March 7, 2014 11:06AM
By Jesse Buchanan
SOUTHINGTON — A great white shark head with its toothed mouth wide open greeted people at the United Way awards dinner Thursday at the Aqua Turf Club. It was one of a number of props from the movie “Jaws” on display.
The United Way dinner was held to honor E. Richard Fortunato, Jeff Shaw, and Rosemary and Jim Champagne. The four were named award winners for their volunteer and community-building work in Southington.
“The three awards given out tonight are for going far beyond what people would think is normal,” said Town Councilor Victoria Triano. “These people extended themselves over and over and over again.”
Fortunato is a member of Southington’s Town-Wide Effort to Promote Success, the United Way, and the Southington Interfaith Clergy Association. He is a freelance writer for local media and said he likes to highlight the stories of volunteers.
“I would safely say I’ve written 1,000 stories in the last 19 years,” Fortunato said. “There must be a thousand more. Those are the people I would like you to thank.”
Jim and Rosemary Champagne were honored as a couple for their work with Relay for Life. Rosemary Champagne is a cancer survivor.
“Doing the Relay for Life is the award in and of itself,” she said.
Jim Champagne said it meant the world to him that he and his wife were nominated together.
Jeff Shaw, director of the Southington High School band, was honored for his work with the town’s youth and for leading the band to victory and state and regional competitions.
“Jeff Shaw has brought our Southington High School band to national recognition,” Triano said.
Shaw said “an army” of people were required to run the band, including dedicated parents.
“They say it takes a community to raise a child. Imagine how many people it takes to raise a band,” Shaw said.
The dinner also included nearly 100 donated items up for silent and live auctions.
Kaye Davis, the Southington United Way’s executive director, said the dinner is the organization’s biggest fundraiser of the year. She’s begun creating themes for each one, starting last year with a Batman theme and featuring a Batmobile from the TV series.
This year the theme was an evening with the stars. In addition to the props from “Jaws,” which also included a fishing boat chair and buoys, the room was decorated with classic movie posters and Oscar statue cutouts. The Witch’s Dungeon, a classic movie museum in Bristol, also brought a number of items such as the golden idol from the Indiana Jones movies and a life-size statue of the creature from the Black Lagoon.
Witch’s Dungeon also donated a number of items for the auction, including signed photographs of Mark Hamill.
“They’ve been wonderfully supportive,” Davis said.
Puppeteer Bill Diamond helped the presenters onstage as Gorgo the Gargoyle, a character created by Diamond. He’s on the board of directors for the Witch’s Dungeon.
For next year, Davis has planned a science fiction theme.
“I think the themes are fun,” she said. “We want people to come to the event and have fun.”