AYER — Thirty-nine years ago, Janis Bresnahan was born to Sally and Joe Bresnahan. She was their first child and they approached very close friend Dick Rakip to be her godfather.
“I was so honored. Of course I said yes and I couldn’t have been happier,” said Rakip. Over the years, Rakip fondly remembers Janis as being an “incredibly sweet girl” and having “lovely manners”. When Janis graduated from Ayer High School in 1989, Rakip, who himself graduated from the school in 1949, was there beaming with pride.
“I was not surprised that she wanted to go into education when she went to college. She was such a giving young woman. She always wanted to help others. I knew she was going to make a difference,” said Rakip.
Tragically, in 1999 Bresnahan was involved in a fatal accident in Charlestown and the entire Ayer community, including Rakip, were devastated by the news.
“It was just terrible,” he said. Five years after Bresnahan’s death, her family started planning a way to remember her in a meaningful way. She was an avid outdoor enthusiast and an educator who started working with children in high school at Ayer Kiddie Depot. Her family decided a road race for education would be a fitting tribute to her, and so the Janis Bresnahan Run for Education was born.
This year marks the sixth run that annually occurs around her birthday on May 15, and it raises money through sponsors, registrations, and donations. The proceeds from this event, over $150,000 to date, benefit the Ayer Education Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission it is to augment the educational excellence in the Ayer Public Schools.
One of those generous sponsors from the run is Rakip.
“Family is very important to me and I am proud to be able to help,” he said.
This year Rakip donated $15,000, the largest individual gift the run and the foundation have received to date, in honor of Bresnahan and his own mother, Annie, who passed away in 1963.
“They were both lovely women,” he said. Annie Rakip had 12 children.
“All she did was think about her children and what was best for them,” Rakip said. “She was an angel in life and she is an angel still.”
Rakip, who has one son in South Carolina and two grandchildren, thinks the run has been wonderful to remember Bresnahan and also is good for the community. “Our future is the children and if I can help just one child through my donations I am happy,” he said. “I have been lucky to have done well in life and I want to be able to help where I can.”
Rakip started a contracting business in 1953 and then opened a restaurant just off of the Ayer rotary. In 1971, he turned the eatery into a package store, The Jack O’Lantern, which is still in existence today under different ownership. Rakip retired in 1982 after a heart attack, but misses working and now keeps busy with family and doing some light gardening and repairs around the house.
“I like to stay active,” he said.
In the sunroom at Rakip’s house, there is a large framed map on the wall with pins marking all of the places he has visited with his partner of 39 years, Barbara Alderman.
“I think my favorite trip was an African safari we went on. When asked why he has stayed in Ayer all these years, especially after traveling and seeing most of the world, he said, “It’s a good town with good people.”
Well, the good people of Ayer, especially the children, will be benefiting greatly from Rakip’s generosity.
“I am so please about that,” said Rakip. “The kids are our future. To be able to help children, and do it in my mother and Janis’ names makes me very happy. I loved them both very much.”
“Love may only be a four letter word, but it means everything,” he said.