The Eliot School - a 20th Century Snapshot

Based on 2014 interviews with six staff and board members, each of whom have left their mark on the school’s long history. Special thanks to the present Director, Abigail Norman, who suggested the story and to the six people we interviewed for their time and sincerity in participating.

The Eliot School, founded in 1676 and expanded in 1689 with a 75 acre land grant from Reverend John Eliot, ranks among the most historic of Jamaica Plain’s many historic sites. It now rests at just about the center of our town, not far from its original location. With the neighboring First Church in Jamaica Plain, together they make a very eloquent statement about this country’s beginnings and the ideas that started it all.

The Eliot School’s fascinating history and mission statement can be found on its website. There is no attempt here to expand on that; instead, we’d rather claim some modest bragging rights about a place in Jamaica Plain whose simple mission to “inspire lifelong learning in craftsmanship and creativity for all” has given so much to so many people.

The Interviews

The five interviews which follow provide, we think, a 20th century snapshot of the always evolving school, its fundamental character, some monumental dedication to teaching, responsible oversight by a far-sighted board, a few flaws and the school’s continuing drive to serve its diverse constituencies as Boston and its school system continue to evolve.

Charlie Sandler

The Eliot School Wood Shop is named to honor his energetic and faithful service from 1966 to 2012; an unmatched record of dedicated caring for an institution he loves to this day. Charlie Sandler is a legend at the Eliot School. His 46 years’ of teaching there is surpassed only by a 97-year old student who attended Eliot classes before Charlie arrived and left after him. Nevertheless, Charlie’s legacy is memorialized in the name of the Eliot School’s woodworking shop and with a well-earned and highly-prized reputation in the trades and the teaching profession.

Charlie was born September 8, 1932 at Boston Lying-In Hospital. He grew up in Roxbury and Dorchester. His wife of nearly 60-years, Christine, (DelMonico) was born and raised in Roxbury too. Charlie attended Boston Public schools, graduating from Dorchester High School in 1950. Wasting no time, he went right to work in the cabinet-making trade. In 1953 he enlisted in the Army and served in Korea as a Platoon Sergeant and heavy weapons instructor.

Completing his enlistment in 1955, Charlie married Christine and went back to cabinet- making and millwork for several Boston companies including Frank B. Curry Co, Barnett Brothers, Rigid Wood Products and Hartstone Construction Company.

Feeling a call to teach, he enrolled at Fitchburg State College in 1966, and simultaneously, he passed a State exam allowing him to teach cabinet-making in the Boston school system. Continuing his studies while working for Boston, he earned a Master’s Degree plus 45 Credits. He taught Industrial Arts at several Boston schools including Madison Park High and Dorchester High. He also taught vocational teacher training at Lawrence Vocational Technical High School in Lawrence, Mass. He retired from the Boston school system as a Guidance Counselor in 1997 taking many honors with him including Outstanding Massachusetts Guidance Counselor and President of the Massachusetts Vocational Association. No honor, however, is more valued than the naming of the Eliot School Woodworking shop “The Charlie Sandler Wood Shop” when he retired from Eliot in 2012.

1966 was a busy year for Charlie as we have seen. It was a great year for Eliot School too, because Charlie was recruited by Eliot School Superintendent Herb Forssel to teach woodworking to children and adults. The children’s class was on Saturday mornings with a class of 24 kids, ages 7 to 13 years, from near and far and the adult’s class of 14 to 20 students was one night a week. His enormous energy and enthusiasm for teaching were unlimited, especially for the kids at Eliot. Charlie taught the completely inexperienced children to make lamps, knick-knack shelves, towel racks, night tables and wood-pecker shaped door knockers. The school provided everything for the children’s classes.

The adults were free to choose their own projects but had to provide their own wood and hardware. They made coffee tables and end tables and did some woodturning on the lathe. Charlie found the adults attentive and interested students; most of whom were beginners with hand tools. Charlie also taught them the very important, and often overlooked, skill of tool sharpening.

In 1970 Charlie became the Eliot School Superintendent. He continued teaching adult classes along with his new managerial duties that included developing curricula, designing and personally distributing pamphlets and leaflets by hand in all the surrounding communities, recruiting and developing new teachers, maintaining and acquiring tools, maintaining the building and working with the board on policy issues. He and Christine were living in Hyde Park at the time so a 5:30 am detour to open the school was easily accomplished on the way to his Boston teaching job. A major building renovation at the rear of the school, including replacing the sills, was done under Charlie’s watchful eye in 2010.

Several Directors were hired during Charlie’s tenure. Helen Hummel, Deb Galliga, Duane Claussen and some others came in, stayed for a while, and then moved on. Each advanced the school’s mission in their own way before leaving. These Directors were from Jamaica Plain and Roslindale.

Charlie retired from the Eliot School in 2012 for health reasons but his heart and many of his tools are still at the Eliot School. Craftsmanship was second nature to Charlie and Eliot School was his second home and a major part of his life. He can’t work with the tools anymore and he misses that integral part of his former life. Charlie and Christine now live in Stoughton near their two daughters Rhonda and Lisa, and four grandchildren.

Amongst many highlights of his long career at the Eliot School, Charlie fondly remembers two women who built beautiful old-fashioned rocking cradles and a woman who flew in from New York every Tuesday night for a class in Gilding. Two other New York commuters attended Upholstery classes every week. Then there was the woman, Mrs. Scannell, from the Jamaicaway who mastered every skill Charlie taught while her two adult children were enrolled in the same class. He also taught the former CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Paul Levy and his wife, Farzana, who count Eliot School among their favorite charities. One of his former outstanding students, Joe Stanewick, now teaches at Eliot. He gratefully remembers his long relationship with the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association in Quincy as productive and beneficial to the school’s equipment maintenance, repair and replacement programs. The Association, founded in 1795 with Paul Revere as its first Chairman, never failed to help Charlie and the Eliot School.

Charlie says he’ll never forget his time at the Eliot School and the great people he met and taught there. Knowing he has enriched the lives of so many students fulfils his 1966 dream to educate and inspire. He loves the Eliot School and misses it very much.

John Earley

A teacher who never stopped learning. John feels very lucky to have been part of the Eliot School for over twenty years which, he says, were the happiest days of his life! After 37 years in the Boston Public School system as a teacher and administrator, John and Mary Earley have found a wonderful lakeside retirement in New Hampshire; far enough away to frame Golden Pond moments, but only 90 minutes to Fenway Park. John built the home 37 years ago and is keeping his skills sharp by currently restoring a 1949 Chris-Craft runabout.

Born July 5, 1940 at St. Margaret’s Hospital in Dorchester, John attended St. Gregory’s elementary school, Boston Technical High School and then Boston State College. His wife, Mary, also a teacher, was born in Huntington, Long Island, NY and they lived in Braintree with their three sons for most of their married lives.

John’s introduction to the Industrial Arts at Boston Tech, as part of their fine college prep course, set him on a lifelong journey of teaching the proper use and love of tools and an appreciation of woodworking and related construction skills. As he says, “a teacher’s education never ends” and through advanced courses, seminars and six years of Naval Reserve military service he learned and then taught, at different times, electricity, electronics, plumbing, house framing, mechanical drawing and other hand skills as well as woodworking, exposing his students to viable career paths of their own.

John began his long career with the Boston School system in 1963 in East Boston teaching Industrial Arts at Barnes middle school. After 17 years in the classroom, he became Director of Instruction, involved in teacher support and supervision, along with academic planning.

About midway in the 1980s John heard about the Eliot School from Frank Celona, a colleague at the Barnes School. John joined the staff at the Eliot School teaching woodworking to fifteen or twenty 8-14 year-old students on Saturday mornings along with two other teachers. Space limitations governed the class sizes. The kids were locals (Jamaica Plain) and from further afield and all paid a nominal fee for the two 10-week, non-graded, semesters. Projects ranged from cutting boards and clocks to small desks with all tools and materials supplied by the school. He was completely taken with the dedication of the talented teaching staff, many of whom were moonlighting small businessmen, retired professionals or former Eliot students. The quality and enthusiasm of the students was equally compelling.

The adult students included professional people seeking a hobby while others came to restore, refinish or reupholster an heirloom piece. Occasionally, tradesmen seeking new skills attended the classes.

In August 2000, coincident with his retirement from the Boston school system and drawing upon his nearly 17 years on the administrative side of his public school teaching career, John assumed the recently formed Eliot School Director’s role. This involved managing day-to-day operations, community outreach and promoting the school, developing pamphlets, collecting tuitions, paying the bills, ordering materials, budgeting, scheduling classes and generally helping with the Superintendent’s workload. He continued teaching on an as-needed basis until 2005 when he ended his formal Eliot School connection.

Especially rewarding to John were the great Eliot School open studios for artists and craftsmen when all the details of planning and coordination came together and, he says, “people from all over flowed through the school to see the artists while providing a chance to publicize the opportunities for self-expression offered by the Eliot School. It was great fun.”

He says the atmosphere there was very task oriented and while intensely attentive, the students were very relaxed in their new and different life experience.

When asked about a memorable student, John proudly recalled a boy with outstanding skills who went on to become one of the talented ship’s carpenters who maintain the USS Constitution at its berth in Charlestown.

When asked if, in retrospect, he’d change anything at Eliot he said there was nothing because it’s constantly evolving and improving. His days there were among “the happiest of his life.”

In summary, John said his Eliot School experience, which he feels very lucky to have been part of, was one of the high points of a career he never for a minute stopped loving; which is a nice way to go to work each day.

Joy Silverstein

Joy’s take on the Eliot School is from a student’s and active board member’s perspective. A successful Jamaica Plain businesswoman for over thirty years, she has known some frustration in her two stints on the board – but is convinced the school’s new direction is right on target.

Joy Silverstein entered this world at Boston on October 8, 1953. Following the traditional K – 6 elementary curriculum at the J.P. Manning School on Louders Lane, Joy graduated from Girl’s Latin School in 1971 and then did a self-directed tour of the USA. A couple of colleges later she settled in to Williams College, graduating in 1976 with a degree in psychology.

Gaining the necessary training and required license, she became a hair stylist at salons on Newbury Street and in Harvard Square. In 1982 she took the plunge and opened Fresh Hair Salon at 62 South Street and it has been going strong ever since.

More than a decade into her thriving business life, she was approached by the Eliot School to interview for a seat on the school’s Board of Directors. She was aware of the Eliot School back in her elementary school years but had never entered Eliot’s doors. Nevertheless, the board had concluded that their all male roster was lacking the diversity necessary for an iconic cultural institution like Eliot School in the rapidly changing Jamaica Plain demography. Joy was accepted and took her seat with ten others on the board in 1994.

She initially found serving on the board challenging as it grappled with many unresolved issues it faced in the 90s. However, for several reasons, resolution of the problems didn’t seem to happen. Meantime, the demands of her rapidly growing business and the needs of a pre-teen daughter were mounting, so Joy resigned from the board in 2003 after nine years of somewhat frustrating service.

More than five years later, hearing that the school was on a new course under dynamic new leadership, Joy re-applied for her former position on the board and was accepted in 2008. She presently serves as Secretary, following her previous assignment as Treasurer.

Some of the issues Joy thinks need resolution soon are the space needs for project storage. Upholstery classes, for example, require significant space for large work pieces brought in by the students. New space for the administrative staff would free up much needed space for classes. And while several grants are in place and several others are in preparation, handicapped access could be an issue for continued external grant support. She also thinks that term limits for members of the board that are already in the by-laws should be honored to insure continuing fresh thinking and high energy on the board. Her present position on the Nominating committee keeps the board turn-over issue in sight as well as filling all 14 authorized board member positions.

The dramatic changes that have occurred in her second hitch on the board are creation of a second three-year strategic plan developed with outside expertise. Generally the strategic plans deal with buildings and grounds, finances, publicity and program development and are monitored by a committee chairperson assigned to each category. The first plan’s tasks were 90% completed by effective management including setting realistic goals and holding task owners accountable.

Where the school stood empty for large blocks of time before, classes are nearly always fully subscribed now that their break-even cost has been determined. Class size and tuitions are now realistically set after careful analysis. Earlier, many classes ran at a loss resulting in hits on the Endowment. The Director is now aided by three full time staff handling the administrative duties like scheduling, enrollments, bookkeeping and so on. Grant writers are employed on a case basis.

New partnering arrangements have been developed to include the Museum of Fine Arts and the North Bennet Street School to complement the School Partnership Program already in place. This latter program reaches out to nearly 1400 students in 13 Boston schools and 10 community sites, bringing the skills and talents of Eliot’s teachers into Boston classrooms.

In addition to outreach beyond Jamaica Plain, the school has begun serious fund raising among its friends and neighbors in Jamaica Plain. The annual student/faculty art show spotlights the beautiful work being done at the Eliot School providing another avenue of outreach.

Joy has taken several classes including two levels of woodcarving and knitting and plans to enroll in more. As the school has rapidly moved into the mainstream in the last several years, she believes its mission “to inspire lifelong learning in craftsmanship and creativity for all” has never been better fulfilled. She is very proud to be part of that long tradition at the Eliot School.

Michael Gleason

Michael Gleason eased into a 35 year teaching career at the Eliot School after his kind offer to drive a crippled colleague to the school led to his own woodcarving class with 90 year-old Peter Johnson.

Michael Gleason took the long way to Eliot School. Starting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on July 12, 1949, he stopped at a two year boarding school in Monroe, Virginia, and then on to Rogers, Arkansas for his high school diploma. Next, he did two years at the University of Arkansas and then two more at the University of New Orleans, studying biology. Landing in Boston he found a job at a small cabinet shop on Thayer Street in the South End owned by Arbine G. Johnson who made cabinets and antique reproductions and did furniture refinishing along with custom services for decorators. The Johnson shop is now closed.

After serving a cabinet-making apprenticeship in Sweden, Arbine Johnson emigrated and found a job in the thriving community of professional artisans including gilders, brush makers, furniture and cabinet makers, woodworkers and antique refinishers in Boston’s South End. Arbine’s son, Nils, was Michael’s boss and in the evenings Nils taught gilding at the Eliot School. Nils learned gilding in the South End when the crippling effects of his childhood polio prevented him from doing woodworking in his father’s shop. He taught the gilding course for 40 years and it being the only gilding class in New England, it drew students from as far as New York and launched the careers of many practicing gilders. Gilding is now taught by one of Nils’ students, Nancy Dick-Atkinson

By the 70s Nils Johnson was unable to drive so Michael drove him to Eliot for his gilding classes. In 1973 Michael took a course in decorative woodcarving which was taught by a 90-year old teacher named Peter Johnson. Peter was not related to Nils. Peter Johnson taught the woodcarving course for 50 years and in his later years was driven to school on his scheduled teaching days from his nursing home on Centre Street, West Roxbury. This experience with Peter Johnson was Michael’s most memorable event during his time there.

By 1977 Michael was assisting Nils in the gilding class, and it seemed to them it was time for Michael to develop and teach his own course in furniture restoration. So, in the relaxed atmosphere then prevailing at the school, and despite the lack of formal teacher training, Michael created a furniture restoration course which Eliot Director, Herb Forsell, approved. The course objectives were to provide one-on-one instruction tailored to each student’s project, which was usually a family heirloom, and to familiarize the students with the professional vs the hardware store grades of restoration materials and the superior results achieved with the professional materials. The students’ projects included desks, beds, tables, chairs and clocks. Major repairs were often needed before refinishing could begin so projects often took a long time to complete. The average age of his students was about 50-plus years and the level of restoration experience for 80 % of them was “enthusiastic beginner.” Classes started and stayed small because, as Michael notes, “the school was an unknown gem” with little public exposure, even within Jamaica Plain.

Classes of four to eight students in the beginning grew to ten to twelve over time, and sometimes the age level was significantly lower as 25-year olds came to Eliot hoping to learn a skill for a new career. Several of Michael’s students did, in fact, enter the field of refinishing and restoration after classes at the Eliot School and presently a long-time former student, Michael Johnson, is Michael’s teaching assistant. Other memorable students are Christine McDermott of West Roxbury and Mrs. Newell of Jamaica Plain.

Michael’s restoration class became part of Eliot’s regular curriculum in 1980 and he’s been there ever since, teaching both evening and day courses in restoration, box making, and finishing for woodworkers and, from time to time, the difficult skill of hand dovetailing (the fan shaped interlocking joints seen at the ends of drawers.) He’s currently planning a class devoted to mantle clocks.

Among the many very talented staff he met at the Eliot School, Michael recalls Percival Loomer, a former Stone and Webster Co. engineer, whose heart condition forced a career change. Loomer taught woodworking to another 90-year old, Dr. Fossie of Milton, who built an extraordinary Willard-type grandfather clock.

Michael keeps current in his field via the many worthwhile woodworking information sources on the internet. He is always busy at home and is presently following-up his recent exhibition at UFORGE Gallery in Jamaica Plain producing copies of a popular lamp he exhibited there and filling a cabinet commission from an old client.

In hindsight, the only thing Michael would change about his Eliot School experience is his level of involvement in the early years, which he thinks would have better helped the school grow. He says the experience there has been one of the most profoundly consistent parts of his life and he cherishes the memories of the many wonderful people with shared interests he met there. He fondly recalls the devoted efforts of all the teachers under the oversight of Charlie Sandler and Herb Forsell.

Michael and his wife, Maryann Sullivan of Dover, MA. live in Newton. Michael has been self-employed for over 30 years and continues his custom refinishing/woodworking business while teaching at the Eliot School.

Charles Fox

Charlie Fox’s keen architect’s eye sees more than bricks and mortar (or shingles and siding) at the Eliot School. A long time board member, he brings his professional expertise and vision to the table to guide the school’s long-term plans along with a businessman’s oversight of the school’s finances. Charlie Fox’s strong attachment to Jamaica Plain and the iconic Eliot School are evident in the location of his home, his devotion to the Eliot School community and in his many years of service on the school’s Board of Directors.

Born on August 28, 1942 in Birmingham, Alabama, Charlie finished high school and then got a BA in English at Hamilton College in New York. After a 3-year stint in the Navy, serving aboard Destroyers, he went on to the University of Pennsylvania where he took a Master of Architecture degree in 1971. He’s been a practicing architect ever since.

Charlie and his wife, Judy, have lived on Myrtle Street in Jamaica Plain for 37 years in a house once owned by Mayor Collins’ mother.

His first awareness of the Eliot School was very vague – he had heard about it but knew it only as a quiet old building on Eliot Street. Then, about 2002, the Chairman of the Board, Kevin Moloney, invited Charlie to join the board. Charlie served as Co-chairman with Marilyn Masse for several years following Kevin’s long tenure as chair. The current Co-Chairmen are Ramon Martin and Dana Rashti. Charlie is still on the board and has found time to study water-color painting there. He once taught a one-session seminar on perspective for artists.

Charlie recalls the atmosphere at the school when he joined the board as pretty informal and low keyed. John Early was Director and Charlie Sandler was Superintendent. The atmosphere at the school was warm and inclusive. Students and faculty alike loved the place. There were several directors during Charlie’s first five years on the board. While talented as teachers, artists and administrators, none of the Directors during that period had in-depth experience running a non-profit institution, and the school operated at a relatively quiet pace until Abigail Norman was hired as Director in 2007.

Abigail brought focus to the school’s efforts to survive and a farsighted vision for its growth. Management consultants were retained to help the board develop Strategic Plans with 3 to 4-year horizons. The board monitored progress of the goals outlined in the plans, and one result was that the school was able to hire additional paid staff to handle activities the board identified as essential for growth.

In 2007, Compass School, then located behind Blessed Sacrament Church in Hyde Square, brought small numbers of students to the school for woodworking class twice a week throughout the year. In 2008, additional schools began to establish partnerships for woodworking and art classes. Agassiz Elementary School (now closed), on Child Street, brought students from Grades 3-5 over for weekly woodworking classes. That led to additional partnerships, and the Eliot School Partnership Program was born. Today the Eliot School no longer brings other schools into the building, as a rule, but sends its teachers out into the schools and other community organizations. This year, (2014) they partnered with 13 Boston and charter schools and ten additional organizations.

The principal staff members, besides Director Abigail Norman, are Julio Fuentes, the Facilities Coordinator; Nicole Murray, who runs the School Partnership Program; Diane Ivey, the Special Projects and Events Coordinator; Kelly Knight, Registrar; and Cindy Arias, Office Assistant. Abigail “Stud” Green does bookkeeping, Fifile Nguyen assists the Registrar on Saturdays, and Blake Johnson is part-time Shop Assistant.

A vital element in planning for the future is whether to grow the school on-site or to seek off-site space for some; or all of the classes. The space needed for programs like Upholstery and Woodworking is significant, as are space requirements for a still-growing staff.

In addition, the very successful and far-reaching School Partnership Program needs administrative space, although, since it continues at the pleasure of the City of Boston, Charlie feels that over-reliance on the Partnership Program could jeopardize other Eliot School programs if there was an abrupt change in the city’s policy vis-à-vis non-profit organizations providing teachers in the public schools.

Charlie thinks that, because the School is in an historic residential neighborhood, a major on-site expansion must be somewhat limited in scope. Furthermore, the residential neighbors (and benefactors) view the schoolyard as a neighborhood “park,” although it isn’t designated as such.

Whether expanded or not, the school needs to address handicapped access requirements including a ramp, elevators and bathroom modifications. Charlie thinks that grant money could be sought for those major improvements. The building has an old, but perfectly adequate, sprinkler system and is kept current with other code and safety requirements.

The board’s planning also addresses the need for more aggressive fund raising to avoid tapping the existing investment fund for operating shortfalls and to be able to plan for needed capital improvements. The fund, descending from John Eliot’s 1690 land gift, is not an endowment, so it is unrestricted but, nevertheless, it needs to be protected and increased by significant dollars. A professionally driven capital-campaign will be needed to supplement the existing fund. Annual fundraising drives have taken place for years, and received a boost several years ago from Bob Cunha, then living next door at 28 Eliot Street and serving as a member of the board. Those drives rely on the generosity of owners of large nearby homes where up to 150 people can gather socially and be asked to contribute to a tiered giving program. Before that, fundraising was an annual solicitation letter and a one-night session of cold telephone calls made by trustees from a JP realtor’s office.

The school’s bylaws allow for a board of 14 members and it presently seats 12. The board is seeking new or replacement board members, who can, Charlie says, introduce the school to a broader city-wide audience. While not necessarily Jamaica Plain residents, they should have useful business and community contacts and development skills and reflect the changing demographics in the city. However, in staffing the board, the school’s nearly 350-year connection with Jamaica Plain and its strong neighborhood spirit must be preserved.

In summing up his Eliot School experience, Charlie says it has been a real privilege to serve on the board and be associated with the closeness and warmth of the Eliot School community. He feels that his time on the board has been a richly rewarding personal investment that has helped to provide teaching opportunities for artists and craftsmen to reach students of all ages and skills with new and fulfilling learning in crafts and fine arts.

Kevin Moloney

Kevin Moloney’s connection to the Eliot School started when he was in elementary school and attended the Eliot School for three years in the childrens’ woodworking class from 1950-52. The toolbox he made there serves him to this day. Twenty-five or so years later, his two sons would also attend the school.

Kevin was born in Cambridge on July 21, 1940, but claims Jamaica Plain as his hometown because his parents lived on the Jamaicaway at the time. They later moved to Dunster Road. He and his wife, Margaret Carney, of New London, Connecticut, presently live on Rambler Road in Jamaica Plain. They previously lived in Brighton and Roslindale before moving to Eliot Street in 1976. In 1997 they moved to Rambler Road. They have three children and seven grandchildren who live in Westwood, Providence and Pennsylvania.

Kevin attended the Joseph P. Manning School on Louders Lane in Jamaica Plain, which had been built to replace the Westchester Portable School No. 167. The Portable School was built on Westchester Road on land donated by Mrs. Brandegee, the wealthy widow of a Boston wool merchant. It was next to the Home for Italian Children (now the Italian Home for Children.) The replacement school was to be named for Philip Rasmussen of Westchester Road who was the only American fighter pilot to shoot down an enemy plane at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. His plane was riddled with bullets when he landed; 500 rounds some say, and as he got out of the plane he discovered he was still wearing his pajamas! Mayor Curley trumped the neighbors’ wishes and named the new school for a wealthy Boston tobacco dealer, Joseph P. Manning, of 80 Pond St. Several years later, Manning’s granddaughter, Virginia Griffin, was in Kevin Moloney’s class at the Manning School.

Another Portable School student would play an important role in Kevin Moloney’s life. Kevin Hagan White, the long-serving fifty-first Mayor of Boston, liked to recall that he went to “a one-room school in Jamaica Plain, on a dirt road with cows grazing nearby.” In 1968 Mayor White’s Corporation Counsel, Herbert Gleason, would hire Kevin Moloney as an Assistant Corporation Counsel. Kevin’s path to a life in the law had started at Boston Latin School, graduating in 1958. After earning his degree at Harvard College in 1963, he went to Boston College Law School, graduating in 1966. In 1977, he became First Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Boston and, in 1979, he went to work for Barron & Stadfeld P.C. in Boston, becoming a shareholder in the firm, specializing in civil litigation. He retired from law practice in 2011. Among his civic roles in the city, he was President of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library for six years, from 1984-1990, and in the 1990s, he served as a member, and for two terms, as Chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council. In 2013, he was elected again to the Council and currently serves as Chair of the Council.

In 1985, Kevin joined the Trustees of Eliot School, at the invitation of then board President, Nathaniel Young, a Pond Street resident and Boston attorney. When he joined, Kevin found a faculty of part-time teachers overseen by Superintendent Charlie Sandler. Charlie carried an enormous supervisory/administrative burden, including opening the school every morning at 5:00 a.m. on the way to his regular teaching job in Boston! Charlie was the Eliot School’s proverbial “one man band” and is, along with Nat Young, among the most memorable people Kevin met at the Eliot School.

He also found the school struggling financially. Operating on the income from a long-established fund, initially provided many generations ago by the sale of some school land, the invested principal of the fund had not been generating competitive returns and in fact, had been languishing in some obscure investment products. Kevin and Nat Young found the under-producing investment managers disinterested in improving the school’s portfolio, so they promptly moved management of the fund to another company, which soon produced much better returns and growth of the portfolio. This investment income allowed the board to hire a Director and support staff and do some much needed maintenance including replacing the roof, painting the exterior of the building and replacing the aging fence on Eliot Street.

He found that other changes were needed, including a more aggressive grant writing effort and organizing the staff to help the school’s Director.

The board studied a new Eliot School model along the lines of the North Bennet Street School in Boston but after a year of study, the board decided that the Bennet Street model would not be a “good fit” for the Eliot School. The trustees at the time concluded that the Eliot School’s mission should not be changed to train students for employment but should continue its “arts and crafts” teaching programs.

After serving twenty-three years on the board, including holding the positions of Treasurer and, after Nat Young retired, as President, Kevin retired from the board in 2008.

He feels grateful to have enjoyed the place from his childhood in the early 1950s to serving on the board for so many years and helping to manage the great institution that it is.

His goal was to leave the Eliot School in a better condition than when he first joined the board.

With the help and support of his trustee colleagues and Superintendent Charlie Sandler and Directors John Earley and Abigail Norman, the school improved the investment portfolio, expanded operations with a new administrative staff and developed an aggressive grant writing program to help the school’s fund raising efforts.

And, that nice old tool box is a cherished and dependable reminder of it all.

Not the End

It’s impossible to quantify the value of dedicated volunteerism like this. So many students have benefited, unknowingly, from the contributions of time and skills from these six people, and many others, who, in turn, have found that they have gained more than they gave, in such service. It’s wonderful to think that this charitable spirit continues, day by day, here in Jamaica Plain.

By Peter O’Brien