Year in review: Polar Park, St. Vincent Hospital strike top 2021 headlines

·10 min read
The Worcester Red Sox welcomed 362,559 fans to Polar Park in 2021.
The Worcester Red Sox welcomed 362,559 fans to Polar Park in 2021.

While we likely look back at 2020 as one to forget, 2021 can be regarded as a year of the rebound.

Sure, things are far from normal in these pandemic times, with variants of delta and now omicron in recent months complicating our world’s challenge posed by COVID-19.

Central Massachusetts and the rest of the world, however, began to open up in 2021 from the virtual standstill of the previous year.

We’ve experienced many welcomed comings since January, along with unfortunate partings during a most eventful year. There have been long-lasting labor strife and verdicts, along with triumph and tragedy in a year that also has glimmered with hope.

After vaccines became readily available, public interaction began to return, and one of the region’s most popular gathering places was Polar Park, the new pearl of Worcester’s Canal District. As fans were welcomed back to minor league baseball parks for the first time since 2019, the Worcester Red Sox started their inaugural season on time, with crews rallying after a state construction moratorium from the year before to make the new home playable.

Bob Cousy exclaims "Play Ball!" to wrap up the ceremonies during Opening Day at Polar Park on May 11.
Bob Cousy exclaims "Play Ball!" to wrap up the ceremonies during Opening Day at Polar Park on May 11.

Worcester welcomes WooSox

Players reported to Red Sox alternate camp April 1 at Polar, and on May 11, politicians, dignitaries and former baseball greats turned out for the home opener. Included were former Holy Cross and Celtics legend Bob Cousy and Baseball Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez, Joe Torre and Jim Kaat, the former left-hander who was elected in December.

The inaugural season for the WooSox, with city native Rich Gedman as hitting coach, was a shining success on the field, at the gate and in the community. WooSox went 66-52, capped by an 8-2 performance to place third among Triple-A clubs in the season-ending Final Stretch.

Polar Park served up a sellout crowd for a Chris Sale start and victory, and several other major leaguers made rehab stints in Worcester before helping Boston to the American League Championship Series in the fall.

The WooSox, who drew 362,559 for the season, an average of 6,145 per game, was recognized by Minor League Baseball with the CommUNITY Champion Award and as winners of the Fun Cup for its Los Wepas de Worcester identity in the Copa de la Diversion initiative.

Polar Park also is already serving as a year-round home to a host of community events, including a Holy Cross-Colgate football game and a pair of high school gridiron tilts, with plenty more in store.

Ken LeBlanc of Clinton walks alongside his wife, Carla, on the picket line at St. Vincent Hospital on Nov. 7.
Ken LeBlanc of Clinton walks alongside his wife, Carla, on the picket line at St. Vincent Hospital on Nov. 7.

St. Vincent Hospital nurses' strike

After roughly two years on negotiations through more than 40 sessions and nine months of a picket line, St. Vincent Hospital and the Massachusetts Nurses Association reached a tentative agreement, just a little more than a week before Christmas, to end one of the longest nurses’ strikes in state history.

Among the terms of the agreement were for the striking nurses to retain their jobs, and the hired replacement nurses to be guaranteed positions as well. About 700 nurses went on the picked lines March 8; the strike was in its 285th day when the tentative agreement, now pending ratification, was reached.

Worcester School Superintendent Maureen Binienda.
Worcester School Superintendent Maureen Binienda.

Superintendent Maureen Binienda

As the 2021-22 school year was beginning, the Worcester School Committee voted to move on from Superintendent Maureen Binienda at the end of her contract next June, citing the system needs a “new set of eyes” guiding it as Worcester rebuilds from the pandemic.

The 6-1 panel vote is marking the end of the longtime Worcester employee’s tenure after six years in the top post.

Mayor Joseph M. Petty
Mayor Joseph M. Petty

City, state politicians coming, going

Mayor Joseph M. Petty coasted to a sixth term, besting a four-way field, in a November election that brought in two new city councilors and three new School Committee members, Jermaine Johnson, Sue Coghlin Mailman and Jermoh Kamara. Observers believe the City Council’s progressive block will be strengthened by the arrival of District 5 Councilor Etel Haxhiaj and Councilor-at-Large Thu Nguyen, the first nonbinary resident elected to office.

Minor shock waves rattled through the commonwealth when Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, a Shrewsbury resident, announced they won’t be seeking a third term, citing a need to focus on leading the state through the continuing pandemic. While not pursuing public office in 2022, Polito, 55, retains a war chest of over $2 million for any future political endeavor.

Julia Enright is escorted from the courtroom after her second-degree murder conviction.
Julia Enright is escorted from the courtroom after her second-degree murder conviction.

Guilty verdicts for Sutcivni, Enright

Among the guilty verdicts rendered following lengthy trials included that to Jacklyn M. Sutcivni, Worcester’s former top housing official, convicted in August by a federal jury of conspiring to steal federal funds earmarked for a Main South affordable housing project a decade ago.

After an 11-day trial in November, Ashburnham dominatrix Julia Enright was found guilty of second-degree murder, for killing her ex-boyfriend Brandon Chicklis.

Soon-to-be graduates wait in line outside the DCU Center ahead of Becker College's final commencement ceremony in May.
Soon-to-be graduates wait in line outside the DCU Center ahead of Becker College's final commencement ceremony in May.

Becker College graduates final class

A casualty in part to the COVID-19 crisis was Becker College, which had origins dating to the late 1700s. At the end of the academic year in May, the school closed its campuses in Leicester and Worcester, due to financial struggles caused in large part by the pandemic.

In September, Leicester voters overwhelmingly approved the town purchase of Becker’s main campus, which included 19 buildings on 44 acres including the town common, historic homes and a football field. The town’s annual Harvest Fair moved to the campus soon after the purchase, with the public schools under consideration for future use. In October, developer Russ Haims purchased 27 Becker College properties in Worcester for $10 million.

The former Worcester North Cimemas.
The former Worcester North Cimemas.

So long to cinemas, mall, music venue

Closing its doors were the Worcester North Cinemas and Cinemagic in Sturbridge, casualties of COVID-19 for the most part. Demolition of the Greendale Mall began in July, making way for an Amazon facility expected to open next fall.

Also slated for demolition was the former site of music venue Sir Morgan’s Cove, where the Rolling Stones once performed 40 years earlier, and had been a popular entertainment venue from the late 1960s until its closing in December 2018.

The Green Street site, purchased by a Needham-based realty trust in January, is expected to be part of the Canal District’s redevelopment near Polar Park.

Crews for 'Dexter' set up at the AC Hotel by Marriott.
Crews for 'Dexter' set up at the AC Hotel by Marriott.

Hurray for Hollywood

There might no longer be movie theaters in the city of Worcester, but there were still plenty of movies and TV shows which shot in Worcester County.

The Showtime series “Dexter: New Blood,” and its series star Michael C. Hall, spent a great deal of time shooting in the region, including in Worcester and Grafton. Scenes for a new spin on “A Christmas Carol,” starring Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, were shot at Mechanics Hall. “Confess, Fletch,” starring Jon Hamm, shot scenes at Cicero's, the Worcester Police Department and the Telegram & Gazette offices.

A car chase for the Marvel movie “Black Panther 2” was filmed on Main Street in Worcester. Ashley Moore visited the Boulevard Diner for the independent film, “Salvation,” and George Clooney and Ben Affleck shot “The Tender Bar” at various locations in Worcester, Fitchburg and the surrounding region.

As to actually getting to see some of what's been filmed here, “Dexter” is currently airing on Showtime, the Ryan Reynolds vehicle “Free Guy” – which filmed on the Worcester Common in 2019 – is available for streaming and “Don't Look Up,” directed by Adam McKay, who grew up in Worcester and which featured scenes with Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill shot at the DCU Center in 2020 – is in theaters now.

From left, brothers Jack and George Sigel outside Fairway Beef last year.
From left, brothers Jack and George Sigel outside Fairway Beef last year.

Ken Chin's, Fairway Beef, Maury's close

Worcester traditions familiar to our palate also bid farewell in 2021. Ken Chin’s Chinese restaurant on Mill Street closed after a remarkable 48-year run. Fairway Beef, a part of dinner tables since 1946, bid adieu in July, Webster Square landmark Maury’s Delicatessen fixed its last sandwich in October, and the Sahara Restaurant closed in December after nearly 25 years on Highland Street.

Al Southwick
Al Southwick

Legends gone, but never forgotten

We said goodbye to dear friends to our community. Longtime Holland resident Dick Hoyt, 80, who gained worldwide renown for pushing son Rick’s wheelchair in the Boston Marathon and events around the world to the theme of “Yes You Can,” died in March at his home.

For many years, Telegram & Gazette readers were treated to the finest of columnists Al Southwick and Mark Blazis.

Southwick, a World War II veteran and believed to be the oldest active newspaper columnist, died in April at age 100. Blazis, who brilliantly brought the world of the outdoors to the sports pages, passed suddenly in November at 74.

Eddie Mekka, the Worcester native whose acting career began with “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Worcester County Light Opera Company before playing Carmine Ragusa on “Laverne and Shirley,” died Thanksgiving weekend at his home in California at 69.

Holy Cross Hall of Famer Bob Fouracre, whose deliveries of Crusaders, Celtics and candlepin action over TV and radio were broadcasts of legend, left us in April at age 83. George Albro, a most popular player, teacher, coach and mentor at Leicester High and Worcester State, passed away Nov. 4 at 78.

A fire on Jaques Avenue claimed the lives of three people.
A fire on Jaques Avenue claimed the lives of three people.

Fatal fire, Manny Familia, Tyler Trudell

Unfortunately, a five-alarm fire Feb. 5 through a pair of three-decker apartments on Jaques Avenue in Worcester claimed the lives of three family members, Edna May Williams, 85, Gerald Prince, 61, and Woodrow Adams Sr., 71.

Tragedy struck hard at the Worcester Police Department June 4 when Officer Enmanuel Familia, 38, drowned while attempting to rescue three teens struggling to stay above water at Green Hill Pond. A 14-year-old boy also lost his life in the incident.

Just a month earlier, the Paxton community mourned the unexpected death of 13-year-old Tyler Trudell, who passed at home just hours after playing in a Little League game.

Worcester's Wadeline Jonathas stays in stride during her preliminary heat in the women's 400 meters at the Olympics.
Worcester's Wadeline Jonathas stays in stride during her preliminary heat in the women's 400 meters at the Olympics.

Gold medal for Doherty graduate

Former Doherty High standout Wadeline Jonathas brought home a gold medal as a member of the Americans’ 4x400-meter relay team at the Tokyo Olympics.

Wachusett Regional graduate Colin Bennie placed seventh at the Boston Marathon in October as the top American finisher, and Grafton’s Chaz Davis, the top blind finisher in that race, captured in December his fifth straight national blind marathon championship in California.

Northbridge’s Sydney Masciarelli (girls’ steeplechase) and Marcus Reilly (freshman mile) won championships at The Outdoor Nationals in Oregon, and Uxbridge High’s Aidan Ross thoroughly dominated the state boys’ cross-country scene in the fall.

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. admires the new Worcester Edition Monopoly game at Union Station.
City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. admires the new Worcester Edition Monopoly game at Union Station.

Monopoly Worcester Edition

The city not only enjoyed games on the field but also on the board. A Monopoly Worcester Edition game board was revealed in November, with 34 spaces commemorating various city sites and landmarks.

Many popular spots, including Ralph’s Tavern, were not included, and the iconic Shrewsbury Street bar had a fun way to “celebrate” — by holding a Monopoly Demolition Day, which included tossing Monopoly memorabilia into a wood chipper.

Holy Cross players celebrate their win over Sacred Heart University at Fitton Field.
Holy Cross players celebrate their win over Sacred Heart University at Fitton Field.

Holy Cross wins NCAA football game

Holy Cross football won not one but two Patriot League championships in 2021, with appearances in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. After taking the 2020 PL title in the spring, the Crusaders followed that with a 6-0 conference season and a first-ever postseason win over Sacred Heart before narrowly losing, 21-16, in the second round at Villanova, capping a 10-3 season.

Pirates win title, Railers return to ice

Gridiron success wasn’t confined to outdoors. The Massachusetts Pirates returned to the DCU Center after a year off due to COVID and captured the Indoor Football League title with a championship victory in Arizona.

The Worcester Railers also returned to ECHL action at the DCU Center for the first time in more than a year and a half, with eager fans returning in October for what is hoped to be a prosperous and safe season.

Which is what we are all hoping for as we enter 2022.

Contact John Conceison at john.conceison@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @ConceisonJohn

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Worcester Year in review: Polar Park, St. Vincent Hospital strike

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting