DEVENS -- The Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce awarded its 15th Annual Community Service and Leadership Awards Nov. 7, spotlighting the extraordinary contributions of three community volunteers and two area businesses.
Two awards, five honorees
Earl Carter, of Groton, Loret Schur of Sterling and Sue Casserly of Pepperell received the Robert W. Lewis Award for Outstanding Citizen or Volunteer. The award is given to "individuals who have advanced the community through their contributions of talent, time and efforts."
The Roy L. Jeannnotte Award for Outstanding Company/Organization goes to "a company or organization that has made a substantial contribution to the lasting enhancement of the Nashoba Valley Region by demonstrating exceptional leadership and community involvement." Two awards were given this year, to Devens Eco-Efficiency Center and its executive director, Dona Neely, and to Phoenix Park's Eric Shapiro.
In his opening remarks, Jim Adams, of Rollstone Bank and Trust and NVCC's chairman of the board, said the award recipients were nominated by their peers and met the definition of volunteerism that is "so important to a community."
William Marshall, president of North Middlesex Savings Bank emceed. It would be the last official action as an NVCC member for Marshall, who is retiring this year.
Marshall sketched the genesis of the awards, one of which was named for "the legendary Roy Jeannotte," the late, longtime Shirley and Ayer businessman whose "legacy lives on through the R.L. Jeannotte Foundation," he said.
The Robert W. Lewis award is named for Retired Colonel Bob Lewis, noted in the awards program as an "officer and a gentleman" who served for many years at Fort Devens and was a "founding father of this Chamber."
Marshall and Conway Chevrolet Buick owner Dick Conway received "Special Recognition" awards at the end of the program.
Conway was one of the award presenters, along with NVCC President Melissa Fetterhoff and Chris Peterson of North Middlesex Savings Bank.
Volunteering is like "play" to him, Conway told the appreciative crowd. "Work is work and I love that, but this is fun," he said.
Robert W. Lewis Award recipients
EARL CARTER, of Groton was born in Belmont in 1939 and once worked with his dad as a watchmaker. He later founded the Metric Screw and Tool Company in Wakefield. Among his many personal and professional interests and accomplishments, he was a helicopter crewman and senior operator in the Navy Reserves.
A list of his volunteer activities might fill one of the super-sized pages in the "Big Book," the famous Groton-Dunstable Middle School peace project that has gained statewide and national recognition and to which Carter has lent his helping hands, constructing the display stand and driving it around.
In a snapshot version, other items on the list include refurbishing the stagecoach for the town's 350th anniversary celebration, among other town icons he has helped restore. The First Parish tower clock, for example.
Earl and his wife, Bonnie, who married in 1979, have three grown children and now share their home with llamas, goats, geese, chickens, ducks and bunnies and "foster" Siamese cats. The Carter residence also boasts its own museum. They call it the "myseum" and it's reportedly filled with historic artifacts dating from the 1700s to the present. Admission is free and nothing in the collection is for sale.
Besides his work with the Big Book for Peace Project, Carter's volunteer activities also include membership in the Groton Lakes Association, Groton Historical Society, First Parish Church and the Groton Men's Association. As founder of the New England Dragway, he built the first "bucket" car in New England. He regrets selling it, he said.
As part of the nomination process, Carter was asked to share some words of wisdom. "Life is short, live by the golden rule," and contribute your talent and time to enrich the community, he advised. And if he could do it all over again? He wouldn't change a thing.
Loret Schur, of Sterling, designed her town's "interesting" flag and has a reputation for "attitude" and doing things "all the way." Passionate about her work and her community, she grew up in Boylston and started working at age 15 for New England Oil, where she worked her way up to sales manager.
A self-described "motor head," Schur is also a can-do problem solver. In her 30s she battled breast cancer and won. As a survivor, she advises others to "pay attention to your body" and trust your instincts. If you think something's wrong, it probably is. Another take-away from her experience was that doctors should develop better bedside manners, she said. Today, she volunteers in a hospice, which is sad but "rewarding" work, she said.
She served on Sterling's Personnel board for 23 years, 15 as chair, on the Historical Society for 10 years and was president and vice president of the Sterling Garden Club. Other volunteer activities include the Republican Town Committee, Chocksett Club and Trinity Lutheran Church, with which she helped rebuild housing after Hurricane Katrina.
Her advice: Listen carefully and follow your love; speak up and be heard. She also stressed civic involvement. Asked about future plans, as in what she'd like to be when she "grows up," Schur said she's still trying to figure that out.
Sue Casserly, of Pepperell, favors a Danny Thomas quote, which states in part that it's what one does for others that counts. Told she was to receive the Chamber award, Casserly's response was, "So many others give more than I do," Melissa Fetterhoff said. "We disagreed."
As a child, her father died just hours after his own dad did and she "grew up in a houseful of women" and attended an all-girls high school. When her own daughter was in high school, the Casserly family welcomed a Danish exchange student into their home who has since become like another member of the family.
Casserly said she had been attending this event for 10 years, heard speeches about others when they were honored and now felt "grateful" and humbled to be counted among them. She was also grateful to all of those who "enabled me to volunteer," she said.
Bullets under her name on the awards program list "wife and mother" first. Other items include former member of the Westford Rotary Club, current member of the Groton-Pepperell Rotary Club and treasurer of Pepperell Business Association and of PACH. She volunteers for Indian Hill Music and for HUNS, the women's branch of the Shriners and taught CCD classes at St. Joseph's Parish.
Roy L. Jeannotte Award recipients
"I am privileged to work on projects I believe in," said Devens Eco-Efficiency Center Executive Director Dona Neely, whose list of award citations includes championing the creation of the Devens Regional Household Hazardous Products Collection Center.
The nonprofit firm's stated mission is to "help area businesses and organizations reduce their environmental impacts and operating costs by providing education, enabling collaboration and offering technical assistance." To that end, the center's community outreach credits include hosting monthly roundtable and quarterly compliance meetings and offering walk-through evaluations to businesses, "in an effort to find opportunities to conserve resources and eliminate waste."
Neely and her staff also teach students at the Parker Charter School in Devens how to "green their school" via recycling. The kids even collect food scraps and feed them to worms in the garden, where they plant and harvest veggies for school lunches.
The center has facilitated creation of several corporate recycling programs as well and helps area businesses and food service companies achieve "zero waste" goals, including composting efforts as part of the Great American Grill Composting Program.
Another initiative "near and dear" to Neely is the "Great Exchange Program," she said. The program repurposes unwanted stuff, as in one operation's trash is another's treasure. The philosophy fuels the practice, resulting in many tons of materials diverted from local landfills to new uses. In addition, participating in the program saved 37 area businesses and municipalities $25,000 last year, diverting 450 tons of material.
The center's annual Earth Day event attracts hundreds to its exhibit each year and many of those ideas came from Neely, a self-described "environmentalist at heart."
The center has received commendations, including from the EPA and Audubon Society. And now this award. "Nobody has more fun playing with trash than I do," Neely said.
She credited her staff for knowing "when to stand in front ... beside or behind me," in her efforts to grow the business and save the planet. "If everybody could hug a tree tomorrow, the world would be a better place," Neely said.
The Perlstein/Shapiro family from which Phoenix Park principal Eric Shapiro sprang has deep ties to the community, as does the renovated old mill complex in Shirley that is named for his family's former business, Phoenix Beverage Company, which once operated at two locations in town. The name also aptly describes the former Sampson Cordage factory's rise from the ashes. Vacant for 10 years when Shapiro bought the property, he and his management team turned it into a thriving small-business venue.
Built by the Shakers in 1850, the big brick mill buildings that once housed Sampson Cordage and employed generations of local residents were later occupied by another rope-making firm that went out of business in 1988. Some of the buildings were beyond repair when Shapiro bought the property in 1998. The rest were restored, making way for flexible rental space.
Extensive renovations and improvements included solar panels on the roof of one building and other, ground-mounted arrays that now provide power to some of the complex.
Today, modern amenities nestle nicely within the architecture of the past. The sturdy structures and vast spaces where mill machines once thrummed and clamored have become home to offices and small manufacturing firms. Adding historic ambience, blown-up black and white photos and reclaimed artifacts line the walls of the labyrinthine hallways.
Fifty small businesses now share Phoenix Park buildings, with common areas to meet and mingle and on-site professional management.
The eclectic tenant roster includes a bakery, flute maker, model railroad club, furniture maker and high-tech firms making lasers and earthquake monitoring systems. As an incentive, the complex offers free Chamber of Commerce membership for a year.
Shapiro and his company support many local organizations, including the Shirley Meeting House, Fitchburg Art Museum, Nashoba Valley Chorale, Ayer-Shirley Lions Club, Shirley Hoe Down, Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry and Battered Women's Resources, to name a few.
Hailed as a "self made man," Shapiro put off college for work, which he preferred, but eventually went to Boston University and obtained an MBA from Babson College. Hard work, dedication and a loyal team -- most of whom accompanied him to the awards dinner -- were credited for the success of Phoenix Park. One of the team members is Shapiro's sister, Susan Casper.
Shapiro is not only a successful entrepreneur, he enjoys adventurous extracurricular activities such as skydiving and credits his father as his "greatest influence" for developing a strong work ethic that includes "giving back."
His motto: Work hard, play hard, pursue your dreams and love your work. As for what he'd do differently a second time around, Shapiro said he'd listen more to his mother.
Citing socio-economic changes and challenges, Shapiro said there's less leisure time and community interaction these days, but the upside is that he has a "great team" that includes Casper. "I get to work with my sister every day!" he enthused.
The Nashoba region is a "great place to live" and grow a business, he said. And thanks to Phoenix Park's success, there are a lot of people working closer to home. "That's rewarding."
Wrapping up the program, Dick Conway said the award recipients had done "so much in so many ways," and influenced others to do the same. The "pay it forward" principal makes a community strong, he said. "Being a volunteer is a great thing."
Marshall agreed. "It's a labor of love for me," he said, noting the "extremely effective efforts of the men for whom the awards were named.