DANVERS — With a month left before the school’s inaugural Homecoming Gala, Essex Tech Superintendent-Director Heidi T. Riccio sat elbow deep in addresses and envelopes as she prepared invitations.

“We really hope that the gala brings everybody together, but also really honors the agricultural school as well as Catherine Larkin,” said Riccio as she organized envelopes into piles on a table.

Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School will host the gala on Saturday, Oct. 19, to support the Catherine Larkin Memorial Cottage Project, an endeavor to restore and expand the cottage with the purpose of creating a space for additional educational opportunities for students and the community.

The cottage, on Essex Tech's campus, is named for Catherine Larkin, a Salem resident who was killed in a plane crash while serving as an Army nurse during World War II. 

"Rebuilding the Larkin Cottage is going to provide an invaluable, hands-on learning opportunity for our students, while also creating a new space for our classes to meet, showcase the historic past of our school and host community and private events," said Riccio.

Students will be involved in both planning the gala and restoring the cottage. Among other responsibilities, students will help monitor the building's energy efficiency, do the electrical work, complete the land surveying alongside employees from the engineering firm Hancock Associates, and prepare a farm-to-table meal for the gala. 

Luke Bye, a 16-year-old electricity student at Essex Tech, is looking forward to the experience. 

“I would much rather be out there doing actual work on something closer to the work that I would be doing when I am adult rather than on a piece of plywood in shop,” he said. 

The project will expand the cottage from 1,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet. Once complete, the renovated cottage will host alumni and student events as well as house recovered artifacts. The project is estimated to cost $2.5 million, but because students will be involved in the work for class credit, the school anticipates costs to be under $1 million. 

Riccio said the new building will still have a “New England feel,” with fieldstone, clapboard siding, cedar shakes, and a slate roof.

Peter Tierney, president of the Essex Aggie Alumni Association, agreed. 

“It is a bridge from the old to the new,” he said of the cottage.

Catherine Marie Larkin, for whom the cottage is named, was born on Jan. 21, 1915. While living in Salem, Larkin attended St. James School, Essex County Homemaking School of Hawthorne at Essex County Agricultural School, and Salem Hospital Training School for nurses.

Soon after, Larkin enlisted in the Nurse Corps, U.S. Army and began active duty as a second lieutenant in August 1941. According to a document provided by the Essex Aggie Alumni Association from the 1950 Larkin Cottage dedication, “because of her native talents, her personal sacrifices and devotion to her cause,” Larkin was appointed chief nurse and promoted to first lieutenant within her time of service.

On March 4, 1945, while flying over Calcutta, India, Larkin, 29, was killed alongside other nurses while in pursuit of establishing an advanced hospital base. According to the March 12, 1945 edition of the Salem Evening News, Lt. Catherine M. Larkin was the first female resident of Salem to die in World War II.

In acknowledgement of Larkin’s life and impact on her communities, the Larkin Cottage was built to be a space where students of the Homemaking School could apply “their training in house care, home decorations, sewing, foods and nutrition,” as written in a document provided by the Alumni Association.

Construction on the cottage begin in 1949, and the building was dedicated in 1950. 

While the school’s academic focus has expanded since Larkin graduated in 1934, Riccio said the cottage, both in its restoration and future use, will remain a place for hands-on learning and a reminder of values Larkin embodied.

“Larkin was a caregiver,” Riccio said. “As a nurse you are taking care of people as that is your mission. Our mission in education is to take care of people. It is to make sure that they are ready for the world; not just for the trade and not just for college or career, but really for the world.”

Riccio hopes that the upcoming gala will play a pivotal role in the restoration's advancement.

“We're thrilled to rebuild the cottage," she said, "and I encourage our alumni, local businesses and organizations and the greater Essex Tech community to join us at the Homecoming Gala to support this project."

The Homecoming Gala will be held at 6 p.m. on the lawn in front of Smith Hall at Essex Tech. The event will feature live music, hors d'oeuvres, a live and a silent auction and farm-to-table meal prepared by Essex Tech culinary students. For more information, visit http://essexnorthshore.org/larkin/.

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