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Memories of Freeshade

Acts on stage at the Freeshade Community Center have changed with the times. Above, emcee Ed Harrow Jr. and the audience were wild about the Macarena performed in 1997. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

Ann Lucas O’Herron, secretary of the Freeshade Community Center (FCC), has a strong bond to the building located on Regent Road near Tall Chief Market at Syringa. She performed on the stage when she was 8 years old as a purple tulip in an elementary school musical, and can recall the song’s chorus without thinking: “Bloom the tulips in Holland, in Holland, in Holland. Bloom the tulips in Holland, in Holland Land.”

“This little song is my first memory of being on the stage as a purple tulip at the old Syringa School auditorium, now Freeshade Community Center,” said O’Herron, who lives within sight of the community center.

That was more than 50 years ago and there are many other people in the county who share such memories of that stage. The FCC scrapbook is full of clippings of the many popular variety shows that used to be held there.

Through the years, many in the Topping, Hartfield and Syringa communities have been involved in membership, fundraising or upkeep of the center, said O’Herron. “My hope is that it will remain a landmark of the county and that others will join the Freeshade Community Center or help in other ways to keep it going.”

O’Herron moved back to Syringa in 1987 and her late father, Reuben Lucas, talked her into joining the Freeshade Community Center. “I’ve been secretary ever since. My mother, daughter and son have performed in a variety of shows and plays there to raise funds to maintain the Freeshade building.”

Mr. Lucas was president for a number of years and he, Vernah Revere and Mabel Wiggins diligently watched over the building until their deaths. Also, the late George Witbeck was president for many years.

Since 1970, the building has gone through major repairs and remodeling. Two acres were purchased in 1978 to be used as a Little League ball field and later for parking.

Freeshade used to be the “happening” place in the middle part of the county. There were plays, dinners, dances and variety shows to highlight the local talents of young and old, including Evaleigh Estes of Topping. “It was great fun,” said Estes. “We ad-libbed when we forgot our lines. It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience, especially when people enjoyed it.”

The shows raised money to improve the building. “Everybody was working together,” said Estes.

Johnny Fleet, who grew up in the Regent Point area, attended Syringa Elementary School. Fleet said when he was in the fifth grade he got over his first experience with stage fright and played Huck Finn in what would become the Freeshade auditorium. “It’s much needed and has served a wonderful purpose,” Fleet said.

Fleet also coached Little League baseball teams for 25 years on the practice fields at the center.

Memories were made and are still being made at the Freeshade Community Center by families celebrating weddings, anniversaries and reunions. It can be rented for events by calling Mary Allen at 758-4110.

Related Story: Preserving a Usefull Middlesex Landmark

posted 12.23.2008

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