By Mark E. Vogler
Gail Cassarino and Jack Klecker have a lot in common through their Saugus connections to community service and volunteer projects which have led to the betterment of Saugus.
Cassarino has been involved with the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) for more than two decades. And as regent of the Parson Roby Chapter, she’s contributed greatly to the resurgence of the local group. In Saugus, she has helped the Appleton’s Pulpit historical marker, handed out miniature American flags while marching in the Memorial Day parade, been a part of Wreaths Across America in which people gave out over 200 flags, been a part of the Wreaths Across America ceremony at Riverside Cemetery and helped to honor veterans by creating the Field of Flags annually on the lawn of the Saugus Town Hall.
Klecker has collaborated on a few of the DAR projects, helping out with his pickup truck to carry away trash from the historical marker site, or hauling wreaths to the cemetery. Like Cassarino, Klecker is patriotic and loves being involved in projects that help the veterans, promote the town’s history and help make Saugus a better place.
Last Saturday, they sat together on a makeshift stage near the front steps of Town Hall where they were honored at the 42nd Annual Founder’s Day with the 2023 “Person of the Year” Awards.
“When my cousin, Barbie Southard McKenzie, won this award in 1994, I remember thinking wow – that is so awesome!!” Cassarino told the audience. “To be recognized by her peers for her efforts in touching so many lives in our community in such a positive way. And now here I am still saying wow!” McKenzie was among the group of past award recipients who gathered in front of Town Hall for a special ceremony honoring Cassarino and Klecker.
“I appreciate the fact that somebody must have noticed me,” he said. Klecker is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. “I try to help out as much as I can around town,” he said.
Debra Dion-Faust, the 2019 “Woman of the Year,” introduced Klecker, calling him “an all-around good egg” who drives around in his pickup truck hauling items for people.
It’s usually traditional for the previous year’s winner to make the award presentation to the new honoree. But 2022 “Man of the Year” Thomas Sheehan had health issues that kept him from attending the ceremony, according to Dion-Faust. Last year’s “Woman of the Year,” Laura Eisener, made the presentation to Cassarino. Leading up to the award ceremony, 2015 “Woman of the Year” Joyce Rodenhiser and 2016 “Woman of the Year” Donna Manoogian took turns reading the 60 previous past winners, who spanned a period of 35 years
Eisener noted that Cassarino is a lifetime Saugus resident who was born in the old Saugus General Hospital. She said if people recognized her, it was probably because they saw her on the side of the road holding a paintbrush as she restored historical markers.
“I am honored to have been recognized for all the volunteer work that I do for our town, but I didn’t do this alone,” Cassarino said. “I want to thank all the members of the Parson Roby Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution who volunteered countless hours of their time for the good of our community – promoting education, patriotism and preserving history. And if it wasn’t for the support of my family, I wouldn’t be here. Especially to my husband, Anthony who often says, ‘What you up to now?’ and to my kids and their spouses,” she said.
Cassarino said her longtime ties to the DAR are special. “This organization resonated with me – particularly in the area of patriotism and remembering our veterans. My dad was in the Navy and fought in WWII – my brother, several uncles and nephew also served and my brother, Ron Witten was a LT in the Saugus Police Department,” Cassarino said.
“As a result, I love to do what I can to help military personnel and their families. As Laura mentioned, I was born in this town, lived my whole life in this town and hope to die in this town. I LOVE this town and the people who live here!”
Klecker is a longtime Saugus resident who grew up on a farm in Watertown, Wisc., that his family owned. His brother still runs the farm today. “I got acquainted with Saugus back in 1957,” Klecker said. “I operated out of here many years, 1956 to 1985, with the Navy.” Klecker, a humble man with a big heart, kept his remarks brief.
Dion-Faust noted that Klecker is an active member of the Saugus Historical Society, American Legion Post 2010, the Saugus Veterans Council and the VFW. Among other things, he loves to get involved volunteering for various groups and events – like the Strawberry Festival. She also noted that he is “a library goer,” who volunteers to repair craft items. Klecker is known for his crafts skills, too. Among the items he’s made is a scale model of the Saugus Iron Works, which is on display at the Saugus Historical Society.