Our 40 Year History
In 1972 a petition drive, spearheaded by Parks & Recreation Director Gerry Cox and members of the Derry Youth Organization (DYO), placed an article on the March Town Meeting warrant directing the Town of Derry to lease the West Side School on West Broadway to the Derry Parks & Recreation Commission for the purpose of a teen drop-in/community center. The article passed on March 14, 1972 and the old school became the West Side Community Center (WSCC). The Commission operated the Center until 1975 when a town meeting vote dissolved the Commission. At that time, the West Side Community Center was incorporated and the Advisory Board of Directors was established. In 1999, the Board of Directors renamed the community center to honor the dedication of Marion Gerrish. The Board has leased the building from the Town of Derry and independently operated the Center ever since as a non-profit organization.
The old schoolhouse was built in the 1860’s, a one-story structure with a steeple. It was later raised and an addition was constructed underneath the original first floor to make it a two-story structure. The school was phased out in 1952 and was used as a storage facility for a local factory. Immediately after the 1972 vote, the Parks & Recreation staff and volunteers began the awesome task of remodeling the dilapidated building known locally as the “pigeon motel”. The first order of business was to remove the pigeons, make sure the walls stayed up and the ceilings didn’t come down! One room on the first floor was cleared, cleaned and declared safe and became the first Thrift Shop, which was staffed by dedicated volunteers who worked without heat, water or facilities. As the use of the Center increased, more space was needed on the main levels and the Thrift Shop moved to the basement. The Thrift Shop was successful from the start and is still the main financial support of the Center. In 1973, Federal Revenue Sharing paid for a new roof, helping to ensure that the walls stayed up and the ceilings didn’t come down! Within a year, the Parks & Recreation staff had their office on the first floor and their equipment stored in the basement. The Parks & Recreation Department stayed in the building for approximately twenty years. In 1975, for the first and only time, the town expended tax money for emergency lights, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. From the beginning, to help fund renovations, volunteers held fundraisers including an auction, craft fairs, dances, Christmas fairs and October fests. These events along with the donations of time, talent and money helped pay for the much needed renovations to the building. The Board of Directors has always made sure the money was on hand for any improvements to the Center; no funds were borrowed nor has the Center ever been in debt. In 1991, in order to accommodate many increasing requests for meeting space, the Board of Directors added a three- story addition. This addition has given the Center two more meeting rooms and the Thrift shop increased floor space and work/storage areas. Since the Board of Directors took over the operation of the Center in 1975, many improvements have been made such as the addition; the first new furnace; two entire window replacements; two elevator installations; an entire heating system replacement with a two-furnace system; installation of energy saving lights; a kitchen for the Meals on Wheels program; new carpeting and flooring for the entire building; and a wet/dry sprinkler system. The outside of the building has also benefited from the Board of Directors renovations to include another new roof; aluminum siding and window shutters; paving the parking lot twice; and a handicap accessible ramp. All of these building renovations were accomplished by this non-profit organization and without any taxpayer funds.
In 1972, the Parks & Recreation Director, Gerry Cox, saw the potential for a teen drop-in/community center in the old schoolhouse. The Derry voters, Parks & Recreation Commission, and a core group of volunteers agreed with him and the West Side Community Center was created. Room six of the Center is named in his honor.
At the time, Assistant Recreation Director Don Ball first worked on the building as an employee and later as a volunteer. He was a charter member of the first West Side Community Center Inc. Board of Directors and still serves on the current Board of Directors today, an amazing forty years of dedication! He also has a room in the Center named for him to honor his years of service.
Marion Gerrish and Barbara Cox started the Thrift Shop (then known as the Community Closet) as soon as a room was cleared of debris and was safe to occupy. They were also on the first WSCC Board. Barbara retired in the late 1980’s and Marion served until her death in 1999. Shortly before she died, the Board renamed the Center, The Marion Gerrish Community Center, in honor of her 28 years of dedicated service; she was considered the backbone of the Center.
Russ Pouliot was another Commission employee/volunteer and later a Board member. He was the designated “clerk of the works,” when the addition was built in 1991. His expertise kept the costs well within budget and made the addition possible.
Bernie Resnick came on the Board of Directors in 1979. Bernie loved the Center, particularly the Thrift Shop and was always looking for ways to improve the building and increase its revenue. He served on the board until his death in 2009. A plaque in his honor hangs in room one of the Center.
For many years, Betty Meyers planted and tended the flowers in front of the Center until she moved from Derry. These flowerbeds are now designed and cared for by the Derry Garden Club.
In 1983, Mary Ann Lombardo, an early DYO member, was hired part-time as the first Director of the Center. As the Center use increased, she became full-time, splitting her duties between the Center and the Thrift Shop. In 2000, the Board hired a full-time Director, Dana Lemieux, and Mary Ann became full-time Manager of the Thrift Shop. Dana was with the Center for ten years and worked on many of the improvements during that time. In 2011, Sarah Garvin became the current Director of the Marion Gerrish Community Center and Mary Ann continues as the Thrift Shop Manager. A staff of twelve, full and part time employees currently operates the Center and Thrift Shop during the day and evening.
The Marion Gerrish Community Center has been called the “heart” of our community.
Nearly 150 groups and organizations meet at the Center throughout the year. The Derry Rotary, BNI, Meals on Wheels, Derry Village Rotary, WIC, Derry Community Fund, Boys & Girl Scouts, condo associations, youth groups, sports organizations, singing groups, community support groups, school groups, and church organizations are just a few who regularly meet at the Center. The Marion Gerrish Community Center is full to capacity six days a week with Saturday evenings and Sundays as needed. There are no rental fees charged for non-profit organizations, but donations are accepted. Private events such as birthday parties, showers and business presentations can be reserved for a nominal room-use fee.
The Marion Gerrish Community Center Board of Directors extends heartfelt thanks to our dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters who have contributed so much and have made the past forty years so successful. The old schoolhouse became a true community center because the community of Derry believed in it. Thank you!
February 14, 2012 by Janet Conroy