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State and local officials gathered in force Friday to honor Just-A-Start founder Gordon Gottsche

State and local officials gathered in force Friday to honor Just-A-Start founder Gordon Gottsche (wearing a vest and standing second from the right in the front row). (Photos: Abra Mason) 

the Gordon N. Gottsche Education Center

Just-A-Start dedicated the Gordon N. Gottsche Education Center on Friday at 1175 Cambridge St.

From Just-A-Start, Nov. 18: It was a who’s who of people who love Cambridge: state senators and representatives past and present, city councillors and School Committee members, dignitaries from the city’s corporate and educational institutions, neighbors and youth.

All came together Friday to recognize Gordon Gottsche, the man who founded Just-A-Start and, through his passion and perseverance, built the small nonprofit into a major player in creating opportunity, strengthening community and improving the lives of low- to moderate-income families of Cambridge.

“Gordon went about not just fixing buildings, but changing lives,” said state Sen. Sal DiDomenico. “Gordon, I hope you realize the impact you’ve had on so many people. I hope you do, but I don’t think you do.”

Gottsche, who retired in 2013, started Just-A-Start in 1968. Then, it was a small, grassroots program helping at-risk youths through small projects such as cleaning up playgrounds and parks or basic housing rehabilitation work. Through Gottsche’s stewardship, Just-A-Start has become a dynamic and successful multi-service agency focused on issues important to low- and moderate-income families: affordable housing, community engagement, workforce development and educational initiatives.

“Gordon embodies all of the characteristics of a really great community development professional,” said Evangeline “Van” Spanos, a 45-year worker for Just-A-Start who retired last summer. “Vision, creativity and dedication made JAS what it is today.”

More than 100 people came to the ceremony for renaming Just-A-Start’s education center at 1175 Cambridge St., near Inman Square, as the Gordon N. Gottsche Education Center, a testament to the number of people Gottsche’s work affected.

“What Gordon has done over these past 40 years is remarkable,” said JAS’s executive director, Deborah Ruhe. “It’s up to us now to not just commemorate what he’s done, but to preserve it and ensure we continue to build on his success.”

Dignitaries read proclamations from the state house and city hall.

“He has given so much to our community over the years,” state Rep. Tim Toomey said. “Gordon was always fighting for the right thing to do, and he didn’t care who he offended or what he said. We owe such a debt of gratitude to Gordon Gottsche, we could name the city of Cambridge after you.”

“Gordon has left quite a legacy,” Mayor David Maher said.

Victor Santos, a graduate of Just-A-Start’s YouthBuild program, said he is eternally grateful for what Gordon started all those years ago. “This community means a lot to me. This is not just a building, this is a home … You started this and I’m proud to help carry on your legacy.”