“Travels with Charlie”- A Profile of BOLLI’s Charlie Raskin, by Na’ama Ansell

Otis Elevator Company

“I was born in the back of my family’s candy store, located next to the Otis Elevator Company in Yonkers, New York”, Charlie Raskin told me when we recently sat down for a conversation. No doubt an unusual place to be born, but for Charlie a uniquely warm and comfortable one since his family was quite well-known by their neighbors. He recalls that at the end of each day, “People coming down the elevator would stop by the store to chat with us before heading for home.” Is it any wonder that with these beginnings Charlie, a member of the BOLLI board of advisors, became the super-friendly, enthusiastic person whom we know?

Charlie Raskin

A graduate of Delaware Valley University in Pennsylvania, with a major in agriculture, Charlie initially wanted to go into farming, but after a trial period, decided that he couldn’t adjust to the mores of farm life. One day, while walking down Madison Avenue in New York City, gazing at shop windows, he became intrigued when he “saw a window display of men’s and women’s accessories. I walked into their office, asked for a job, and was hired on the spot.” He was soon given all of New England as his sales territory.

Charlie then spent the next 45 years on the road selling all manner of clothing throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, all the way down to Westchester County, New York. He made sales to homes and department stores in cities both large and small. “The company I worked for was one of the first to use computers for ordering and stocking; that was one of the secrets to my success, turning merchandise into dollars quickly.”

But his bachelor life wasn’t all spent on the road. A friend cajoled hard-working Charlie into taking two weeks off to go skiing in Canada. With a smile on his face, he says of those days that “the women were on the ski slopes looking for husbands.” During his second week of lessons, Charlie met a woman named Kathy, also from New York City. The two New Yorkers hit it off, and within a year and a half, Kathy, an editor at Little, Brown and Company, and Charlie, still plying his goods, married and moved to Wayland.

Their introduction to Brandeis came by way of Hillel House, where they attended religious services and where Kathy held a position at the Heller School. Later, looking for adult learning classes, they discovered UMass Boston’s gerontology program and Harvard’s Institute for Learning in Retirement. Drawing from these examples, Brandeis Professor Bernie Reisman, with the support of the OSHER Foundation, concurrently founded BOLLI, and Charlie and Kathy had found a new place to learn.

“At BOLLI, I soaked up everything like a sponge; everyone was so bright, so smart.” Charlie adds, “I was particularly pleased that socializing was, and continues to be, an important component of BOLLI life.”

Bent Park, Wayland

During that time, Charlie’s mother moved into an apartment at Bent Park in Wayland, an affordable senior housing development. Her move piqued Charlie’s interest in the town’s low-income housing or, more specifically, lack thereof. After making inquiries, he found that there was an empty seat on the board of the town housing authority. Executive Director Brian Boggia asked him to fill the vacancy, and it was then that “salesman Charlie” really hit his stride.

Charlie’s friendly attitude and interest in town affairs gave him access to board meetings where permits were doled out for construction of affordable housing units. He spent hours selling the concept of affordable housing to townspeople, many of whom staunchly opposed it. But NIMBYism (“Not in My Back Yard”) didn’t faze him. According to Brian, “he was indefatigable.”

During Charlie’s eighteen years on the Wayland Housing Authority, the town finally met the Commonwealth’s mandate of ten percent affordable housing. Charlie was subsequently named “Hero of the Year” by the  Massachusetts Housing Partnership Institute.

Wayland has a soft spot in the Raskin family’s heart.  “The town did so much when our son, Tommy, was stricken with cancer. The school principal wired classes to our home and made it possible for Tommy’s classmates to interact with him.” The town later dedicated a scholarship in his memory. Charlie says, “That sense of community is what enriched our lives. As much as I gave to the town while on the housing authority, it came back to me through the love and understanding that our Tommy received.” Mary Antes, Wayland Housing Authority board chairperson, says that “Charlie is just a wonderful human being. He oozes enthusiasm, charm and good will.” Sentiments with which his many BOLLI friends would heartily concur.

23 responses to ““Travels with Charlie”- A Profile of BOLLI’s Charlie Raskin, by Na’ama Ansell”

  1. Ellen Eagle Moskowitz says:

    Loved it!

  2. Bonnie Alpert says:

    What a heartwarming profile of BOLLI’s beloved Charlie!

    • Nathan Rome says:

      While it’s probably 10 years since l was a Bolli member, Charlie is the one member who impressed me the most: for his energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, and kindness.

  3. Ruth Bramson says:

    What an amazing story but not surprising. Charlie is still the warm, welcoming face of BOLLI every time we enter the Gathering space. He never lets his age define his energy and spirit. I am so glad to know him and wish him many more years to enjoy life.

  4. kay Sackman says:

    You are a role model for all who know you. Being friends with you and Kathy has been a gift. We miss you.

  5. Marlene Wiener says:

    Update: Charlie is now living in an independent senior community, which he refers to “as a great experiment”.
    He continues to ply his wit, humor, knowledge and charm. Charlie is well known and well liked. His love and pride for BOLLI, and all learning, makes this man a pleasure to know.

  6. Sue W says:

    Ah, Charlie…who has graced the BOLLI stage as a Scene-ior and CAST member and who has provided many a hoot in BOLLI play reading sessions–perhaps none so memorable as his absolutely wonderful death scene in Ken Ludwig’s spoof of “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” What a great person and what a fine friend! (Na’ama, this is a lovely tribute!)

  7. Linda Braun says:

    This is a lovely tribute to a wonderful man, who has enriched all our lives at BOLLI. Let’s hope we get back together soon so we can hear Charlie’s welcoming voice and see his infectious smile.

  8. Guy Moss says:

    If you have ever taken a class with Charlie you would quickly have seen the affection with which he is held. As the story suggests, some people just have magical personalities.

  9. Ron Levy says:

    We should not forget Charlie’s “career” as a BOLLI thespian. His energy, sense of humor and charisma have always been present and inspiring.

  10. Becky Meyers says:

    Yes indeed, Charlie, you’ve been wonderful fun on the “stage” at Turner St or in classroom discussions! Can’t wait to see you in person again soon!

  11. Brian says:

    Charlie is truly an inspiration. He has been a tireless advocate of the Wayland Housing Authority and affordable housing for many years. Undaunted is a good word to describe Charlie. Everybody in Wayland knows that when Charlie comes to chat – it’s about affordable housing. Charlie is always energetic and interested. Such a positive guy! He has been a role model for us all. Forever young!

  12. Megan Curtis says:

    I loved reading about Charlie, one of my favorite people! This is a charming piece about a charming guy. Thank you for capturing his spirit so well, Na’ama.

  13. Susan Wagner says:

    Charlie is a charmer and one of my favorite people. But the story he told me of how he got into the clothing business is a little racier than the one recounted here. The version he told me was a lot more fun!!

    Whatever. Long may you wave, Charlie!!

    Susan Wagner

  14. Mitch Fischman says:

    I saw Charlie online at a photo history presentation I was giving last year at his new senior housing abode. He was as positive as ever and it reminded me of his positive spirit and engagement in the many Bolli courses I shared with him over the past several years. Charlie always provided the glue that linked people together at Bolli, and Carol and I wish him well.

  15. Carl Lazarus says:

    Charlie is such an inspiration. He has enlivened several classes I’ve taken at BOLLI. His happy spirit must be part of his secret of staying young.

  16. Susan M. Schmidt says:

    Charlie, you are such a special person… as so many of us at BOLLI have experienced first hand. I have always appreciated your friendship and insightfulness.. whether in a class, lecture or meeting. How lucky we all are to have you as a BOLLI founder and friend. What a wonderful and inspirational life you have led.

  17. Bobbe Vernon says:

    I met Charlie at BOLLI in 2010. It was definitely the most important event that has happened to me at
    BOLLI and I will be forever grateful. It changed my life forever.

  18. Gertrude Silverstein says:

    Charlie is a book club member and our technical master-mind during the Covid lock-down. Thanks Charlie for your positive outlook, good humor and sincere friendship. It is enriching to know you.

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