2018 Citizen of the Year: Louis Ziegler

In an over-ambitious, hyper-competitive world, there are still those whose life's work is to improve the lot of their fellow citizens.

And in a state worried about the departure of its residents for cheaper places to live, there are still those Connecticut-born, Connecticut-raised citizens who not only stay but also do the work that makes this a good place to be a child, to grow up, to grow old.

Louis Ziegler, executive director of housing for the Mohegan Tribal Housing Authority and board chair of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut Foundation, is such a citizen. In recognition of his work, both professional and volunteer, for the eldest and youngest residents of this region, he is the Chamber's Citizen of the Year.

The Citizen of the Year award goes to "an individual who has made outstanding strides on behalf of the civic and business community" in a given period or over a lifetime.

Louis Ziegler receives this honor for a lifetime of good work, beginning with the vital service of providing safe and affordable housing for elderly members of the Mohegan Tribe, which he has done since 1996, and for heading the Chamber's Foundation in its mission of funding programs that benefit children — more than $800,000 assisting more than 5,000 kids in his seven years as chairman.

He lives and volunteers in Montville, his hometown. He may be the most thoroughly Eastern Connecticut Citizen of the Year ever, having been born at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich and educated at St. Bernard High School and Eastern Connecticut State University. His early career years were spent assisting first-time home buyers at Household Finance Corporation in Waterford and as the credit manager at The Norwich Bulletin, where his work for children, through the Tommy Toy Fund, got started.

His mission, as the executive for all Mohegan tribal housing, is to carry out the tribe's commitment to fund the housing needs of its members. With Mohegan Sun's opening in 1996, the tribe acquired the means to create the housing authority. Louis Ziegler was its first employee, tasked with opening and operating the tribe's Elderly Housing Complex on Fort Hill Road, now home to about 50 people. Altogether he oversees about 136 apartments and houses.

The way he speaks about his work shows how this modest man lives his principles as he does his job. Although not himself a Mohegan, as a member of the Montville Commission on Aging he extends the respect given to elders in the Native American tradition to the town's oldest residents. To him, they are not "senior citizens" but "elders of the town." That's a powerful distinction, subtly but clearly conveying that older people are a resource for younger ones, not just a responsibility.

The same straightforwardness characterizes all his volunteer work. He says simply that "the things I donate my time to are part of my everyday life." His long-time work with the Tommy Toy Fund, which collects and distributes toys, books and warm clothes to children in need, made a natural segue to his work for the chamber foundation. This year he led the foundation in distributing $108,000 to 38 agencies for the educational and economic needs of children in eastern Connecticut.

Louis Ziegler volunteers with Eastern Connecticut Housing Opportunity to help provide affordable housing in the region. He coaches Montville Little League on the same field that he himself played on. His wife of 30 years, Jeanette, is a tribal member and chief operating officer of Mohegan Holdings. His late father, Robert P. Ziegler, worked at the United Nuclear plant in Montville, now the site of Mohegan Sun casino.

The Ziegler children attend their father's alma mater: daughter Sydnie is about to graduate from St. Bernard High School and attend Dartmouth College; son Ryan attends St. Bernard Middle School. Joining him as he becomes the 2018 Citizen of the Year are his mother, Joan, who still lives in town, and sister, Holly.

Louis Ziegler is not unique among people in eastern Connecticut for his deep roots or even his commitment to staying on in his hometown; rather, he and his family exemplify the abiding connections this place can inspire. What makes him the Citizen of the Year is that he wishes for, and works hard for, the same good fortune for others.

Congratulations to Louis Ziegler.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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