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"City of Homes" isn't lawless Wild West

Date: 3/28/2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

I have a theory about how people view the communities around them: No matter what, some city or town has to be in the barrel.

For many years, Holyoke was the red headed stepchild. With the erosion of jobs, neighborhoods with poor housing and, back in the 1970s and 1980s, a reputation for arson and crime, Holyoke was the city to avoid.

Now, Holyoke is a city on the move with renewed neighborhoods, a growing arts scene and benefits that will come from the high-speed computing center. Sure, it still has problems, but what community doesn't?

Today, Springfield is the city people love to fear. Some media outlets breathlessly report every crime they can, painting a picture that the City of Homes is a lawless Wild West town.

I'm no Pollyanna. My adopted hometown does have serious problems. There are also many positives in this city as well, although they may not get as much attention in the press or conversation around the water cooler. I don't relish writing stories that some people might see as contributing to this perception, but I'm not going to whitewash things, either.

My recent reports about the graduation rate, the number of dropouts and, most recently, the city's truancy problem present an unappealing view of the city's public schools.

The reality is there are plenty of success stories as well. Meet Alicia White, a senior at Putnam Vocational and Technical High School.

Alicia has a grade point average that exceeds 4.0. She is in the early childhood program and plans to major in social work or child psychology at either Virginia Commonwealth University or Westfield State University.

When I asked her what motivates her, she said that part of what drives her is "I don't want to let down my family."

She also strives to excel as a way to help friends who are struggling in school.

Alicia acknowledges there are a lot of distractions as a high school student, but she explained she knows when to work and when it's time to play.

As she faces her future, she said, "I know my hard work is going to pay off."

I have no doubt it will.


I got excited the other day as I learned the Paley Center in New York City is going to present a panel discussion and program on the career and legacy of Ernie Kovacs next month. Go to for more details.

Road trip!

If you're under the age of 50, Kovacs might be an unknown quantity — ever heard of the Nairobi Trio? — but he was a groundbreaking comic talent whose television shows in the 1950s and '60s influenced a generation of comedians and broadcasters.

Kovacs was among the few broadcasters who instinctively understood that television was not just radio with pictures and it was not motion pictures. It was something different and his shows were geared for those differences.

As a kid I didn't always understand his humor, but it fascinated me.

As I grew older, I always took any opportunity to see his work through television specials or to read about him.

Looking at his comedy now — try Kovacs on YouTube or on DVD — one realizes just how little originality is on television today. I saw some of his daily live 15-minute shows — yes, there used to be 15-minute shows on national television — and it was a ramshackle, low budget affair. In Kovac's hands, those 15 minutes were golden.

One wonders if network television would ever allow such a talent to run rampant today?


If you enjoyed the St. Patrick's Day photos that ran in three of our four editions and wondered who took them, it was George Skovera, the photographer whose work is featured in our sports page each week.

Through a layout error — I should have caught it — his name was not included in the caption information.

I apologize to George for this omission. We are lucky to have someone of his talent working with us.

Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.

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