If somebody left you almost a million dollars with the caveat that it must be spent on a certain project, not socked away for a rainy day, would it take you over ten years to spend it? It might, if first that project had to get the OK from Town Meeting, then you had to make nice with your neighbors and agree to disagree with your critics, as well as address the concerns of the Wellesley Planning Board, all before convincing the town to vote yes to kicking in about $5.5 million more to make the dream come true.
And if your benefactor’s big idea was a standalone senior center on Washington Street, a project that got its start with former Wellesley resident Billie Tolles’ $825k bequest to the town back in 2005, well, you would have broken ground on that dream yesterday in response to the Wellesley Council on Aging’s invitation and in front of a festive and raucous crowd of over 200, mostly senior citizens, who gathered together in an atmosphere that was part dignified ceremony, part tent revival meeting.
Gayle Thieme, Director of Senior Services for Wellesley scanned her assembled congregants and asked them to give up their praise. “Isn’t this terrific?!” she asked to a return roar of, “Yeah!” from the choir, which was everybody.
Wellesley resident Nancy Abuhaydar seemed to sum up the general consensus with, “A lot of good people have worked hard to bring this day to fruition. Some of us didn’t think we’d live long enough to see this day.” Most likely some did not, but were perhaps smiling down on the proceedings.
Billie Tolles may have been one of those. A picture of a young, smiling Tolles, her hair an unruly mop of blonde curls, tennis racquet in hand, BFF Evelyn Parsons at her side, looking very Swellesley, shared space on a table with framed plans of the Tolles-Parsons senior center. Famous for her penny pinching and disdain for spending money, she might have understood the decade-plus delay with the actual spending money part of the plan.
You see, Billie had kind of a reputation. She liked to collect the money. She didn’t like to spend it. She was the one you wanted to be the treasurer of your organization, because you knew the money would never go missing while Billie was in charge. Known around town in her day as a civic-minded individual, it is said that she bore no ill will toward anyone except the New York Yankees.
The senior center is expected to open in fall of 2017, undoubtedly during a ceremony in which the hardhats and shovels of yesterday will make way for the scissors and ribbon of a grand opening. And, as at the ground-breaking ceremony, the patience of Job will likely be mentioned a lot. Before the seniors storm their new castle and make it their own.