June: a month that usually brings end of school-year celebrations, the start of summer camps, and trips to the local pool, was anything but ordinary this year. Summer camps were canceled, graduations postponed, and a Town Common, usually only renowned for its Christmas tree lights, became a stage for calls for racial justice. This month also saw the introduction of the outdoor liquor license for Venetian Moon, a simple decision at the time that would later become the stepping stone for summer-long battles over the outdoor tent.
On June 4th, Reading Recreation moved to cancel its usual plethora of summer camps due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Recreation Administrator Genevieve Fiorente shared with the Recreation Committee on Thursday, June 4, that after review of the guidance and restrictions from the state regarding this summer’s camps, Reading Recreation will be joining Wakefield and Wilmington in canceling the regular camp program for the summer. Fiorente cited guidance that prohibits groups larger than ten people, contact sports, and swimming while requiring masks’ wearing as reasons that camp could not run as expected. ‘The program we advertised,’ Fiorente stated, “we cannot produce,’” reported Kevin Vendt.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd over the summer, Reading became one of the thousands of towns and cities across the country to host a Black Lives Matter protest. The protest took place on June 4th and involved around 300 participants.
“The protest began on the Reading Town Common, where protesters of all ages held up signs with phrases such as ‘No Justice, No Peace,’ ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and ‘Teachers Against Systemic Racism.’ On the Common, protesters attempted to maintain social distance from one another, grouping together with their families or friends. Protesters held up their signs and encouraged cars driving past to honk in their support. The sound of cars was punctuated by chants of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘George Floyd,” and ‘Not One More.’ At one point, the protesters fell silent and took a knee on the Common, remaining silent for about eight minutes, symbolizing the amount of time Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer currently being charged with second-degree murder, kneeled on George Floyd’s neck” reported Julia Corbett.
The protest started on the Town Common and eventually moved down to the Reading Police Station, where protestors had a tense stand-off with Reading Police.
On June 13th, a coalition of Reading residents organized to create a rally to reaffirm that Black Lives Matter.
“The coalition will be leading several initiatives, the first of which is a peaceful, socially-distanced demonstration to be held on the Town Common on Saturday, June 13 from 4 PM to 7 PM. It will include a Rally, a March, and a Vigil inviting the community to come together to show their solidarity, mourn all those lost, speak out for reform, and pledge to make a long-term commitment to fighting racial injustice,” reported The Reading Post.
The event, which was live-streamed on RCTV, was developed by Reading Embraces Diversity (RED), Reading Human Relations Advisory Committee (HRAC), Reading Teachers Association (RTA), Friends of Reading METCO, Reading Public School Administration and Staff, Reading POP Huddle, the Reading Public Library, as well as concerned neighbors and members of a multi-denominational clergy.
As the unusual school year came to a close, graduating senior Autumn Hendrickson offered an insight into how the young graduates of RMHS and college students in Reading felt about the upcoming academic year. In a series of interviews, Hendrickson reported on the fears, trepidations, and hopes of Reading students as they approached the forthcoming fall semester.
“As spring has started to turn into summer here on the North Shore of Massachusetts, the uncertainty of what is to come is painfully present. This is especially the case for Reading’s young graduates and college students, worrying about what this coming year may bring. As a graduating member of the Reading Memorial High School Class of 2020 myself, I (and many of my peers) can assure you that the transition to college was daunting enough without COVID-19 involved. It has now become much more intimidating,” reported Hendrickson.
In a June 17th meeting, the Select Board voted 5-0 to extend Venetian Moon’s liquor license to include outdoor dining as the restaurant planned to erect a tent in the parking lot in front of their storefront.
“Delios continued sharing that the permitting process for the tent occurred in the space of just over a week, using the new town protocols put in place to help businesses rebound after the COVID-19 shutdown. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared that he was comfortable with the board making the decision, despite the lack of a two-week notice,” reported Kevin Vendt.
The unprecedented speed of approval for the license was due to the short season in which restaurants could pursue outdoor dining.
“LeLacheur also commented on the speed of the permitting, ‘They are talking about a ten-week season, it does not make sense for them to have to wait two weeks for a license’’ reported Vendt.
As the end of the school year came to a close, Reading Public Schools teachers found themselves reflecting on the previous year and working to celebrate their students’ hard work over the past year. As Autumn Hendrickson reports, many created new end-of-year traditions or attempted to convert tried and true ones to an online format.
“When June 19 comes, though, that sense of relief and accomplishment that many teachers usually feel at the end of a long and hard year may be a bit less pronounced. As a graduating senior who knows many of this town’s teachers quite well, and as an aspiring educator myself, I could not possibly be more proud of this town’s teachers. You have weathered the present storm. You became the Swiss-Army knife we all needed during this time. And it’s okay if you didn’t do it perfectly. As our town’s teachers always have, you did your best. You showed up for your students when they needed you, and that’s what matters,” Hendrickson reported.
On June 18th, lifelong Reading resident Eugene “Gene” R. Nigro passed away from natural causes at age 89. Nigro was an active member of local government, serving on the Board of Selectmen (now called the Select Board), the School Committee, the Advisory Board of Creative Arts in Reading, and the RCTV Board of Directors.
“He graduated from Reading Memorial High School and continued his education with a Bachelor’s Degree from Tufts University and a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Boston College. His career as a social worker and administrator with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health was devoted to counseling and empowering those with mental health conditions. After retirement, he continued with the Department as a hospital consultant,” stated Nigro’s obituary.
On June 19th, Reading held its first celebration of Juneteenth, spearheaded by local educators, students, and clergy members.
“The event, which began at 6 pm on Friday, was spearheaded by Reading resident Kevin Dua and organized over the span of 72 hours. The first-ever event commemorating Juneteenth in the town of Reading, the gathering on Friday sought to educate attendees about the history of Juneteenth, and the history of slavery in the town,” reported Julia Corbett.
In a June 27th video released on her website, Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado answered charges against her in the recall petition.
“Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado, who is the subject of a September 1 recall election, has posted a video on her website, responding to the claims of the recall petition. The petition alleges that Alvarado used her position as chair of the board to delay the police chief’s appointment. Town Clerk Laura Gemme certified 2,239 signatures on the petition on March 18. Only 2,000 were needed for the recall to go forward,” reported Kevin Vendt
Local residents banded together to help a family in Florida trace their family’s history in Reading. With only a few clues and a love of local history, the residents could piece together where the family, who lived in Reading between 1922 and 1945, might have lived during their time in the town.
“The Town Clerk forwarded the email to several folks who might be able to help locate the property. What followed was an effort by at least four people who find it hard to pass up an opportunity to dig into Reading’s history. The 1920, 1930, and 1940 censuses revealed some important facts. In 1920, the Lieberman family lived in Somerville. In 1930, the family lived at 34 Main Street in Reading, and Samuel, the father, was a fruit stand proprietor. The 1940 census showed that they lived at 96 Main Street in Reading and that Samuel was a road stand manager. Samuel’s 1944 WWII draft card gave the same address (96 Main), his wife’s name – Elizabeth as well as Samuel’s place of birth – Russia,” reported Virginia Blodgett.