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Westwood 2020: a year in review

In what might be Hometown Weekly's most extreme understatement of the still-young 21st century, we at the paper are confident in saying the last 365 days won't soon be forgotten.

With a world-stopping pandemic, contentious US presidential election, and demonstrations for racial equality dominating headlines around the globe, it won't be surprising if 2020 joins the likes of 1968, 1917, 1848 and 1789 as years historians consider especially momentous in the course of human history.

It's also no surprise that these big-picture stories reverberated at the local level as well, with even the most global of issues taking on the unique characters of these small towns we call home.

While we couldn't possibly fit everything we'd like, the following are some of the stories that made headlines in 2020.

Westwood swings into Jazz Night

“The Westwood Music Department’s Jazz Night took place on Thursday, February 6, in the high school’s cafeteria. The Thurston Middle School Jazz Band, directed by Dr. Allison Sanders, and the Westwood High School Jazz Band, directed by Mr. Doug LaRosa, performed classic blues and big band swing pieces. Two professional musicians, or clinicians, and five adult guest artists joined the high school band in playing some jazzy, brassy, showy swing tunes,” wrote Audrey Anderson.

“According to Dr. Allison Sanders, the students and faculty are enthusiastic about their annual Jazz Night performance, which is their ‘favorite concert of the year.’ This year, it was held in the high school cafeteria with rows of seating and high-top tables with flickering faux candles to lend a club atmosphere. 

“According to Westwood High School Director of Performing Arts Dr. Heather Cote, getting ready for this concert requires dedication, since it arrives right on the heels of the large winter concert. The faculty and students had to work hard to learn the musical pieces in a short time span.”

Westwood COA celebrates Valentine's Day

“Every year, it’s the same: Valentine's Day comes around and couples wrangle with the best way to celebrate. For visitors at the Westwood Council on Aging, though, there was an easy option: the annual Valentine’s Day party. The Patricia Carty-Larkin Senior Center has become famous for its festive holiday celebrations, and this year’s Valentine's Day soirée on February 12 was no different.

“Seniors came ready to party. Taking a seat at tables, attendees formed a sea of red, a few even wearing Valentine's Day themed shirts and sweaters. ‘I got the wrong color!’ joked a guest wearing a blue shirt. At each place setting sat a red back-scratcher, along with Valentine’s-themed goodie bags.

“As per usual, the Westwood Council on Aging put on a festive, fun holiday celebration. With love in the air, pizza for lunch, and a bit of Elvis to tie it all together, everyone seemed to leave with warmth in their hearts.”

Hometown communities wrangle with coronavirus

“Earlier this year, officials in the United States became aware of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus in China. Knowing that it was inevitable that the virus would reach the United States, officials began creating plans and preparing for various scenarios to handle the illness,” reported Amelia Tarallo. “In the past few weeks, Hometown Weekly communities have found themselves preparing for the worst, with town officials trying to find the best possible ways to prevent the spread of the virus.

“On March 11, the Westwood Board of Health was alerted of a positive case of COVID-19. Since then, the Board has been keeping updates on the Westwood town website. There, residents can find recommendations from the CDC and ways to stay prepared during a pandemic.”

Parade celebrates Westwood High seniors

“It may have been the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week, but over 50 teachers and staff from Westwood High School spent part of the afternoon of Friday, May 8, celebrating the 237 students who make up the Class of 2020,” read Hometown Weekly.

“’I teach three senior English classes,’ said English Department Chair Kate Holmes. ‘My seniors had been so excited for senior year all along, but since the pandemic struck, they’ve taken one hit after another.’

“Holmes described a recent online class in which her students were having a particularly hard time.

“‘They were just downtrodden,’ recalled Holmes. ‘They’ve been showing up for online class and doing their work. There was so much emotion on this one particular day. It hit them that they should be starting senior week.’

“That is when it hit Holmes that one way to help lift their spirits would be a parade where teachers and staff would come together to celebrate the senior class. 

“‘The parade was an indescribable experience,’ said Holmes. ‘Watching so many members of the fire and police departments, along with our faculty, fill their decorated cars with family and drive through the community to cheer on the amazing class of 2020 was truly inspiring. As we drove past the smiling, celebrating students and families holding signs and shouting thanks, it reminded me of how resilient and incredible these kids are. Seeing their faces and feeling their positivity in this difficult time brought tears to my eyes. We are surrounded by such a strong and supportive community and I feel endlessly lucky to be a part of it.’”

Westwood holds Peace and Justice Vigil

“It’s uncomfortable to stand in the rain. It’s far more uncomfortable to have a 200-pound man kneel on your neck for eight minutes forty-six seconds as you use your last dying breaths to beg for mercy. So, despite gloomy weather and a torrential downpour that cleared just before it, the Westwood community came out in droves for Saturday night’s Peace and Justice Vigil for Black Lives Taken at the corner of Gay and High Street,” reported James Kinneen.

“With sidewalk chalk circles to maintain social distancing, families and individuals lined the sidewalk holding signs that ranged from ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘No Justice, No Peace’ to ‘are you brave enough to dismantle a system built to benefit you’ and ‘a measure of privilege is how little you have to think about it in a day.’ By far the most powerful signs were held a Black family, which read ‘you stole our past, stop killing our future’ and simply: ‘stop killing us.’

“After eighth-grader Abby O’Leary read a poem, Anna Reilly asked the crowd for a moment of silence in honor of those who’ve been murdered, the massive crater that left for their families, and for all the things they could have been. During the moment of silence, the crowd took a knee for around two minutes.

“‘I just want to point out how long that felt,’ Reilly noted after the moment ended. ‘George Floyd was held down and murdered for eight minutes, forty six seconds.’”

Hometown Weekly voters head to polls

“While record numbers of Bay Staters voted in the November 3 election by mail due to COVID-19, scores of voters still headed to the polls on Tuesday to vote in person at a wide variety of locations. But while every ballot had the same options printed on them, every town’s voting locales were a little bit different, whether due to the location itself or the people professing their beliefs outside,” reported James Kinneen.

“Other than the Senior Center, Westwood conducted its voting in the far more traditional school building locations. At Hanlon School, I ran into a mother and daughter, who let me take their picture to commemorate the historic moment, as it was the daughter’s first time ever voting.

“While election day didn’t have quite its usual energy due to so many people having voted by mail instead, on Tuesday, large swaths of Bay Staters, each with their own unique backgrounds, beliefs and ideals headed to the polls to do their civic duty.”

Jack Wiggin receives Quarter Century Award 

“The Westwood Historical Society has presented John (Jack) Wiggin with its Quarter Century Award this year,” read Hometown Weekly. “This award recognizes a Westwood resident for contributions to our community for more than 25 years - and Jack certainly has 25 plus years living and serving Westwood!”

“Jack was born and raised in Westwood and is the third generation of his family to be part of the community. He attended Westwood public schools through the 8th grade and then went to Xaverian Brothers High School. Jack has served a total of 14 years on the Planning Board and served as chair three times. He was also instrumental in providing direction for projects such as University Station, the Islington Fire Station and the new police station. Other committees and boards include: the Housing Partnership and Fair Housing Committee, Economic Development Advisory Board, Open Space and Recreation Task Force, and the Town Centers Planning Committee. Jack is currently serving on the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee and the Community Electricity Aggregation Working Group. He was the recipient of the John J. Cronin Public Service Award in 2009.”

“Jack was also on the Hale Reservation Board of Directors from 2002 to 2012, serving as vice president and then president. During that time, he led the development of a master plan for Hale, served as the chairman of the Land and Facilities Committee and helped launch their first capital campaign. Jack moved to the Hale Corporate Board in 2012, where he currently serves.”

WYWC brings Santa home to Westwood

“With COVID-19 forcing many families to remain stuck at home throughout the holiday season - or at the very least, unwilling to venture anywhere near the crowds of a mall in December - annual Santa visits and pictures with Santa have steeply declined in 2020. To simultaneously remedy this situation while raising money they often transfer to charities like the Westwood Food Pantry and the Westwood Early Education Council, this year, the Westwood Young Women’s Club (WYWC) introduced Santa Visits Westwood,” reported James Kinneen.

“On Saturday, Santa came to visit Westwood children at their homes, give them a gift bag, and take pictures with them.

“Members of the Westwood Young Women’s Club (which mostly consists of women in their late 20’s to early 40’s) view their core mission as helping the community and connecting with each other.

“It was probably a lot of work scrambling to put Santa Visits Westwood together, as well. But for the prize of seeing kids reacting to having old St. Nick show up at their house, it was likely very much worth it.”

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