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Leominster Educator’s Legacy: Trips, Memories for a Lifetime

January 24, 2019
The late Bill Macdonald, a Leominster teacher and principal for 35 years, has had a memorial fund started in his name to support the annual eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., which he helped begin in the early 70s.

LEOMINSTER -- Former principal and teacher Bill Macdonald helped start the city’s eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C. more than nearly 50 years ago so that students would experience history first-hand.

Now after his death, a memorial fund has been established for the former Samoset Middle School principal to help students afford to go to the nation’s capital.

“He loved history,” said Kate Himmer, his daughter, who works as a speech pathologist at Samoset and Northwest Elementary. “When he was near the end, one of his last wishes was to start a fund.”

Macdonald died Jan. 9 at the age of 71 after battling Inclusion-Body Myositis, a type of muscular dystrophy, according to his obituary.

He worked for Leominster Public Schools for 35 years as a teacher and coach at the former May Gallagher Junior High and principal at Northwest School, Johnny Appleseed Elementary, and Samoset before retiring in 2005.

Himmer is working with Samoset Principal Kathy Ciccolini and Washington trip director Erin VanTuyl to organize the fund, including how students can apply and how to award the money.

The goal is to have the fund in place by the 2020 trip.

So far, former students, colleagues, family, and members of the community have given about $1,000 to the fund, Himmer said.

“Even if we can only support a couple kids ... every little bit adds up,” she said.

In the future, Himmer would like the fund to be sustained through fundraising or a yearly event.

The school would raise funds and donate to it too, Ciccolini added.

Macdonald and another Gallagher history teacher, John Piccolomini, started the eighth-grade trip to Washington in the early ’70s.

Ciccolini, whose husband taught with him at Gallagher, remembers how Macdonald advocated for the trip as a teacher and principal.

“He talked about the need to get civics education back in its place,” she said.

Now both middle schools -- Samoset and Sky View -- offer the trip to eighth-graders.

VanTuyl said there are about 100 students signed up for this year’s four-day trip in June.

Students will travel to Washington in buses and spend time at various historical sites, like the Capitol building or the Washington Monument.

“Kids learn better when they can experience it,” she said.

On previous trips, students have gone to the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and baseball games, VanTuyl said.

Macdonald went on the trip at least 10 times over the years, Himmer said.

She remembers going on the Washington trip several times with her parents, who met at Gallagher and both taught there.

Although Himmer’s children are not yet in eighth grade, she said she would like to be a chaperone on the trip in the coming years.

Follow Mina on Twitter @mlcorpuz

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