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The 10 Coolest People in Worcester: Part 1

Thursday, July 26, 2012


In a city with a population of more than 180,000, narrowing things down to just the 10 coolest people can be quite a challenge.

At GoLocalWorcester we did our best to feature the 10 men and women we thought best represented the city's talented, diverse and passionate citizens. Our criteria required that each "cool" person have the combined vision and proven drive to improve Worcester in various ways.

So now, without further ado, we reveal the first half of The 10 Coolest People in Worcester.

Miya Hagberg, Bar Manager, Palladium

If you’re a musician or music fan in Worcester, chances are you know Miya Hagberg. The stunning blonde bar manager recently moved to Boston to complete her degree in Business Management at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and commutes to Worcester to work.

“The energy, excitement and unity that music brings attracted me to work in a live music environment and the ability to interact with people of all ages from different cultures attracted me to work as a bartender,” she says.

Miya was born in Auburn and was drawn to live music shows and open mic nights. She comes from a music family; Her dad was a trombonist for the Classic Swing Big Band and her aunt was the lead singer.
She eventually landed a job as a barista at a local club, and has become ingrained in Worcester’s arts community.

At the Palladium, Miya not only leads a team of bar men and women, she has become involved in supporting local artists and providing them with on-going support thanks to “the Palladium Upstairs”, which promotes local bands and a program called Break Thru Music founded by Palladium General Manager, Chris Besaw.

She notes, “We have the tools to help new artists and bands reach their full potential and we do this by encouraging them to work hard, support their peers, and keep an open-mind. By creating a supportive communal atmosphere, new doors and opportunities open and success is found. In addition, people are willing to work hard to protect their scene from anything that could be detrimental to their community, and the result is a scene where all dynamics continually prosper.”

Miya also co-founded Concerts4Charity, Inc. (C4C), a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization that helps youth recognize their own potential and engages them in philanthropy and the resolutions to community issues through sports & the arts.

As for her future, Miya will continue to promote musicians locally and use her skill sets to support music and the arts in and around Worcester. She encourages local bands to check out Break Thru Music, “because you never know what the future may bring.”

David LeBoeuf, Executive Director, Initiative for Engaged Citizenship, student, Harvard University

His friends say he’s LeBoeufable, and after speaking with 23 year old David LeBoeuf of Worcester for a few moments, you might agree.

The 23 year old Harvard University student simply loves his hometown of Worcester, and has decided to spend his life improving the community by teaching citizens the power of voting. In 2009, he founded a group that later became the Initiative for Engaged Citizenship to inspire residents to get out the vote.

He says, “Our mission is to really illustrate the connection between civic empowerment and community development. Voting is not about the politicians on the ballot but a better life for you and your community.”

David’s task is not small. He educates voters in precincts with low voter turnout through workshops and other grassroots efforts including door to door outreach and phone banks among other initiatives.

“Right now we are in the process of a media campaign to change the conversation about voting- showing that it is less about politics and more about community. Also in the works is a plan to really bring civic activism back to the high schools,” he explains.

The community organizer credits much of his success to South High Community School where he saw first-hand the discrimination he and his fellow classmates faced for attending the inner-city institution.

“Despite all of the wonderful things going on there and the absolutely amazing education I received, people would still comment to me and my friends how we went to the ‘ghetto school.’ I got frustrated at first but realized that if you want to stop the perpetuation of injustice, you can’t be a bystander. My high school may not have had walls but that means we had no limits."

David continued his education at Clark University and eventually transferred to Harvard where he was one of 12 students accepted around the world after closing the transfer program down for two years. Though his achievements are endless, one of his proudest honors was being awarded one of the inaugural Presidential Public Service Fellowships to continue his mission.

He states of his inspiration, “What really keeps me going and fuels my drive is when someone tells me that there is only one way of doing things or that something can’t be changed. I never accept that an idea can be shot down before it’s even fully developed… I’m someone, who, if they get into something, is in it for the long haul.”

Maria Ferrante, Soprano

As beautiful sounding as she is beautiful inside and out, Operatic Soprano, Maria Ferrante shares her artistic talents with the community she has called home her entire life.

Born in Worcester and raised in Shrewsbury, Maria didn’t realize her talents until singing in a vocal class in college at Temple University in Pennsylvania. There, she performed a German piece by Robert Schumann titled “Ich grolle nicht”, (I’ll Not Complain), which fittingly parallels her contentment in choosing to pursue music full time.

Maria experienced success early on, winning two prestigious vocal competitions (National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and the Mario Lanza Vocal Competition). Since then, she has been featured as a solo recitalist in the Worcester International Concert Series, performed in 23 major operatic roles, including the role of Cho-Cho San in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and has performed and recorded internationally.

“What a ride it has been!” she exclaims.

Maria appreciates her hometown for its close proximity to places she loves to sing, including New York and Boston, as well as its rich history and museums. The vocalist recently highlighted the sensational collection of American music at Worcester’s American Antiquarian Society by compiling a CD (Best Kept Secrets) of some selections there. She collaborated with well-known pianist Lincoln Mayorga and eventually toured the United States with those songs.

She humorously notes of the experience, “I went antiquing and came out with a great show”.

One of Maria’s biggest accomplishments is founding vocal programs at local universities which have showcased students’ abilities to sing at various venues like the world renowned Worcester Art Museum. Maria has also held summer seminars for vocal enthusiasts and plans to do more as soon as her schedule permits.

In the meantime, Maria will be tackling a heavy schedule this fall which will include performances at the Great Waters Music Festival where she’ll sing the entire Mozart Exultate, Jubilate, and at Sander’s Theatre at Harvard University with the IgNobel Prize Ceremony. She’ll also be singing for Worcester area school children at Mechanics Hall, and will perform an Italian program with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra appearing with The Boston Civic Symphony, and at Mechanics Hall for Handel's Messiah in December.

Dawn Tasillo, Assistant Professor OB GYN, OB/GYN Director, UMass Memorial Medical Center

When Dawn Tasillo, Assistant Professor OB GYN and OB/GYN Clerkship Director at UMass Memorial Medical Center addressed the Young Professional Women’s Association of Worcester in November, her 20 minute lecture turned into a two hour discussion. That’s because in addition to her keen intellect, Dawn is both captivating and relatable.

“I am a good communicator, I make people comfortable, can make them laugh, and I am good at reading people…which helps me make and keep connections to a wide variety of people.”

At 38, this New York City native has an impressive resume. She graduated medical school at the State University of New York, and then landed at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester where she completed her residency and now works as an assistant professor and OB/GYN.

She says, “I like OB/GYN because I enjoy helping patients through a normal, exciting part of life (childbirth) …it also involves being in the office and in surgery as well as labor and delivery which is a nice variety. (As for teaching), I get energized by the students as they ask questions and I see them evolve from college graduates to practicing physicians.”

As if bringing human beings into the world and mentoring future doctors isn’t enough, Dawn travels the globe to provide medical care to the underserved. She has embarked on medical missions five times with UMass students to the Dominican Republic where she gathered supplies and medications and performed surgeries including hysterectomies without charge. Dawn says the students are involved in the cases so it is also a teaching opportunity. UMass also has supported three trips to Kenya and two years ago Dawn spent a week performing cervical and breast screening exams in villages around Nairobi. Still, her humility shines through.

“I probably get more out of the experience than I contribute and lots of people do lots more,” she says.

Though this fun-loving, girl-next-door may sound too good to be true (the story behind her name is even cool as she was born on December 25th at 2am and was named Dawn Noel), Dawn finds pleasure in the simple things. She enjoys running local races; she recently completed the Worcester Firefighters 6K at Institute Park and the Canal Diggers 5K.

In addition to caring for women and teaching students locally, Dawn will be traveling to Chicago, Tuscany (for a cooking class) and to Portland, Seattle and Mt. St. Helen’s this fall.

Thomas Oliveri, owner, Wormtown Brewery

Some of the people on our Worcester’s Top 10 Coolest People list enjoy hanging out at Worcester’s Peppercorn's Grille and Tavern. That makes the next man on our list, Thomas Oliveri, pretty happy, because owns the establishment!

“We have a solid core of regular customers that have become very close friends by meeting at Peppercorns,” he says.

Thomas also owns Prezo Grille and Bar and Wormtown Brewery, Worcester’s first microbrewery in more than 50 years. The establishment has won 2 national medals including a Bronze at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2010 and a Silver at the World Beer Cup in 2012. While he is proud of those accolades, the people he wants to win over most are local beer drinkers.

“My favorite thing to do in Worcester is to try & get Wormtown Beer into every place that serves beer in the city,” says Thomas.

The restauranteur was born in Worcester and raised in Shrewsbury where he resides with his wife and three daughters. He attended St. John’s High School and went on to earn a business degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Thomas credits his success to the people he hires.

“I know how to surround myself with people that are as competent as me. I hire great people that can see my same vision & carry it through.”

Thomas feels Worcester is a great place for his brewery because it provides a unique offering to the city’s college students. He will expand Wormtown Brewery by the end of the year to create a destination that promises to “blow your mind.” He’s also opening a new restaurant in Wayland slated for a 2013 opening.

He says of this exciting time, “Everyday is a new adventure. When you think you have seen it all, something new comes along.”


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