“Joanne has been a pillar in our community for many, many years.” —Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini
Joanne Olsen, a Saugus native who’s been a fixture at the town’s Senior Center for close to a quarter of a century – the last 13 years as its director – plans to retire at the end of next month. Olsen, who usually shuns publicity while linking the success of the center to her core of volunteers, made a brief, low-key announcement last Friday during a luncheon for volunteers.
Records at the town’s Retirement Board Office show Olsen went to work for the town on Nov. 17, 1997, and became Senior Center director on March 2, 2009. She will have accumulated 24 years and eight months of creditable service to the town at the date of her retirement on July 31, according to town records.
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta, one of the town officials attending the luncheon, offered “a big shout out” for Olsen at Tuesday night’s (June 14) meeting. “Joanne has done a wonderful job as the Director of the Saugus Senior Center,” Panetta said in a statement she emailed to The Saugus Advocate on Wednesday (June 15).
“Her can-do attitude and love for our residents is evident in everything she does in this role. Joanne and her staff make everyone feel welcome, with a sense of community and belonging,” Panetta said. “Joanne has been very instrumental in the success of our Senior Center, and her hard work and dedication is sincerely appreciated. We will all miss Joanne, and I wish her much happiness in her retirement.”
In her statement, Panetta also stressed the benefits that the town’s retired residents enjoy from the participation in the many programs organized and offered at the center, which is known officially as “The Richard J. Barry Senior Center.” “I would encourage all Seniors to take advantage of the activities, lunches, and wonderful events available,” Panetta said.
“They have an informative newsletter with helpful information and a calendar showing events and lunch menu. It’s a great way to meet up with neighbors and make new friends,” she said.
How it began
Olsen, a 1978 graduate of Saugus High School, has deep Saugus roots. Her uncle – U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Arthur F. DeFranzo – received the Medal of Honor posthumously after sacrificing his life to save many of his fellow soldiers while fighting the Nazis in France during World War II.
In a 2017 interview with The Saugus Advocate, Olsen recalled that she was looking for a part-time job when her children were young and had just begun school. “The Senior Center was looking for someone to do data entry into the computer of all the seniors that attended the senior center on a daily basis,” Olsen said.
“At that time the senior center was located in the building where the Youth and Rec is now. During the four years working there the Town received a Community Development Grant. Within that community development grant a new senior center would be built,” Olsen said.
“At the time Frances Rigol was the director and we worked very well together, and she offered me the full-time position as her Administrative Assistant, when the new building was completed.”
So, what should be the legacy of Joanne Olsen during her years working at the Saugus Senior Center? Here’s what members of the current Board of Selectmen had to say about her contributions to the betterment of Saugus:
Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini: “Joanne has been a pillar in our community for many, many years. Her commitment and service to the seniors in Saugus is unparalleled and will be extremely difficult to replicate. I wish Joanne all the best in her well-deserved retirement and thank her for her years of service in Saugus.”
Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano: “My apologies to Joanne Olsen for missing her retirement luncheon due to my shoulder surgery. Thank you for your many dedicated years of service to the senior citizens of Saugus.”
Selectman Corinne Riley: “I worked with Joanne through so many events that took place especially during covid. We had food drives together and she went above and beyond taking care of the seniors during the toughest part of the pandemic. I’ve come to know Joanne as a hard worker and very caring individual. She is going to be truly missed, but I wish her the best in her next chapter. I believe she was definitely the right person in her position.”
Selectman Michael Serino: “I will miss not seeing Joanne when I visit the Senior Center. As the director of the Senior Center for many years, Joanne did a good job in providing a truly needed service to the seniors of our community. Joanne and her family grew up in Saugus. I knew her dad Ray DeFranzo, who was a close friend of my uncle and former Selectman Chris Serino. I am sure Joanne’s father would be very proud of her accomplishments in our community. I send my best wishes to Joanne and her family on her retirement.”