Reminder Assistant Editor
WILBRAHAM Brad Nelson of CNN's Money magazine wrote that "when it comes to nature, this central Massachusetts town has plenty of it." The greenery, water and mountains surrounding Wilbraham have earned the town a spot on this year's Top 100 Best Places to Live in the nation.
Wilbraham joins a few other Commonwealth villages, including Milton, south of Boston (ranked seventh), Chelmsford, west of Lowell (twenty-first), Easton, 10 miles east of the Rhode Island border (forty-eighth) and Westborough, east of Worcester (seventy-third). Nearby Somers, Conn. was also on the list, coming in at fifty-third. Wilbraham came in at number 94.
This year's top 100 towns came from a focus on smaller places that offered the best combination of economic opportunity, good schools, safe streets, things to do and a real sense of community, according to the Web site that listed the towns (money.cnn.com).
Chairman of the Board of Selectmen James E. Thompson stated that the schools, the "professional town employees delivering outstanding municipal services, large areas of preserved open spaces and terrific people" as the things that make the town a great place to live in an official release.
Superintendent of the Hampden-Wilbraham school district Paul C. Gagliarducci couldn't agree more that the town has good schools. The CNN report on the town states that students in the school district have higher reading and math test scores than the town that came in first place, Middleton, Wis. "Those numbers reflect the strong community here," Gagliarducci said. "Students here have a strong tradition of doing well on state tests."
The praise doesn't stop there.
Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Litz, although not a resident of Wilbraham, spends more time in town than he does at his home. "We have so many offerings, from parks to youth sports and clinics to concerts, not to mention the Peach Festival," he said. "This is a big, festive community that grows together."
While walking her dogs at Fountain Park, a former resident of Springfield Street, who preferred to remain anonymous, lauded the town even though she's left it for now. "You always say you're never going to live in the town you went to high school in, but after moving around a bit, I really want to come back here," the Minnechaug graduate said.
"There's almost no crime here, and I feel safe anywhere in Wilbraham," she said. "I'm so proud to call this my hometown and I'd love to raise a family here someday." She also listed the town's proximity to cities like Albany, Boston and New York City as reasons for it being such a great place. "I have nothing negative to say about Wilbraham," she added.
The air quality index (AQI) in the town is 86.8 percent, which indicates the percentage of days that the AQI ranked as good. The air quality in Wilbraham is almost 10 percent better than the average of all the 99 other towns chosen (77.3 percent).
The CNN report mentioned that Wilbraham is also home to the Friendly's restaurant chain, which provides some economic stability in a region that's been struggling.
Maura Tobias, director, Public Affairs and Communications, said that 32 people from Wilbraham work in Friendly's restaurants and 42 people from town work either at the headquarters on Boston Road or at the distribution facility in Chicopee.
"Friendly's supports many, many Wilbraham organizations as well as the school system," Tobias stated. "We just made a contribution to the Memorial School playground, as well as the celebration of Stony Hill Road School. We fund and support scholarships at Minnechaug Regional High School. Friendly's has been a large supporter of the Scantic Valley Y in Wilbraham."
She added that the residents of the town make it such a great place to live and work.
The median income for Wilbraham is $86,825, only $3,491 lower than the other choices on the list. Job growth increased 13.41 percent from 2000 to 2006.
The residents in Wilbraham are also a bit smarter than those in other top towns. While the average for the list stated that 72.4 percent of residents had completed some college, 72.8 percent of Wilbraham residents had done the same.
Town Administrator Robert A. Weitz said that the town's inclusion in the list is "exciting."