Lenzini feted as commerce chamber's Citizen of the Year

Mary Lenzini, President of the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut, looks to Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, as she is honored as the organization's 67th Citizen of the Year on Feb. 28, 2017, at the Visiting Nurse Association's offices in New London.  (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
Mary Lenzini, President of the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut, looks to Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, as she is honored as the organization's 67th Citizen of the Year on Feb. 28, 2017, at the Visiting Nurse Association's offices in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)

Groton — Having ministered to the region’s sick and needy for more than three decades, Mary Lenzini was due for a big dose of TLC.

Amid an air of genuine affection, some 450 people delivered it Wednesday night, feting Lenzini, president of the nonprofit Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut, at the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut’s 67th Annual Citizen of the Year Celebration at the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa.

Lenzini's selection for the honor had been announced in February.

The Rev. Catherine Zall, executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, whose board of directors Lenzini has served on since its inception 10 years ago, praised Lenzini for her “competence,” “impact” and, most important, “citizenship.”

“She pledged allegiance to something bigger than herself and even family — community,” said Zall, one of several presenters who spoke prior to the screening of a video presentation. Eileen Duggan, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, was to present Lenzini with the Citizen of the Year Award.

Interviewed briefly before she accepted the honor, the 69-year-old Lenzini, a Waterford resident, was characteristically humble.

“It’s very easy to be a good citizen if you just love people, and are willing to be out there for them,” she said.

When the chamber asked if she had a favorite song, Lenzini identified Alicia Keys’s “We Are Here,” which Lenzini said her daughter-in-law, Jessica Bondi, had suggested.

“The words are perfect for me,” she said. “We are here. We are here for all of us.”

Lenzini attended the dinner with her husband, Sam Thomas, daughter Anna Lathrop, son Joseph Bondi and other family members.

Bill Stanley, vice president of development and community relations for Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, who served as master of ceremonies, said Lenzini and the VNA of Southeastern Connecticut have succeeded in providing “regional, accessible, affordable health care” — no mean feat, he said, in a state where “200 school districts serve 169 cities and towns.”

The region’s two daily newspapers, The Day and The Norwich Bulletin, praised Lenzini on their opinion pages Wednesday, and the publishers of each — Gary Farrugia and Nadine McBride, respectively — presented Lenzini with framed copies of the editorials.

Last year’s winners of the Citizen of the Year Award, Neil Ryan and Scott Gladstone of the Wireless Zone, toasted Lenzini in keeping with the event’s traditions. Gladstone called her “a true leader” whose organization serves 3,500 patients annually and employs more than 230 people.

Ryan noted that the pantheon of Citizen of the Year Award recipients has come to look less like “an all-boys club” in recent years.

In addition to Ryan and Gladstone, recent past recipients of the chamber's Citizen of the Year Award include Mitchell Etess, chief executive officer of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority (2015), Maria Miranda, owner and creative director of Miranda Creative Inc. (2014), Alice Fitzpatrick, president of The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut (2013) and Grace Jones, former president of Three Rivers Community College (2012).

According to a biography included in the program of Wednesday night’s event, Lenzini, one of six children, was born and raised in southern Illinois. She entered the Navy Nurse Corps in 1968 after finishing nursing school. She was commissioned as a Navy ensign, and, after attending Officer Training Command, was stationed at the National Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

While there, during the Vietnam conflict, Lenzini was placed in charge of an orthopedic ward caring for wounded Marines.

“I learned a lot about post-trauma care and wound care and even more about life and the effects of war and injury on young men,” she said in an interview posted on the chamber’s website. “I grew up pretty quickly. I learned that I wanted to continue in nursing and work in the community setting.”

After her tour of duty, she married a Navy Medical Service Corps officer and moved twice before settling in eastern Connecticut. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, she went to work for the Groton Public Health Nursing Service. Six years later, having obtained a master’s degree in gerontology, she was hired as the first supervisor of the East Lyme chapter of the Visiting Nurse Association.

When a number of VNA chapters merged in 1996, Lenzini was named the first president of the newly formed VNA of Southeastern CT. She co-founded the soup kitchen at the Second Congregational Church in New London in 1987, and still oversees it. 

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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