CHICOPEE — Volunteers at the RiverMills Center celebrated, thanked and remembered four women who helped them create a new spot at the senior center where people can now gather outside.
Officials dedicated the Frances Wilkins Garden Patio in a ceremony held on Sept. 8 on the new space. Gardens and a fountain surrounding the patio honor long-time volunteer Adele Tawrel and the late director Sandra Lapollo.
Officials also remembered Marjory Lafleur, who died in November 2020 at the age of 94. For years, Lafleur baked all types of pastries and made lollipops that she sold at the RiverMills Center every Friday. Her husband Harvey Lafleur, also a long-term volunteer, donated thousands of dollars of proceeds from the sales to buy tables, umbrellas and chairs for the patio.
“Surely there is a special place in heaven for people like these,” said Charles Desmarais, a member of the Friends of the Senior Center.
The idea for the patio was born when Wilkins’ family notified the Friends of the Senior Center that she left them $40,218 in a charitable fund that was to benefit the center, said Al Picard, the former president of the group who served as emcee for the ceremony.
The money was unrestricted and after some debate, the entire Friends of the Senior Center voted to use the funds to create the patio and gardens, he said.
The patio, paved with concrete block, is accessible through a side door that leads to the dining room of the RiverMills Center. It is now surrounded by a stone fountain and several small trees, bushes and other plantings. There are about a dozen tables with umbrellas placed around the patio so people can sit in the shade.
“It’s a place to socialize, reflect and enjoy the outdoors,” Picard said.
Carol Wilkins Kuralt, of Granby, and Steven Wilkins, of South Carolina, talked about their mother who died in February 2017 at the age of 92. A Chicopee native, she didn’t learn English until she entered the first grade but graduated from nursing school. Later she volunteered for the parent-teacher organizations and for the public library.
“As she got older, she went to the senior center and her favorite activity was line dancing,” Kuralt said. “I’m sure should have loved this.”
Before Wilkins died she set up charitable trusts to benefit the library as well as the senior center, she said.
Desmarais talked about Lapollo’s long efforts to get a new senior center built that would better serve older city residents.
“At a time in a long career when most would coast, Sandra took that dream and ran with it,” he said. “You simply could not ignore this little woman.”
Lapollo was the director for more than two decades before retiring in January 2017, three years after the RiverMills Center opened. She died in March 2018.
Desmarais talked about her long battle to get the city to commit to a center. She fought against one proposal to convert part of the former Chicopee High School – which was later turned into Dupont Middle School – into a center saying the city needed a place specifically designed for the elderly, he said.
When approvals were granted, she visited every site in Chicopee to find the right place and worked tirelessly to help the Friends raise money to pay off a $2 million pledge to help construct RiverMills, he said.
Adele Tawrel served as president of Friends of the Chicopee Senior Citizens from 1994 through 2016 and volunteered as a receptionist for most of that time. She died the same year that she resigned as president, her daughter Susan Tawrel said.
“After our mom retired from Shop Rite she needed some place to volunteer,” Tawrel said. “She found her happy place.”
Along with serving as the president of the Friends, Tawrel also served as the Council of Aging chairwoman for years, she said.