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Author chronicles tornado with firsthand accounts

Date: 1/18/2013

By Lori Szepelak

WESTFIELD — Loretta Kapinos has seen her share of trauma over the years working in the Level One Trauma Center and Emergency Department at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, and the tornado that barreled through Western Massachusetts on June 1, 2011, gave her another vantage point of how to help people.

"I see disasters every day," she said during the Westfield Athenaeum's new Local Author Series on Jan. 9. "You learn how to function at work."

Kapinos explained that on June 1, 2011, she was as surprised as everyone else in the region when news of the tornado was eminent.

"My family was fortunate that we did not suffer any damage," she said during her presentation.

Kapinos noted the stories she kept hearing following the aftermath of the tornado "haunted her." She spent time watching the news and following announcements on the Springfield Tornado Facebook page. Later that summer, Springfield Tornado put out a request for help to put together a book.

Kapinos responded to the request and after a "whirlwind few months," she and Shawn Morse had gathered and edited stories and pictures from survivors and emergency responders who saw firsthand what happened on June 1.

Those stories and pictures were shared during her presentation and book signing of "Springfield Tornado: Stories from the Heart," which was attended by more than 20 area residents in the Lang Auditorium.

A recurring theme of her presentation was her "passion" to help others and the ultimate goal that her writing will help area residents talk about their experiences and heal from the trauma of the tornado. A portion of the funds raised from book sales will help ongoing tornado relief efforts in Western Massachusetts.

"It's less than two years ago and it's still raw for some people to talk about," she said. "Our goal is to listen. Traumas happen every day. I just ask that you listen."

Kapinos closed her program with a book signing, followed by timely tips from Pat and George Gordon of Wilbraham, both volunteers with the American Red Cross, Pioneer Valley Chapter. The couple reminded those in attendance about the importance of having a "family disaster supplies kit" available.

The Gordons, both retired, noted there are "basics" everyone should stock in their home — water, nonperishable food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies and special items. Pat Gordon, a long-time earth science teacher, emphasized the need to keep the items you would most likely need during an evacuation in an easy-to-carry container, including a large, covered trash container, a camping backpack, or a duffle bag.

The Local Author Series continues on Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m. with Peter Arenstam, author of "The Mighty Mastiff of the Mayflower." Arenstam was born in Westfield but grew up in Plymouth. Currently, he is director of Massachusetts Bay Maritime Artisans in Kingston. He teaches boat building for adults and children and organizes an annual maritime lecture series.

"Our goal for the author series is to provide new authors with the opportunity to promote their work, exposure to the community at large, and a chance to share the love of literature," Joyce Peregrin, public services librarian, said. "Peter Arenstam's presentation is being conducted during school vacation week and we hope that families take advantage of this wonderful family evening event."

Peregrin noted that the Westfield Athenaeum has always had an interest in providing the residents of Westfield with alternative quality programming. The Athenaeum offers a lecture series, adult summer reading program, April poetry competition, book discussions, technology instruction and a First Thursday Concert Series.

"Our goal was to build on our past successful programs by implementing a film series and a new local author program," Peregrin said.

She encourages area residents to suggest ideas for future programs by contacting one of the public service librarians at 568-7833, or by emailing her at or Cher Collins at Authors interested in participating in the series can also contact Peregrin or Collins for more information.

In addition to the new author series, the Athenaeum launches a Spring Film Series Books to Screen on Feb. 25 with "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," followed by "Argo" on March 18, "Life of Pi" on April 15, and "Lincoln" on May 20. All programs begin at 6 p.m. and are free of charge. Light refreshments will be served.

"Human Rights/Labor Rights," an international labor poster exhibit assembled by Stephen Lewis, is also currently on view through Jan. 29 in the Jasper Rand Art Gallery. The project is supported in part by donations from Asbestos Workers Local 6 and the Boston Carmen's Union.

Additionally, Peregrin noted that as World Book Night fast approaches on April 23, the deadline to apply to participate is Jan. 23.

"Apply now so you can be part of this great campaign to give free books to light or non-readers on April 23, Shakespeare's birthday," she said. Persons interested in spreading the joy of reading, person to person, must apply at

"Be ready with your thoughts about where you'd go in your community to personally hand out books," she said. "Where you go is crucial, and there's plenty to read up and learn about World Book Night at our website."

For more information on Athenaeum programming, visit