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SPRINGFIELD — This fall, Springfield Technical Community College this fall will launch a new certificate program to help early childhood educators or school paraprofessionals take their careers to the next level.

The Child Development Associate Plus (CDA Plus) certificate of completion is designed for educators who want to get their Child Development Associate credential and earn college credit at the same time.

“STCC’s CDA Plus program puts educators on the fast track to earn an associate degree in Early Childhood Education Transfer,” said Richard Greco, dean of Liberal and Professional Studies at STCC. “We’re thrilled to offer this affordable professional development opportunity.”

An individual with a CDA credential, which is nationally recognized, has demonstrated competency in meeting the needs of children and in working with parents and other adults to nurture children’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual growth, said STCC’s Early Education and Care Pathways Grant and Activity Director Nancy Ward.

The Career Pathways Grant, funded through the state Department of Early Education and Care, enables STCC to provide a range of support for CDA Plus students which includes but is not limited to the following:

  • Assistance with enrollment and financial aid processes;
  • Embedded tutoring and coaching within courses;
  • Flexible hybrid models with online opportunities that can be completed remotely;
  • Training and courses offered at times that are convenient for working students;
  • Training on the use of technology and a lending library of technology resources; 
  • Academic advising, career counseling, and job placement support;
  • CDA application and submission support;
  • Financial support for child care and transportation;
  • Credit for prior learning;
  • Membership to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC); and
  • Opportunity to be part of a CDA Learning Community.

STCC also has credit-earning opportunities available for educators who have earned their CDA credential or have acquired other skills in the field or from existing certifications. Students with a CDA credential can receive 17 credits toward an associate degree, Greco said.

STCC has named experienced educator Aimee Dalenta as chair of the Early Childhood Education Department. Among her responsibilities she will oversee the new CDA Program.


Honoring Excellence, Innovation

healthcareheroeslogo0217finalHealthcare Heroes.

Over the past decade or so, those two words have become a national brand — a brand that symbolizes many things, including excellence, dedication, compassion, commitment, and much more.

Indeed, Healthcare Heroes has become the name attached to recognition programs created by business magazines, healthcare publications, health- and wellness-related organizations across the country, and other entities, to honor individuals and institutions that stand out for the work they do. The name has become part of the landscape in New York, California, Hawaii, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Utah, and many other states. And now, it is coming to Western Mass.

Indeed, BusinessWest and its sister publication, HCN, have launched Healthcare Heroes of Western Mass., a program to recognize excellence and innovation across the broad spectrum of the region’s healthcare sector.

The program will culminate in the Healthcare Heroes gala on Oct. 19 at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse in Hampden.

Details concerning the program and the gala will be revealed on the pages of the two magazines — and their on-line daily news blasts — over the next several weeks. The editors recently convened a meeting of an advisory committee to discuss the program. That session generated a robust dialogue and several suggestions regarding everything from the categories in which individuals and institutions will compete to the judges who will evaluate those who are nominated.

“Over the past several years, BusinessWest has created a number of recognition programs to honor individuals, groups, and institutions across this region,” said BusinessWest and HCN Associate Publisher Kate Campiti, citing, specifically, the 40 Under Forty program launched in 2007 and Difference Makers, initiated in 2009. “But after considerable discussion, it was decided that this region’s large, diverse, and critically important healthcare sector deserved a recognition program of its own.

“Indeed, while we have had several honorees from the healthcare sector in 40 Under Forty, and a few from that realm in Difference Makers, excellence and innovation in healthcare are sometimes difficult to assess and measure,” Campiti added. “Healthcare Heroes will provide us with a needed vehicle for identifying and then recognizing those who stand out in very crowded fields.”

The program will be designed to recognize both those on the front lines of healthcare and those in administration; those who focus on treating individuals, and those involved with prevention and wellness.

“Healthcare involves many types of professionals working in different ways to create a healthier region and improve the overall quality of life for people living and working in Western Massachusetts,” said Campiti. “This Healthcare Heroes program will be crafted to recognize this great diversity of care and the many ways people and individuals are making a difference.”

Nominations for the various categories will be gathered in the coming months, and they will then be evaluated by a carefully chosen team of judges. The winners will be profiled in both publications prior to the gala.

“This will be a welcome recognition program for the four counties of Western Mass.,” said Campiti. “The healthcare sector has been a vital source of everything from high-quality care for our residents to jobs for area communities, to inspiration for those looking to bring innovation and higher levels of quality to their businesses. These individuals and institutions deserve to be recognized for the work they do.”

Class of 2017 Difference Makers

Cut and Dried

In Business and the Community, Denis Gagnon Is a Role Model

Denis Gagnon

Denis Gagnon

Denis Gagnon Sr. was asked about the origins of the signed, framed Tom Brady jersey that dominates one wall of his spacious office at Excel Dryer in East Longmeadow.

Rather than answer that question, he bolted up out of his chair and said, “think that’s nice? I’ve got something better … follow me.”

And with that, he walked briskly down the hall, with BusinessWest in tow, to the conference room, apologized as he ever-so-briefly interrupted a meeting in progress, and proudly pointed to a huge framed, autographed photo of Malcolm Butler, depicting the moment he stepped in front of Russell Wilson’s final pass in the 2015 Super Bowl, sealing a Patriots victory.

“How about that?” Gagnon, the company’s president, said of the photo, a gift from Pats owner Robert Kraft, who is now a valued customer of Excel Dryer, which, according to company literature — not to mention most people who have placed their hands under one of its products — has revolutionized the long-maligned hand-dryer industry.

Later, amid considerable and quite necessary prodding, he grudgingly revealed that signed photos and jerseys are just some of the many benefits that have come through what is now a very solid and multi-faceted marketing relationship between the Patriots and Excel (and donations to the team’s charitable foundation), up to and including the opportunity for Gagnon to actually get on the hallowed turf at Gillette Stadium, practice with the team, and play some catch with TB 12.

As noted, such reflections came reluctantly, because it is simply not in Gagnon’s nature to call attention to his actions or accomplishments. Those who know him well say he basically just goes quietly — and quite efficiently — about his business.

Denis Gagnon with his wife, Nancy, and sons Denis Jr., left, and Bill, right.

Denis Gagnon with his wife, Nancy, and sons Denis Jr., left, and Bill, right.

And by ‘business,’ they aren’t referring specifically to Excel and its signature product, the XLERATOR, although that’s certainly a big part of the conversation — the part referring to his strong entrepreneurial instincts, success in making the company’s products a global phenomenon, and even pride that the dryers are made not only in America (the only ones that can make such a claim), but in the 413 area code.

“I’m in the men’s room at Heathrow Airport … and I see East Longmeadow, Mass. on the XLERATOR,” recalled Gene Cassidy, president of the Big E, who has known Gagnon for years, “and it sends shivers up my spine; I wanted everyone in the lavatory to know that I knew Denis Gagnon.”

No, by ‘business,’ they were mostly referring to Gagnon’s strong track record of service to the community, which is notable for many reasons.

For starters, there’s simply the depth of that service, which includes everything from decades of work with the Boy Scouts and the Children’s Study Home to his multi-layered involvement with Link to Libraries (LTL).

There is also his ability to inspire others to become involved and make a difference in their own way.

He’s a man who not only sees the need, but takes action. He is very empathetic to those people in need and especially the young people of our community.”

Dana Barrows, a financial advisor with Northwestern Mutual, another long-time acquaintance and long-time LTL volunteer, explains.

“I was in Denis’ office four years ago, and I saw a picture of him with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno,” he recalled. “I said, ‘what are you doing?’ and he replied that he was reading a book to school kids as part of Link to Libraries. And he told me I should check it out.

“I did, I’ve been reading ever since, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it,” he said, adding that this is but a small example of how Gagnon not only gets involved, but gets others to follow suit.

Humbly, Gagnon said simply, “if you have the good fortune of being in a good corporate job or owning your own business, like we’ve been able to do, you have a responsibility to give back to that community.”

And this philosophy was certainly handed down to his children, including those involved with him at Excel, Denis Jr. and Bill, who are both very active in the community (Bill is a member of BusinessWest’s 40 Under Forty class of 2013).

Mike Suzor, assistant to the president at Springfield Technical Community College and a serial entrepreneur himself, was a classmate of Gagnon’s at Cathedral High School, in the class of 1968. He remembers Gagnon as an excellent student, a multi-sport athlete, and someone who knew what it took to succeed on any stage, or playing field.

Mike Suzor

Mike Suzor, a long-time friend and former classmate of Denis Gagnon’s at Cathedral, says Gagnon has always understood what it takes to succeed at any level.

“I never met his parents, but they must have been great people,” he said, “because Denis learned very early on the value of honesty, integrity, and hard work — ‘don’t pass it off to someone else; get it done yourself.’ That attitude was there in high school, and it has stayed with him all through his career.”

“If you measure success financially, then he’s clearly successful,” Suzor went on. “But if you measure success by what kind of human being someone is … he’s one of the most successful people I’ve ever met.”

Rarified Air

Over the past 18 years or so, Gagnon has sat across from interviewers representing all manner of media outlets curious about the XLERATOR, from the small weekly paper that covers Longmeadow and East Longmeadow to the Wall Street Journal; from a host of trade publications, such as Restaurant Daily News, to Inc. magazine.

While the comments vary, obviously, he will undoubtedly tell the inquirer something he told BusinessWest back in 2003 — that, as entrepreneurial gambles go, Excel Dryer was anything but a rock-solid bet.

That’s because the company made a product that, by Gagnon’s own admission, people don’t like or want — electric hand dryers, a product that, historically, didn’t dry people’s hands as much as they would like.

As he explained back then, and has gone on explaining ever since, most businesses and institutions that installed hand dryers in those days did so because satisfying the customer — and that’s a relative term in this case — was not a priority, and saving money was. As examples, he listed airports, train stations, colleges, municipal buildings, sports stadiums, and even correctional facilities.

Today, businesses and institutions like those mentioned above, but also some certainly not on that list, are installing Excel models because they do place a premium on customer service — and also on protecting the environment and saving money.

Changing the hand-dryer landscape wasn’t exactly the stated mission when Gagnon bought a piece of Excel in 1992 and later acquired the entire company, but it quickly became not only a goal, but an obsession — one of those who knew Gagnon well firmly believed he would succeed with, even given the chosen product’s dubious history and uncertain future.

To explain, Suzor went into the wayback machine to Cathedral High, then home to 3,000 students, and memories of Gagnon the student-athlete.

“He was an incredible wrestler and first-team All-Western Mass. placekicker,” Suzor recalled. “In the wintertime, he would go out and kick field goals in the snow to practice; he was absolutely dedicated to excellence and doing whatever it took to be the best he could be. Going back to high school, he showed that.”

This pattern would continue at UMass Amherst and later in business, especially at what was then Milton Bradley, later Hasbro, and now Cartamundi, where Gagnon would rise in the ranks to vice president of International Sales.

This was a rewarding job in a number of ways, but also one that took him away from home quite often (he was responsible for the Pacific Rim region).

Desiring a change, and something closer to home, he and his wife Nancy would both join her family’s business, Springfield-based Bassett Boat, and he would help it achieve dramatic growth in the late ’80s. But the deep and lengthy recession that began at the end of that decade put a serious hurt on discretionary spending and thus the boat business, and Gagnon began searching for an entrepreneurial adventure of his own.

He and a partner thoroughly researched options, and set their sights on Excel Dryer, but the partner got cold feet, leaving Gagnon to pursue plan B, as he called it, which was to acquire a piece of that company and acquire the rest over time as he ran its sales and marketing efforts.

By 1997, when the acquisition was complete, he would begin the process of changing the equation when it came to the product that seemingly no one liked or wanted by partnering with (and essentially bankrolling) some inventors with a revolutionary new concept.

In time, it would come to be called the XLERATOR, which, as that name suggests, was painstakingly designed to reduce the time it took to dry one’s hands, while actually getting the job done.

Gagnon explains the technology, sort of, in one of the many interviews he’s given, this one with Restaurant Daily News.

“If I could describe the new drying system in layman’s terms, I would say that it delivers a focused, high-velocity air stream, which blows off excess water in three to four seconds,” he told that publication, “and evaporates the remaining boundary layer of moisture very rapidly. With a conventional hand dryer, it takes over 20 seconds before effective evaporation takes place, and 30 to 45 seconds overall to completely dry your hands.”

Denis Gagnon

Denis Gagnon stands beside one of the first XLERATORs, the hand dryer that changed perceptions about that product.

He skipped over much of the proprietary science and engineering that would eventually solve a noise problem and enable the XLERATOR to live up to its considerable promise and become the best-selling hand dryer in the world, with more than a million units now in use.

The map outside Gagnon’s office, the one with multi-colored push pins on seemingly every continent (covering more than 70 countries in which the product is now sold), does an effective job of explaining how far this company has come in less than two decades.

Having a Blast

But there are other ways to measure its success, and at Excel, there are many of them, including:

• Evolution of the venture into a true family business. Indeed, while Denis Gagnon is president, his wife, Nancy, who has been involved with the company from the beginning, serves as vice president, while son Bill, who joined after college when Denis was developing the XLERATOR and has since helped grow the company, is vice president of Marketing and Sales, and son Denis Jr. is vice president of International Sales;

• Continued expansion and diversification of the product line, including a new “XLERATOR integrated sink system,” as Gagnon described it (there’s a prototype at the Fort restaurant in Springfield and 168 of them at MGM’s new casino in Maryland). Developed in collaboration with Sloan Valve, it includes an automatic soap dispenser, automatic faucet, and an automatic dryer coming out of what looks like a faucet head. “You never have to leave the sink — you soap, wash, and dry your hands right there,” he explained, adding that the product is being brought to the marketplace by a separate LLC called D13 Group, run by his son Bill and son-in-law Lance;

• Continued expansion of the plant complex in East Longmeadow to accommodate a growing company and staff (the company now employs 49 people). Town officials recently approved plans for 5,000 square feet of additional warehouse, R&D, and engineering space;

• Official designation as an American-made product and being named as the inaugural winner of the ‘Made in the USA Certified Award’ in the ‘medium company’ category in 2013; and

• Continued exposure in the press. Over the years, the company and the XLERATOR has earned all kinds of ink and face time. It was one of Terry Bradshaw’s ‘picks of the week,’ on his CNN Headline News segment, for example, and has also been on the Science Channel’s How It’s Made show, the Discovery Channel’s Things We Love to Hate series (actually, the show was about how the XLERATOR is changing perceptions about hand dryers), and many more.

But, as noted earlier, success in business is really only one chapter in the Denis Gagnon story, and not the most important one, according to those who know him well.

Excel Dryer employees

Excel Dryer employees gather for a shot at the plant in East Longmeadow. The company has registered explosive growth in recent years.

Instead, it’s his work within the community that resonates most.

As he talked about that work — again, something he doesn’t like to do and would rather leave to others — he referenced a more-than-half-century-long relationship with the Boy Scouts of America and the many lessons imparted him through that involvement.

Especially those from his youth. Indeed, Gagnon, a member of Troop 424, which met at the Nativity Church in the Willimansett section of Chicopee, became an Eagle Scout at the age of 12, something that couldn’t be done today (one needs to be at least 14) and was a very rare achievement back then.

He remembers some of the scout credos, or marching orders, if you will, and said they’ve never left him.

“What’s the motto of the Boy Scouts? ‘Do a good turn daily’ — in other words, do something to give back to help other people,” he explained. “They teach you to be self-reliant, but they also teach you to give back, and that stays with you.”

Likewise, he’s never really left the Boy Scouts. He served as board president for eight years, for example, and, during that time, merged the Pioneer Valley Council and the Great Trails Council into the Western Massachusetts Council of the Boy Scouts of America. And he’s still on the board.

In addition, he’s been a long-time supporter of a number of agencies, including the United Way, the American Red Cross, Western New England University (he’s a trustee), and a host of veterans’ organization, including Wounded Warriors.

Also on that list is the Children’s Study Home, the oldest nonprofit in Western Mass., which was created in 1865 as the Springfield Home for Friendless Women and Children, serving mostly the widows of Civil War veterans.

He’s served that agency, which provides a host of innovative and educational programs to strengthen children and families, in a number of roles, including the current one — president emeritus.

“That means that, whenever something big happens, they know who to call,” he joked, adding that his son Bill is now on the board.

Buy the Book

Actually, a number of agencies have called Gagnon’s number over the years, generally because he rarely says ‘no,’ but especially because he does much more than simply write a check.

That was the case with Link to Libraries, which, as that name suggests, places books on school-library shelves, but also brings business leaders into the classroom to read and essentially adopt the school in question.

Excel Dryer now sponsors two schools, and eight people at Excel volunteer to read, he said, adding that this is a company-wide effort that goes beyond read-alouds. Indeed, the company has funded a field trip to Sturbridge Village and other initiatives. And, as noted, Gagnon has encouraged others, including Barrows, to become involved and sponsor schools themselves.

Susan Jaye-Kaplan, founder of Link to Libraries and one of the first Difference Makers brought to the stage at the Log Cabin back in 2009, said Gagnon’s involvement with LTL is a good example of how he immerses himself in a cause and offers support that goes well beyond a cash contribution.

“He’s one of the most humble and caring men that I know,” said Jaye-Kaplan, who was one of many to invoke the phrase ‘role model’ as she talked about Gagnon. “He has never forgotten where he comes from or the people who helped make him the man he is today.

“He’s a man who not only sees the need, but takes action,” she went on. “He is very empathetic to those people in need and especially the young people of our community.”

Cassidy agreed, and put to use some of the same words and phrases others would deploy as they talked about Gagnon: ‘quiet,’ ‘humble,’ ‘generous,’ ‘impressive,’ ‘family man,’ and ‘inspiring,’ to name a few.

“He works quietly and mostly behind the scenes,” he said. “I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from him throughout my career from the way he works with people, the way he deals with adversity, and especially his generosity to the community.”

Barrows, who’s been doing business in Western Mass. for more than 40 years now, went so far as to put Gagnon in the same company (and sentence) as the late Dick Stebbins, the long-time regional president of BayBank whom most credit with setting the standard locally when it comes to community service, and said Gagnon is essentially the standard bearer for his generation.

Stebbins and Gagnon had different platforms in the business community — the former with a large public corporation, and the latter with a much smaller, family-owned company, but both worked in essentially the same way, Barrows explained.

“When I think of the people of that stature in today’s Pioneer Valley business community, I think of John and Steve Davis, and I think of Denis Gagnon,” he explained, adding that there may be others he is less familiar with.

“Denis is a little more private, a little more anonymous with his work in the community,” he went on. “But his actions speak very loudly. He’s a major player, and he inspires others with what he does and how he does it.”

Suzor agreed, noting that, in his philanthropic efforts, as with his business exploits, Gagnon takes a measured, results-driven approach to his giving.

“Even with his generosity, he would want to know the plan — ‘if I’m giving you money, what are you going to do with it? How are you going to use it? And how are you going to measure how successful you are at using it?’” he explained. “He’s a very bright businessman who always says, ‘let’s do what makes sense, and let’s not do what doesn’t make sense,’ and it was the same with his work in the community.”

Cut and Dried

In Business and the Community, Denis Gagnon Is a Role Model
That’s the Ticket

Returning to the subject of the Patriots and the various perks derived from that relationship, Gagnon noted that the company now has several season tickets.

In what should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him, Gagnon doesn’t use them much himself. (In fact, by late December, he had taken in only the Rams game a few weeks earlier, and that very ugly loss to Buffalo in early October, when Brady was still serving his Deflategate ‘vacation,’ as the quarterback called it).

Indeed, as any smart businessperson would, he bestows most of those tickets on very good customers and those who may attain such status. But he also puts them to use within the community — he donates tickets to the Boy Scouts, for example, for one of its fund-raisers, and, through his son Denis Jr., a board member with the United Way, that organization has received a few as well.

That’s a small example, but one of many, of someone who very quietly and humbly goes about his business — or businesses, as the case may be.

There’s the one that makes electric dryers, and then there’s the business of giving back to the community.

He’s, well, very hands-on, as one might say, with both — and certainly making a difference across Western Mass. in every sense of that phrase.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Class of 2017 Difference Makers

The ‘Unflappable’ Joan Kagan

Leader Guides Square One Through All Kinds of Adversity

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

Photo by Leah Martin Photography

Joan Kagan’s corner office on the second floor of 1095 Main St. in Springfield comes complete with two large windows offering stunning views of the ongoing construction of MGM Springfield.

That’s the good news — and the bad news.

Indeed, while she and others have been fascinated by the panorama presented by this front-row seat, Kagan readily admits that at times — or most of the time, to be more precise — it can be a huge distraction and even an impediment to workflow.

“It’s … amazing,” Kagan said of the beehive of activity that has been a constant for more than a year now. “A few days ago, I’m at my desk working, and all of the sudden I see this huge piece of equipment dangling in front of my window; I look out, and they’re placing it on an 18-wheeler parked on Main Street.”

She acknowledged that, while she, other staff members, and certainly the children at Square One have been captivated by the construction work and giant cranes moving steel and equipment just a few feet from those windows, the demolition work that preceded it was equally, if not more, compelling and attention-diverting.

“When they were moving the [former First Spiritualist] church, I think we were down to about 10% productivity,” she said with a wry smile, noting that the historic structure seemed to move at a snail’s pace, but that didn’t stop observers from becoming entranced by the exercise. “It was fascinating, but it made it tough to get work done.”

She’s seen worse impediments to productivity, unfortunately. Much, much worse.

Start with the June 1, 2011 tornado that roared down Main Street and then through Square One’s former offices just a few hundred yards to the north, displacing young students and staffers alike and leaving the agency without a permanent home for … well, even the current quarters wouldn’t exactly be considered permanent.

Joan Kagan with several of the students at Square One

Joan Kagan with several of the students at Square One. Since 2003, she has led the agency through profound change — and large amounts of adversity.

But the tornado did more than dislocate employees and programs. It seriously impacted cash flow by removing from the equation invaluable seats in early-childhood-education classes, and it would be years before those losses could be made up.

Then there was the natural-gas explosion roughly 18 months later that absolutely erased the gentlemen’s club on Worthington Street next to another Square One facility, leaving it uninhabitable, thus displacing more people and programs and further imperiling the bottom line.

Kagan’s actions during both disasters, but especially the tornado, have been described as heroic, in both a literal and figurative sense, with the latter saved for how she fashioned response plans and rallied the various troops. As for the former, she acted quickly and calmly that June afternoon to help move young students and employees — and even a technician in the building working on the air conditioning — to safety in the basement. Then, while standing in the middle of Main Street surveying the considerable damage and hearing police issue loud warnings about gas leaks and a second tornado, she essentially commandeered a school bus to get students and staff to a shelter set up down the street at the MassMutual Center.

“She was … unflappable,” said Kevin Maynard, an attorney with Springfield-based Bulkley Richardson, a long-time (now former) Square One board member, and current volunteer, who would use that word often to describe Kagan’s work before, during, and well after those calamities . “After both the tornado and the gas blast, Joan leaned on the board for support, but the board really leaned on Joan. She was rock-solid, knew what she had to do, and worked with others to get it all done.”

She continues to fight every day, through all the bureaucracy, to make sure that Square One and other organizations are heard and they’re able to meet their individual mission statements.”

While being unflappable in the face of natural and man-made disasters is certainly part of the reason Kagan was named a Difference Maker for 2017, there is, of course, much more to this story — and this individual.

It involves not only her work to stabilize, diversify, and expand Square One, an agency that was in a definite state of disarray when she arrived in 2003, but also her tireless efforts to bring attention to the critical need for not only early-childhood education, but other programs focused on strengthening families and championing their cause — on Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, and everywhere in between.

Bill Sullivan, a long-time Square One board member

Bill Sullivan, a long-time Square One board member, said of Joan Kagan’s outlook on children and families and society’s responsibilities to them, “she gets it.”

Bill Sullivan, first vice president of Commercial Loans at PeoplesBank and another long-time board member, summed it all up succinctly and effectively.

“She gets it,” he told BusinessWest. “She understands that human services, and especially childcare, is really the foundation of the whole local — and national — economy. If you have an employee who doesn’t have safe, secure childcare, what is that employee’s attendance going to be like?

“Joan gets that,” he went on. “And she continues to fight every day, through all the bureaucracy, to make sure that Square One and other organizations are heard and they’re able to meet their individual mission statements.”

Not Child’s Play

As he talked further about Kagan, Sullivan said the place to start the discussion was not with the day she was hired at Square One — and he was one of those on the search committee that hired her — or that fateful June day in 2011, or even the day after Thanksgiving in 2012, when the natural-gas explosion leveled a city block.

Instead, he chose an unlikely place and time — the funeral services he attended for Kagan’s mother in Pittsfield 2013. That’s when and where he gained a real understanding of — and a deeper appreciation for — her passion for helping others, and especially children.

“Her mother really was involved in the community, and she understood the social activism that’s needed to make sure people are heard, especially the people who are less fortunate than we are,” Sullivan explained. “My epiphany at that time was ‘Joan’s pretty good, but now I understand why she’s pretty good. She comes from a family that has a long heritage of giving back.”

That heritage has defined her career through a number of career stops, including an unlikely starting point, and a certainly intriguing 14-year stint at Square One, one that has seen everything from the adaptation of that name (the agency was formerly known as Springfield Day Nursery) to a profound broadening of its mission to what everyone would agree has been far too much practice dealing with adversity.

Our story begins in New York City in the fall of 1975. Kagan had recently earned a master’s degree in social work (MSW) at Columbia University, but was confronting a historically bleak job market.

Indeed, the Big Apple was in the depths of its worst financial crisis since the height of the Great Depression, and was teetering on bankruptcy that would only be avoided when President Gerald Ford, who initially balked at a $4 billion federal bailout of the city (the New York Daily News headline on Oct. 29 famously read ‘Ford to City: Drop Dead’), eventually relented.

But the federal assistance would come far too late to improve in any way Kagan’s job-search prospects.

“I couldn’t buy a job, and in fact, some of the people I was calling to inquire about opportunities with were telling me they were getting laid off,” she explained while talking about the months after she graduated. “So I went back home with my tail between my legs.”

Kevin Maynard

Kevin Maynard says that, during times of crisis, Joan Kagan would lean on her board, but the board would really lean on her.

Home was Pittsfield, a city dominated in every way, shape, and form by its largest employer, General Electric. And while she thought ever-so-briefly about trying to work there, Kagan instead joined the field she was trained for. Well, not really, but it was in the ballpark, as they say.

She found an opportunity at Berkshire Home Care, tending to the needs of the elderly, not those at the other end of the spectrum, as she desired. But it was work, and it was actually much better than that.

Indeed, at age 25, she was named client-service supervisor — the job demanded an MSW, and there were not many people with that credential — and tasked with overseeing co-workers and coordinating services with other community agencies. This would be the first of a host of leadership roles on her résumé.

The next would come a few years later, after a short stay as a social worker at Child & Family Services of Springfield Inc., when she became supervisor of Social Services at Brightside for Families and Children in 1979.

She would stay with that West Springfield-based agency for 17 years, serving in no fewer than 12 positions, ranging from program manager for the Family Resource Unit to the last one, vice president of Community Development.

“I kept getting promoted and given new management responsibilities and training,” she explained. “Brightside was going through a major transition, and I had a lot of opportunities for growth and development, and appreciated that very much.”

In 1996, she would apply those skills to a new career challenge serving as administrator of the Western Mass. region for the Mass. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (MSPCC), a position — one that saw her supervise a staff of nearly 400 — she would keep for seven years before deciding she was ready for “something else.”

That turned out to be the administrator’s role at a Springfield institution with a proud past, a shaky ‘present,’ and uncertain future.

Name of the Game

Indeed, as he talked about the situation at Springfield Day Nursery when Kagan arrived, Maynard spoke in measured tones, choosing his words in a careful, diplomatic manner, while still getting his point across.

His point was that the agency was at a crossroads in many respects, and in need of strong leadership to return it to stability.

“We had gone through some tumultuous times and several changes in leadership,” he explained. “The organization very much needed someone like Joan, with her credentials and her experience, to right the ship, which had been roiled by some pretty big waves.”

Kagan, being equally diplomatic, agreed.

“When I arrived, Springfield Day Nursery needed a lot of restructuring, fiscally as well as programmatically and administratively,” she said, adding that the CFO left just before she arrived, and the agency’s board had just closed its center in East Longmeadow and was in the process of closing the facility in Tower Square.

“Eight centers immediately became seven, and I consolidated two of those centers, so the seven became five, and that’s how we were rolling along until the tornado,” she said, before replaying the tape and moving much more slowly.

June 2011 tornado

In many ways, Joan Kagan and Square One became the face of the June 2011 tornado and its aftermath.

Her first eight years would see expansion of the agency well beyond its Springfield roots (into Holyoke, for example) and its primary mission — to provide daycare services. To undertake this diversification of services, Kagan called upon experience, and perspective, amassed at several of her previous stops.

“They hired a social worker who was coming to them with a background in child welfare and mental health,” she said of her career path. “And with that came a perspective, or philosophy, that the strategic point of intervention in making a difference with children is the family.

“You cannot work with just the child — you must work with the family,” she went on. “I said that before I even got hired during the interview phase; I said I wanted to integrate early-childhood education, child welfare, and mental health.”

That’s because many of the same families she saw at the MSPCC were arriving at the doors at Springfield Day Nursery, she said, adding that a far more holistic approach to serving children was needed.

So, over her first several years, she implemented one, after first educating the board and then gaining its blessing.

“I’m not sure anyone really knew what I was talking about or quite understood it,” she said with a laugh. “But I think it was intriguing enough that they went with it.”

In 2006, Kagan, amid some skepticism, hired the agency’s first social worker with the help of a grant and some other funding cobbled together, thus beginning the process of changing the conversation from a focus on the child to a focus on family-support services.

“I remember someone saying to me, ‘how can you hire someone? — this is a one-year grant; you’re just going to have to lay her off,’” she recalled. “I said, ‘welcome to the world of nonprofits — this is what we do. And over the next year, we’re going to work very hard to find more funding and hire more of these people.’”

And she did. There are now 40 social workers, funded in large part by a contract through the Children’s Trust Fund called Healthy Families. Other contracts would follow, including one with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department to work with individuals who have been incarcerated.

These various forms of expansion involving geography and programming created the need for a name change, she explained, adding that neither ‘Springfield’ nor ‘day nursery’ really worked anymore.

Several options were considered, before the board, after much debate, decided upon ‘Square One,’ a name crafted to connote that this was where a child got a solid start and a foundation he or she could build on.

Little did board members and agency administrators know they would be going back to square one themselves in the years to come, and in ways they probably couldn’t have imagined.

A Force in the Community

Before moving on to Columbia, Kagan earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. While there, she received an informal education in a much different subject matter — tornadoes.

Indeed, while that Missouri city located on the banks of the Mississippi River isn’t as noted for twisters as sections of Oklahoma and Kansas, it is visited by them frequently, she told BusinessWest. “We never had a direct hit while I was there, but there were times when it got pretty scary; it would get very dark and very still, and the winds would pick up, and the pressure would build.”

She would call on those experiences nearly 40 years later on that fateful afternoon in 2011, reacting instinctively, for example, to get her assistant away from the large window through which she first spotted the twister, and then herd everyone into the basement, including that reluctant air-conditioning technician.

Joan Kagan chats with state Sen. Eric Lesser

Joan Kagan chats with state Sen. Eric Lesser. Over the years, she’s lobbied tirelessly for programs benefiting children and families.

Thinking back, Kagan said that, while everything happened very quickly — three minutes total, by her estimate — she remembers events unfolding almost in slow motion. And what she remembers most are sights and sounds.

Starting with the latter, while most would compare the noise generated by the twister as it passed over and through the building to a freight train moving at high speed, she would get into even more detail.

“It was deafening,” she said while recalling the brief time she and several others spent in the basement listening to what was going on overhead. “It was like you were on a airport tarmac, and jumbo-jet engines were running, and someone was taking pieces of metal and throwing them into those engines. It was like metal crunching, and it was very loud.”

As for the sights, there are too many to recount, but the one that resonates most, perhaps, was the view she had of the building next door to Square One’s after arriving on a chaotic Main Street.

“The wall had been sheared off … I’m looking at it, and I’m looking at people’s offices; I can see their pictures on the wall,” she recalled. “It was totally exposed; it was like a doll’s house.”

In the days and weeks after the tornado, Square One, and especially its president and CEO, would become the face of the tornado and the recovery that followed — quite literally.

Indeed, the June 20 issue of BusinessWest, bearing the headline “Blown Away: Business Community Grapples with the Tornado Aftermath,” features a picture of a grim-but-determined-faced Kagan with a pile of rubble that used to be the Square One offices in the background.

And that verb grapple was the operative word. While the tornado packed a wallop, the aftermath was in many ways far more grueling, said those we spoke with, noting that the challenges were many, ranging from simply finding new quarters to the immediate and severe cash-flow problems, to dealing with insurance companies that covered the agency.

“The tornado totally took out our infrastructure — the administration building was demolished — and dramatically altered our business plan,” Kagan explained. “That spring, we had just secured funding to renovate our King Street site; our plan was to add 100 more children there. When we lost the Main Street site, instead of being able to add 100 children, I ended up having to place the 100 children we were serving on Main Street to King Street.”

Those renovations weren’t ready until August, she went on, adding that the agency had to find temporary space for the displaced children while waiting for an insurance settlement and finding a new home for administrative offices.

Unfortunately, and almost unbelievably, the agency’s misfortunes would be compounded by a different disaster, the natural-gas blast 18 months later. Kagan was actually out of town traveling when it happened, but quickly returned to handle an aftermath that featured far too much déjà vu.

“Just as we were getting things together from the tornado, the gas explosion hit, and we lost the capacity to serve another 100 children,” she said. “We were rocking and reeling and trying to find places for those kids, dealing with staff issues, dealing with the insurance companies, dealing with Columbia Gas … on it went.”

The twin disasters certainly tested the agency’s mettle, said Sullivan, adding that, in many ways, the present tense is still needed, because Square One is still dealing with infrastructure and cash-flow issues and still rewriting its business plan; it has gone from serving 1,000 children to handling roughly 700.

“Instead of growing, we were just trying to keep things together,” he said, adding that Kagan’s calm, determined brand of leadership has been a key factor in weathering those storms. “She never gets rattled; she’s been the voice of reason, and that has certainly helped us as we’ve fought our way back.”

Battle Tested

But while Kagan has in many ways become best-known for her leadership in the form of disaster response — something they don’t teach people in business school, let alone the social-work program at Columbia — her work before and after those calamities has more far-reaching implications for Square One and the community as a whole.

In recent years, that work has increasingly focused on the day-to-day fiscal challenges facing all nonprofits today, as well as bringing attention to a challenging, almost debilitating system for funding agencies like Square One and lobbying for a replacement that enables such institutions to function more effectively.

“They pay you per child, per day,” said Kagan, adding that this puts enormous pressure on efforts to build capacity, efforts that have been, as noted, crippled by those twin disasters, but also by simple demographics.

Joan Kagan and students at Square One

Joan Kagan and students at Square One pose with members of the Western Mass. delegation to the state Legislature.

“Because of the population we serve, it’s very hard to keep children in the seats day after day,” she explained, adding that the current system would be akin to a college being paid only for the classes a student attends, rather than a designated tuition amount set to cover a host of expenses. “We have all these fixed costs, and they’re the same whether we have 15 kids in the class or 20. But if we only have 15, they’ll only pay us for 15, which makes it very difficult to operate.”

For years, Kagan and others have been lobbying for change, and a sliver of hope for such a system has come in the form of a pilot program, which Square One is now part of, whereby agencies are paid on a reimbursement system based not on students in the classrooms, but costs incurred.

“It’s still difficult, but it’s better; if I spend this amount on teachers, that’s the bill I submit,” she explained, adding that there are still challenges, because the agency incurs expenses one month, bills the state the next month, and gets reimbursed the third, which adds up to serious cash-flow-management issues at an already-difficult time for nonprofits.

“We can manage now,” she went on, adding that the challenge ahead is to convince the state to change its funding model because, with the old (current) one, center-based care is simply not viable, let alone profitable.

Fighting this fight is just one example of the strong leadership Kagan has provided to the larger community of Greater Springfield and all of Western Mass., said Sullivan, adding that she has never stopped battling for children and families — and won’t.

“The state looks at centers like this, and it figures there will be 50% private pay, something you can make margin on, and 50% are poor children who have to be subsidized,” he explained. “Well, Square One doesn’t have that benefit; all our children are subsidized. The children we serve are the future employees in this city, and she’s out there saving souls every day.

“Joan’s been a director, but also a kind of battlefield commander,” he told BusinessWest, referring specifically to the twin disasters but also to the sum of the challenges she and the agency have confronted. “She gets her arms around things quickly and can understand what has to be done.”

Family Business

As he talked about Kagan’s career — the chapters that have been written and those still to be penned — Bill Sullivan harkened back to the woman he came to know and fully appreciate at that memorial service in Pittsfield more than three years ago.

“I think about how proud Joan’s mother would be knowing what a tremendous human-service advocate her daughter has been, and how she has continued that family legacy by passing it on to her children,” he said, adding quickly that Irene Besdin Kagan certainly wouldn’t be the only proud one.

All those who had the foresight to hire her daughter would fall into that category, he said, as would everyone who has the opportunity to work with her — at Square One, all her other career stops, and within the community as well.

Through more than 40 years of service to children and families in need, she has been not only a true leader, but, as Maynard so eloquently put it, “unflappable,” especially during the times when that quality was most urgently needed.

And for that, Joan Kagan is truly a Difference Maker.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Sounds of Summer

Stearns Square

Each summer concert in Stearns Square may attract between 1,000 and 5,000 attendees, depending on the artist.

Chris Russell says the performers at this year’s CityBlock Concert Series will appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes.

“The outdoor concerts have been a popular event for many years, and we worked hard last year to diversify the offerings,” said the executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, or BID, which stages the series. “But we think we’ve done an even better job this year.”

The summer lineup includes a range of genres and showcases well-known groups whose music ranges from pop, rock, and folk to country, Motown, and blues.

“We offer regional and national acts that most people have to pay to see,” Russell told BusinessWest, noting that performances are held on Thursday nights in Stearns Square in the heart of downtown.

They begin at approximately 7:30 p.m., and Russell said area restaurants definitely benefit from the events: they are filled before and after the concerts, which is particularly beneficial because the summer is a time when business usually slows down.

“The restaurants get very busy on the nights of the performances. The concerts are one of the driving economic forces for their weeknight summer business, and they are very important to them. They report a big uptick during the events,” he noted, adding that the concerts attract about 20,000 people each season, with attendance varying from 1,000 to 5,000 each night, depending on the weather and what group is playing.

Word has spread about the free attractions, and the BID begins receiving requests as early as December from groups that want to be part of the concert series in Springfield.

“We try to get national touring acts, so putting schedules together can be challenging,” Russell noted, adding that, although the BID stages the events — which includes hiring the acts, taking care of all operations, and producing the series — the sponsors provide critical funding.

This year, MassMutual Financial Group is CityBlock’s presenting sponsor, followed by other businesses that include Williams Distributing, Sheraton Springfield, the Eastern States Exposition, and United Personnel.

Diverse Talents

Although all of the concerts feature well-known groups, a few are expected to be especially popular. They include the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, which will appear July 21.

“We’re expecting a very large turnout that night,” Russell said.

The Machine is the most popular Pink Floyd show in the nation and has been playing for 25 years. They employ elaborate stage displays and dramatic lighting and have appeared in theaters, large clubs, and casinos across North and Central America, Europe, and Asia, along with playing at many renowned music festivals.

The American country-music group Natalie Stovall and the Drive, which will appear July 28, is also expected to attract a large crowd.

Stovall began playing the fiddle professionally at age 10 and made her Grand Old Opry debut at age 12. She puts on about 200 shows every year and has performed at the White House as well as on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and supported non-country acts like Switchfoot, the Doobie Brothers, Styx, and Safetysuit.

The Springfield BID staged the first CityBlock Concert Series 15 years ago, and the annual events have continued since that time, boosting business downtown and bringing people to the city who might not otherwise visit on a weeknight.

BID ambassadors are stationed on a number of streets, and the architectural details of many historic buildings are highlighted, thanks to special lighting installed by the BID, which runs from the MassMutual Center along Main Street to Lyman Street.

Extra police details patrol the area during the concerts, although Russell says Springfield is one of the safest cities of its size in the region.

And although many communities offer free summer music events, Springfield’s CityBlock series differs due to the local and nationally acclaimed acts, which are made possible by the support of local businesses.

“The concerts take place rain or shine and are a big undertaking,” Russell said, adding that vendors offer food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to concertgoers, although many choose to frequent downtown restaurants before and after the shows.

The first concert will take place June 30 and will feature FAT, a rock band from Springfield that toured as the opening act for the Allman Brothers after their first album was released, and has sold out the MassMutual Center Ballroom.

“They’re a local favorite and always draw a huge crowd,” Russell said.

Their performance will be held in Court Square instead of Stearns Square, but there will be no street closures, and parking will be available in the Civic Center and 91 South garages, as well as on the street.

In addition to FAT, the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, and Natalie Stovall and the Drive, other concerts include:

• Ricky Nelson Remembered on July 7;
• Forever Motown on July 14;
• Terry Sylvester on Aug. 4;
• Max Creek on Aug. 11;
• Blessid Union of Souls on Aug. 18; and
• The Shadowboxers on Aug. 25.

Russell said the American rock band Max Creek is expected to draw a large and diverse audience. The group has been playing for more than 40 years, and its music incorporates rock, country, reggae, soul, jazz, and calypso, as well as their own songs. Guitarist Scott Murawski, keyboardist Mark Mercier, and bassist John Rider have been with Max Creek since the mid-’70s, and are accompanied by the drums and percussion team of Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley.

A performance by the Shadowboxers, which will mark the end of the season and is being paid for by the Big E, is also expected to bring large numbers of people to Stearns Square. Their first full-length album, Red Room, produced by Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris) was featured in the New York Daily News “Top 10 Picks in Music,” and the band’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl” attracted nearly 200,000 YouTube views as well as recognition on Twitter from Timberlake and Pharrell Williams.

In addition to the main acts, the Eastern States Exposition is sponsoring a weekly opening-act performance. These acts will be finalists in the exposition’s Masters of Music Competition, and the overall winner will perform at the Big E and receive $1,000 and a trip to Nashville for two band members.

“The concerts provide a fun night in the city,” Russell said. “But we have to give a lot of credit and thanks to our sponsors, and we are very grateful for their support.”

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University will hold its 119th commencement on Saturday, May 14, at 3 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. More than 730 graduates will receive bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and more than 940 graduates in total will receive degrees, making this the largest graduating class in the university’s history.

Kirk Arnold, CEO of Data Intensity, will be the commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient. As leader of a high-growth, cloud-based services and data-analytics provider, she is a role model for women in the exploding market of data analytics. For more than 35 years, Arnold has been an active member of the technology and business community of Greater Boston. She sits on the boards of digital-marketing service provider Cramer Marketing; EnerNOC, a leading provider of energy-intelligence software; and the Commonwealth Institute. Arnold and Data Intensity were recognized among the Boston Globe’s “Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts” last fall. She was also inducted into Bay Path’s 21st-Century Women Business Leaders Hall of Fame in 2004, its inaugural year.

In addition, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, will be presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree for his accomplishments as an author, educator, and passionate champion of reading aloud to children. Trelease dedicated much of his career to leading seminars and lecturing school groups, parents, teachers, and librarians in all 50 states on the fundamental importance of youthful reading. He was one of the most sought-after speakers on the subject of education in the U.S., a frequent keynote speaker at educational conferences, and is credited with sparking read-aloud movements across the nation. Early in his career, Trelease was also a writer and staff artist for the Springfield Daily News (now known as the Republican).

The commencement is open to the public and is handicap-accessible.

Daily News

LONGMEADOW — Kirk Arnold, CEO of Bedford-based Data Intensity, will address Bay Path University’s 2016 graduating class at its 119th commencement on Saturday, May 14 at 3 p.m. at the MassMutual Center in Springfield. More than 700 students will be awarded master’s and bachelor’s degrees.

Arnold will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree for her extraordinary achievements in leadership. As the CEO of Data Intensity, a high-growth provider of cloud-based services and data analytics, she is a role model for women in the exploding market of data analytics. For more than 35 years, Arnold has been an active member of the technology and business community of Greater Boston. She sits on the boards of Cramer Marketing, EnerNOC, and the Commonwealth Institute. Arnold and Data Intensity were recognized among the Boston Globe’s “Top 100 Women-led Businesses in Massachusetts” last fall. She was also inducted into Bay Path’s 21st Century Women Business Leaders Hall of Fame in 2004, its inaugural year.

Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, will also be presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters degree for his accomplishments as an author, educator, and passionate champion of reading aloud to children. Now in its 7th edition, The Read-Aloud Handbook continues to receive national and international acclaim. Trelease dedicated much of his career to leading seminars and lecturing school groups, parents, teachers, and librarians in all 50 states on the fundamental importance of youthful reading. He was one of the most sought-after speakers on the subject of education in the U.S., a frequent keynote speaker at educational conferences, and is credited with sparking read-aloud movements across the nation. Early in his career, Trelease was also a writer and staff artist for the Springfield Daily News (now known as the Republican).

Construction Sections

Slowdown on I-91

I-91 viaduct

After 45 years, the I-91 viaduct needs much more than a series of patches.

At a recent public meeting about the massive, ongoing I-91 viaduct project, attendees were able to view a yellowed page from the Springfield Daily News featuring an aerial shot of the viaduct slicing through the downtown in 1970. The headline: “I-91 Linkup Provides Access to a Bright City Future.”

That was a long time ago, said Richard Masse, acting director for Mass. Department of Transportation (DOT) Region 2.

“It’s been 45 years,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re way beyond the road being reliable. We shouldn’t have to come out and patch holes, but we’ve been doing that on a regular basis.”

The original construction of Springfield’s portion of I-91, including the raised viaduct, cost just north of $50 million, while the current project — which, over the next three-plus years, will replace the viaduct deck, repair and replace the structural steel, and include other improvements — will cost $148 million, the bid submitted by Framingham-based JF White-Schiavone.

It will also be a significant inconvenience to commuters and businesses traveling to, from, and through Springfield’s downtown.

“There’s no way we can do this project on I-91 without causing some traffic congestion and delay, but we do want to provide information so people know what’s going on,” Masse said, explaining that the recent installation of cameras, sensors, and message boards along the mile-long stretch of raised highway to help motorists deal with the long-term effects of the lane and ramp closures beginning this month. Information will also be posted online for those who want to check out conditions before leaving home.

The elevated viaduct through Springfield carries about 75,000 vehicles per day. Essentially a concrete deck slab supported by steel girders — which are in turn supported by steel pier caps, column piers, and footings with pile foundations — the structure has undergone several rehabilitation projects over the past quarter-century, but nothing approaching a total deck replacement.

“The viaduct deck is in horrible condition, and we’re here to fix it, to give it life for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Ralph Romano, a MassDOT engineer, by way of explaining what the project — which stretches from the Interstate 291 interchange to around State Street — entails.

Now and Later

The first stage of the project, known as stage 1A, is coming to a close, and included pre-emptive repairs to the bridge deck to prepare the two outer lanes of I-91 to handle traffic while rehabilitation of the inner lanes is taking place.

In addition, some local roads were reconfigured to prepare for increased traffic volume due to upcoming detours, including construction of the West Columbus Avenue Extension to help improve traffic flow, and construction of a temporary off-ramp from I-91 south at Birnie Avenue (to be called exit 6-7) to carry traffic onto downtown streets.

Stage 1B, beginning this month and lasting through next fall, will see the inner lanes of I-91 north and south along the median closed for deck reconstruction. All traffic will be shifted to the right, using the shoulder and breakdown lanes. Speed limits have been reduced through the work area and will be enforced with doubled fines, Romano said.

During this phase, JF White-Schiavone will demolish and replace the deck along the median and high-speed lanes of I-91, along with the I-291 on-ramp to I-91 south and the left side of the I-291 off-ramp from I-91 north, in phases. Access to I-291 will be maintained at all times, with the possible exception of overnight closures where detours will be implemented.

The DOT has been testing ramp closures and detours over the past few months while crews performed preliminary deck work, mostly at night. The Birnie Avenue connector onto the interstate has been closed since October, and this month will see the closing of southbound exits 6 and 7, on-ramps from Union and State streets onto I-91 north, and the Route 20 connector into I-91 south.

Detours involving East and West Columbus Avenue, Hall of Fame Avenue, and other roads — details and maps are available online at www.massdot.state.ma.us/i91viaductrehab/traffic.aspx — will be well-marked, Romano said, while I-291 will be accessible through downtown using Liberty and Dwight streets.

“A lot of thought went into this,” Romano said of the traffic-management plan, “but traffic engineering is not an exact science. It relies on human behavior sometimes, so there’s only so much we can do. But we do try to respond to anything that’s not quite right, and we will be doing that throughout the project.”

Stage 2 of the project, slated for late fall 2016 through late fall 2017, won’t see any ramp reopenings, but traffic in both directions will shift to the center, newly constructed lanes, while construction shifts to the low-speed travel lanes and the shoulders, along with the I-91 northbound on-ramp to I-291 east, which will be constructed in two phases.

Additionally, the exit 9 off-ramp from I-91 north to Route 20 will be closed for the first part of stage 2. Again, access from I-91 north to I-291 east will be maintained at all times, except for possible overnight closures. By late fall 2017, commuters will have full use of I-91 in both directions. The temporary exist 6-7 will be removed, along with the West Columbus Avenue Extension.

Then the project moves to a punch-list phase, as workers paint the structural steel, install municipal street lighting where necessary, complete final paving and traffic markings on local streets, and restore all disturbed areas. By the time the contract ends in February 2019, the completed viaduct will feature slightly wider shoulders, new lighting, and stormwater improvements to help protect local water quality.

Throughout the project, the contractors are responsible for controlling construction-related dust emissions, using a combination of sprinklers and sprayers, wind screens, and wind barriers will also be used to control the spread of dust between sidewalks and the work zone.

Bracing for Impact

For most Springfield workers and commuters, though, dust is far down the list of concerns. Traffic is typically at the top.

Taylor Rock, a worksite outreach coordinator with MassRides, was on hand at the public meeting to encourage the public to carpool, either on their own or with the help of a ‘matching program’ they can access online through her agency. MassRides also provides emergency rides home for people whose carpool partners have to leave work early.

Rock cited a study noting that 96% of people driving to work downtown do so alone. Meanwhile, 40% of them have access to flexible work hours. By carpooling and avoiding using the highway during peak rush hours, she said, motorists can make a dent in the traffic hassles that are bound to come.

“We’re not telling people to take their cars off the road, but just look at some alternate ways of traveling,” she said. “You may be able to counter some of the effects of the traffic congestion that will come with this project.”

Masse agreed.

“There will be only one lane open in each direction, and during peak commuting hours, early morning and late afternoon, these lanes will be pushed to their capacity, so the more vehicles we can get off that path by carpooling, vanpooling, and shifting work hours, the better,” he said. “The more people that take advantage of those solutions, the more we can help the situation up on the highway.”

A second ‘bright future’ for I-91 in Springfield, to quote that old newspaper headline, may seem far away once traffic slows to a crawl. But, as Masse noted, the days of patching are over as a more permanent fix begins.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Seuss Museum Expected to Provide Boost for Quadrangle, City


Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Holly Smith-Bove says that, over the years, the bulk of the phone calls and inquiries from visitors to the Springfield Museums — maybe 80% of them by her estimate — have concerned the “Dr. Seuss Museum,” even though there isn’t one.

There is a sculpture garden featuring Seuss characters, as well as the author himself, on the museum grounds, which helps explain all those inquiries, she said. Still, many assume there is a museum attached to that hugely popular attraction. Meanwhile, there’s also an image of the Cat in the Hat on the museums’ logo, creating additional expectations.

But another huge factor is simply the strong international pull of Theodor Seuss Geisel, the most famous children’s author of all time — an estimated 600 million copies of his various works have been sold in 95 countries around the world — and knowledge of his many connections to Springfield, his birthplace, said Smith-Bove, president of Springfield Museums. And thus it is with a good deal of relief — and anticipation — that such questions will now be given a different answer.

Specifically, that the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum will open its doors in June 2016 in the William Pynchon Memorial Building, which once housed the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.

The new facility will be highly interactive and have a strong literacy component, said Kay Simpson, vice president of Springfield Museums, who spearheaded the Seuss museum project.

She told BusinessWest that the first floor of the Seuss museum, some 3,200 square feet of exhibition space, will house “The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss,” a permanent, bilingual exhibit deigned to introduce children and their families to the stories of Geisel, promote joy in reading, and nurture specific literacy skills.

“The exhibit is really focused on Ted Geisel growing up in downtown Springfield, and how the sights that he saw and some of the characters he encountered later appeared in his books,” said Simpson, noting that there are many connections, including Mulberry Street, just a few blocks from the Quadrangle, which was the focus of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

The second floor, meanwhile, which is due to open roughly a year later and is what Simpson called a “work in progress,” will house additional exhibits, including a planned re-creation of Geisel’s studio, an exhibition about the making of the sculpture garden, and other related displays.

“We’re calling it ‘Ted’s Room,’” said Smith-Bove. “It might include his writing desk — setting up his studio as if he just left it.”

The new museum is expected to generate perhaps a 25% boost in overall visitorship to the Quadrangle (currently about 400,000 annually), said Smith-Bove, adding that the attraction has strong potential to bring a number of economic benefits to the City of Homes, especially if the museum concept can be built upon in ways to include other city landmarks.

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson say the new Dr. Seuss museum will bring many benefits, including a boost in sales of Seuss items in the gift shop.

Indeed, museum officials are already pondering such possibilities as Seuss walking or driving tours that could possibly include his childhood home on Fairfield Street (currently on the market), his alma mater, Classical High School, the site of his maternal grandparents’ bakery on Howard Street, and other sites.

They also envision packaging a Seuss experience with other facilities honoring artistic and literary figures, such as the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, and others.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at plans for the Seuss museum and talks with those involved about how it might prompt visitors to explore not only the worlds Geisel created, but the city that inspired so much of what he drew.

Rhyme and Reason

Simpson told BusinessWest that discussions concerning a Seuss museum began in 2002, not long after the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened, and it became immediately apparent just how powerful a draw the children’s author and his famous characters were.

“It was a huge attraction the day it opened to the public, and it still is today,” said Simpson, noting that, because people don’t have to purchase admission to visit the garden, it is hard to keep an accurate account of visitorship, but she estimates at least 100,000 people a year.

From a qualitative standpoint, she said the sculpture garden has been a hit with people of all ages, and it has attracted cars bearing the license plates of nearly 50 states.

“When the kids come onto the Quad, the minute they see the sculptures, they immediately run toward them — it’s very meaningful for people,” Simpson noted, adding that, while it is mostly a spring and summer phenomenon, weather doesn’t stop many of the faithful.

“I’ve gone out onto the Quad even during the chilly autumn,” she noted, “and you’ll see someone in the middle of a rainstorm with an umbrella just reading the text from the sculpture that represents Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”

And many of those visitors, as Smith-Bove noted, want to know where the Seuss museum is.

While there has long been a desire to create one and meet that recognized need, Simpson explained, many pieces had to fall in place for such a facility to become reality.

Such pieces included physical space, a problem that was solved when the various collections in the Pynchon building were moved to the new Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History in 2009, freeing up that square footage. Another was gaining the blessing of Geisel’s widow, Audrey, and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, an organization that zealously promotes and protects the Seuss name and brand, while still another was funding.

In many respects, Simpson said, those challenges were woven together.

“We had a conceptual plan for the first floor of the Pynchon building, which had received approval from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, but they had a condition,” she explained. “And the condition was that we had to raise all the money that we needed to execute that conceptual plan before we started any construction or fabrication.

“It’s been like a patchwork quilt,” added Simpson of the efforts to create the museum, adding that a key stitch came from a $1 million appropriation from the state, which, when added to roughly $600,000 and other donations, including a $150,000 gift from the Institute of Library Services, gave the Museums more than the $1.5 million needed to greenlight the project and begin work.

Following an extensive RFP process that yielded responses from firms across the country, the Springfield Museums contracted with a design group comprised of 42 Design Fab, based in Indian Orchard, and 5 WITS Productions and Boston Productions Inc., both based in Norwood, to create the interactive elements for the first floor.

The new Seuss museum

The new Seuss museum will focus on the many connections between the author and Springfield, including early vehicles produced in the city.

Visitors will enter the exhibition through a large entry hall designed to simulate elements of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In succeeding galleries, they’ll explore a series of environments that replicate scenes from Geisel’s imagination and encounter life-sized, three-dimensional characters and places from the books.

Character Witnesses

Overall, what’s planned for the two floors of the Pynchon Building, a Georgian Colonial Revival style structure, is a celebration of the author, his works, and his many connections to Springfield, said Simpson and Smith-Bove, adding that childhood literacy will be an important component of the facility.

That’s because one of Geisel’s primary motivations for his many children’s books was to get young people excited about reading, said Simpson.

Indeed, starting with The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957, he launched what became known as the I Can Read It All By Myself Beginner Book Series, which would also include The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, and many others.

“We’re going to be a resource for the community in terms of emphasizing reading and the importance of reading,” she said of the new museum. “And our exhibits will have literacy built into them.

“For example, the interactive displays will teach kids how to rhyme and have really fun rhyming games,” she went on. “They will teach letters of the alphabet, and they provide places where families can read together — little reading nooks. There will be a focus on vocabulary with a ‘word wall.’”

As for Springfield connections, there are many, said Simpson, noting that, while the author never lived in the city following a brief return after doing graduate work at Oxford, his birthplace was always important to him, and many of its landmarks, as well as the inventions and products with which the city is most identified, can be seen in his works.

It’s all explained in a number of informational panels on the author now on display in the history museum.

One cites the stunning resemblance between the towers in the armory building on Howard Street (set to become part of the MGM casino complex) that sat across the street from his maternal grandparents’ German bakery, and a tower in The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

Another panel speculates on how the Knox automobiles and Indian motorcycles manufactured in the city early in the 20th century may have influenced vehicles presented in his books, while another cites how his paternal grandfather’s brewery, the Kalmbach & Geisel Brewery, may have inspired some of his drawings. And still another informs readers of how the animals in the Forest Park Zoo — which Geisel’s father served as superintendent after Prohibition torpedoed the family brewery — inspired the many creatures in his books.

“Ted grew up on Fairfield Street, which was not far from Forest Park; he used to go over to the park as a boy, and he always had his sketchbook with him,” said Simpson. “He would go to the zoo, and he would draw all those animals — he would spend hours doing that — and it’s believed that seeing all those animals inspired him to create all those crazy creatures you see in his books.”

These myriad connections help explain why the Seuss family and Dr. Seuss Enterprises determined that, if there was to be a museum devoted to the children’s author, it should be in Springfield, said Smith-Bove, adding that it will be the only facility of its kind dedicated to his life and work in the world.

And while it will be launched in the Pychon building, there are expectations that it may be expanded down the road, said Smith-Bove, adding that, in the meantime, the other facilities in the Springfield Museums could be utilized to provide a broader Seuss experience.

“We have five museums on our campus that can hold thousands of people,” she explained. “It’s up to us to make sure that we program each of the other buildings. In the art museum, we can have Seuss’s artwork; in the history, we can talk about his life; for the science museum, there’s the Lorax … there are many possibilities.”

These extend well beyond the Quadrangle itself, said Simpson, adding that Springfield Museums and city officials should work together to use those connections between Geisel and his hometown to bring more attention — and visitors — to the museums and the city as a whole.

“Ted really knew downtown Springfield — he went to Classical, he used the main branch of the city library [on State Street], and some of his books actually to refer to what was then called the municipal auditorium, Symphony Hall,” she explained. “So we were thinking that we could do a walking tour, which goes to the idea of cultural tourism.

“We’d be making connections between the museums and other sites in downtown Springfield,” she went on, “and would really get tourists walking around the city.”

When asked about the projected impact on the Quadrangle from the new museum, Smith-Bove and Simpson again flashed back to when the sculpture garden opened. The first few years it was open, it was a huge draw, they said, adding that visitorship to the museums grew by roughly 25% over that time.

A similar increase is expected from the new facility, along with a corresponding increase in the museums’ overall economic impact on the city, currently pegged at roughly $28 million.

And for the Springfield Museums themselves, in addition to the surge in visitorship, there is an expected trickle-down to facilities like the gift shop, where sales of Seuss-related items — from books to Cat in the Hat hats to plush toys — account for more than 25% of total revenues.

Chapter and Verse

The health and vitality of both the Seuss name and brand is evidenced by the coverage given the news of the planned Seuss museum, said Matt Longhi, the museums’ director of marketing and public relations, who tracks such things.

He said stories or notes have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and even the South African Art Times and Al Jazeera’s New York bureau.

More significant than the press is the manner in which the Seuss brand continues to grow — in scope and also in terms of revenue, said Simpson, adding that the Seuss name, and the books, have enormous staying power.

“Other book series just seem to fade out over time,” she explained. “But he just keeps getting more popular.”

In addition to staying power, it is expected that the celebrated author will have drawing power — in a figurative sense — which will bode well for the museums at the Quadrangle, the city itself, and all those who want to celebrate the life of Springfield’s most famous resident.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Supplements
The Numbers Show the Big E Is a Driving Force in the Local Economy

Wayne McCary

Wayne McCary says the numbers clearly show that the Big E is a powerful economic engine in the region.

Wayne McCary views the Big E as a wheel with many spokes.
“It’s the tremendous diversity of the vehicle that causes so many people to come here,” said the long-time president of the Eastern States Exposition. “There really is something for everybody from babies in strollers to people who are 90 years old.”
The wheels have changed in size and scope since the exposition, known then as the Springfield Fair, opened in 1916, but they are still spinning in the right direction. In fact, in spite of the poor economy, the Big E set an all-time attendance record in 2009, with 1,260,400 visitors.
McCary attributes last year’s success to two factors: good weather and tradition. “The Big E has become a tradition in New England for thousands and thousands of people,” he said. “Everyone has prioritized the way they way they spend their money, and it’s clear that people stayed closer to home last year because of the economy. People look for value more than they did in the past, but they can have a wonderful time here and stay within their family budget.
“Still,” he conceded, “it was remarkable to set an all-time attendance record in 2009.”
However, the fair’s history shows that tradition trumps bad news, both economic and societal. “The Big E opened a few days after 9/11 in 2001,” McCary said. “Planes weren’t flying, and professional sports were grounded. But more than a million people came here.”
The 2010 edition of the fair, which opens Sept. 17 and runs through Oct. 3, is one of the largest in North America and draws vendors from across the U.S. and Canada. “We have a $2 million budget for entertainment, and 90% of it is free with admission, which is a big drawing card,” said McCary.
The American Bus Assoc. has listed the Big E in its top 100 places to visit for many years, and in 2009 it designated the fair as an ‘international’ event, raising its status to one shared by the Indianapolis 500 and Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City.
“We are the only fair in that category. In fact, the Big E is the only fair in the nation that has more than one state participating,” said McCary. “The six New England buildings are a real draw, and people who go through them can actually claim they have been in all of the New England states, as each state owns its building and the land it sits on. Surveys show they offer a mini-tour with icon products that attract visitors.”
About 650 tour buses visit the Big E each year. They arrive from across New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and occasionally farther out, said McCary, who talked at length with BusinessWest about the fair, its traditions, and its strong influence on the local economy.

Economic Engine
A study conducted in 2008 by Regional Economic Models Inc. in Amherst showed that the 17-day fair is a powerful economic engine which generates just under $225 million as a result of visitor spending. That amount does not include money spent by people in Hampden County.
“The assumption is that people who live in the area would spend their money on other things if we weren’t here,” said McCary. “The number reflects new money for Hampden County.”
Almost half of the Big E’s visitors travel more than 60 miles to get to the fair, and 69% have a college education, according to the report. The fair draws 37% of its guests from Massachusetts, 50% from Connecticut, and about 12% from other places in New England. “The majority come for one day, but many people who live in close proximity come for multiple visits,” said McCary.
The Big E creates 2,800 full-time jobs and 3,500 temporary jobs in Hampden County which otherwise wouldn’t exist, the report concluded.
“The Big E impacts many sectors,” said McCary. “There is a trickle-down effect, and the hotels in the area are always filled to capacity. Vendors and competitors vie to get rooms during fair time.”
The Big E also contributes almost $500,000 in local hotel taxes, and adds $7.53 million to the state budget in sales-tax revenue.
When the report first came out, McCary found the results astonishing. “I was stunned at the magnitude of the Big E’s impact on the economy. It far exceeded what we were claiming, and the numbers were so strong, we asked to have the results reviewed to confirm they were accurate,” he said.
Paul Picknelly, who owns the Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel and the Hilton Garden Inn in Springfield, says the Big E is a tremendous benefit, not only for hotels in the immediate area, but also throughout the Pioneer Valley. “Our hotels do a substantial amount of business from that particular event,” he said. “The economic impact is significant for the hotel business.”
But more important is the year-round roster of shows held on the exposition grounds. “I don’t think there are more than a handful of weekends throughout the year when we don’t have rooms booked from visitors attending events at the Eastern States Exposition. To sum it up, it’s the largest hotel-room generator in Western Mass.,” said Picknelly.

Farm Factor
The Big E, known as the Springfield Fair until 1949, was founded by Joshua Brooks in 1916. At that time, regional farmers decided to to set aside state boundaries and work together to combat signs that agriculture was on the decline.
“Joshua went to the national livestock show in Chicago and convinced them to move it to West Springfield. At that time, there was nothing here but a swamp. None of the facilities had been built,” McCary said. “The first fair lasted only a few days, but it was big enough to launch a succession of fairs that have continued until today.”
Each year, thousands of children from 15 states participate in 4H and Future Farmers of America competitions during the Big E’s 17 day-run.
The agricultural component of the show remains important, and “the competitions are very crucial to people in the livestock, sheep, alpaca, and horse business,” McCary said. “The credentials of the Big E in agriculture are very strong nationwide, and winning a competition here adds value to their livestock.”
The exposition has survived storms, floods, and recessions, and encompasses many facets of New England life. Today, it extends far beyond its agricultural roots, and there are attractions to interest people of all ages. “There are so many elements to the Big E. People can shop until they drop, come for the entertainment, or eat their way through the fair. But many still come to see the farm animals,” McCary said. “The fair provides a unique opportunity for urban people. There is still something that makes the public want to reach out and touch a cow or see a chick hatch, and the Big E brings all this together.”
About 80,000 people enjoy the Big E circus each year. McCary has been producing it since 1970 and says each act is drawn from some of the most promiment circuses around the world. “Because it is a supercircus, we rotate the cast and generally don’t repeat acts from one year to the next. This year we have four acts that have never been seen here before.”
Other attractions include the Mardi Gras parade, which has been so popular, it will run twice a day this year. There is also the Better Living Center, with 127,000 square feet of what McCary describes as “wall-to-wall shopping,” plus Storrowton Village, where history comes alive.
Last year, the fair introduced the Craze-E-Burger, which earned the Big E international acclaim after the bacon cheeseburger, which is served on a glazed donut grilled with butter, was touted by Facebook fans. Director of Marketing Noreen Tassinari said it was talked about by Jay Leno and David Letterman and was written about in the New York Daily News, the London Daily Telegraph, and newspapers in Australia. “Social media is very important to us,” she said.
There is so much to see and do at the Big E that 90% of visitors surveyed over the past 10 years say they will return. “It’s a tremendous referendum for any product or service, and the challenge is how to live up to expectations,” McCary said.
But one thing is clear, he added. “When I am asked what I think about the future, I borrow a phrase from Coca Cola: it’s the real thing.”