Exodus: St. Joseph, Sacred Heart hold last Masses; Gardner’s four Catholic churches coming together as the new Annunciation Parish

This story ran on July 1 in The Gardner News.

last mass

If you ask the Rev. Brian O’Toole, he’ll swear to you the Holy Spirit was with parishioners at Sacred Heart church last Sunday. “It was the second time in my life I’ve had an experience like that,” he said.

It was the final Sunday service in the history of the 140-year-old parish, and he was giving his sermon on the story of how Jesus healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years and then resurrected a young girl by saying “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

The message, he said, is that with faith we can conquer our fears and move into the future. And so he told the brimming church to “koum.”

“Just as I said that, a huge wind blew through the front door, and the bulletins — that had been stacked on the table by the door — went flying through the church, up into the choir and to my feet,” he said. “Everyone broke into applause.”

“You couldn’t have planned it,” he continued. “It was a roar, just like the stories of the Pentecost.”

• • •

In the mid-1800s, there was no Catholic church in Gardner. Every Sunday, the 125 recorded Catholics in the community walked to St. Martin’s in Otter River for Mass.

Then in 1856, they started to celebrate Mass outdoors in a little grove of trees off of Baker Lane. According to Sacred Heart’s records, there “the women knelt on their shawls, the men held their caps in sincere reverence and the children watched the flicker of candles, which each worshipper held.”

In 1874, these people formed together to open the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on Cross Street. While the building burned down in 1887, the parish — made up mostly of Irish immigrants — rebuilt it.

The year before Sacred Heart burned down, the French Canadian immigrants decided they wanted a church of their own where they could incorporate French into the Liturgy and honor their customs. From this desire, Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church was built on Nichols Street.

A fierce rivalry, still talked about when the Sacred Heart and Holy Rosary elementary schools merged two years ago, developed between the two parishes.

Not to be outdone, Gardner’s Polish immigrant population decided to build a church of their own, where their heritage could be a part of their worship. In 1908, they build St. Joseph Parish on Pleasant Street.

In 1955, Holy Spirit Parish on Lovell Street was built to give everyone else, as well as portions of Hubbardston and Westminster, a place to worship.

A few years ago, the Worcester diocese began to study whether it made sense for Gardner to still have four parishes in a world where people no longer walk to church. In Nov. 2014, Bishop Robert McManus announced it didn’t.

Starting today, the four parishes no longer exist. Instead, their parishioners are now a part of AnnunciationParish, worshipping at Holy Rosary and Holy Spirit.

Sacred Heart and St. Joseph are now closed.

• • •

Uncertainty, fear, disappointment, discouragement, sadness and even anger are feelings parishioners at all four churches have struggled with since the announcement of the reconfiguration.

“People were crying last Sunday,” said the Rev. Thomas M. Tokarz, who presided over both St. Joseph and Holy Spirit. “It’s a tough time.”

To many, these are more than just buildings and names. They are the places they brought their babies to be baptized, the origins of their marriages, where they said goodbye to their parents, and the support network they relied on in difficult times.

“We were married here (at Sacred Heart) in 1960 on Oct. 1. I still have the wedding pictures,” said Gardner resident Marjorie Kraskouskas. “It kind of hurts that it is going to close.”

“I did everything you could do here,” her husband, John, said. “I was baptized here, I had First Communion here, I went to school here, I altar-served here, I was Confirmed here and I was married here. … This was the bedrock of the community and life.”

How to honor that was a question each of the closing churches dealt with differently. At St. Joseph’s people dealt with it quietly, culminating in a simple, well-attended service last weekend, where people gave thanks, remembered and cried.

At Sacred Heart, they decided to go out with a bit of a bang.

• • •

On the wall next to the baptismal font at Sacred Heart Parish there is a list posted of 8,000 names, representing everyone who had been baptized there. The pews are covered with white stickers with green typed names representing everyone who received First Communion at the church’s altar. The wood columns that stretch to the ceiling are covered with 6,000 white stickers with red names, all of the people who were Confirmed there.

For the last six days, the members of Sacred Heart have kept a vigil to honor their history.

“These are real human lives, with real stories, real families, real histories and real futures,” said the Rev. O’Toole. “We need to have some sort of ritual to honor that.”

Each day of the vigil, the community remembers a different piece of their history — the baptisms, First Communions, celebration of the Eucharist, weddings, and education.

On Tuesday, more than 50 people attended one last farewell Mass.

“The parish brought me back to church,” said Patricia Castagna, who will attend Holy Rosary this Sunday. “I had been away for a long time, but this felt like being with family.”

For his last sermon, the Rev. O’Toole spoke about how change is an inevitable form of chaos — scary and confusing. However, Jesus was capable of calming the ocean in a storm, and so with faith in him, it is possible to move forward, no matter how frightening.

“With God, there is no such thing as an accident,” the Rev. O’Toole said. “Every time I look in the Scriptures, I have yet to find a time where God says, ‘Retreat, go back.’ He is always saying, ‘Go forward, don’t be frightened, have faith.’”

• • •

Today, the Rev. O’Toole is on his way to Assisi, Italy, to do a pilgrimage in honor of St. Francis before spending some time in Rome while on sabbatical.

The Rev. Tokarz is unpacking boxes at St. Joseph Church in Berlin — his third stint preaching at a St. Josephs — to start new after 20 years in Gardner.

And, the Rev. Joseph Jurgelonis, formerly the pastor at Holy Cross Parish in East Templeton and St. Martin Mission in Otter River, is moving into his new home in Gardner, ready to start building Annunciation Parish.



New church brings together the lost under umbrella of faith

From a makeshift pulpit in Nu Cafe’s dining room, Corey Bowser, 26, delivers a simple but profound message to his flock every Tuesday.

“God loves you. He loves everything about you,” the recovering heroin and crack addict told a crowd of nearly 50 this week. “I love you, and I will love on you until you can love yourself … I’ve got your back.”

The dining chairs, rearranged into pews, are filled with the young, the tired, the addicted and the recovering joined together into a nondenominational group that’s dubbed itself the Family Unit.

It’s here that Mr. Bowser is working to create a place where people can “be real and raw with each other, grow and hold each other accountable” – a place he believes could have saved his brother, veteran Adam Morse, who died April 29 from a heroin overdose.

“You don’t have to clean yourself up to come to God,” Mr. Bowser – who attends the Excel Church in Lancaster on Sundays – said. “You come to God, he’ll clean you up.”

* * *

When Mr. Bowser first “came to God,” he was in pretty bad shape. “I don’t know anyone more wrapped up in drugs than I was,” he said. “I was bottom of the barrel. I was not a good person, but God loved me.”

Mr. Bowser was 16 the first time he smoked weed at Bickford playground. A good student at Gardner High School, with high math scores and plans to go to college, he had the American Dream in front of him and hopes of breaking the cycle of addiction that has plagued his family tree.

Until he lost control.

As he became more consumed in drugs, the other pieces of his life fell away. Dreams of college were shattered. He was arrested multiple times by the Gardner Police Department, though never served serious jail time. He robbed people. He started dealing to fuel his addiction, first in marijuana, then escalating into pills. He lost his home and started living in a tent in the woods.

“For months, I told people I wasn’t homeless I was camping. I was drinking a fifth of vodka a day. I was doing opiates. I couldn’t stop,” he said. “Every day, I prayed to God to help me stop.”

Then, he says, he took a leap of faith and checked into Community Healthlink, a detox center in Worcester.

From there he got himself clean, moving into sober living house where piece by piece he patched his life together, eventually working as a case manager at that same detox center.

“It was tough,” Mr. Bowser said. “I used to sell drugs to some of them.”

Harder still was the death toll, as heroin’s popularity grew and deadlier strains killed clients, friends and even his brother.

“I couldn’t leave work at work anymore,” he said.

About this time, he said he felt called by God to come back to Gardner. He wasn’t keen on the idea at first – the city was filled with a history he didn’t want to relive, a past he didn’t want to face. But, he listened.

“I always felt called to preach. I always wanted to be a pastor, but I had such an idea of what that looked like,” he said. “It’s not based on a title though … I am a shepherd, and there are sheep all around me.”

And so, he started the Family Unit, which he describes as “ a community of young people intent on growing horizontally, closer to each other, and vertically, closer to God.”

* * *

The first week 21 people showed up, too many for Nu Cafe’s back conference room. So they moved into a corner of the main dining room, and there Mr. Bowser preached.

The next week 26 people came. Then 31. And then 34.

This week, 43 people attended, enough to fill the main dining room.

For the first part of the meetings, people simply listen. Mr. Bowser talks about Scripture, salvation and how it relates to everyday life.

“I was dead, now I’m alive. I was so broken,” he said. “I’m not here to point out people’s sins. I am a 26-year-old who loves Moe’s (Mexican restaurant) too much … I’m here to love these people until they can love themselves.”

Then, breaking into small groups, they have a half hour to talk about the message, their lives and get to know one another. At the end, they come together for a final group prayer and Mr. Bowser asks if anyone would like to pledge to devote themselves to God. A handful of people have so far, including friends of Mr. Bowser, like the young man this week.

“He used to shoot heroin in my bathroom,” Mr. Bowser said. The Family Unit, he said, is not a place for the perfect. He wants it to be a place where a user can come with the smell of smoke still lingering on their clothing and start anew.

“Jesus said it’s not the well that need a doctor, it’s the sick,” Mr. Bowser said. “We want the lost and the broken.”

* * *

More than anything, Mr. Bowser wants the Family Unit to transcend an hour and a half at Nu Cafe and become a part of their everyday life.

Though it’s still early, the pastor said he’s already started signs of the happening. Last week, four girls from theFamily Unit met up to make inspiration posters, and there are routinely pick-up games of basketball among members.

Then, there are texts Mr. Bowser is getting.

“I definitely need more God. I have to start somewhere and the Family Unit is the place to start,” said one Unitmember in a text, after admitting they were ashamed of getting high.

Another called Tuesday her special day, when “everything clears out of her head” and she feels like she can talk with God without being uncomfortable.

“I’m thankful for the Family Unit,” she added.

For his part, Mr. Bowser is committed to the people who show up. If they need someone to pray with at 2 a.m., he’ll be there. If they need someone to go back to their apartment with them and keep them from using, he’ll be there too.

“The vision isn’t just to fill a coffee shop … this is going to blow up into thousands,” he said. “This is a powerful generation of people. We are going to change this city one person at a time. We are world changers.”

That change starts, he said, with a single question.

“How would this generation feel if they knew God wasn’t mad at them?” he asked. “If they knew God loves them and just wants a relationship with them?”

* * *

The Family Unit meets every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Nu Cafe on Chestnut Street in Gardner. For more information, visit “The Family Unit” Facebook page.


Shoppers on the hunt at Riettas

This article appeared on July 27, 2015 in the Gardner News. 


At 5 a.m. every Sunday morning, vendors line up in the parking lot of Rietta Flea Market, vehicles packed with anything and everything — stones, fresh produce, antiques, baby toys, junk and treasure.

Marketing itself as “one of the largest and most popular flea markets in Northeastern U.S.,” the Hubbardston staple has room for as many as 550 vendors. At $30 a table, some are looking to clean out their basements, others are hobbyists and then there are the established dealers who show up every week.

All of them want to make some money. The thousands of customers who show up every week, however, are all looking for a steal.

“The poorer the economy, the better our market,” said co-owner Ralene Williams. “The shoppers are coming to save some money, and the dealers are working to make some money by selling.”

Forty one years ago when it first began, Rietta Ranch was a small country-themed market. As it grew in popularity, the theme was forgotten. Today, shoppers tote out everything from toilets to antique harpoons, often in little red wagons.

“It’s kind of like a treasure hunt,” said April Clow, who was selling this Sunday but often comes to shop.

Like pirates, shoppers scour the tables looking for gems at the lowest price possible, haggling with vendors in the name of a good price.

“Everyone wants everything for like free,” said seller Casey Roseberry, who stood behind a table with rare coins, old shutters and bottles of French’s mustard. “You have to have what they are looking for that day. The market has its ups and its downs.”

While vendors at tables with an odd assortment spend most of their day haggling with customers, tables that specialize in one thing, such as cacti, often don’t have to bargain as much with shoppers.

“Occasionally, people will try to haggle with me but the prices are so low they usually don’t,” said Cliff Livernois, a botanical hobbyist selling cacti and succulents for $2 to $3.50. “A small percentage will walk away.”

Mr. Livernois, who sells at several markets, said Rietta tends to have the lowest prices.

“There’s all kind of stuff here,” he said. “The prices are usually very inexpensive.” In part because the high-priced stuff is hard to sell.

“The more-expensive items move slowly,” said Ms. Clow, who was selling on behalf of the Ashima Animal Rescue in Templeton. “People want to feel like they got a deal.”

So toys sell for as little as three for $1, DVDs can cost as little as $1, amethyst goes for $10 a pound, clothes for $2 a garment.

Only one factor controls the market, the weather. “Mother nature is ultimately in charge,” said Ms. Williams. “It all hinges on the weather. Holidays don’t affect the market. Seasons don’t affect it, but the weather does.”

Gloomy days attract smaller crowds and fewer vendors, whereas the market booms on sunny days.

Rietta Flea Market is open for business April through October starting at 6 a.m. and lasting till about 3 p.m. when vendors pack up. Parking and admission is free, and there is a concessions stand as well as a bar.

No pets are allowed.


Tri-County schools graduates 10

All ten graduates at Tri-County Schools’ commencement last Wednesday shared one thing in common: they all had at least one moment when they thought they might not graduate.

“I was so close to dropping out so many times,” said Raven Fenlason, who stayed back a year due to the amount of school she skipped.

Holding her diploma after the ceremony, she’s giddy. Standing in the middle of the cafeteria that is serving as a reception hall, she’s twirling around trying to hug and talk to everyone who comes within five feet of her and thank any staff member who ventures within 10 feet.

“It’s just so surreal,” she said. “I spent so long thinking that I couldn’t do this.”

Next year, Fenalson will attended Greenfield Community College. Six more of her classmates will also be continuing their education next year.

“I am really, really excited to go to Greenfield Community College,” said Fenalson. “I never thought I would want to go to school.”

Tri-County Schools, located in Easthampton, is a school for students who have emotional or behavioral problems, according to school counselor Thomas Moore. Many of the students have been physically abused, emotionally abused, in the foster care system, or a combination of all three.

When Moore started working at Tri-County Schools three years ago, no one went to college.

“I would hear teachers say things like ‘I doubt these kids can go to college,’” said Moore.

That was when Moore, who was trained as a psychological counselor, not a college counselor, decided to change the dialogue by launching a college prep program for the students.

The year after he started the program, four out of seven graduates into college were admitted into college. But his success was short lived, as all of them ended up dropping out.

“It was a rude awakening,” said Moore. “I learned it is not enough to get them into school. That’s the easy part.”

Since then Moore has changed his approach. In order to get students interested in college, he drives them to different campuses to visit, tempting them with a day off from school. Students go twice their junior year, and as many times as it takes their senior year, he said.

“I would walk them around different campuses five, six, seven, even eight times trying to pre-teach the environment,” said Moore.

After so many students dropped out, Moore realized that the students were overwhelmed by the campuses and unable to find the resources that they needed. Therefore, he now emphasizes connecting them with the services they need, before they start classes.

Alex Fox, who will be attending Holyoke Community College in the fall, is going blind. According to Moore, Fox’s encroaching blindness made him “too scared” to consider going to college.

But, Moore did not give up. Together they visited HCC a total of eight times, before Fox decided he wanted to enroll after meeting with HCC’s Disability & Deaf Services about his blindness.

“A couple of years ago, I had no intention of going to college,” said Fox.

This was a theme reiterated throughout the hour long ceremony held in the Tri-County Schools gym where approximately 130 friends, family members, state officials and Tri-County staff members watched the graduates receive their diplomas.

Stephen Dion, the Tri-County Schools senior director, talked about the difference between failure and quitting during his speech directed at the seniors. Calling some of the seniors out by name, he briefly talked about some of their struggles and times they thought they would not graduate.

“You can fail and will continue to fail,” he said. “But if you continue to try, that’s what makes the difference.”

Fendalson agreed that trying was the most important thing.

According to Moore, when she first arrived at the school two years ago, she would sit at a desk at the end of a hallway and swear at the staff all day.

“I was really rude and disrespectful to everyone,” said Fendalson. “Then I got to know them, and I learned they are nice, caring and sweet people,”

In a speech during the ceremony, she apologized to the staff to a collective chuckle and encouraged students to give Tri-County Schools a chance.

Stephen Marion, who received the student of the year award, has high hopes for his post-high school education. Marion plans to attend HCC in the fall, and hopes to transfer to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in two years to study civil engineering.

“This school gave me the ropes to learn how to walk again,” said Marion.

Marison also received two scholarships totaling $1,300 from Mohawk, his home school district. According to Moore, Marison is the first Tri-County student to receive a scholarship from his home district.

Charles LeDuc, who will attend HCC  to study Criminal Justice Assurity and Security, received the student citizen award.

Out of the nine students from last year’s graduating class who went to community colleges, five of them are still enrolled, according to Moore. During the reception, Moore had a stack of business cards that he was handing out to parents and students, encouraging them to call him if they needed anything.

“If he changes his mind about not wanting to go to college, call me,” Moore said to one parent, who had come over to offer her thanks after the ceremony.

But Moore has a good feeling about this class’s chance of success.

“These kids should be good to go,” he said. “There is very little that can stand in their way.”

The following students graduated from Tri-County Schools on June 19: Lucius Burrell, Raven Fenlason, Alex Fox, Charles LeDuc, Stephen Marion, Stephen Maxwell, Yasmine Merced, Brandin Paradis, Joshua Suriel-Montero, and Thu VanTran.

What’s next after government withdraws funding for salmon restoration in Connecticut River?

The future of the Connecticut River Atlantic salmon population is muddy.

On Tuesday at a Connecticut River Atlantic Commission meeting, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services announced a decision to end their participation in the four-state effort to restore the once native fish species to the Connecticut River.

“We will no longer be propagating and raising salmon,” said Wendi Weber, Fish & Wildlife Region 5 director in an interview.

The FWS cited the low return rates of adult salmon to the river as the reason for exiting the program.  This year, only 50 of the approximately 6 million tiny fry and 75,000 to

90,000 larger salmon smolts stocked in 2010 throughout the Connecticut River returned from the Atlantic ocean.

The stocked fish cost the government about $2 million, according to Fish and Wildlife Regional Assistant Director for Fisheries Bill Archambault.

Approximately 1,000 fish would need to be returning annually to create a viable population.

However, the FWS decision does not necessarily mean the end of the salmon as the states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — could elect to continue with their independent efforts, according to Caleb Slater, the chair of the Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission’s Technical Committee.

“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services saying they are not going to grow fish doesn’t mean the program is over,” said Slater.

The states could continue to raise and propagate salmon without the aid of federal services. Currently, only three state hatcheries Roger Reed State Salmon Hatchery in Palmer, Mass., the Kensington State Salmon Hatchery in Kensington, Conn. and  Roxbury Fish Culture Station in Vermont have the resources necessary to raise salmon for the Connecticut River.

For now, things are continuing as normal at the Roger Reed hatchery, according to Slater who oversees Massachusetts’s participation in the program. But, he does not know how long that will continue for.

“The bottom line is we don’t know what we are going to do,” said Slater.

The Kensington hatchery will continue to raise salmon, according to CRASC chair William Hyatt, who also represents Connecticut.

The primary goal of the facility will be to raise “broodstock” for the sport fishery in the Naugatuck and Shetucket rivers. Maintaining the program leaves hatchery with a surplus of approximately 400,000 eggs that could be used to keep a small portion of the program afloat.

“We know the problem is out in the sea, so it’s possible a small, relatively inexpensive effort might give us an idea of when it turns around,” said Hyatt.

Even with all three hatcheries continuing, the number of fry being in released in the spring would drop by at least 5 million fish, according to Hyatt.

“The states have relied heavily on the FWS for propagation, particularly Vermont and New Hampshire who never build up their own infrastructure,” said Ken Sprankle,  the Connecticut river coordinator for the FWS.

The technical committee, which is made up of biologists and geneticists, has been charged by the commission with to determine what should come next for the salmon restoration program, according to Sprankle.

“The technical committee has been charged with determining what the CRASC should do with resources that are left,” said Sprankle. “What do we have? What are some of the different options? What are the likely outcomes? And with the reduced capabilities, what does that mean for the fish genetically speaking?”

The technical committee is expected to present its findings to the commission in early October, at which point the CRASC will decide the future of the program.

“I’m hoping to continue,” said Hyatt. “But only if there is a good reason.”

However, Weber suspects the technical committee will advise the commission to give up on the salmon and refocus on other fish in the river as many of the problems facing the salmon — such as marine survival rates and large scale environmental changes — are outside of the commission’s control.

“Until the mystery of marine survival is solved, we are not going to see a recovery no matter what we do,” Weber said.

Salmon disappeared from the river in the 18th century when the construction of dams separated them from their spawning grounds.

In 1976, the government with the cooperation of the states set out to repopulate the Connecticut river using fish stock from northern rivers such as the Penobscot in Maine. Using the best science available, the scientist continued to perfect their strategy switching from smolts to fry, ending fishing for Atlantic salmon in the ocean, and using advance in genetics to better pair the fish.

In 1981, a record of 529 fish returned to the river. But after that something in the marine environment shifted, and return rates dropped to around 100 fish a year, according to Sprankle.

After 20 years of low returns with no foreseeable shift, the FWS decided it was time to cut bait.

“It was apparent to many of us that marine survival was beyond management control,” Sprankle said.

The FWS is now focusing on repurposing its biologists and three facilities, White River National Fish Hatchery in Vermont, Dwight D. Eisenhower National Fish Hatchery in Vermont and the Richard Cronin National Fish Hatchery in Sunderland, Mass., that had been tied up in the program, according to Weber.

No one will lose their job due to the transition, Weber said.

White River Hatchery had been the top producer of salmon for the river, raising approximately 5 million fry annually, until Tropical Storm Irene closed the facility last August. When the facility reopens, it will raise trout as well as salmon for the Great Lakes.

The Eisenhower hatchery was already in the process of withdrawing.

“We already have transitioned and are transitioning,” Weber said.

The only government owned station that remains in flux is the Cronin station, located at 51 East Plumtree Road.

“Things are still up in the air,” said fishery biologist Darren Desmarais, who works at the Cronin station.

The station is currently holding onto 36 salmon that returned to the river this spring for the state of Connecticut, and approximately 20 salmon that returned to the river in spring 2011.

For these fish, it will be business as usual.

“As far as I know, we are going to spawn these fish in the fall, but that could change,” Desmarais said. At this point, where the eggs will be incubated and the fry will be raised has yet to be determined.

Study shows warmest spring on record

For Boston, Hartford and Worcester this spring was the warmest on record, according to Michael Rawlins the manager of the climate research center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

For Amherst, it was the second warmest.

This is representative of a long term trend of increasingly warm spring temperatures that is consistent with an increase in greenhouse gases, according to Rawlins. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is climate change.

“But it is not that simple,” said Alan Werner, a geology professor at Mount Holyoke College. “It may be, but not necessarily.”

The new records are not staggeringly different from previous ones, edging out old records by tenths of a degree.

Boston recorded a mean temperature of 53.4 degrees Fahrenheit from March through May. A 0.2 degree difference from the the previous record set in 2010. Hartford averaged 54.3 degrees, tying the 2010 record and beating the 1991 record by 1.1 degree. Worcester exceeded its previous record of 51.0 degrees by 0.3.

Amherst’s mean temperature of 51.4 degrees was 0.7 less than the previous record set in 1991.

“The fact that this was a tenth or a few tenth degrees warmer is not tremendously impactful,” said Rawlins.

But, according to Rawlins, the trend of increasingly warm springs could be, who noted that if the average spring temperatures for the last 100 years are plotted on a graph the points would show a gradual increase in temperature.

“There has been a long term trend in spring temperatures over the past several decades that have impacts for crops, fish habitats, and so on,” said Rawlins. “Some of the impacts are beneficial, but there are also some potentially negative influences over time from global warming.”

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization of over 1,300 climate scientist from 195 nations, predicts that climate change could cause more heat waves in cities that already experience them, snow loss in the mountains and in a 5 to 20 percent increase in the yields of rain-fed agriculture.

The average meteorological temperature for spring is 48.9 degrees in Hartford, 48.1 degrees in Boston, 45.7 degrees in Worcester and 46.0 degrees in Amherst.

For Boston, Hartford and Worcester, this is the second year in a three year period that spring temperatures have broken records.

“It makes you sit up,” said Werner.

But, Werner, a paleoclimatologist who studies climate that predates the historical record, is quick to point out that warm temperatures don’t necessarily mean climate change and that cold temperatures don’t necessarily mean that climate change isn’t happening.

“It is important to understand that weather still happens despite climate change,” Werner said.

Scientists draw a distinction between weather and climate. Weather is the day to day unpredictability of what is happening outside. Climate is the long-term averages of these day to day events.

This past spring, several factors may have contributed to the warm weather.

The polar jet stream, a cold air current that usually flows through Canada and sinks into the northern U.S. for the winter, never sank this winter, causing the winter and spring to be unseasonable warm, according to Alan Dunham, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass.

“Instead of air from Canada, this year the air came from the southern United States,” said Dunham.

The temperatures also could have been influenced by the La Nina, a weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean that can cause unpredictable weather in South America and primarily the southern United States, according to Rawlin. However, it could have influenced this spring.

Or, it could be a part of climate change.

Dunham attributes the warm spring to weather variability noting that “there are just some years that are warmer.”

But, Rawlins and Werner are not as quick to judge.

“It makes people crazy,” said Werner. “They want to know if this is climate change or weather, but it is not that easy.

“You have to be careful of over-interpreting the data, but on the other hand we are seeing a trend,” he said.

The Climate System Research Center predicts an equal chance of the next three months being below average, average or above average in the Northeast, according to Rawlins.

The predictions are based upon the surface temperature of the ocean, soil moisture and long term seasonal trends.

“These forecast have much less skill than a 3 or 5 day weather forecast,” he said.

Occupy Amherst movement sweeps through town

From the W.E.B. Du Bois Library to the Amherst Town Common, they marched yesterday – wielding protest signs and chanting. A contingent of people that assembled at the University of Massachusetts, they partook in a national walkout critiquing the current American financial system and the way in which business is carried out on Wall Street.

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City and the subsequent ones that have sprung up in areas around the country, a group of students, professors and other members of the community – numbering over 100 at times – participated in Occupy Amherst, part of the national Occupy Colleges demonstration, which called for walkouts at college campuses across the country yesterday.

Around noon yesterday, the group of students came together in front of the W.E.B. Du Bois Library and marched from the UMass campus to the Town Common – making brief stops to demonstrate in front of the Whitmore Administration Building at UMass and the Bank of America on South Pleasant Street in Amherst Center – chanting and shouting in unison during their march. They also continued on to Amherst College following the demonstration at the Town Common – which was the bulkiest part of the gathering, where protesters shared stories and criticized American capitalism.

Those demonstrating cited a number of different items of frustration during the protest – from rising tuition fees for college students to outrage with the controversial Sept. 21 execution of Troy Davis, a Georgia man convicted of killing a police officer.

But something most of the protesters hammered in as a flash point issue yesterday was what they defined as corporate greed in the country.

“It all comes down to corporate greed,” said Seth Meldon, 17, a UMass freshman studying in the School of Management. “We can say it’s about Troy Davis, we can say it’s about Barack Obama … but it’s all about f***ing corporate greed.”

Demonstrators took part in stump speeches on the Town Common, where some of them chastised what they called American imperialism, shared personal stories and reflections, and evoked some words calling for a revolution.

“This is only just the start of something,” said Ben Bull, 21, a graduate student in the Labor Studies Department at UMass, who helped to put together yesterday’s demonstration. “This was basically for UMass specifically as part of the nationwide student walkout.”

Bull said that one of the goals of the demonstrations is to focus more on communities than on corporations.

“People are angry,” he said. “We have problems.”

“Obviously the big goal is a complete and total re-shift of the values of this country – moving away from profit and putting it on morality … communities not corporations,” continued Bull.

For some, the protest yesterday was a chance to recall their experiences of participating in the main demonstrations in New York.

Nonkiko Richardson, 31, an Amherst resident and former UMass student who said she was one of over 700 people arrested over the weekend on New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, said she participated in the demonstrations in an attempt to try to provide for a better future for her 8-year-old daughter.

“Her future is bleaker than mine,” said Richardson, who wore a mask during much of yesterday’s demonstration in protest to rules in New York that she said barred demonstrators from wearing such items. “We have to fight for her future.”

The money that banks, corporations and the wealthiest citizens possess, she said, is enough to end the famine taking place in Somalia.

“The issues are big,” added Richardson, who said that she thinks that if everyone does enough during demonstrations and protests, those in power will begin to recognize it. “But the money’s at Wall Street.”

Ben Taylor, who also said he was among the group of people to be arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend, said the sentiments in New York were energizing.

“It was electric,” said Taylor, a UMass student studying political science. “There was a sense that this was the start of an absolutely new movement in American history.

“People are f***ing angry about the system, which benefits the top 1 percent while screwing over everyone else,” he added.

UMass junior Laurie Roberts, who has been following the occupations since their inception through social media but was unable to travel to New York or Boston to participate, said she was “excited” when she found out about the protest in Amherst.

“This is what needs to happen,” said Roberts. “I am so excited that students and people are finally standing up for what is wrong right now. We have to speak up or nothing is going to happen.”

Nothing happening could be one of the worst possible outcomes, according to UMass economics Professor Gerald Friedman, who was also at yesterday’s demonstration.

“This is called the great recession but it might as well be called another great depression that is the magnitude of what we are facing,” said Friedman. “And we are not going to get out of it until we really dramatically change our economic policies. So the only hope is that there is popular mobilization like this and all over the country to get the government to change its policies towards the bank.”

According to Friedman, the government currently is giving banks money in an attempt to drive interest rates down and encourage them to loan money. However, he feels banks are afraid to lend the money and are now holding on to $1.6 trillion in excess reserves. He said the system “is not working, and it is not going to work.”

Friedman also believes that legislation needs to be passed that will force the banks to loan money. In addition, he thinks that the government needs to pass a much larger stimulus than the one passed by Obama in 2009.

“The Obama stimulus was 2 to 3 percent of GDP,” said Friedman. “It was enough to kind of help things along. At the time, I was looking at some notes from a talk I gave back in February 2009 and, for once, I was right. I said we need a stimulus four times as large, and we still need a stimulus four times that large.”

But Friedman said he doesn’t think any solution will come from Capitol Hill or the White House.

“There is nothing in Washington … I like the president. I like a lot of what he is doing, but there is nothing in the White House or Congress, certainly not Congress, that is going to do anything significant to improve circumstances.” Friedman said.

For Jonathan Goldin, 60, one hope of the demonstration is to that it will serve as an impetus to bring back a sense of fairness and improve the quality of life in the country.

“The quality of life in America has gone down,” said Goldin, a self-employed psychotherapist who works with UMass students and is also affiliated with Western Mass. Jobs With Justice.

“The thing that will revive it is fairness,” continued Goldin, a participant in yesterday’s demonstration, who added that more needs to be done to motivate students at the University and prepare them for the workforce.

Yesterday’s protest, though, was the first in what is expected to be a slew of protests in the area in the coming days and weeks.

A general assembly planning meeting for demonstrations in the area was expected to take place at the Town Common yesterday evening, and organizers have already planned for a large demonstration to take place there Sunday, Oct. 16.

William Perkins can be reached at wperkins@student.umass.edu. Katie Landeck can be reached at klandeck@student.umass.edu.

Jonathan Gray remembered

Family, friends, members of the University of Massachusetts community and the city of Holyoke are mourning the loss of Jonathan “Jonno” Gray, 18. A freshman kinesiology major, Gray died at his home Jan. 5.
According to those closest to him, Gray was the kind of person who was everybody’s best friend. He was an athlete, a member of his high school band, a long boarder and a student, but, according to his brother, most of all he was kind.
“He was genuine,” said his older brother Mackenzie Gray, who delivered the eulogy at his funeral. “I don’t think he ever said a bad word about anyone.”
“He set the bar really high for everyone. He was friendly, affable, and kind. As I said in my eulogy, that’s my mission now. To try to live up to the standard he set,” said Mackenzie Gray.
Gray died while exercising in his basement. His family found him after he did not respond to a call to come to dinner.
After conducting an autopsy, the Hampden County coroner was unable to find anything physically wrong with him. A toxicology report has yet to be completed.
“We have been told that it is likely that we will never know what happened,” said Mackenzie Gray.
In high school, Gray made a name for himself as an athlete despite a rocky start on the football field.
“When I saw him as a freshman, I thought, ‘I’ll get him on the field when we are way ahead.’ He was a nice, lovable kid,” said Bob Lastowski, who as both the football and track coach, coached Gray for a total of 12 seasons over his four years.
Gray, who was an offensive lineman on the football team and threw javelin, discuss and shot put in track and field, was “undersized” for his positions, so he hit the weight room and did “his thing,” according to his former coach.
By his senior year, Gray was a starter on the football team and broke Holyoke High School’s indoor shot put record with a throw of 43 feet 1 inch.
According to Lastowski, Gray won every indoor meet during the 2011 season.
“I never thought he would start [in football],” said Lastowski. “He was an overachiever. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but he never should have done what he did.”
But, Gray was determined to play sports from day one. Born and raised in Holyoke, he attended Hatfield Elementary School and Smith Academy through the school choice program. But, when it was time to choose where to attend high school, Gray opted to go to the Holyoke High School, said Lastowski. It had a football team and track team, unlike Smith Academy.
“I think he just really loved sports,” Lastowski said about Gray’s decision to become a kinesiology major.
At UMass, Gray joined the rowing team, where he told Lastowski he had found his niche.  Gray had been recruited by the team at freshman orientation, according to Tony Cronin, head coach of the men’s rowing team.
“We weren’t talking to just anyone,” said Cronin. “We sought out guys we thought would be good [team] members. Physically, he was strong and when we talked to him we saw he had the right demeanor to be a rower.”
As a freshman, Gray was a member of the novice rowing team, where, according to Cronin, he was a leader.
“He wasn’t a captain, because we don’t have captains on the novice team, but he led by example,” Cronin said. “He was great. Very strong and very focused.”
Gray competed three times during the fall rowing season, where he did well, according to Cronin. The team placed seventh out of 30 teams over the fall.
“When I saw him [for the first time during break], I told him he could be a running back. He was in the best shape of his life, his mom said he was drinking veggie shakes. He said he thought he found his niche in crew,” said Lastowski.
“Crew was a big deal for him at UMass,” said his brother. Over the break, the two of them would spend time together in the basement practicing rowing. Mackenzie would row on the rowing machine while Jonno would critique his form.
Gray liked to find ways to give back and teach other athletes. Forty-five minutes before Gray died, he was at the gym with the Holyoke Track Team talking to Lastowski and critiquing the shot putters, as shot put is the only throwing event offered in indoor track.
“He was asking about the current season, and how he could help,” said Lastowski. “I said sure, come in next week. I think he always remembered where he came from as an athlete. He was always there for the kid with two left feet. He would take the extra 15 minutes to help someone out,” Lastowski.
To commemorate him, several Holyoke residents arranged a candlelit vigil that was held Jan. 9 at the Roberts Field Sports Complex next to Holyoke High School, overlooking both the track and the football field where he had competed.
Hundreds of people attended the solemn event dressed in gray, with many people wearing purple and white pins that were being sold for $1 in Gray’s honor.
People chatted quietly until the first candle was lit. As the flame was passed from candle to candle, a silence descended over the crowd.
For a little over an hour, people stood on the bleachers, until an announcement was made over the loud speakers.
Holyoke firefighter Jordan Lemieux read, “Number 58, Jonathan Gray. Number 58 Jonno Gray please report … All people, be advised, Jonathan Gray, number 58, student, athlete for Holyoke High School, musician, has played his last game Jan. 5, 2012. Jonno, may God rest your soul. All people, Jonathan ‘Jonno’ Gray has returned home.”
The second time the announcer spoke he called anyone who had ever been a teammate or coach of Gray to walk a lap around the track. Walkers included members of the band, football and track and field team.
After his teammates finished their lap, members of the family and friends walked their own lap around the track, pausing at places of significance such as next to the shot put circle.
“The response of the community was overwhelming, absolutely overwhelming,” said his brother. “But very welcoming and comforting.”
A wake for Gray was held Jan. 10 at the Barry J. Farrell Funeral Home in Holyoke from 3 to 7 p.m. The line for viewing wrapped through the entire downstairs of the funeral home and then outside and into the parking lot. The funeral was Jan. 11 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Holyoke, where Gray and his family worshipped.
Every member of the rowing team attended either the wake or the funeral, according to Cronin.
Gray is survived by his parents, Douglas and Cynthia of Holyoke, brothers Robert of Seattle, Wash., and Mackenzie of Holyoke, and by his girlfriend of ten months, Emily Puffer.
“He was a great kid,” said Cronin. “He will be severely missed.”
Katie Landeck can be reached at klandeck@student.umass.edu.


Gore speaks at inauguration of Hampshire President

Former Vice President Al Gore called for Americans to “occupy democracy” at the inauguration of Jonathan Lash — the sixth president of Hampshire College — on Friday.

“We need an American Spring, this spring,” said Gore, who directed most of his remarks at students, who he saw as a one of the driving forces of political changes.

He criticized the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gave corporations and other entities the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

“Corporations are not people,” he said to cheers from the audience. “Money is not speech.”

Gore encouraged students to take a stand, reminding them that he feels youth can be the force that brings about changes the elders in a society might have trouble imagining, recounting the disbelief of older citizens when former President John F. Kennedy announced his goal to have someone walk on the moon.

“I remember again hearing elders of that time say that was a mistake, we have never done anything like that, that was a foolish commitment,” he said.

But, eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did walk on the moon. And, the average age of the system engineers working in mission control was 26, making them 18 when they heard the challenge, said Gore.

Gore, an outspoken environmental activist, also took the opportunity to emphasize his belief that the country needs to  respond to the threat of climate change.

“Every single professional scientific society in every field related to earth science or climate science says it is an urgent problem that requires urgent attention and must be addressed. … Now, there are some talk radio show hosts that say it is not,” he said to a long pause filled by soft chuckles from audience members. “It is up to you.”

After Gore’s address, which received a standing ovation, Lash — also a climate activist who had worked with Gore during their time in Washington, D.C. — took the stage to deliver his inaugural address.

Lash spoke about how the world is changing faster than ever before, creating an “era of instability” and how he views it as his job to prepare students “to thrive” in this new era.

“The world in flux is what Hampshire’s inquiry-based, learner-driven, discipline-integrating education is designed for,” he said. “We honor the vision and values upon which Hampshire was built by embracing our obligation to the future, not fearful of the risks, but excited by opportunities.”

A self-described “card carrying greenie,” he outlined his plans to make Hampshire a more sustainable place, including a plan to make the campus carbon neutral in 10 years.

“I think what we are doing to our earth is stupid, wrong, short-sighted and completely unnecessary,” he said.

During the ceremony, people representing different Hampshire constituencies spoke, welcoming Lash into the community and expressing why they thought he was the right fit for the campus.

“He really gets us, he gets Hampshire,” said Maria Vallejo, an alumnus of Hampshire, who gave a speech on behalf of the small liberal arts school’s alumni.

Many speakers talked about how Lash seemed to be willing to listen to all of the representative voices on the campus, from faculty to alumni to students.

Lash has a “temperament of passion fused with respectful listening,” said Chair of the Hampshire College Board of Trustees Sigmund Roos.

Lash — who was named as Hampshire’s president May 11, 2011 — has taken a less traditional route than many other university presidents. After working in the Peace Corps with his wife, Eleanor Scattergood, Lash earned his M. Ed. and J. D. from the Catholic University of America.

In 1993, he became president of the World Resources Institute, a think-tank based in Washington, D.C. that focused on environmental issues. And in 1999, he co-chaired the President’s Council of Sustainable Development that developed a plan of sustainable development for President Clinton.

Katie Landeck can be reached at klandeck@student.umass.edu.

Elizabeth Warren favored by crowd

SPRINGFIELD – It was clear last night at the debate between Sen. Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren that the crowd, both inside and outside of Symphony Hall, favored Warren.

After her closing remarks, Warren received loud applause from the 2,600 in attendance with a scattered few giving her a standing ovation.

“I thought the crowd was supportive of Warren, quite a bit more so than Brown,” said Jason Roche, a University of Massachusetts junior that was in attendance Wednesday night.

Danillo Sena, a senior at UMass, agreed.

“Warren had a bigger crowd here in Springfield,” he said.

Despite an early plea from moderator Jim Madigin for the crowd to remain quiet during the debate so that Brown and Warren could use as much of the allotted one hour block as possible, the crowd frequently vocalized its support for Warren, the Harvard Law School professor.

At one point, the noise grew so loud that a woman stood up, turned around, and slapped the man behind her, according to a WWLP-22News report.

The audience cheered Warren at several points during the debate, including when she talked about her support for the Affordable Health Care Act, as well as her stance on women’s rights.

The crowd also defended her when Brown told Warren to “put down the hammer,” earning him loud boos from the audience.

But that’s not to say the crowd was devoid of Brown supporters. Even as people cheered Warren’s support of the Affordable Health Care Act, others in the crowd were booing her.

“I was really surprised at the atmosphere of the debate,” said UMass student Chandler Hall. “I was expecting it to be just a little more respectful. It definitely shocked me, the unwarranted participation of the crowd.”

During the debate, the candidates were asked questions on topics ranging from their definition of the middle class to foreign policy.

Hall, a junior, said that he was pleased with the selection.

“I think everything relevant to the election was being asked,” he said.

Hall also said that since this is the first general and senatorial election he can vote in, he feels it is important to be informed.

“It is definitely important to me to make an informed decision rather than a biased one,” Hall said.

Two hours before the debate started, the side of Court Street opposite of Symphony Hall was lined with Warren and Brown supporters who were blowing whistles and clanging noisemakers.

Linda Reilly was one of the people who came out to support Brown, despite the chill and the dark sky that threatened rain.

“I came here to support Scott Brown because I think he is a very independent thinker,” Reilly said. “He’s not a pawn. I want someone who is not going to be tied to the party, you know vote on the issues, not the party.”

Charles Payne stood blowing an orange whistle and sporting a large Warren sign mounted on a two-by-four.

“I think Elizabeth Warren is the better candidate,” Payne said.

He noted that he thinks Brown has been misleading when he talks about his support for the middle class.
”He hasn’t done a thing for the middle class,” Payne said.

The debate, Hall said, was a draw, saying that he thought both candidates did well on different points.

While Roche, a political science major, thought the debate was close – noting that he thought Brown did a better job than Warren while talking about the economy – he thought that Warren came out on top.

“I wouldn’t say there was a clear winner, but I think that Warren might have ended with a little more of an upper hand,” Roche said.

Katie Landeck can be reached at klandeck@student.umass.edu.