By JEN CARDINES
After months of anticipation, Bob Brown stood before a crowded lobby of local dignitaries, school staff, families and friends for the 11th annual Southington High School Wall of Honor celebration.
Since the former teacher-current Board of Education member founded the project over a decade ago, the wall has become a tradition that demonstrates significant local community service, outstanding awards received, noteworthy humanitarian work, and/ or professional of lifetime achievement of SHS graduates.
“It brings attention to the positive things that people do,” Superintendent Tim Connellan said. “We have wonderful alumni and this is just a small fraction of them.”
Pfc. Charles Bradley Remer and Lance Cpl. Raymond Arthur Burgess were inducted for their ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam Conflict in 1968.
Mark Boxer (class of 1978) was chosen for his humanitarian work and major career accomplishments, much like Robert Calandra (class of 1981) who dedicated three decades to the Central Intelligence Agency.
The WOH also inducted senior pilot in Port Canaveral, Fla., Stephen Gasecki (class of 1977). It is the second largest passenger cruise ship port in the world.
Finally, the Class of 2017 welcomed lifetime Southington resident Walter Hushak (Class of 1941) for his service to country and hometown.
While the event has a similar agenda each year, something was different about the 2017 ceremony.
It wasn’t the fact that they were all males, or that they served the country in some capacity. It wasn’t the class size being the largest in Wall of Honor history.
It was the personal connections that rippled throughout the event, making the inductees’ night that much more memorable.
State Rep. John Fusco took the opportunity to present Calandra’s proclamation because they were classmates at SHS. BOE member Dave Derynoski, who attended school with Remer and Burgess, remembers when they didn’t return home from Vietnam. On behalf of Southington Public Schools, he handed posthumous diplomas to the families of the fallen soldiers.
That was just the beginning. During his time at SHS, Gasecki’s father was the principal, while Hushak’s wife was the school nurse.
The WOH chair then boasted that Boxer, who also attended the high school with Calandra concurrently, was his student for ninth grade civics.
Everyone seemed to be connected in some way. “These are the types of people we want on the wall,” Brown said. “I think there’s probably another 50 to 100 people out there that we haven’t found yet.”
WOH committee members formed a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization to raise money and expand the project.
“We’re going to make a travelling wall to leave in businesses around town and have video screens around the high school,” said Brown.
He said his dream is to one day host a banquet at the Aqua Turf that will bring all Wall of Honor classes together in one place.”
Names can’t be revealed just yet, but three names are already in the ring for the Class of 2018. To nominate honorees for future induction classes, written and verbal recommendations can be made personally to 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 email@example.com or (860) 621-0416.
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Photos by JOHN GORALSKI