Celebrating our Volunteers: St. Pierre is a big wheel in the Tour of Somerville
May 18, 2018
SOMERVILLE – For the thousands of people who will descend on downtown on Memorial Day to catch a glimpse of the oldest bike race in the country, the 75th running of the Tour of Somerville will literally be a banner day – thanks to Rick St. Pierre, Somerville resident and owner of Verve Bistro.
The steel cable anchored to facing buildings that has long held banners aloft across Main Street had broken a few years ago. Efforts to fix it, like the snapped cable itself, had been left dangling.
St. Pierre soon found out trying to tie up the loose ends was no small feat, but he figured out how it could be fixed, got permission from the owners of the buildings to reattach it and waded through the red tape with the town.
“It was something that it just seemed like it was tied up in these sort of bureaucratic systems, and Rick eloquently took care of everything, satisfied everybody,” said Mike Malekoff, the race director. “He went around to the building owners, got them to sign off on it. They agreed. Everybody agreed with Rick. And what happened? It’s all fixed.”
Fixing problems, helping people and pitching in when the need arises – it’s been St. Pierre’s calling for as long as he can remember. He has been called a catalyst, a connector, a conduit and big-hearted guy because of the way he brings together politicians, business owners and community leaders with the singular goal to make the borough – heck, the world – a better place.
Making it happen
Although the Tour de Somerville is a day for fun, family and community, it’s also a perfect moment for celebrating our volunteers who have built the Tour of Somerville into, as it is often called, the Kentucky Derby of Cycling. Without selfless, civic-minded volunteers such as St. Pierre, the race would grind to a stop.
Most of them, like St. Pierre, say that giving of their most precious possession – their time – is its own reward.
“When I was in kindergarten and my mom (Jo Ann Lindenstruth) would give me 10 cents, I would go buy two popsicles, give them to someone else and bring my mom back a flower,” St. Pierre said. “It’s part of a pleasing mentality, but the pleasing mentality comes from a good place, the place where I’ve always felt the reward of giving. If I don’t put myself in an economic position, business position or political position to give back, then I feel I’m not being the best person I can be.”
St. Pierre opened Verve in 1996 and soon began serving up crab cakes using his mom’s recipe. Offering fine French-American bistro fare was the perfect way to meet people in town, and he was able to share his joie de vie over plates of steak poivre. He had found a way into their stomachs, but he wanted to also connect with their heart and minds.
Volunteerism soon became way of life for St. Pierre; still is. He is the chairperson of the Downtown Somerville Alliance, which aims to support and promote the businesses along Main Street. He is also the chairperson of Arts on Division, a 501C3 nonprofit organization dedicated to enriching the town through the arts.
Organizing a jazz festival on the lawn outside the courthouse was one thing. A few years ago, however, when the Tour of Somerville’s longtime sponsor stepped aside, St. Pierre and Arts on Division stepped up to rescue the race.
St. Pierre said the Tour of Somerville needed an immediate infusion of $60,000 and, unlike the previous sponsors, Arts on Division did not have a reservoir of money nor a cash stream. He led the charge, asking for donations and seeking sponsors in an attempt to the keep the Tour of Somerville where it has been since 1940.
“People don’t know that it took volunteers, that it takes volunteers to take this race on,” said Freeholder Brian Gallagher, who was Somerville’s mayor at the time. “It just becomes an accepted part of the race. It’s people like Rick and people that are in Arts on Division to say, ‘We’re going to build this back up.’ Rick and his colleagues stepped up and kept this race going.”
Wearing many hats
A typical day requires St. Pierre to, as he puts it, “wear many hats.” One moment he might be on the phone, trying to arrange for the delivery of portable toilets and special event garbage cans for the Tour of Somerville. The next, he is greeting customers with his easy personality inside his restaurant’s speakeasy-style decor. The next he is arranging a fundraiser. He recently had one at Verve to benefit the granddaughter of Somerville’s director of economic development Colin Driver. She has a rare vascular malformation in her brain.
At heart – in his heart – he is a people person. That’s the real explanation if you are wondering why he volunteers or why he would sacrifice time away from his new bride, Remy Lertride St. Pierre.
“I feel like my job here to connect people is almost like social work,” St. Pierre said. “The thing is to try to connect to the human part of people as much as possible and I have the vehicles for that. I have Verve. I have the bike race. I have a wonderful town that’s embracing. I have a town that says, ‘Can you do more?’ And I say, ‘Yes.’ I have people that support us and need help and that’s where the reward is.”
Some people refer to Verve as Borough Hall East. Gallagher says on any given day, you can walk in and find people from any political party, walk of life or socioeconomic level sharing ideas and engaging in discussions.
“That’s kind of the charm of it,” Gallagher said. “Here’s a place you can go – to some degree it’s old-world politics where statesmanship can take place in a place like Verve and Rick helps facilitate that.”
St. Pierre said he has been accused “more than once” of benefitting financially from his volunteerism or that he uses his position at Arts on Division to drive customers through Verve’s doors.
“I don’t get paid financially for anything, but I get paid with a huge family and that’s Somerville,” St. Pierre said. “When I say that, some people don’t believe me and that’s OK. My next comment is talk to my accountant because he knows what I do and how much I give. He says, ‘Why are you still doing this?’ It’s something that’s a part of you.”
Tour of Somerville-related activities begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday, May 28, and continue throughout Somerville, including High Street, Mountain Avenue, East Main Street and North Bridge Street. Visit tourofsomerville.org.