William Travis, former superintendent of the Pittsfield schools, shares stories of Adult Learning Center founder Bill Stickney at the renaming of the center in Stickney's honor on Thursday.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In the latter part of William Stickney's career, he struggled to walk.
Then Superintendent of Schools William Travis remembers seeing Stickney sitting on the stairs in the Mercer Building, using his arms to push himself up one stair at a time as he attempted to get to his office.
That was Stickney's dedication to the belief that all adults deserved a second chance.
"The office wasn't going to close. It was always going to be open to serve people," Travis said.
Stickney was the founder of the Adult Learning Center and served as the director until 2006. He was a reading teacher at Pittsfield High School in 1971 when he worked with Dorothy Amos to start an adult basic education program, which kicked off a year later. After Amos died in 1974, Stickney put his mind to fulfilling her dream of a full-time center.
"I will admit, I had a little uh-oh feeling. But he really inspired people. He inspired faith in me. He was so determined I thought 'he's going to make this work.' And he did. It was a bumpy road, especially in the beginning," his wife, Anne Stickney, said.
It was a time when the attitudes of many were that those who made the wrong choices and dropped out of school deserved what they got. There wasn't much of an appetite to put resources into helping adults get a second chance at education.
"Bill was really non-judgmental. He did not care particularly why somebody needed a second chance. He believed that people should have an opportunity, what they did with that was up to them. He truly believed in second chances for adults," Anne Stickney said.
In 1976, Stickney was successful in his advocacy and the Adult Learning Center was formed. It was moved around a bit and often faced funding challenges. But he was persistent.
"What impressed me most about Bill and the Adult Learning Center program was his courage in dealing with obstacles that would have stopped a lot of other people from succeeding. Despite his physical disability which became more pronounced as years went by, he never let that interfere with his hard work and commitment to this program," School Committee member William Cameron said.
And that is a reflection of what the students who go through the program are like. They've hit obstacles and they've kept up the hard work to overcome them. That's why Cameron proposed that the Pittsfield Public Schools name the program after the late Stickney.
"I think the real memorial of Bill Stickney as an educator is not the program that is named for him now but what takes place in the program. It is the commitment to students succeeding," Cameron said.
Last spring, the School Committee approved the change and on Thursday, officials and Stickney's family celebrated the re-naming of the program at a large gathering at the center on North Street. The program's location in a downtown storefront is yet another piece of Stickney's efforts. For years he advocated for downtown storefront because that is where he felt the program would best serve those in the community who need it.
William Stickney's legacy is cemented at the Adult Learning Center.
He was right, at least in the case of Linda Brown. She is a current student working toward her GED. For years, she walked by the storefront and would always think about it for a moment, and then move on. Until the day she walked in and was met with welcoming arms and smiles. She now looks at the posters on the wall highlighting the success stories of former students and is planning for her picture to be on the wall next to them.
"It is never too late," Brown said with a smile and thanking the teachers and staff at the center.
Stickney is considered a "legend" by Superintendent Jason McCandless. He said Stickney will continue to serve as a role model and "guiding light" for educators.
"He did what he did and was what he was for the love of his family, for the love of his community, and for the betterment and the love of hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of neighbors and families throughout Pittsfield and Berkshire County," McCandless said.
After Stickney's retirement, he continued to be that guiding light for secretary Bridget Manarchik, who has worked at the center for 22 years. When times got tough at the center after his retirement, Manarchik said she often asked the question "what would Bill do?"
"Bill was a great boss, leader, and friend," she said.
Stickney ran the center for 30 years and died at age 68 in 2012. His legacy will now continue into the future as he will now always be linked to the program, the program now called The William Stickney Pittsfield Adult Learning Center.
Also speaking at the dedication was state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, School Committee Chairwoman Katherine Yon, and current Director Paul Gage. State Sen. Adam Hinds' district aide A.J. Enchill read a Senate proclamation recognizing the occasion and Gage and McCandless presented the Stickney family with a plaque.
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