Dot Park’s protector is ready to pass the torch
Truly exceptional leaders know when it’s time to go. They know when it’s time to give someone else the opportunity to do the job— even if they would still do it better than anyone else could.
Jane Boyer, who intends to step down as president of the Dorchester Park Association this May, believes that her time as an organizer, advocate, and all-around watchdog for the 26-acre jewel in Lower Mills has run its course. She plans to announce her impending retirement at next Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the association — an all-volunteer outfit that has made immense improvements to the park under Boyer’s watch.
“I’ll come back to help out with clean-ups and things like that. And I’ll remain a member of the association,” Boyer, 60, said. “But I need to step back and let the next person do it their way. I don’t think it’s nice to hang in there and always be over their shoulder.”
Boyer’s right. The Lower Mills native is putting out the call for volunteers to step up and learn the ropes now, while she’s still in the captain’s chair. She’ll pass along all of her folders and contacts and know-how— all accumulated over the last 22 years as the group’s leader. She has a few thoughts on who might make a good replacement, but she doesn’t want to pressure anyone publicly. She hopes there’ll be an election in May or even sooner, perhaps, that will feature a slate of officers willing to bring new energy to the surprisingly busy calendar of events that keep the park buzzing and looking good all-year-round.
Jane has had plenty of help over the years. Richard O’Mara, the owner of Cedar Grove Gardens, has been a stalwart supporter and has brought his deep understanding of horticulture — along with his fundraising prowess—to the group.
O’Mara credits Boyer, however, with being the catalyst for the park’s positive transformation over the last two decades.
“Jane played an instrumental part in bridging the gap between some of us who were always supporters but were never active— and bringing us into a more active role,” O’Mara said. “She’s a tireless advocate for the park, a good intermediate between the park group and the neighbors who had concerns about the park and with the parks department. She gave tirelessly of her time and effort.”
Parks and Recreations Commissioner Antonia Pollak called Jane “a tremendous advocate for our parks.”
“Her name is synonymous with Dorchester Park. She is absolutely wonderful at bringing people together and getting the job done,” Pollak said.
Boyer was not the group’s founder. A trio of concerned neighbors— Sheila Gallagher, Susan Lawlor, and the late Lydia Smith were instrumental in organizing the committee that later became the DPA. It was formed in the “dark days” of the 1980s when the grounds looked more like a scene from “The Warriors” than the bucolic, family friendly park of today.
Jane— who at the time was raising her two sons with her husband Terry on Patterson Street — worked days and some nights at the Carney back then. She grew up right around the corner on Brookvale and her summer vacations were centered around Dot Park. The Olmsted-designed oasis was originally carved out as a break-time destination for mill workers from the old Walter Baker chocolate factory down the street.
By the time Jane and her siblings came of age, it was a haven for the baby-boom generation— and the city programmed games and summer field trips out of an old cement building that once stood next to the present-day tennis courts. (You can still see its foundation, all that remains.)
“Not too many families around here had a car then, really,” Jane remembers. “My mother was a widow at 40 and so the park was where we went in the summertime. In the winter, one of the kids — Herby Wiffin— would flood the baseball field for ice skating and we’d all bring our shovels up.”
“Some of the school teachers would get hired for the summer by the city to organize games and classes in the old building. We’d come up here all morning, go home for lunch, and come back. They might’ve taken us into the Boston Common once or twice, but mostly this was where we spent our summers,” Boyer recalls.
Around the time that Jane became a parent herself, the park took a turn. The ‘70s and ‘80s were a time of City Hall neglect, huge beer parties and, sometimes, reckless abandonment.
“One night a young girl who had been drinking in the park was left on her porch and she almost died,” said Boyer. “I was running a crime watch back then. We needed to get everyone together here. We wanted to be connected more and look out for neighbors.”
The wasted-youth element of the Dot Park teen experience was not the preserve of any one generation, to be sure. But in the 1980s, a sorry blend of city indifference, juvenile delinquency, and more sinister criminals conspired to ruin the place. There was hardly a square inch of pavement or boulder that wasn’t spray-painted by some wanna-be Rembrandt. If you weren’t tracking shards of broken Bud bottles home in your Nikes, you wore them home in your Adidas. Car thieves favored Dot Park as a handy dumping ground and the burned-out residue from one sedan — incinerated at center court in the mid-‘80s— darkened the clothes and hands of basketball players for years to come. Until the basket rims got sawed off.
Slowly, but surely, the DPA changed all of that— and many of the biggest milestone improvements happened because of Jane’s relentless, but deft, lobbying of city officials, who came to see her as a lovely partner, not a crank with an endless checklist of unrequited asks.
Boyer launched an annual Easter Egg Hunt, enlisting donors to help underwrite the candy costs. She persuaded kids from St. Greg’s (now Pope John Paul II Academy) to snap Hershey kisses into plastic and picked one lucky (?) eighth-grader to don the bunny costume. She cajoled city councillors and state reps into donating ice cream, hot dogs, and buns to feed families at the summertime Family Fun Day.
Jane made sure that the park’s gates —installed to keep stolen cars and any unauthorized vehicles from cruising through the entrances on Dot Ave. and Adams Street—were locked up tight. She met with Tenacity to help insure that the popular summertime tennis program used Dot Park as one of their city sites.
Perhaps most importantly for the long-term future of the park, Jane applied, pressed for— and got— Dorchester Park listed onto the National Register of Historic Places. That achievement—years in the making— gives the park a shot at grant money that had proven elusive before. It will help pay for additional maintenance, cutting back trees and the like, to keep the park from harmful overgrowth. It will also keep the park preserved from any further loss of its footprint (at least some of the park was bought out to help make room for an expansion to the Carney Hospital in the 1960s.)
“That was my big thing,” Boyer said. “I wanted to make sure it stayed there for Dorchester. There’s so much that needs to happen and we’re a non-profit.”
Jane didn’t accomplish any of these things on her own. People like longtime secretary William O’Connell, treasurer Jim Smith, vice-president Peggy Anne Canty, and always-present volunteer Thomas Caufield (and his extended family) have served as her sure-fire core of helpers. Richard O’Mara and his colleagues at Cedar Grove have been a God-send— not only with maintenance but also with helping the park set up an endowment fund that continues to grow.
Now, Jane is hoping to see some new blood step up to fill her shoes. Dot Park’s renaissance has once again made it a destination for young families from around the neighborhood. She hopes that some of the young parents who frequent the park — and sometimes come up to assist in seasonal clean-ups or for the Easter Egg Hunt— will commit to bigger roles.
The next DPA president will have an excellent mentor and advisor — if they want one— in Jane, who is confident that a successor will thrive with the right support. “That’s how you grow. I always listened to everyone’s suggestions. And, you should know when it’s a good time to go and let the next folks come in and do the same. We are just truly blessed here in Dorchester. We have great people here.”
The next meeting of the Dorchester Park Assoc. is Wed., Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the second-floor board room at Carney Hospital.