Mary LeClair remembers the first time she saw a homeless person on Cape Cod. She was visiting the Salvation Army in Hyannis with Rick Presbrey, founder of Housing Asssitance. “When they told me the people there were living on the streets, it hit me hard,” she said of that moment in the mid-’80s.
She then asked for a tour of the NOAH Shelter in Hyannis, which was founded by Housing Assistance, and after that experience, decided to get involved. “I started volunteering for Housing Assistance and I never stopped,” said LeClair, who turned 89 in April. In addition to serving on the board of Gosnold Inc. for 27 years, LeClair has been a volunteer or board member for Housing Assistance and many other organizations.
In recognition of her dedication to housing and many other community causes, a new housing development in Mashpee was named in her honor in May. When completed in 2024, LeClair Village will feature 14 one-bedroom apartments, 21 two-bedroom units and four three-bedroom apartments.
“I’m speechless to think that kids will go to school and say they’re from LeClair Village,” she said.
LeClair was born in Ogdensburg, N.Y., and came to Cape Cod in the late ’50s when her husband was stationed at Otis Air Force Base. She found work as a teller at the Barnstable County National Bank. When the manager of the Mashpee branch chose to give up his job in order to see the Red Sox play a World Series game in 1967, she was promoted to his position. A number of retired executives who lived in town began stopping by to offer her advice. “I always said I had 15 teachers, and they were wonderful,” she said. She became so well known around town that residents referred to the bank as “Mary’s bank.”
In 1978, she was appointed as county treasurer, a role she served for 18 years. On her first day, one senior county official said to her, “Young lady, until you earn that seat you’re sitting in, you’re going to get no respect from me.” LeClair replied, “Sir, from the way you’re treating me right now, I don’t have much respect for you, so we’re starting out in the same place.” (The two later became friends and mutual admirers.)
Her tenure as county treasurer was followed by 12 years as an elected county commissioner and two years as an aide to U.S. Rep William Delahunt. She later worked for five years in Housing Assistance’s resource development department.
She has received awards for her volunteer work from the Red Cross, the Duffy Health Center, the Mashpee Tribal Council and the town of Mashpee, among many others. LeClair, who has two daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said she is honored by such recognition but stressed that any nonprofit’s success is due to group effort.
“When I think of Housing Assistance, I don’t think of a building or an organization or a board. It’s people,” she said. “The staff and volunteers and supporters are what allow Housing Assistance to make a difference. They’re a special group of people from the CEO on down. It’s a group of people helping other people, and that’s what life’s all about.”
A formal groundbreaking for LeClair Village was held May 31. Preservation of Affordable Housing, a Boston-based nonprofit developer, is serving as lead developer for LeClair Village and partnering with Housing Assistance. Coverage of this event will be featured in the next issue of HACbeat.
“When it’s built, I’m looking forward to there being a playground there, because a playground is where children meet and it’s where parents meet,” she said. “That’s a necessary part of building a sense of community.”