Oral History with Richard Liberatore


Oral History with Richard Liberatore


Oral history


Richard Liberatore, Acting Chair of the Recreation Commission, talks with Archives Intern, Stephanie Warner, about Recreation in the city of Somerville. He recalls stories of his childhood, his children's involvement, as well as his mothers experience with the Recreation Department.


Somerville Archives


Somerville Archives


2014 July 10



sound recording/mp3






City of Somerville Recreation Department


19:07 minutes

Bit Rate/Frequency

294 kbit/s


Richard Liberatore: Hi, this is Rich Liberatore. It’s July 10th, 2014.
Stephanie Warner: Perfect.
Richard Liberatore: Okay.
Stephanie Warner: I got the sound levels right now. All right. So, how long have you been a resident of Somerville?
Richard Liberatore: Uh, my whole life which is 62 years. (both laugh)
Stephanie Warner: And, do you have children who participated in-
Richard Liberatore: Yes-
Stephanie Warner: the recreation program?
Richard Liberatore: Yes, I did.
Stephanie Warner: What did they-what were they doing?
Richard Liberatore: Um, they did-they started, well, um-everything that was available, I think, um. They started with Kid Stop, which is a program that was created in the late-80s, if I’m not mistaken. And, that was at the Powder House Park area, and it was run for, I think, it was kids under 5 or 6 years old, I think.
Stephanie Warner: Mmm-hm.
Richard Liberatore: And, um, from that point on, they just joined as many different programs as were run out there. They were into the sports. The-what did they have-girls basketball, my daughter. My sons were into any baseball programs. They had the track meets and fishing derby, um, well, that’s all I can think of right now, but there was others. I did write some things down, but (laughs) I forgot them. What else was there? There was a lot of trips they took, too. I think they went to the Pawtucket Red Sox a few times, amusement parks. I think they use to do that once a year. At least they did when I was a kid, they did that. I’m not sure if they were still doing it when my kids were young.
Stephanie Warner: What-Tell me about the Summertime Playgrounds because that’s a big part of our collection. And, do you have fond memories-
Richard Liberatore: Yeah, it’s actually-
Stephanie Warner: -from the Summertime Playgrounds?
Richard Liberatore: -amazing, I think, the Summertime Playgrounds, because there was, oh, you know there was the 8 major parks. And, there was probably another, I’m-my numbers aren’t-I know they’re not going to be accurate, but 20 to 30 smaller school yard type playgrounds. And, back in the 60s which is as far back as I can remember, um, every one of those parks was loaded with kids. Each park probably had 2 to 3 or maybe more on the big parks, maybe even more, park leaders. And, they were busy. Some of the smaller parks may have been only open in the afternoon or the morning, but most were open both morning and afternoon. And, you know, from my memory, from my best memories, are in the mornings, I always liked to play at the big parks. I liked baseball, so we-you had to get there early to get on a team. I mean, each of the big parks had a, um-their own team that played the other parks. Sometimes we’d have to walk to the other parks to play the other parks. And, you had to get there early to get a place on the team. So, that was a big memory of mine. And, in the afternoons-I’m talking more maybe when I was 12 to 15, a little bit older-in the afternoons we would, kind of, go back to the parks and play more relaxed games. You know, maybe, volleyball or paddleball. We pretty much-our whole summers really surrounded the parks. And, like I said there was, at the big parks, there could have been a hundred kids a day doing one thing or another, so it was very very active. And, the smaller parks-a lot of people loved the smaller parks because they were a little more controlled and maybe there was more organized activities for the younger-I think the younger kids probably liked the smaller parks better. But, uh, it was a big part of the summer. Kids couldn’t wait for the summer so they could hang out at those places.
Stephanie Warner: At what point were you introduced to the Recreation Commission and the actual work behind the playgrounds and things?
Richard Liberatore: Yeah, I actually became a member of the Commission in, I think, 1994. And, it was interesting. You got to know more about the budget and the hiring and firing of the workers-how many they needed, and how they figured that out. And, you had to deal with the inner workings of the city sometimes with the Board of Aldermen and the Mayor, and so forth. It was interesting to learn that kind of stuff.
Stephanie Warner: What made you want to join?
Richard Liberatore: I was asked to join. Yeah, I was involved in little league for many years, and I knew a lot of people. I knew who was the superintendent at the time. And, I think, our two kids were playing hockey together, and he said we have a couple of openings on the Board. He said, I think you’d be, you know, helpful there. And I said, well why not, you know. It’s an unpaid position, but you know. (laughs) It’s been fun.
Stephanie Warner: What-Are there other Recreation Commission from your childhood that you remember besides the Playgrounds? I know you mentioned several from your kids.
Richard Liberatore: Yeah, let me think. Well, I’ll just divert from that question a little bit because I’ll add something else.
Stephanie Warner: That’s okay.
Richard Liberatore: When my mom-actually when my father passed away-my mother became, kind of-looking for something to do because they spent a lot of time together. And, she joined the seniors end of the recreation, and I think it added years to her life because they did a lot of day trips. I don’t think they do that anymore. I mean, I know they don’t do that anymore because they have the council on aging. And, I think they thought it was kind of repetitive and they, kind of, pulled that away from recreation. Although, I think the two of them worked well together, and I think there was some disappointed adults when-or seniors, I should say-when the pulled that. I know they use to take a lot of trips to restaurants, and, um, I think they went to Mohegan Sun and places like that. It was many many different things they did. And, I know, my mother for one, made a lot of friends, and it really was great for her and the others in her situation to have someplace to go. You know, so that-I think they still have all the activities through other agencies in the city, but recreation use to be very involved with the seniors up until, I think, about 10 years ago.
Stephanie Warner: So, you already described it a little bit before we turned on the recording equipment, but what is your current position on the Commission and the duties that go along with that?
Richard Liberatore: Yeah, right now I am the Acting Chair, but I don’t think anybody is pushing me out of there. So, I think I’m the Chair. (laughs) And, um, basically, we are responsible to oversee everything that goes on in recreation, and make sure, um, they’re running their programs right and that they’re, um, staying within their budget.-and, we discuss-I think it’s a comfort-level, too, for the actual workers of the commission, of the department, to know there is a commission there to lean on a little bit. We are not day to day active; we don’t know what goes on day to day. But, we meet monthly, and, you know, there is a lot of questions and answers going on and a little explanation. They usually hand us out what the latest programs are and how they are going and so forth. Things like that.
Stephanie Warner: So what have been the most challenging aspects of your position?
Richard Liberatore: Um. (whispering) This is where you’re supposed to turn this off. (laughs) Um, well, you know, I think, again, I don’t want to divert from your question, but I’ll get in to some areas that make the whole recreation department difficult. I think the city has changed a lot, and, um, you know, sometimes I wonder myself, um, if I’m the right person to be on the commission right now because I always think of the way it use to be. I know you can’t do that. You have to stay with the way things are today. Um, for instance, I think now they have to tie in a lot of programs to the schools because they type of, I think there’s-if your familiar with the city right now-I think you’ll find that there’s a lot of, um, I don’t want to use and insulting term, but, you know, the yuppies-type people who have come into Somerville from the outside. And, they have had their children here, but they’re not like the old Somerville kids that were from big families. This is true, not just in Somerville. It’s true probably everywhere, but, you know, we are focusing on, you know, Somerville today. And, it has changed a lot. And then, you have a lot of the, uh, lower income people who have children, too. And, they, um, they’re very guarded with their children, and they don’t, um. So between those two types of, um, families, you don’t get kids coming out on their own as much as they use to. But again, that’s just the generational thing more than city of Somerville, I think. So, it’s challenging now to get the programs out to the kids and get them to come to them. There’s less kids to start with, but then you have to, um, somehow-and that’s what I was getting to when I said that you have to tie them into the schools-if you get them when they come out of school in the afternoon, you have a better chance of getting them to come to the programs. You know, like, you always have to go to them and pull them rather than just say, oh, by the way, there’s a program this Saturday morning. You don’t get the, um, attendance like you use to. So, that, that’s a challenge that, um, to bring-I think, the programs are there. It’s getting kids to come to them. So, uh, I think it’s worked pretty well the last few years. Like, the track meet was like the ultimate end of the summer thing where you had the 8 major, um, we used to call them athletic facilities. And, of course, each of those would govern, like, some of the smaller school yards, so any kid could join the track meet, but, you actually, in those days, you actually had to be good in track because there was so many kids-um, some kids played baseball, some kids ran track. And all the years that I went to recreation, I never was good enough to be on the track team because I was a baseball player, but I wasn’t particularly fast. (laughs) So, um, so the end of the year track meet was a great event. Um, you probably go a few, thousands of people coming to watch it. It was 8 parks that probably had 60 to 80 kids from each, representing each park. It was very competitive. There was a champion at the end of the night. Um, they, you know, gave out ribbons, gold medals, first, second, third, fourth place all that stuff. It was a great, it was a great event. Um, we do that now, but it’s different. They way they do it now, is that they-that was in August at the end of the summer. That was like the end of the summer event. Now, we do it in June, and we do it by school. So each-instead of having teams representing each of the parks that kids hung around all summer, they’re representing the school that they go to. So, everything is done through the school so that at the end of the school day-I don’t even know if they get to practice much to tell you the truth. There are very, a lot of athletic kids around that seem to do very well in these track meets, but I don’t know if they are actually getting the chance to practice ahead of time, or anything. So, I think that they get some kind of busses from the schools, bring the kids up to Dilboy Field. We just had it. I don’t know if you were around-probably weren’t around at the time. It was like June 6th, I think. It was a Friday night. Uh, it was actually a pretty good event because it was a beautiful night. Fairly-very very good amount of kids, not compared to the old days, but it was a good amount of kids. And, all the kids represented their schools, up to about-what grade-maybe the 8th grade, um. I don’t know if they start it as young as the 1st, but I was dealing-well, like I said, I was dealing with, I was helping out with the high jump. And, we had some very young kids, too. I forget the age. I think 3rd and 4th might have been the youngest. Um, so it’s still a good event, but it’s different, different challenges to make these things work now. I think the current recreation staff does a great job of adjusting to it. But, it is a challenge, not like you just throw things out there and the kids show up. Now you really have to show them what you have. You have to, um, you know, um, go to the schools, and almost draw them out. So I think that’s the biggest challenge of recreation today.
Stephanie Warner: What have been the most rewarding aspects of the position?
Richard Liberatore: Um, well, I think the rewarding aspect of the position is just seeing these events. I mean, uh, you know if you’re on a commission and it has to do with any particular thing, in this case it’s recreation, you want to see fruits of the success of that, um, program. And, in this program, it’s mostly geared towards kids, so when you see the kids at the track meet and having fun. And, the pictures are great. I mean, I don’t know if we have as many pictures of recent years like they did in the old years, but you see, you know, you can tell by a picture if a kid is having a good time. You know what I mean. Because they don’t pose for these pictures, and I think the old pictures, um, as well as any new ones, it captures that um-the faces of these kids. They’re there because they want to be there, and they are having fun, and they are competing-sometimes it’s not competing, it’s just having fun. But, they’re there because they want to be, hopefully. I think in most cases they are. And, uh, that I think is the satisfaction you get being involved in recreation at any level. Yeah.
Stephanie Warner: So my last question for you is what’s your favorite story?
Richard Liberatore: Oh boy.
Stephanie Warner: It can be more than one. We will take as many as you have.
Richard Liberatore: I have to think for awhile. (pauses) Yeah, I think that, um, seeing the, I think the kids coming up through recreation-having gone through it myself, and then seeing my kids get involved-they develop a lot of pride in the city that they live in. And, I know other cities have recreation, but I’ve heard so many times that Somerville was a leader in the recreation-I don’t know about today, so much, but over the years, you always, um, heard that Somerville had the most programs and adult leagues, too. I don’t even know if I talked about that much, but, um, there are so many examples of people who, besides myself, went through it themselves, their kids when through it, their parents went through it as kids and as seniors. Their um, and, a lot of the kids who have moved out of the city come back to play in adult leagues. So, there is so much pride. And, I’ve never met-not everybody loved to live in Somerville, not everybody always loved it when they were here, but I’ve never met a person that wasn’t proud to grow up here. And that’s a fact. You know, even people to say, oh, I’m so glad I’m out of that city. Oh, but did you enjoy gro-Oh, that was the best place in the world to grow up, but I didn’t want to bring my kids up there because it was too crowded or I didn’t like the schools or something like that. But they- no one ever, that I know at least, ever said anything bad about the experience of growing up in Somerville, you know. And, I think that, you know, and I’m thinking that recreation had something to do with that, you know, not totally, but some of it. So, that’s what I-I think that’s what I think of when I think of how important summer recreation was in the city. And, um, so, I can’t think of anything else right now. (laughs)
Stephanie Warner: Well, that’s wonderful. Thank you.
Richard Liberatore: I’m sure I think of all kinds of things after I leave here. Yeah, so and, you know-is that off now?
Stephanie Warner: Not yet.
Richard Liberatore: It’s still on. Yeah, I mean, just um, there are so many other people and things that can add to what I told you, um, Stephanie. It’s, um-I know there are people who are experts on the programs and participated maybe even more than I did, you know, in the adult leagues and stuff like that. It’s us-I don’t know if you’re trying to get a complete picture or, you know, someone’s opinion, someone’s views, or something like that, But, um, again, this is just-you know even though I’m the chair of the commission, I’m not the ultimate expert on everything that goes on in recreation. But, it’s just, you know, more of an average guy-type view of what happened from someone who grew up here and did participate and had my kids participate, and so forth.
Stephanie Warner: No, that’s great.
Richard Liberatore: Yeah, so I hope that was helpful.
Stephanie Warner: It was very helpful. Thank you.


Stephanie Warner


Richard Liberatore


Somerville Archives



Somerville Archives, “Oral History with Richard Liberatore,” Somerville Archives, accessed July 19, 2024, https://somervillearchives.omeka.net/items/show/120.

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