TORRINGTON — In March 2020, the United Way of Northwest Connecticut Women’s Leadership Initiative held a ceremony announcing its award winners: including Woman of the Year Sharon Dante, Lifetime Achievement Award winner Gail Clark Olsen, and Organization of the Year the League of Women Voters of Litchfield County.
A few days after the announcement, the Covid-19 pandemic hit America, canceling events for up to a year, including the Initiative’s award ceremony.
One year after the award winners were announced, the organization finally held its award ceremony for 2020 at the Torrington Historical Society on Thursday, June 17.
“It’s always important to honor the people that do good work who may not always be seen,” United Way of Northwest Connecticut President Jim Hutchison said about the event. “This is a celebration of three strong women. They all represent the area well.”
The 2020 Woman of the Year was awarded to Dante, who founded the Nutmeg Conservatory in 1969.
During her career, Dante developed a classical ballet training program and performance curriculum which attracted students from over 30 states and numerous countries all over the world.
She has coached dancers who participated in worldwide competitions, including New York, Paris, and Moscow.
Dante also is one of the few Americans who participated in Moscow World Dance competitions in the 1970s and 1980s and has also been recognized twice as a Distinguished Teacher by the White House Presidential Commission’s Scholars Program.
“Last year I retired, but it’s probably never going to happen totally,” Dante said in her speech. “I think Torrington is lucky. The fact that we are standing in this beautiful place in Torrington, Connecticut, we always have to have the hope that we will move forward, and that the community will always grow. Culture is a major part of it.”
The Organization of the Year, The League of Women Voters of Litchfield County was founded in 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, which allowed women to vote.
The organization was created by the National American Woman Suffrage Association to help women vote.
President of the League of Women Voters of Litchfield County, Kerry Mayers, accepted the award.
“This award is very important for us,” Mayers said. “It is so nice to be part of a community where so many people volunteer to help in so many ways. All of the people here, I don’t know most of you, but I do know that you are all involved in doing wonderful things to enhance the community and to help people.”
Gail Clark Olsen was given the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Olsen, along with her husband Charlie, owned Ducci Kitchens, Inc. since 1982.
She has served on the Board of Directors of the National Kitchen and Bath Association since 1989 and became its president in 1996.
In celebration of the company’s 25th anniversary, the couple honored the community by donating $2,500 to 10 different agencies in the Northwest Connecticut area.
She has served on various boards and committees over the past 30 years, including being the founder and chair of the Northwest United Way’s Women’s Leadership Initiative Committee, Northwest Chamber of Commerce, Susan B. Anthony Project and other various organizations.
“I have enjoyed the [Women’s Leadership Initiative] Committee and it is dear to my heart,” Olsen said. “I have found the most wonderful young people, and people who are a little bit older, and I think all of them are doing a great job. I grew up in New Hartford, and I have lived in Torrington for the past 30 years. Like most people, I made mistakes in life. I floundered for a while, and I was trying to find my journey. I wasn’t sure where I was going at that point. I did find that every step of the way, I was fortunate that someone was there to give me a hand up at all times. Someone giving me a vote of confidence, a word of encouragement, opening doors and reminding me that I was worthy to move forward. I define customer service as a way to share my gratitude for the people in my life who, rather than pass negative judgments and put me down, instead raised me up with loving and kindness. We should all recognize that each of us has a responsibility to lift others so they too can find their way.”
For more information about the Northwest United Way go to www.northwestunitedway.org