Foster parents, altruists: David, JoAnna Chmielecki die within days of each other
By Jason Rowe
VERNON - The town is mourning the loss of a local couple known for their generosity toward the community.
David A. Chmielecki, 67, died Wednesday morning after a six-year battle with cancer.
His death came just days after his wife of 44 years, JoAnna, succumbed to cancer on Sunday. She was 66.
Family and friends remembered the couple, who lived in Vernon for more than 40 years, for their selflessness and the amount of time they devoted toward making the town a better place.
David Chmielecki was active in town politics, most recently serving as Democratic town chairman, a post he held for nearly two years.
The couple also provided a warm and loving family life for their nine children, three of whom were adopted, said Julie Chmielecki, their third-oldest daughter.
They had 20 grandchildren.
"They were selfless - both of them," Julie Chmielecki said. "My mother just loved kids. She loved to be surrounded by children. They loved to help the less fortunate."
Over the years, the couple's compassion for the less fortunate would show itself in their work at local shelters or their efforts to serve Thanksgiving dinners to underprivileged families.
David Chmielecki also worked to ensure that his children became active participants in local and national affairs.
Julie Chmielecki said her father would take her and her siblings to Washington, New York City, and Boston for women's rights marches and other political events.
The Chmielecki family was a fixture at community events like the annual Day in the Park celebration.
JoAnna Chmielecki was David Chmielecki's biggest cheerleader, their daughter said.
Even when she was seriously ill, Julie Chmielecki said, her mother's first concern was for the well being of her father.
And when he worked at Travelers Insurance Co. in Hartford, Julie Chmielecki said, her father would ride the bus to work so her mother would have a car to use during the day.
"It was beautiful," Julie Chmielecki said. "It was very sad, but it was so beautiful."
Local officials remembered the Chmieleckis and their many acts of kindness toward the community over the years.
"The town is going to miss both of them dearly," Judith A. Beaudreau, Democratic registrar of voters, said. "It was always everybody else before himself."
Beaudreau said she met the couple about 10 years ago after she moved into their neighborhood.
A friendship was kindled almost immediately, she said.
The couple was instrumental in developing the town's annual Dickens Day celebration in December, where they were known for dressing up in costume as Charles Dickens and Mrs. Claus.
Knowing that this would likely be their last Christmas, Beaudreau said, Dickens Day organizers worked especially hard during the past year to ensure that this year's celebration would be a success.
Beaudreau said the Chmieleckis also were generous to those less fortunate.
Whenever she would go out of town and stay at hotels, Beaudreau said, David Chmielecki would always ask her to bring back small containers of shampoo or soap, which he would bring to local homeless shelters.
"He always wanted to bring people together and do things for them," Beaudreau said. "He would always take things to the soup kitchen and the shelter."
Despite the father's illness, the Chmieleckis never lost their dedication to the town, Democratic Town Councilwoman Marie A. Herbst said.
Through the years, David Chmielecki served as a member of the Rockville Downtown Association and the Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, and he helped organize the local Christmas in April program.
As a member of the task force charged with overseeing construction of the West Street ambulance building, Herbst said, David Chmielecki often would come to meetings hours after going through chemotherapy treatments.
Although his treatments left him weakened, Herbst said, he missed only one meeting.
"I was so glad we finished that building so he could see what was accomplished," Herbst said.
Herbst also recalled the last time she saw JoAnna Chmielecki.
It was shortly before the November municipal elections and JoAnna Chmielecki had driven David to a pancake breakfast for senior citizens, which served as a party fundraiser.
"They did not let their disease stop them," Herbst said. "That was the beautiful part of their life."
Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said Wednesday that she met David Chmielecki roughly 20 years ago when his children became old enough to play on the Rockville High School football team.
Through the years, Marmer said, she got to know him better, and in recent years he became a mentor to her as she embarked on her run for office in 2003.
Marmer described David Chmielecki as a "low key" Democratic chairman, whose efforts were based on a desire to help the entire community.
Describing the Chmieleckis' life together as a "great love story," Marmer also expressed sympathies toward the couple's nine children, who are now dealing with the loss of both parents.
Marmer said the Chmieleckis' life together demonstrates the importance of not wasting a day.
"I think he understood that and so did his wife," Marmer said.
Although they were on different sides of the political aisle, Republican Town Chairman William Francis said he had a great deal of respect for Chmielecki.
Francis said he and Chmielecki used to get together to talk about ways the two political parties could work together.
A wake for both David and JoAnna Chmielecki will be held Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Burke-Fortin Funeral Home on Prospect Street.
A funeral service will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at Union Congregational Church on Elm Street.
Always willing to lend a hand, even when his illness made it difficult, Herbst said she will always remember the way David Chmielecki and his wife defied their diseases and continue to touch the lives of those around them.
"They became stronger by it," Herbst said. "For that, I will never forget them."