Guest column John Bidwell: Gazette’s ‘Person of the Year’: Honoring heroes in our own backyard

  • Frances Crowe is the recipient of the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Person of the Year Award for 2019. GAZETTE STAFF/jerrey roberts

  • Hopkins Academy’s Felicia Fil is the recipient of the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Young Community Leader Award for 2019. gazette staff/kevin gutting

Published: 5/9/2019 11:20:10 AM
Modified: 5/9/2019 11:20:00 AM

America invents its own breed of heroes: cowboys, comic superheroes, sports icons and inventors. Massachusetts looks to its history of politicians and warriors, and locally we champion our activists.

Heroes come in different flavors depending on communities, but one thing is consistent: We celebrate them. Sometimes, we celebrate them to the point that they become celebrities. Collectively, we look to them for inspiration.

How do you celebrate your heroes? In my work office hangs a print of Abraham Lincoln. On tough days, I glance at the print and ask, “What would Lincoln do?”

But for every supersized hero, there are thousands who sacrifice beyond the limelight. In my home office are pictures of Monique, a West African midwife, and Irene, a Holocaust survivor. You likely don’t know of them, but they are two of the most amazing people I’ve met. “What would Monique and Irene do?” I also ask.

We all have our heroes, sung and unsung; the ones we share and ones who are personal to each of us. They are both important. Lincoln inspires me, but he doesn’t speak to me like Monique and Irene. I hear their voices because I know their voices.

On May 30, the Daily Hampshire Gazette and United Way of Hampshire County swivel the spotlight toward two local heroes: one well-known and the other less so. We do it because these people deserve it, and because the rest of us deserve real-life inspiration.

We are proud to announce that this year’s Person of Year is Frances Crowe, and this year’s Young Leader Award goes to Felicia Fil.

These recipients are relatable because they are local. Through their example, we transcend feelings of skepticism and helplessness to make a difference for our neighbors and neighborhoods. They are proof that if they can do it, so can we all.

The bombing of civilians at the end of World War II, especially in Hiroshima and Nagosaki, launched Crowe’s lifelong commitment to peace. She operated the local office of American Friends Service Committee from her house for decades.

She cofounded the Traprock Peace Center and Committee to End Apartheid, and has been long involved with the Society of Friends. She also founded the Northampton chapter of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Valley Peace Center, and the Sane Nuclear Policy Committee.

Her nonviolent disobedience has gotten her arrested and imprisoned, most recently in 2017 when she was 98 and in a wheelchair. Her devotion is beyond question.

Felicia Fil has a volunteer resume that borders on superhuman. She captains her school’s soccer and basketball teams, is a summer bible camp leader, a member of her school’s Student Council, Diversity Club, and was selected to be a member of the Peer Mentor and Leadership Program. She is a Girl Scout on track to get her Gold Award, plays clarinet, and offers bingo at her church as an opportunity for intergenerational play.

Felicia’s life altered six years ago when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Her response? To captain the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) walkathon team to raise both awareness and funds. What makes Felicia all the more remarkable is that she is an 11th grader at Hopkins Academy.

A highlight of my job as executive director of United Way of Hampshire County is that I meet many local heroes like Frances and Felicia, well-known and not. They are all the driving forces behind volunteerism, community action and making this place we call home amazing.

This underscores a fundamental value of United Way. One need not be Lincoln, or Rosa Parks, or the Dalai Lama to make a difference. What is needed is commitment to community and a willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder and work side by side for something bigger than ourselves.

Every year over 3,000 of our neighbors come together to give back through the United Way. Nobody is above another. We give because we believe that the Happy Valley should be happy for all 160,000 Hampshire County residents. And we give this year because we know — despite our petitions — that next year we may need a hand up.

Eight decades separate Frances Crowe and Felicia Fil, yet their spirit is timeless. So when you see me and you ask me about United Way, don’t be surprised when I launch into stories about our local heroes. We need them, because we live to be inspired in ways that are achievable. We want to be awed into action. Help us celebrate today’s heroes, because they are planting the seeds for tomorrow’s heroes.

John Bidwell is the executive director of the United Way of Hampshire County.


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