Community Living Essex County, friends and supporters bid farewell to retiring executive director



By Ron Giofu


After a 32-year career as executive director with Community Living Essex County (CLEC) and 45 years total within the developmental services (DS) sector, Nancy Wallace-Gero is entering retirement.

And last Friday night, CLEC staff members as well as those the agency supports, dignitaries and members of Wallace-Gero’s family came out to celebrate her career.

A retirement celebration was held at the Ciociaro Club where Wallace-Gero was honoured with words like dedication, passion, intelligence, drive and role model coming up early and often to describe her.

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak added words like “amazing” and “loving” in describing Wallace-Gero.

“You are the best of the best,” he said. “You are an angel that walks among us. We love you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Essex MP Tracey Ramsey said when she was first elected, people would come to her constituency office seeking help and one of the places they were directed was Community Living Essex County. Ramsey said they were referred to CLEC with complete confidence as it was known thanks to Wallace-Gero and the team there that people would get the support they needed.

“Congratulations on reaching the next phase of your life,” said Ramsey.

Nancy Wallace-Gero (second from right) accepts awards from Essex MPP Taras Natyshak, Essex MP Tracey Ramsey and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Cheryl Hardcastle. Wallace-Gero retires as Community Living Essex County executive director April 13.

Windsor-Tecumseh MP Cheryl Hardcastle said Wallace-Gero is “an inspiration to the work we do” and that she would be missed. She added that Karen Bolger, who is taking over as executive director following Wallace-Gero’s official retirement date of April 13, will continue the great work started by Wallace-Gero.

David Hingsburger, a friend and colleague of Wallace-Gero as well as being an author and speaker on issues regarding developmental disabilities, noted they have known each other for 32 years and have made many changes over the years. He said organizations are only as good as their willingness to make changes and noted CLEC has never been afraid to make changes to benefit the people they support.

Hingsburger added that Wallace-Gero will take her passion and dedication into retirement with her “and continue to be the amazing person she has always been.”

Community Living Ontario CEO Chris Beesley said he has learned a lot of lessons from Wallace-Gero since assuming his post five years ago and said she is a leader who is committed to the cause for all the right reasons. Wade Durling, chair of the Provincial Network, added that Wallace-Gero’s contributions can be seen throughout the DS sector.

“You’ve made many contributions and the sector is better for it,” Durling told Wallace-Gero. “You have left a real legacy. We will miss you and never forget you.”

Retiring Community Living Essex County executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero (right) was “crowned” with a tiara from director of human resources Claire Market (left).

Anne Bilodeau, chair of the DSHR Strategy, added that CLECL “walks the talk” thanks to Wallace-Gero and the team. She stated that everything Wallace-Gero did during her career was selfless.

Wallace-Gero was also honoured by Kelly Runnals from the Ensemble parent group, fellow executive directors and the CLEC board, the latter having presented her a gift of jewellery two nights earlier at their board meeting and a honourary lifetime membership Friday night.

Members of Wallace-Gero’s family also honoured her, including daughters Kerri and Kristy, granddaughter Alexa and grandson Evan. Kerri called her mother “my definition of a success story,” noting Wallace-Gero’s adoption out of foster care at age five and Wallace-Gero being instilled with a need to help others and compassion for those with disabilities or other needs.

“Her passion for her work and her passion for helping others is contagious,” Kerri said.

Kristy added that her mother taught values and about social change, to be a leader and to challenge the status quo. Another lesson was to be humble.

“From the beginning, she was destined to achieve great things,” said Kristy. “She shines at everything she does. My mom will continue to shine on into retirement.”

Alexa noted her grandmother has changed lives and has instilled empathy in others for those with intellectual disabilities. She added that Wallace-Gero has taken on many challenges in her career, most of them to better the lives of others.

“I’m very thankful Nancy is my grandmother,” added Evan. “She is kind and loving. When people ask me who my hero is, I say my grandma.”

Nancy Wallace-Gero (centre) is surrounded by her staff during an April 6 retirement celebration. She officially retires from her job as Community Living Essex County executive director April 13.

Bolger said it was difficult to believe Wallace-Gero’s retirement has arrived.

“Community Living Essex County and Nancy are synonymous with each other,” said Bolger.

Noting the agency was struggling when Wallace-Gero took control in 1986, Bolger said Wallace-Gero has helped turn it around to where it is now vibrant, progressive and innovative.

“She is a consummate professional,” Bolger said of Wallace-Gero. “She is a person who talks the talk and walks the walk. She is a fierce advocate who gets the job done. She has never passed up an opportunity to move the agency forward. She has been my mentor.”

Wallace-Gero concluded the evening by saying how much she has enjoyed her career with CLEC.

“I am just so grateful to everyone,” she said.

Noting she has worked for 32 different boards of directors over her career, she credited them with having the leadership to move the agency forward. She also praised the management team for their work in helping to grow the agency and provide ongoing help to those with intellectual disabilities.

Wallace-Gero also thanked Ensemble and New Day, the latter being a group of self-advocates, and said giving up directly helping those with disabilities has been the hardest. She also thanked her family and friends, whose support has been tremendous, she said.

“I take with me into retirement memories of each of you. I have had the best job ever at Community Living Essex County,” she stated.

Essex County council bids farewell to CAO


By Jolene Perron


“Before I ask for adjournment, I just want to note that this is the last meeting for our CAO Mr. Gregg.”

Warden Tom Bain stood in front of Essex County council last week with a plaque which read “Essex County Council resolves to extend our sincere appreciation and best wishes to Chief and Administrative Officer Brian Gregg for your commitment, guidance and outstanding leadership to the council and to the staff of the Corporation of the County of Essex and for your 30 years of service to the residents of Essex County. May the blessings of good health, the joy of good friends, a loving family and the contentment of a job well done fill your life with happiness. Congratulations on your retirement.”

The new CAO of the County of Essex is Robert Maisonville. Maisonville assumed his new duties last Thursday.

Warden Tom Bain presents retiring CAO Brian Gregg with a plaque, addressing his 30 years with the County of Essex during the Sept. 6 council meeting.

Bain continued to explain what Gregg was like on job. He explained that he’s serious, he digs down for the information needed, he gets the answers and he’s tremendous to work it.

“As with most people there is another side of Brian and I didn’t really believe it until one night I was in Lakeshore arena and I see this guy playing hockey,” explained Bain. “When you put a helmet on someone and a pair of skates can it ever change someone. I thought, is this our CAO out there on the ice, in that little box on the side?”

Jokingly, Bain recalled the first time he saw Gregg play hockey, bringing a light-hearted bit of cheer to what was a heavyhearted farewell.

“I do want to certainly say on behalf of all of county council what a tremendous job you’ve done,” said Bain. “For 30 years you have led us and working with you and I know it’s teamwork, but you’ve got us into a position that as a county we are strong and we don’t have the debt there, we are able to meet any problems that come head on and I know that you and I have sat down a number of times and I can honestly only think of one time when I didn’t see eye to eye and I gave into you anyways.”

Gregg followed up Bain’s speech with one of his own. He laughed with agreement that during his time playing hockey he most certainly has spent a little too much time in the penalty box.

Officially, Gregg explained September 29 will be his retirement date but with some of the vacation time he has available, he tentatively scheduled Friday as his last day in office. However, he did have a Monday morning meeting scheduled. With some loose ends to tie up before leaving, he plans on being in and out of the office between now and Sept. 29, however the Sept. 6 county council meeting would be his last.

An honour and a privilege is how Gregg described his service to the County of Essex as the CAO, a position which he has held for 19 years, closing out his 30 year career with the County of Essex, an accomplishment he said he is extremely proud of. He is also proud of what County of Essex has been able to accomplish over the last 19 years, which he describes as being “conservatively progressive.”

– County councillors bid farewell to their CAO Brian Gregg. The new CAO for the County of Essex is Robert Maisonville.

“I was never one to try to hit the big home run or make the big splash, but it was more about continuing the move forward and do the right thing to enable us to serve the residents of the county of Essex,” said Gregg. “I am extremely proud of the initiatives we have undertaken as a county over the last 20 years. However the success that we have achieved over the last 20 years isn’t mine alone. It certainly is shared by the strength of the administrative team that we have here in the county. These folks that sit to the left and to the right of us are really the backbone of the county. I am continuously amazed at the creativity that they bring to their jobs, the responsiveness that they bring to their residents and to the members of council. They drive to be proactive and I suggest that maybe we aren’t always flashy, but we are open and we are doing things that anticipate what’s coming down the road next rather than just always having to react to things.”

Through tears, Gregg thanked his family. He said while he believes every politician probably does this when it comes time for him or her to move on, he is no different.

“Going forward I firmly believe the County is in a great place and is in excellent shape both financially and operationally,” said Gregg. “I wish you all and the administrative team here at the county the best as you continue to administer the affairs of the county. In summary, I’d like to borrow a couple little lines that Warden Bain has come out with in a number of these addresses that he’s made over the past few years. The first one is that Essex County is indeed the pre-emptive place to live, learn, work, play, invest and visit. And if anyone, any time ever hears anybody that says why Essex county? The answer ought to be, why not Essex County?”


Chief Building Official Steve Brown heads into retirement



By Ron Giofu


The town’s chief building official has reached the end of his career.

Steve Brown’s last day on the job was June 30 with a retirement party being held for him at the McGregor K of C Hall that afternoon and evening.

“Every day is going to be Saturday for me from now on,” Brown joked.

Brown started in the construction business working at L.D Warren Associates, Developer, Architect and Engineers in 1973 and worked on several projects for that firm. Brown also spent 22 years working at W.C. Crosbie Architects, Glos Associates Architects and Engineers, and John Hreno Architect.

Chief Building Official Steve Brown (centre) was presented an award at the June 26 council meeting in recognition of his retirement. Making the presentation were human resources manager Michelle Rose and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

Chief Building Official Steve Brown (centre) was presented an award at the June 26 council meeting in recognition of his retirement. Making the presentation were human resources manager Michelle Rose and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

Among the projects Brown was involved with include the Central Mall in Windsor, Pine Aire Apartments in Windsor, the General Motors transmission Plant, several Royal Bank branches, the Greater Essex County District School Board head office, Chrysler In-plant facilities and Parkwood Gospel Temple along with several co-op housing projects in Windsor, Chatham, Tilbury, and Amherstburg.

Brown said the architect he worked for did a lot of work in Amherstburg with his first significant involvement with the town coming in 1984. He was hired as deputy chief building official in November 1988 and served under John Hreno until becoming chief building official in 1994.

In all, Brown was employed for nearly 44 years, the last 23 with the town of Amherstburg.

“It feels great,” he said of his retirement. “Somebody told me to retire at 65 and not to retire in the winter. I took their advice.”

Brown said he will miss the people that he worked with, the contractors and those he encountered on the job.

Projects of note in Amherstburg that Brown had a hand in include Projects of note in Amherstburg the Amherstburg Police Station, the Westview Apartments, the addition to the town hall including fire station No. 1, two co-op housing projects, Victoria St. Manor, repairs and elevator addition to the library, the redesign of the visitor center, the re-purposing of the cultural center on Victoria St., renovations to the Lions Pool and the relocation and restoration of the Gordon House.

Brown noted the design of Families First Funeral Home was done by a former boss, Larry Warren, whom Brown started working for in 1973.

“The biggest highlight of the job was watching the town progress,” said Brown.

When he arrived, the Gordon House was boarded up, the Salmoni Building had just closed, and buildings that are now local eateries were used for other purposes. Now, buildings and homes are being developed in the downtown core and more walkable neighbourhoods have arrived.

Brown added he helped when local big box stores arrived in Amherstburg as well.

“For all the development that happened after I came, I was glad to be a part of it,” he said. “It’s been very exciting.”

Steve Brown (left) chats with former mayor Bill Gibb and retired administrator Tom Kilgallin at Brown’s retirement party last Friday afternoon.

Steve Brown (left) chats with former mayor Bill Gibb and retired administrator Tom Kilgallin at Brown’s retirement party last Friday afternoon.

Brown won’t become a stranger, however, as he still plans to be active in other ways. He is a trumpeter with the Essex Community Concert Band and they will play Aug. 5 as part of the Canuck It Up! Festival. He also plans on joining more concert bands.

Brown has also been a fixture at Remembrance Day ceremonies where he plays the trumpet as part of the service.

“I intend to do that as long as I can,” said Brown.

Along with wife Nancy, he also plans on doing some travelling as well.

“I have a ‘to do’ list a mile long,” he said. “I’ll be working on that.”

Brown was also honoured at town hall during the June 26 council meeting, where human resources manager Michelle Rose stated Brown “has generously donated the value of his retirement gift to the Essex Community Concert Band to sponsor an outdoor concert at Belle Vue as a fundraiser for Belle Vue sometime next summer or fall.”

“You have definitely left your mark in many ways,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

Council members also wished him the best of luck.

“You were always upstanding and willing to help any way you could,” added Councillor Rick Fryer.




General Amherst principal calling it a career



By Ron Giofu


The end of the 2016-17 school year will also be the end of Hazel Keefner’s career in education.

Keefner’s last official day as the General Amherst High School principal is June 30 as she is retiring after a 29-year career, all but one of those years with the Greater Essex County District School Board.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Keefner, as her final day approaches. “I’ve been going to school since I was four-years-old. It’ll be strange not to go to school anymore.”

Keefner said she discovered at the end of last year that if she didn’t return to school, she would still have enough in her life to keep her busy. Things that will be keeping her busy in her retirement include travelling, spending time with family and volunteering.

After finishing teacher’s college, Keefner took a “four-year detour” in law school before a position in teaching opened up at Holy Names for the 1988-89 school year. She spent one year at Holy Names before coming to the public board when she was hired to teach at General Amherst by then-principal Rod Paulin.

“I got hired in this very office,” she told the RTT during an interview last Wednesday in the principal’s office.

In 1990, she was transferred to Essex District High School where spent the next 14 years teaching law. Among her accomplishments there were having classes take part in the Canadian Bar Association’s mock trial competitions and teaching many future police officers.

Hazel Keefner is retiring at the end of the 2016-17 school year, with her last official day being June 30. She has spent the last five years as the principal of General Amherst High School.

Hazel Keefner is retiring at the end of the 2016-17 school year, with her last official day being June 30. She has spent the last five years as the principal of General Amherst High School.

Keefner moved to Western Secondary School in 2004 and spent the next two years as vice principal. In 2006, she became the vice principal at Kingsville District High School and spent two years there as well.

In 2008, Keefner became the principal at Riverside Secondary School and spent four years there before coming to back General Amherst as principal in 2012.

In her 13 years in administration, one of her highlights was General Amherst surviving the Program and Accommodation Review Committee (PARC) process and getting approved for a new build in Amherstburg to accommodate General Amherst and Western.

“When they start the process, you never know what is going to happen,” said Keefner. “My own children went here so it’s near and dear to my heart.”

Current Western principal Melissa DeBruyne will transfer to General Amherst in September and Keefner believes DeBruyne will be an asset for when the Amherst and Western staff and student populations will come under one roof.

Keefner thanked the parents for their support during her time at General Amherst.

“When home and school work together, we can accomplish so much more,” she said.

The staff at General Amherst also receives Keefner’s praise.

“The staff has been an absolute pleasure to work with,” she said. “They are very dedicated and they care about the students they teach.”

General Amherst is a strong school for academics, athletics and the arts and Keefner added “it’s nice to end (my career) at a school where academics, athletics and arts are done so well.”

The town itself was also thanked.

“The community is so supportive of its high school,” said Keefner. “It makes the principal’s job a little bit easier.”

Keefner said the end of her career is “bittersweet” for her.

“I’m going to miss people like crazy,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky to have worked here.”

Long-time Shoppers Drug Mart franchisee says farewell



By Ron Giofu


A long-time business owner in town is calling it a career.

Mary Ann Wolff, franchise owner and pharmacist at the Shoppers Drug Mart location in Amherstburg, has sold the local franchise and retired. It wasn’t the easiest transition for her, noting she loved the job, but it is a decision she thought was best.

“It’s bittersweet, that’s for sure,” said Wolff. “It’s the right decision. It’s the right thing for me to do.”

Asked about what part of the job she will miss the most, Wolff quickly said it would be the people.

“I’ll miss the customers,” she said. “I’ll miss the staff.”

When she was in school, Wolff said she envisioned performing research or teaching but when she stated in retail pharmacy, “I never looked back.”

Wolff started as an intern in 1980 at the former Fort Malden Drug Mart located in the former Fort Malden Mall. Upon graduating in 1982, she continued to work at that store until 1984. During that period she also married her high school sweetheart Adrian.

Mary Ann Wolff has retired from Shoppers Drug Mart. There was a farewell event at the store last Friday where she greeted customers.

Mary Ann Wolff has retired from Shoppers Drug Mart. There was a farewell event at the store last Friday where she greeted customers.

After that, she went back and forth between Harrow and Amherstburg, working in the Big V locations as a pharmacist. In 1992, she became manager of the Amherstburg Big V location and stayed in Amherstburg after Big V was bought out by Shoppers Drug Mart in 1996. The current Shoppers Drug Mart building has been in operation since 2004.

“It’s always changing,” she said of the industry.

Wolff said she doesn’t want to completely stop working as she will continue in the LaSalle location twice per week. She sold her franchise to Josie Piruzza, who also owns the Malden Road location.

“I like to keep busy,” said Wolff.

Wolff added there are travel plans, stating she and Adrian are planning a trip to Italy for three weeks this summer.

“In this business, retail, you could not take that much time off,” she said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

The store should keep doing well, Wolff added, as Piruzza is inheriting a good group of employees.

“She’s getting a very good staff,” said Wolff. “It shouldn’t slip a beat.”

Wolff said she has loved every bit of her career.

“The town has been great to me,” she said. “I’m grateful for the support of the people, the staff and everyone. I’ve loved it. It’s been a great run.”