NAUGATUCK — For the 12th consecutive year, the Naugatuck Exchange Club will shine the spotlight on four members of the community whose actions have made them stand out as champions.
The club’s 12th annual Community Champions Banquet, which honors a local citizen, educator, firefighter and police officer, will be held March 12 at the Crystal Room in Naugatuck.
“This is one of our favorite fundraisers of the year because it brings the whole community together,” said Nancy Bolton, chairman of the club’s banquet committee. “They come out and celebrate what these four people have done for the town of Naugatuck.”
The banquet begins with cocktails at 5:30 p.m. and dinner is at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 each. For tickets, call Bolton by March 8 at (203) 232-8338.
Citizen of the Year
Dolly Lengyel, owner of the Personal Pampering salon on Church Street, has become famous in the borough for her Christmastime toiletries drive for military service members overseas.
She said she was inspired by a friend, a Vietnam War veteran who later died from exposure to Agent Orange, who told her he did not think the federal government did enough for its troops. The point was hammered home when Lengyel visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall and the Arlington National Cemetery in the Washington, D.C. area, honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“You go to the monuments and you say, ‘How could this happen?’” Lengyel said.
For her volunteer work, the Naugatuck Exchange Club has named Lengyel as Citizen of the Year.
Lengyel began organizing care packages for the troops during Operation Desert Storm, sending phone cards and Christmas cards. Since then, she said, people from all over the community have joined the effort. Last Christmas, she sent more than $14,000 worth of personal hygiene items overseas to more than 450 service members from Connecticut.
She has also helped organize fundraisers for children battling cancer and she works with the Veterans Who Care committee to give out holiday food baskets for military families.
Bolton said Lengyel’s efforts go beyond helping troops, adding that Lengyel also helps out Toys 4 Tots.
She was chosen, Bolton said, for “what she does not only for kids but for the troops and every other organization in town.”
Lengyel, 61, immigrated to the country from Lebanon as a child and has owned Personal Pampering for 27 years. She lives in the borough with her husband of 42 years, John Lengyel. She has three grown children, Jay, 41; Stephanie, 39; and Kimberly, 35.
Educator of the Year
This year’s banquet will mark the first time the club will honor someone as a champion posthumously.
MaryEllen Marques, who died last July of gallbladder cancer at the age of 51, was chosen as the Educator of the Year.
“Her bio just speaks for itself,” said Bolton, who added the committee received overwhelming nominations for Marques.
A borough resident, Marques taught at Maple Hill Elementary School for 23 years, mostly as a well-loved kindergarten teacher.
She taught kindergarten at Maple Hill since the building opened in 1989, and before that she taught at Cross Street Elementary School, which is now an intermediate school. At one point she took a break from kindergarten to teach fourth grade for a few years.
Colleagues and family members said they remember Marques for her smile, her patience and the way she sang to her students. She was in charge of the school’s “sunshine fund,” which paid for gifts for teachers who were sick or out on maternity or paternity leave.
“Mrs. Marques was the type of teacher that everyone would want their own children to have. I was blessed to have her teach my youngest son in kindergarten. Now a freshman in high school, he will never forget her. She will always be remembered for her frequent singing, her gentle manner and her caring nature,” wrote Maple Hill teacher Nancy Sasso Janis in a letter nominating Marques.
Bolton said the committee was unanimous in its decision to honor Marques.
“The committee was all in agreement for her being chosen for all that she has done for education in Naugatuck,” Bolton said.
Marques’s daughter Lauren, 26, will accept the award on her mother’s behalf. Lauren Marques was inspired by her mother to become a math assistant at Salem Elementary School.
“I feel that it is something that is very deserved,” Lauren Marques said of her mother’s award. “I can’t even describe how honored I am to be able to do this for her.”
Marques also left a husband, Julio P. Marques Jr., and a 22-year-old son, Christopher.
Christopher Marques said he was happy to see his mother recognized for her dedication.
“It’s a great honor,” Christopher Marques said. “I wish that she could be here to accept it.”
Firefighter of the Year
John DeBisschop, a 38-year-old borough resident, has worked for the fire department for seven years and is this year’s Firefighter of the Year. Before joining the department, he was a 911 dispatcher in Southbury and a firefighter in Waterbury. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1993 to 1997, attaining the rank of Damage Controlman Petty Officer Second Class.
In the Navy, DeBisschop said, he was essentially an on-ship firefighter, maintaining equipment and teaching others how to respond in an emergency.
He is active in the statewide American Legion’s internal affairs committee, Cub Scout Pack 109 and Boy Scout Troop 138. DeBisschop has served as chairman for the annual town-wide Halloween Party for over 8 years. He is also chairman of the Naugatuck Veterans Council, which organizes activities for patriotic holidays and decorates veterans’ graves.
DeBisschop said he was hooked on firefighting from a young age, when his father worked for the state forest fire control office. His parents also taught him the value of community service, DeBisschop said.
“I see that as part of my role as a citizen of Naugatuck,” DeBisschop said. “It’s the way I was raised.”
DeBisschop is currently the driver operator of Engine 4 and has attained the rank of firefighter/assistant mechanic.
“John is a very hard worker he has a very strong work ethic,” said Fire Chief Ken Hanks, who noted DeBisschop was selected for the honor by past Firefighter of the Year recipients.
As assistant mechanic, Hanks said, DeBisschop always finds something to do to make the department a better place.
“He’s a pleasure to work with,” Hanks said. “He’s definitely an asset to the department, definitely one of our model employees.”
DeBisschop lives with his wife, JoAnn, and four children, James, 12, and 5-year-old triplets named Jeffrey, Jack and John.
Police Officer of the Year
Officer Andre Moutela has only been with the Naugatuck Police Department for three years but that was long enough for his fellow officers to recognize what he brings to the department.
Moutela, 25, is this year’s Police Officer of the Year.
“Earning this degree of respect from his peers and superiors in three years time is a testimony to Officer Moutela’s unwavering work ethic and character, which exemplify the department’s core values of professionalism, respect, integrity, dedication and excellence,” wrote Police Chief Christopher Edson in his letter recommending Moutela as Officer of the Year.
Before joining the department, Moutela, a patrolman, was a member of the department’s police explorer post for seven years, aging out at 21 as deputy chief. After graduating from Naugatuck High School as a member of the Class of 2005, Moutela earned a bachelor degree in criminal justice from the University of New Haven.
Moutela is now an instructor with the explorer program, which trains teenagers in law enforcement. He is also a field training officer for new recruits in the department and he instructs officers on how to use speed guns.
Although he recently moved to Thomaston, Moutela, grew up in the borough after his parents immigrated there from Portugal. He has an older sister and a younger sister.
“I just enjoy helping people, and I think being a police officer is the best job you can do to help other people in society,” Moutela said.