DRACUT -- Two hundred and three years after his death, one of Dracut's most accomplished residents, Joseph Bradley Varnum, will be honored by his hometown with a plaque, a commissioned portrait, a community-service award and a day on the calendar to be named after him.
Selectmen voted unanimously, 5-0, at Tuesday night's meeting to declare that every Jan. 29 -- beginning in 2015 -- be celebrated as "Joseph Bradley Varnum Day" in Dracut to honor Varnum, a Dracut farmer who not only served in the Revolutionary War, but also served as a U.S. senator, a U.S. congressman and rose to Speaker of the House.
After serving with distinction in Congress, Varnum returned home to serve in the Massachusetts Legislature as well, according to Lakeview Junior High School history teacher Rebecca Duda.
Varnum was born in 1751 and fought in the Battles of Lexington and Concord before being elected to Congress after the war, Duda informed the board. He died in Dracut on March 4, 1811. The Varnum home burned down in a fire in 1930, Duda said.
As part of selectmen's vote establishing a Joseph Varnum Day, the board also accepted on behalf of the town a $500 grant that was obtained by Duda from the Massachusetts Society of the Founders and Patriots of America. The money will be used to have a plaque made in Varnum's honor, and to commission a portrait be painted by artist Tyler Bettencourt, a freshman at Massachusetts College of Art.
"It will look a lot better once it's colored in," Bettencourt said drawing a laugh from the board.
After acting Town Manager Ann Vandal informed the board the new Town Hall construction project is not due to be completed until July or August at the earliest, Selectmen Chairwoman Cathy Richardson persuaded members it would be best to wait until new Town Hall opens to unveil the portrait at the new Town Hall and begin celebrating Varnum day next January rather than later this month.
The board's action also included establishing an accompanying "Joseph Bradley Varnum Outstanding Community Member Award," to be given annually to a Dracut resident "based on their service to the town, state, nation... embodying the patriotic spirit that Varnum stood for."
The first Joseph Varnum Day, falling on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2015, will not include a day off from school for Dracut students, said Richardson after the meeting.
Duda was among three grant writers in Massachusetts successful in obtaining a $500 grant from the Mass. Society for the Order of the Founders group in 2013, with the other two recipient hailing from Orleans and Lowell. Jane Calvin of the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust will be using a $500 grant to aid in the restoration of the Bunker Hill Roll of Honor at the Spalding House Museum.
Selectmen also honored on Tuesday night two of the town's younger residents for their remarkable achievements in charitable giving. Skylar Unger, 13, accompanied by her mother, Fawn Unger, was publicly honored for setting up a "Giving Tree" at Lakeview Junior High School for two holiday seasons. Skylar collected gifts for the area's needy and donations for the Chinese orphanage where she was born.
For her outstanding work in inspiring the community to donate more to the Dracut Food Pantry for the past several months, Eva Laffin, 9, accompanied by parents Jill and Michael Laffin, was awarded a certificate of appreciation by Richardson on behalf of the board and town.
In other business, Vandal reported the lower parking lot of Town Hall has been closed until further notice for construction-safety reasons. Vandal also reported that the harsh winter weather so far this season has already pushed the Department of Public Works "into the deficit portion of its snow- and ice-removal budget."
Dracut Fire Chief Dave Brouillette informed selectmen the department made 3,605 equipment runs in 2013, representing an increase of about 300 over the previous year.
"We have done as many as 339 runs per month... as the town continues to grow," Brouillette said. "We're well within the national average response time of 8 minutes, (with Dracut) at around 6 minutes per call or less."
The Fire Department's next major expense will be to replace their busiest main fire engine, which has 150,000 miles on the odometer, the chief said. The estimated cost for a replacement engine is "around $500,000," he added.
Follow John Collins on twitter and Tout at johncolowellsun.