Faces Of Falmouth

A radio personality. A farmer and a founder of the Falmouth Road Race. Award-winning scientists and a local bookstore owner. These are some of the individuals who’ve left a mark on the community and are featured in this issue’s “Faces of Falmouth.” While their stories are unique and wildly inspiring, they all share one common mission: to make their beloved Falmouth a better place.

BY RACHAEL DEVANEY • PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN CUTRONA

BILL ZAMMER The Entrepreneur

He moved to Cape Cod to retire, but in a twist, businessman Bill Zammer launched his first restaurant in Mashpee, instead. After opening the Popponesset Inn in 1988, 10 more ventures followed over the next 14 years, including Ballymeade Country Club, Flying Bridge Restaurant, Coonamessett Inn, Falmouth Hotel, Red Horse Inn, Cape Cod Catering and Pinehills Golf Course in Plymouth, to name a few.

With a spectrum of venues, Zammer says he felt like he had “finally made it” career-wise and began building a buzz around the Flying Bridge and Coonamessett Inn as prime wedding locations. With hundreds of weddings passing through the two locations, he says he felt “instantly gratified,” helping couples begin their lives together.

Zammer has a presence on a number of boards across the Cape including Cape Cod Health Care, Cape Cod Community College, and the Boys & Girls Club of Cape Cod among others. He says it is his duty as a community member to “give back.”

“I am very Cape-centric and my wife and I feel that it is our duty to help improve the community that we live in,” Zammer says. “I just love the community in general, and I feel like the whole upper Cape is home to a great group of people. It’s funny that when I think back, I had always wanted to be on Cape Cod to retire. But coming and being able to expand and be in business here, and now be so involved in the community—it is really everything I ever wanted.”


The Book worm CAROL CHITTENDEN

Carol Chittenden is a self-proclaimed “book woman,” whose love of reading extends from biographies to cereal boxes. The former owner of Eight Cousins bookstore on Main Street (which she sold this year), one-time librarian Chittenden and her store have been fixtures in the Falmouth community for nearly three decades. Among its numerous accolades, in 2009, Eight Cousins was recognized as the “Best Children’s Bookstore in New England” by New York Magazine. With 20,000 titles on its stock list, it is now the last standing privately owned bookstore in Falmouth, one of a small handful left on Cape Cod.

Eight Cousins has maintained a following—even in spite of big box stores and the evolution of reading tablets.  “No gadget will replace the sense of a sleepy child sitting in your lap as you turn the pages of a picture book,” Chittenden says. “There is that physical sense about reading that our customers still very much want and while we are aware that they use tablets, they still come into the store when they are ‘Kindled-out.’”

Chittenden says the store’s change of ownership was a long time coming. Though change is inevitable, she is confident that certain things will remain the same—like the store’s “Giving Tree,” which hosts 500 names of local children in the area who will receive donated gifts from customers, at a 15 percent discount from the store. “Eight Cousins has always been very connected to the community, which has always been important for our survival. I have always enjoyed that aspect and even after I retire, I plan to stay here,” Chittenden says.


MINDY TODD The Woman Behind the Mic  

Mindy Todd admits she “had the jitters,” before she hit the air as a disc jockey back in 1981.

But Todd found her voice soon enough. Now, with more than 30 years of television and radio under her belt, she is the managing editorial director for WCAI. On her award-winning show, “The Point,” she tackles a number of critical topics through the mic—from gardening and birding to politics, mental health issues, and even science and music shows.

At the start of her career, there were few opportunities for women in broadcasting. “You would often find women as sidekicks [on radio shows]. For a woman to have her own show was a big deal back then,” Todd explains.

If Todd has it her way, she says she will stay at WCAI for the remainder of her career. She will also continue to be involved with organizations including the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Sea Grant Marine Outreach Guidance Group, Marine Biological Laboratory’s Falmouth Forum Fundraising Committee, the Turkey Land Cove Foundation on Martha’s Vineyard and the The ARC of Cape Cod.

As for the future of “The Point, which she hosts and produces, Todd says the Cape community at large has so many interesting people and topics that she will “never run out of material.”

“I love it here and, whether it’s Woods Hole or Provincetown, this is a magical place and that is what keeps the material fresh,” she says. “Each Cape town has a different personality and charm. To be able to meet people and find out what they are interested in is the best part of my job.”


RON SMOLOWITZ Falmouth’s Farmer

When Ron Smolowitz was a boat captain at sea he had dreams about “becoming a farmer” after retirement. And that’s exactly what he did.

From a patch of land the former fisheries research expert bought in 1984, his Coonamessett Farm, a membership pick-your-own farm,  has grown into a year-round operation, with a greenhouse, a general store, a petting zoo, a Jamaican buffet and even an ice cream stand. With no formal farm training, Smolowitz admits he gained the bulk of his knowledge through “trial and error.” He grows vegetables, flowers and berries, houses livestock and raises turkeys for meat and chickens for eggs. There are alpacas and sheep for wool. “Now when you look out on the back deck, it looks like Tuscany,” says Smolowitz, a Falmouth resident since 1971.

In 2008, Smolowitz helped form the Coonamessett Farm Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to develop technology in support of farming and fishing communities that are environmentally sound, socially equitable, economically feasible, and compatible with a sustainable future. The farm itself is equipped with a photovoltaic array system, a wind turbine, and it composts using green manure crops.   

“Many of the younger members are on board with buying fresh and buying local [even if it costs more] and that makes a world of difference,” he says. “Falmouth is also a highly educated and diverse community, and people pay attention to the environment they live in. We don’t build high-rises and vast shopping malls and people appreciate small businesses like Coonamessett Farm.”


TOMMY LEONARD The Racing Legend

Tommy Leonard says his life “would have been intolerable” without a dream.

Leonard’s reverie of the Falmouth Road Race came true in 1973, on his birthday, with the help of former Falmouth High School track coach John Carroll and then town recreation director Rich Sherman. Ninety-three runners participated in the inaugural race—including Leonard—which raised money to support the girls track team. He remembers the day “like it was yesterday,” with the weather a challenging combination of high winds and rain. Runners pushed on eagerly to finish the 7.3-mile route

“I was inspired by Frank Shorter, who had just won the gold medal in the Munich 1972 Olympics. I was tending bar up in Falmouth Heights and as I watched him run, I realized that I wanted to share my love of running with everybody,” Leonard says. “And when we actually went through with it, and saw the smiles on every single runner as they crossed the finish line, we knew we would continue this race. But it wouldn’t have become what it is now if it wasn’t for Rich and John—they are the unsung heroes.”

After 43 years, the race has morphed into one of the most famous running events in the country. With New Balance as its title sponsor, it now attracts more than 12,000 runners, including many of the world’s elite. The event has become what Leonard calls “the heartbeat of Falmouth,” and while Leonard is not involved with planning anymore, he still attends every year to cheer on his friends and fellow runners as they cross the finish line.

“Once we secured Perrier as our first sponsor, things really took off. Olympic champions like Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers showed up, which encouraged runners from all over the world to be here,” Leonard says. “And when The Boston Globe brought in a helicopter and caught a picture of everyone running past Nobska Lighthouse it was picked up by papers all around the world. We knew we had made it.”

As the 24-time marathon runner turns 82 this year, he says he will be “front and center” at the race. “Falmouth is like an addiction. It has a hold on me and the people here support me and are behind me 100 percent,” he says. “And as far as the race goes, it turned into something that kept me alive and became my salvation.”


Amy Kukulya The Robotics Researcher

For Amy Kukulya, the ocean has always been her “playground.” As a senior engineering technician at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Kukulya designs underwater robots, also called REMUS autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), 

which have the capability to track, follow and film underwater animals like sharks, whales
and turtles.

Kukulya and her team of ocean physicists and engineers recently completed two field seasons of successful expeditions studying sharks and documenting never-before-seen behaviors. The results have been nationally published and featured on TV.

A New Jersey native and a graduate of Rutgers University in environmental policy, Kukulya says with remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), “ignited” her love for underwater robotics.  While she admits that her work can be “highly complicated,” there are also “huge perks to the job,” including a recent charter to Guadalupe where her team was filmed by the Discovery Channel while they did research from underwater shark cages.

“The first time I went into the cage with the rest of the charter, we were packed in like sardines and I felt like I was in a fish tank and the sharks were paying admission to come see the humans. But the next day I went in alone and I felt free and it was so cool to observe the sharks in their own element,” Kukulya says. “It was a neat experience, and it makes this job pretty unique.”

And as Kukulya and her team continue to pique interest around the world, she says the ocean continues to be her “therapy,” especially when the goes out in her recreational lobster boat.

“It’s a different form of exploration for me that I do on my own time, and something as simple as visiting a deserted island and appreciating simpler things reminds me how much I really love the water—it’s my temple.”


SUSAN AVERY The Science Pioneer

While Susan Avery became the first woman president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 2008, she says she would rather be recognized for being the “first atmospheric scientist.” Avery, who left her position on July 1, says she hopes she has helped implement projects at WHOI that “will serve as building blocks” for the next president.

Since taking over at WHOI, Avery made it a priority to increase awareness of the ocean’s importance, often focusing her energy on the intersection of atmospheric, earth and ocean science. Her research includes studies on circulation and precipitation, climate variability and water resources, and the development of new radar techniques and instruments for remote sensing.

“I’ve been really pushing the frontiers of new oceanographic observing infrastructure and have also subscribed to larger projects like state-of-the-art ocean observing systems. We have also furthered the development of autonomous underwater vehicles, and have explored several projects on informatics, and spent a lot of time making administration functions more efficient by updating systems so that we are an up-to-date 21st-century scientific research institution,” Avery says. “We also opened the Laboratory for Ocean Sensors and Observing Systems, which has been quite successful, and then of course we have a new ship coming in—so those are a few highlights.”

Without a doubt, Avery will leave a standing legacy at WHOI, and as she embarks on the next chapter of her career, she just wants to be remembered for her “passion for discovery.”

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