By Joyce DeWallace
Shrewsbury – When Shrewsbury businessman Robert Terkanian sees a public sign that is in disrepair or a patch of ground that needs landscaping, he works closely with town officials to get permission to make the necessary improvements. “Just do it,” is his motto. When President John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” it made a lasting impression on Terkanian. He now asks himself, “What can I do for Shrewsbury?” And then he does it.
Seven years ago, after giving a talk at the Senior Center, Bob Jacques, manager of business development for Wheelabrator in Millbury, noticed that the Senior Center sign was a mess. He called the town manager and learned that Terkanian was complaining about the Beal School sign. The two got together and decided to take on the sign projects.
“Wheelabrator has a commitment to communities to be socially responsible,” Jacques explained.
With the help of Kevin LaDuke of Sunshine Signs in North Grafton, both facilities got attractive and practical colored signs.
Since then, the two businesses have donated their time and money to polish the image of Shrewsbury’s public buildings and grounds. The fire station on Centech Boulevard not only has a customized sign, professional landscaping and lighting, but also a statue of a firefighter. New signs have spruced up the Paton School, the Floral Street School and the Highway Department and Public Works compound on South Street. At the Harrington Avenue Fire Station, Terkanian installed lighting, landscaping and another firefighter statue.
Terkanian’s biggest project by far is the St. Pierre Pond near the Hebert Candy Mansion. Just off Stoney Hill Road in Hills Farm Estates he has built a trail that takes visitors around the pond with bridges, stonewalls, sculptures and benches. It’s a magical place with whimsy and surprises. He stocks the pond with trout. He kills the poison ivy. He has put in evergreen trees, shrubs, perennial plantings and mulch to transform the area into a peaceful retreat.
“One of my mentors was Ed Carrie,” Terkanian said. “I started working at his landscape business while I was in high school. In the early 60s I met Bob Arrello, who had just graduated from UMass and was starting a new landscaping business. I worked for him for the next three years and developed my love of landscaping.”
During the early years, Terkanian had a number of different jobs and went to hairdressing school. He decided that doing people’s hair was not his passion. That training led to various positions as a salesman for several hair products distributors. Eventually, he had an opportunity to start his own business as a distributor for Paul Mitchell products. Today his successful business, Hairlines, just celebrated its 29th anniversary and services hairdressing professionals and stores in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the Albany, N.Y., area. His accomplishments have allowed him to pursue his philanthropic work with zeal.
“My long-term goal is to get seven people who own businesses in town to come together for seven years and each year contribute $7,000 to help Shrewsbury with extra projects. I call it the “Magnificent 7.” This would help the town with things that just don’s get done.”
He would also like to get the local garden club to do more projects with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to beautify the community. In the meantime, he is working on his own list of “next projects.” Look for fresh landscaping and new lighting around the Paton School Sign and on the hillside near the Highway Department. A new bulletin board sign in the center of town is also on his to-do list.
Terkanian loves inspirational quotes and sayings. His yard is dotted with signs and plaques. Three rustic metal signs read, “Relax. Dream. Create.” That’s exactly what he has done by giving back to the community. A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson on one plaque sums up his philosophy. “Do your best – Be a star! Change the world – Wherever you are.