Monday September 12, 2011

LENOX -- The high school sports teams are still named the Millionaires, and vestiges of the Gilded Age are still visible in town. But there are needy families in Lenox who belie the image of an affluent, artsy New England village.

Marking its 20th anniversary, Thelma's Little Fund, an outreach of Trinity Episcopal Church, continues to assist children of residents facing economic challenges.

Two motorcycle aficionados -- an unlikely combination of a minister and a funeral director -- will ride to the summit of Mount Greylock on Saturday, Sept. 17 as a special-event benefit for the fund. Call it a "Ride Over the Top" by Heaven's Angels.

Canon Stephen Booth, about to complete eight years as rector at Trinity and soon to retire to the family home in Nova Scotia, will be joined by Ned Roche, owner of the Roche Funeral Home, and Nick Macioge, chef-proprietor of the Fin restaurant.

The ecumenical effort is supported by Father C.J. Waitekus of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church as well as the Rev. Natalie Shiras, minister at the Church on the Hill.

Nattily attired in motorcycle garb and displaying his British motorcycle outside the church, Booth explained that the fund is named for Trinity's longtime organist and choir director, Thelma Dengler.

"After she died, the church started the fund in her honor," said Booth, "and the donations have always gone to children in need in Lenox.


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Morris Elementary School nurse Mary Pignatelli has worked with the church to identify needy families for Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts, funds for pediatric dentistry and other medical needs, as well as gifts to special-needs camps. First-year university tuition aid also has been provided.

"This has been done in a responsible way for the community. It's not a slush fund for Trinity's kids," Booth said, chuckling.

As many as half a dozen families may be assisted each year; the fund has raised between $20,000 and $40,000 since its inception. This year, donations may exceed $2,000, Booth said.

"Stephen and I have become friendly because of our respective professions, and he is an avid motorcyclist," said Roche, 55. "I have been riding since I was 14, off-road then, so he asked if I would be willing to do this, and I certainly am. It's a very worthwhile endeavor. I've always been blessed in my life and the least I can do is something that might benefit somebody else."

Booth, 67, who immigrated to Pittsfield from northern England when he was 17 after his late father, Dr. Enid Booth, was appointed as a cytologist at Berkshire Medical Center (then Pittsfield General Hospital), began riding as a teenager working at Eastover Resort.

After graduating from Amherst College in 1965, Booth was ordained in 1971 following theology studies in Austin, Texas.

He resumed riding after moving to Lenox in 2002, now on a sporty-looking Triumph Thruxton 900, a reproduction of a classic, encouraged by his friend Nick Macioge. Roche tools around the Berkshires on a 2001 Harley-Davidson Low Rider.

If it rains on Sept. 17, the ride will be postponed to "the first nice day when Ned and I are free," Booth said.

It will include a noon-hour summit stopover at Bascom Lodge, where parishioners and supporters will gather to welcome the riders and share lunch before the return trip to Lenox via a slow, scenic route.

"We're fair-weather philanthropists," Roche said, laughing.

Checks for Thelma's Little Fund may be mailed to Trinity Church, 88 Walker St., Lenox MA 01240, designated for the fund.