GARDNER – Those that have seen firsthand the efforts and impact of Daniel M. Asquino know his upcoming retirement from the Mount will close a chapter of success that is rare to come by.
“President Asquino was always daring. He was not afraid to go where others were too timid to go,” said friend and retired state Sen. Stephen Brewer, D-Barre. “In his 30 years at the Mount he’s probably done 60 years of work.”
“I’ve known Dan a very long time,” said Mayor Mark Hawke, a 1993 Mount grad. “It’s amazing to see the growth of the college and what’s more amazing is he’s been able to keep the college ahead of the curve. Those are some big shoes (to fill).”
Perhaps the endeavor taken on under Asquino with the largest reach is focusing beyond the classroom.
Through the creation of the Center for Civic Learning and Community Engagement, students give back as part of the curriculum.
During the last academic year, students spent 16,380 hours working on service projects. The school works with organizations like the United Way of North Central Massachusetts to participate in events such as food packaging, which fill a community need.
“We want our students to be engaged, we want them to give back,” said Asquino.
“That’s what makes a democracy spin … paying it forward.”
Brewer said civic learning has become embedded in the curriculum for the state Board of Higher Education, thanks in large part to Asquino’s influence.
Asquino has extended to students and staff the values he lives himself.
Over the years he has served as or is still serving as a trustee or Board of Directors member for Heywood Hospital, GFA Federal Credit Union, United Way, Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, and local business Chambers including the Greater Gardner Chamber of Commerce.
The Boys & Girls Club started running programs in Gardner last year, under its parent club in Fitchburg and Leominster, and Asquino was one of the key organizers.
The club operates out of Gardner High School and the hope is that it can one day have its own building. A former Boys Club member as a child, the cause is near and dear to Asquino.
“He really believes in the club. He’s our poster child, gone from club member to president of a college,” said Fitchburg and Leominster club Executive Director Donata Martin.
Another cause near and dear to Asquino is giving veterans the tools to succeed as they transition back to civilian life.
He spent four years in the Navy in the ’60s. For the past several years, the Mount has been running its Veterans Student Success Center after receiving grant funding. Staff members guide veterans through the enrollment process, help connect them to eligible benefits and provide study space.
The school also donated 10 acres of campus land to the Northeast Veteran Training and Rehabilitation Center, which provides housing to 20 veterans and their families and is run by the nonprofit Veteran Homestead.
The center and school have an agreement where veterans and their spouses can attend the Mount free of tuition and fees.
The gym and other facilities can also be used at no cost.
“We have already graduated several people from the Mount. It is an exceptional and unusual relationship. I don’t know if there is any other school in the country that has this set-up,” said Veteran Homestead founder and CEO Leslie Lightfoot.
She said Asquino is the “perfect example of what a vet should be. …He has always said that it is just the right thing to do. I can’t say enough about the guy. I don’t want him to retire.”
By heeding the advice of environmental advocates in the state, and looking to save the college money, Asquino’s tenure will also be known for advancements in green energy, something he says he cannot take credit for.
Nevertheless, several years ago the Mount installed wind turbines that are now a net producer of electricity, meaning they generate beyond what the school uses.
Even before that, in the ’80s, the school retrofitted its facilities to use biomass energy, which is the environmentally safe burning of wood chips.
Asquino is still not done just yet trying to improve the school. The finishing touches are being done to a new science, technology, engineering and mathematics building that will be opening to students within a few weeks.
He said a new campus center is in the design phase and in the spring a $5 million repaving of parking lots and roadways will commence.
He also mentioned pursuing a new building for the automotive technology program. He said he wants to make sure “we turn over a strong institution” to his successor.
A conversation with Asquino reveals he is not a man that thinks much, if at all, about legacy – he simply wants people to think that he did his best during his tenure.
“I’d like people to understand community college really is a viable option,” he said. The man’s friends and colleagues are more fitted to speak on behalf of his character.
“He’s one of the finer people I’ve ever known in my life,” said Brewer.
“He really has put the word ‘community’ into community college.”
Andrew Mansfield, The Gardner News, Sept. 10, 2016