CITIZEN OF THE MONTH – SELECTED BY COUNCIL MEMBER ANN HARKEY: Council Member Ann Harkey selected the Citizen of the Month for April 2019.
Council Member Harkey advised that, to start the story, about Francesca Hagarty, we must travel south past Florida, past the Bahamas to a small island called Puerto Rico. Francesca was born there to her mother of American decent named Judy, and her father of Spanish decent named Elio. Both English and Spanish were spoken in the home, so Francesca became bilingual.
Council Member Harkey reported that, from an early age, Francesca attended Project Christmas with her father as he volunteered in their hometown. She watched and listened intently as her father assisted others in filling out their applications for assistance. Francesca then helped her father distribute toys to these families during the Christmas season. As Francesca grew older, and watched this selfless act demonstrated by her father, she began to realize that this too would be her calling in life. The passing on of her father’s legacy was hers to give.
Council Member Harkey stated that, as Francesca reached the age of eighteen, she realized that life in Puerto Rico was rough and, looking for a better life, she applied and was accepted to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. According to Francesca, “I was a wallflower, shy, and clingy to my mother. So she and I boarded an airplane in Puerto Rico and made the journey to Hickory, North Carolina.” Upon arrival, Francesca and her mother rented a car and made the drive to the campus of Appalachian State. Francesca got settled in her dorm and kissed her mother good-bye. Francesca adds, “Not knowing anyone was scary!” Francesca found the Catholic Campus Ministry, and her words were, “A life-saver!” The ministry became in her words, “Family away from family!”
Council Member Harkey said that, as Francesca worked toward a teaching degree with minors in math and Spanish, she knew that she wanted to stay in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In her own words, “The North Carolina mountains remind me of Puerto Rico.” McDowell County Schools offered Francesca a job first and she took it. She was asked to teach Spanish to Kindergartners attending West Marion Elementary School, Marion Elementary School and Eastfield Global Magnet School.
Council Member Harkey advised that, in 1990, she was teaching Kindergarten at Marion Elementary and remembers clearly Francesca coming into her classroom twice a week and captivating the children with her new language. “Their minds were like sponges,” says Francesca. Council Member Harkey reported that she vividly recalls Francesca arriving in my classroom one day carrying a suitcase. All the five year olds were spellbound to see what she had inside! Her Spanish lesson for the day was composed of opening the suitcase and pulling out familiar clothing. She used everyday clothing to teach Spanish.
Council Member Harkey stated that Francesca met Kevin Hagarty, who was also teaching in the school system, and they married soon afterwards. By now, Francesca felt right at home in Marion, her job and her church.
Council Member Harkey said that, according to Francesca, God sent she and Kevin three wonderful, smart, and well behaved children: Matthew, who recently graduated from Notre Dame University, Phillip, who attends N.C. State University, and Ashleigh, who is pursuing a career path in art. Francesca gave up her teaching career to be a stay at home mom when Matthew was born. Very soon, Kevin and Francesca had three children at home under the age of five.
Council Member Harkey advised that Francesca still had a heart for reaching out and helping others, so she began teaching a nighttime class in English as a Second Language at McDowell Tech. As she met and became friends with the adults she was helping to learn English, some would ask, “Will you go to court with me and interpret? Will you go to the Social Security office with me and interpret?” Francesca would not ask for payment of her services for interpreting, nor would she ask for money for gas for her car. After Francesca interpreted for her friends, they would say to her, “Comprate una soda,” which means, “buy yourself a soda.” Now, Francesca was paying it forward as she had seen her father do in Puerto Rico. In addition to Francesca paying it forward, her legacy lives on in Matthew, Phillip, and Ashleigh. Francesca states that “My kids have big hearts and want to help others.”
Council Member Harkey reported that Francesca now works full time at the WIC office, which is a Federally funded program helping women, infants, and children receive supplemental food. She continues to fill out paperwork and interpret for her friends in need. Council Member Harkey stated that she enjoyed listening to Francesca tell her a story about an older couple who brings all of their mail to her monthly. Francesca sorts and goes through every piece with them, advising them on what to keep and what to throw away.
Council Member Harkey said that, in 2009, the doors opened in our community for the establishment of the Centro Unido Latina-Americano (CULA) organization. Francesca began volunteering with CULA, becoming the Treasurer, and is now the President. This forum’s vision is “Building bridges to a healthier and more united community.” The goals of this forum are to help anyone, whether English or Spanish speaking, to understand the system of paying their bills and with acquiring insurance for farm and migrant workers. The forum also offers diabetic classes. In the last two years, Francesca has helped organize and present the Dia de los Muertos Festival, also known as the Day of the Dead, in Downtown Marion. Council Member Harkey urged everyone to mark their calendars for this great event in November.
Council Member Harkey advised that Francesca is very active in the West Marion Community Forum and Marion East Community Forum where she is involved in the planning of the Recreational Complex on Baldwin Avenue. According to Francesca, “I dream of people that I have helped paying it forward and helping others.”
Council Member Harkey reported that, in conclusion Francesca states, “The most important thing in my life is GOD!! I do EVERYTHING for the glory of God. I do not do it for myself or to boast on what I do. I try to be humble and just do what I do without telling people of what I do. But I do it for the glory of God. He is my inspiration and my reason for all I do. I give Him the credit for knowing a second language and for being able to use it for helping others. He brought me to McDowell and put me where I am for a reason. He brought me to Kevin knowing he would support my efforts and has given me three loving healthy children. God has always been a vital part of my life and always will be.”
Mayor Little, Council Members, family and friends all shared kind words about Francesca Hagarty and congratulated her on being selected as Citizen of the Month.