Two local women were among those honored Saturday night at the Connecticut Sun basketball game as part of the Sun's inaugural Women of Inspiration program.
Joanne Kasprzak of East Lyme and Linda Spoonster Schwartz of Pawcatuck were honored during a pre-game reception and halftime ceremony at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Chris Gullotta, the youth program coordinator for creative experiences at Glastonbury Youth and Family Services, was the third honoree.
Each of the women was presented with $500 in their name from the Connecticut Sun Foundation to go toward a cause of their choice.
Each year, a new class of honorees will be selected from a pool of candidates who are nominated to the Connecticut Sun by people in the surrounding communities for their accomplishments and contributions.
Also at Saturday's game, Rebecca Lobo received the inaugural Margo Dydek Award.
A former UConn basketball star who guided the Huskies to their first national championship in 1995, Lobo went on to play for the New York Liberty and Houston Comets before finishing her WNBA career with the Connecticut Sun in 2003.
The Margo Dydek Award is named in honor of the former Connecticut Sun All-Star who died unexpectedly at the age of 37 on May 27, 2011. The award will be presented annually to a woman who reflects Dydek's "warm and open spirit."
Tom and Joanne Kasprzak lost their 15-year-old daughter, Mary, who was born with Down syndrome, eight years ago. After her passing, Mary saved the lives of five people through organ and tissue donation. The Kasprzaks told their daughter's story in a book, "Plain Vanilla with Rainbow Sprinkles," in 2009. All proceeds from the book are donated to various charities.
"I'm humbled by this award given to me by the Connecticut Sun," Kasprzak said. "My daughter Mary was my inspiration, though, when she lived on this earth. If anybody is inspirational, it would be my daughter, to me."
Kasprzak said she will be donating the $500 to Lighthouse Vocational Educational Center, a Groton-based organization Mary attended that teaches life skills to people with disabilities.
Linda Spoonster Schwartz is the first woman and the first nurse to serve as commissioner of the state Department of Veterans' Affairs, in which position she oversees programs serving more than 310,000 Connecticut veterans. Schwartz was appointed by then-Gov. John Rowland in 2003.
She was also the first woman to receive the National Commendation Medal of Vietnam Veterans of America for Justice, Integrity and Meaningful Achievement.
"You don't go through life saying, I want to be a woman that inspires," Schwartz said. "You just try to do the best you can. It's always nice when people recognize that."
Schwartz will be making her donation to the Mary E. Walker House for homeless women veterans in Coatesville, Pa.