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Easthampton woman donates $500 to new city high school in honor of her late daughter

Soja, 97, wanted to make a contribution to the school in honor of her daughter, Karen Watson, a former assistant librarian at EHS who died in 1988 of lung cancer at age 44.

Earlier this month, Soja presented the school with a donation of $500 in memory of her daughter, an EHS graduate as well as a former school staff member.

“Karen’s not going to get to see this beautiful school,” Soja said, in a recent interview at her Holyoke Street home. “I just wanted her to be a little part of it.”

Vito Perrone, EHS principal, said the donation was “amazingly generous and we are very grateful.” He said the funds will be used to augment the library’s literature offerings for advanced placement classes. Watson and her brother, James Soja — who also attended EHS — were avid readers growing up, said their mother, a trim lady with short hair and glasses who looks nowhere near her age. (“I tell people I’m 79 years old and if they don’t think so, they can turn the numbers around,” Theodora quipped).

Her two grandchildren and one great-grandchild also enjoy books — including the Harry Potter series, which they introduced her to, Soja said. Her husband, Fred Soja, died in 1994.

When Theodora finally got a look inside the new high school last month, her daughter was the first thing on her mind.

“There are three words that suit her,” Soja said. “Charm, grace and dignity. I know people thought of her that way.”

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Naming honors

What’s in a name? A subcommittee has been looking into that question in response to numerous requests to name rooms at the new high school in honor of former EHS teachers.

Earlier this month, the School Committee adopted the group’s recommendation that the district avoid naming portions of the new $39.2 million building after specific teachers. Instead, local residents will be offered a chance to purchase benches, picnic tables or other items that will have plaques dedicated to individuals.

“It is wonderful that people feel so passionate about the remarkable teachers they had while they were students at EHS,” School Committee member Debra Lusnia, one of five subcommittee members, said at the recent board meeting.

But she added that “since this high school is for the entire community of Easthampton and is paid for by all the citizens of Easthampton, we feel it wouldn’t be appropriate to name portions of the building in honor of specific individuals.”

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Science fair

Ten White Brook Middle School students are headed to the state Science Fair competition Saturday at Worcester Technical High School. The students, all eighth graders, “did remarkably well at the Regionals and are enthusiastically anticipating the state” competition, said White Brook science teacher Jan de Ubl. The state Middle School Science Fair, held since 1999, draws about 300 students each year, according to its website.

White Brook Science Fair participants and their projects are:

Frank Cole, “Convection Inspection,” aluminum can boats powered by candles; Hanna Vescovi and Angela Nardi, “Blind Mind,” about perceptual blindness; Hannah Miller, “Four Score and 400 Mealworms Ago,” mealworm activity in different environments; Tess McCallum and Ella Smith, “Emotions in Motion” about dance; Allison Christopher and Karina Volpe, “Perception Deception,” about stereotypes; Makayla Geurtin and Rachel Mastorakis, “Stress Less,” testing with stressors.

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Librarian moves on

Elementary school students and parents might be missing a familiar friendly face at the Emily Williston Memorial Library. Johanna Rodriguez, the library’s Youth Department supervisor for the past six years, has moved on to a new job in retail. Rodriguez, who led a range of activities for youngsters at the library — including weekly story hours for students at Center/Pepin — worked her last day May 20. She previously ran after-school programs for city elementary schools.

“We already miss her,” said Library Director Kristi Chadwick. She said library will advertise soon for a replacement, hoping to make a hire by mid-summer.

Reached at her home last week, Rodriguez said she misses the “energy of the kids and precious co-workers” at the library.

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