Contact Anastasia Stanmeyer, editor-in-chief of Berkshire Magazine, firstname.lastname@example.org or at (413) 429-5504 for more information.
Tuesday, September 19, 2023 — Berkshire Magazine has released the names of this year’s Berkshire 25 honorees. Now in its 10th year, The Berkshire 25 recognizes individuals who are the most dedicated, the most creative, and the most influential people in their fields. Representing every aspect of the Berkshire community, the 25 people are highlighted in the just-released Fall issue of Berkshire Magazine. The selected individuals have contributed tremendously to our region—selflessly, in many cases. They come from various walks of life, reflecting the diversity and dedication of people who have made themselves an integral part of our unique region.
Nominations were received from the community, and—with the help of a panel of advisors—Berkshire Magazine‘s editorial board made the final selection. This year’s panel of advisors included actor/director Jayne Atkinson; The Berkshire Black Economic Council President and Executive Director A.J. Enchill; and Berkshire Film and Media Collaborative Executive Director Diane Pearlman.
To mark this year’s special occasion, a 10th Anniversary Celebration will be held on Thursday, October 5, at 5:30 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. Past Berkshire 25 honorees are invited to attend, as well as their family, friends, and the general public. The co-emcees for the event is State Representative Smitty Pignatelli and a special guest, and live music will be performed by Berkshire 25 alumni Wanda Houston and Andy Wrba, as well as Laura Cabrera and other members of Yo Soy Arte, a collective of Latinx artists dedicated to preserving their cultural heritage through music and dance.
Proceeds from the ticket sales will go to Berkshire Theatre Group’s BTG Plays! Program to support performing arts for young people in the Berkshires. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to berkshiretheatregroup.org/event/berkshire–25-10th-anniversary-celebration.
You can view this year’s awardees, as well as those from the past 10 years, at berkshiremag.com/berkshire25.
Presenting The Berkshire 25 for 2023:
Dick Alcombright is the epitome of public service. After 36 years in the local financial scene and roles with the McCann School Committee, North Adams City Council, Northern Berkshire United Way, Northern Berkshire YMCA, and Berkshire Community Action Council, he became mayor of North Adams, a position he held from 2010 to 2018. As mayor, he drove the renovation of Colegrove Park Elementary School, the installation of a massive solar array, and the creation of a skate park. After leaving office, he resumed work at MountainOne Bank and with MassHire Berkshire. He currently chairs the board of Berkshire Community Action Council, sits on the board of Berkshire Health Systems, is on North Adams School Committee, and works to promote recovery for individuals living with substance use disorders.
Ciana Barnaba, community relations & resource manager at Berkshire Agricultural Ventures (BAV), is committed to getting Berkshire’s bounty across the county! Recognizing that despite the abundance of healthy food in the region, many Berkshire families go without, she created the BAV’s Market Match Fund. This program matches SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), whose recipients receive up to $30 to purchase freshly grown produce, for up to $60 to spend on SNAP eligible items on any given visit to one of ten participating local farmers markets. “Her dedication to expanding food access is remarkable,” says Patrick Grego, communications & development associate at BAV.
David Bissaillon, owner of Smith Bros-McAndrews Insurance in Adams, loves his town—and it shows. As former president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce and founding member of ProAdams, he has been instrumental in putting Adams on the map, organizing ThunderFest for winter fun, Ramblefest in the fall, and monthly Coffee in the Court networking events. He is also board member of Berkshire Workforce and chair of the WB Plunkett Memorial Trust. “Dave shows up to support his community consistently and enthusiastically,” says Leah Thompson, director of advancement at Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter (BART). “You can always find him downtown, spreading joy and excitement about upcoming local events and initiatives.”
Amy Brentano founded The Foundry in 2019 in West Stockbridge, a performance venue that breaks cultural boundaries and amplifies voices of the underrepresented. From dance to theater, music to stand-up, The Foundry creates a vibrant art scene and sense of community. Brentano also donates The Foundry stage to local nonprofits and for fundraisers, from Multicultural Bridge to Berkshire Music School, and The Foundry Green to West Stockbridge Farmers Market and Berkshire Artists Guild. Brentano also owns and donates to the town the West Stockbridge visitors center building. “She continues to be a pillar of our artistic and cultural community,” says Simon Davenport, the town’s water & sewer commissioner.
Gene Dellea is a Berkshire treasure. His mark on healthcare in the Berkshires took root in 1962 when he joined the team at Hillcrest Hospital, and he has been influential in making our healthcare system a model for the Commonwealth ever since. He and his dear friend Senator Ted Kennedy were instrumental in establishing Fairview as a “critical access hospital,” one of only three in the Commonwealth. Fueled by his love for the people of the Berkshires, for decades he has been serving on boards such as UNICO, Berkshire Community College (BCC) Foundation, Berkshire United Way, and Hillcrest Education Center, among others. He is also the longest-serving town moderator in the history of Massachusetts! In his spare time, he shares his love of travel and history by leading groups from the Berkshires on curated tours to Italy and Europe several times a year.
Mary Ellen Deming recently retired from a 32-year career dedicated to the town of Lenox and will be missed by all who crossed her path—and that’s a lot of people! Hired as an administrative assistant—a temporary one at that—Deming has served as interim town manager four different times, accountant, treasurer, chief procurement officer, licensing director, and director of administrative services. Whew! “She’s done it ALL with integrity and competence,” says State Representative Smitty Pignatelli. “Lenox is a better community because of her ability.”
Lisa Donovan is driven by a vision of a future where the arts lead the way. From teaching arts management and education at MCLA, to co-founding the Berkshire Regional Arts Integration Network, to directing the C4 Initiative, which maps arts learning to community and career, her contributions are both significant and sustaining. Says Leslie Appleget, project manager of the C4 Initiative, “Her deep expertise, knowledge, and active optimism makes her not only an effective teacher but a transcendent leader. She’s cultivated capacity for success at every level—from student to large cultural organizations, and everyone in between.”
Jake Eberwein, veteran Berkshire County educator, has served as teacher, principal, superintendent of schools, and MCLA’s dean of Graduate and Continuing Education. Currently, Eberwein is project director for BERK12 (center for research, collaborative programming, and professional development), on Central Berkshire Regional School Committee, and project manager for the eight-Town Regional School District Planning Board. “Jake’s dedication to the children of the Berkshires and leadership to develop collaborative solutions makes him one of—if not the—most influential educators in Berkshire County today,” says William Ballen, former superintendent for Lanesborough, Richmond, Hancock, and New Ashford.
Crispina ffrench discovered recycling textiles while at Boston College and made it her life’s work. Today, she leads the next generation of recycled textile entrepreneurs from her studio in the Berkshires. Ffrench founded Stitcherhood, a community of 600 textile upcycle entrepreneurs reusing discarded textiles, many retrieved from local waterways. She also hosts the Rags to Riches textile upcyling podcast and started “the region’s most spectacular handmade craft fair,” Holiday Shindy in Pittsfield. Says Meg Whilden, former executive director of Berkshires OLLI, “She is passionate about recycling and reusing to help save this beautiful world she loves so much.” Ffrench also runs her family’s Dolphin Studio hand screen printing company with sister Sofia. The fanciful calendars spread joy throughout the Berkshires and beyond.
Carly Gaherty wears many hats at the William Stickney Pittsfield Adult Learning Center— teaching, advising, and doing outreach—all to help connect students to community resources and to eliminate barriers to education. She got a taste of community service as a teen when she worked for a local nonprofit, and she now volunteers at food pantries and youth organizations. “When I think about people who are literally transforming lives, my first thought is of Carly,” says Jonah Sykes, director of marketing and communications at Berkshire Community College. “I see firsthand the commitment Carly puts into helping adult learners thrive. They know she’s in it to win it.”
Carmen Guevara arrived from El Salvador in 2014 and graduated from Smith College in 2022. She is currently a victim advocate for the Berkshire DA Office in the Child Abuse and Human Trafficking Unit. Guevara also volunteers at Latinas413 as coordinator for the Mentorship Program, which provides scholarships for Latina students wanting to pursue higher education. According to Guevara, access to education is a huge need in our Spanish-speaking community, and many feel disconnected and afraid to ask for help. “Carmen has a big impact on the Latina community,” says Laura Cabrera, founding member of Latinas413.
Tara Jacobs, the first woman from Berkshire County to serve on the Massachusetts Governor’s Council, represents Berkshire and four neighboring counties and offers advice and consent to the governor’s judicial and administrative appointments. It’s a big deal. “My goal is to focus on dismantling systemic injustice throughout our state,” says Jacobs, who serves on the North Adams School Committee and is chair of the Trustees of the North Adams Public Library. She has been a voice for equal access to justice, the educational needs of our community, and an advocate for the people of Western Massachusetts.
Don Jordan founded Nutshell Playhouse on the heels of a stellar career in show business as a performer and teacher in the Berkshires and around the world, with students the likes of Robin Williams, Christopher Reeve, and Kevin Kline. Since 2003, Berkshire children have been loving Nutshell’s free, engaging, and interactive entertainment. Realizing his belief that everyone should have access to quality entertainment regardless of ability to pay, Jordan has put on more than 250 performances in venues that serve diverse groups—libraries, community centers, schools. “He has turned his life’s work into an extraordinary contribution to our community,” says local writer Monica Bliss.
Laura Kittross is one reason why the Berkshires arguably fared better than most regions during COVID is hard to dispute. As public health program manager for the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC), she coordinated Berkshire County’s public health response to the pandemic, resulting in high vaccination participation. “From inspections, to standardized health practices, to shared nursing services, it’s impossible to overstate the positive impact her leadership has had on our region,” says Laura Brennan, BRPC’s assistant director & economic development program manager.
Rachel Melendez Mabee’s path to VP DEI officer for Culture & Brand at Greylock Federal Credit Union is paved with recognition. This champion for diversity worked at PGA of America, graduated from the Berkshire Leadership Program, was highlighted in Black Enterprise, Essence, and Latin Business, and featured on ESPN(W) and the Golf Channel. She is also on the board of Berkshire Museum, Berkshire United Way, Elizabeth Freeman Center, and Women in Golf Foundation. “Rachel communicates with empathy, leads with curiosity, and is able to bring folks to the table for collaboration and forward momentum,” says Susan Lauro, JD, PHR in the Berkshires.
Lori Moon, dean of Nursing, Health, and Wellness at Berkshire Community College, is dedicated and passionate about training nurses to care for our loved ones. As a former assistant professor of nursing who helped run the Licensed Practical Nursing Program, Moon acknowledges the nurse educators who truly care about student success and train “our own” to stay and work in Berkshire County. “She has, with the help of her amazing nursing team, completely transformed the nursing program,” says Jess Paton, MSW, LICSW at Behavioral Solutions.
Seth and Mitch Nash founded Blue Q, a funky gift manufacturer, in 1988 in Boston and moved operations to their hometown in 1994. “We’re not just here to make cool stuff. We’re very much about the community.” says Mitch. Blue Q’s stuff is very cool—from socks to kitchen mitts, lip balm to catnip, all with hilarious, slightly irreverent, sayings. Their commitment to the community is huge, donating nearly $2 million to Doctors Without Borders in over 10 years (from sales of socks and kitchen items) and giving a percentage of bag sales to the Nature Conservancy and Housatonic Valley Association for water testing in the Housatonic River. Blue Q is employee-owned, with an admirable work culture. The Nash brothers seek out diverse artists, hire individuals with disabilities through BCArc, and offer team members art classes with Community Access to the Arts and gardening classes at Berkshire Botanical Garden. Again, Mitch: “We try to be a well-rounded company that’s engaged in the community, working for fair health, and environmental causes.” Mission accomplished.
Mary Pope Osborne not only writes the wildly popular Magic Tree House series, she lives in Great Barrington—albeit no treehouse! The series boasts 64 titles, over 40 companion books by her husband Will and sister Natalie Boyce Pope of Stockbridge, and eight Magic Tree House musicals created by Will and friends Jenny Laird and Randy Courts. Four of these have been performed by Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG) and toured Berkshire schools, which have also received over 50,000 books. Osborne’s time-travelling characters, Jack and Annie, meet famous figures, from musicians to social advocates. “I want to introduce little kids to these names early,” Osborne says. BTG plans a fifth school tour this school year, featuring Winter of the Ice Wizard.
Tina Packer is co-founder and artistic director from 1978 to 2009 of Shakespeare & Company and continues to be involved with the company. If you’ve ever watched a play under the stars at Shakespeare & Company, you understand her impact. More than a Shakespearean expert, actor, and director, England-born Packer created an extraordinary environment in Lenox in which to experience the work of the world’s most studied playwright. In addition, she has taught Shakespeare at more than 30 colleges, authored several and gave a TEDx talk about Women’s Voices. For the latest on this Berkshire icon and recipient of the Commonwealth Award, look for the book, Shakespeare in the Theatre: Tina Packer by Katharine Goodland, to be released May 2024.
Brenda Petell is director of volunteer engagement for Berkshire United Way (BUW), including their online volunteer center. It’s no secret that the Berkshires would pretty much slam to a halt without volunteers.“Brenda listens to the community about areas of need, provides support to volunteer efforts,” says Liana Toscanini, founder of Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires, “like local school supply drives, community and corporate days of service, environmental cleanup activities, and food security projects.” BUW President Tom Bernard says, “BUW is poised to grow and to deepen the effectiveness of our volunteer program thanks to Brenda’s amazing efforts.”
Miguel Silva, director of tutoring at Literacy Network of South Berkshire, came to the Berkshires from Colombia at 10 years old. Understanding the challenges faced by immigrants and wanting to help, he joined LitNet in 2021 as learner liaison, the first line of contact for many Berkshire immigrants. “Miguel has exhibited personal and professional growth,” says LitNet Executive Director Leigh Doherty. “He onboards learners and tutors, and manages all tutoring matches, up to 200 at a time.” He also brings considerable skills to the soccer community, both as a player (Berkshire County Hall of Famer 2014) and coach for the girls’ varsity team at Monument Mountain. Go, Spartans!
James Taylor has contributed considerably to the Berkshires is the ultimate understatement. We are crazy lucky that he, Kim, and their twin sons landed in Lenox 20ish years ago and that he continued his July 4th Tanglewood tradition—it just never gets old! Performing multiple shows most every summer since 1974, the legendary singer, songwriter, and Berkshirite donates most of the proceeds back to Tanglewood—more than $7 million to date. Beyond Tanglewood, he appealed to the Berkshire community to help after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, performing two sold-out concerts at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. He and Kim matched ticket sales with a personal donation, for a whopping $600,000. James, Kim, Henry, and Rufus also appeared in Berkshire Theatre Group’s A Christmas Carol in 2011. James performed as Bob Cratchit for 12 sold-out performances at the Colonial.
Jen Hall Weber, Lanesborough EMS director, runs a tight ship. Not only did she transform a volunteer-only department into one of full-time, paid EMT professionals who have not missed a call in the three years but did it as a young woman in a male-dominated field, creating a safe space for other young people, particularly women. Says Kristen Tool, owner of Olsen Farm, “On top of literally saving lives for a living, Jen is a mother of two, volunteer firefighter, teaches first aid, and collaborates with Northern Berkshire Community Coalition. Lanesborough is lucky to walking through the door in an emergency.”
Christina Wynn is interim VP for administration & finance and CFO at Berkshire Community College (BCC). During her 10 years at BCC, she’s been in charge of Enrollment Management, IT, and Work- force Development. Wynn’s passion for the Berkshires spills outside of school as board member with 1Berkshire and previous board chair for Berkshire United Way. She was also on the board of Pittsfield Economic Development Corporation and member of the Berkshire Young Professionals and Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. “Equity, community service, and commitment to students are central to everything she does,” says Adam Klepetar, VP of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at BCC.