‘Hidden Jewels’ Honored

October 25, 2013

by Gloria Lavoie

The Greater Salem Chamber of Commerce and Salem Co-operative Bank recently hosted their sixth annual Hidden Jewel Awards luncheon and ceremony at the Merrimack Valley Golf Club in Methuen, MA.  The picturesque setting in its autumn splendor was the ideal backdrop for the recognition of distinguished women in the community.

The Hidden Jewel Awards is a program developed to honor the area’s most priceless women; truly “precious gems” to the towns that they live in.  Women have a long history of balancing family, career, community and service.  These awards are intended to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women who have excelled in their chosen field, defined their role through their initiative and dedication, and established a record of leadership and involvement.

The ballroom was filled with past and present award winners, all convening on this sunny fall day to honor the women who may otherwise go overlooked.  The ladies mingled and acquainted with fellow area businesswomen.  They purchased raffle tickets for many fabulous baskets full of prizes ranging from restaurant gift certificates, to scratch tickets and free yoga classes.  A delicious lunch was served and attendees enjoyed the guest speaker Tracy Caruso’s poignant and entertaining speech.

Caruso, hails from Salem, and is currently an award winning radio broadcaster.  She prides herself as being a multi-tasker; just like everyone else in the room.  She said, “Even though we don’t know each other, we are very much the same.”  She explained how as she is broadcasting the news to thousands of listeners every day, she is still thinking of all the Mom things that she must do.  She can identify with common struggles; hardships in marriage, being a working Mom, and adjusting to a blended family in a new marriage.  She gets up at 3:15 a.m. each day and juggles answering texts from her children at home while being part of a newscast at 95.7 WZID NH in the Morning.  Her sense of humor is what she credits for being able to balance it all, as she is responsible for somehow making people laugh in her morning show after just telling them about a mass shooting in part of her newscast.

Seven amazing ladies were then recognized for their selflessness and charitable acts and given a large ‘jewel’ award.

Sandra Dennehy was awarded the Pink Diamond Award, representing inspiration, for her involvement with the Salem/Methuen Relay for Life and her involvement with the Salem Lion’s Club.  She was instrumental in helping the Club raise money for fuel assistance for local churches, purchase a guide dog for a Salem area student and to supply aid for local food pantries.  She was described as a person who will roll up her sleeves and work tirelessly to make someone’s life just a little happier and a person who never says ‘no’ to anyone in need.  Dennehy joked that her son has a joke about how his Dad is doing such a great job raising him as a single parent.

Gretchen Meisner was awarded the Sapphire Award, representing loyalty, for her “stick-to-itiveness;” she finishes what she starts with loyalty, poise and grace.  With 15 years in various PTA positions and her efforts in renovating Lancaster School’s playground and many hours of volunteering at Woodbury Middle School, she has balanced volunteerism, family and business with great success.  A soft-spoken Meisner said, “Normally, I prefer I like to be in the background and I am really touched by this.  I encourage everyone to bring their loving and affectionate sides into everyday life.”

Madeline Berni was awarded the Ruby Award, for passion and heart.  She was described as a woman who shows true compassion for everyone she meets.  “Everything she does is with a type of grace and style that is rarely seen these days,” said the presenter.  For years, Bernie has worked with Friends of the Library of Windham, Windham PTA and she is involved with Windham’s Helping Hands.  Berni thanked her friends and family who gave her a standing ovation.  “Make every day a gift,” suggested a humble Berni.

Sue Desjardins was awarded the Emerald Award for hope and prosperity.  She was described as the most dedicated, hard-working and compassionate volunteer for the Salem Animal Rescue League (SARL).  She fosters animals in need, opening her home to the animals most in need.  “We moved here five years ago and our goal was to participate in the community,” explained Desjardin who volunteers 15 hours per week at SARL.  “We never anticipated how the Community would embrace us,” she continued.  She suggested that guests try to find what speaks to them and to get involved.  “When you find what you love to do, it doesn’t feel like work and I can’t believe that I am being awarded for what I love to do,” she said.  explained how her rescued dogs have gotten her through some of life’s hardships.  “Who rescued who?  My dogs got me through the death of my father, my best friend moving away and cancer treatment,” she said.

Two young ladies were awarded the ‘Diamond in the Rough’ award for showing promise as a young woman of good character and quality that emulates leadership and community involvement.

Nicole Dill has been the Number One academic student in her class for four years.  In addition to challenging herself with demanding courses, she was described as a remarkable young woman of exemplary character and work ethic.  She is a leader in the Timberlane High School Peer Outreach Program, where she created two public service announcements raising suicide awareness among students.  She played a key role in developing the Fatal Reality Program, which depicts a mock car accident and serves to warn of the dangers of substance abuse.  She was elected by her peers to be the liaison between students and administration and she is a member of ECHOS, an organization which addresses issues related to the environment.

Crystal Napoli, Salem High School Senior Class Vice President, conducts the high school’s competitive marching band as drum major and she also plays tuba and the harp.  She plays harp with the New Hampshire Philharmonic and the UMass-Lowell University Orchestra.  She plays harp at elderly homes, hospitals and fundraisers and she won a concerto competition in 2012.  In addition to her musical talents, she is involved with the Big Sisters organization, Senior Citizen breakfast and the School Improvement Committee, all while maintaining a 4.078 GPA.

The highlight of the afternoon may have been when the Mother of Pearl Award recipient took the podium.  At 93 years of age, Elsie Talanian’s award represents faith, charity and integrity.  Talanian’s friends concur that “Everyone loves Elsie.”  She worked at the Salem Observer for 44 years, in every aspect of the newspaper business including writing her column “A Chat WIth Elsie.”  Talanian said, “When I got the call that I was being given this award I was overwhelmed and almost dropped the phone!”  She thanked area advertisers for their patience over the years for her incessant pestering for their business and warned fellow drivers that she still drives.  She told an entertaining tale of how she was recently pulled over for driving too slow.  She stressed, “Age is only a number.”  She continues to write her column each week and is a dedicated supporter of the Caregivers of Greater Salem.  “Meeting my public in truth, and greeting them in faith, has been most rewarding,” she said.

Ann Lally, President of Salem Co-operative Bank said in closing, “Thank you to all the hidden jewels in our Community.  You’re all fabulous.”