By JEN CARDINES
Stephen Gasecki still remembers the questions swirling through his head during the hardest examination of his life. He remembers looking up from the test to scan the faces of everyone around him.
Was he prepared? Was he in the same class? How does a Southington High School graduate match up to such a competitive group of applicants?
“There are 50 people sitting in this classroom, and there’s only one job,” he said, but when it was all over Gasecki was the person receiving the one open position.
After much preparation, Gasecki earned the highest score on the test and was appointed Harbor Pilot at Port Canaveral in 1994 by the governor of Florida.
Now two years shy of retirement, with a full career under his wings, the highly successful Southington native will return home to be recognized during the 2017 Wall of Honor ceremony this month.
For his major career achievements, Gasecki will be inducted into the Southington High School Wall of Honor on Monday, Oct. 23. Founded by former SHS teacher and current Board of Education member Bob Brown, the Wall of Honor celebrates individuals for one of the following categories: lifetime achievement, community service, major career accomplishments, and humanitarian work.
While this year’s inductees span in age and come from various backgrounds, states, and careers, they all began their journey at SHS. In fact, Gasecki’s graduating class was the first to go through the “new” high school when it opened on Pleasant Street in 1974.
The current Derynoski Elementary School was SHS before the new facility was built to hold grades 10, 11, and 12. Most incoming students dealt with the stress of becoming a high schooler—especially in a newer and larger building—but Gasecki had another thought on his mind.
“I’m at a brand new school, and there’s my dad…the principal,” he said, referring to his father John Gasecki.
During his tenure at SHS, Gasecki was an honor roll student and an athlete on both the soccer and football fields.
Following his high school graduation in 1977, Gasecki attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., one of five federal academies in the country. He received a degree in nautical science with a minor in nuclear physics. Gasecki graduated fourth in his class in 1981, and when he returned last year for the 35th reunion he was awarded the Silver Mariner award.
Kings Point supports the U.S. Navy on the civilian side by refueling their ships at sea, and graduates are enlisted in the Navy reserve.
“I was in the first Gulf War in 1989,” said Gasecki. “Operation Desert Storm was quite an experience. I’d never been in war, and here I am the captain of these people.”
The harbor pilot left Southington after graduation and has lived in Florida for over two decades, but he still remains connected to his hometown.
“I still have so many friends and relationships in Southington,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the education that I received in Southington, I wouldn’t have the successful career I have today. I’m just so fortunate, and it all started right there in Southington.”
Brown said that when this year’s WOH class was made public, a former student who was helped greatly in his life by Gasecki emailed Brown.
“This is exactly the kind of successful but warmhearted person we most wish to celebrate with our Wall of Honor,” Brown said. “Stephen has made a huge difference in the lives of others, and that is the highest compliment.”
He will return home for the WOH ceremony where he will be formally honored alongside the other nominees on Monday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. outside of the SHS auditorium.
To nominate honorees for future induction classes, written and verbal recommendations can be made personally to Bob Brown.
Applications can be found online on the high school website (www.southingtonschools.org/page.cfm?p=9034), can be printed in the school office, and submitted to Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 621-0416.