LYNN — Tuesday’s “Toast of Lynn” breakfast at the Lynn Museum and Historical Society celebrated three people who have enriched the community immensely with their contributions.
But, said museum director Drew Russo, it also brought out how interconnected the honored award recipients are with each other — and with the city as well.
The event, sponsored by St. Jean’s Credit Union, recognized Lynn Housing And Neighborhood Development (LHAND) director Charles Gaeta, one-time school committeewoman and city councilor Deborah Smith Walsh, and Raw Art Works (RAW) founder Mary Flannery.
Two of the awards — the Philip A. Chase Award presented to Gaeta and the Sallie H. Hacker Award given to Walsh — have a long history. Flannery’s award, the Cultural Visionary Award, is new.
Lynn School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler was the principal speaker.
Sallie Hannaford Hacker was a founder and benefactor of the Lynn Historical Society, “and she was especially involved in lifting up the most vulnerable people in the community with the Lynn Home for Women. Walsh, who grew up on Gateway Lane in Lynn, began her political career in 1981 when seeing the ramifications of Proposition 2 ½ prompted her to become involved with the Aborn School PTO. A year later, she ran for the Lynn School Committee and won a seat.
In 1991, she became a Lynn councilor-at-large, where she stayed for 12 years.
Walsh has also served on the boards for many nonprofits in the city, including the Community Gardens Committee, the Economic Development & Industrial Corporation (EDIC), Family and Children’s Services, the Hood School Improvement Council, Lynn Business Education Foundation, Lynn Museum, Lynn YMCA, My Brother’s Table and the Southeast Asian Task Force.
She was also a trustee of the Lynn Public Library and a founding board member of LynnArts. She and her husband, John C. “Coley” Walsh, have two sons (Steven and Joseph) and a daughter (Marissa). They also have four grandchildren.
Previous Hacker Award recipients include Virginia Barton, Clare Crane and Agnes Ricko.
Chase was the founding president of the Lynn Historical Society, and, said Russo, was also a visionary who secured Lynn Woods, along with numerous public parks and beaches.
Gaeta, also born and raised in Lynn, graduated from St. Mary’s and then from Boston State College with a political science degree. He was 23 when he was first elected to the Lynn City Council and only 25 when he became president.
While on the council, Gaeta was on the Economic Development and Housing committees during the time when the shoe mills and vacant downtown buildings were being converted into housing units — many of which were allocated to affordable housing for senior citizens.
In 1983, he became executive director of the Lynn Housing Authority — forerunner to what is now LHAND.
Under Gaeta’s direction, LHAND, along with the Neighborhood Development Associates, have created mixed income ad ownership opportunities to families in Lynn of all income levels.
Gaeta and his wife, Liz, live in Lynn and have two sons, Christopher and Charlie, a daughter-in-law Justina (Alicudo) and a new grandson, Christian.
Previous winners of the Chase award were Tom Costin, Tom Demakes, and Nicholas Kostan.
The Cultural Visionary Award recognizes the growing impact of the creative economy in Lynn, with its epicenter being in the downtown area. It also honors the important role the arts play in enriching the community.
Flannery, who lives in Nahant, is a 1984 Lesley College graduate. After spending eight years working with mentally ill adults at Danvers State Hospital, she said she came to understand the importance of art to those who struggle to be seen and heard. She began focusing on adolescents and founded Raw Art Works.
In 1988, RAW designed the first statewide art therapy program for incarcerated youth. Living in Lynn at the time, she became aware of how many teens were incarcerated and believed RAW could be a life-changing option and an alternative to detention centers.
Flannery and executive director Kit Jenkins opened RAWSpace in Lynn, a small group of art therapists. And what started as a single-room studio for teens is now an internationally-recognized organization.
Food for the breakfast was donated by McDonald’s, Junction Deli, Brother’s Deli, the Capital Diner, April’s Restaurant, Land of a Thousand Hills and One Mighty Mill.