Easthampton schoolkids honor favorite neighbor

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  • Gertrude Casagrande accepts birthday cards from the fourth graders of Center Pepin School, including Starr Carballo, left, and Jacob Murrett, at the conclusion of a celebration outside her home in Easthampton on Monday, the day before her 96th birthday. Casagrande has lived on Clarke Avenue, right between the Center and Pepin school buildings, since 1951. STAFF PHOTO

  • Gertrude Casagrande, left, speaks to fourth graders from Center Pepin School in Easthampton during a celebration of her 96th birthday outside her home on Clarke Avenue on Monday. Casagrande has lived between the Center and Pepin school buildings since 1951. With her are her niece, Cindy Cloutier, center, a music teacher at Maple School, and Center-Pepin School Assistant Principal Andrea McCallum. STAFF PHOTO

  • Gertrude Casagrande thanks fourth graders from the Center Pepin School for their birthday cards on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, during a celebration of her 96th birthday outside her home on Clarke Avenue. Casagrande has lived on the street, right between the Center and Pepin school buildings, since 1951. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Center Pepin School fourth grader Pippy Vittum attends a birthday celebration for school neighbor Gertrude Casagrande on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, the day before her 96th birthday. Casagrande has lived on Clarke Avenue in Easthampton, in a house right between the Center and Pepin school buildings, since 1951 but next year all city elementary students will attend the new school complex on Park Street. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Center Pepin School fourth grader Ayesha Atif reads some of the history about the school's neighborhood and neighbor Gertrude Casagrande drawn from the class's interviews with Casagrande, 96, and her family. On Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, students ehld a birthday celebration for Casagrande who has lived on Clarke Avenue, in a house right between the Center and Pepin school buildings since 1951. Next year all Easthampton elementary students will attend the new school complex on Park Street. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Gertrude Casagrande, right, and her great granddaughter Laine Hilton, 2, listen as Center Pepin Assistant Principal Andrea McCallum, left, begins a birthday celebration for Casagrande on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, the day before her 96th birthday. Casagrande has lived on Clarke Avenue, in a house right between the Center and Pepin school buildings, since 1951 but next year all Easthampton elementary students will attend the new school complex on Park Street. —STAFF PHOTO

  • Fourth graders from Center Pepin School in Easthampton sing “Happy Birthday” to neighbor Gertrude Casagrande, standing on her front porch on Clarke Avenue, on Monday.

  • Center Pepin School fourth grader Olivia Dupuis Moreno attends a birthday celebration for school neighbor Gertrude Casagrande on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, the day before her 96th birthday. Casagrande has lived on Clarke Avenue in Easthampton, in a house right between the Center and Pepin school buildings, since 1951 but next year all city elementary students will attend the new school complex on Park Street. STAFF PHOTO

  • Gertrude Casagrande, left, speaks to fourth graders from Center Pepin School in Easthampton during a celebration of her 96th birthday outside her home on Clarke Avenue on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Casagrande has lived on the street, right between the Center and Pepin school buildings, since 1951. With her are her niece, Cindy Cloutier, center, a music teacher at Maple School, and Center-Pepin School Assistant Principal Andrea McCallum. —STAFF PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 11/22/2021 7:45:44 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Gertrude Casagrande has witnessed children blossom through elementary school for more than 70 years from her home’s front steps, settled comfortably between the Center Elementary School and the Neil Pepin Elementary School across the street. 

On Monday morning, dozens of those students paid a special visit outside her home to celebrate Casagrande’s 96th birthday with song, flowers and the dedication of the students’ garden. 

“I want to say thank you for coming, thank you very much,” Casagrande said to the crowd of fourth grade children and their teachers. “You have all been my children for 72 years.”

The celebration began with a reading of the Casagrande family’s history presented by several fourth graders based on interviews they had done in advance. They shared vignettes of Casagrande’s immigration to the United States from Germany after World War II, the construction of her house back in 1890, and what public school was like back in the day. 

Casagrande was presented with flowers, balloons and a slew of handmade birthday cards from students. The school garden, right across from her front porch, also was named the Casagrande Memorial Garden in her honor. 

Lastly, the fourth graders sang “Happy Birthday” to Casagrande, who was joined on her porch by her son, niece, granddaughter and great-granddaughter. 

“I love being next to the school,” Casagrande said, noting that she’s “always felt like a grandma with the kids here.” Known for letting children play in her yard after school, she was was invited into Center School on her 90th birthday to present her family history to students.

Jacqui LaFrance, an English language learner teacher at the schools, mentioned that one of those kids who played in Casagrande’s yard, Clint Burt, went on to become Center School’s principal years later. 

The birthday celebration comes as students from Center School, Pepin School and Maple Elementary School will consolidate in a new building designated for children from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade next school year.

“These buildings are beautiful but they’re very old,” LaFrance said of the facilities that surround Casagrande’s home. 

She said, “We wanted to say goodbye to some very special neighbors” with a celebration since the students will be relocated by this time next year. 

Casagrande said she “feels really enriched living here” because of her connections to students. Years after their graduation, she recalled, “some (students) would come during vacation with their girlfriends and boyfriends” to visit. 

Casagrande said she’s had “a lot of nice times” with the school, including Monday’s celebration, which she joked marks her turning “96 years young.”




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