Hall of Fame Inductees

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George Perkins (Art)

1804 – 1856

The Reverend George W. Perkins was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on February 12, 1804. Perkins graduated from Yale University (1824) and Andover Theological Seminary (1829). When he came to Meriden in 1841, it was to serve the town's Congregational churches, which he did until 1854. During this time he was very active in the Underground Railroad that was used by slaves seeking freedom on their way from the South to Canada and freedom. Considered a leader among the Abolitionists, Reverend Perkins acted as a "conductor." Like all abolitionists, he performed this courageous act of mercy, providing food and shelter to the concealed slaves during the daytime and then transporting them at night to the next community or station. He also spoke against slavery at churches in Meriden's surrounding communities.

Perkins wrote the first history of Meriden in 1849. He left Meriden in 1854 to serve as pastor of the Congregational Church in Chicago. While there he also edited a newspaper and was the founder of the Chicago Theological Seminary. He died in Chicago in 1856. Since he always considered Meriden his home, his body was returned here. Perkins – spiritual leader, author, historian, and humanitarian – is buried in Meriden's West Cemetery. Although Reverend Perkins is virtually unknown today, he played an important role in Meriden's history and certainly reflects that best that is Meriden.

Joseph Ragozzino (Business & Commerce)

1921 – 1985

Joseph A. Ragozzino was born in Meriden on March 25, 1921. His parents were Joseph and Anna Ragozzino. He attended local schools and graduated from Wilcox Tech with a degree in mechanical drawing. While working as a designer with a firm in Lake Banton, Connecticut, he was drafted into military service. Joe was honorably discharged in 1944 and returned to Meriden to manage the family comer grocery store located on Ames Avenue.

In 1950 Joe married Gloria Civali, and the couple had five children: John, Ellen, Jean, Susan, and Nancy and eight grandchildren. Together they continued working the family store until 1952 when Joe's father (Papa Joe) began making spaghetti sauce in the back of the store for customers in the neighborhood. When a commercial salesman sampled the sauce and witnessed the enthusiastic responses by customers for the product, it was the beginning of the American Dream. Demand grew and continued to grow until the making of Ragozzino sauces became a full-time occupation. Eventually a new and modern plant had to be built to meet the demand from Connecticut stores and eventually stores throughout the East.

After his father's death Joe continued the family business, adding a frozen pasta line, and developed it into one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of Italian sauces and pasta products. In 1972 Joe was named the "Man of the Year" by the Connecticut Food Industry Association. This was the first time a manufacturer had been named to receive this honor. Joe later served as the President of the Connecticut Association.

Joe's passion for food was expressed in his everyday life. He was a member of the Auguste Escoffier Society. In addition to his contributions to the food industry, Joe was very active in the Meriden Boys Club, which he served as Vice President for many years. At the club there is now a scholarship in his name to benefit a needy youth.

After his untimely death in 1985, his wife, Gloria, and the children continued to operate and expand the business into the institutional marketplace. The company, under the name of Ragozzino Foods, Inc., now manufactures and distributes a variety of Italian sauces, pastas, and specialty products nationwide.

Joseph Schiopucie (Sports)

1927 – 2001

Joseph Schiopucie was one of the most well-known and prominent sports figures in both Meriden and the State of Connecticut. He was born in Meriden on March 20, 1921. He was a three-sport athlete at Meriden High School. He was awarded an early diploma from Meriden High School in the spring of 1945 so that he could serve in World War II. Following his years in the service, Joe attended Cheshire Academy then Arnold College where he earned a degree in physical education. He worked at the original Meriden Boys Club under Joe Coffey for five years before succeeding Ben Zajac at Wilcox Tech in 1956. During his earlier years at Wilcox, Joe played semi-pro basketball with the Sons of Italy; he also coached and played semi-pro baseball with the Insilcos.

Joe married Marie (Vecchitto). They had three children, David, Peter, and Stephen, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Joe coached both baseball and basketball at Wilcox, the latter being his first love. He was also the school's athletic director. During his thirty-one year tenure as basketball coach, Joe led his team to two MSAC league championships and boasted six All-State players. His teams qualified for the post-season tournament in twenty-three of thirty-one seasons, and he amassed 388 wins, both of which are technical school records. Joe was a strict and unwavering disciplinarian. He regarded Wilcox as a public rather than a technical school and instilled high standards into his players. He is remembered and appreciated fondly by his former players because his rules were simple, and he never made exceptions or compromised his ideals. In addition to his coaching responsibilities, Joe served as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Vocational-Technical Conference. He retired from coaching basketball in 1987 and was given the distinction of having the gymnasium at Wilcox named in his honor. He retired from teaching in 1989 after thirty-three years.

Joe's coaching prowess was recognized by his peers at the state level, as well. The Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) selected him as the 1981 recipient of the Outstanding Coach Award. In 1992 Joe received the most prestigious honor given by the CHSCA, which was the induction into the Hall of Fame.

Locally Joe remained active as a member of the Boys Club Alumni Association and various service clubs. From its inception over twenty years ago, Joe served on a number of committees for the annual Meriden Sports Reunion Award. He received the Sportsman of Distinction Award in 1990. Joe died in Meriden on June 12, 2001.

Richard Fontanella (Performing Arts)

1936 –

Richard Fontanella was born and raised in Meriden and is a lifetime resident. Dick attended local schools, graduating from Meriden High School in 1955. Thereafter, he served in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged Specialist 4th Class in 1961. He was employed at Northeast Utilities for thirty-five years, entering the company as a mail boy and retiring as an administrative assistant. Upon retirement from Northeast Utilities, Dick worked ten years at King Travel.

Orphaned at an early age and raised by his sister Levia and brother-in-law Henry, Dick recognized the need of providing an outlet for promoting musical activities for the youth of Meriden. Active as a performer and singer in the Meriden Community Theater for many years, he noticed that there were no opportunities for the youth, only adults. Thus, he founded the Hi-Liters in 1952. Through Dick's efforts, hundreds of young people from elementary, high school, and college age performed at area nursing homes, senior centers, libraries, and local clubs. The young performers gained self-confidence, poise, and a caring attitude for the elderly. Many went on to successful careers as professional musicians, performers (some of whom have appeared on Broadway), teachers, attorneys, etc. The Hi-Liters are now in their 54th year, and the caliber of the young participants covers 21st century technology, media, talent, and a willingness to help others. Every participant in the shows performs or handles the responsibilities of back stage duties. No child is turned away for lack of talent.

Richard Fontanella has demonstrated great dedication and on-going interest in helping Meriden's youth develop their talent and, at the same time, share that talent and treasure with those who need a "highlight” in their lives. Throughout the performances audiences respond to a smile and a friendly handshake as the children greet them. While maintaining close relationships with the performers as mentor and confidant, Dick encourages open dialogue with their parents, and many families are involved in rehearsals and actual performances. Today, many of the involved children are the offspring of their parents who were members.

Over the fifty-four years of performing, Dick has received many awards and tributes for his dedication to the youth of Meriden by being honored by the Meriden Kiwanis as a life-time member, the Connecticut State Legislature for years of service, the President's and Chairman's Award from Northeast Utilities, Jaycee's Man of the Year, the Connecticut Treasure Award in 1999 (an award program instituted by then Lt. Governor Rell to recognize volunteer performance). In 2002 the City Council recognized fifty years of service and dedication to the youth of Meriden. For the past ten years, the Meriden Kiwanis has been the sponsor of the Hi-Liters and continues to play an active role. In addition, Dick founded the Ballroom Dance Class in 1961 for adults, which continues today.