By Troy Watkins
Founded in 1669, the city of Westfield turned 350 this year, holding events that ranged from a community pancake breakfast to a parade.
Westfield State University has a symbiotic relationship with the city, moving here in 1844, five years after its founding as the Normal School for teacher training in Barre. Westfield State is one of the city’s largest employers. Some 25 alumni, who earned a degree in criminal justice, now protect and serve the community as members of the city’s Police Department, and Don Humason Jr. ’89 represents Westfield among other communities in the state senate.
To honor these connections, Westfield State proudly supported and took part in many of the anniversary celebrations. For starters, the anniversary logo was designed by Allison Terkelsen ’17. The University also created a Westfield Tartan, including colors from Westfield State and the city’s three high schools; proceeds from the sales of the ties, scarves, and key chains help fund the Westfield Pride Scholarship.
Vanessa Diana, Ph.D., professor of English and director of the Honors Program, created an Honors seminar entitled “Westfield at 350,” for which students researched how the University’s community members contribute to the city of Westfield. The University also sponsored events, one of which featured several professors as presenters. “The History of the Westfield Normal School” was led by History Professor Mara Dodge, Ph.D., English Professor Beth Rothermel, Ph.D., and local historian Walter Fogg.
Fogg has delivered historical presentations to Westfield’s primary and secondary school students through the support of the Volunteers in Public Schools for 10 years. Additionally, he has presented to the Western Hampden County Historical Society and participated in the Westfield Athenaeum 150th Anniversary Speaker Series. From 2013 to 2016, he served as a member of the Westfield Historical Commission, and currently serves as a member of the board of directors for Westfield Museum Inc.
The panel discussed how education has been a pivotal part of the community and credited the progressive approach to create the first public, coeducational, and racially integrated institution in the nation.
Westfield State Education Professor Laurie Risler, M.Ed, partnered with Westfield’s Paper Mill Elementary School. Fifty students in her courses created lessons and activities to teach the school’s second-grade students about the city’s history. Emily Slote ’20 says of the experience, “The second-graders were so eager to learn about Westfield history, and it made me hopeful that learning history can be fun if it’s interactive, relatable, and hands-on. It was so rewarding to see my lesson plan come to life.”
The University’s Department of History, through the leadership of Dr. Dodge and Professor Erica Morin, was also highly involved in the celebration. Through Morin’s History Research Methods course, which focused on local Westfield history projects in partnership with the archivist at the Westfield Athenaeum, the students conducted place-based research and presented their project results in May at the University’s annual Pathways to Excellence event.
Dr. Dodge, editor of the Historical Journal of Massachusetts, also coordinated the publishing of a special issue with a focus on Westfield’s history. The work of several Westfield State students will be published in that issue, which is scheduled for release this fall.
Harry Rock, chair of the Friends of Westfield 350 Committee, says, “Overall, the celebration was a
Photo courtesy of the Westfield News Group