A fitting honor for a leader who built bridges at Riverside Industries

  • Former CEO/president of Riverside Industries, Char Gentes, shouts “Riverside Strong!” during a Friday, Sept. 23 event to unveil a tribute sculpture, recognizing Gentes’ contributions to the Easthampton nonprofit.  —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • An emotional Char Gentes, former CEO/president of Riverside Industries, looks at a sculpture that the Easthampton nonprofit had commissioned in her honor. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Beneath the tribute sculpture for Char Gentes, located beside the bridge on the property of Riverside Industries, is a rock garden with hand-painted rocks by staff and clients of the Easthampton nonprofit.  —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Char Gentes, right, former CEO/president of Riverside Industries, embraces artist Piper Foreso, who created the sculpture that the Easthampton nonprofit had commissioned in her honor, at an unveiling event held on Friday.  STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • An emotional Char Gentes, former CEO/president of Riverside Industries, shared a few words after a sculpture that the Easthampton nonprofit had commissioned in her honor was unveiled on Friday, Sept. 23. —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Riverside Industries CEO/President Lynn Ireland, far left, stands beside Char Gentes, former CEO/president of the Easthampton nonprofit, as they look at the sculpture that was commissioned in Gentes’ honor on Friday, Sept. 23.  —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Char Gentes, former CEO/president of Riverside Industries, embraces Kim Pietraszkiewicz at a Friday, Sept. 23 event in which a sculpture that the Easthampton nonprofit had commissioned in Gentes’ honor was unveiled.  —STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2022 8:04:01 PM
Modified: 9/25/2022 8:03:12 PM

EASTHAMPTON — When Char Gentes walked into the doors of Riverside Industries Friday morning, she assumed she would be assisting her successor Lynn Ireland in developing a strategic plan for the organization.

But as Ireland, who recently replaced Gentes as CEO and president at Riverside, guided Gentes to one of the loading docks at the back of the Easthampton nonprofit’s building, it was apparent that Ireland’s request for help was all part of an elaborate ruse to get Gentes on the property for a special celebration in her honor.

“Wow! I don’t know what to say!” Gentes, who retired in December after nearly 40 years with the nonprofit agency, said as she was greeted by a cheering crowd of more than 50 people.

As she took a moment to take it all in, Ireland guided Gentes to the foot of the bridge where a sculpture that was covered was recently installed.

“We wanted to do something really special for you — the team, our clients, our board, your village — because of everything that you’ve done for Riverside over the years,” Ireland said. “You led Riverside through very, very difficult times with confidence, courage and tremendous grace. At the same time having to make a transition and you did it beautifully — you have a team of people and clients here that absolutely adore you.”

“We did it together!” Gentes interjected.

Ireland said Riverside’s leadership team wanted to honor Gentes because of how she led the organization for nearly a decade. During her tenure, Gentes helped the organization navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and a $1 million bridge replacement project on Riverside’s property.

Ireland credited Susan LaPointe, who was the organization’s former director of development and community relations, with organizing the tribute.

“We wanted to do something special to commemorate her and it’s very funny that it ended up being this and at the bridge, because the bridge was a huge project Char had to undertake,” she said. “Adding a $1 million bill onto a nonprofit — a bridge is something that’s not usually on the docket.”

The team ultimately decided to commission artist Piper Foresco, who has a studio at One Cottage Street, to create a unique sculpture to honor Gentes. The sculpture, which was unveiled during the ceremony on Friday, is a stainless steel spiral with the words: “Riverside Strong: Dedicated to Char Gentes, Leader & Friend.”

Ireland said the location beside the bridge that Gentes helped build was apropos considering the work she did to build proverbial bridges for clients at the agency.

“Looking upon the whole property and element of the infinity, we know Riverside will continue to be strong because of the leader that there has been and the leader that there is now,” said Lapointe. “Piper’s ability to create something that’s a part of nature is just really what’s lovely. It’s a timeless piece and just a lovely dedication to Char.”

Beneath the sculpture is a rock garden complete with colorful designs and hand-painted messages to and for Gentes from clients. Each rock was first pretreated with a ultraviolet-resistant spray paint and then coated again once they were painted, according to Facilities Manager Sergio Hernandez.

“They will not fade,” he said. “We gave each program rocks and they did their thing to them.”

A handful of clients shared their appreciation for Gentes, including Kim Pietraszkiewicz, who Gentes described as someone she’s grown up with as she was among her first cleints. Pietraszkiewicz encouraged the crowd to perform a farewell sing-along of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

After exchanging multiple embraces, Gentes expressed her gratitude to her former team and clients.

“I feel so privileged to have been part of Riverside for so long. I really have grown up here. To be part of such an incredible mission and such an incredible team that every day shows up with their whole heart, there’s not many places that can say that and do that, day after day after day,” said Gentes. “Riverside is such a part of me. To be able to leave Riverside in Lynn’s hands, made the difference and allowed me to retire with ease — and to the staff, the clients, the tenants, I thank you. This is so incredible.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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