Walden celebrates its community leaders

By Jared Castañeda
Posted 1/17/24

Leaders serve various roles in their communities, set examples for those around them, and contribute immensely to education, business, volunteer work, and other fields of work. The Village of Walden …

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Walden celebrates its community leaders


Leaders serve various roles in their communities, set examples for those around them, and contribute immensely to education, business, volunteer work, and other fields of work. The Village of Walden sought to recognize these individuals last Thursday, January 11 during its 2023 Leadership Day, an annual ceremony dedicated to the residents who went the extra mile and shaped their surroundings for the better.

Volunteers of the Year
Jeffry Holmes, a former Walden police chief who spoke throughout the evening, kicked off the ceremony by nominating Mark and Courtenay Grogan with the Midge Norman “Volunteer of the Year” award. Mark and Courtenay have lived in Walden for two decades and are extensively involved in the Boy Scouts of America, serving as scoutmasters for Cub and Eagle Scout troops and helping out with events and programs whenever possible.

Mark is also a member of the Most Precious Blood Parish and a former New York City police officer, and Courtenay previously served as the vice president of the Berea Elementary School PTA and co-chair of the Valley Central All Night Grad.

“Mark and Courtenay truly are volunteers that Walden residents should be proud of,” Holmes said. “The positive impact that both have had on our youth and Walden in scouting, their school district, and their church definitely serve as an example for others to follow.

Youth of the Year
The next award, Ronald I, Jacobowitz’s Youth of the Year, went to Greyson Sager, a Valley Central High School senior and drama student. Sager is an outgoing young man dedicated to his studies and acting who inspires his classmates, whether it’s on or off-stage. Some of his theater experiences include playing major roles in Valley Central’s productions of “The Wizard of Oz and Curtains” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dreams.”

“Greyson is among the most hardworking theatrical talents I have taught in my 19 years as an educator,” said Marcia Jacobowitz, one of Sager’s professors. “Greyson is an extremely positive influence on his classmates, as well as the younger actors who come through our proud three-level drama program. As they look to upperclassmen for leadership and inspiration, Greyson is as valuable as they come.”

“I just want to say thank you for having me here and it’s a real big honor,” Sager said, adding that he will play Sonny LaTierri in his school’s upcoming production of “Grease.”

Service of the Year

Following Sager, Village Trustee Becky Pearson announced that the Historical Society of Walden and the Wallkill Valley earned the Sam Phelps Service Award. This volunteer organization, founded in 1958, comprises passionate members who preserve and celebrate Walden’s history, whether they identify momentous locations with state markers or educate elementary school students through their history club. The group has also restored and maintained the Jacob T. Walden, a two-family apartment along 34 North Montgomery Street that belonged to the village’s founder during the 1700s.

“Thank you again to the Phelps family for honoring us with the Sam Phelps Service Award,” said Lisa Melville, one of the group’s members. “And thank you to the Village of Walden and its residents for your continued support.”

Community Business of the Year
Holmes returned to the podium once more and nominated Blue Fox Books, a bookstore located on Main Street and owned by Brittani O’Hearn, for the Community Business of the Year award. O’Hearn is an outgoing store owner devoted to selling and spreading books across the village to readers of all ages. Her bookstore has served as a spot for many kitten cafes, author signings, open mic nights, homeschool classes, book clubs, and other community gatherings.

“Her window display brought a new vitality to our village, and as customers began visiting her store, they began patronizing other businesses as well,” Holmes said. “Brittany feels the focus on literature is vital for all communities and especially children. She’s proud to be contributing to the effort to bring a love of reading to the village of Walden.”

“Thank you for honoring us with the Community Business of the Year award. It’s been really fun being a part of the community for years,” O’Hearn said. “If you haven’t visited us, definitely visit us this year and keep an eye out for our events.”

Keynote Speaker
The ceremony concluded with a speech from this year’s keynote speaker, William Sestrom, a veteran who’s led an incredibly diverse career path. Sestrom, who started out playing guitar in his band, went on to work for IBM, serve the U.S. Army between 1963 and 1966, develop websites, manage three Verizon stores, and win 12 Hudson River Championships. He is also a volunteer for Walden’s ZBA and has supported fellow veterans through Hudson Valley Honor Flight.

“His unwavering commitment to our great nation is unmatched with anyone else. Beyond his military service, he has been actively involved in improving services for veterans through his work with Honor Flight organizations,” Holmes said. “William Sestrom is an exceptional individual who has left an incredible mark in roles with music, business, and service.”

Sestrom congratulated the evening’s honorees, recollected on veterans he met, and defined what it means to be a leader for one’s community.

“Whatever goes wrong, if you’re the leader, if you’re in charge, and there are people sitting around a table working for you, it’s always your fault,” he said. “Make sure your team knows that they’re appreciated, it’s very important for you to do that. I’ve never left my offices or stores without saying to the people that work with me, ‘Thank you.’”