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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Norwich couple dies in Florida hurricane

    In this undated photo, Catherine and Michael Yesenko of Norwich stand on the deck of the home in Matlacha, Fla. where they died during Hurricane Ian. (Courtesy of Claire Tellier)

    A Norwich couple staying at their beloved seaside home in Matlacha, Florida, died when Hurricane Ian made landfall last week, friends confirmed this week.

    Catherine and Michael Yesenko, both in their early 70s, were staying at their winter getaway when longtime friend Claire Tellier called on Sept. 28, the day Ian made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane.

    “I was thinking, ‘They better not be there.’ Well, she answered. I said ‘Oh my God, what are you doing there?’” Tellier said. “I was scared.”

    Matlacha, west of Cape Coral and north of Sanibel Island, was under an evacuation order. Tellier said she urged Catherine Yesenko to call 911 and get out if they still could. But she told Tellier that she and her husband planned to hide in the bathroom and wait out the storm.

    “She was sure it wouldn’t be as bad as the last one. She was convinced. She says, ‘This used to be a church. God will protect us,’” Tellier said.

    After watching the devastation on the news the next day, Tellier said she had feared the worst. Boats were flung ashore, homes had collapsed and bridges and piers were wiped out.

    It was another grueling week of uncertainty after the storm before Tellier said she confirmed the couple’s death with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

    Tellier said the couple stayed at the Florida home three or four months a year and considered it their “Shangri-La”

    “They loved it. I think in their mind they could be there to protect it,” Tellier said.

    Tellier hasn’t seen the couple in several years but had spoken to Catherine Yesenko just about every week.

    Michael and Catherine, under their own names and that of Hubert LLC, own numerous properties in Norwich. City records show they own the Flatiron Building at 9-15 Main St., the former Dunkin Donuts at 16 Main St., a multi-family building on Broadway and a commercial building on W. Thames Street.

    Tellier said she and her husband, John, had visited the Yesenko’s home in Florida and “had many, many wonderful times down there.”

    The home “was their pride and joy” and so close to the water you could fish off of the porch, Tellier said.

    Catherine Yesenko is originally from France and Michael Yesenko from the Greenwich area, Yesenko said, but they had moved into Norwich decades ago as they grew their real estate business. The couple loved to travel, and in addition to Florida would fly to France on occasion where Catherine Yesenko’s late mother lived.

    “They lived life to the fullest,” Tellier said.

    While in Norwich, Tellier said she and Catherine Yesenko would spend their Saturdays bargain hunting and visiting any number of yard sales.

    “She’s the most likable person and a wonderful friend,” Tellier said.

    Tellier said if there were 20 people in the room, Catherine Yesenko would stand out because of her smile, her laugh and her many stories.

    The Yesenkos were among 49 storm-related deaths reported in Lee County Florida, a coastal area that encompasses Fort Myers, Matlacha, Pine Island, Cape Coral and Sanibel Island. Lee County was one of the hardest hit areas in the storm and the death toll there makes up nearly half of the more than 100 storm-related deaths statewide.

    g.smith@theday.com

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