Hometown Heroes: Virtual Ceremony Recognizes Simsbury’s 2020 Award Recipients
By Maria G. O’Donnell
As with most large gatherings these days, the Town of Simsbury 2020 Hometown Hero Ceremony was held virtually on Sept. 14, postponed from its original May date, due to COVID-19. The Zoom-based event was recorded live by Simsbury Community Television and featured members of the Board of Selectmen, Town Manager Maria Capriola, most award recipients, and two family members for a posthumous award.
First Selectman Eric Wellman welcomed all in attendance, then opened with a quote and invited attendees to guess who said it: “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve; you don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve; you don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics and physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
Wellman asked, “Who said that?” One guess was Mother Teresa. Wellman replied, “Not Mother Teresa, but someone just as great. He spent a couple of summers in Simsbury.” “Martin!” someone else interjected. Wellman confirmed, “Martin Luther King.”
With that, Wellman explained why these seven servers of the Simsbury community were to be recognized. He said that Hometown Heroes started in 1986, the 350th anniversary of Connecticut, and Heroes “have been recognized every year since, including this year, which is our town’s 350th anniversary.” Wellman called it “one of the most meaningful ceremonies the BOS participates in,” and wished it could be in person, but looked forward to the day he could shake each recipient’s hand and congratulate each in person.
Wellman also unabashedly considered Simsbury to be “the best town in Connecticut...because we’re blessed with natural beauty and some of the best schools in the state...but the secret sauce that makes our town what it is, is you.” He named each Hometown Hero and noted that it’s people like them who selflessly get involved in the community and make it a better place to live.
“I believe the energy needs to come from the community, and it’s your energy that makes Simsbury what it is,” Wellman said. He noted that the seven Hometown Heroes would be among the first to receive a commemorative 3 and 1/2” in diameter copper-plated medallion designed specifically for the town’s 350th anniversary, weaving in images of the Heublein Tower, Pinchot Sycamore, Farmington River, and “elements of our agricultural history.”
Selectmen proceeded to introduce each Hometown Hero by reading a description of their service.
*Denotes information derived from Ceremony Program.
*Ms. Costolnick founded and is overlooking a Facebook page called “Sewing Face Masks - Farmington Valley CT.” The web page is designated to coordinate people willing to sew masks for healthcare workers, their families, and communities in need. Under Ms. Costolnick, group membership grew to 1,425 members. The operation shifted from just her front porch to several different locations as its size increased. As of September 8th, the group was responsible for the delivery of over 45,000 masks. Ms. Costolnick is a Simsbury Hometown Hero because she did not hesitate to act when she saw a need for action in her community.
Selectwoman Wendy Mackstutis introduced Costolnick, saying that she actually got one of Costolnick’s masks from someone on the Democratic Town Committee who was sewing for her and “they were great quality. And I just want to say thank you for meeting the need of our town residents through this whole pandemic and creating masks for everybody before they were really available for purchase.”
Costolnick said, “It was so great to meet everyone in town through all of this; it was an amazing experience.” Post-ceremony, she added, “I started this project as a way to keep busy early in the pandemic and try to make a small difference when we were all feeling so helpless, but it grew into an amazing effort from the whole community. With the help of hundreds of volunteers (sewing, cutting fabric, making deliveries, organizing) we distributed over 45,000 masks to recipients in need across a wide range of organizations – hospitals, first responders, nursing homes, community organizations, schools and many more.”
*Mr. Cushman is the founder of the Community Compassionate Response Team (CCRT). Under his guidance, CCRT established a website where community members can request assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the fundamental functions of CCRT is that they make regular “check-ins” on those who might need assistance. CCRT is partnering with Fitzgerald’s Foods to help with processing and distributing food delivery orders. Mr. Cushman not only oversees CCRT functions but also makes deliveries himself. He is a Simsbury Hometown Hero because, in these challenging times he is inspiring others to focus on compassion.
Selectwoman Jackie Battos introduced the CCRT founder and his organization.
Cushman said, “It was really a team effort, but I helped get it launched and continued to work with it. Fortunately, the CCRT is winding down as the needs that we were responding to have shifted, but we’re exploring the possibility of doing some new things as the needs continue to evolve.”
*Ms. Diachenko served as the Simsbury Civitan Club President. For several decades under her guidance, Simsbury Civitan Club focused their work on individuals with developmental challenges. Ms. Diachenko has coordinated a number of fundraisers that assisted those in need in the community. She was Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star, President of the Simsbury Woman’s Club, Chairperson, and board member for the McLean Auxiliary. More than anything, Ms. Diachenko is known as a person who dedicated her life to helping others; that is why she is a Simsbury Hometown Hero.
Selectman Chris Peterson introduced Diachenko, who goes by Marge, but was not able to attend the video conference. Peterson said, “I talk about service quite often and that this town is made up of volunteers and, when we really peel back the essence of our town, it truly is about volunteerism and how many people are so engaged and make a difference. When you look at [Marge’s] level of involvement, it’s quite amazing that we’ve been truly blessed to have Marge as a resident in our town and how many people were truly impacted by her.”
*Mr. Fleming is a lifelong resident who represented Simsbury’s interests at the legislature, both as a Simsbury State Representative and State Senator. He was on the Simsbury Police Commission from 2012 to 2020 and also served as Chairperson. This is the 2nd time Mr. Fleming has received a Hometown Hero award, having been previously nominated in 1991. Mr. Fleming is a Simsbury Hometown Hero because of his continued work and dedication to his hometown.
Selectman Mike Paine introduced Jim Fleming, also unable to attend. Of Fleming, Paine said, “He’s actually one of those individuals who has received this award before, so he’s two-fer. He definitely deserves it. He exemplifies – as these other folks do – what makes Simsbury special, and I couldn’t be prouder to know Jim and thank him and his family for everything they’ve done over the years for the town.”
*Ms. Long was Director of the Continuum of Care at St. Francis, past member of the Simsbury Aging and Disability commission, board member of the Professional Advisory Boards in Community Health for McLean, and Farmington Valley Nurse Association. Ms. Long was also known to be the first person to welcome a new neighbor, offer a hand in help, and some of her famous Irish soda bread. Ms. Long is a Simsbury Hometown Hero because she was a member of this community for over 50 years, and her kindness had touched many.
Selectman Sean Askham honored Ann Long posthumously and welcomed her husband, Mike, and their daughter, Maura Long Sheehan, to the ceremony. When he finished reading her bio that finishes with “her kindness had touched many,” Askham recalled a time when her kindness touched his family’s life. When the Askhams’ first daughter was born, the Longs invited them over as “mom and dad for the first time. Ann and Mike sat us down on the couch...and shared some of their experiences. Ann’s kindness in opening up her home to us was something that impacted me...We definitely miss Ann and her contributions, and she definitely deserves this Hometown Hero award.”
Ann’s husband, Mike, offered his words: “Of course, she was my Hometown Hero, too, and it’s so good that the town recognizes people who aren’t always in the forefront of everything, but are there all the time. And Ann was truly one of those people.”
*Ms. Miles did not hesitate to become the first volunteer of the Simsbury Medical Equipment Loan Locker. The Loan Locker provides medical equipment to those in need at no charge. By profession, Ms. Miles is a Physical Therapist, and as a volunteer, she makes herself available to community members for advice on equipment use and handling. She had recruited 25 new volunteers and is continuing to be an advocate for the clients. Ms. Miles is a Simsbury Hometown Hero because her motivation and endless energy improves many lives and encourages others to act.
Wellman took the opportunity to introduce Miles as one of the first volunteers with the Simsbury Loan Locker, which “allows our residents to borrow medical equipment free of charge – walkers, canes, wheelchairs...and operates out of the Apple Barn. As one of the first volunteers, Jean helped recruit about two dozen additional volunteers, helped establish a protocol for cleaning and caring for the equipment.” He emphasized that the Loan Locker is operated by volunteers, and two additional pioneers are resident Alan Needham and Chair of the Aging & Disability Commission Ed LaMontagne.
Miles thanked Wellman for naming Needham and LaMontagne “because, truly, the Loan Locker would not exist without Alan Needham coming to an Aging Commission meeting and pitching the idea. And it was just such a great idea that, as a P.T., of course I jumped on this bandwagon. Since then, it is a couple dozen volunteers that turn on a dime to fulfill the requests for people in need for equipment and to accept donations. It’s just so thrilling to be part of a community like Simsbury with such community spirit and so many great volunteers.” Miles offered residents to come to the Apple Barn for either needs for equipment or donations of them.
*Ms. Ryan acted as Trustee on the Simsbury Library Board of Trustees for twenty-eight years; ten of those years she served as Chairman. As a board member, she was instrumental in designing and expanding the library and its completion in 2006. She worked to secure a HUD grant for the funding of self-checkout equipment. Ms. Ryan has been instrumental in making the book sales a success every year. From May until August Ms. Ryan volunteers her time sorting out the books for the sales. Ms. Ryan is a Simsbury Hometown Hero because of her dedication to the library and community.
Introducing Ryan was Mackstutis, who said, “I met Gail last year and, before I knew anything of what she’s done and why she’s a Hometown Hero, I was able to see her commitment to action and doing things for the town and community.”
Ryan said, “Libraries are near and dear to my heart. I am a librarian, and I have loved the library from the first time I walked in in 1976...It’s just been wonderful to work with the various staff members, three directors, and all the wonderful volunteers that work at the library book sale and in the library itself.”
“On behalf of the Board of Selectmen,” Wellman concluded, “I want to share that you are the life of Simsbury. So many things that we have in our town as we walk down Hopmeadow, whether it’s our Performing Arts Center, Veterans Memorial, or Flower Bridge – and I could probably list 30 more things we have – because there are people like you who had an idea and a passion and expertise and in some cases, the time to make it happen. I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you’ve done for our town.” VL