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November 12, 2011

Beverly square story comes full circle

BEVERLY — Heather Wilkinson Rojo stood under the Cabot Cinema marquee that grandly advertised the theater's latest movie yesterday. But on this windy Veterans Day morning, the Beverly native's attention was focused on a much smaller sign just a few feet away.

The black metal sign stood atop a black pole, adorned with a gold leaf star and the inscription, "Joseph E. Healey. Navy Seaman, KIA, June 1862."

"It's just like solving a mystery," Rojo said.

Rojo, who lives in Londonderry, N.H., is a genealogist who has written extensively about the history of her family and her hometown of Beverly. But it wasn't until recently that she learned the corner of Cabot and Judson streets is known as Healey Square in honor of her great-great-great grandfather.

Rojo got the news from Mike Collins, the city's commissioner of public works and engineering. With help from Veterans Agent Jerry Guilebbe and others, Collins unearthed the story behind Healey Square, tracked down Rojo and invited her and her husband to a small ceremony to re-dedicate the square yesterday.

Collins is hoping to repeat the process with 14 other squares throughout the city that have been named after veterans. The project began seven years ago when the city looked into replacing the deteriorating signs marking such squares.

Instead of simply making a new sign, Collins wanted to know more about the men behind them. Despite past efforts to flesh out their stories, many of them had been lost or forgotten.

Collins said he wants to work with local civic groups like the Boy Scouts and give them the task of piecing together the story of each veteran. Once the information is compiled, the group could solicit donations to replace the sign or to assist veterans' groups.

"The city has the capability to buy all new signs," Collins said. "That would be easy, but that's not the point. I want people to help with the story and to tell it over and over."

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