Borough honors Earth Day mayor

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Naugatuck’s Earth Day Mayor for the Day honoree Al White poses for a photo with Conservation Commission Award of Appreciation honoree Joe Pernek Saturday morning at the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library. -JONATHAN WILCOX/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Everything, according to Al White Jr., is connected.

Seen one way, the rain that pushed the Naugatuck Conservation Commission’s annual Earth Day celebration into the Howard Whittemore Memorial Library on Saturday was an inconvenience.

But the way White sees it, rain is a good thing.

As the members of the conservation commission and those devoted to the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve gathered in the library to name White as Earth Day Mayor for the Day for his conservation efforts there, the rain was nourishing milkweed growing on the hills of the preserve.

Eventually, that milkweed will feed monarch butterflies when they stop in Connecticut on their way to Mexico. Smith made sure of that last fall, when he ensured the park was designated as a monarch way station where the migrating insects can stop during their annual trip.

Those butterflies — and the thousands of other species that live on the 40 acres of open space off Gunntown Road — have thrived under White’s watchful eye as a volunteer and high school biology teacher with roots in Naugatuck.

“Every organization has to have unsung heroes,” Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess told a small audience on Saturday.

It was an audience that included former Earth Day Mayor for a Day Mary Lou Sharon, who helped reveal in the 1980s that waste dumped in a Naugatuck landfill was contaminating her neighbors’ water and their land with toxins.

The group also honored Joe Pernek, a Naugatuck resident who collects litter from Naugatuck’s roads almost every day.

Introducing Pernek, Conservation Commission Chairman Melissa Leonard recited a definition of integrity often falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis: doing the right thing even when nobody is watching.

Pernek leaned on his walking stick at the front of the room.

“The Earth is watching,” he said softly.