Conservation Director Thomas Steinke thought he had been asked to attend Wednesday's Board of Selectmen meeting to give an update on marsh cleanup after Superstorm Sandy.
And Old Post Road resident Jeanne Harrison thought she asked to attend to help honor her longtime friend, Steinke.
Turns out, they were both wrong.
In the Board of Selectmen's annual civic honors program, Steinke was named "Employee of the Year" and Harrison was selected as "Fairfielder of the Year."
Steinke, a town employee for more than 35 years, was nominated by Fairfielders Protecting Land and Neighborhoods, LLC, a grassroots organization. Several members extolled Steinke's virtues at the meeting.
Joy Shaw, a founder of the Mill River Wetlands Lab, said Steinke has deserved the honor for many years. "It was an excellent and wise decision," she said of the town's first -- and only -- full-time conservation director.
The nomination form cited not only Steinke's ongoing work on local conservation and wetland issues, but the development and management of the shellfish and open space programs, and his expertise in coastal wetlands restoration.
Steinke, who may have been tipped off something was afoot when his grandchildren arrived for the meeting, said the citation was unexpected, and really was a "thank you to Fairfield and to all of you, for elevating that effort, that work ethic, to this level."
Harrison, who often can be seen around town painting fire hydrants to look like Redcoats for next year's celebration of Fairfield's 375th anniversary -- a tradition she started in 1976 for the nation's Bicentennial -- was taken completely by surprise by her honor.
"It's wonderful to be here," Harrison said, adding that she had attended in tribute to Steinke. Nominated by Town Clerk Betsy Browne and Kathleen Griffin for her many years of civic volunteerism, including the Historic District Commission, the Fairfield Teen Center, the Mill River Conservation Committee, among others, Harrison said she hopes that once the 375th celebrations end, the town doesn't re-paint the hydrants yellow.
"If a fireman can't see a British Redcoat better than a yellow fire hydrant, he needs glasses," Harrison said, to laughter. She said the project, over the years, has brought her many phone calls, letters and lasting memories.
Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey thanked Harrison for "the beauty that you have brought to the community through your life and service."
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