“I Was There on Day One” John Wesolowski ’64
Posted on Thursday October 25th 2012
In 1961, when John Wesolowski graduated from Greenfield High School, college wasn’t an option. John had the intelligence to excel in college, but his physical disability made the logistics of going away to college impossible.
Then, in 1962, Greenfield Community College opened. With encouragement from his GHS guidance counselor, Steve Murphy, and GCC’s Dean of Students Edmund B. Sullivan, John applied and was accepted to GCC’s first class.
Thinking back, John, now 70 and living in Millers Falls, said, “The first day of college, there were 130 students. The college wasn’t ready, so classes were held all over the community. There were just six students in my philosophy class with Dr. Lew Turner. It was a wonderfully intimate college experience. We were all in it together, students, professors, administration. We all had one goal: to get GCC off the ground. We all had to do it together.”
John remembers his economics professor, Bettie Baker, as a “tough cookie” who always made him feel part of the class. She didn’t treat him as someone unique and special, pushing him to work hard. Decades before the Americans with Disability Act eased barriers for people with disabilities, GCC provided John with access to an excellent education.
GCC helped John learn to use his mental capacity to meet challenges he faced and John put those learnings to good use. John studied sociology and psychology at UMass and then worked for a number of years at Hallmark Color Labs. While at Hallmark, John joined the Jaycees, a civic organization that works on projects to meet community needs. John served as District State Vice President of the Jaycees. John also coached Senior Babe Ruth League baseball, became president of the League, and served as a trustee of the Greenfield Public Library.
In 1978, John started his own business, In and Out Maintenance, providing indoor and outdoor maintenance services to area businesses and individuals. Later, he started a street sweeping business called Sweep It All. Between the two businesses, John had 17 employees.
John stayed active in the community, joining the Montague Elks and serving as Exalted Ruler in 1992 and 1994 and as District Chairman and State Chairman. John was appointed by Governor Dukakis to the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission which advocates for people with disabilities and worked with State Representative Bill Benson to change state policy to allow use of handicapped license plates on commercial trucks.
In 1992, John retired. John’s retirement has included many trips with his fiance Chris Sumner. They have traveled to the Azores, Mexico, Florida, New York, and all over the Caribbean.
Reflecting on what GCC taught him, John said, “I learned that even though you stay in one field, you have to be fluid enough to accept change and difference. And, I learned that you have to give back in some way to your community. I encourage everyone to get involved, to give their experience to make their communities better and stronger. I’m proud to be able to say I was there on Day One at GCC. Now, it is a very special pleasure to be able to attend the 50th Anniversary celebration at GCC on November 3.”
By Mary McClintock ’82