An Evening of Community, Family, and Promise: Benny and Mory Espaillat Receive the 2014 Eartha Dengler History Award


On the evening of June 19, 2014, the Lawrence History Center honored Benny and Mory Espaillat as the recipients of the 2014 Eartha Dengler History Award. Well over 150 people from Lawrence, the Merrimack Valley and as far away as the Dominican Republic gathered at the Lawrence Family Development Charter School, 400 Haverhill Street, Lawrence in support of the deserving honorees.

After a cocktail hour, reception, and a fine musical performance by The Wobbly Boys, Susan Grabski, LHC director, opened the evening program, “Since 1998, the History Center has held the Eartha Dengler History Award Ceremony to spotlight the efforts and accomplishments of outstanding leaders who work to bring development, opportunity and prosperity to Lawrence. Tonight we honor Benny and Mory Espalliat tonight as immigrant entrepreneurs, real estate owners, preservationists, lovers of art and history, social activists and for their efforts to advocate for and empower youth and immigrants in Lawrence and Massachusetts.

Benny and Mory emigrated from the Dominican Republic to the United States in 1983 and 1974 respectively. They met here, fell in love, and built a life and family, while deliberately maintaining their connection to their beloved homeland. In 1989, the Espaillats organized a mission to a poor community in the DR “to surprise the poor” at Christmas with baskets filled with clothing. Two years later Fr. Joachim Lally took notice and Mision Joven Dominicana was founded in order to expand their efforts to educate youth and to help poor communities by building homes and multi-purpose centers for worship, dances, concerts, art, and other community events.

The pair have evolved through Benny’s early work in Jovenes Catolicos en Accion (Catholic Youth in Action) in Boston and as the first Latino director of, the Boston Hispanic Center and Mory’s work with the Lawrence Rotary Club and the as member of the Essex Art Center board of directors. They share a family business, Berkeley Shoe, that they moved from Boston to Lawrence in the early 1990s. Lawrence is a 'destination' for their family where they feel important, cared for, and a sense of community that is nurtured through art, music, faith, and fellowship. In 2004, they embarked on an ambitious preservation project at 225 Broadway on Methuen and successfully reclaimed the property for their own shoe and clothing store and warehouse as well as many other commercial businesses.

The Espaillats saw themselves as warriors when they were younger and today as mentors to all they come in contact with – lifting young people, artists, and business professionals alike toward greater success – all the while respecting history, heritage, and culture."

The Dengler History Award Ceremony has always had a special meaning, but this year even more so. Sadly, Eartha Dengler passed away on March 8, 2014 – 36 years to the day of founding the archives at the age of 91 (Read more about Eartha here).

Eartha’s daughter, Claudia Dengler, sent us the following video message in tribute to Eartha and our honorees:

Greeting+for+the+Eartha+Dengler+Award+2014-SD from LawrenceHistoryCenter on Vimeo.

Other evening speakers also included:

Patricia Karl, Principal, Lawrence Family Development Charter School
Ralph Carrero, Superintendent, Lawrence Family Development Charter School
Fr. Joachim Lally, CSP
Jose Cabrera (a surprise guest from the DR)
Nicolas Espaillat (Benny and Mory’s son)

Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas,
presented by Susan Grabski

Gift Presentation
by Chet Sidell, Treasurer, LHC Board of Directors
“This evening sets the tone for how to bring a community together,” reflected Chet


Susan thanked the 2014 Eartha Dengler History Award Ceremony Host Committee for their eagerness to help honor the Espaillats and to make the event a success.

Yanitzia Canetti
Ralph Carrero
Richard Chavez
Maggie Super Church
Kay Berthold Frishman
Vivian Garcia
Zoila Gomez
Jennelle Graziano
Patricia Karl
Fr. Joachim Lally
Alberto Nuñez
Mayor Daniel Rivera
Julia Silverio
Rep. David Torrisi
Senator Sue Tucker

She also thanked the Event Sponsors for their generosity and support as every dollar helps LHC pursue its mission as a vital not-for-profit cultural organization in the City of Lawrence.

Susan acknowledged previous Eartha Dengler History Award recipients who were in attendance:

Jessica Andors
Ralph Carrero
Leslie Costello
Patricia Karl
David Meehan
Marianne Paley Nadel
Richard Purinton
Chet Sidell
Gary Sidell
Jonas Stundzia
Helen Tory
Juan Yepez
Lou Yepez

Susan then thanked The Lawrence Family Development and Education Fund for the excellent support they provided us when planning and setting up for the evening, as well as, allowing us to gather in their gymnasium.

Congratulations, Benny and Mory!


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Sat: By appt
Sun-Mon: Closed

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Lawrence, MA 01840

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Founded in 1978 as the Immigrant City Archives, the mission of the Lawrence History Center is to collect, preserve, share, and animate the history and heritage of Lawrence and its people.