NAUGATUCK — Robert Genovese considered the late Franklin Johnson Sr. a mentor.
Johnson was Genovese’s high school guidance counselor and it was Johnson who asked Genovese to serve decades later on the borough’s Human Resource Development board. Johnson and Genovese are the borough’s only two representatives in the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.
Genovese was honored yesterday morning with the Franklin E. Johnson Sr. Citizenship Award, at a breakfast to help raise money for the World War I Monument restoration Fund. The citizenship award is given each year to a borough resident who exemplifies Johnson’s values of character and community service.
“It was actually quite a surprise,” said Genovese, 69. “To receive an award that’s named after him is really quite an honor for me.”
Genovese is a lifelong resident of the borough, except for eight years spent in the U.S. Air Force, including service in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967. His unit received presidential citations, and Genovese was named Airman of the Month in 1966.
Having attained the rank of staff sergeant, Genovese was honorably discharged in 1968.
He came down with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1986, which was determined to result from exposure to Agent Orange. The Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs hired him in 1995 to work in the Waterbury office, where he helped veterans and their families file claims for service.
Genovese retired in 2003 when his cancer returned. Now it is in remission, and he continues to help veterans and their families, mostly from the borough, get financial and medical help.
“I enjoy being able to help others,” Genovese said. “I’ve still got my fingers in the pie. I don’t do it on a full-time basis, but I don’t turn anyone away either.”
Genovese became active in veterans’ issues soon after his return from Vietnam, joining the borough’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post and serving as commander in the late 1980s. He co-founded the now-defunct Veterans Who Care Committee, which for more than a decade provided financial help for veterans who slipped through the cracks, as well as food and scholarships for others in need.
Genovese has also served as commander of the Union City chapter of the Disabled American Veterans and is a member of the borough’s American Legion chapter, among other veterans’ organizations.
He was named Citizen of the Year in 2007 by the Naugatuck Exchange Club. He and his wife Rosemarie have been married for 48 years, and they have three grown children. His son Anthony is an Army veteran and his grandson Robert is currently serving with the Army in Afghanistan.
Before Johnson died last year, he asked Kevin DelGobbo, borough resident and chairman of the Department of Public Utility Control, to select the citizenship award winner every year. DelGobbo said he grew up down the street from Genovese.
“There’s no higher expression of citizenship than serving your country in the military, but that’s not the only way an individual can demonstrate their citizenship,” DelGobbo said. “I know Bob in terms of what his passion has been, in terms of his commitment to his family and community.”