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Fitting tribute to a Codman Square hero

Walczak building dedication on March 19, 2013: from left, Codman CEO Sandra Cotterell, Mayor Tom Menino, Bill Walczak and Meg Campbell, executive director of Codman Academy. Photo by Ed ForryWalczak building dedication on March 19, 2013: from left, Codman CEO Sandra Cotterell, Mayor Tom Menino, Bill Walczak and Meg Campbell, executive director of Codman Academy. Photo by Ed Forry

Nobody told Bill Walczak that his name would adorn the façade of a Codman Square’s newest building. The board at Codman — the health center that he founded and led from the 1970s until two years ago— wanted to surprise him. Like most people, Walczak knew nothing about the honor until he arrived to see the finished product during an open house a few months ago.

“The William J. Walczak Health and Education Center” —which houses elements of the health center and the Codman Academy Charter Public School— was officially dedicated in a Tuesday morning ceremony. A large crowd assembled in the building’s black-box theatre as Mayor Thomas M. Menino cut the ribbon and lavished much-deserved praise on Walczak, the center and the school.

The 34,000 sq. ft. brick-and-stone building has transformed the corner of Norfolk and Epping Street. The $18 million project— boosted by nearly $8 million in federal stimulus dollars— gives Codman the capacity it needs to serve up to 30,000 patients per year. It also will allow Codman Academy— acclaimed for its academics and theatre/arts training— to grow and thrive. In that sense, the building is a living, breathing monument to the visionary leader who carved out a lonely outpost for community health care in the early 1970s. At a time in which many people were beating it out of Dorchester with a quickness, Walczak rallied a feisty and devoted core of residents around the idea that a health center would both serve and lift this community in defiance of the odds.

It was Walczak’s single-minded devotion to this cause that allowed the health center to grow from the dank basement of the old Great Hall library building into a world-class health and education campus right here in Dorchester.

Bill Walczak’s contributions go far beyond bricks and mortar. Walczak breathed a collaborative and innovative spirit into the lungs of Codman Square and allowed other imaginative people to attempt— and most often— succeed in pushing the envelope. His best legacy, beyond the patient care and buildings, are the strong leaders he cultivated to help keep Codman alive and well after his departure. Foremost among these is Sandra Cotterell, Codman’s current CEO, who has continued to lead this important institution with distinction.

Congratulations to Bill Walczak —and his colleagues and friends at Codman for making a great choice in the naming of the ‘Walczak wing.’