Editorial: Our Sentinels

The Greenwich Sentinel Award is an honor conferred annually by the Greenwich Sentinel Foundation to recognize individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes, embodying humility, kindness, and integrity. This award celebrates those who stand up for what is right without undermining others – those who serve as exemplary models of the true Greenwich spirit.

Since its inception in 2016, the award has recognized a variety of individuals who have made significant, yet often unheralded contributions to the community. The first recipient, Police Chief Jim Heavey, set the standard for future honorees with his dynamic, proactive community involvement and leadership spanning a lifetime.

Subsequent awardees include Rev. Jim Lemler (2017) for his revitalization of Christ Church and willingness to personally stand up for those in need; Susan Wohlforth (2018) for her unwavering leadership in the Junior League and numerous charities, and her strong support of women; and James McArdle (2019) for his dedication to his 114-year-old local family business and community causes, and his willingness to selflessly mentor others in the community.

Pamela Pagnani received the award in 2020 for her herculean work as a board member and volunteer for dozens of charities and personal commitment to supporting her neighbors in Greenwich. Stephanie Dunn Ashley, honored in 2021, exemplifies selfless service as a volunteer, a mentor, a first responder, and a leader at the Red Cross. Bob Capazzo, the 2022 recipient, was recognized for his contributions as a photojournalist who always shows up on the scene both to document, assist, and lift up the community.

The 2023 honoree, Frank J. Gaudio, was celebrated for his contributions as the President and CEO of the First Bank of Greenwich, particularly for his extraordinary efforts during the pandemic to support and “carry the water” for many local businesses and individuals.

Each of these recipients has demonstrated a profound commitment to improving the lives of those in Greenwich, reflecting the award’s core values of community building and service. They are all willing to gracefully help almost anyone who asks. “How can I help?” is their default setting.

On June 27th, the Greenwich community will come together to honor 2024 recipient Stephen Walko, this year’s Sentinel. The Sentinel event at Audubon Greenwich will be an opportunity for the community to honor a man who has dedicated his life to making Greenwich a better place without resorting to self-aggrandizement. Walko’s story serves as an inspiration, reminding us all that there are great examples to follow.

Stephen Walko’s story is one of quiet yet impactful dedication to Greenwich. He began his public service journey as a volunteer firefighter at 16, setting the stage for a lifetime of community involvement. His roles have ranged from local governance as a member of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) to state-level service under Governor Jodi Rell on the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration and later as an elected State Representative. His leadership on the Greenwich Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), where he chaired both the Budget Committee and the Board, is notable for balancing fiscal responsibility with community needs.

Walko’s ability to foster consensus without discord is a hallmark of his service. He values collaboration and listens more than he speaks. “There are always two sides to the story. A lot of times there’s three or four sides to the story,” he says, emphasizing his commitment to understanding and integrating many perspectives.

Despite his extensive public service, Walko remains a humble figure. He prefers to work without fanfare, focusing on getting things done. His contributions to Greenwich’s public school system are particularly noteworthy. As chair of the New Lebanon School Building Committee, Walko oversaw the project’s timely and budget-conscious completion. “To build something that will last and will have a direct impact on little kids and how they then go out in the world is pretty profound,” he reflected.

Walko’s service extends beyond his professional and civic roles. His conservation work with the Greenwich Land Trust, his volunteer service as a leader at the Indian Harbor Yacht Club, his deep involvement in his church, and his many other volunteer commitments speak to a person who is committed to others in so many ways. His faith and family are central to his identity, and he balances his many duties with a strong devotion to his loved ones.

His ability to work effectively without seeking attention is a testament to his character. Former First Selectman Jim Lash described Walko as “thoughtful, calm, and optimistic when under pressure,” qualities in Stephen Walko that have served us all well.

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