At the 97th annual meeting of the Beacon Hill Civic Center Monday night at the Union Club, Ivy A. Turner received the 23rd annual Beacon Award for her “significant and sustained” contribution to the neighborhood.
Turner was drawn to Beacon Hill for its historic architecture after moving to Boston in 1988, and as a real estate broker by trade, she worked for several local firms before opening her Charles Street real estate office, Ivy Associates, Inc. (now called The Ivy Team/KW) in 1995.
In November of that same year, Turner attended the “Cheers for Children” fundraiser at the Hampshire House, sponsored by Tom Kershaw, now chairman of the Hampshire House Corporation. It was then that Kershaw lamented to Turner and Dr. Chris Quigley, owner of Charles Street Family Chiropractic, that the dwindling Beacon Hill Businessman’s Association (a.k.a. the Charles Street Merchants Association) had no plans to continue its annual tradition of decorating Charles Street’s gas-lamps for the holidays.
“At this time, businesses and residents were kind of at war in the neighborhood,” Turner said, adding that in one instance, a florist was fined after a neighboring resident reported the business to the city for displaying flowers on the street.
Likewise, as new business owners, Turner and Osgood also met resistance receiving approval from the city to mount sign boxes outside of their respective storefronts.
So, Turner and Quigley agreed to assist Kershaw and a local floral arranger in spearheading the effort to decorate the Charles Street gas-lamps under the auspices of the Businessman’s Association, which was rechristened the Beacon Hill Business Association at Turner’s urging. Kershaw in turn handed over the small sum of money left in the organization’s coffers to Turner and Quigley, who were then tasked with soliciting the remaining funds for the decorations, as well as recruiting volunteers to handle the decorating tasks.
“There was no email back then either,” Turner said, “so we had to go around door to door on Charles Street, talking to business owners and asking for their help.”
After the warm reception that the inaugural outing received, Turner said there was no way the tradition could be abandoned, and they soon found themselves inundated with requests to decorate gas-lamps in front of Cambridge Street businesses as well. In response, decorating expanded to Cambridge Street and all areas in the neighborhood where businesses could be found in subsequent years.
Meantime, Turner joined the Beacon Hill Civic Association board of directors in the late ‘90s and continued to serve in this role for around 10 years. During this time, the Civic Association assumed the decorating reins as the Business Association began to focus more on staging its annual Holiday Stroll. Turner credits Suzanne Besser, who then served as the group’s executive director, for helping to coordinate the decorating effort during this transitional period.
“Suzanne was tremendously helpful,” Turner recalled. “Sometimes she expressed doubt we could pull it off, but we always did in the end.”
In 2000, Turner et al set out to decorate all 1,089 lamp-posts in the neighborhood for what was intended to be a once-in-a-lifetime event to ring in the new millennium. And with the tragic events of Sept. 11 the next year, Turner admits she was initially reluctant to continue the tradition. But she acquiesced, however, after receiving countless calls from neighborhood residents asking when the decorations would go up.
“People said we need it more than ever,” she said. “The key was always about getting people together, and I truly leaned that that year.”
Since then, Turner has witnessed the marriages of several couples who met decorating, adding that one of her “greatest satisfactions comes from seeing photos of couples away on vacation together who came together as strangers just a few months before.”
Holiday decorating has also become something of a rite of passage for newcomers to the neighborhood, Turner said, beginning with the “Garlands and Greens” fundraiser at Hampshire House in November, followed by the decorating and Holiday Stroll in December before volunteers remove the decorations in January.
“My main motivator and what makes the event so important to me is that it brings the community together, and that’s what I like to do – bring people together,” she said.
And as a classically trained cellist, Turner also helped conceive the “quartet-a-thon” in 2001nas part of the annual Beacon Hill Art Walk.
“At first, the musicians were skeptical of playing outdoors, but we found some sheltered garden spaces where they could perform…and the music was so well received that many musicians came back the following year to do it again,” Turner said. “They especially like having the opportunity to play for people who might have never been to a classical concert…as well introducing children to live music for the first time.”
Turner also finds it encouraging that “there seems to be more of a desire to sit and listen for longer periods of time,” adding last year’s event drew a queue that stretched around the block.
“Kind of like decorating, it’s something for people to enjoy that takes a lot of volunteers to do their part and also showcases the neighborhood,” she said.
Russ Gaudreau, chair of the Nominating Committee for the second consecutive year, said Turner was a deserving and obvious choice for this year’s Beacon Award recipient, given her “significant and sustained” contributions to then neighborhood.
“We looked for someone who not only stood out, but also has been doing it for a long time,” he said. “And Ivy is the perfect candidate in that sense.”
Gaudreau lauded Turner for assembling the volunteers and coordinating the holiday decorations without fail every year for the past two decades, regardless of weather or other extenuating circumstances.
“It’s quite a feat, not only because of the sustained benefit to the Beacon Hill community, but on a much-broader level, because the neighborhood is such a popular visiting point for people from all over the world,” Gaudreau said.
Meanwhile, Dec. 7 and 8 of this year will mark the 20th consecutive year of decorating lamp-posts throughout the entire neighborhood, which Turner speculates now might be the largest event of its kind worldwide.
“To truly appreciate its significance…and to see just how hard it is, you have to get out there and join in the decorating,” Turner said. “Once people do it, they develop an appreciation for it, which they didn’t have before…and then there’s no stopping them from helping us out going forward.”