The town that runs on Wheaties

Alumnae lead the way in Boston suburb

You might say that Cohasset, Massachusetts, has it all: stunning ocean views, gracious old homes, a small-town vibe, and a location just 22 miles from Boston. It also lays claim to another remarkable asset: a dozen Wheaton graduates who live or work there, making vital contributions to the community.

In a town of just over 7,500 residents, a small group of people can make a difference, and these Wheaton graduates are doing just that. They include Barbara Bikofsky Cataldo ’79, superintendent of schools; Diane Quinn Kennedy ’86, a town selectman; and a host of others engaged in education, the arts and local business.

Some of these Wheaton dynamos knew each other in college, but most did not; their class years range from 1976 to 1991. In Cohasset, they form a loose but loyal network.

“I never imagined I would be working in a town with so many Wheaties,” says Peg Browne Jordan ’84, who teaches Spanish and heads the foreign languages department at Cohasset High School. Jordan has taught three children of fellow alums, and she says she is proud to have a fellow Wheaton graduate as superintendent.

Finding the path

Superintendent Barbara Bikofsky Cataldo ’79 with Cohasset High School seniors. She visits the schools frequently and is well known to students and faculty.
Superintendent Barbara Bikofsky Cataldo ’79 with Cohasset High School seniors. She visits the schools frequently and is well known to students and faculty.

Barbara Cataldo started her career in special education, became a reading specialist, and taught everything from K–1 to high school. Eventually she moved into administrative positions in Cambridge and Arlington, then became assistant superintendent in Milford before moving to the top job in Cohasset in 2011.

Cataldo’s fellow alums sing her praises. “Barbara is a very collaborative person, and since she’s been here, the communication between town organizations and the schools has just flourished,” says Susan Salvadore Franklin ’84, mother of three and an active school supporter. “I think the town’s general confidence in our school system has really increased.”

Cataldo is not one to just stay in the central office. She visits the schools regularly and knows most everyone—teachers, students and parents. In her first two years on the job, she focused on upgrading technology. “When I arrived, we didn’t even have wireless in the district,” she says. “Now we do—and all of our classrooms and labs are 21st century facilities.”

At Wheaton, Cataldo developed a powerful belief in herself.

“Wheaton instilled in me the sense that I could find the path myself if it wasn’t there. And when I put something out front, which was working with kids and making sure they could read, I became determined to have that be my path.”

That sense of determination was nurtured at Wheaton, but it sprouted years earlier, when Cataldo was in sixth grade. She had struggled in school as a nonreader, thinking she wasn’t smart. “One day on the playground,” she says, “everybody was talking about what they wanted to do. And I said, ‘I want to be a reading teacher when I grow up.’ I couldn’t even read! And I thought, this is what I need to be, because I don’t want other kids to go through what I’m going through.”

It wasn’t until her sophomore year at Wheaton that Cataldo underwent testing that revealed she was severely dyslexic. After two years of tutoring, she came into her own, graduating with a degree in art history and later earning a master’s degree in reading from Harvard. Now she’s working on her doctoral dissertation and “reading every childhood book I never got the chance to read as a child.”

‘We could do anything’

Pictured from left to right: Barbara Bikofsky Cataldo ’79, Susan Salvadore Franklin ’84, Diane Quinn Kennedy ’86, Peg Browne Jordan ’84, Ann Ferreira Kelly ’79, Kathleen Walsh Oliver ’91 and Maryann O’Neil Englander ’80 (in front, right)
Pictured from left to right: Barbara Bikofsky Cataldo ’79, Susan Salvadore Franklin ’84, Diane Quinn Kennedy ’86, Peg Browne Jordan ’84, Ann Ferreira Kelly ’79, Kathleen Walsh Oliver ’91 and Maryann O’Neil Englander ’80 (in front, right)

Like Cataldo, Diane Kennedy traces her leadership skills back to her education. “Wheaton is a place where you can design your own success,” she says. “You can make it whatever you want to make it. Our relationships with the professors were like partnerships—they treated us as equals. My friends and I left there thinking we could do anything in the world.”

One thing Kennedy did when she was still at Wheaton was find herself an internship that dovetailed with her passion for the arts. She had read in the Boston Globe that a major performing arts venue was opening in nearby Mansfield, and that it would have an educational component housed at Wheaton. She wrote to the Great Woods Performing Arts Center and offered her assistance during January break.

“And they hired me,” she says. “They needed me. The education staff consisted of two people in a little trailer office. I worked for them in the second half of my senior year. And I’ve been doing that—or something similar—ever since.”

Kennedy ended up working for Great Woods (now the Xfinity Center) for five years, doing sales and marketing for the in-residence Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. In 1989 she married Patrick Kennedy—in Wheaton’s Cole Memorial Chapel—and later leveraged her work experience into jobs at Dartmouth College’s arts center and the New Jersey State Arts Council, followed by a fellowship with the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C., as she and her attorney husband moved from place to place. The couple had a son and a daughter.

“Then in 1999 we landed here in Cohasset, and there was an arts center, and I said, ‘I guess I have to work there,’” Kennedy says. She worked for the South Shore Art Center for 12 years, managing its annual festival and serving as assistant director. Now she is the executive director of the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, a regional ensemble based on the South Shore.

As her children moved through the Cohasset schools, Kennedy became active via the Parent School Organization (Cohasset’s version of the PTA) and the school council. Then, following a failed Proposition 2½ override vote in 2006, a group of parents rallied to rejuvenate the dormant Cohasset Education Foundation (CEF) and raise money for the schools.

Several Wheaton alums got involved. Maryann O’Neil Englander ’80 was there at the inception. She helped with CEF fundraisers, and her husband joined the board. (A studio art major at Wheaton, Englander is an artisanal jeweler who sells her work in Cohasset, Wellesley and Boston.)

Englander’s neighbor Susan Franklin ’84 joined the CEF board in 2008, and Kennedy signed on the following year.

“It was the most functional committee or board I’ve ever worked with,” Kennedy says, “and I thought, this is how things should get done.”

Since its inception, the foundation has raised more than $1 million for the Cohasset schools, Englander reports, funding school-prioritized resources such as technology equipment, Virtual High School courses, and teacher training. Its endowment stands at nearly $700,000. The group’s biggest project so far has been the funding of a state-of-the-art language lab for the middle and high schools. Spanish teacher Peg Jordan ’84 played key roles in writing the grant proposal and integrating the lab into the curriculum.

Buoyed by the foundation’s success, Diane Kennedy wanted to do more. She wanted to see an education advocate on the board of selectmen, “because that ultimately is where the bigger decisions are made that impact the decisions at the school level,” she says. “And I’d say, Go ask your friends. Find somebody.”

That somebody turned out to be Kennedy herself. In 2011, another group of residents was trying to recruit what they called “somebody reasonable” to run for selectman, and Kennedy brought her husband to one of their meetings, hoping to interest him. “Well, by the end of the meeting, my name was on the list,” says Kennedy. “I tell people I ran on the ‘reasonable platform.’”

The descriptor is apropos, for Kennedy is not agenda-driven. “If I have one talent, it’s diplomacy. I like convening people. The minute I hear there’s an opening on a committee, I go out and start looking for people. I like to get 20,000 feet up and try to figure out how all the pieces can work, and move issues forward. I want the system to work.”

Serving the town

Kennedy recruited Susan Hoadley ’85, another Cohasset resident, to serve on the town’s Community Preservation Committee (CPC). Hoadley, an architect with a practice in Cohasset village, is now the committee’s vice chair.

An art history major at Wheaton, Hoadley says her education prepared her well for handling “all of the balls that I keep in the air as an architect. My liberal arts experience at Wheaton taught me to love presenting to groups, to work collaboratively and to have the courage to put ideas out there.”

After graduation, Hoadley earned a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and another in architectural theory from Harvard, yet, she says, “My Wheaton professors were the ones who helped me learn how to be observant and think analytically.”

She worked at the renowned Boston firm Shepley Bulfinch for 17 years, then left to open her own company, Hoadley Martinez Architects, with partner Corina Martinez. Recently, the team designed, pro bono, new quarters for the Cohasset Sailing Club, a 50-year-old nonprofit open to all community members. The new clubhouse, funded by a CPC grant and grassroots fundraising, is now under construction.

Many talents

Susan Franklin ’84

Hoadley knew Susan Franklin at Wheaton, and when they see each other around town they often reminisce about college days.

As befits her liberal arts background, Franklin is a woman with many interests—and many talents. At Wheaton she played basketball and studied biochemistry and math, but fell in love with art history during her senior year. After graduation she backpacked around Europe. “I wanted to see all the things I’d studied,” she says.

Upon returning to the States, she pondered several options, including medical school or graduate study in art history. Instead, she embarked on what turned out to be a highly successful career in corporate finance at an entrepreneurial leasing company.

In 1998 she moved to Cohasset with her husband and two young daughters. Life was busy. “It was a juggling act,” she says. “I was commuting every day into the city, and traveling often between Boston and San Francisco. But I loved what I was doing.”

That same year she struck out on her own and raised $5 million in venture capital to develop an online tool for managing commercial lease portfolios. The problem was, the Internet hadn’t come of age.

“Nobody even knew what it was,” Franklin says. “People were just figuring out email.”

Her new company landed some big accounts, but “people still didn’t get it. We were too early to the party.”

So, instead of going for a second round of venture capital, Franklin decided to become an independent consultant on corporate leases and financial instruments. In 2002 she had a third child, a son, and moved her business to Cohasset. “But I was still traveling a lot,” she says, “and I didn’t want to miss my little boy growing up.”

She decided to stop working full time and try something new. She ended up opening a Del’s Lemonade franchise in Cohasset, a summer business that opened up time for other pursuits during the school year. In 2008 she joined the board of the Cohasset Education Foundation and served for six years. Applying her math and tech savvy, she created and managed the foundation’s database, developed a new website, introduced email marketing and served as treasurer.

Franklin has finished her term with the CEF and now serves as its bookkeeper. She’s working toward certification as a yoga instructor and looking for a new community leadership opportunity.

“I have to make a decision,” she says. “There are a couple of organizations in town that interest me—and Diane is always trying to get me to try town government, so we’ll see.”

Whatever comes next for Franklin and her fellow South Shore alumnae, one thing is for sure: Cohasset is one lucky town.

Photos by David Marshall

More Cohasset alums

Susan Schick Galligan ’76

Ocean rower, former board member of the Cohasset Maritime Institute, and former  Parent School Organization president; now a real estate professional in New York who spends weekends in Cohasset.

Ann Ferreira Kelly ’79

Former PSO member and volunteer for the Social Service League of Cohasset’s benefit thrift shop and Meals on Wheels program; hosted a house party to introduce Maryann Englander’s jewelry to the community.

Kathleen Walsh Oliver ’91 

Lifetime Cohasset resident and mother of four; works full time for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Mary Shoffner Sullivan ’80 

Independent personal trainer and volunteer for the Social Service League of Cohasset.