November 15, 2002
By Lisa Pierce
Ranger's moment in the spotlight arrived last night, but he was having none of it. Despite the coaxing of several photographers, the 2-year-old golden retriever refused to avert his gaze from his wheelchair-bound owner, Kathy Field, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 27 years ago.
Field and Ranger were among the more than 400 people -- and three dogs -- in attendance at last night's 24th Annual Dinner of Champions, sponsored by the Western Connecticut Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society at the Hyatt Regency Greenwich.
Ranger's trainers, Lu and Dale Picard of Winchester, were given the chapter's Humanitarian Award for establishing the East Coast Assistance Dogs organization, which has provided more than 50 dogs to people afflicted with disabilities such as MS that impair mobility.
Lu Picard founded the organization, which teaches at-risk adolescents to train golden retrievers and Labradors to assist those with disabilities, after her father suffered a stroke in 1995.
"Ranger is able to do so much to help me," said Field, a petite woman dressed in a tailored suit.
In addition to sponsoring support groups and raising funds to find a cure, the western Connecticut chapter serves about 1,200 people diagnosed with MS in Fairfield and Litchfield counties. Multiple sclerosis attacks the central nervous system, impairing the ability of suffferers to control their body. Symptoms range from imbalance and numbness to paralysis and blindness.
Converium Reinsurance (North America) Inc., which has offices in Stamford, was awarded last night with the Sylvia Lawry Founders Award, for its involvement with the chapter and encouraging employee volunteerism. The award was accepted by company President and CEO Richard Smith.
Stamford residents Frank and Lori Mercede were awarded the Community Service Award for their role in building Twin Meadows, a playground designed to allow children of all physical abilities to play together.
When the Boundless Playground opens this spring at Stillmeadow Elementary School in Stamford, it will feature a wheelchair-accessible treehouse and a boat swing that allows typically abled children to swing with children in wheelchairs.
The night's featured honorees were Olympic gold medalists Viktor Petrenko and Jim Shea, who both received the J. Walter Kennedy Award.
Petrenko lives and trains in Simsbury, with his wife, choreographer Nina Melnick, and their 5-year-old daughter, Victoria. Shea, whose father and grandfather also were Olympic gold medalists, grew up and attended high school in West Hartford.
The evening was presided over by emcee Bobby Valentine, who joked about his recent ouster as New York Mets manager.
"I used to enjoy the honor of being the only man to manage in the National
League, the American League and the Japanese professional league. Now I'm
also the only man to be fired from the National League, the American and
the Japanese professional league," he said. "You may have heard that I'm
building a deck on my house. Keep in mind I also do yard work. The leaves
have just fallen so if you need me, please call."
Copyright © 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers