MERIDEN — Local luminaries in the fields of medicine, community service, business, and civil rights were honored at the 43rd annual Meriden Hall of Fame induction ceremony held at the Augusta Curtis Cultural Center.
Dr. E. Robert Bertolli, 62, the chief of optometry at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico; Joan Edgerly, 82, former president of the Meriden Library Board; Stanley J. Hancock, the deceased owner of Hancock’s Pharmacy; and George S. Jeffrey, a 19th century civil rights pioneer, were inducted Sunday afternoon.
“This is what community is all about,” said Mayor Kevin Scarpati. “These are individuals that put community service, that put others, above themselves.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said that the Meriden Hall of Fame is an inspiration, a reminder to him of the importance of civic contribution.
“There is a great tradition of leadership and citizenship in Meriden what we are celebrating today,” Blumenthal said.
The common thread running through the honorees’ remarks is that their achievements didn’t happen in a vacuum — they needed the support of a wide network of family and friends.
Lisa Bertolli Marchetti, Bertolli’s sister, described that they grew up in an environment where faith, family, and patriotism naturally led to community service. Bertolli chose to carve out a successful career working closely with law enforcement and the military, including soldiers diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
His parents, both Meriden Hall of Fame honorees, urged him to strive for knowledge and skill that would be deployed in the service of other people, he said.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren't for the inspiration of a lot of folks,” Bertolli said.
Irene Masse, Edgerly’s presenter, gave a biographical picture of her life. Edgerly began her career as a teacher, worked for the Meriden health department, and then in 1986 got a master’s degree in library science, launching her on the journey that would be her life’s work. Edgerly is the first woman to serve as president of the library board, a title she holds to this day.
“I am overwhelmed at being the recipient of this amazing award, but I am more pleased at the attention it gives to the Meriden Public Library,” Edgerly said.
Lorraine Hancock, 89, reminisced about her husband’s career running one of the few remaining independent pharmacies. She touted him as a wonderful husband and father, and noted that he might not be comfortable with all of the attention. It is his legacy that the pharmacy continues, still doing personal deliveries and making sure they are open in storms for people who need them.
“He was never a graceful receiver. He always wanted to be a giver,” she said. “He was not one to seek public recognition.”
No photograph exists of George Jeffrey, a Meriden resident who operated a barber shop in the city from 1852 to 1896.
“He was a civil rights advocate who was a civil rights advocate before there were civil rights advocates,” said Michael Quinn, vice-president of the Meriden Hall of Fame Association.
Jeffrey was the founder of the Lincoln Colored People’s Association of Meriden, later known as the Lincoln Club. A prominent Republican, Jeffrey advocated in 1887 for legislation that forbid discrimination against people of color by insurance companies. He died in 1906 and his Hillside Avenue home is recognized on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
“He fought to attain civil, economic and political equality,” said Sherwin Borsuk, president of the Meriden Historical Society. “He was known for his trademark use of his umbrella or his cane to emphasize his remarks.”
Blumenthal, in his remarks that helped kick off the ceremony, said that this kind of civic virtue is a “tonic” for what he sees in Washington.
“I am inspired here. I’ll go back to a place where these values are not always celebrated, let alone observed,” he said.