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John Heiser was named the co-grand marshal alongside his wife Judy of the upcoming Essex Go Bragh Parade to be held Saturday, March 9. (Photo courtesy of John Heiser )
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For 52 years, John Heiser has lived in the same house in Ivoryton with his wife Judy. John and his wife have been involved as volunteers for a number of groups, events, and organizations over the years and to recognize that, they are being honored as the co-grand marshals of the 2019 Essex Go Bragh parade, which will be held on Saturday, March 9.
“We were a little surprised when Maryellen Barnes at Park and Rec asked us [to be grand marshals], but it sounds like a fun day,” says John. “We’ll get to ride in a horse-drawn wagon and see a lot of people.”
Both John and Judy (a 2014 Person of the Week) have been volunteering since their children were young. They raised their two sons in town and saw them grow up enjoying activities, sports, and their time at Essex Elementary School, John Winthrop Middle School, and Valley Regional High School where both boys were three-sport athletes.
“The school systems worked well for our kids and the Town of Essex is run well; the tax rates are good,” says John. “It’s a nice, pleasant town to live in with lots to do. We enjoy the shoreline with Long Island Sound and the river. We had kayaks for a while and that was fun.”
As a longtime volunteer in town, John always has a lot to do. His volunteer work started when his boys began playing in Essex Little League at age 5. Even though John worked on computer systems for an insurance company in Hartford, he found time to begin helping out with Essex Little League.
John found he enjoyed working with the league so much that his work with it spanned two decades, volunteering as a coach and at different points, serving as both treasurer and president.
“When the kids were small, we [Judy and I] were involved in their activities, but for me, Little League was the main thing,” says John. “I enjoyed time with our own kids and the other kids I worked with. It’s been fun over the years since then to see the kids who have grown up and stayed around here.”
John’s volunteerism got a boost 25 years ago when he retired from his job with the insurance company. While he stayed on for another eight years as a consultant, he had more free time to devote to various organizations in town. He volunteered and served on the board for the Essex Library, worked with the visiting nurses agency, and is now on the board of the Ivoryton Library.
“When I retired, I knew I wanted to do more in town,” says John, who also enjoyed golf for many years. “I like helping out and helping other people.”
Even though John spent much of his time volunteering, he didn’t stay truly retired for long as he has been the elected Republican registrar of voters for the past 11 years. This fall he was elected to his sixth term in office, though he does plan for this term to be his last in that position.
Around the same time in 2008, John also became involved with Friends In Service Here (FISH), a non-profit medical transportation service that is fully run by volunteers. The service is offered to residents in Essex, Centerbrook, Ivoryton, Deep River, and Chester on weekdays at no cost. While John does do some driving, his main job with FISH is serving as a dispatcher, scheduling drivers and assigning rides.
“We go as far as Guilford, New London, and Middletown for appointments and there is no charge, we don’t ask for donations, and all of the volunteer drivers pay for their own gas,” says John. “One of the things as a FISH driver is we meet a lot of different people in the three towns when we’re driving and some have some very interesting backgrounds that are fun to learn about. A lot maybe moved from other places and come from different backgrounds, so all of our drivers enjoy that side of it.”
John is also able to use his skills as a dispatcher to help out with his grandchildren and helping transport them to activities. John’s younger son Ted lives in Chester with his wife Kate and their three children, 12-year-old Vivi, 11-year-old Finn, and 8-year-old Sadie. His older son Dick lives in Pittsburgh with his wife Katie and their 16-year-old daughter Emma.
“I keep pretty busy between FISH and the registrar job,” says John. “We also enjoy doing things with the grandkids and helping them get to their activities—the girls do dance and my grandson does all kinds of sports. We like helping them out and visiting with them.”
John isn’t the only one who has kept busy over the years. He noted that his wife had a retail jewelry store that was located across from the Griswold Inn for many years and after closing that, she spent 10 years working for the Essex Board of Trade so she has been involved with many of Essex’s parades over the years.
“We definitely have a lot of parades,” says John. “It brings recognition that it’s a nice town and brings in a lot of visitors who find it’s a neat place to visit. It’s really put us on the map for tourists. We’ve always enjoyed the parades, in particular Essex Ed, because it’s a nice getting out of the house [and] pretending it’s actually spring, or that spring is on the way. A lot people like to get together with others and meet and have fun.”
The Essex Go Bragh festival, hosted by the Essex Recreation Department, gives people another chance to get outside on Saturday, March 9. The parade steps off from the Essex Town Hall at 10:30 a.m. In addition to the parade, which turns onto West Avenue and proceeds down Main Street to Essex Village, there will be free horse and carriage rides, face painting, a bake sale, and more.
John and Judy are excited to be a part of it as this year’s co-grand marshals.
“I just got a green sweater for my birthday, which was intentional for the parade,” John says, laughing. “I’m sure we’ll have plenty of green with us to celebrate that day.”
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