By JOHN GORALSKI
Zaya Oshana was wheeled to the podium by his son, Zaya. The younger Oshana grabbed the microphone and apologized that his father didn’t have the voice to address the crowd. “I know that’s surprising,” said his son. The crowd of Democrats chuckled at the irony.
On Wednesday, Sept. 7, the Southington Democratic Town Committee (DTC) recognized the elder Oshana (the 16th in a line of Zaya Oshanas—each with a different middle name) at the annual chairman’s dinner. The outspoken advocate Oshana was recognized as the “Distinguished Democrat of the Year.”
“Thank you, Dad, for all you have done for our town,” said the younger Oshana, a current board of education member. “Thank you for all that you’ve done for our students. Thank you for all you’ve done for our party, and thank you for setting an example for what a politician is supposed to stand for.”
For more than four decades, Oshana (the 16th) was a leader in town. His 36 years of service on the board of education—first as a Republican and then as a Democrat—still stands as the third longest tenure in town history, eclipsed only by Urbin T. Kelley (43 years) and Walter A. Derynoski (39 years), both of whom have schools named after them.
“The thing about him is that he’s not political. It didn’t matter to him what the party said. If it was right, he did it,” the younger Oshana said. “For years, when newspapers wrote about him they would call him a ‘maverick.’ The party could never tell him what to do. They tried. They even kicked him out because he wouldn’t do what they wanted to do. That’s his true legacy to the Southington political landscape. ‘Do what’s right.’”
“I really didn’t do it for publicity,” Oshana said before the event. “I used to tell people that they could call me ‘Harry.’ I really didn’t care…as long as they listened to my ideas.”
Throughout his life, Oshana was committed to Southington’s youth. He was a retired school teacher and assistant principal at the former Lincoln Lewis High School in Southington. He served on the board of education and two terms as a justice of the peace, but that wasn’t all that he did for the town.
He served as a board member for the Margaret C. Griffin Child Development Center and a past president of the DePaolo Junior High School PTA. Se was a member of the Southington High School Building Committee and a charter member of the Southington High School Gridiron Club.
He held offices with the Kiwanis Club and the Visiting Nurse Association. He was a member of the Southington Elks, the Southington Cable Committee, and the Knights of Pythias, along with a number of state education associations.
Oshana said that he was driven by what he could do to help the kids of Southington. How could he get them ready for college? If they don’t go to college, how could he help them in life? To his students, he posed just two questions.
“Question No. 1: Where will you be in five years?” he said. “Question No. 2: How will you get there?”
The award was presented for Oshana’s long commitment to those questions. Whether it was work, civil service, or his free time, Oshana has always been an outspoken champion for local students.
“It was worth it,” he said. “So many of my ideas were discussed. Not all of them were accepted, but at least they were discussed.”
Oshana was received to a standing ovation as he was presented the DTC award. In addition, Berkmoes presented Oshana with proclamations from the Southington Town Council, the governor’s office, and Sen. Chris Murphy’s office.
“Tonight we honor our fellow Democrat, Zaya Oshana the senior, for his many dedicated years of service to our party and our committee,” said DTC chair Robert Berkmoes.
State Rep. David Zoni said that Oshana is still a model for politicians. “Zaya’s a very unique politician. He’s one who never wavers from his convictions,” he said. “He’s a shining example of what a good politician is supposed to be.”