By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, June 25, 2004
HAMPTON -- Jerry McConnell has given more to the community than most people know.
Some know him as the guy who started Senior Appreciation Days. Others know him as the man who spearheaded the Hampton area Crimeline and fought tirelessly to secure passage of the Winnacunnet expansion project.
But now, everyone will know him as this year's recipient of the Hampton Rotary Club's Citizen of the Year Award.
"It was a wonderful experience," said McConnell, after receiving the award Tuesday morning at the Ashworth Hotel.
Rotary Club member Bob Casassa said McConnell embodies the club's motto of "service above self" and that's why he was chosen for the prestigious honor.
Casassa said McConnell has served the Hampton community in many capacities over the years.
McConnell served 10 years as a trustee for the Lane Memorial Library.
"One of the trustees became ill and some of the people at the library asked if I would run," recalled McConnell.
Although he was a frequent visitor of the library, McConnell said he wasn't interested in running. After receiving a push from his friends, he agreed to run and won the election.
McConnell also served as chairman of the 350th Birthday Committee, chairman of the Hampton Bicentennial Commission on the U.S. Constitution and on the Hampton Recreation Advisory Committee.
"I would start one thing and then it would lead me to another and another," said McConnell.
McConnell, who has lived in Hampton since 1957, said he decided to get involved in the community in order to keep busy after he retired.
"I retired in 1985," said McConnell. "I thought I was going to enjoy retirement. I was wrong because I was bored out of my mind."
Before retiring, McConnell served 10 years with the Marines, then another 10 years with the Air Force. A graduate of Columbia University, McConnell also served in the Korean War.
After he retired from military life, he worked for Trans World Airlines as a passenger agent and crew scheduler at Logan Airport. He's also served as a contracts and grants officer with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Gloucester, Mass.
Rotary Club President Brad Jett said club members were delighted to honor McConnell.
"Jerry has been an active voice for seniors and has helped make the Hampton/North Hampton area a better place to live," said Jett.
Even though he doesn't have any children in the school system, McConnell fought this year for the passage of the Winnacunnet expansion project.
"I may not have any kids in the school system, but if you ask me they're all my kids," said McConnell.
Casassa said McConnell went out of his way to support the project and to get all three towns to approve it at their Town Meetings.
"He wasn't the typical supporter," said Casassa. "He really put service above self by supporting this project. He recognized the need and fought for it. He was on the cable channel, sending e-mails and out with a sign on the day of the polls."
Although he was successful in that endeavor, McConnell failed in getting a senior center built in Hampton.
"It's a shame," said McConnell, who vowed to keep pushing until the town has its own senior center. "This town desperately needs a senior center."
McConnell also worked with Rockingham County Sheriff Dan Linehan and Deputy Christopher Stone, and a representative from the Hampton Police Department to launch a local chapter of a national program called "SALT" - Seniors and Law Enforcement Together. The program informs seniors of recent scams in the area.
Chief Bill Wrenn said McConnell was instrumental in starting Crimeline for the Hamptons.
"Jerry McConnell is the type of person you wish you could clone for every community," said Wrenn. "Not only is he very civic-minded but he's a hardworking guy. He goes out and fights to better the town of Hampton."
McConnell said he got the idea about starting a Crimeline after seeing how successful the Portsmouth Police Department's Crimeline was in solving unsolved crimes.
"I called the chief up and asked how come we don't have one," said McConnell. "He then asked if I was volunteering to help set one up and the rest was history."
Along with the award, Casassa said Rotary gave McConnell a check for $1,000 to give to the charity of his choice.
McConnell decided to give $500 to the Winnacunnet High School and $500 to the Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
"I love animals," McConnell said. "Whenever I get the urge to donate money I always send it to the SPCA."
McConnell said he doesn't plan to give up serving the community anytime soon.
In fact, McConnell has spent the last two weeks serving as volunteer coordinator for the 2004 Hampton Beach Sand Castle Festival.