LEOMINSTER — Kathleen Himmer is lovingly carrying on her father’s legacy through the fund set up in his name that was designed to help local students experience our nation’s capital.
The Bill Macdonald Memorial Washington D.C. Fund was established following his passing in 2019. That year, four students were able to experience D.C. up close thanks to scholarships awarded through it.
“My Dad loved history and he loved D.C.,” Himmer said. “He felt it was so important for all kids to have the chance to go and visit D.C., knowing that it was not only a chance for kids to learn more than they would learn from history books alone, but also that it was an amazing experience that they would always remember.”
Macdonald was a well-respected longtime city resident and Leominster Public Schools teacher and administrator who loved his job and had a positive influence on so many students’ lives along his 35-year tenure there. He and fellow teacher and administrator John Piccolomini started a Washington, D.C. trip for city eighth graders in the early 1970s as they both felt it was vital for the students to have the chance to experience the rich history of the capital firsthand.
“They organized and planned the trip together,” Himmer said. “They were friends right up until John passed years go even though they were retired.”
Himmer said her father is remembered as an amazing man, husband, father, principal, son, uncle, brother, grandfather, teacher, and friend. Even while living with a rare muscle disease for over 20 years, Inclusion Body Myositis, he fought his condition with grace and dignity and always managed to see the positive in life.
As he knew his time was coming to an end, he made sure his family knew that he wanted to have a fund started to help eighth grade students who might not otherwise be able to afford it to go on the annual Washington, D.C. trip.
“After suffering for so long with his muscle disease, he made sure to plan for after he was gone,” Himmer said of her father’s generous spirit. “He asked us to start this fund so that more students would have the chance to go. He was always willing to help others, even when he would get nothing in return.
“If you talk to teachers who worked for him, they still talk about him as an administrator — fair, honest, funny, and always willing to go the extra mile,” Himmer continued. “He really got to know both staff and students and even after he retired, he would always send money in for kids for book fair, Jingle Bell Fairs, etc. so that no one was left out. To this day I still give these donations in honor of him.”
This year they are doing five $500 scholarships from the fund. “We have a number of great applications, it will be a difficult choice!” Himmer noted.
The first four will be awarded to two students each from Samoset, whose PTO helps to run the fundraiser, and Sky View middle schools and the fifth is thanks to a generous donation from Joe DeCarolis Jr. at Decarolis Insurance, who donated $500 so they could sponsor another student.
“I’m so thankful and hope more places will follow,” Himmer said of the Decarolis donation, adding that Decarolis Jr.’s father Joe DeCarolis Sr. was principal at May A. Gallagher Jr. High School with her father as assistant principal. “They were a great team.”
They awarded four scholarships for the 2020 trip that was ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic. She said they are hoping to raise a lot of money through this year’s Bill Macdonald Memorial Washington D.C. Fundraiser Calendar Raffle, which will enable them to continue giving out scholarships to students.
People can purchase tickets for $10 a piece through Oct. 31 and prizes including two bushels of apples and a group wagon ride donated by Sholan Farms, cash, gift cards in various denominations to local businesses including Art on the Rocks, Cutie Patutie’s Consignment, Hall of Fame of Leominster, Il Camino, and many more donations from several local businesses that will be drawn each day in November.
“We are hoping to raise enough money to provide even more scholarships in years to come,” Himmer said. “The trip was a passion of his and he felt that it was vital that each student have the chance to go.”
The cost of the trip has risen from about $800 in past years to $1,250 this year. Macdonald’s daughter said they are hopeful that more donations will come in and that the calendar fundraiser will be a success so they can “help even more students who may not have considered going due to the cost who may now have a chance to go.”
“The price has gone up significantly and it is difficult for so many families to afford,” Himmer said. “He would be shocked at the price of the trip this year.”
Your ticket goes back into the raffle if you are drawn, giving participants the chance to win up to 30 prizes. The more tickets you purchase, the more chances you have to win. Winners will be contacted by the phone number they provide and will also be posted on the Samoset Middle School PTO Facebook page. More information including how to purchase tickets or donate can be found on the Bill Macdonald Memorial Washington D.C. fund Facebook page.
The last eighth grade trip to D.C. took place in 2019, before the pandemic hit. It Himmer’s first trip as a Speech Language Pathologist at Samoset and Northwest Elementary School and she took a photo in front of the Washington Monument holding up her father’s funeral card that she always keeps with her.
“It meant so much because my dad passed in January of that year,” she said.
Himmer said she always wanted to be a teacher, like both of her parents, and her dad is actually the one who got her interested in the field of Speech Language Pathology.
“I didn’t know much about it, but apparently he knew my gab may be best serviced in this role,” she said with a chuckle. “Once I got to college and was in the classes I knew I was meant to be doing that.”
It’s important to Himmer and her family to keep the fund going for a couple different reasons.
“First it was important to him that we do something to help Leominster students. Second, for me I want to keep his legacy going. He did not want the recognition for this, he just wanted to help kids. I am so beyond proud to be his daughter. He played such a huge role in who I am today as a person, an educator, and a parent that I want to give him the recognition for thinking of others even when he was suffering. My dad was an amazing guy, and I am so proud to be carrying on this legacy for him.”
She went on to say that she is honored to be following in her father’s footsteps as a Leominster Public Schools educator and parent.
“Both my girls attend LPS, and I know they feel pride that their Buppa was such a kindhearted and generous person that went above and beyond to help people,” Himmer shared. “My dad would have paid for every student to go if he were able and while we cannot do that, this is our contribution.”