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Saugus celebrates 42nd Founder’s Day

Saugus Founder's Day Persons of the Year John "Jack" Kelcker and Gail Witten Cassarino share a laugh before the award ceremony. (Spenser Hasak)

SAUGUS — Founder’s Day took over Saugus Center Saturday, an annual tradition like no other in town and inarguably one of the highlights of the calendar each and every fall.

In its 42nd year, the event proved to be as popular as ever — and was highlighted by the naming of Saugus’ 2023 Persons of the Year: John “Jack” Klecker and Gail Witten Cassarino. Klecker is a U.S. Navy veteran, while Cassarino is the vice-regent of the Parsons Roby chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Cassarino said the recognition was an “incredible honor” and she was completely shocked when she was told that she was going to receive the award.

“You just volunteer and you don’t think anybody notices,” she said, adding that she had spent years serving the community while also being a mother of four children. “It was unbelievable.”

On hand for the celebrations were a bevy of state and local officials, including state Sen. Brendan Crighton and state Reps. Donald Wong and Jessica Giannino, all of whom represent the town. The state delegation handed out citations to Klecker and Cassarino honoring them for their achievements in town, a recognition Cassarino said was completely unexpected.

Select Board member Corinne Riley said she looks forward to Founder’s Day every year, and had seen up close what Klecker and Cassarino had done for Saugus from working with them on veterans’ causes.

“There are so many nonprofits and sports groups using this event (as) a great way to fundraise for their cause, and I love to participate in as many as I can,” she said. “Everyone looked like they were enjoying the day. I’m grateful to all those who helped organize the event and that the rain held out.”

Riley was among several attendees who got “arrested” by the Saugus Band-its and spent time in jail. The makeshift “jail” was set up as a fundraiser for the Saugus High School band, complete with wanted posters plastered on the faux brick.

Celebrations weren’t limited to the Persons of the Year awards, with residents filling Central Street to dance and partake in various fundraising efforts. Some high schoolers even got to deliver “pies” to the faces of classmates and advisors.

Debra Panetta, the vice chair of the Board of Selectmen, said the event is an opportunity for residents to come together and celebrate the town.

“Residents enjoy shopping, supporting our schools, library, and nonprofits, finding out more about our community and how to get involved, and of course, enjoying some food,” Panetta said. “I was happy to see such a large crowd on Saturday, and everyone looked like they were having a great time.”

“A big thank you to the Saugus Youth and Rec Center for coordinating this outstanding event, along with our town manager, our DPW, our Police Department, and all the volunteers, nonprofits, SCTV, local businesses, and vendors that made the day such a success,” she added.

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