When the dark clouds of COVID gathered, the Berkshires had a silver lining that extended from neighbor to neighbor.
As we slowly but surely emerge from the coronavirus crisis, we do so knowing that our community owes a great debt to heroes that walk among us — not superpowered mythical figures, but ordinary Berkshirites who stepped up to do the extraordinary when their communities needed them.
The Berkshire Eagle’s Unsung Heroes 2021 special publication is by no means an exhaustive list of those who went above and beyond amid the pandemic, but it’s a reader-informed cross-section of people from all walks of life who devoted their individual abilities to the common cause of service to others in times of trouble.
Of course, this list includes health workers who rushed to the front lines against a dangerous viral enemy to protect all of us — from the Berkshire Public Health Alliance nurse who coordinated thousands of local COVID vaccination appointments to the vaccine clinic director who put in the long, life-giving hours to ensure those appointments went smoothly as the nation embarked on a historic immunization campaign.
Yet while this was a public health crisis, the list of heroes is not limited to the medical sector. It includes municipal leaders, like the inspirational Egremont Board of Health director and the Adams Council on Aging staff who put in the legwork to help elderly residents get their shots. It also includes faith leaders, like Rabbi David Weiner and the Rev. James Lumsden, each of whom did everything possible to be a rock for their respective spiritual communities in a time of uncertainty and anguish. And then there are groups of people who came together seamlessly to act as one for those who depend on them, like the Pittsfield Public Schools food service staff who put together half a million meals to prevent local students from going hungry.
Some of the most striking Unsung Heroes honorees are those who endured the pandemic’s harshest tolls but overcame adversity not just for themselves, but to be in service to people they don’t even know.
Connie Wood, of Windsor, had to remain in her home throughout the pandemic because cancer left her with a compromised immune system, so she used the downtime to make masks — thousands of them — and gave them away for free.
Anup Singh Ghai was the first Berkshire resident to succumb to COVID-19. His loved ones transformed their grief into hope for strangers, preserving the late engineer’s legacy of prioritizing education by giving back to the community they’ve called home since moving to Pittsfield from India in 1998. Starting next year, the Anup Singh Ghai COVID-19 Memorial Scholarship will be available for future students of Berkshire Community College, the school his children attended.
The Berkshires are fortunate to have these unsung heroes and countless others who selflessly put others before themselves when it was needed most. The tribulation of the last year was unprecedented in recent history — yet it was no match for the undaunted community spirit found in those who led our communities toward the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Follow these figures’ shining examples. Even when times are hard for all, ask what you can do for those most in need. Consider donating your time or money to the crucial county organizations whose service make the Berkshires a better place for everyone. Remember that we are all in this together, whether it’s COVID or another crisis, and that there’s nothing we can’t endure as a community.
Retired teacher Sharon Vincent, of Lanesborough, earned her unsung hero stripes by bringing some much-needed Easter cheer to Berkshire Medical Center workers last year, when she hatched a plan to leave plastic eggs filled with candy and encouraging messages on vehicles in the BMC employee parking lots. She also put her sewing skills to work, making more than 1,000 masks to donate as well as teddy bears for BMC’s Teddy Bear Brigade volunteer program. On top of that, she’s a pastoral care volunteer at the hospital. That sounds like a lot — because it is — but to Ms. Vincent, it was second nature. “We’re on this Earth to help each other,” she told The Eagle.
Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Fortunately for the Berkshires, we don’t just have helpers — we have heroes.