By Will Broaddus
---- — It is inspiring to know that there are heroes in our community, people who will rush to someone’s aid in times of crisis or devote their lives to addressing problems that can’t be solved in a day.
This is the 11th year that the Red Cross has held a Community Heroes Breakfast, to honor those who have acted in service to others.
The event allows us to show our admiration for these individuals. It also assures us that the best qualities of human nature are alive and well and come from every walk of life.
This year’s honorees are being celebrated today at the DoubleTree by Hilton Boston North Shore in Danvers. Here’s a look at who they are and what they’ve done.
Don Kelley’s capacity for both hard work and having fun has made him a welcome member of local service organizations, such as Beverly Rotary Club, and on numerous community boards, from the Hospice of the North Shore and Beverly Bootstraps to St. Mary’s School. When he lived in Somerville, Kelley was president of the local Lions Club and received their most prestigious honor, the Melvin Jones award, while also actively supporting the Somerville chapter of the American Cancer Society. As president of the Beverly Rotary, Kelley spearheaded efforts to raise money to buy an emergency response vehicle for the Red Cross. He has also organized fundraising events for many local organizations, such as the Red Cross Golf Tournament and the Kaplan Family Hospice Gala. A resident of Beverly, Kelley’s quick wit and melodious voice have also put him in great demand as an emcee and auctioneer.
Alexandra Romano, an honors student at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School, recently created a campaign called “Kill the Chill” to collect clothes and blankets for the homeless. She has also gone “Caroling for Cans” to collect groceries for Peabody’s Haven From Hunger food pantry and gathered donations to create toiletry bags for teens served by that agency. Romano believed these students should start the school year off with new personal items, just like the other kids, said her mother, Angela. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Alexandra Romano persuaded the school’s drama club, Stage One, to solicit donations from the audience at its fall play, raising $500 for the Red Cross relief fund.
The Rev. Michael Duda
Over the past 30 years, the Rev. Michael Duda, who lives in Rockport and serves as pastor of First Church of Wenham, has dedicated himself to serving children — especially children at risk. He has worked as a YMCA group leader, a volunteer with Doctors and Medical Technicians in South America, and a chaplain to Endicott College students, in addition to serving on numerous boards and committees dedicated to helping troubled kids. Duda spent more than two decades as executive director of the Anchorage, a Beverly residential home for at-risk teens, building the organization and helping troubled teens. At the Essex County Community Foundation, he was the driving force behind an annual conference that improves collaboration among local organizations. And through Duda’s efforts, Family Promise, a nationwide interfaith network that helps homeless families, was established in the area.
Health Care Hero
Rather than allow herself to be overcome by grief when her first husband died of cancer, Patricia Comeau-Simonson of Ipswich chose to help others in her position by pursuing a career in bereavement counseling. Even before earning a degree from Mount Ida College, she organized a program at the Bertolon Center for Grief and Healing, based in Danvers, to train leaders for support groups. At the program’s inception in 2010, 12 facilitators were trained, people who — like Comea-Simonson — had lost a loved one, and now could serve as living proof that life can be good again. She called them “representatives of hope.” Since then, those 12 have led support groups for nearly 200 grieving people, with a degree of success that has attracted support and allowed the program to expand.
Rosalin Acosta moved to the U.S. from Cuba at the age of 4 and knows what it means to be an outsider. That is why she has promoted diversity and a better world for children throughout her successful career. Acosta, who works as New England director of wealth management for TD Bank, has raised money for the care of young patients at Children’s Hospital Boston. Through her service on several boards and state agencies, she has also promoted the careers of Latinos, women and minority groups of every kind. An Amesbury resident, Acosta has contributed to her local community by serving as a trustee for Anna Jaques Hospital, a director for both the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center and the Essex County Foundation, and a recent chairwoman of the Danvers-based North Shore Chamber of Commerce.
For more than 20 years, while running his catering and chicken pot pie businesses, Ken Rothwell has also volunteered his culinary talent to community organizations and local nonprofits. This busy father of three has prepared meals for charitable groups like the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Salem and Lifebridge. He has also served as a sports coach in Merrimac, where he lives, and supported the kids at Mary Jane Lee Park in Salem. In addition, Rothwell once stopped by a roadside in Saugus to aid an injured woman, Dorthea Edmonds, who said simply: “He was so wonderful. He was so kind.” Rothwell’s ongoing, selfless commitment to the community has been recognized by many others, including the Salem Rotary Club and Salem Chamber of Commerce.
Mission Into Action Hero
Last June 17, Karen Stewart, executive secretary to the president of Beverly Cooperative Bank, dropped by the Girdler House — a Beverly retirement home — on her lunch hour to see an elderly friend. While there, Stewart found home Director Kathy MacNeill speech-impaired and faint from what looked like a stroke. Stewart quickly called for an ambulance, then sat with MacNeill and tried to keep her calm and comfortable. After the EMT personnel arrived and took charge, Stewart followed them to the Beverly Hospital emergency room and acted as MacNeill’s advocate and spokesperson, insisting that she receive immediate treatment as a possible stroke victim. “Receiving Karen’s help made the difference between a full recovery ... or debilitating outcome,” MacNeill said.
Jill Levine and Paul Willis
Mission Into Action Heroes
Jill Levine, athletic trainer at Manchester Essex High School, rushed to help a player who showed signs of distress during a basketball game last Sept. 10. Another spectator, Paul Willis of Hamilton, hurried to assist Levine on the court. While Willis tried to comfort the victim, Levine administered CPR and prepared to use a portable defibrillator if necessary. Due to the pair’s fast and knowledgeable response, the player, who was suffering cardiac arrest, was safely escorted to the hospital and enjoyed a good recovery.
Sgt. Brian Proulx
First Responder Hero
Sgt. Brian Proulx, a longtime resident of Haverhill and a 19-year veteran of its Police Department, was close to the scene when a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle was struck head-on by a car on July 17 in Haverhill. Proulx arrived within minutes of the accident and, realizing that the boy’s head trauma might be life-threatening, immediately requested a MedFlight to get him to the hospital. While awaiting the helicopter’s arrival, he also began applying lifesaving procedures to stabilize the boy’s condition. Thanks to Proulx’s foresight and skill, the boy survived to receive the medical care that allowed him to make a remarkable recovery.
Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Oswald
Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Oswald of Lynn, a 40-year veteran of the Marine Corps, has spent the last 17 years as senior Marine instructor at Lynn English High School. Under his leadership, the school’s Junior ROTC has won the Navy’s School of Excellence Award for 15 consecutive years. Its drill team, which regularly garners top honors at National Drill Team Competitions, also won the 2006 championship. But Oswald also uses drill practice to teach cadets the value of community service, leading them to perform for veterans groups, retirement homes and other community organizations. The students he mentors have also collected for the Jimmy Fund, conducted blood drives for the Red Cross, placed flags on veterans’ graves and carried the colors for those too old to march in Veterans Day celebrations.