Gift of gab: Talkative group honors friends with toy fund donation

  •  The “Filibusters,” from left, Ed Trzcienski, Phil Civello, Ed Heon, Dave McGrath, Jim Bell, Phil Bell, Len Maggiolino, Larry Briggs, Dave Grills, Joe Dibrindisi and Nick Grimaldi. The group meets every Thursday morning at the Bluebonnet Diner in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/LUIS FIELDMAN

Staff Writer 
Published: 12/16/2019 1:27:01 PM

NORTHAMPTON — It can be hard to get a word in when in the company of the “Filibusters.” Just ask Ed Trzcienski, who named the group. The conversations are rambunctious and the laughter rolls on and on. When Trzcienski is on the golf course with fellow Filibuster Dave McGrath, the latter’s phone rings and you can bet it’s a Filibuster on the line.

There’s about a dozen of them and they have met every Thursday morning at the Bluebonnet Diner on King Street for the past eight years, and for years before at various other diners. But their stories go back much further. They are mostly old friends who graduated from Northampton High School and St. Michael’s High School in the 1950s. A few others from Amherst and Rhode Island have also made their way into the group.

“Laughter resonates in this group,” McGrath said during last week’s meeting of the Filibusters. “We laugh from the time we sit here to the time we leave and there is never any rancor.”

He continued, “There’s a lot of stories told, and some of them are even true,” prompting another round of laughs at the table.

The Filibusters made a donation to the Gazette’s Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund this year, a $60 contribution, in memory of an original group member, Roger Coulombe. An alumnus of NHS, a former Thai national basketball team coach during his time in the Peace Corps, and a 43-year educator as teacher and administrator, Coulombe died on Feb. 22, 2018.

“We talk about him like he is still here,” Nick Grimaldi said. “He’s gone but not forgotten.”

When Coulombe was named headmaster in 1997 at the Steward School in Richmond, Virginia, the school received a $15.9 million-dollar anonymous donation, and with a matching donation, that helped quadruple the 38-acre campus along with increasing enrollment, faculty and the endowment.

Filibuster Bob Foote said Coulombe could learn music on the piano by ear despite his inability to read sheet music.

“Roger and I were good friends growing up, playing basketball together at Hamp,” Foote said from Florida in a phone interview. “He’s sorely missed by all of us.”

Grimaldi said the donation is also in memory of Peter Subocz, who died in 2016. An NHS graduate, and U.S. Army veteran, Subocz was an “instrumental” in forming the Filibusters.

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury, and Leverett, and in Holyoke in Hampden County.

18 Degrees Family Services for Western Massachusetts at 59 Interstate Drive in West Springfield verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers.

Grimaldi said the group is made up of educators and other people who served their communities in various capacities who want to continue paying forward good fortune towards children during the holidays. Filibusters have veterans, former teachers, coaches, principals, and social workers among its ranks.

The donation is “part of remembering friends,” Grimaldi said.

The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; JCPenney, 367 Russell St., Hadley (store only); The Toy Box, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Target, 367 Russell St. Hadley (store only); Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; Wilson’s Department Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; World Eye Bookshop & Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield; Holyoke Sporting Goods Co. 1584 Dwight St. #1, Holyoke; Children’s Museum at Holyoke, 444 Dwight St., Holyoke.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA, 01061, or made through Gazettenet at www.gazettenet.com. Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com




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