We need beauty. We need it badly. On a day when we grappled with our grief over the enduring evil of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, on a day when we learned more from the media about the heinous attack on a young teacher, Colleen Ritzer of Danvers, Mass., on a day when we made our daily deal with the commonplace threats that we know are out there—on such a day more than 600 people gathered in Durgin Concert Hall at UMass Lowell to celebrate the good brought to us by a young president whose vibrant spirit burns like the eternal flame at his grave. The UMass Lowell Music Department’s University Orchestra, University Choir, Chamber Singers, and special guest narrator state Senator Eileen Donoghue of Lowell presented “Remembering JFK: 50 Years.” For the occasion, conductor Mark Latham loaded up the program with a Super Bowl of composers: Beethoven, Gershwin, Mozart, Martini, Brahms, and Copland.
We need water more than we need art, but art is basic to our humanity. At a minimum art can level off our angst for a while, and we all have a measure of dread because of our human term limit. At best, art raises us to orbits above our working rounds, giving us an experience of beauty, harmony, balance, grace, emotional release—even a brush with eternity in the form of the perfect, reached through superb composition and expression. All this was in play last night on stage and in the seats at Durgin Hall. I have been to many cultural events in Lowell in the past 40 years; last night’s concert was one of the most inspiring I have been fortunate enough to witness.
The evening’s program culminated in a dramatic performance of Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” with guest narrator Sen. Donoghue, whose reading of the profound text moved everyone in the hall. A slideshow of images prepared by Patty Coffey of UMass Lowell accompanied the music. The piece built toward the concluding words of the “Gettysburg Address”—”. . .That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Every selection was a highlight, leading to that powerful finish, from Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 1″ and Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” to the astounding joined voices carrying Brahms’ “Ein deutches Requiem.”
Speaking at the dedication of the Robert Frost Library at Amherst College in late October 1963, President Kennedy said, “I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. . . .I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty.”
The morning began with dark purple clouds bumping in the sky lanes above a sherbet-rinsed sunrise of raspberry and peach. Wind kicked the brittle leaves every which way, and the frigid air made you feel extra alive in your skin. All good for a big day in Lowell. Spirits were up for an event that doesn’t come often in a lifetime: the dedication of a permanent bridge over a serious river.
It was no ordinary time at 10 am at the northernmost curb on Merrimack Street. These folks could have been gathered for the launch of spaceship. The scene turned majestic when the milling-around crowd of hundreds was signaled forward by the construction workers who waved everyone ahead towards the middle of the span where a podium was set up for the ceremony. What a collection of people: political figures, public administrators, writers and reporters, photographers and filmmakers, ardent citizens and family members of the honoree, university personnel, neighbors from the Acre and Pawtucketville, the bridge builders themselves, state transportation agency officials, the kids kept out of school, along with the proud, the curious, and the devoted locals.
City Manager Lynch said this bridge has been coming for decades. Decades. He reminded us that former City Manager John Cox and his team outlined a vision for this bridge at the head of Merrimack Street. It was fitting that the man who in January is expected to be the community’s next mayor, City Councilor Rodney Elliott, had made the motion to name the bridge for Richard P. Howe. History was cycling in the wind.
Today we honored a man who became a kind of monument in front of our eyes as Chancellor Meehan praised his courage and integrity, describing how he had saved local control of the city’s school system at a critical moment, Rep. Kevin Murphy extolled his legal acumen, Rep. Golden brought congratulations from state Sen. Donoghue and saluted him as the true dean of city’s political brotherhood and sisterhood, Rep. Nangle thanked Mary Howe for sharing her husband with us and counted out the 2,000 Tuesday nights on which he made “government” an action word in the Council chamber, Mayor Patrick Murphy spoke for every citizen in recognizing the contributions of an uncommon man, Congresswoman Tsongas sent a flag flown over the dome in Washington DC—and his daughter Martha called him a living bridge for the public work he had done as a representative of the people and a leader of the people. She said his example illustrates how politics can be a noble profession. All this was said about a high-grade baseball player, honorable family man, and dedicated attorney who made time in his life for civic duty. A record of 40 years of service, including four terms as mayor of his city, shows up about as often as a new huge blue bridge across the Merrimack.
In my mind I keep coming back to the crowd. What a tribute in the form of showing up. Not only quantity, but quality. Talent attracts talent, and the senior Dick Howe brought out a highly enriched collection of admirers. None of us there today will probably ever stand again in the middle of that bridge, which for its first few open hours was a scenic overlook. We feasted on spectacular views of the rushing rocky river, the new Saab building for emerging technologies on the north campus of UMass Lowell, and the glassy University Crossing under construction on the opposite bank. At our backs was the long stretch of Merrimack Street as far as we could see. On the open roadway, we, the people, occupied the structure, railing to railing, lingering a bit to remember what it felt like as a pedestrian way. Once the cars and trucks get at it, the vehicles will shape the experience of going over the water. This is something new for Lowell. We have been cutting a lot of ribbons these past few years. Historians will notice the beginning of the 21st century in this city. We got a new bridge today. We dedicated it to Mr. Howe of Lowell.
Today’s New York Times. Page A-13. National section. Full-page ad. UMass Lowell Is Rising. There’s more to the ad, with quotes from Forbes, US News & World Report, PayScale, and Washington Post attesting to the momentum and results at UMass Lowell as a result of recent growth, expansion, and rising excellence. Alumni earnings at mid-career is one strong piece of evidence that UMass Lowell is worth it.
Lowell Open Studios continues today, 11 am to 5 pm, in locations around the city. This has become one of the stellar events of the year. That hundreds of artists chose Lowell as a place to live and/or work, is no simple twist of fate. There is a complex story line that explains how and why this happened, and many people deserve thanks for their efforts in the past 40 years, not least of which are the individual artists who took a chance on Lowell. This week we learned of the passing of John B. Duff, first president of the Universty of Lowell and first chairman of the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, the federal agency that developed the Brush Gallery at Market Mills in 1982. Dr. Duff helped make Lowell a cultural powerhouse through his support for the ULowell Foundation, with help from Nancy Donahue and others, and by incubating Merrimack Repertory Theatre at Mahoney Hall on the campus. While he was president, ULowell also sponsored a series of “ethnic symposia” with events highlighting Lowell’s multi-ethnic heritage. Following is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book, Mill Power: The Origin and Impact of Lowell National Historical Park. The event mentioned took place in 2012 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. People from cities like Lowell (so-called Gateway Cities) gathered to talk about strategies for moving their communities forward, particularly with a sense of promoting their distinctive social, physical, and cultural assets.—PM
Former mayor of Meridian, Mississippi, John Robert Smith is as eloquent a spokesman for the virtues of cities and the arts as one might meet. He told the Creative Place-making summit attendees the story of Meridian remaking itself into the intellectual and cultural hub of its region. He contends that cities must offer excellent artistic experiences to both children, as a way to nurture their aspirations, and business CEO’s, who crave inspiring moments in their own lives. He believes that people want to live in places whose residents care about questions like “Where do we come from?” and “Who are we now?”—places that have a sense of their own identity and a coherent presentation of themselves in everyday life, not places where residents try to imitate a pre-fab formula from away or react defensively to the way they think others view them. He showed a slide of a marketing poster from Mississippi with a headline acknowledging the prevailing view of it as a lagging state. “Yes, we can read. A few of us can even write” was the headline under which were the faces of about 20 authors: William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, John Grisham, Natasha Trethewey, and others. The words “Mississippi” and “poor” don’t have to mean poor self-image or poor prospects, he said. And, it does not hurt to show that you have a sense of humor.
Returning to his point about aspirations, Roberts said, “You have to remain focused on a point in the future you will not occupy. I see that point in the eyes of my grandson.” In his closing, Roberts lifted up the audience when he cited the Persian poet Sa’di on the human need for “loaves and hyacinths” to feed body and soul and quoted the Illinois poet Vachel Lindsay’s poem “On the Building of Springfield”:
We should build parks that students from afar
Would choose to starve in, rather than go home,
Fair little squares, with Phidian ornament,
Food for the spirit, milk and honeycomb.
. . .
We must have many Lincoln-hearted men.
A city is not builded in a day.
And they must do their work, and come and go
While countless generations pass away.
—Paul Marion (c) 2013 by Lowell National Historical Park
Monument to the University of Massachusetts Lowell community (alumni and family members of alumni) who perished on September 11, 2001: Patrick J Quigley IV, Christopher Zarba ’79, Jessica Leigh Sachs, John A Ogonowski, ’72, Robert J Hayes, ’86, Brian K Kinney, ’95, and Douglas A Gowell, ’71. Photos by Tony Sampas.
by Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name –
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner –
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds –
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
—Billy Collins (c) 2002
Note: Billy Collins was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. His poem “The Names” appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 6, 2002. Note that he mentions Patrick Quigley, who was married to a UMass Lowell alumna, Patricia Fleming. Some of our readers may know Billy Collins from his appearances on the radio show Prairie Home Companion. Billy Collins’s father, William Collins, was an electrician from Lowell, Mass., who married Katherine Collins. The future poet was born in New York City. Here’s what he told The Paris Review about his roots in an interview in 2001:
Both of my parents were born in 1901 and both lived into their nineties, the two of them just about straddling the century. My father was from a large Irish family from Lowell, Massachusetts, a mill town, incidentally Kerouac’s birthplace and the site of his first novel. I’ve never been to Lowell, but I was just invited by an editor of a magazine to go up there and write about my father and look at the Jack Kerouac place. I have a poem called ‘Lowell,’ which is about the coincidence of my father being born in the same town as Jack Kerouac. You couldn’t find two more disparate characters. The end of the poem says something like, He would have told Neal Cassady to let him out at the next light.
My mother was born on a farm in Canada. She was the one who taught me to read by reading to me. I have a feeling that was one of the most important experiences of my life. …
Professor Bob Forrant of UMass Lowell writes about history and economics with a special interest in older industrial cities like Lawrence, Holyoke, Lowell, and the other so-called Gateway Cities of Massachusetts and the Northeast. He recently published an article about Lawrence that looks closely at the city’s prospects and challenges. Read the Mass Benchmarks article here.
UMass Lowell News Release: Sept. 4, 2013
Boston Mayor Tom Menino to Speak at UMass Lowell: Lunchtime Lecture Series to feature iconic official, health-care, media topics
LOWELL, Mass. – The Honorable Thomas Menino – a national champion for cities and the longest-serving mayor in Boston’s history – will reflect on his public-service career and his future beyond City Hall when he visits UMass Lowell on Monday, Oct. 21.
“A Conversation with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino,” will be just one of three programs in the 2013 Lunchtime Lectures Series to be held at 11:45 a.m. at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, 50 Warren St., Lowell. Free and open to the public, each program includes a complimentary buffet. For reservations, which are required, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 978-934-3107. To accommodate demand, reservations for Menino’s presentation are required by Monday, Oct. 7.
“The Lunchtime Lectures bring outstanding speakers to the campus and community in an open setting,” said Paul Marion, UMass Lowell’s executive director of community relations and co-director of the university’s Center for Arts and Ideas, which is co-sponsoring the series with the Moses Greeley Parker Lectures and support from community partners.
Nicknamed the “Urban Mechanic,” Menino’s calling card is his work strengthening the fabric of Boston’s many neighborhoods. He served five terms as a city councilor representing Boston’s Hyde Park section from 1984 to 1993 before ascending from city council president to acting mayor in July 1993. By that November, he was elected as the people’s choice. Throughout his tenure as a public servant, he has strived to enhance Boston’s affordable-housing stock, schools, sustainability, investment in business and education and inclusive health-care programs. Social justice issues rest atop his agenda, including his advocacy of same-sex marriage and criminal-records reform.
In addition to his service to Boston, Menino served as the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors from 2002 to 2003. After 20 years at Boston’s helm, the Democrat announced earlier this year he will not seek a sixth term. Boston voters will elect the next mayor on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
Other Lunchtime Lectures include:
- Health-Care Reform – Monday, Sept. 30. Economist Stuart Altman, who serves as the chairman of the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission, will share his insights on state and federal health-care programs. Convened in 2012 by Gov. Deval Patrick, the 11-member commission is charged with reforming the state’s health-care delivery and payment systems to improve quality and reduce costs. Prior to his appointment, Altman spent 12 years as chairman of the Prospective Payment Assessment Commission (ProPac), the group formed by Congress to advise the government on Medicare reform. The event is co-sponsored by LowellGeneralHospital. Reservations for this program are required by Monday, Sept. 23.
- “The End of Big: New Media and Society” – Tuesday, Oct. 29. A forecaster of business, politics and culture in the digital age, Nicco Mele will explore how the ability to stay connected via social media is rapidly changing the world. An entrepreneur and consultant, Mele’s first book, “The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath,” was published earlier this year. Named one of the “Best and Brightest” by Esquire magazine, he is the former Internet operations director of Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign. Reservations for this program are required by Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Support for the lecture series is also provided by Prof. Bill Mass of the UMass Lowell Center for Industrial Competitiveness, the UMass Lowell College of Health Sciences, Lowell General Hospital and Middlesex Community College.