NAUGATUCK — The weather was cold and wet but the faces of hundreds of runners and volunteers shined bright during the Ion Bank St. Patrick’s Day Road Race and Festival Saturday morning.
About 450 runners and walkers participated in the annual event and raised thousands of dollars for the Naugatuck Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization that awards grants to Naugatuck public school teachers to fund unique educational programs that are not funded through the annual school operating budget.
“It was quite a challenge but it was a terrific day and the team did a lot of work to make it happen,” said co-race director David Heller, chairman of the borough’s Board of Education.
All told, about 700 people flocked to downtown Naugatuck for the event, which included a 5K, a 10K and a children’s’ fun run. Though snow fell through the entire 5K and most of the 10K, the runners enthusiastically took to the starting line on Old Firehouse Road just as the mercury showed 30 degrees on the outdoor thermometer. Most donned Kelly green shirts and some wore four leaf clovers as they stampeded through downtown.
It was an event that the organizers feared may never happen.
The original date was March 14, but that was postponed due to poor weather conditions. When meteorologists predicted snow for Saturday, Naugatuck Education Foundation members, many of whom spearheaded organizing efforts, worried a bit.
“We were nervous following last week when we had to move it,” said John Pruchnicki, an NEF board member. “But we really expected a good turnout and we got it. I think it’s a tremendous town event and benefits everybody; every kid in town benefits from this.”
James Goggin, co-race director, said the race was successful in large part to the street, police and fire departments, as well as volunteers and sponsors.
Dave Rotatori, executive vice president and chief financial officer at Ion Bank, said the bank looks forward to sponsoring the road race every year.
“As a community bank, we feel that it’s one of our obligations, and we always want to, give back to the community,” he said. “We’re still fully committed — even though we dropped the name Naugatuck — to the Borough of Naugatuck.”
Rotatori’s wife, Pam Rotatori, is public school educator in Naugatuck.
“I have insight into the all the good things that they provide to the town and all the work they do makes a difference in the lives of kids,” Dave Rotatori said. “So it’s great to sponsor an event that helps the schools.”
Lauren Warren, who also teaches in Naugatuck, ran her first 5K on Saturday.
“I was more excited than anything,” she said. “I knew it could benefit my students so that was what I thought about.”