Skip to Content
Join our community:


John Grugan Recognized as First Recipient of the John R. Heerwagen Award for Nonprofit Leadership by Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation

Charles River Center, Needham


From the Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation press release:


Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation, the nonprofit, private charitable foundation established by Middlesex Savings Bank, the second largest mutual bank in Massachusetts, with assets exceeding $4 billion, today recognized John Grugan, former president of the Charles River Center as the first recipient of the John R. Heerwagen Award for Nonprofit Leadership.


Created in 2016 by the Foundation’s Board of Directors, this award reflects the personal interests, including commitment to community and support of leadership initiatives, of John R. Heerwagen, retired CEO of the Bank. The John R. Heerwagen Award for Nonprofit Leadership recognizes a strong, nonprofit leader whose work has significantly benefited the lives and wellbeing of residents within the Middlesex community. A grant of $15,000 is provided to directly support the mission of the recipient’s organization. 


Dana Neshe, president, Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation, presented the inaugural award to Grugan, who worked for 35 years at the Charles River Center and served as the agency’s president for the past 16 years until his retirement in September 2016. 


“It is an honor to have, as our first recipient of the John R. Heerwagen Award, a community leader whose passion is so unwavering and whose contributions to improving the lives of people in our community have been so far-reaching,” said Neshe. “John Grugan’s belief that each person with a developmental disability deserves the best care humanly possible, combined with his dedication and leadership has amounted to thousands of lives greatly improved. Think not only of the individuals receiving services from the Charles River Center – but of the parents, family members and friends of these individuals -- whose anxieties were lessened because they knew their loved one was so well cared for.” 


Located in Needham and Natick, the Charles River Center is a nonprofit human services agency that provides employment and job training, residential homes, day habilitation, and recreational programs for over 950 children and adults with developmental disabilities.


What Sets Grugan Apart as a Strong Nonprofit Leader


After graduating from Northeastern University, Grugan worked at the Wrentham State School, where he learned first-hand the challenges facing large institutions. He then worked for the government, where he was an area director at the Department of Developmental Services, charged with developing programs to help phase down and close large, segregated institutions. He then joined the Charles River Center as the director of the Arc Workshop.


According to Hilary Ryan, vice president, development, the Charles River Center, who nominated Grugan for the Award, “Within the organization and developmental disability world at large, John is an incredibly respected and much-admired leader. Due to an increased demand for services, he has significantly grown the Charles River Center during his tenure; but has managed to maintain extremely high standards as well as a small-agency feel.” Ryan recalls one staff member’s comment, “When I think of John Grugan, I think of the television show “Cheers” because this is a place where everyone knows your name.”


Grugan’s accomplishments as a nonprofit leader and president of the Charles River Center are many. He served as a member of the Executives of the Arc of Massachusetts for 16 years. From 1985 to 1998, Grugan served on the board of the Massachusetts Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, which then became the Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers, where he served on the board from 1998 to 2012. Grugan has a vast knowledge of state and federal government funding and budgets, understands that collaboration and advocacy are key to ensuring high-quality service. 


When Grugan joined the Charles River Center, the agency served 126 people. Today it provides services and programs to nearly 1,000 people. Grugan has grown the agency’s annual budget from $6.6M to $23M. In addition to increasing the number of homes supported from 10 to 24, Grugan oversaw the building of a 27,000 square foot center, and the renovation of all the agency’s homes. The agency has grown to a staff of 552 from a staff of 164 full- and part-time positions. Grugan is a passionate advocate for staff development and continuing education. In 2005, he encouraged the board of directors to establish a fund for staff tuition reimbursement.


Under his leadership and with his guidance, the Charles River Center began many innovative initiatives, including:

  • Opportunities & Vision – founded in 2004 as a collaboration with a group of strong self-advocates and their parents, this program encourages young adults to be active members of their communities through volunteer and recreation efforts, employment, and life-skills and communications training. 
  • Massachusetts Technology Collaborative grant – in 2005, the Charles River Center received a $177,000 grant to install solar panels on the roof of the Merritt Center, which has significantly increased the agency’s energy efficiency and energy costs over the years.
  • Wings for Autism – this free event began in 2011, takes place at Logan airport twice a year and allows families with a child with autism to practice the airport experience from ticketing to exiting the airplane. The Arc has adopted the program on a national level, expanding to 28 airports across the country with more than 7,000 people participating to date.
  • Boston Higashi School partnership – through this partnership that began in 2011, the agency now has 10 individuals with autism who graduated from the school attending the Charles River Center’s Day Habilitation program. The agency also opened two homes for their graduates, with plans to open more in future.

Grugan staunchly believes each person with a developmental disability deserves the best care humanly possible. For many years, the Charles River Center received the highest ratings possible from the Massachusetts Department of Disability Services and from the outside evaluator, the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

Grugan received a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, Boston, Mass., and a master’s degree in Health Care Administration from Framingham State University, Framingham, Mass. He has participated in many advocacy leadership positions, and sat on the boards of the Massachusetts Association of Rehabilitation Facilities and the Association of Developmental Disabilities ProvidersGrugan was also a member of the Executives of the Arc of Massachusetts, an advocacy organization with which Charles River Center is affiliated. He and his wife Kathy reside in Braintree, Mass.    


About the Middlesex Savings Charitable Foundation


The Foundation was established in 2000 to carry out further the philanthropic mission of Middlesex Savings Bank by supporting the communities served by the Bank. Since its inception, the Foundation has provided more than $4 million in grants to more than 400 nonprofit organizations, supporting services, and programs in a wide variety of fields, including education, and basic human services. Middlesex Savings Bank has funded the endowment with over $15 million in contributions. More information is available at


About Middlesex Savings Bank


Middlesex Savings Bank, founded in 1835 and headquartered in Natick, Mass., is a mutual savings bank. As one of the largest independent banks in Massachusetts with assets exceeding $4 billion, the bank has been committed to providing outstanding value in consumer banking and business banking products for more than 180 years. The FDIC and DIF insured bank has 30 branch offices located in 24 communities – Acton, Ashland, Bedford, Bellingham, Boxborough, Concord, Framingham, Franklin, Groton, Holliston, Hopkinton, Littleton, Maynard, Medfield, Medway, Millis, Natick, Needham, Sherborn, Southborough, Sudbury, Walpole, Wayland, Wellesley, and Westford. For more information, please visit, and