Year In Review: People - And A Couple Of Giraffes - Who Made Headlines In 2015
The Newtown Bee was privileged to share the stories of many of the town’s residents in 2015, beginning in January when, ten hours after her mother went into labor, Angelina Jean Berger was born on Tuesday, January 6. Angela, the second child of Jessica and Nick Berger of Sandy Hook, was The Newtown Bee’s First Baby of 2015.
Also in January, Sandy Hook Elementary School student Lauren Milgram was a winning designer for the Charm It! Crayola Creativity Design-A-Charm Contest. Lauren’s winning charm is a pink and yellow butterfly, with a tiny smiling face. Peace signs adorn the wings. Topping off the antennae are two sparkling gemstones.
In February, Beryl Harrison celebrated 25 years as a librarian at C.H. Booth Library. Serving in numerous and valuable capacities, including interim director, she has seen the library grow — and shrink, as digital options become equally preferred to hard copy volumes. She has worked side-by-side with a staff that she called “wonderful,” and has endeared herself to patrons and fellow staff members through her dedication to her career.
Two special visitors became temporary citizens of Newtown in February, and touched the lives of the Rosenthal family forever. Hazel Ricardel-Alquilos of Cebu in the Philippines, and her son, Bezalel, a 15-pound wisp of a 2-year-old, came to the US through Rotary Club of Newtown Challenge for the Gift of Life, so that Bezalel could undergo lifesaving heart surgery at Children’s Medical Center in Hartford.
While here, Newtown Rotary member Dan Rosenthal, his wife Meri Jitsukawa, and their children, Hana, Emi, and Ben, hosted the young boy and his mother. The Gift of Life provides funding for lifesaving surgeries for children around the world. The Newtown Rotary Club has saved 31 young lives over the past year, and provided support for six more surgeries, in El Salvador.
The Presidential Leadership Scholars program announced in February that former resident Micaela Hurley McMurrough, daughter of Lorraine and the late Michael Hurley, was among the 60 individuals selected to participate in the inaugural class of the leadership development program. Ms McMurrough, a 1994 graduate of Newtown High School and a 1998 West Point graduate, served six years as an active duty Army officer. After 9/11, she was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, and deployed to Afghanistan for seven months. She left active duty to study law at Cornell University, receiving her degree in 2007.
Currently a general litigator with Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, in New York City, Ms McMurrough has served as a law clerk for both a federal trial judge and a federal appeals judge. The six-month-long Scholars program began at George Washington’s Mount Vernon home in February. Scholars then traveled to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center in March, to the George W. Bush Presidential Center in April, to the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Center in May, and to the George W. Bush Presidential Center in June, to hone already strong leadership skills.
Ralph Scogno, longtime custodian at C.H. Booth Library, retired in the spring. Mr Scogno was sole custodian for more than 15 years, overseeing upkeep on the interior and exterior of the building at 25 Main Street. He started his job in Newtown on March 21, 1999, and departed almost 16 years to the day, on March 27.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) named Nancy and John Schreiner as Star Family for the month of April. Then during the Connecticut Association of Foster and Adoptive Parents Annual Conference in May, the Schreiners were honored as the Family of the Year for the Danbury region. A Star Family is one “whose service to children in foster care deserves recognition.”
The couple has succeeded as foster parents, said the Schreiners, by relying on the parenting skills they have developed raising their blended family of five, for the past ten years of their marriage.
“We have the means, we have the family structure, and we feel we can make a difference,” said Mr Schreiner. “If you can help,” he asked, “why wouldn’t you?”
While most Boy Scouts add merit badges to their sashes, Catherine Summ had a different kind of feather for her cap this year: the Newtown resident was one of two people who developed a brand new merit badge for Boy Scouts of America. She and Pat Mitchell, of Billings, Mont., collaborated on the badge. Ms Summ, a teacher for the visually impaired, help develop the Braille requirements for the Signs, Signals and Codes badge introduced to the world this past spring.
It was a banner year for Newtown resident Patricia Hubert. In March, Ms Hubert was honored to receive a Certificate of Achievement for the Excellence in American History Book Award 2015 from the Connecticut State Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), for her book Major Philip M. Unger: Hero of the American Revolution, published in August 2014. Ms Hubert received an unexpected surprise Sunday, April 12, as well.
Following a talk to members of the Masonic Grand Lodge of Masons in Connecticut on her book, Most Worshipful Grand Master Thomas Maxwell presented her with the General David Wooster Medal in Bronze. This medal, presented by the Masonic Grand Lodge only two other times in the past 40 years, is a humanitarian award.
Ms Hubert, a 38-year resident of Newtown, has served the community in many ways, as a substitute teacher and reading consultant, and chairperson of the board of directors for Trinity Day School. She is a member of the Newtown Congregational Church, where she has served as a deacon, sings in the choir, serves on the flower committee, is active in the women’s circle group, and serves with the Cornerstone Thrift Shop. She was a church youth group leader, and has conducted many fundraising events.
For several years, Ms Hubert was also a Girl Scout leader and a Cub Scout leader, and she is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She also has supported Hiram Lodge #18 in Sandy Hook, and is a member of the Amaranth and the Daughters of the Nile.
After 30-plus years of tending one of the town’s landmarks, David Lydem stepped down as the unofficial Keeper of the Flagpole last summer. The retired Newtown Police lieutenant was called “one of the Newtown’s unsung role models” for his work, which took care of every aspect of making sure the 100-foot-tall pole and its flags looked good.
“Celebrating the Fine Art of Newtown — Honoring SCAN” was the 2015 Newtown Labor Day Parade theme, and it was Ruth Newquist who put a face to that theme as grand marshal. Ms Newquist is a local painter, well known for her land- and cityscapes in watercolor and oils. It was her late husband Larry who founded the Society of Creative Arts of Newtown (SCAN), an organization for which Ms Newquist has been a devoted supporter and board member.
“It’s an organization that needs publicity,” Ms Newquist told The Bee last summer, “and I’m happy it will be getting some,” she said. “SCAN is the only fine arts organization in town. We try to serve all artists.”
Just over 18 hours after the first relay runner with Bowerman Track Club Team stepped off from the starting line — 6,000 feet above sea level on Oregon’s Mount Hood, August 28-29 — the last runner of the team crossed the finish line in Seaside, Ore. The Nike-sponsored team of 12 team, who won the Men’s Division of the 2015 Hood to Coast Relay, included Kevin Hoyt of Newtown. Mr Hoyt, a 2008 graduate of NHS and a coach for the track and field team there, works for Nike in Westport. He was invited by another Nike employee to be a part of the Bowerman Track Club Team, and was one of only three runners who was not from Oregon.
The Hood to Coast Relay is a 197-mile foot race that begins on Mount Hood, finishing up on the beach in Seaside with a huge celebration for the more than 12,000 runners. What made last year’s this race even more exceptional was that hurricane force winds and pounding rain greeted the runners at the finish line, rather than a party. Nonetheless, it was an experience to remember for Mr Hoyt.
It was an experience to remember, as well, for Newtown Middle School eighth grader Cooper McLaughlin, who still has stars in his eyes and stars on his mind, thanks to his participation in the Fandango Benefit Gala for the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford. Colin found himself face to face with stars like actor Alec Baldwin, comic Jim Gaffigan, actor/director James Naughton, and Broadway performer Cody Williams, in September. Cooper, now in remission, has idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a blood disorder causing a severe drop in platelet level. He has been a camper at the camp for seriously ill children for three summers.
His break dancing and “popping and locking” moves caught the eyes of gala organizers this past summer, at “Stage Night.” In August, they invited Cooper to be part of a select group of youth entertaining guests at the camp’s largest annual fundraiser. Inspired by the experience, Cooper is setting his sights on a career in television and film.
Not a person, but quite a personality, Genevieve Giraffe rejoined her pal Jeffrey Giraffe, after a mysterious five-year absence, this fall. Jeffrey Giraffe has been a familiar sight to anyone passing along Obtuse Road for nearly 15 years. Rain or shine — but not snow — the nearly life-sized papier mache giraffe has poked his head out of his stall at Dot and Tom Dwyer’s Pond Brook Farm, bringing smiles to passersby, and happily posing for photo ops.
The whimsical Jeffrey is actually Jeffrey II. The first Jeffrey was featured in The Newtown Bee, years ago. But shortly after his moment of fame, Jeffrey was stolen. “So, I made another Jeffrey,” Ms Dwyer said. Genevieve joined her paper mache mate about five years ago, “But she was only here for about three months when she disappeared,” Ms Dwyer said. There was no ransom note, and not a peep about Genevieve in all that time.
Then in late September, the Dwyers went out to their barn one morning, “and there she was.” The reunited giraffe couple are once more happy together.
Newtown native Sylvia (Sirois) McGraw was caught completely by surprise by friends and family members when she was named The 2015 Hearts of Hope Ambassador of Hope in November. The honor goes to a person who is able to offer hope to others while working through their own challenges.
Jane O’Mahoney shared with Bee readers the craft of the jewelry she makes, primarily bracelets, crafted from copper and from silver. It is working with copper, however, that is her passion, she said, along with the wrist.
“I’ve always loved to stack on my wrist, and I create things I would like to wear, that don’t exist,” said Ms O’Mahoney, who sells her work through her company, New Territory, and also locally at Queen Street Gifts & Treats.
Bea Morgan also shared her passion with readers, and with visitors to C.H. Booth Library. Ms Morgan has a collection of between 400 and 500 glass salt shakers. “I started collecting [glass shakers] in 1968. I’m not sure why. I was just attracted to them,” she said.
Within 20 years, she had become a founding member of the Antique Glass Salt and Sugar Shaker Club, a national club of shaker collectors encouraging the collection of late 19th and early 20th Century glass shakers. Fifty of her vintage glass shakers, some nearly 150 years old, are on exhibit at the library through the end of the year.
In November Sandy Hook resident, educator, and renowned jazz artist Jimmy Greene was nominated for a pair of Grammy Awards. Mr Greene is up for honors in the categories of Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his latest album, Beautiful Life; and Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for the song “When I Come Home.”
This is a town filled with people who work behind the scenes and front and center, who laugh and play, who try and try again. It is only a sampling, here, of the many amazing residents who made 2015 a year to remember.