Boston philanthropist Ted Cutler OFD (Originally from Dorchester) paid a visit to his old neighborhood on Tuesday to help dedicate a new space for a library in the grammar school that helped nurture him as a young boy.
A one-time musician and artist’s agent, Cutler made it big when he and three other Dot men invested in business ventures ranging from corporate travel agencies and trade shows to Las Vegas casinos. Now 85, the Emerson College graduate was back in the basement of the Sarah Greenwood School on Glenway Street this week for the dedication of a sparkling new school library constructed over the summer by a dedicated group of volunteers.
Built in 1919, the Greenwood is an extended-day school (8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.) with 430 students in grades K-1 through 8. It features dual language instruction offering students the opportunity to learn in Spanish and in English. Principal Alexander Mathews, now in his fifth year as headmaster, has been in the Boston school system for 14 years.
The library project was conceived and managed by Mimi LaCamera, a Back Bay woman who recently retired after a career managing non-profits in the city. LaCamera was invited to visit the school last winter and was “stunned” to learn the school had no library.
“I started going over there almost daily in the beginning of January and plowing into really just a mess of piled-up books that had been moved around the school four times in the last four years,” she said. “And they were really, really dirty, out of date, and pretty well beaten up. We threw away about a thousand books because they were so filthy.”
Some of those outdated titles included: From 1954,“What Happens at a TV Station,” a how-to book on “Baton-twirling,” “Careers in Department Stores,” “How to be a Farmer,” “Archery for Girls & Boys,” and “Math for Girls – and Other Beings Who Count.”
Drawing on her years of managing and fundraising for non-profits, LaCamera began a reach-out to philanthropies around the city. She received a pledge of support from the Highland Street Foundation, and from Cheers owner Tom Kershaw. “We needed an army of volunteers and ‘Boston Cares’ organized that,” she said. “125 people from Fidelity came here on a hot day in the summer, and they assembled 40 bookcases, painted a STEM mural, painted the schoolyard and cleaned and trimmed the garden outside.” The volunteers even painted all the basement walls in the 96-year-old building.
Ted English, chairman of Bob’s Discount Furniture, donated two rooms of furniture, including a desk for the librarian and all the hardwood bookcases, and old grad Ted Cutler weighed in with his own donation. As a finishing touch, she said her friend Larry Fish told her, “I want you to buy rugs, and I’ll pay for them.”
LaCamera credited Maura O’Toole, the librarian at the Mather School, for advice on building the library, and the Boston Educational Development Foundation (BEDF) for providing the 501(c) (3) to help administer the $28,000 she raised to complete the project.
On Tuesday morning, LaCamera unveiled a plaque dedicating the library to Cutler, one of the oldest graduates of the school.
“Teddy represents the past of the school, the present, and the future,” she said.
In his remarks, Cutler looked back to his boyhood days. “My grandfather owned a store at the corner of Harvard Street and Glenway Street, and I used to walk across to him for lunch everyday,” he recalled. “He even taught me Yiddish. At home my mother and father only spoke English in front of me, and when they wanted to talk privately they spoke Yiddish. They didn’t know that I understood them because I learned it from my grandfather.”
Ted Cutler smiled and posed for pictures with three other old grads who had returned from their suburban homes for the nostalgic event. Then the old students watched as 20 kindergarden children came in and sat down on the newly carpeted floor, ready for their first story-telling session – in Spanish.