The year was 1986. Theodore Seuss Geisel – better known as Dr. Seuss – returned to Springfield to celebrate the city’s 350th Anniversary. This special visit was the result of invitations from many community leaders, including Mayor Richard E. Neal, and letters written from students who participated in “Seussamania” — a library program created to encourage reading and creative writing.
The two major parts of the visit included a children’s press conference and a bus tour of the city, sponsored by the Springfield Library and Museums Association and Springfield School Volunteers.
The bus tour included a drive past 74 Fairfield Street, where Geisel grew up; however, just driving by was not enough for the noted author. He wanted to stop and see the home. It was at this moment when Ronald Senez, who was living in the house at the time, received a call from Mayor Richard E. Neal asking permission for Geisel to come in for a visit. After the call, Senez had his sister Bonnie LaPorte, a longtime SSV Read Aloud volunteer— go to Sumner Avenue School to get his two sons Joel and Aaron and bring them back to the house. Joel, who is now a member of SSV’s Board of Directors, was 8 years old at the time of the visit.
“When I was told that Dr. Seuss was coming to visit, I initially thought the actual Cat in the Hat was coming because of the story. I remember the bus pulling up in front of the house, with the media in tow, and Dr. Seuss and his wife getting off,” Joel said. “Dr. Seuss was adamant that everyone remained outside except the family, which at that moment was my father, my brother and I. My mother actually had Jury Duty that day and would come home surprised to see the media and Dr. Seuss at the house.”
Joel said his father gave Geisel a tour and talked about renovations that had been done on the house. “When upstairs, he sat with my brother and I in my bedroom, which was Dr. Seuss’ sisters’ room growing up. He told us about the wall he got in trouble for “doodling” on and that his father would later allow him to draw a mural on — which included some early sketchings of his stories.” Joel shared that throughout the years Geisel wrote letters back and forth with his parents with hopes of getting together the next time he came to Springfield. Unfortunately, he had passed away before that could happen.
That unplanned visit in 1986 from one of Springfield’s most famous residents has been an interesting talking point throughout Joel’s life. He described his time living in that house with a quote from the book, “The Boy on Fairfield Street,” by Kathleen Krull.
“He was born in 1904 and lived in the best of all possible places—74 Fairfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts.”
Today, LaPorte and Senez still live in that same neighborhood in Springfield – close to the home on Fairfield Street.
Photos provided by Bonnie LaPorte from the Senez family photo album