INSIDE/OUTSIDE: Ron Ansin, a philanthropist with Athol roots

  • Ansin family, 1940s. Photo courtesy of Heywood Healthcare

  • Ron Ansin. Photo courtesy of Heywood Healthcare. Ron Ansin. Photo courtesy of Heywood Healthcare.


Published: 6/6/2018 11:08:17 PM
Modified: 6/6/2018 11:08:26 PM

Every now and then, I read an obituary in the Athol Daily News noting that the deceased person was employed at the Anwelt shoe company in Athol. I say to myself, “That person probably worked hard in a factory job to help support a family and also enabled the Ansin family, company owners, achieve financial success.”

There is always a connection between a company’s success and the laborers it employs, but it isn’t always the case that affluent industrialists give back to the community, so I’m proud that one-time Anwelt owner, my friend Ron Ansin, has become a generous philanthropist.

The major addition currently going up on the campus of the Athol Hospital is being funded in part by a local fund drive called the Fulfilling Our Promise Campaign, and Ron has been hailed as providing a “lead gift.”

Announcing this donation, Heywood Healthcare (which owns and manages Athol Hospital) said, “Ansin’s commitment and sense of respect for the community is based on the same principles of caring his father [Sidney Ansin] held when he stood firm on the company’s responsibility for employing people of the region through the Great Depression.”

Ron was quoted in a brochure about the hospital project: “Upholding and expanding access to healthcare in our region by creating a viable and strong hospital that cares for its neighbors is paramount to supporting the community as a whole. When asked to support the renovation that will strengthen Athol Hospital for today and future generations, I knew in my heart it was the right thing. I may have moved away from Athol, but I am honored to continue the legacy my father began in always being a part of this community.”

Sidney Ansin settled in Athol at age 22 in 1926 and launched Anwelt. In addition, his father and brother Edmund became pioneers in the television business in South Florida.

Ron emailed me, “I lived in Athol ‘full time’ from 1934 (birth) until 1941, when we started spending winters in Florida.  But we continued to spend time in Athol off and on until we finally sold our home at 150 Newton St. in the early 1960s.”

Ron had married and raised his own family of four children in Leominster, but rather late in life, he came out as gay. Like many in our generation, he took this step quietly, and I heard about it from two Athol businessmen who knew Ansin — Charlie Plotkin and Arthur Platt.

Ansin wrote, “I was appointed Commissioner of Commerce and Development of Massachusetts by Governor Dukakis in 1983 and worked with Arthur Platt and other area business people throughout my two year term.  My goal was to reduce unemployment throughout Massachusetts to less than four percent. I was thrilled when, in mid-1985, shortly after my term ended, I ran into Gov. Dukakis and he showed me an article indicating that even in Athol we had succeeded!”

Ansin now has homes in Harvard, Mass., and Aventura, Florida. I’m not a close friend, but because of our shared interest in the concept of gay community,  he invited me several years ago to a dinner party at the home of friends on Queen Lake in Phillipston. I had the pleasure, on a winter vacation in Florida, to meet him for lunch and take a swim with him at his Aventura condo. Ron was already enamored with Florida businessman Jim Stork, whom he met in 1995, and he told me that his relationship with Stork “evolved over the years, and we were married on Jim's birthday, Nov. 3, 2015.”

Ansin’s philanthropy included the gay community, and I met him another time at a fund-raiser in Royalston at the home of Diane Lincoln, who, like Ron, gave generously to the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), a legal support group.

Boston Spirit magazine recently listed Ron as a significant member of the region’s gay community. The periodical noted his support for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts; Fenway Health (consider that his name adorns the organization’s headquarters, the Ansin Building, which is “the largest facility ever constructed by an organization with a specific mission to serve the LGBT community,” according to Fenway Health’s web site.), and collaboration with Dr. Jerry Groopman to establish the Mapplethorpe Laboratory for AIDS research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, now the Laboratory for Experimental Medicine.

Regarding gay issues, Ansin said, “We have accomplished so much, but we cannot rest while any of our brethren are denied rights afforded by the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights or the Constitutions of the six New England states.”

Regarding his support for the hospital project, he commented, “Fairly often over the years I have been asked where I came from, and I am always proud to reply, ‘I'm from Athol.’  Now I have had the opportunity to do something special for my hometown.”

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