Thursday, July 14, 2016

Free Fun in Massachusetts: A Day at the Zoo

Charlotte Canelli is the library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte's column in the July 14, 2016 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

In 1889, when Andrew Carnegie wrote his essay titled Wealth, it was published in the North American Review and soon after became known as The Gospel of Wealth.  In the article, Carnegie reasoned that successful capitalists have an obligation to improve the world, both culturally and socially, with the bulk of their riches. They must, he contended, leave the world better than they found it. “I should consider it a disgrace to die a rich man,” in Carnegie’s words speaks to his legacy to the world. Carnegie’s wealth built over 3,000 public libraries in English-speaking countries, many of them in the United States. The foundation in his name endures to this day.

Although it can be argued that Carnegie was just one of the many American industrialists who made their fortunes using the sweat and blood of common laborers, there is no debate that he and many other capitalists left fortunes in foundations that are still enriching the world today.  George Morrill, Norwood’s wealthy printing ink manufacturer, undoubtedly read The Gospel and Wealth written in 1889. Morrill not only provided the funds for our elegant public library, but he and his wife advocated for the location, hired the architects and contractors, chose the exterior granite and interior mahogany, and funded the furnishings and volumes of books. In 1898, Morrill turned the keys over to Norwood - with no strings attached. The building and its contents was erected as a monument to their youngest daughter, Sara Bond Morrill. Yet, it is also obvious that this legacy was also a testament to the love of their town and their personal way to leave Norwood (which they eventually did en route to New York) better than they had found it.

Today, the hype about gifts and grants from philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Mark Zuckerberg, and dozens of others are splashed across the print and online news. We may claim that this philanthropy is only a portion of their wealth. Or we may debate the fact that the American rich have made their millions and billions exploiting American workers or insulting our intellect. However, without philanthropy in America, many social, educational, medical and cultural initiatives would not have been funded in the past or continue to be funded today. To date, Warren Buffet has donated over $30 billion. Bill and Melinda Gates over $29 billion. Others like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie raise millions of dollars to support humanitarian causes. Money may make the world go ‘round, but philanthropy (or from the Greek, love of man) makes the world a far better place.

One of Boston’s many philanthropists is responsible for making Boston a better place to be in the summers. Fun Free Fridays is the brainchild of the Highland Street Foundation. Libraries promote Fun Free Fridays even though you don’t need to get a coupon or pass at the library. Each Friday, 10 wonderful places are open to the public for free all day. Attendees are only asked their zip code as they enter.

The Highland Street Foundation was established by David McGrath in 1989.  Friends and entrepreneurs, David McGrath and Tom Cook were both MIT students when built their company, TAD Resources International in 1956. From there, McGrath and Cook became very successful and McGrath and his wife decided to give back by endowing the Highland Foundation. After David McGrath’s early death at the age of 62 in 1995, TAD (a staffing and contract services company) was sold and the proceeds from that sale make up the majority of the endowment of the Highland Street Foundation today. David’s wife and their five children oversee the Foundation and over $170 million has been given to non-profit organizations to date. Dozens of grants, community events and programs, and initiatives are funded each year. Best Buddies, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Cradles to Crayons, and the Tadpole Playground in the Boston Common are just a few of Highland Street’s beneficiaries.

The Fun Free Fridays project was rolled out in 2009 and nearly a million visitors have taken advantage of this generous program over the past eight summers.  Parks, museums, zoos, and exhibits across the state from east to west and north to south are participating venues. From the end of June to the end of August, about eight of the eighty locations each Friday are open to the public absolutely free. Included are Sturbridge Village, the Franklin Park Zoo, the USS Constitution, the JFK Presidential Library, and 76 others.

Gerry and I were lucky enough to have two of our grandchildren and their mothers visiting us over the Fourth of July week. While out and about in along the south coast of Massachusetts, we decided to have our picnic lunch in New Bedford on Friday. In the center of New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park is the Buttonwood Park Zoo and it was open free to the public that day as part of the Fun Free Fridays program.

This perfectly-sized zoo in the center of New Bedford was a delightful excursion for our eighteen-month old twin grandchildren, Ava and Judah.  The Buttonwood Park Zoo’s ten acres of creatures include elephants (Emily and Ruth who are 51 and 56 years old, respectively), three black bears, one coyote, a bison, and assorted other mammals, amphibians, fish and fowl.

The Buttonwood Park Zoo has been named one of America’s best small zoos and is definitely affordable even on non-free days. It’s the twelfth oldest zoo in the United States and was founded in New Bedford during its prosperous 19th century whaling and textile eras. It’s owned and operated by the city of New Bedford (which funds 1/3 of its operating costs) and is open year-round, welcoming about 150,000 visitors a year. It is supported by donations through the Buttonwood Zoological Society.

Come to the library and pick up a Fun Free Fridays brochure or visit the Highland Street Foundation’s website for a downloadable one. The library continues to post the Fun Free Friday dates poster on our Facebook page and website. Thanks to the Highland Street Foundation and the family of David McGrath for this delightful venue for a summer picnic and romp with our grandchildren on a Fun Free Friday of summer.