John and Kay Bassett have been deeply involved in the economic and cultural organizations and initiatives of the Worcester community—together and individually—since occupying Harrington House on the Clark University campus a decade ago. Now, the Bassetts will be honored together as co-recipients of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette Isaiah Thomas Citizen of the Year Award.
The Bassetts will join several community champions to be honored at the Visions ceremony, from 4 to 5 pm., Tuesday, Feb. 9, at Mechanics Hall. Other 2009 Visions award recipients are: Jean McMurray, executive director of the Worcester County Food Bank (Public Service Award); Yachira Torres, Plumley Village Girls Empowerment Program (Young Leader Award); John Trexler, executive director, Tower Hill Botanical Garden (Cultural Enrichment Award); and Ramesh Govindan, of Lancaster (Academic Achievement Award). Jack M. Wilson, President of the University of Massachusetts, will be keynote speaker.
The T&G created Visions in order to “recognize individuals and organizations that combine community vision with a willingness to roll up their sleeves to transform it into reality.” The award, named for American patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas [1749-1831], was created in 1950 and ultimately became part of the newspaper’s Visions program. The newspaper company is owned by the New York Times and serves Central Massachusetts, along with its telegram.com online readership.
In an interview with Telegram & Gazette education reporter Jacqueline Reis, John Bassett remarked that, as an incoming college president, he had expected to field loads of requests to become involved in the city’s non-profit endeavors. Over time, his and Kay Bassett’s involvement transcended any sense of obligation. “I don’t think we’ve volunteered to do anything that we haven’t enjoyed doing in itself,” he said. “But I also think being involved in the community helps Clark, both by making it a better community and by, I hope, making people feel Clark’s part of the community.”
An editorial in the Telegram & Gazette lauded the Bassetts and other Visions award recipients as “Leaders with Vision.”
Kay Bassett came to Clark with a professional resume that includes 10 years at Data General and work at a small software development company. Coming to Clark meant leaving a job at the NASA John H. Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. In Worcester, she certainly did roll up her sleeves, contributing her time and talents to such organizations as the Red Cross (chair) Women’s Initiative (chair) Cultural Coalition (co-chair), WOO card program; Music Worcester (vice chair); Rotary (Rotoract adviser); Ecotarium (board); YWCA; Just Do It community cleanups; All Kinds of Girls (adviser); Worcester Art Museum; and the Colleges of the Worcester Consortium Community Engagement Committee (chair). She served alongside “an incredible group of women. Worcester has an amazing number of talented, creative and dedicated women.”
One contribution Kay Bassett said she is most proud of is her part helping to establish the WOO Card, a program that promotes Worcester County’s vibrant cultural community and offers cardholders discounts and special offers for concerts, theater, museums, and more. The program has registered more than 7,000 participants since its fall 2007 launch. She also helped to create the Community Engagement and Volunteering Center at Clark, a vital conduit of Clark volunteers into the surrounding communities.
President Bassett pointed to education, economic development and job creation as his focus early on, explaining how that dovetailed with the work that Clark was already so well known for, especially through the pioneering University Park Partnership.
President Bassett played a role in the search committee for Worcester Public Schools Superintendent Melinda Boone. Also on the education front, he served on the Worcester Education Collaborative, Edwards Street Child Services and is chair of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU & the state organization AICUM), and Colleges of the Worcester Consortium President’s Committee (chair). Under his leadership, the University received the statewide Rennie Award as an outstanding University partner, the state’s highest distinction in leadership in education reform, and also earned the state’s first Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Partnership Award. Among President Bassett’s other community connections are: Choose Worcester (founding board); Worcester UniverCity Partnership (founding committee); Energy-Environment Initiative; Chamber of Commerce; Old Sturbridge Village (board); Massachusetts Biomedical initiative (executive committee); Research Bureau (executive committee); and Daybreak Great Guy Award recipient.
One reason he was attracted to come to Clark University, Bassett told the T&G interviewer, was that the institution was so committed to being a good neighbor.
The Bassetts are among a rare cohort of co-recipients of the Visions program Isaiah Thomas Award. Others include Robert and Helen Bowditch (1971), Anne and Paul Morgan (1989), and Rev. Richard and Shirley Wright (1999).