NAUGATUCK — A coating of unexpected snow did not keep scores of people from the steps of Town Hall to honor Bernie and Ethel Grant as Naugatuck’s African-American Mayors of the Day in a Friday morning ceremony.
“We appreciate this honor,” Ethel Grant said. “We are community minded, and we just wish that everybody else would be community minded and take on the mantle of respect and appreciate each other.”
During the 36 years the couple has lived in the borough, they have become an integral part of numerous community service efforts, mostly through the Naugatuck United Methodist Church and the Naugatuck Senior Center.
Ethel Grant is a founding member of the Naugatuck Ecumenical Food Bank, where she volunteers to package and distribute food to the needy. She is a member of the Naugatuck Historical Society, where she put together a display last year of ethnic fabric art. She is the Methodist church’s chairperson of Missions and Outreach and a member of the voice and bell choirs. She also sings in the Naugatuck Valley Gospel Choir.
Bernie Grant is the office clerk and dispatcher at the senior center, where he teaches computer classes, works in the vegetable garden and volunteers to help prepare taxes for free. Grant has helped more than 120 borough residents file federal and state tax forms this year, saving them more than $85,000, according to Senior Center Director Harvey Frydman.
Mayor Robert Mezzo desrcibed the Grants as “two fantastic individuals who epitomize what it means not only to be African-American role models, but to be Naugatuck role models.”
Ethel Grant retired three years ago from her job as dean of students at Kaynor Technical High School in Waterbury, where she said she organized cultural programs every year for Black History Month. Bernie Grant retired six years ago as a human resources employee for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals in Danbury. The two live in the Indian Hills North subdivision on the borough’s east side.
Their daughter Kelly, now 39, became the borough’s first black female police officer in 1996. She is now a state trooper out of Troop A in Southbury. Their 34-year-old daughter Courtney is a police officer in West Hartford.
“They are fine examples of good parenting,” said Ralph Roper, chair of the Naugatuck Cultural Council, of Bernie and Ethel Grant. “They continue to influence the youth through their work at the Naugatuck United Methodist Church.”
African Americans make up nearly 5 percent of the borough population, according to the 2010 census. Fred Vulcher, the borough’s liaison from the Greater Waterbury branch of the NAACP, said he was working with officials to increase minority representation in local government.
The borough has two black police officers, and one Hispanic officer still in the police academy, Vulcher said.
“It’s an ongoing effort to improve the diversity of the police department, and soon I’d like to have a conversation with the fire department,” Vulcher said.
Bernie Grant said he has noticed more black borough residents over the decades since 1976, when he and his wife came from Bloomfield.
“It seems as though the population has grown,” Grant said.