Franciszek “Frank” Herzog, who passed away February 3, 2017, was born in Poland in 1931 and was a survivor of the Siberian exile following the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. Born into a military family, Frank was joined in exile by his mother and brothers; his mother died in a Soviet labor camp and his father was among the Polish Army officers killed during the infamous Soviet war crime known as the Katyn Forest Massacre in which more than 20,000 Polish military and civilian leaders were murdered. Following the Nazi attack of the Soviet Union in 1941, Frank embarked on a month-long journey with other Polish refugees, many sick and malnourished, to a Polish orphanage in India, where he lived for five years before reuniting with his brothers after the war in England. He met his wife, Kamila, and pursued a career in electrical engineering, relocating to the United States in 1969. Frank worked for many years at Northeast Utilities, and distinguished himself in his community and nationwide, serving as a leader in Polish scouting and influencing young lives for 37 years. He was awarded the Officers Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his efforts in propagating the truth about Katyn and for his work with Polish Scouting in the United States.
A true man of all people, Rabbi Henry Okolica has touched thousands of lives in his 103 years on this planet. Born in Germany, proud of his Polish heritage and a Holocaust survivor, the Rabbi is revered and respected by people of all backgrounds and faiths, hence his reputation as “Everyone’s Rabbi.” Okolica survived the infamous Nazi Kristallnacht – “Night of Broken Glass” – persecution campaign in November, 1938, and spent time in a Gestapo jail cell before escaping to the United States. Since arriving in New York in 1940 and taking the pulpit at Congregation Tephereth Israel in New Britain in 1960, Rabbi Okolica has been a source of faith and inspiration; he created and hosted the weekly “Jewish Life” program on WVIT TV-30 for more than 30 years, and he and his wife Lisbeth became renowned for their Shabbat hospitality, inviting congregants and strangers to their home every week. In the Rabbi’s own words, “I didn’t escape Germany to live my own life. I escaped because God commanded me to be his helper.”
Born in Cuba and raised in Panama, Bessy Reyna is an award-winning bilingual poet, activist, lecturer and journalist who writes on issues of gender, ethnicity and equality. A magna cum laude graduate of Mount Holyoke College and holder of masters and law degrees from UConn, she is the author of two bilingual books of poetry. A former Master Teaching Artist for the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism and opinion columnist for The Hartford Courant, Reyna today writes on arts and culture for the Hispanic newspaper Identidad Latina and is an opinion columnist for CTLatinoNews.com. Bessy holds numerous literary awards, was named Latina Citizen of the Year by the state’s Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission in 2001, and in 2012 was one of 10 women honored by the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame.
In 1910, 17-year-old Angelo Tomasso, Sr. arrived in New York from Italy, determined to succeed in America. Following service during World War I and several years working as a laborer, he used the one piece of equipment he owned – a steam shovel – to establish a construction company, Angelo Tomasso, Inc., in 1923. Tomasso, Sr.’s perseverance is legendary: In the early years, he drove his steam shovel overnight from New Britain to Hartford because the contract for constructing the foundation for the Hartford County Building was to be awarded to the first to arrive on site. He won the contract. During the 1930s and 1940s, Tomasso paved the majority of the roads in New Britain, built the first section of New York’s Taconic Parkway and the original Brainard Airport in Hartford. Always thankful for his blessings, Tomasso became active in the community and established a culture of giving back that is alive and well today. A founding member of several ethnic organizations in the area and personal friends with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Tomasso, Sr. passed away in 1952.
Angelo Tomasso, Jr. followed closely in his father’s footsteps. He served with distinction in the U.S. Navy during World War II, receiving a Purple Heart for wounds sustained in the Philippines. He earned a civil engineering degree from Auburn University and upon his father’s death in 1952, became president and chief executive officer of the Tomasso Company at age 27, managing the company along with brothers Victor, George and Bill. The company became famous for major construction projects including Interstates 91 and 84, Routes 9 and 2, and corporate headquarters including Emhart, Stanley Works, Aetna and Bristol Myers. As he was building the company, Tomasso, Jr. continued giving back to the community and over the years earned numerous civic service honors: In 1996, he received the Royal W. Thompson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Association of Street and Highway Officials, and in 1990 received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from CCSU.
Pakistan native the Honorable M. Nawaz Wahla is the first Muslim to serve as a Superior Court judge in the State of Connecticut. Judge Wahla grew up in a rural farming village in Pakistan in a large family of nine, managing daily without electricity or running water. He graduated with honors from school and was chosen as a cadet in the Pakistan Military Academy. Following his military graduation in 1974, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Pakistani Artillery Regiment; by day he served as an Army officer, while at night he pursued the law. After suffering life-threatening injuries in the line of duty, he chose to pursue the law full-time and came to the United States along with his wife and family. Judge Wahla holds an LL.B. from the University of Punjab Law College, a Masters in Comparative Jurisprudence from the University of Texas School of Law, an LL.M. from the University of Houston Law Center, and a diploma from the Hague Academy of International Law.
The Alverios were among the first Puerto Rican families to settle in New Britain in the mid-1950s, and have played an instrumental role in building and inspiring the Puerto Rican and Latino communities in central Connecticut ever since.
Growing up the youngest of three sons of Italian immigrant parents in depression-era New Britain during the 1930s, Nick DeNigris learned early and often that success in life was no guarantee.
Naeem Khalid knows all about life’s circumstances. In October, 1984, when he arrived in Houston, Texas, at age 26 from his native Pakistan, prepared to earn his Ph.D. in applied linguistics and/or follow in his father’s footsteps (Pakistan Royal Air Force) working in the aerospace industry, the school year was already well underway.
It begins in 1945, the year that Nowak was born in war-torn Poland. Life for the family of Catholic farmers in the post-World War II era was hard, with the land the Nowaks loved brutalized by years of war and the country under the thumb of Soviet communist rule.
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky, born in 1889 in Kiev, became one of the earliest and most accomplished pioneers of aviation.
Igor Sikorsky, Jr. is the founder of the New England Air Museum and is trustee of the American Helicopter Museum in Pennsylvania.
Helen and Vincent Knapczyk’s lives were shaped by the maelstrom of World War II — the invasion of Poland, exile to Siberia, and escape from Russia with General Anders army.
Tariq Farid is founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements International, which pioneered the innovative business concept of artistically designed fresh fruit arrangements.
Harry Sitilides grew up on the Greek island of Aghia Kiriaki.
As its former President and CEO, Michael Guida shaped Guida’s Dairy into today’s successful company. One could say that Michael’s interest in dairy is in his blood.
Luiz de Moura Castro was born in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. Luiz gave his debut recital at just 9 years old at the Teatro Municipal after winning a competition. He is a graduate of the National School of Music, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (summa cum laude) and of the Lorenzo Fernandez Academy of Music, Rio de Janerio and the Liszt Academy in Budapest.
In 1940, Michael, along with his siblings, rented a small garage on Wakerfield Court in New Britain to manufacture tool holders for his former employer, New Britain Machine. They named their little business Atlantic Machine Tool Works.
Ted and Wanda Malkowski represent and live the American Dream. They have succeeded in what America does best: entrepreneurship.
Mary Mazurek Heslin is the “grande dame” of Polish American political and community activists in Connecticut.