A Fitting Tribute for Three Guys and Their Lives' Work

 

An item in the "Selectmen's Briefs" (for those local government newcomers reading this, that's an overview of various and sundry items from the most recent Board of Selectmen meeting, not some expose on fashion choices of our local leaders) section in a recent Enterprise caught my eye and brought back some wonderful memories worth sharing.

The article noted that the Selectmen are considering naming the DPW headquarters on Gifford Street after three "longtime employees," former Director Bill Owen, former Town Engineer Gaetano "George" Calise, and former Highway Division Head Ronnie Nielsen.  Of course, to simply say that these fellas were "employees" is like saying that Bird, Parish and McHale were a few players on the Celtics.  These guys were the backbone of our public works operations (along with Parks guru Brian Dale) for more than two decades and are responsible for some of the most important and memorable projects in our community over the last generation.  The headquarters building itself which is the subject of the current naming deliberation was the brainchild of Bill Owen, who for years talked about replacing the tired old highway garage with a facility where all public works functions could be combined in one facility - one that would make us proud.  It was and it is.  That facility was his crowning achievement; naming the facility would be a fitting tribute. 

Bill and Ronnie are no longer with us, both having passed and gone too soon.  I had the privilege of speaking at Bill's memorial service and shared stories of our friendship and his joy for life.  George remains active and we speak often.   He spends his days now enjoying a well deserved retirement, dabbling in engineering consulting, and caring for his wife and best friend Crystal. 

When I first became involved in local government in Falmouth, these three were giants.  I was a wide-eyed, sometimes know-it-all, 23 year-old kid.  I used to meet Bill and Ronnie at the old Christopher's Restaurant where CVS is now, and just listen and soak in their information.  I would always order the Monte Christo at Chris and Barbara Kanellopoulos' place.  I can still taste their French fries.  The stories shared at those lunches taught me about how local government really worked - about customer service and how more than anything else, people want their streets plowed and trash collected.  Bill and Ronnie were experts at both.  They were tireless good, old-fashioned "road guys" who lived and breathed building, plowing, and maintaining roads.  They were an unforgettable pair and still part of the fabric of our community.

I've written in this space before about what George meant to Falmouth.  From his tireless efforts to achieve the vision of a bikepath from North Falmouth to Woods Hole, to his championing a wooden bridge on Church Street in Woods Hole, to pioneering the effort to use state highway funds for sidewalks and bikeways, our infrastructure bears the stamp of Geatano Calise, PE from Nye Road to Benjamin Nye's Lane, from Fishermans' Cove to Fiddler's Cove.  I've told this story before, but it bears repeating.  I was that same know-it-all young Selectman when a constituent called asking for mile markers on the bikepath, which back then extended from Locust Street to the Steamship lot in Woods Hole. I called George and asked him to make it happen.  He suggested I come to the entrance on a Saturday morning for the event.  I showed up with my kids ready to supervise.  George had other plans.  Rather than finding a legion of DPW workers ready to do my bidding, I found George, some reflective tape, a pedometer and a couple of wooden mallets.  He handed them to me, we walked the path, we measured, knelt and hammered, and I learned an important lesson about public service that is with me today - our job is indeed to serve the public - and we have to be willing to perform any task to get the job done.

I'm not sure what combination of names the Selectmen will come up with - the OwNeilCal Public Works Building seems a bit awkward - but I heartily, enthusiastically and energetically support the effort brought forth by local Ralph Herbst to recognize over a century's worth of dedicated service by these three friends of Falmouth.  How about simply, Bill, George, and Ronnie's place?  Yeah, that seems simple enough, and fitting for three guys who gave this place of ours their love and their lives' work.

This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.

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