Carving out a cause

10/19/2006
By From the Lowell Sun

By DAVID PERRY, Sun Staff

The man plunges a small, saw-toothed knife into the fleshy pulp and cuts. First, he attacks the eyes, carving quickly, deliberately. Then, he saws at the nose and mouth.

Though he has dressed carefully for this to avoid staining his clothes, his hands are messy.

Then, UMass Lowell Interim Chancellor David MacKenzie steps back to admire his work.

Eyes and nose like upside-down Vs, a long, thin mouth.

Nice pumpkin. Stick a candle in there.

"I was thinking ambitious, but backed off a bit," confesses MacKenzie. "I was going to see if I could do the Riverhawks logo, but I'm afraid my artistic talents are limited."

He wears a Red Sox sweatshirt, covered by a "UMass Lowell Pumpkin Head" T-shirt on the back. Wingtips poke from beneath his jeans.

"Senator Kennedy is coming over at 1:30, and I have to be cleaned up by then," he says.

MacKenzie's was the first of a two-day spree of pumpkin carvings at the university, which ends this evening.

It began with a September speech to freshmen by Bert Jacobs, co-founder of Life Is Good Inc., the $80 million, Boston-based company that sells T-shirts, optimism and corporate responsibility.

Jacobs waived his speaking fee if the school met his challenge: Carve 500 pumpkins for his cause, the Life Is Good Pumpkin Festival, which takes place Saturday on Boston Common. The event raises money through sponsorships for Camp Sunshine, a camp in Casco, Maine, for terminally-ill children and their families.

Jacobs' speech earned not only a standing ovation but a university goal of 1,250 pumpkins.

Ideally, the combined Life Is Good effort Saturday will yield 30,000 jack-o'-lanterns, breaking the Guinness World Record of 28,953, held by the town of Keene, N.H., whose annual Pumpkin Fest is also being held this weekend. Life is Good is hoping to raise $250,000 for Camp Sunshine.

Dozens of students crowded carving stations in front of Cumnock Hall on North Campus and in the quad on South Campus late yesterday morning. There are other carving parties in the dorms and recreation center on East Campus.

Mary Connelly, director of Student Development and Campus Conduct, says school athletic teams and other campus organizations are participating, and there will be judging and prizes this evening for most creative, scariest, best UMass Lowell theme, funniest and celebrity look-alike pumpkins. The first celebrity entry was of Joan Rivers, and no plastic surgery was used.

Life Is Good struck deals with area farms for the pumpkins, which are topped, gutted then carved in a student assembly-line. Life Is Good trucks in the pumpkins. Picks them up, too. The remnants will be hauled to a pig farm, says Connelly.

"They've made it easy to help," she says.

Ronnie Nelson, a 21-year-old senior from Shrewsbury who plays on the baseball team, scoops seeds and stringy innards from the orange gourds, dumping them in a bucket.

"This is the place that makes it happen," he says. "It's good to be in on something like this."

David Pepin, a junior from Newton, majoring in mechanical engineering, was walking over to do some homework, "and this looked like fun, so I came over."

He puts the finishing touches on an "evil" pumpkin, easily the most accomplished work of the first hour.

"Hey, Michelangelo," beckons a friend, "we've gotta go study."

Gillian Mundry, a sprinter and captain of the track team from Methuen, thought it would be a fun way to "do something good." Her hands are sticky and mucked with the pulp of some of the eight pumpkins she has gutted so far.

"It's a good cause and something for the campus to do together," says Heather Makrez, a 22-year-old grad student from Lowell. Flecks of pumpkin crud are nestled in her long hair. "And I'm all about school spirit."

"I'm going for something abstract, like a tribal wolf," says Cassidy Ford, a 19-year-old freshman, gutting a pumpkin at South Campus. "I've always loved carving pumpkins. And it lets me be part of the holiday season, the spirit of Halloween. I'm too old to trick-or-treat, but nothing says I can't carve a pumpkin."