Appreciation for a Depot Park Founder
by Jim Shea
(From "Bedford Depot News," Volume 10, Issue 1)
Joe Piantedosi (left) and DPW Director Richard Warrington visited Depot Park one weekend in 2006.
If things are ever to move upward,
someone must be ready to take the first step
and assume the risk of it.
Philosopher-psychologist William James wrote these words a century ago. His observation is still relevant. To move humankind forward and to make progress does depend on people who are willing to take that initial, often lonely step. Maybe you know someone like this?
One such person lives here in Bedford. His name is Joe Piantedosi. Joe is known throughout the town for his involvement with any number of local projects or causes -- but we at FBDP know him best for his work on Depot Park. Joe had a lot to do with it, dating back to the project’s humble origins in 1994.
So, why this tribute now? March 8th marks a key moment in over 20 years of service that Joe has given to Bedford. This day, he is "retiring" after five consecutive terms as a selectman.
It's a bittersweet moment. After so many nights away at meetings, answering calls from citizens, and working on a wide range of town business, Joe surely deserves a rest. His wife Jean is entitled to see him more often, too. Still, we'll miss him.
Joe's involvement with Depot Park extended well beyond the bounds of what you'd expect from a volunteer public official. He gave so much of his personal self to the cause, too. I've lost count of all the time Joe took off from work for project meetings. He had an important role in the long negotiations to purchase the railroad property. Then, when last-minute complications held up the start of construction, Joe had creative solutions to overcome them.
His political expertise helped navigate the project through a maze of governmental hurdles. He kept Depot Park on the front burner of the Selectmen's attention. He provided awareness, credibility and support to something that many people believed would never get off the ground. He was a Depot Park "cheerleader."
Here's a little history to place this story into better perspective.
I didn't know Mr. Piantedosi well when the project was first proposed a decade ago. We met the night when John Filios, Arthur Ellis and I presented a relatively modest concept to the Selectmen. It was for a few benches, a little landscaping and a sign at the Minuteman Bikeway terminus. Although the trail was only a couple years old then, it was growing in popularity. We could see that lots of people were being introduced to Bedford through the path.
The Selectmen reacted favorably to the idea. They encouraged our small ad-hoc group to go forward. DPW Director Richard Warrington lent his support at this stage, too. He estimated that we’d need to raise about $24,000 to carry out what was essentially then only a landscaping job. Here we are...$1.6 million later!
New ideas are often met with resistance and skepticism. Human nature is to look askance at changes to the status quo. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that people gave us all types of advice about where and how Depot Park should be built. "You should have a wishing fountain...Make a restaurant inside the rail car…Put it in the woods behind the Middle School!" There was no shortage of opinion.
One evening in '94, as I was questioning my sanity about getting involved with this project and wondering whether it would ever happen, the phone rang. It was Selectman Piantedosi. "I think Depot Park will be an asset for Bedford," he said, "but we need to have a strategy and a process for getting this done in a professional way."
Joe was thinking back to what he learned as a "community activist." In the late 1970s, long before becoming a selectman, he emerged as the leader of a grass-roots effort to bring sewer service to West Bedford residents. Town officials of that era opposed the plan. Long story short, Joe and his colleagues organized a masterful campaign and prevailed.
Joe says he learned some important lessons during his quarter century of public service. One is that ordinary people can make a difference. If you're committed to putting in the work, you can achieve results. People ought to pursue the things they feel passion for.
The great majority of elected officials and municipal employees are good, honorable people, Joe also found. They go about their duties with the best interests of the town as a whole at heart. Sometimes they make decisions that do not please everyone -- but their motives are sincere.
So far, I've highlighted what Joe did for Depot Park. He did a lot to help the Friends, too. There are many examples, but these two quickly come to mind.
Flash back to the special 125th anniversary B&B event. Despite suffering from a miserable flu, Joe spent an afternoon under the hot sun to ensure that the narrow-gauge equipment was off-loaded without a hitch. On another blistering day, he delivered a truckload of donated furniture to the Freight House. The perspiration on his browe grew as he and I lifted heavy metal desks and tables up the cement steps. Joe wouldn't rest until the task was finished, even though it was evident the mixture of hard work and oppressive heat wasn't agreeing with him.
Last summer, I read a thoughtful article by Garrison Keillor in the newsmagazine Time. It made me think about Joe Piantedosi and others like him. These are the folks who unselfishly serve in local government to improve our communities and people's lives.
[Politics is] a process.... It’s mostly about civility, starting with the driver’s license bureau of the Commissariat of Motor Vehicles and on up to the folks in the black robes. Most men and women in politics are there because they genuinely like people and want to do good things on their behalf. It’s hard work.... You have to sit through the meetings, listen to other people and say your piece and be civil about it.
…You go for a walk on a summer night and notice the little ramps carved into curbs at street corners. People sat through a lot of meetings to get that accomplished. It was a boon to the wheelchair crowd and also to parents pushing strollers and kids riding bikes. It made life slightly more civil and friendly. Government works through small, incremental changes...but the changes are real....*
You might have received the impression that this "thank you" to Joe means that he’s withdrawing from public service. This is not necessarily so. He’ll continue to live in Bedford -- and his desire to help people will manifest itself in new ways, I expect. In fact, there's a good chance that Joe will continue his association with Depot Park. The Selectmen are establishing an advisory committee to oversee completion of the project and rental of the Railroad Station.
"I've submitted my application," Joe says.
* “Hey, Arnold! This is Serious Stuff,” by Garrison Keillor, Time, August 25, 2003