By JOHN GORALSKI
Officials parked Art Secondo on a make-shift stage, armed him with an array of protest signs, and began the insults. On Friday, Feb. 20, Secondo took center stage for the Greater Southington Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural roast.
State representatives and town councilors from both sides of the aisle joined ranks with community members, family, friends, and local celebrities to roast ‘Mr. Suddington.’ Organizers were hoping to welcome as many as 150 people to the event, but more than 200 packed the banquet hall to roast the colorful Secondo.
As a chamber fundraiser, it couldn’t have gone any better. The event was the brainchild of Cathy Zalaski, an executive assistant at the chamber, and chamber office manager Lisa Jansson.
“We were trying to come up with an idea for a fundraiser,” said Jansson. “We thought about roasting someone from town. We tossed around a few ideas, and we thought, ‘Why not have Art be our first roast?’ It was long before he decided to retire, but it worked out perfectly.”
So the two began sending invitations, crafting ground rules, and holding their breath.
“We tried to remind people that this is a joking event,” said Zalaski. “We wanted laughter, not brow beating. We gave Art some signs to hold up when people are talking. They say things like, ‘Lie,’ ‘True,’ or ‘Not me.’ We thought that maybe it can help him get a kick out of this. When he’s sitting up there, it lets him get involved.”
It didn’t take long for the laughter to start. Roast Master Jim Garstang propped Secondo up on a chair to face the audience and was the first to take a poke at the sometimes controversial chamber president.
“On the way out, we’re going to have a petition,” Garstang said with a straight face. “We want to name one of the streets in Southington after Art. It can’t be a boulevard. It can’t be a circle or a turnpike. It has to be a way, because we all know that it just has to be Secondo’s Way.”
That started the onslaught.
Republican councilwoman Victoria Triano led the procession. She weaved through the crowd disguised as a bag lady and began to ridicule Secondo with an array of props from her shopping cart. Another town councilor followed as Mike Riccio read off a fake proclamation, dressed as the classic Saturday Night Live character, Father Guido Sarducci.
“I didn’t even know who that was. It took me about five minutes to realize that it was Mike,” said Secondo. “I’ve done that impersonation before, but he was really, really good.”
Democratic state rep. Dave Zoni said that, when he was first contacted to talk at the event, he almost declined. “What could I say,” he said with a smile. “Art self-roasts almost all the time.” Then, Zoni presented Secondo with another fake proclamation.
Vietnam veteran Tom Pandolfi, former town councilor Nick DePaola, Fox CT reporter Tony Terzi, local philanthropist and businessman Curtis Robinson, former Observer editor Karen Avitabile, and former councilor Edward Pocock III each shared their own version of Secondo history before handing the microphone to Secondo’s son-in-law, Matt Bowker, for a family perspective.
Finally, Sacred Heart University Athletic Director Bobby Valentine, a former MLB manager for the Mets and Red Sox, tipped his hat to Secondo.
The jokes poked fun at Secondo for his love of Southington. They joked that he’s never left the town’s borders, that he would like nothing more than tolls or walls to keep people out, and would marry the town if he could. They pointed at gaffs he’s made over the years, businesses he’s run in town, and mistakes he made as a boy, a young man, and an adult.
“Art is very good when people pick on him,” said Zalaski. “He’s a good man, and there are a lot of people that love him. This is not his retirement. It’s just supposed to be a good, fun night.”
“It’s not something that everyone would want to do. It’s not easy with that many people laughing at you,” Secondo said. “Even in jest, it’s hard to hear that you always put your foot in your mouth or that you said this and that about Obama. That’s why you don’t hear about roasts that often. It’s very difficult to pull off. You have to have the right person, and it looks like it turned out that I was. I hope people had fun.”
The dinner and roast offered a full night of entertainment that didn’t come to a close until after 11 p.m. Then, local comedian Dave Reilly took the stage for a comedy set that didn’t finish until after 1 p.m.
“We wanted to see if this is something that we could do again, but who knows,” said Zalaski. “It was pretty hard to put this all together. We just wanted to do something different and see what the outcome would be.”
Photos by Tammi Naudus