Person of the Week
Denise Dudak: Do Lions Eat Lobster?
Madison native Denise Dudak originally started studying to be a nurse, which led to a career in occupational safety and now proprietor of her own construction firm. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier)
Do lions eat lobster? Maybe not on the plains of Africa but in here in Connecticut they will, at least, be cooking lobsters on Saturday, Aug. 7 at the Essex Lions Annual Lobster Bake. The event, at Main Street Park in Essex Village, takes place rain or shine.
Madison native Denise Dudak will be in the thick of things because she is the co-chair of the event, along with her partner in life and lobster, Tom Langlois.
Perhaps, because she will be on her feet checking to make sure everything runs smoothly, Denise will be wearing her usual work footgear, sturdy construction boots.
That’s because Denise has her own company, Forbearance Power Line Construction, which does not only power line repair but also construction of patios and retaining walls as well as landscaping and installing lawns and gardens. She is credentialed as a master gardener and in addition to her long list of licenses and certifications include for technical and safety expertise.
“A lot of women spend on dress shoes. I’d buy a good pair of work boots before high heels. I wear heels for two hours and work boots 14 hours a day,” she explains.
Along with her own business, Denise also works for Asplundh, the company that specializes in tree trimming and removal for utility companies.
There are not a lot of women working in the kinds of jobs Denise does, though her daughter, Erin Nott of Killingworth, also works as an assistant project manager for another construction company.
Denise admits she has faced some skepticism from her male counterparts but says her expertise quells doubts.
“For the most part people are respectful. They can see I know my stuff. I earn respect and I also give them respect,” she says.
Denise studied nursing after graduation from Daniel Hand High School and got started on her present career when a professional colleague noticed she was interested in occupational medicine and safety. That led to a nursing position in the field occupational medicine with what was then Northeast Utilities, now Eversource.
She appreciates not only the difficult conditions that outdoor utility workers operate but also their commitment to their jobs.
“I see on Facebook people make fun of Eversource, but those are men putting their lives on the line,” she says.
She remembers a situation when people had worked restoring power for a week in freezing weather with ice and snow. The workers didn’t stop, even on Christmas Eve.
“They wouldn’t leave until everybody had their power on,” she says.
The slow work schedule last winter had an unexpected upside. Denise and Tom usually take some time and go to the Hawaiian island of Kauai but last year because of pandemic related delays and cancellations, they couldn’t arrange return flights.
“I spent hours and hours on the telephone; we could get to Honolulu but not getting all the way home,” she says.
They spent 10 weeks on Kauai.
“In the end we just relaxed and enjoyed it,” Denise says.
Denise, who now lives in Deep River, has been a member of the Essex Lions Club for 24 years; she has been president of the club as has her sister Katie Keleman, assistant tax collector in Westbroook. Membership has become a family tradition. Katie Keleman’s husband Joe and son Andy are also Lions members. (The Westbrook club combined with the Essex Lions several years ago.)
Now, Denise is president of the Connecticut Lions Eye Research Foundation. Funding research into eye disease has always been central to the international mission of Lions clubs throughout the world ever since Helen Keller spoke at the first international Lions convention in l925 and challenged the group to fight eye disease by becoming Knights of Blind.
In Connecticut, the Eye Research Foundation funds research into eye disease at the University of Connecticut and is involved in other eye related medical programs. Locally the Lions pay for both eye examinations and glasses for residents who cannot afford them.
“It’s a good feeling to be part of the community,” Denise says. “Helping people, making somebody smile, it is part of my heart. Lions is one of my passions.”
Denise says that the job of putting on the annual lobster bake takes not only the efforts of the members of the Essex Lions Club but also their families and other helpers as well. The menu includes lobster or steak, corn, potatoes. Bill’s Seafood in Westbrook contributes the coleslaw; desert is ice cream bars. Iced tea and lemonade are included in the price of the meal, but those who want something stronger can bring their own beverages. There is a cash raw bar with shrimp cocktail, clams and clam chowder.
Denise has no trouble reciting the menu. On the evening of the lobster bake, nonetheless, she will have trouble finding a moment to eat it.
“I’m usually too tired to eat my lobster that I have paid for,” she admits. “I wrap it up and I bring it home and I pick it out and have lobster salad the next day.”
Essex Lions Club Lobster Bake
The Essex Lions Club Lobster Bake runs rain or shine Saturday, Aug. 7 at Main Street Park Essex Village. The raw bar opens at 3:30 p.m.; dinner is from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets available through Essex Lions Facebook page or on the Essex Lions website www.essexlionsclub.org and at the door on the day of the Lobster Bake.