It’s one thing to stand on the sidelines critiquing or commending the local scene, as I do, as the sometimes dubbed “Great Pontificator!” It’s quite another thing, though, to volunteer one’s time tirelessly to serve, at town request, on boards and commissions that do the serious work of our town government. That service is especially impressive when those serving bring special skills and knowledge, including project design and planning, to make major projects work for the benefit of our town.
The Y’s Distinguished Citizen Award, which will be bestowed this weekend at its annual “Farm to Table Dinner,” recognizes two highly worthy volunteers in such service to our town: Karen Birck and Bruce Hampson. Both have given tireless service encompassing boards as diverse as schools and energy, and their talents as lawyer and engineer, respectively, have been regularly called upon for some of the most challenging work our town requires of its volunteers. In fact, it’s hard to imagine two more deserving recipients of this award for all they have done so well and so faithfully on behalf of us all.
Karen and Bruce co-chaired the high school science and Little Theater rebuilding, plus the HVAC renovation project, bringing it all in pursuant to an outstanding plan and under budget, and since then have participated, with leadership roles in many cases, in every major school and municipal-facility bonded capital project. Even after the high school project won voter approval and construction began, Bruce and Karen continued their engagement with the project, with Bruce especially riding tight herd on the contractors with his skills as a professional in the field of construction management offered pro bono to our town. His work in doing this oversight function played a key role in bringing that work in on time and under budget. Thus, both were an important part of the high school rebuild process from start to finish.
They have done similar excellent work on the Miller-Driscoll School rebuild, bringing it in so far, based on bids received and executed by our town, more than $5 million under the budgeted figures and with current estimates projecting actual cost as much as 25% less than originally budgeted when our town voted to approve the project, with a net cost after state reimbursement now projected at $37 million. After three years spent guiding the designing, bidding and contract- award process, they have stepped down as planned from their leadership roles, leaving the completion of construction in the hands of the very able building committee and excellent new town Facilities Manager Chris Burney.
Bruce’s and Karen’s volunteer efforts for our town have extended well beyond school rebuilds — important as they are in themselves, of course. For example, Bruce also worked on the rebuild of the Comstock Community Center building and was chair and founding member of the Wilton Energy Commission, vice chair of Wilton’s Council for Public Facilities, and director for Wilton Go Green. He has also been active in Trout Unlimited that does so much for the Norwalk River and other water resources in our area. Examples of Karen’s work extend across a wide variety of Wilton civic and private community organizations and include Wilton’s Board of Education (which she chaired from 2006-2009), Wilton Energy Commission, Women’s Club, Encore Club, League of Women Voters, and a founding directorship for Wilton Go Green. She was also a leader in a variety of Middlebrook School rebuilding projects.
Bruce and Karen are people of remarkable character as well as ability whose devotion to our town is unparalleled and who have given of themselves in so many ways. They exemplify magnificently those civic virtues so vital to our town that this Y award recognizes. Specifically, the award recognizes those who have made a difference for the good in the quality of our life here in Wilton, those who have made volunteering their time and talents a priority, and those who have participated in a variety of community organizations with a record of longtime service as outstanding leaders and also as exceptionally hard workers.
Bruce and Karen are also remarkably decent and thoughtful people. Sadly, they’ve suffered some really vicious attacks at the hands of a very few folks who seem to have nothing more to contribute to our town than criticism expressed in vindictive, petty, and ad hominem ways that are unworthy of our town.
The Y is to be commended for acting wisely and very much in the best interests of our community in honoring Bruce and Karen for their outstanding volunteer service for so long and in such important work.