If you’ve driven through Westfield over the last year, you have most certainly seen the amazingly constructed 350th Birthday Cake standing proudly in the town green. Recently, I had the chance to sit down with the man responsible for the cake—and everything else 350th-birthday-related—Harry Rock. For those who know Harry, you know that he is passionate, among other things, about the community he calls home. For those who don’t, he is the former executive director of the Westfield YMCA and retired director of YMCA Professional Studies at Springfield College.
Can you tell us about your early career and life?
I am from Westfield, New Jersey, coincidentally enough. I was a teacher, and I was always very involved in the YMCA summer camps. In my late 20s, I was recruited to the YMCA where I helped grow and build organizations in Connecticut and New Jersey. Serving a purpose, having a mission, helping the community—that always made sense to me. The Y is greater than one’s community. It’s nationwide. It’s worldwide.
What brought you to Westfield?
In 1991, I was offered the chance to take on the executive director role at the Westfield YMCA. I accepted, and my wife and I have called Westfield home ever since. I was in that position for 26 years, and I am very proud of the success the YMCA experienced during my tenure. In 2007, I transitioned to my role at Springfield College, where I helped train and prepare men and women to succeed in their YMCA careers. I retired a few years ago, and I have kept busy traveling with my wife and serving on local boards.
Among your Westfield initiatives, your most recent has been as chairman of Westfield’s 350th. Can you share your experience?
When I was approached by Mayor Sullivan to chair Westfield’s 350th, I felt that it was time to give back to Westfield. Running this organization was very similar to running the YMCA, except that there was no building and no payroll. It was about communicating a vision and creating in everyone’s mind a dream of what this celebration could be. My goal was to create civic pride and engagement in Westfield’s future success.
How do you hope this civic pride shapes Westfield?
This is a great community for families. I want this to be a city that is diverse, accepting and embracing of all members. We have a moral obligation to be the best that we can be and, in so doing, create a welcoming and flourishing society.
I have to ask: Where’s the cake?
The cake traveled to its next 350th celebration, in Hatfield, Massachusetts. We hope it continues to be passed along year after year.
"Serving a purpose, having a mission, helping the community—that always made sense to me."