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New London - For Penny Parsekian, working for New London Main Street was an all-consuming, never-ending job - which she loved.
"Every once in a while a person lands in a job that turns out to be really right for them,'' said Parsekian, who left the organization after 12 years, the last 10 as its leader. "You get to work, and 10 hours later realize it's time to go home. That's how I felt about my job at New London Main Street. It was so interesting and so absorbing. I felt fortunate to have found it.''
About 150 businesses, community leaders, volunteers and friends showed up Tuesday night at Hygienic Art Park for a farewell party for Parsekian. More than a dozen downtown businesses provided food for the party, and many left personal notes wishing her well. Former members of the board praised her leadership skills and her work ethic and said she was a magnetic attraction that drew people in the downtown.
"We have big shoes to fill,'' said Kathy Diaz, a board member. "Penny brought a lot to the organization and she has become a very good friend. She will be hard to replace."
Parsekian resigned from Main Street in July after Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced he was reviewing all the money the city funds to nonprofits, and the City Council cut its annual contribution to the group from $80,000 to about $35,000. She also butted heads with the mayor, most recently over the cost of hanging up promotional banners in the downtown. Her last day was Aug. 3.
"I'm grateful to all of you who put up with my single-mindedness. I was a taskmaster,'' she told the crowd. "Obviously, I made a few enemies along the way ..."
Thomas & Linda English & Associates LLC has been hired for interim executive director services. The board will form a search committee to seek a permanent leader.
"The new board has done a fabulous job with the interim leadership to keep Main Street going,'' said Tony Silvestri, board president. "Our next step is to find what the new direction of the organization will be.''
He said a strategic planning committee will be established to map out a plan and find a permanent director.
Before the gathering Tuesday night, Parsekian said she was sad to be leaving the job and the people she has worked with over the years, especially the volunteers. She was a member of the board of directors when Main Street first began in 1998 and in 2000 was tapped to step in as acting program director. The executive director had left in April, and the city was preparing for OpSail 2000.
Parsekian had already proven herself as a successful fundraiser for the Sierra Club and in organizing a beautification program in her neighborhood at Ocean Avenue and Thames Street.
During her tenure, she built the annual fall and spring food strolls, organized festivals and implemented design improvements such as putting up signs for visitors.
"I'm looking for a job. I didn't retire,'' she said, adding that she's adjusting to the uncertain life of the unemployed. "I loved my job, and I'd love to do something to help historic downtowns to become more viable.''
She said she would like to stay in the area, but she and her husband will move to find work.