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Volunteers honored for charitable efforts

Date: 4/27/2010

April 28, 2010.

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Retirement from a grinding nine to five may not be the relaxing, carefree lifestyle one had planned. Just ask Patience O'Connor and Dr. Robert Brown.

The two retirees are busier than ever before with various volunteering initiatives and their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Mayor Daniel Knapik honored O'Connor and Brown as Nonprofit and Volunteer Network of Westfield (NPVN) Citizen Volunteers of the Year during a ceremony at City Hall last week.

"It really is places like this in Westfield that people do the great, important things. You're more than unsung heroes," Knapik said of the volunteers.

He added it was a difficult task to narrow the field of 13 nominees to O'Connor and Brown but the two offered "unique" contributions to the community.

O'Connor retired from MassMutual and Pilgrim Candle Company only to find what she calls a "third career," volunteering at Abner Gibbs Elementary School.

"This is the best career of my whole life," she said. "They [the students] bring such joy to my heart and peace to my soul."

O'Connor and Brown referred to the honor of volunteer of the year as overwhelming and amazing.

Brown, previously a history professor at Westfield State College (WSC), has been in charge of cataloging, digitizing and preserving centuries of artifacts and archives at the Westfield Athenaeum. He's also president of the Athenaeum's board of directors.

"I've been doing this for 20 years [because] I like history and libraries -- it's just what I do," he said nonchalantly.

O'Connor and Brown also received citations and letters of commendation from State Sen. Michael Knapik and State Rep. Donald Humason Jr.

"I know times are tough but I really encourage [my constituents] to be involved in an organization [because] a few hours per week can really make a difference," Humason said.

Barbara Trant, coordinator for Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS), agreed, adding there's volunteer opportunities throughout the city, not just within the schools.

She noted that NPVN member organizations welcome volunteers of varying experience levels. NPVN includes the Athenaeum, the Boys and Girls Club, the Carson Center, Domus Inc., Family Support Network, Greater Westfield Free Health Services, Noble Hospital, Stanley Park, VIPS, WSC, the Westfield Business Improvement District and the YMCA of Greater Westfield.

For more information about how to volunteer in Westfield, contact Trant at 572-6345 or e-mail