Old Timer’s honorees: Military letter-writer, track runner, and alternative high school founder

Press Contributor

The Ridgefield Old Timer’s Association has announced that three of the nine award winners for 2017 will be outstanding women who served the Ridgefield community over the past seven decades.   

Doris Ventres will be be awarded posthumously for her outstanding service to the community; the education award will go to Joan Morris Voss, and one of the outstanding athlete awards will go to Amy Walter Hillenbrand.

The awards will be handed out during a ceremony at St. Mary’s Hall on Saturday, Oct. 14.

Supporting the troops

Ventres, who lived her entire life in Ridgefield and graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1946, is considered by many to be a true American hero.  

For 46 years, Ventres hand-wrote letters to thousands of servicemen from her beloved hometown. She felt that these young people were willing to sacrifice their lives and needed recognition.  

A very disciplined person, Ventres spent one week a month, Monday through Friday, six hours a day, writing to military personnel about their hometown, and sending them articles and photographs of the town.  

She would write to around 50 different people at a time so that there was a real bond.  

Many military people wrote back to Ventres, but if they did not, that was OK with her.

Over the years, many organizations realized the importance of the work that Ventres did. 

She received a special proclamation from Gov. Jodi Rell for her selfless work, her altruism and enthusiasm in support of the U.S. Armed Forces.  

Ventres was also honored by the American Red Cross and asked to ride in the Memorial Day Parade as the Grand Marshall.  

Six years before she died at age 93, the DiPreta Family in town gave her a special banquet because of all she had done for their daughter while she was serving abroad.  

English and theater

Joan Morris Voss served Ridgefield Public Schools for 40 years, and will receive the Old Timer’s education award this fall.  

Over four decades, she helped to establish and successfully run the Ridgefield Alternative School. She also taught English and theater arts at Ridgefield High School and produced all the non-musical plays, while also being very active at the Ridgefield Theater Barn.

In 2002, Voss received the Ridgefield Teacher of the Year Award; and, in 2003, she was awarded Seton Hill’s Outstanding Alumni Award.  

She has also received the 1998 Children’s Empowerment Award for service to children in the community.     

She said her greatest strength as a teacher was her ability to connect with people, understand and care about them, and bring out the best in them.

She was most proud of her work with the alternative high school.

“The Alternative school is not a special education school,” she said. “It is a school for bright, creative students who need a different environment in which to learn. It is a school that is based on teamwork where faculty and students work together to make the rules, create a learning environment, develop curriculum, and yes, go to very good colleges and have successful careers.”

Run like the wind

Amy Walter Hillenbrand graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1979 where she was an outstanding cross country and track runner.   

She was one of seven children, and her parents Shirley and Dick still live in town.   

In 1976, Hillenbrand was the FCIAC first place finisher in cross country.  

A year later, she had another first place finish for FCIAC and qualified for the state team. 

In 1978, Hillenbrand continued to rack up the accolades. She took second place in FCIAC cross country, qualified for the states and was co-captain of her high school team.

Hillenbrand did equally as well in track.  

She held the Ridgefield High School mile record with a time of 5:23 and the two-mile record with a time of 11:52.  

With her outstanding talent in track, Hillenbrand qualified for states for all four years, and was named co-captain of the track team in 1979.  

Hillenbrand went onto college at Rutgers and a career in biotechnology.  

She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, a Lutheran pastor, and works at Concordia University.  She has two very successful children and comes back to Ridgefield from time to time to visit her parents.

The ceremony

The Old Timer’s award ceremony dinner will honor these three women, as well as the other awardees: Dr. Joseph Connelly, Dr. Theodore Librizzi, Bo Beatty, Daniel Geary, Janice Pauly and Nancy Ruhl.

Tickets cost $55 and are available through the Ridgefield Old Timer’s Association website (www.ridgefieldoldtimers.org).

The ceremony will include a cocktail hour, entertainment and a silent auction that will start at 6 p.m., with the dinner provided by Ridgefield Prime, starting at 7 p.m.  Proceeds from the event go to sponsor athletic scholarships for four outstanding scholar athletes each year. To get your tickets go the Ridgefield Old Timer’s Association web site or get them from any member of the Old Timer’s Association.