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FRAMINGHAM – This past weekend was the second anniversary of the passing of the late Karen Foran Dempsey.

In July, on the anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, the City of Framingham named the ballroom in Historic Village Hall after the former Disability Commission co-founder.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito attended the standing-room only ceremony.

“It was important to both Lieutenant Governor and I that we’d be here,” said Gov. Baker that day in July. “And it was important, because we had a chance to get to know Karen over the course of the past decade or so, and I’m fond of, whenever I think of Karen, I basically think of that old saying that I may be small, but I am mighty. And she packed a wallop as a person. And I think in many ways she also worked very hard to make sure that whatever time God gave her here on this earth, she was going to make a difference and she was going to do things to make life better for people with disabilities. And she was going to expect no pity, no sorrow, nothing like that from anyone because she was very much her own person. And somebody who in addition to never taking no for an answer on anything, believe that that’s the way it should be. Some people are just born with this little engine that runs inside them all day long. That’s built around this idea that there’s always something I can do to make my life, my family, my community, my Commonwealth, my world better. And man, that motor ran so hard inside Karen all the time, every day. And while I wish she was here with us to see this and to celebrate it, I have no doubt that the work she did, the person she was, the way she related to other people and the impression that she made on all of you and on so many more will live on long, long, long beyond her years. She was a really special person. She loved this community and this community loved her and she made a big difference in the lives of so many people who benefited from her voice.”

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“I want to say what an honor it has been to know Karen. And I have to say I have struggled with the word disability because I’ve met people like Karen and so many that have that word associated with them. And I don’t think of people of having a disability, meaning they lack an ability. I think of people like Karen as people with amazing abilities that just do things different, get around in a different way, learn in a different way, go about their day, just a little different from some others. They’re amazing people with amazing skills and amazing passions and amazing desire to live life fully and to give as much as they can give. That’s what I know Karen to be. But I also know that she must have felt in her journey deprived in some ways. And this room, I believe is one of those places that she felt deprived of having access to,” said Lt. Gov. Polito. “Knowing Karen and knowing your family when there’s something good going on, you wanna be a part of it. And for her not to have access to this room, to be able to be part of a meeting or part of a celebration or part of something important to this community felt sad to her. And she wanted to change that. And she wanted to make sure that people like her in this Commonwealth didn’t feel the sadness of deprivation, but felt the happiness that comes with being part of a community and being an equal partner like everyone else. And so I feel having come to know someone like Karen so inspired and I believe everyone in this room feels that connection to her and to your family because she inspired everyone to be more aware, more sensitive, and to do whatever they could to make sure that people that have different abilities have access to the same joys and opportunities that everyone else does. We are better off, we’re happier and more enriched people because of your family and because of very special people like Karen.”

“This is a special night when you can get the Governor and Lieutenant Governor here. It is so nice to see so many elected officials from all levels of our government and so many members of different boards and committees in Framingham and all of you that have come out on this warm summer night to honor Karen Foran Dempsey. It’s, it’s really nice. I had the unique opportunity back in 2002 as a member of the Board of Selectmen to not only support the creation of the Framingham Disability Commission, but to appoint Karen Dempsey is one of its first members of that committee. Once the Commission was established, Karen and her fellow, fellow commission members would frequently attend Selectman meetings to educate us and identify the needs of the disabled throughout our community. As a spokesman Karen was very articulate and convincing and each member of the Board of Selectmen gave their undivided attention. There was a deep respect for Karen and more often than not, she left the meeting with the full support of her request,”said Mayor Charlie Sisitsky.

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“On a personal note, I learned a lot from Karen about barriers to the disabled population and ways to improve access for them. Karen may not have been aware of this, but her knowledge surrounding those topics helped me make, helped make me a better, more informed DPW director for the Town of Natick. In other words, Karen indirectly became an advocate for the disabled community in Natick as well as in Framingham,” said Mayor Sisitsky.

“Karen was a fierce champion for accessibility, who spent her life advocating for full equality for those with disabilities. Although she faced physical challenges, she refused to allow any obstacles to stand in her way. Karen inspired all of us to work hard, to correct any inequities and to always do our best to serve the entire community. Her legacy extends well beyond this ballroom, this building, it serves as a testament to the idea that one person with a great heart determination and passion can change the world for the better. We leave here today renewed by Karen Spirit and are honored to keep that spirit alive by dedicating our new Karen Foreign Dempsey Ballroom,” said Mayor Sisitsky.

In honor of Karen and in honor of this event, we (Framingham Disability Commission) found it appropriate for this to be the first time that the city of Framingham raised a flag in recognition of persons with disabilities. I see this as huge progress,”said Framingham Disability Commission Chair Sheryl Goldstein, showing off the new flag designed by Framingham-resident Rob Levine.

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“Karen epitomized public service and community engagement over the course of a career that brought her from Framingham Public Schools, Framingham State University and to the Framingham School Committee. As a co-founder of the Framingham Disability Commission, Karen spoke up from the heart from her lived experiences as a person with a disability. She took a long time passion and devotion to improving the everyday lives of people with disabilities seriously. And as a result of her life’s work, Framingham is a far better community to work, play and live for everyone,” said Former City Council Chair Dennis Giombetti, who is now an aide to Senate President Karen Spilka. “One of the greatest successes, of course, per push to renovate this hall, to make it ADA compatible generations of people to come will continue to be affected by this change and the atmosphere of inclusion it inspires. So it’s fitting to recognize the lasting impact of Framingham and her commitment to a more inclusive world. We dedicate this hall in her honor.”

“Naming this room after Karen brings her work full circle,” said Mark Dempsey, Karen’s husband. “As you read. In tonight’s program, Karen fought tooth and nail to bring accessibility to Village Hall. This particular crusade was especially personal. Karen and I and Karen’s twin sister Kathy and her husband Vinnie, wanted to have our wedding reception in Village Hall. We couldn’t when we were married in 2004, Village Hall wasn’t accessible. Several years later, Karen brought her twins to a kids event here, but she had to remain outside. There was still no access to the building. Karen sat solo with quiet dignity while the boys participated inside. But after that day, Karen pushed bill child accessibility onto every disability commission meeting agenda for well over a decade. She held steadfast against the objections the historical preservation of the building would be compromised. Finally, a commissioned study in 2010 verified this building could be made accessible by keeping its historical fabric intact. The north side, facing the common, that beautiful area. So many memories of wedding receptions, family reunions, alumni parties, and celebrations of every kind is now accessible. All in thanks in large part to Karen.”

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“Karen’s legacy isn’t just the successes she affected while she was here. The bedrock of her efforts is the humanity she provokes in all of us and the resulting passions that drives us to move mountains. I know if Karen was standing beside me tonight, she would be accepting the honor of this ballroom with grace and humility, but would not rest on her laurels. She would ask that her work continue,” said Dempsey.

“This was such an honor to see so many people come together to celebrate my sister Karen. The outpouring of love and support spoke volumes as to what Karen meant to all that knew her. Karen was a fierce and relentless warrior for equal access, it’s up to us to continue on with her mission. She would expect no less,” said Foran Dempsey’s sister Janet Leombruno, an at-large City Councilor.

“I loved working with the committee to plan this event. It turned out perfect!  I was glad to see such an amazing turnout of people who had come to celebrate Karens life, acknowledge the anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act, and recognize 20 years of determination from the Framingham Disability Commission. This event was so important as it provided an opportunity to showcase the achievements we made in accessibility however give pause to the continued struggle of many. The focus of the commission over the course of the next year is to get ADA related projects moving along with our receptive and collaborative new administration. I will make sure of it,” said Goldstein.

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“It was an honor to celebrate not only the anniversary of the Americans Disability Act, but also my late School Committee Colleague Karen Foran Dempsey. Karen was the embodiment of the activism that made ADA a reality. How wonderful and profound it is that ballroom at Village Hall is now a powerful reminder of all of the many many things Karen contributed to Framingham and beyond. I am thankful for the precious time I got to serve with her and I am a better servant to my community thanks to Karen,” said School Committee Chair Priscila Sousa. Dempsey was one of 9 elected School Committee members when she died in December 2020.

“This is one of the most deserved and appropriate dedications I have witnessed.  Karen was the undisputedly the force behind not only the Village Hall access project, but access projects throughout our city.  A well deserved honor for a pioneer that we lost way too soon,” said City Councilor Georg P. King Jr.

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By editor

Susan Petroni is the former editor for SOURCE. She is the founder of the former news site, which as of May 1, 2023, is now a self-publishing community bulletin board. The website no longer has a journalist but a webmaster.