Introducing the 2019 Inductees into the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame
The IHHF Class of 2019 is a diverse group of remarkable individuals who embody the kind of perseverance, scholarship and achievement that have made our world a better place. Their noteworthy contributions serve to inspire and encourage future generations to excel. The IHHF Class of 2019 will include distinguished individuals who have been pioneers, leaders and scholars in education, science, law, and religion.
§ Rabbi Phillip Lazowski, philanthropist, spiritual leader and Holocaust survivor
§ Dr. Henry C. Lee, internationally renowned forensic scientist
§ Lucian Pawlak, former Mayor of New Britain and community leader
§ Dr. Zulma R. Toro, President of Central Connecticut State University, the first woman and Latino to lead the university
rabbi philip lazowski
The remarkable journey of Rabbi Philip Lazowski from Holocaust survivor to spiritual leader has inspired countless congregants, families and communities for decades. Born in Poland in 1930, Lazowski was 11 in 1941 when the Nazis invaded his hometown, destroying his family’s home and possessions. For four years he survived in desperation, being saved by a stranger who claimed him as her son, narrowly escaping execution by being tossed by his mother from a second story window and living in the woods for two years. In 1947 Lazowski made his way to America to pursue a life dedicated to faith and to ensuring the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten. He attended Brooklyn College and Yeshiva University Rabbinical School and relocated to Hartford, where he married the daughter of the stranger who had saved him from certain death years earlier. Author of more than a dozen books, including his autobiography Faith and Destiny, Lazowski was Rabbi at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Hartford; is Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield and Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford; was chaplain of the Hartford Police for 55 years; and remains Chaplain of the Connecticut State Senate.
Dr. Henry C. Lee
One of the world’s foremost and most widely recognized and admired forensic scientists, Dr. Henry C. Lee has fundamentally changed the way modern-day criminal investigations are conducted. Born in China the 11th of 13 children in 1938 and raised in Taiwan, Dr. Lee, who holds master’s and Ph.D. degrees in biochemistry from New York University, has worked with law enforcement to help solve more than 8,000 cases. He has been a prominent player in many of the world’s most challenging and high-profile investigations and criminal trials, including the O.J. Simpson, William Kennedy Smith and “woodchipper” murder trials, the Jon Benet Ramsey case, the suicide of White House Counsel Vincent Foster and the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. A former Commissioner of Public Safety for the State of Connecticut and the State’s chief criminalist for more than 20 years, Dr. Lee founded the University of New Haven’s Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science. He has taught at more than a dozen universities, law schools and medical schools; authored hundreds of articles and co-authored more than 40 books; lectured extensively around the world; and is the holder of numerous awards and more than 20 honorary degrees.
For three decades, Lucian Pawlak has been one of Connecticut’s most respected and beloved community leaders, a tour de force “man of the people” whose dedication to his New Britain community and those who call it home has known no bounds. Born of Polish heritage in Belgium in 1947, Pawlak came to New Britain in 1956 and distinguished himself as a star athlete at New Britain High School. His role as a city leader began with his 1987 election as City Treasurer, but it was during Pawlak’s term as Mayor from 1995-2003 that he cemented his legacy. Pawlak’s passionate leadership was vital to the revitalization of the city’s “Little Poland” corridor; the battle to fund a new city water treatment plant; and a successful city-wide effort to eliminate blight and bring new life to troubled neighborhoods. Pawlak is a leading figure in the success of the popular Dozynki and Little Poland Festivals; a director of the New Britain Institute, Trinity-on-Main and the Polish American Council of Greater New Britain Charities; a member of the New Britain Sports Hall of Fame; and a recipient of countless community service and leadership accolades. In 1998, Pawlak received the Cavalier's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his outstanding contributions to Polish/U.S. relations.
Dr. Zulma R. Toro
In 2017, Dr. Zulma Toro became the 13th President of Central Connecticut State University and the first female and first Hispanic to hold the position in CCSU’s history. With a reputation as an extraordinary leader dedicated to making higher education more diverse and inclusive, Dr. Toro’s life has been one of overcoming obstacles and adversity to achieve excellence. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Dr. Toro chose an extraordinary educational path – she graduated from the University of Puerto in 1982 with a degree in industrial engineering, a traditionally male-dominated field. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan and Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Prior to joining CCSU, she served as Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, and previously held leadership positions with Wichita State University, the University of New Haven and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. Dr. Toro’s extensive array of publications have testified eloquently about the national imperative of preparing women for careers in engineering and STEM, and she has spoken passionately about the challenges and opportunities for women of color in realizing their full potential.
Keynote Address by LIEUTENANT Governor Susan Bysiewicz, September 26, 2019
As the granddaughter of Polish and Greek immigrants, I am so pleased and honored to be here with you this evening. My grandfather Kyriakos Raissi came to Connecticut from Greece in 1920. Although he had only a fifth grade education, he believed that his five daughters should go to college – a radical thought for a Greek immigrant who worked at the Bigelow Carpet Factory in Enfield for 50 years.
His daughters became an accountant, a law librarian, a college professor, a high school teacher and the first female tenured professor at UCONN Law School (that was my mom!).
My Polish grandparents bought a farm in Middletown after saving money from their jobs at a slaughterhouse in Chicopee Massachusetts. They raised six children on the farm. My father and his 2 brothers served in World War II. After his service as a bombardier and a co-pilot in the European theater, my dad returned home and went to Drexel University on the G.I. Bill. As a farm kid from Middletown he never would have had the opportunity to go to college if not for the GI Bill.
I share my family’s story because it is the story of so many Connecticut families. The stories of the incredible individuals being honored here tonight are the stories of Connecticut families and Connecticut’s families stories are their stories. That goes to the mission of the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame.
At this moment there are those who seek to vilify immigrants. I can think of no more important time than now to celebrate the contributions of immigrants and to reinforce the fundamental truth that we are a state and a nation of immigrants. We are stronger as a nation when we see immigrants as new recruits ready to carry forward the torch of liberty.
Indeed, the core principle of the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame is that, as a nation of immigrants, the heritage of all immigrant and ethnic communities is part of our common American identity and culture. We should celebrate it as our common, yet diverse, American heritage.
To each of the honorees: congratulations.
I must say that it is one of my great joys of public services to walk into the Senate Chamber and see Rabbi Lazowski serving as our Senate Chaplin. His personal story of survival and perseverance in the midst of humanity’s darkest hours is a reminder that good can triumph over evil. Rabbi Lazowski has touched the lives of thousands of people in our state. His deeds and his continuing quest to educate others – serves as an example of a life of service and devotion.
Lucian has been a wonderful friend and mentor to me and a champion of Little Poland and New Britain. Lucian and his family came to New Britain when he was a little boy. They chose New Britain because it was a shorter train ride from New York, compared to Chicago. And had Lucian’s family been a little more willing to spend a little more money for that ticket he most certainly would have gone on to serve as Mayor of Chicago.
Of course, Lucian dedicated himself to public service here in Connecticut w al know how lucky New Britain was to have had you as its city treasurer, clerk, mayor and just about every other public, civic, and cultural office in between. His public service also extended to the state level when he worked for the Secretary of the State’s office.
Some of you may not know this, but growing up, Lucian was a star football player in high school and college. And while as a young man he may have dreamed of being enshrined in the NFL’s Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, I know just how proud he is to be honored tonight – even if this honor doesn’t come with a gold jacket.
And speaking of New Britain treasures, Dr. Zulma Toro, President of Central Connecticut State University, is truly a barrier breaker. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, she is the university’s first female president and its first Hispanic chief executive.
Our shared friend Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa Nunez constantly preaches that the way to build the middle class is through an affordable and accessible community college and state college system. And that is exactly what President Toro is doing. In her short time on campus, she has proven herself to be a force of nature guiding Central Connecticut State University.
Through her long career in higher education, she has made it her mission to focus on the needs of young women and other under-represented communities who are pursuing careers in engineering and other STEM fields. He is an inspiration and role model for so many women in higher education.
Dr. Lee was born in China and grew up in Taiwan. Dr. Henry Lee first worked for the Taipei Police Department, attaining the rank of Captain. With his wife, Margaret, Dr. Lee came to the United States in 1965 in order to pursue higher education and then on to a career as internationally renowned forensic scientist – although I’d argue his most important job is as an educator and professor. He too was a long tie public servant, serving as Connecticut’s State Criminologist for many years.
And while each of our honorees come from different places, and have very different careers, what is remarkable is the similarity of their American experience. Each arrived here in search of a better life and an education. And each achieved success in large part thanks to their public education.
It is that knowledge that an education – especially an accessible and affordable public education – can lift up an individual and family. An accessible and affordable public education is an investment in our business community and our economy and it is the best investment we can make in our state’s future.
The other thing that binds our honorees together is, once they received that education, they chose to dedicate themselves to public service. And we see this dedication generation after generation.
It’s why my dad, a farm kid from Middletown – the children of immigrants – signed up to fight for this country in World War II. It’s why a Polish immigrant and survivor of the holocaust chose to serve thousands of families as a rabbi. It’s why a Police Captain from Taiwan chose to serve his state solving crimes. It’s why a Polish kid by way of Belgium chose to serve his local community in nearly every local elected office. And it’s why a daughter of Puerto Rico is inspiring students every day as a leader of one of Connecticut’s great institutions of higher education.
It’s those stories and those ideals that are central to the work of the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame. It is why we must not waver in our commitment to ensuring that Connecticut remain one of the best states in the union to receive an education.
These times require our collective work to ensure that each person has access to an affordable education for themselves and their kids so that they can enjoy opportunity, freedom and the American dream.
Every day I have the honor of representing each of you and fight for equality and opportunity for everyone in our state. I hope you will join me in that work.