DRACUT — Harvey Gagnon’s involvement with the Dracut Historical Society began in 1978 when he was hired to fix a broken window in the organization’s Lakeview Avenue headquarters.
The job peaked his interest, so Gagnon became a member of the society. The rest, as they say, is very well-preserved history.
Over the next 40 years Gagnon would be the driving force behind some of Dracut’s most important historic-preservation projects. And his contributions to the town include more than curating its past. Through his work on the Permanent Building Committee and Dracut Scholarship Foundation, Gagnon has also been a champion of the town’s youth and its future.
His hard work, volunteerism, and love for Dracut will be honored Feb. 14 when the Board of Selectmen presents him with the Varnum Award. But as Gagnon’s family and friends will tell you, it will be an almighty struggle to get him to take the credit for his good deeds.
“It’s nice,” said Gagnon, who will turn 86 next month. “But you know, I’d like to just go off into the sunset. It’s very nice, though.”
The award is particularly fitting for Gagnon, given the work he has done to preserve its namesake’s legacy. His family calls the Historical Society’s Joseph Bradley Varnum room his second home. Without Gagnon donating his money and time, the room would never have been built or filled with relics from Dracut’s most famous forefather.
“He’s a hands-on guy, when he takes on a project, he sticks with it to fruition,” said David Paquin, who has worked with Gagnon for years as party of both the Historical Society and Dracut Historical Commission. “He shuns any credit for having accomplished anything. He’s a behind-the-scenes kind of guy, but if it wasn’t for his demeanor a lot of projects in town wouldn’t have gotten done.”
One of the most significant projects made possible by Gagnon was the relocation of Harmony Hall.
The historic meeting hall used to sit at the corner of Mammoth Road and Lakeview Avenue. But in 1994 it was slated for demolition to make way for that most august of New England landmarks: Dunkin’ Donuts.
Gagnon led negotiations with Dunkin’ and organized the committee that planned the building’s transportation. It all culminated on Aug. 30, 1994.
Gagnon and the moving team began work at 9 a.m. They only had to move the building about a mile down the road, but the operation, which included reinforcing a bridge and moving every telephone and power line in Harmony Hall’s path took more than 15 hours.
Many of Dracut’s newest buildings have also benefited from Gagnon’s close oversight. He was a founding member of the Permanent Building Committee and has remained on the committee for over 30 years, during which time the town has acquired a new town hall and high school.
“There’s one word to describe Harvey, and that’s ‘dedication,'” said Ellis Neofotistos, the current chairman of the Permanent Building Committee. “He was the go-to guy on these things.”
The high school project in particular was a nice cherry on top of all the work Gagnon has put into furthering the education of Dracut’s youth. Some of his first involvement in town volunteerism was with the Dracut Scholarship Foundation, which he joined in 1961 and served on the board of for 40 years.
“You’d always hear that he’d be going off to some meeting, but when I sat and talked to him about all the committees he was on it was like ‘Wow,'” said Natalie Brown, Gagnon’s youngest daughter.
Gagnon has eased back a bit in recent years to spend time with his wife, seven children, 19 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren (soon to be 12), he says. Loyce, his wife of 63 years, scoffs when he says it.
These days, you can still find him working in the Historical Society building on any given weekday, organizing the exhibits and winding the clocks.
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