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Cuban-born Isabel E. Villar of White Plains, the founder and executive director of El Centro Hispano since 1974 and a founder of the Westchester Hispanic Coalition, received top honors at the 30th Annual Senior Citizens Hall of Fame Awards Luncheon on Dec. 3.
"The Senior Citizens Hall of Fame has been a tradition in Westchester for three decades," said County Executive Robert P. Astorino. "Our honorees are extraordinary. Individually and as a group, they strengthen our communities and are true role models for us all. Isabel Villar is a remarkable example of just such a person."
Villar is one of 51 Westchester residents age 60 and older from the "Class of 2012" who will be inducted at a festive luncheon in the hotel's Main Ballroom from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"I feel very special," Villar said about the recognition. "I never forgot my beginnings. To get such a prestigious award is wonderful. I never thought I'd be in that category. This can only happen in the United States of America."
Five of this year's honorees are 90 or older, including Kitty Geissler of Tarrytown, who recently turned 100.
The Senior Citizens Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Westchester Public/Private Partnership for Aging Services, the Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS) and the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.
This year's event is co-sponsored by VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans, CenterLight Healthcare and a partnership from the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, which includes the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention and ElderServeHealth.
In addition, The Upper Class LLC, a Westchester-based family business that specializes in trips for seniors and boomers, is donating two day-trips to each of the six top honorees.
DSPS Commissioner Mae Carpenter said that the Senior Citizens Hall of Fame showcases how much seniors contribute to the quality of life in Westchester and inspire others to follow their lead.
"They show that age is never a deterrent to being a vital member of our society," she said. "In fact, it's an advantage because of the life experiences they bring with them. It's also terrific that they exemplify the neighbors-helping-neighbors approach of our signature Livable Communities Initiative."
The Senior Citizens Senior Hall of Fame was started by former Westchester County Executive Andrew P. O'Rourke who led the county from 1983 to 1997. Its purpose is to honor those who have contributed their energies and talents as professionals and volunteers to make significant and enduring contributions to enhance the quality of life countywide or in their home communities.
Seniors are nominated to the Hall of Fame by members of the community and the winners are selected by a screening committee composed of past Hall of Fame honorees, members of the Senior and Older American Advisory Councils and the DSPS staff. The names of the honorees are engraved on plaques that are permanently displayed at the DSPS office in Mount Vernon.
Over the past three decades, more than 900 seniors have been inducted.
About Isabel Villar
Isabel Villar came to the United States with her family in 1966 as a young adult who spoke no English. She immediately enrolled in White Plains High School but at that time there were no English as a Second Language classes so Ms. Villar said it was "sink or swim." She swam, indeed, and when such ESL classes began the following year she enrolled on the advanced level.
El Centro Hispano is a community organization that targets the Hispanic population. Just some of the programs if offers are helping young people to earn college scholarships, its bilingual Boy and Girl Scout troops and its new, state-of-the-art Technology Center, which offers computer classes for children, adults and seniors.
Villar received a scholarship to Manhattanville College where she earned a bachelor's degree in political science/Latin American Studies. She also has advanced degrees, including ones in administration and guidance from New York University, Iona College and Long Island University.
In 1988 she became a guidance counselor at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, Conn., and in 1999 she founded the Brien McMahon High School Hispanic Alumni Association with the mission of having Hispanic alumni serve as role models and mentors for the Hispanic students. The association has awarded $1,000 a year in scholarships since it began.
Villar's resume has three, doubled-spaced pages that list the more than 44 affiliations she has had over the years and the awards she has won during her long career. Awards include ones from the Westchester Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Westchester Community Opportunity Program and the Westchester County Human Rights Commission. She also received the Americanism Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
She says one of her proudest achievements was being selected as one of the first inductees into the White Plains High School Hall of Fame.
Special recognition to five other seniors:
- John F. Caralyus of Purdys had been employed by the New York Telephone Co. (now Verizon) for 32 years. He moved to Purdys in the Town of North Salem in 1971 and one of the first things he did was sign up for the North Salem Volunteer Ambulance Corp where he served for 12 years, including two as president. He was appointed to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals, serving as its chairman for two years. Caralyus has been an active volunteer since 1991 at the Westchester Exceptional Children's School. He also volunteers with the "Puppies Behind Bars" organization where prison inmates raise service dogs for wounded war veterans and dogs who can detect explosive devices for law enforcement.
- Marleen Y. Dandridge of Mount Vernon worked for the city's Housing Authority for 25 years, including time as its deputy director. She has done extensive volunteer work in the fields of education, health and housing. She is president of the Urban League Guild of Westchester County, treasurer of the NAACP's Mount Vernon branch and a member of the Westchester Black Women's Political Caucus and the Mount Vernon Human Rights Commission. Dandridge was a member of the Board of Education for 13 years, and served as its president for one. She has always stressed the importance of parental involvement in the schools and has demonstrated it by serving as president of the PTA at the A.B. Davis Middle School, and vice president of the PTA at Mount Vernon High School. To this day, she regularly attends Board of Education meetings.
- Rev. Jeannette Phillips of Peekskill is executive vice president of Hudson River HealthCare and has also served there as its chairwoman and outreach coordinator. As a result of her efforts, the health center's model has been duplicated in many 10 countries worldwide. She was ordained a deacon and then an elder of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and works extensively with community youth. The Rev. Ms. Phillips has also been executive vice president of The Preservation Company and is a board member of the Peekskill Chamber of Commerce. She has long been an advocate for food pantries and for access to affordable health care, housing and education for the disenfranchised and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS.
- Barry Singer of Somers was an attorney and mortgage broker. He was co-founder and president of At Home in Somers, founding president of the Somers Rotary Club and chair of the town's Affordable Housing Board. He is also active on boards at Heritage Hills and was a founding board member and vice president of the Mid-Westchester YM-YWHA. He served on the board and volunteered as general counsel for the Jewish Board of Guardians. In addition, he has been a volunteer with AARP's program to help seniors file their income tax returns. Two years ago, he was recognized by the county's Board of Legislators when it proclaimed June 28, 2010 as Barry Singer Day in recognition of his long community involvement.
- Carol H. Stix of Scarsdale, who has long been active in the Westchester community, had been a professor of sociology and political science at Pace University for 32 years. She is a former chair and long-time supporter of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, and currently serves on the Leadership Council and fund-raising committee of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Ms. Stix has also been a trustee of Barnard College, president of the Scarsdale Community Foundation, a director of Scarsdale National Bank and was twice-elected a trustee of the Village of Scarsdale. In addition, she has served as director of The Little School in Scarsdale, which provides affordable child care for working parents.
2012 honorees listed by communities:
WHITE PLAINS - Isabel E. Villar
Special Recognition Honorees
MOUNT VERNON - Marleen Dandridge
PEEKSKILL – The Rev. Jeannette Phillips
PURDYS – John Caralyus
SCARSDALE - Carol Stix
SOMERS – Barry Singer
Class of 2012
ARMONK: William Golub
BRIARCLIFF MANOR: Joseph Lalak
CHAPPAQUA: Dr. William Flank
CORTLANDT MANOR: Marie Turner
CROTON-ON-HUDSON: Laura Seitz, Carol Shanesy
DOBBS FERRY: Claire Stein
EASTCHESTER: Robert Moynihan
ELMSFORD: Elaine Dixon
HARTSDALE: David Doynow, Yvette Gralla
LARCHMONT: Lynn Reichgott
MAMARONECK: Charles Hessler, Shirley Jones
MOHEGAN LAKE: Ray Procious
MOUNT KISCO: Lenore Safian
MOUNT VERNON: Phyllis Rosen, Anne Sweazey, Edithia Tracey
NEW ROCHELLE: Maureen Lundahl, Dorothy Sunshine, Judith Weber
NORTH WHITE PLAINS: Lorraine Wuttke
PLEASANTVILLE: Lina Spedaliere
RYE: Nancy Haneman
RYE BROOK: Allene Berman, Rose Sciandra, Marcia Teschner
SCARSDALE: Philip Feiner
TARRYTOWN: Kitty Geissler
THORNWOOD: Lee Hart
WHITE PLAINS: Janice Beatty-Hudson, Ganel Gibbs, Dickie Kay, Carolyn Rogers, Marge Weaver
YONKERS: Claudia Brigman, Euphemia Brown, Jacqueline Campanile, Margaret Silby, Barbara Weinbaum; Joyce Wignal
YORKTOWN HEIGHTS: Salvatore Amuso, Robert Schavrien, Theresa Tinger