Editor’s Note: For this week’s column, we sat down with Town Meeting Member Ronald M. Wallace to ask him what makes Precinct 5 so special and what he sees as the top issues in the Saugus neighborhoods he represents. Wallace, 53, is a 1987 Saugus High School graduate and a lifelong resident of the town. He is in the final year of his fourth two-year term on the Saugus Town Meeting. He has been a low voltage electrical technician for 36 years, in Local 103. He and his wife, Amy, a Lynn native, have been married for 23 years. They have three children: Alex, 16, who is a sophomore at Saugus Middle-High School; Abigail, 19, who is a freshman at Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, N.H.; and Andrew, 21, who will be a senior at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass. and is studying to be an accountant. Amy Wallace has worked 29 years as a Special Education teacher in Lynn Public Schools.
Following his graduation from Saugus High School, Wallace spent four years in the Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee (JATC) program run by the I.B.E.W. Local 103. He is very involved in car shows, particularly antique cars. In addition to being on Town Meeting, he is serving his second term as a member on the town’s Cemetery Commission. He has also volunteered to help cleanup efforts on the Saugus portion of the Northern Strand Community Trail, town parks and playgrounds.
Wallace plans to attend the fifth in a series of “Saugus Over Coffee” forums set for 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday (May 2) in the Community Room of the Saugus Public Library. He is interested in meeting residents of Precinct 5 and encourages them to attend the forum, which is cosponsored by The Saugus Advocate and the Saugus Public Library. Highlights of this week’s interview follow.
Q: Ronnie, please tell me a little bit about Precinct 5 and what makes it so special.
A: I think Precinct 5 is unique. We don’t have a lot of the other issues in town, such as the trash incinerator. We don’t have Route 1 – it doesn’t go through Precinct 5. We do have Walnut Street, which has a huge amount of traffic going into Lynn. But we have Birch Pond, which is beautiful – Lynn Woods Reservation, which is partly in Precinct 5. As I mentioned to you before, Fairmount Ave. is the meat and potatoes of my votes.
Q: What makes Fairmount Ave. special?
A: All the presidential streets we have, I think, are really neat. They all kind of intersect off Fairmount Ave.
Q: What are the streets?
A: You got Washington, Jefferson, Cleveland, Garfield, Harrison. There’s a whole bunch of them. I may have even missed a couple.
Q: Are there any special characters in Saugus history that are a part of that precinct? Part of the fabric of the precinct’s history?
A: We have Vinegar Hill – that’s a historic place. We have the pirates. There were four pirates captured across the street from Vinegar Hill by British soldiers, and, I believe three of them were tried and hung. A fourth one got away. He lived out in Lynn Woods in Dungeon Rock, I believe – supposedly – after he escaped. So, I think that’s kind of cool.
Q: Do you know what the time frame was on that?
A: It was the 1650s, I believe, when that went down.
A lot of people don’t realize that Lynn Woods is 2,200 acres. People don’t realize that a chunk of it goes into Saugus. It’s pretty neat. And I have 20 acres behind my house, which is across Walnut Street…
Q: Are there any historic markers in your precinct that come to mind?
A: Obviously, Vinegar Hill. And a lot of people don’t know that the Lynnhurst School – that before it was built it was called Fairchild Farm. It was actually a farm. Fairchild Ave., off of Fairmount, was named after that family. And the town built a school on it.
Q: The Lynnhurst Elementary School. That’s a former school building…
A: That’s vacant, and it’s unknown what’s going to go there.
Q: Any other history about your precinct that makes it special?
A: Yes. There actually is. Near the Lynnhurst School on the Third and Fourth of July, every year for over a hundred years now, they have an old-fashioned Fourth of July celebration. They have a band playing on July 3 evening. Parents and kids come. And the next day, they have all of the old-fashioned stuff: pie-eating, knapsack race and a tug-o-war. It’s a block party that’s been going on since World War I or around then, and it’s all volunteer work. And I believe that one of my Town Meeting members is in charge of that now.
Q: Which one?
A: Jaclyn Hickman. I believe she took it over a couple of years ago. My very good friend, Ed Davey, ran it for over 20 years and his kids are grown now. I believe Jaclyn took it over for him to keep the tradition alive. That’s really neat.
One cool fact about that: My friend Ed Davey told me that back in the ’40s, before they had phones, the Boy Scouts would go around the neighborhood in Precinct 5, knocking on doors and they would ask “Are you coming?” and “What are you going to bring?” Someone might say “I’m going to bring potato salad” or “I’m going to bring hot dogs.” So they would get a list so they knew who was coming and who was bringing what. And that was before we had all of this high-tech communication. I thought that was pretty cool.
Q: It sounds pretty cool. Yeah. The Boy Scouts would act as messengers?
A: Yeah. They actually used to go around and knock on doors. And they would get a list of who was coming to the Lynnhurst for the Fourth.
Q: I’d like to get invited to a Lynnhurst Fourth of July Celebration one of these years. But every time I inquire about it, people discourage me from writing anything about it because they don’t want to publicize – and keep it a neighborhood thing.
A: Yeah. My friend Ed Davey ran it until about the 100th . He had shirts made. We got an awesome picture of all of us. They didn’t have it during COVID. But it’s going again. And Brian Maes, a very well-known local musician – either him or his wife usually plays every year. They volunteer their time – excellent music – they play on the third of July.
It’s a really fun time. All the neighbors get together. It’s a great, great night.
Q: Something else that I wanted to ask you about: I recall taking photos last year at the Lynnhurst School and I noticed a monument there; please tell me about it.
A: Oh yeah, the boy – Dana Johnson – who gave his life to save two other boys at Marblehead. It was during a tropical storm in 1971. And he was at a beach in Marblehead. Some little boys were watching the waves crash in and they got knocked off a rock, I believe, and fell in the water. And Dana Johnson and his friend – they were both 18 years old at that time – dove in and they rescued these boys. And unfortunately, Dana never came out.
Q: So that’s what that monument is about?
A: Yes. And the baseball field was named after Dana Johnson. There’s actually a structure in the park playground that’s the oldest shelter in the town. It’s on the Lynnhurst field and it’s named after Dana Johnson, too. That’s where the band plays for the third of July. There’s a marker on it that says it’s the oldest shelter in town, and there’s a plaque honoring Dana Johnson. The Johnson family is still big in town. I think some of them are on the Fire Department.
Q: Are you considering running again?
A: I would like to, but my biggest problem is that I get up early for work. And it seems that Town Meeting just runs later and later every year. So, it just gets harder for me as I get older with the late nights.
Q: What are some of the issues in your precinct that you are going to champion in the final year of your fourth two-year term?
A: The Lynnhurst School is definitely tops for me. The vacant school has been turned back over to the town. I really want that school to be used for Youth & Rec. It has a perfect setup: They have a field, a gym. I think it’s a no-brainer, but you know how that goes.
And that traffic on Walnut Street is a big concern of mine. It’s getting worse and worse. I don’t know how it can be fixed, but it’s really bad.
And, obviously, we talked about the trash and litter. I’m a big advocate for cleaning up the trash around town. The town is totally littered with trash, and I think it gives the town a really bad look. I already tried organizing a trash pickup day a few weeks ago on one of the social media sites. I got some positive comments on it. But definitely, trash around town is a big thing with me.
Q: Are there some other issues that are important to the people in your precinct? We’re talking strictly Precinct 5 issues, because there are a lot of townwide issues. But the purpose of “Saugus Over Coffee” is to focus on issues in a particular precinct that concern residents in that precinct.
A: We don’t have the apartment issues so much like Route 1 has in other parts of town. We had a lot of development on Fairmount Ave. by Vinegar Hill, but most of it has all been built. I can’t think of too much land that’s left in Precinct 5 to build on. I think the big issues are mostly the traffic – and people want to know what’s going on at the Lynnhurst School. But I don’t have answers to it.
Q: Any other issues that concern you or people of your precinct?
A: I can’t think of anything else. But we do have two bald eagles’ nests in a tree across from my house [on Magnolia Street], and it’s really drawn a lot of attention. We get a lot of photographers going over to the Lynnhurst with their high-powered cameras. It’s really neat. I’m really impressed by that.
Q: Is that the one that Charlie Zapolski photographed [in April 14 Saugus Advocate]?
A: Yeah. Several people have photographed it – Jim Harrington also…
Q: Anything else that you would like to share?
A: It’s not really on Precinct 5. But I’m also on the Cemetery Commission and I’m very concerned about the Cemetery being almost full. We’re down to the last of 40 graves, I believe. The town needs to take that very seriously. Though it’s not in my precinct, that’s a very top priority issue for me.
Q: Do you think there will be a big turnout for next Tuesday [“Saugus Over Coffee” forum at 6:30 p.m. on May 2]?
A: I hope so. I can tell you that during my four terms on Town Meeting I don’t think that we’ve ever had a night with perfect attendance, which is really sad. I have never missed a Town Meeting, including a Special. I’ve had perfect attendance – I have never missed one. And I think when people vote, they need to pay attention to that stuff, because these are the people you voted in to vote on important things.
I think Town Meeting has a really good mix right now. I really kind of like the mix in it. And I think the moderator [Steve Doherty] is actually doing a really good job. He’s excellent at what he does.