The Helen F. Norris fountain at Laurel Park.
Reminder Publishing photo by Trent Levakis

HOLYOKE — A sunny May 24 morning at Laurel Park was the site of a dedication of the park’s fountain in honor of former City Councilor Helen Norris for her career and contributions made to the city of Holyoke.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” Norris said of being at the dedication that had a strong showing of community support.

Norris said the memories included being a young mother at the park with her children. When the park had its issues being sustained later on when she was a City Councilor, Norris said she was inspired by what it could be once again.

Laurel Park was established by the city of Holyoke in 1909 with the support of Laurel and Willow Street residents when the Park Commissioners reported the purchase of the triangular piece of land. In 1911 the park was seeded with shrubs and then in 1912 the small park received two cement walkways and the addition of the cobblestone fountain that is now dedicated to Norris.

“The cost of the improvement was $738.28,” Norris said to a laugh from the audience. The price tag is according to the 1912 report of the Park Commissioners on the park project.

Following decades of disrepair, Norris along with city departments and neighbors collaborated on the restoration of the fountain and the rejuvenation of Laurel Park back in 1998.

The fountain began to experience issues over the years due to its antique plumbing structure but in 2016 former Mayor Alex Morse reinvested $37,000 into the park to rebuild and restore the fountain with modern plumbing and water conservation in mind.

Presently, this is the only fountain that remains in operation in all of Holyoke’s parks. All those who enjoy the park are encouraged by the city to preserve and protect it as part of the Elmwood neighborhood. The fountain runs from dawn to dusk from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Students at Dean Vocational High School planted perennial flowers that continue to bloom every spring and summer, and maintenance of the flower beds have been overseen by Frank Chmura since 1998, according to Norris.

Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia was enthusiastic about the opportunity to recognize Norris, and credited At-Large City Councilor Kevin Jourdain and former Mayor Elaine Pluta for their efforts to make the dedication happen.

“Before I became mayor, Helen served 16 years on the Holyoke City Council, but her legacy lives on,” Garcia said. “While we’re here to dedicate the fountain she helped to restore, we are really here to celebrate her accomplishments on behalf of the city, for which so many are grateful.”

Garcia cited much of Norris’ accomplishments including her environmental advocacy working with Mayor Pluta, her efforts as a “tireless advocate” for local control of the Holyoke Dam and her work in restoring Laurel Park.

Ward 3 City Councilor David Bartley called it an honor to be present for a dedication at the park in Ward 3. Jourdain shared similar sentiments and said it was important for to recognize the public officials who are able to accomplish so much for the community.

“As someone who has served on the Holyoke City Council for a long period of time, I just want to make sure that city councilors who make an amazing contribution to this community get recognized. I know when Elaine and I talked about Helen, who’s been a longtime friend of ours, it just cried out that this recognition, this day needed to occur,” Jourdain said.

Pluta said she could not thank Norris enough for what she has done for the community and credited her for showing how to be an advocate for the citizens of the city.

“It’s so deserved,” Pluta said. “I just want to thank you, Helen, from the bottom of my heart.”

Norris was appreciative for the show of support for the community and said she hopes the spirit of the park can live on in the future.

“It’s my wish and desire that Laurel Park’s character be preserved for the next 100 years so it continues to provide hope and comfort for those young and old in this working-class neighborhood,” Norris said.

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