Peg and Gerard Sweeney in the middle.
The 1956-57 Celtics.

                                 Peg Sweeney, the Larches, and Bill Russell

Peg Sweeney’s work ethic, high level of energy, organization skills, and efficiency were qualities that equipped her to have one of the most important jobs at Draper Corporation in the 1950’s, but it was her qualities of warmth and sensitivity that made her such an effective leader. She was director of food services for the Larches, the executive mansion of the company, and for the Draper factory, which employed two thousand plus workers, back in the days when the Hopedale company was the largest manufacturer of automatic cotton looms in the world. With the scope and flexibility of her talents and personality, Peg was comfortable working with wealthy executives, as well as workers and customers in the foundry at the pushcart food wagon.

October 16, 1957 was a special evening in Hopedale . The Boston Celtics had come to town. An intra-squad exhibition basketball game was held at the Draper Gym. Five hundred fans enjoyed the passing wizardry  of Bob Cousy, the shooting of Tommy Heinson, and the rebounding of Jim Luscatoff. After the game, members of the team were guests for a luncheon at the Larches. It was a very entertaining evening!

The honor of hosting the Celtics came about in an interesting way. The owner of the Celtics was Walter Brown, a resident of Hopkinton, who had a summer home in North Falmouth at New Silver Beach. His summer neighbors included Dr. John and Florence Cicchetti and Gerard and Peg Sweeney. It was Dr. Cicchetti who made arrangements with Brown to bring his team to Hopedale. It served as a pre-season promotional  appearance for his players, and it gave Hopedale residents an exciting opportunity to visit their two year old gym.

The post game luncheon at the Larches was hosted by Draper executives. After a time of social mingling, the players and their wives began to be seated. It was at this time that the director of food operations was momentarily startled. One of the players was missing !! Without saying a word that might be a cause for alarm, she quietly went looking for him. Within a few minutes, she found him outside near the entrance. She spoke to him softly and assured him that he was most welcome. She took him by the hand and escorted him to the doorway and then discretely walked him to his seat. No one else was aware that the shy twenty-three year old rookie would have preferred to be on a gymnasium floor rather than being surrounded by the well-meaning, adoring executives. The remainder of the evening went very well.

It was Peg Sweeney’s kindness and sensitivity that averted a potentially awkward situation.  Draper Corporation was very fortunate to have such a multi-talented high-level employee. She retired from her job at some time before her son Jay was born in 1958. As for the player, like Peg, he also excelled at his job. Before joining the Celtics, he led his college basketball team to a national title and led the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal. As a professional, he led the Celtics to eleven NBA championships in thirteen years. His statue is being unveiled today (11-1-2013) at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Peg had  escorted to his seat Bill Russell, the greatest basketball player who ever lived.

(Information for this article was obtained from the Milford Daily News, Oct. 17, 1957 and from Peg, my friend and neighbor, after mentioning to her a few years ago, that I was in attendance at the game that night. Peg passed away earlier this year.)

Richard Grady
October 22, 2013

         A Tribute to Gerard and Peg Sweeney        The Boston Celtics at the Draper Gym  

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Bill Russell at the statue unveiling ceremony.

Note: Russell’s first year with the Celtics was in the 1956-57 season. He didn’t play in Hopedale that year because that event was during the pre-season and Russell was on the U.S. Olympic team at that time. He joined the Celtics after his time as captain of the Olympic team.