Connie Colangelo retired more than two decades ago to start her new full-time job: community volunteer.
In recent years, the long-time city resident has served on the boards of Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Proctors Guild, the Rotary Club of Schenectady and the Stockade Association, among others. She can be found ringing a bell for the Salvation Army’s holiday kettle campaign, clearing out a neighbor’s basement after a flood, building a sandbox for the YWCA’s battered women’s shelter or simply lending a hand to someone in need, said Heather Peterson, a member of the Schenectady Business and Professional Women’s Club.
“What is so impressive about Connie is that she leads by doing. Although she has served as an officer or board member of many organizations, she’s out in the community serving their needs,” Peterson said. “She rolls up her sleeves not for a photo op or a thank you, but because there’s work that needs to be done.”
Colangelo and City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo were honored as the club’s Women of the Year for being positive female role models and for their community service during the club’s annual fall fashion show at the Glen Sanders Mansion on Sunday. In addition to recognizing the work of both women, the event and silent auction helped raise thousands of dollars for scholarships that go to Schenectady County women.
Last year’s event raised $10,500 that was parceled out to seven college-bound women, including two who over the age of 25 and returning to their studies. This year’s event is aiming to raise no less than $12,000 for scholarships.
“The hope is that we outpace last year,” said club member Amy Aldrich.
A resident of Schenectady since 1945, Colangelo spent most of her career working for city institutions. She was a stenographer for the Schenectady school district, a clerk at City Hall and was the executive secretary to Mayor Karen Johnson for eight years.
“She was the first line of defense in public relations,” Peterson said. “After knowing Connie personally I can tell you to not let that five-foot stature fool you. She can strike terror among any of the toughest characters with one shot from those steel eyes of hers.”
Colangelo helped continue relations between Schenectady and Nijkerk, its sister city in the Netherlands, where she received a silver medal for her efforts this year. She was also integral in bolstering the Stockade Villagers’ Outdoor Art Show, which is poised to enter its 63rd year.
Colangelo was humbled by the designation. In accepting it, she credited the many other women volunteers and leaders in the club that she considers equally deserving of the recognition.
“I’m speechless and that doesn’t happen very often,” she said to laughter.
Perazzo’s passion noted
Perazzo, who serves as the special events manager at Proctors, was lauded for her distinguished career in the hospitality industry, which included running her own restaurant in the city during the mid-1990s. She was also credited for being one of the tireless advocates for the city and Schenectady County, a role in which she has devoted countless volunteer hours on a variety of civic-oriented groups — Place for Jazz, the Heritage Home for Women, Schenectady Greenmarket and Quest, to name a few.
“The word passion definitely suits Leesa,” remarked Aldrich. “She has a passion for life and certainly for her beloved city of Schenectady.”
Aldrich said she’s amazed by Perazzo’s energy and tenacity. She said Perazzo seems to find extra hours in the day to devote to the city she loves.
“She’s a get-it-done person who does it in a kind manner and never compromising her principles or beliefs,” Aldrich said. “She always does things from the heart and for the right reasons to make lives and circumstances better than they were before she touched them.”
Perazzo acknowledged she likes to take on a lot at one time; that relaxing is not one of her stronger suits. She was also modest about her work in the community, telling the crowd that she would accept the award on the behalf of the many others who volunteer to make the city a better place.
“I can’t quite wrap my head around being chosen for this award because I’m just me,” she said. “I’m [a] Type A that raises my hand more than I should because I love my city and my community.”