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2008: People Making Newtown All That It Is



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2008: People Making Newtown All That It Is

By Nancy K. Crevier

The year 2008 started out with a celebration for Stacey and Scott Lavelle of Sandy Hook, as they welcomed a daughter, Ava Sophia, into their family, January 2, winning The Newtown Bee Baby of the Year contest.

Individuals, as always, volunteered their talents and opened their hearts to neighbors near and far in 2008, and shared the special qualities that make the town the diverse place that it is.

 Among them was sewing angel Barbara Anzellotti, wife of the head NMS custodian. Not even the parent of a child involved in the schools production of Beauty and the Beast, she designed and created the challenging costumes for many of the nonsewing actors in the play.

Kristin Kemsley, the Newtown mother of nine children between the ages of 5 and 27 traveled in March to Santiniketan, India, north of Calcutta, where she and her sister volunteered in a preschool and in the outlying villages, teaching teachers, teaching children, and reaching out to the very neediest people.

Allie Clement was one of only two area youth honored along with 17 adults at the 18th Annual American Red Cross Breakfast Honoring Heroes of Western Connecticut in April. Allie was recognized for her work in raising AIDS awareness in the schools and in the community.

Reed Intermediate School (RIS) reading specialist Pam Kohn, NHS applied technology instructor Maryann Snieckus, RIS Principal Donna Denniston, former Easton principal Angie Sneiderman, and retired Dr Micheline Williams traveled April 13 to 23 with RIS teacher Karen King on her third journey to the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, West Africa, to assist Ms King in implementing an ongoing school-to-school program between the children of RIS and the Carolyn A. Miller Elementary (CAME) School in Ghana.

Kim and Peter Bernson’s 16-year-old daughter, Emily, embarked on a learning experience that took her far from the insulated world of Newtown. From August 9 to 16, she was submerged in the Mayan culture in the small town of Tecpan, nestled on a mountainside in south central Guatemala. Emily traveled to Guatemala with 19 other young people from all over the United States and Canada through Global Learning Adventures, an organization dedicated to educating youth on being better global citizens and providing them with the opportunities to learn about other cultures through hands-on community service, workshops, and exploration of a region.

Kendra Barrow’s experience this summer with Shoulder To Shoulder, a health care and community support program in Honduras, was even more life-changing than she expected. The 25-year-old Newtown resident was dropped into a culture where poverty and health issues were more extreme than she had imagined. Upon her return, she was offered a job at a school in North Carolina and has found herself settling into a new life far south of Connecticut, where her position allows her a continued connection with the Honduras program.

College student Jessica DiVanno, the daughter of Petrice and Tony DiVanno of Sandy Hook, traveled to Ghana with Unite for Sight, a foundation dedicated to providing eye care to third world countries. Jessica was one of 250 volunteers who travels abroad each year to assist at Unite For Sight’s partner eye clinics.

Father and son team John Boccuzzi, Sr, and John Boccuzzi, Jr, set off under the umbrella of bicycle touring group America by Bicycle from Kittery, Maine, Saturday, August 16, on a 500-mile trip that ended the afternoon of August 25 in Washington, D.C., arriving back in Newtown August 26. A 40th birthday present from his wife, John Jr’s father soon decided to join him — a surprise, since the senior Boccuzzi had just had a knee replacement last October. The long haul gave both Boccuzzis a renewed appreciation for the region in which they live, they said.

It was a long day, August 23, beginning with a morning rehearsal, and finding out the ins and outs of his upcoming performance, but when 12-year-old Taylor Varga walked onto the center stage at the Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven that evening, he forgot about the ESPN2 cameras trained on him and the millions of people watching, followed his singing instincts, and put forth a performance of “America The Beautiful” that made his parents, Joann and Tibor Varga, and the rest of Newtown, more than a little proud.

To say that Ryan Marron has one of the sweetest relationships in town with his grandfather would not be stretching the truth. The 10-year-old fourth grade student at Sandy Hook School shares the hobby of beekeeping with her grandfather, Dick Marron, and he has grown the hobby into his own business, Skidmore HoneyBees. Newtown residents may have seen him at the Sandy Hook Farmers’ Market Sunday mornings.

2008 NHS graduate Ben Spiegel was one of the few band students nationwide who took part in the elite, professional marching band, the Boston Crusaders. The Newtown High School student was involved with the Newtown school system musical programs since fifth grade, playing trumpet under the direction of Bob Nolte, Mark Mahoney, Keith Hedin, Michelle Hiscavich, and Kurt Eckhardt as he progressed through the grades.

Fifteen months and $3,800 after he started soliciting loose change from customers, George Hamilakis, owner of Dodgingtown Market in Newtown, was able to put together and send 13 care packages to soldiers in Iraq. “All the credit goes to my customers. I’m just the middle guy,” he said. “People that come in every day just toss their change in. They don’t even want it back.”

Christine Fairchild takes her job, the buyers and the sellers whom she assists, seriously as a realtor with Coldwell Banker. And that attitude is one among many reasons, said nominating committee member Laurie Silber of Century 21, that Ms Fairchild was chosen as Newtown Realtor of the Year by the Newtown Board of Realtors.

Beneath clear blue skies, Grand Marshal Mae Schmidle led the way for the September 1 annual Newtown Labor Day Parade, perched atop a glistening red roadster, and resplendent in her trademark red suit.

You can have your cake and eat it, too, Lori Erikson told The Bee. The Newtown cake decorator, a certified Wilton cake decorating instructor, shared her 20 years of experience and tips as she let The Bee sit in on a series of classes she teaches at Michaels in Brookfield. Her style of teaching is straight forward, peppered with humor, and extremely informative.

This fall Joanne Brunetti received a request from the Soldiers’ Angels organization to assist in collecting 180,000 pairs of white socks nationwide for the “Wrapped in the Holiday Spirit” Christmas packages being put together to send to service people stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the contributions of RIS students, individuals, and other local businesses, Ms Brunetti collected more than 1,000 pair of socks.

While not exactly human, the huge persona of Newtown’s own Charlotte the spider of Hillbrow House, 74 Main Street, makes her worthy of mention. Halloween revelers gathered on the lawn October 31 as the giant fiberglass arachnid that since 2001 has sent thousands of children screaming into the nearby bushes, made her descent down the enormous web anchored to the house for her grand finale. It was, simply, said Charlotte’s creator, Richard Mulligan, time for the end of the life cycle and many years of fun.

Alvida Swanson turned 100 on October 31, and was joined by family and friends at a special celebration held in her honor, Thursday, October 30, at Ashlar of Newtown, where Mrs Swanson has lived for the past year.

One more special Newtown resident was honored as the year came to a close. John Burke was named Outstanding Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Corps Member for 2008 for his dedication to the unit.

Many others give and strengthen our community through their efforts and creativity, and no doubt, will continue to do so as Newtown moves into 2009.

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