Peter Aucella receives Community Spirit Award


A large crowd gathered at Lenzi’s Mill House last evening to honor Peter Aucella who received the Thomas G. Kelakos Community Spirit Award from the Kiwanis Club of Greater Lowell. Aucella, who has been a fixture in Lowell for three decades, may be the one person most responsible for Lowell being the city it is today.

Lowell National Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo, Aucella’s boss for the past 21 months, said in her introduction, Peter played a decisive role in the Tsongas Arena, Lelacheur Park, the River Walk, Boarding House Park, the Lowell Folk Festival, the Lowell Summer Music Series, the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center (built as a Hilton Hotel), Middlesex Community College’s city campus (built as the Wang Training Center). Superintendent Bernardo said Peter “embodies the spirit of who we want and who we need in a city like Lowell, a person who understands the power of place and the vitality of culture. She then quoted our co-blogger Paul Marion who called Peter Aucella “the Master Mechanic of Lowell’s Transformation.”

In presenting Peter with a citation from the city of Lowell, Mayor Rodney Elliott recalled working as a neighborhood planner in the city’s Department of Planning and Development back in 1985 when Peter was the director of that office. The Mayor said Aucella was the same today was he was then, “always smiling, always encouraging everyone to take things one step at a time.” He said Peter’s accomplishments are “legendary” and thanked him for giving him his start at DPD.

In accepting the award, Peter began by thanking Steve Joncas. Back in the early 1980s, Peter was working as in the planning department in Malden, Massachusetts but wanted a change from municipal affairs so he applied for a job with Senator Ted Kennedy’s office. Kennedy’s people didn’t hire him, but they urged him to try Senator Paul Tsongas’s office. Peter did and was interviewed by Joncas. Shortly after that, Peter was told that he was to fly to Washington to have lunch and be interviewed by Tsongas. When they met, Tsongas simply said “welcome to the staff.” Peter replied, “I thought this was an interview.” Tsongas said “Steve Joncas said he needed you and if Steve wants you, he has you. Peter went on to handle economic development issues for Senator Tsongas.

In 1984 when Tsongas announced he would not run for reelection, before Peter could seek another job, Joncas called and told him there was an opening in the planning department in Lowell. Aucella said he wasn’t interested in going back to municipal planning at which point, Tsongas, who was also on the line (unbeknownst to Aucella) interrupted and said “Peter, go to Lowell.” Peter did and became the head of DPD under Joe Tully and oversaw the tremendous building boom of the late 1980s. In his mind, Peter believed he would stay in Lowell for three years but he said he soon “was hooked on Lowell”, bought a house and has been here since.

Peter then thanked many of those he has worked with through the years including Fred Faust, Jim Milinazzo, Jim Cook and many other current or former city and National Park personnel. He singled out Adam Baacke, Steve Stowell, Chris Briggs and Chuck Parrott.

Peter closed by recalling that in 1997 many felt that the passing of Paul Tsongas that year would create a leadership void and that the city would slide backwards. Through the work of so many individuals, that did not happen and progress has continued. As evidence of that, Peter said that in 1997, 43% of the remaining Lowell mills had been renovated; today it is 91% and by the end of the summer it will reach 94%. Fortunately, Peter gave no hint of slowing down his efforts on behalf of the National Park or the City.

The Kiwanis Community Spirit Award is named for Thomas G. Kelakos who quietly and without fanfare devoted his wisdom, compassion and generosity to Kiwanis for almost 50 years. Past recipients of the award include Mike Keunzler, Karen Frederick, Fred Simon, Michael Lally, Deb Belanger, The Standing Room Only Players, Lura Smith, Donna Hunnewell, Jeff Lambert, Rita Mercier, Paul Marion, John Chemaly and Gary Sepe.

One Response to Peter Aucella receives Community Spirit Award

  1. PaulM says:

    It was a great night for Peter and the National Park Service. When Park Supt. Celeste Bernardo described Peter’s many leadership roles, listed accomplishments on his watch, and noted his community contributions, going back to his service alongside Thomas Kelakos, for whom the award is named, one could only be impressed by the choice made by the Kiwanis Club. And the room was filled with colleagues and comrades who have worked hand-in-hand with Peter Aucella on the extraordinary revival of Lowell in the past 30 to 40 years.