sextons. Where they see a need, they meet it with as little red tape as possible.

            The Daniels’ tradition of filling shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a worldwide mission organized by Samaritan’s Purse and Franklin Graham (son of late evangelist Billy Graham), will spread this year as an activity for Rochester seniors. “They get sent out all over the world to kids in orphanages. Kids that don’t know anything about Christmas or never received a gift, we’re involved in that,” said Mike. “We get the Scouts to help us every year, the (Plumb) Library helps us.” Last year, the Daniels filled 388 shoeboxes at the church. They have made trips to Charlotte, North Carolina, to help the mission’s headquarters sort through boxes and get them ready for shipping.

            Focused locally, Sheila says Rochester residents are taking to the project. “Women here, especially, they’ll give items,” she said. “If they haven’t crocheted something, they’ll see something somewhere … she’ll come and say, ‘I saw school supplies really low (priced).’ … Now we’ve got people coming for breakfast every day (at the COA.) They’re giving us bags of things too. … With the seniors, it’s grown.”

            One of the most challenging tasks chairing a volunteer committee is tapping into the talent on the committee itself, and Sandy Hering has done so with aplomb. Hering’s leadership skills are evident in her ability to mobilize volunteer efforts. The Mattapoisett Tree Committee has stepped to the forefront, and the fear of losing the majority of the shade trees that still exist along Water Street and other village streets is a major concern.

            “This award is a great recognition of the Tree Planting Committee’s work,” said Hering. “The committee is a group of highly committed individuals who bring diverse skills to our mission. Jodi Bauer, Wendy Copps, Michael Immel, Susan Perkins, Barbara Poznysz, Nancy Souza, Dianne Tsitsos, Ed Walsh and recently retired Ann Briggs are the members that share the Keel Award with me, as we work to make Mattapoisett a better place to live both now and for future generations.”

            Recently, Hering coordinated a 15-slide presentation presented to the Select Board regarding the Village Streets project emphasizing the importance of being involved in the design and decisions of where trees are going to go, buttressed by expert commentary from within the committee.

            The Mattapoisett Tree Committee, charged with the responsibility of working with Tree Warden Roland Cote on the overall health of the public-shade trees, assessing them and helping Cote assess those that may need to be removed and/or replanted elsewhere.

            Facing the town’s giant Village Streets renovation project that will be vetted and enacted over the next few years, the Tree Committee aims for a significant role in determining what shade trees must be sacrificed for the project, which ones they should fight to save, all the while protecting the new trees to maintain the canopy.

            Cognizant of a shade-tree canopy, conserving energy and cooling down the local climate, the Tree Committee is also responsible for the tree canopy on scenic roadways, of which several important ones exist in Mattapoisett. Have worked with homeowners who have needed to remediate tree removal and having acted as advisors to vetting boards, the Tree Committee is mindful that on scenic roadways not all trees are on the public easement as some are situated on private property. Thanks in part to Hering’s leadership, the committee is stalwart in its determination to have a say in the long-range future of Mattapoisett as a shaded community.

            “We have been overlooked many times. We are persistent. Right now we have the most dynamic committee we have had since I joined (in 2007)” said Hering. “I am incredibly impressed with the volunteerism of the entire group and the commitment to making our community a better place for future generations.”

            Mattapoisett is a member of Tree City USA, and the “Be a Cool Community, Plant Trees” contest for fifth-grade students celebrating Arbor Day, conducted in art classes and sponsored by the local Recreation Department, and the Massachusetts Division of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), has grown immensely. Hering sees it as a reflection of an emerging interest among children in their environment. The Tree Committee is ever cognizant of the significance of next-generation awareness.

The local winner, Paige Mallioux, finished in third place in the state, and Hering proudly reported that Paige and her parents were invited to the DCR-sponsored award ceremony.

            “The poster contest is a bright light because we had the best participation,” said Hering. “Jodi Bauer spearheaded the committee this year. It got 30 entries; normally we get about six. I was very inspired by all the participants of the poster contest, and they did a fabulous job.”

            Merry Conway, Dianne Cosman and Harry Norweb are the Marion recipients of the 2022 Keel Award, but they consider themselves a “team within a team,” having come from different directions with a common interest to help form what has amounted to an ad-hoc committee opportunistically assembled by Town Administrator Jay McGrail and literally labeled the Cushing Community Center Working Group. It includes Nancy Braitmayer, Jody Dickerson of the DPW and town Facilities Manager Shaun Cormier.

            The group’s work at the Community Center has become more than evident, as a shiny new $200,000 pavilion is clearly visible from Route 6. It is only the latest step in creating a community park, as fencing and benches are fully funded, on order and planned for the fall.

            Norweb, the former chairman of the now-disbanded Council on Aging Board, chairs the Working Group. “When we dissolved it, before I even took two steps, Jay grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ He literally constituted the Working Group at the moment in time that the dissolution occurred.”

            In some ways, Norweb appreciates being away from all the requirements of an official board or committee, able to focus on the task and how to get there rather than how to clear bureaucratic hurdles. “You can be a lot more nimble,” he said, noting how the funding came together on the basis of private donations and the Community Preservation Act funding as administered by the Marion Community Preservation Committee. “Their insightful questions helped us deliver a better product,” said Norweb.

            Conway, president of the Friends of Marion Council on Aging, played a key role in fundraising for the $39,000 walking path that preceded the pavilion and the pavilion itself.

            “We do all the legwork,” she said of the Working Group, a multilayered assemblage, starting with the immediate past commander of the VFW Post 2425 at the core of the collaboration that began with its generous donation of the Community Center.

            Outside the group but respected as a member by those within is Karst Hoogeboom, who developed a “deep, master plan” for landscaping the park outside the Community Center. Hoogeboom was the senior landscape architect for Boston’s Big Dig and facilities manager for the Cape Cod National Seashore. “He volunteered all of his time and gave us elaborate plans, highly professional plans,” said Cosman.

            While thanking McGrail for creating a positive working environment, FMCOA treasurer Phyllis Partridge for her detailed management, DPW members and Marion Facilities Manager Shaun Cormier and his team for guidance and hands-on involvement, Randy Parker for donating his time to wire the pavilion for lights, fans and outlets, Forte Landscaping for donating a “landing pad” so that visitors with mobility challenges can safely access the pavilion via valet drop-off and Karen Alves of Design Principles for creating a signature logo for the Community Center, the Working Group will not rest.

            The focus now shifts to a “living fence,” a 4-foot-high, $25,000 group of plantings to shield the park from the noise of tires on Route 6. Ongoing expansion includes the possibility of bocce and pickleball courts, exercise stations and a children’s playground.

            When finished, Cosman emphasized, the Community Center will not be limited to seniors programs but live up to its name.

By Mick Colageo

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