Cathy and Eric Olson recognized as Phillipston Citizens of the Year for 2023

(From left) State Sen. Peter Durant, M. Jane French, and Eric and Cathy Olson. The Olsons were the recipients of the 2023 Phillipston Citizens of the Year award.

(From left) State Sen. Peter Durant, M. Jane French, and Eric and Cathy Olson. The Olsons were the recipients of the 2023 Phillipston Citizens of the Year award. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 12-27-2023 3:48 PM

PHILLIPSTON – Cathy and Eric Olson of Phillipston were recently honored as the community’s Citizens of the Year for 2023.

The couple was presented with the award at this year’s annual Memory Tree ceremony.

Asked about the choice of the Olsons to receive this recognition, a statement from Carol Gariepy of the Citizen of the Year Committee read, “Both have been Scout leaders; Eric served as Cubmaster and presently as Scoutmaster. For many years, Cathy has been chairperson of the Narragansett Craft Fair which is a major fundraiser that provides field trips, special programs, and scholarships.”

Phillipston resident Linda Langevin explained that the Citizen of the Year award originated in 1986, when then-Police Chief Alphonse Chartier received the honor. Each year one or two nominees are chosen for the award.

“If two people are chosen,” said Langevin, who serves as chair of the committee, “it’s generally for something they have worked on together over the years, which is the case with the Olsons. Over many years, they have been instrumental in working with the youth in our area.”

While townspeople have a say in who is chosen, the Citizen of the Year Committee also weighs in on who the recipient, or recipients, should be.

“In order to be on the committee, you must have already been chosen as a Citizen of the Year,” Langevin said. “Now, over the years there have been at least 50 people who have been chosen. That’s kind of a large group of people to be on a committee, but over the years several people have passed away, and several people have moved away considerable distances. So, right now we have about 20 people on the committee.”

Langevin said the committee makes the announcement when nominations are being sought, asking each person who offers a suggestion to write a brief narrative of why their nominee should be chosen. Nominations are kept in a sealed envelope by the town clerk and not opened until the committee’s annual meeting. This year there were three nominees.

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The envelopes are then opened in front of everybody to make sure the process is transparent and neutral. As the envelopes are opened, they provide the committee with guidance as to who might be the most worthy candidate. Committee members then cast ballots and the nominee with the highest tally is selected.

“This year,” said Langevin, “it was a unanimous vote for Eric and Cathy Olson, because the committee members recognized this couple have been invaluable to the town and to the youth of the town for so many years that it was almost surprising that they had not been recognized before. It was clearly very obvious to the committee this year that the Olsons were to be the recipients.”

Langevin said the Olsons were unaware that they’d received the honor and were invited to the Memory Tree ceremony. While there, they were presented with resolutions of congratulations from both the State House and Senate. Newly-minted state Sen. Peter Durant was on hand to present the couple with the Senate resolution. M. Jane French, Phillipston Congregational Church organist and a neighbor of the Olsons, presented them with the House resolution on behalf of state Rep. Susannah Whipps, who was unable to attend.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.