Gill-Montague Education Fund gala ends after 20 years

Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School.

Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ


Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 05-27-2024 11:35 AM

After 20 years of raising money and providing a variety of educational opportunities to students, the non-profit Gill-Montague Education Fund has held its final gala.

While the gala, held for the last time on April 27, has served as the Gill-Montague Education Fund’s primary fundraising tool, Executive Producer Joyce Phillips pointed out that the fund itself will remain in place, and another fundraising event may be held in the future. However, organizers found that the event date conflicted with other local events, detracting from participation.

“It was a hard decision to make, a challenging decision,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the gala has raised approximately $130,000 since its inception, some of which has been distributed through two scholarships in the name of Sandra Miner, Gill-Montague Education Fund president from 2006 to 2012, and Connie Sicard, a Gill-Montague teacher. Funds are also given out in the form of enrichment grants.

Phillips has been involved gala, which was held at the Turners Falls High School theater, from the beginning. Performers have been a blend of original and tribute acts, such as The Mummers, The Edwards Twins, David Lee as Elvis, John Denver, Union Jack, and Dancing Dream performing songs by ABBA.

Elisabeth von Trapp performed at the first event that Phillips led, and she said the artists taught her a lot.

“I learned from the performers about what we needed to do,” she said, adding that many waive their fees or donate a portion of merchandise sales to the Gill-Montague Education Fund.

Phillips has an extensive background in education, having served as religious education coordinator at Our Lady of Peace for 10 years and on the Gill-Montague School Committee for 20 years. She began volunteering with the education fund in 2004 and has served as the gala’s executive producer since 2006.

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The fund itself was established in 1996 by the residents of Gill and Montague to support the schools, according to its website. Its goals are to provide resources that would enrich the educational opportunities available to students and encourage advocacy for public education.

The organization went dormant when state and federal funding was adequate. In 2004, when the impact of budget cuts meant a reduction to academics, arts and athletics programs, its members worked to develop ideas on how to meet the Gill-Montague Education Fund’s goals, which led to the creation of the annual gala.

In April 2005, Carol Jacobs, president of the Gill-Montague Education Fund’s board of directors, welcomed a nearly sold-out audience to the first gala, with Nick Waynelovich and a family-oriented concert.

Area businesses including Greenfield Savings Bank, Freedom Credit Union, The Management Solution (TMS) out of Auburn, Construction Monitoring and Coldwell Banker have been continuous supporters, some from as far back as the first gala.

“If as an educator, student, parent, grandparent, patron these have made you smile, brought you joy, or left you with a warm memory, the GMEF has met its goal,” Phillips said at the final gala. “The grants, scholarship and roses will continue until the GMEF funding is depleted. As for me, as the executive producer of the annual gala it’s never easy to say goodbye; however, this is my final gala. Thank you.”

Max Bowen can be reached at 413-930-4074 or at