February 2, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Looking Back
By Dan Szczesny

I remember only one thing about my sophomore year Anthropology class at Buffalo State College. Twenty years ago, just as class was beginning, a teacher from across the hall poked his head into class, called my professor over and whispered something into his ear.

Professor George Tomasovich was an older man, prone to bow ties, blue suits and long lectures. He wasn’t someone to react emotionally. But without a word, he left the class and came back a few moments later with a television set.

“There’s been an accident,” he said.

And for the next hour or so, on a scratchy, black and white TV, my anthropology class watched the news coverage of the Challenger disaster.

I knew that a teacher from New Hampshire had been on that shuttle, but the grief I felt at the time was the impersonal collective mourning of a national tragedy. That changed years later, when I moved to New Hampshire and realized just how powerful an impact Christa McAuliffe had and continues to have on Concord and on the state.

This past weekend, we celebrated the life of Concord’s most revered astronaut quietly and respectfully, illustrating just how fresh this loss still is to the city. There were tributes here and there, including a new documentary on McAuliffe’s life. Plenty of ink was spilled in the local media tracking down McAuliffe’s friends, fellow teachers and family. But the celebration, at least in Concord, is always subdued. Just as McAuliffe herself always attempted (unsuccessfully at times) to turn the spotlight away from personalities and toward education, so to her family and friends today have remained humble and out of the spotlight. The best way to honor McAuliffe’s memory today is to stop by the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium and learn something.

Looking ahead

It would appear, at least for the present, that former Capitol Center for the Arts executive director M.T. Mennino’s shoes will be capably filled. Civic leader Jane Berwick was recently named interim director to fill the position vacated when Mennino died suddenly last November of heart failure.

Mennino was a towering figure in Concord, breathing new life into the city by transforming the Capitol Center from a shuttered wreck into the jewel it is today.

If anyone understands Mennino’s legacy it’s Berwick. After all, Berwick was a member of the committee that recruited Mennino back in 1994 and had worked closely with her ever since.

The Epsom resident was a member of the Center’s founding board of trustees and served as board chair. She was also involved with the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and has been active in pretty much every community service organization you can think of.

Berwick has said that she does not plan on making any changes in the way the Capitol Center is operated, and that’s a good thing. The key, at least in the short term, to Berwick’s success will be to maintain the long-range strategic plan that Mennino herself initiated in the last weeks of her life. If Berwick is able to continue to implement what Mennino began, the Capitol Center will have a good steward on board to guide it..

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