Elks leader chosen for citizenship award

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Jim Desmarais, of Naugatuck, poses for a photo at the Elks Lodge in Naugatuck Oct. 17. Desmarais is the Elks Exalted Ruler and coordinator of the Elks Senior Home Project, which assists senior citizens with home maintenance. Desmarais is this year’s recipient of the Franklin Johnson Sr. Citizenship Award. –RA ARCHIVE
Jim Desmarais, of Naugatuck, poses for a photo at the Elks Lodge in Naugatuck Oct. 17. Desmarais is the Elks Exalted Ruler and coordinator of the Elks Senior Home Project, which assists senior citizens with home maintenance. Desmarais is this year’s recipient of the Franklin Johnson Sr. Citizenship Award. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Decades ago, James Desmarais Sr. said, his wife inspired him to become more active in the borough.

“My wife got tired of me being a couch potato and said, get out and do something,” said Desmarais, who lives on Walnut Street.

Of all the organizations in the borough, Desmarais said he picked the Elks for its service and family orientation. He rose to become Exalted Ruler in 1988, has served 22 years as secretary and coordinates the Senior Home Project.

For his work, Desmarais is being honored with the Franklin Johnson Sr. Citizenship Award, given annually to a resident who carries on the legacy of character and community service exemplified by its namesake veteran and borough icon.

In a release, Mayoral Aide Ed Carter wrote that Desmarais was chosen because he “continues to volunteer his time and efforts to programs that benefit our community.”

Desmarais said he was shocked when Kevin DelGobbo, the borough resident tasked with picking each year’s winners, called to say he was chosen.

“I don’t do things to get rewards, but it’s nice to get a reward once in a while,” Desmarais said Oct. 17, on his 68th birthday.

The Senior Home Project helps at least 75 senior and disabled homeowners every year with simple household tasks such as raking leaves, cleaning gutters, trimming hedges, changing light bulbs, fixing faucets and installing air conditioning units. The program is in its sixth year, Desmarais said.

The Elks National Foundation provides $10,000 per year to fund the program, Desmarais said.

“It just kind of makes me feel good knowing I can make a difference in people’s life,” he said.

Desmarais was president of the Connecticut Elks in 2000. He has also volunteered for the Jaycees in Pennsylvania and coached Peter J. Foley softball in the borough.

Desmarais was born in Waterbury and grew up in Middlebury, where he was a volunteer firefighter. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1964 to 1970 in Fort Dix, N.J. He and his wife, Janet, lived in Pennsylvania before moving to Naugatuck in 1972 to raise their three children, Diane, James Jr., and Michael. After 37 years of marriage, Janet died in 2006.

Desmarais will be presented his award Nov. 7 at the Franklin Johnson Jr. Citizenship Award Mayoral Breakfast. The breakfast will be held at 8 a.m. at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant, 615 North Church St. Tickets are $25 and checks can be made out to Naugatuck Event Fund. To RSVP, contact Ed Carter (203) 720-7208 or ecarter@naugatuck-ct.gov.