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The lead donor to the Greenway carousel on seeing philanthropy as fun

“Regardless of what happens in kids’ lives, a carousel is always going to be exciting to them,” says Amalie Kass of why she supported a carousel for the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy

“Regardless of what happens in kids’ lives, a carousel is always going to be exciting to them,” says Amalie Kass of why she supported a carousel for the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

On Saturday , the Greenway Carousel begins spinning in a tree-shaded park near Faneuil Hall, fulfilling a dream that first took shape three years ago. Designed by Newburyport sculptor Jeffrey Briggs, the 36-seat carousel features 14 animals native to Massachusetts, including a sea turtle, lobster, grasshopper, harbor seal, cod, peregrine falcon, and skunk.

Designed to accommodate children with disabilities, the carousel will remain open daily through Columbus Day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on weekends through New Year’s Eve. Tickets cost $3 per ride. The project’s cost, including the adjoining park, funded by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, is pegged at $2.95 million.

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Until recently, the carousel’s lead donor, Amalie Kass of Belmont, preferred to remain anonymous. Earlier this month, however, she agreed to be interviewed about the project and why it has brought so much joy to Kass, who has 19 grandchildren ages 10 to 29.

A Baltimore native and graduate of Wellesley College (Class of 1949), Kass is an author, editor, and authority on the history of medicine. She had served as president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Women’s Institute for Housing and Economic Development and as a trustee of Wellesley College and the Lincoln Rural Land Foundation.

Q. “Philanthropy as fun” is how you’ve described this project. Could you elaborate?

A. What I mean is, this enterprise is about the most fun I’ve had doing anything. Philanthropy is usually pretty hands-off. People are happy to have your help, but it’s often just writing a check. This was more. To be part of the planning was priceless.

Q. OK, but why fund this particular project?

Greenway Carousel Grand Opening.

Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy

Greenway Carousel Grand Opening.

A. I knew I wanted to make a contribution to the Greenway because I so admired Rose Kennedy and all she’d done under terrible, tragic circumstances. She was a strong spokesperson for women, and particularly for mothers and families. In 2010, the Boston Foundation arranged a tour of the Greenway to discuss various funding projects. I think I already had a carousel in mind, because I just thought that was so cool.

Q. How come?

A. Because of everything a carousel represents in terms of children and their parents and grandparents. Regardless of what happens in kids’ lives, a carousel is always going to be exciting to them. I have to say, too, that other planned Greenway projects did not excite me as much. Also, what could be better than to help create a carousel that multiple generations will enjoy long after we’re all gone? Always with their grandmothers, of course.

Q. Are you a devotee of carousels?

A. Not particularly. I’ve been on a lot of them, though.

Q. Education, history, the environment — they’ve all engaged your philanthropic and professional energies. Is this project an extension of those interests, or a whimsical departure?

A. My other interests were never clearly planned out. Somebody asks you to do something, you do it. But this one I did initiate, I must say. And it’s been a hell of a lot of fun. The high point of my life, really.

Q. Did you participate in the search for an artist-designer?

A. I was present, put it that way. And I did ask a lot of questions. Like, how could they keep the ticket price low? How long would it be open each year? Would Port-a-Potties be around? Because otherwise, a single mom with three kids would face serious problems.

Q. You also got input from your grandchildren, true?

A. I did. Alex, who’s now 12, said, “Get some kids in on this. Just because you think something’s good doesn’t mean they would.” That’s obvious, right? But she was absolutely correct.

Q. Tell us about your visit to a fourth-grade class at Dorchester’s Roger Clap Elementary School.

A. For someone who doesn’t visit a Dorchester school every day, it was an extraordinary experience. The kids obviously had a great relationship with their teachers and talked quite honestly about what they liked and disliked, whether they thought an animal was too scary or too ugly. Then they drew pictures and fastened the drawings to a model of a carousel, so they could see what their ideas looked like. It was great.

Q. Did you personally lobby for, or veto, any creatures?

A. I wasn’t enamored of the skunk, truthfully, although the kids love it. These animals may not be your usual carousel figures, which some people have complained about. But if you don’t like them, there’s something wrong with you, in my opinion.

Q. Will you ride the carousel yourself?

A. Of course.

Q. Will your grandchildren get at least one free ride?

A. [laughs] I think so. But only if they behave.

Interview was condensed and edited. Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.
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