Calendar Says Early November, but Salvation Army Preparing for Christmas (SLIDESHOW)
LOWELL -- Bad jokes, good-hearted ribbing and thoughtful remembrances were all on the menu of the Salvation Army’s 25th Annual Christmas Castle Breakfast.
Local luminaries came together at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center Thursday morning to kickoff the charity’s fundraising drive and roast state Rep. Dave Nangle for a good cause.
City Councilor Rita Mercier, who emceed the event, took every opportunity to roast the “honorary Christmas Castle chairman” and just about everyone in sight.
Radio host Warren Shaw took a more heartwarming note honoring the late Fred Simon, the former “chairman” and “heart and soul” of the Salvation Army/980 AM WCAP Radiothon.
“He would suggest things to us and they would become the mission of the group,” Shaw said of Simon. “There aren’t many people that can do that to you, but Fred was such an honorable man and he had such a powerful voice and presence that that’s what happened.”
Shaw officially retired the position of “chairman,” saying Simon would forever hold the title.
Knowing they still needed someone to set the goal and the tone of the fundraiser, Shaw bestowed that honor upon former state Sen. Steve Panagiotakos.
Panagiotakos said he was happy to take the role but it would be hard to match Simon’s passion and commitment that were integral to reaching the annual goal.
“It takes a community, all of us, to replace Fred Simon,” Panagiotakos said. When Panagiotakos was in the Legislature, Simon was a member of his staff. Simon passed away earlier this year.
He set the number at $200,000: $170,000 for the drive, and the remainder to endow a scholarship in Simon’s name for students with his same “spirit of service.”
Panagiotakos also had kind words for Nangle, saying he’d never met any elected official who truly cared more about the people he represented.
Others weren’t as complimentary -- though it was all in good fun.
State Rep. Tom Golden, who was subject to plenty of his own roasting, joked Nangle should be the next dog catcher for the city.
Joe Nangle came from Westfield to share embarrassing stories that painted his brother as a spoiled child who could seemingly do no wrong in their mother’s eyes.
Mike Lenzi took a sip of Dave Nangle’s water upon coming up to the podium.
“Guaranteed, David won’t take another sip of that,” Lenzi said, ribbing his cousin for his germaphobia. “He asked for an extra napkin, he’s still wiping his hands from touching the banister in the parking lot.”
Nangle then moved the glass to the edge of the table. Mercier later finished it.
“I knew it was going to be a really good day today for me when I walked out of my house and was getting into my car and Dave Nangle was already in my car, with a breakfast sandwich from The Owl and coffee,” said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who also poked fun at herself for her frequent trips to Lowell.
She declared Thursday Community Service Day in his honor, but to “make it official,” he had to wear a white sash with his name.
“I am just humbled and deeply honored to receive this recognition today, and pledge to do the very best that I can as a state legislator to mirror the Salvation Army’s dedication, commitment, passion each and every day,” Nangle said.
Greater Lowell Salvation Army Capt. David Childs said nearly 1,500 kids received toys and clothing last year thanks to the efforts of the community. He also highlighted programs that provide meals for families in need at Thanksgiving and Christmas and equip at-risk youth with life skills and tools to help them be productive citizens.
“The Greater Lowell area truly demonstrates what it means to be a good community member,” Childs said. “I’m amazed everyday how you all come together and take care of those who are hurting, who are tired, who are broken and who are forgotten. I thank you for your partnership and I thank you for your trust.”
The Radiothon begins Dec. 9. For more information, visit SalvationArmyRadiothon.com .
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.