Gloucester Celebration Corporation was established in 1998 to lead that year’s 375th anniversary of our community’s establishment in 1623. Established as a tax-exempt corporation, it provided a safe haven for the fundraising and planning required for a committee of dedicated community volunteers to execute a vibrant year-long program celebrating the heritage and people of Gloucester.

In 2018, another group of equally enthusiastic volunteers, working again under the umbrella of the GCC, began preparations for an even-more significant anniversary – the 400th anniversary of Gloucester’s settlement by the intrepid pioneers of the Dorchester Bay Company. Committees were formed, fundraising began, and the outline for another memorable year of commemoration and celebration, to be known as Gloucester400, began to take shape.

At the end of both 2018 and 2019, we three, as co-chairs of this hard-working team, presented a report to the community summarizing that year’s progress and boldly projecting our goals for the year ahead. As we look to do the same through this report. Suffice it to say that 2020 did not turn out as we planned.

The coronavirus pandemic caused loss and anxiety for many in Gloucester, and plans for causes far more consequential than ours for the 400th anniversary were disrupted. But, as it always does, Gloucester will persevere through this crisis, and we will emerge strong and steady when we leave behind the shadow of this pandemic. It’s in that spirit that we present this summary of GCC’s work on behalf of Gloucester400 in 2020.

When the widespread scope of the pandemic became apparent as winter transitioned to spring, we made some very pragmatic decisions: large group brainstorming sessions would be impossible, and the same would be true for smaller meetings where ideas would be turned into action plans. And the likelihood of meaningful fundraising was low: it was rightly far more important that support go to meet the needs of a growing public health crisis and the spreading economic dislocation it caused.

So we changed course – 2020 would not be a year of many Gloucester 400 initiatives. Instead, we would focus on just two projects, each of which would leave a lasting legacy: the minting and distribution of the 400th commemorative medal and the launch of the Stories initiative.

It was an easy decision to move ahead with the medal project. Before the pandemic’s onset, the year had begun on a high note with our announcement at a City Council meeting that Gloucester’s own Beth Swan was the winner of our juried international competition for the design of the 400th anniversary medal design. Beth depicted the city as seen from the harbor on board a Gloucester ship returning to its homeport.

Mixing our historic landmark buildings with a modern-day wind turbine, her design, titled “Out at Sea,” looks back at the city’s sturdy origins and ahead to a skyline that reflects progress and the future. A codfish swims beneath the waves in a reminder of the ocean’s contribution to Gloucester’s economy. The reverse is dominated by Gloucester’s iconic Man at the Wheel shown against a rising sun that symbolizes hope and optimism for each new day.

We decided to engage the widespread praise elicited by Beth’s design by moving ahead with 2020’s Project No. 1, the first minting of the 2023 commemorative medal, translating it from a drawing on paper to an image cast in bronze. After months of planning and Beth’s careful design adjustments that facilitated its transition to the medium of a medal, we were able to declare “mission accomplished” on Nov. 19 by sharing the message that the first 500 commemorative medals were available for purchase. Minted in antique bronze by Medalcraft Mint of Green Bay, Wisconsin, the 1.5-inch, high-relief medals are available at The Brass Monkey, located at 85 Main St. We are delighted that sales were so strong during the holiday season.

We decided to proceed with 2023 Project No. 2, through which we would start delivering on the promise of the 400th anniversary’s slogan that this celebration would focus on “Our People, Our Stories.” Through the issuance of a call for stories, we challenged the community to submit their own accounts of Gloucester people that demonstrated the unique spirit and heritage of our hometown.

Many replied, but a brief vignette on the life of the late Lena Novello, submitted by her son Peter, caught our attention and spurred us into action. Given the universal recognition that Lena was the personification of “generations of Italian women who stand as il cuore, the nurturing and passionate heart of their families and communities,” we commissioned Dr. Laura Alberghini Ventimiglia, a remarkable member of our growing team, to develop a more extensive telling of Lena’s tale. Gloucester400 was thrilled to share her essay in early December on our website, www.gloucester400.org, as well as on social media.

Laura’s account of Lena’s life and work is an important contribution to the Stories Project. It provides towering testimony to Lena’s powerful contributions to an industry, a community, and a family as well as a compelling example that we hope will prompt others to submit their own stories to our now well-launched effort to preserve the legacy of Gloucester’s people.

Work is already underway on another biographical essay, this one about the life of the late Joe Orange. We urge anyone with stories to share to upload them or reach out to us by email at gloucester400stories@gmail.com Through these efforts, our commemoration in 2023 of the 400th anniversary of Gloucester’s settlement will leave for those who follow us a treasure trove of information on their forebears.

The arrival of New Year’s Day 2021 left us with just 730 days to build our calendar for Gloucester400’s year of celebration and commemoration in 2023. As the clouds of coronavirus lift in the months ahead, we look forward to your joining us as the full-scale work of event-planning resumes and carries on.

Bob Gillis, Ruth Pino and Bruce Tobey are chairpersons of the Gloucester 400th anniversary steering committee.

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