Pride of the Yankees

19Sep19

I was vaguely aware that John J. Round had been a town official way back at the beginning of the 20th century. But, like most people, I had no inkling about his more significant contributions to the town.

I had no idea, for example, that he had purchased entire tracts of land in the areas of Crystal Lake, Greenwood and the Junction, planted thousands of trees on those parcels at his own expense and then donated it all to the town. The early development of the park that now bears his name was also done largely at his own expense.

JJ Round Park was originally dedicated on Aug. 30, 1953. At the re-dedication of the park two weeks ago, John J. Round’s great-grandson, John J. Round IV, read the keynote speech delivered by then-State Rep. Gardner Campbell at the 1953 dedication.

As I was listening to him read Campbell’s speech, I was briefly transported back to the days when old Yankee families headed by men with names like Round, Beebe, Walton and Sweetser ran Wakefield, a town that got its name from another such man: Cyrus Wakefield.

In his 1953 speech, Campbell reflected on the contributions of John J. Round and his ilk. There was Lucius Beebe who gave money for library books, and his son Junius, who donated the money to build the public library bearing his father’s name. There was Cyrus Wakefield, who financed a magnificent Town Hall. Cornelius Sweetser gave the town money for the Bandstand as well as for the beautification of the Common. He also provided the seed money for a lecture series that continues to this day.

Campbell might have also mentioned Arthur G. Walton, who donated $10,000 – a huge sum in 1923 – to create Walton Field at the old Wakefield High School. The field is now part of the Galvin Middle School campus.

The list could go on and on.

As Campbell’s speech reflected on the altruism of men like Round, Beebe, Walton, Wakefield and Sweetser, one of his observations struck me as particularly prescient.

“In these days of encroaching government control, subsidy and general management of almost every human endeavor,” Campbell lamented, “I wonder if the day is past when successful men may be able – or even allowed – to pass along such benefactions.”

Even in 1953, Gardner Campbell could see the direction that we were heading in. Who needs individual philanthropy when you have politicians competing to see who can promise the most government goodies to citizens and non-citizens alike?

Today, of course, the likes of John J. Round, Lucius Beebe, Cornelius Sweetser, Arthur Walton and Cyrus Wakefield would be vilified as “old white men.”

I thought we weren’t supposed to generalize or prejudge people based on immutable characteristics like age, race and gender. But somehow, it’s perfectly acceptable to use a broad brush to paint old white men as rich, selfish bigots, eager to abuse their power and privilege.

John J. Round, Lucius Beebe, Cornelius Sweetser, Arthur Walton and Cyrus Wakefield were successful men of means, but they were hardly super-rich.

Still, as descendants of the Pilgrims, they were steeped in the Anglo-Protestant ethic that viewed hard work as a duty that benefits both the individual and society as a whole. These old white men took seriously their responsibility to share the accumulated fruits of their labor with the community at large. And they did just that.

So, the next time you visit Beebe Library, attend a Sweetser Lecture, watch your kid’s soccer game at Walton Field or notice children playing at JJ Round Park, take a brief moment to remember the old white men whose generosity and community spirit made it possible. Nobody’s all bad, after all.

Not even old white men.

[This column originally appeared in the September 19, 2019 Wakefield Daily Item.]



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