'Heart' of senior center moves on
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Wed., Feb. 13, 2013
Maryleah Skoronski has been working for the town of Glastonbury since November 1992, when she started with the school breakfast program. In October of 1993, she began working with the senior citizens as a part-time senior services program assistant. That slowly evolved into the job of senior center coordinator, which she has officially held since July of 1996.
After that 20-year run, Skoronski will be retiring at the end of February, and Patti White will be taking over, in a slightly-reconfigued role as senior center supervisor.
In her tenure, Skoronski saw the senior center move from the former Gideon Welles home (and having meals and programs take place in a variety of locations) to the Riverfront Community Center. Skoronski oversaw the move to include evening and weekend programming.
Human Services Director Pat Schneider said Skoronski's accomplishments are numerous. “She's a very creative person,” Schneider said. “She doesn't think about the limitations, but looks at possibilities and how to overcome obstacles. That's how you can create a program when you don't have a space, and can expand it. She's also very responsive to the seniors when they come to her with ideas, and when she sees new ideas happening state-wide or hears of something happening in the field nationally. You can have all the money and the resources, but if you don't have the right person, you aren't going to have the programming.”
Schneider said the senior center has also seen a large increase in the participation of seniors in the programs, largely due to Skoronski's work. That, in turn, is a big part of the center's having earned national accreditation twice. “Both her personality and her skill set have made the programs what they are now – from something small to something huge,” Schneider said.
Town Manager Richard Johnson said Skoronski has been a “wonderful member of the town staff.”
“She is creative, has a great sense of humor, and has done a really nice job bringing the program for seniors alive during her tenure,” Johnson said. “She's not shy, very engaged and very positive. She had a special rapport with the seniors, which is very important.”
It's not hard to find people willing to sing Skoronski's praises, as she has clearly touched countless people in the community over the years. Eileen Kelly offered to volunteer at the senior center around the time it moved to the Riverfront Community Center. She said Skoronski quickly found a task suitable to Kelly's interests and experience.
“She suggested I do the Friendship Circle, and that's where I want to be and need to be,” Kelly said. “Maryleah is very thankful. She writes notes about anything you do. We celebrate birthdays and she gives a card to everybody. On mine she writes, 'Thanks for all that you do.'”
Lynn Kinne first began going to the center in 1997. “She's the reason I continue to come,” Kinne said. “She's so smiley – her disposition. She's warm and really caring. I'm just impressed with her ability to get along with everyone, and seniors can be difficult. She's firm and yet she's well-organized. She's interested in people and their personalities. She's very creative and takes so much time – she thinks of the details and is so on top of everything.”
Barbara Evans, the senior center program assistant – has worked closely with Skoronski for the past 15 years. "We finish each other's sentences – we know what the other is thinking,” Evans said. “I'm going to miss her terribly. She just knows how to work people. If you were to tell her that you had a special hobby, before you finished getting your words out, she'd have you signed up to speak at a Lunch and Learn event. She just has that personality that's so easy to get along with. I don't know anyone that doesn't like her.”
“She's outstanding,” said senior Leo St. Michel, who happened to mention to Skoronski that he used to work in Pakistan and had many photos of his trips to places including Nepal and Bangladesh. Soon, he was talked into showing his pictures and talking about his travels as a Lunch and Learn series at the center.
“She's just a wonderful person to work with,” St. Michel said. “She knows how to handle people in such a polite way. During the heat of a political battle, someone will make an observation that isn't appropriate, and she'll know how to politely tell the guy to shut up, but do it in such a nice way.”
“You never want to tell Maryleah that you know how to do something,” joked Melanie Askew – the senior center's head chef. “You'll be a part of the lunch program or she'll sign you up for something.”
“She's very good at 'mining the gold' in people,” Schneider said.
“Not only is she my supervisor, but she's my friend,” said Askew. “She wants to help people with anything, no matter how small, whether it has to do with the job or not. You never see Maryleah have a bad moment. She's always smiling, and reaching out to anybody and everybody. She always encouraged me with my schooling. She told me, 'Don't quit, just keep going.'”
Lois Vinci said she has known Skoronski since she first moved to Glastonbury in 1995, and the two attended the same church. Vinci said she first began volunteering by proofreading "The Sharing Tree" – the senior center's monthly newsletter.
“She's so much into the seniors,” Vinci said. “When I became president of the AARP, she told me, 'You're not going to please all of the people all of the time.'”
Ernie Reale, a member of the Commission on Aging, said Skoronski has always done an outstanding job. “It's her ease with people,” Reale said. “She doesn't get flustered. She has a nice way of putting things. She's just a nice person.”
Skoronski has said that she plans to spend some of her retirement attending the senior center programs. Whether she does that or not, it's clear she will remain a part of the Glastonbury Senior Center in perpetuity.
“I love her dearly. She's more than a boss,” Evans said.
“It's going to be sad without her,” Askew said. “She becomes a part of you.”