July 2, 2022

Middlesex Chamber Announces 2012 “Distinguished Citizen” Award Recipients

The Middlesex Chamber proudly announces that the 2012 Distinguished Citizen Award winners are: Robert C. Fusari, Michael “Jay” Polke and John W. Rafal, JD.

About the recipients:

Robert C. Fusari

Robert Fusari is the President of Real Estate Service of CT (RESC), a company he co-founded in 1978.  Over the last 57 years, Bob has developed and built custom homes, single family subdivisions, condominium communities and apartment developments ranging from 10 units to 3,500 units, and he is regarded as a national and regional authority on land use and residential construction.

As President, Bob has earned the respect of his peers, at local, state and national levels in the Home Builders Association.  He has been chosen as Builder of the Year several times in the 90’s, and has served as president of both the State chapter and the Hartford County chapter and one of only seven members to receive its prestigious Charles C. LoDolce Award for outstanding leadership and service.

He currently serves as Chairman of the properties committee for HOPE (Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere), a non-profit organization currently building 16 units of affordable housing in Old Saybrook.  He also serves as the Co-Chair of the Middlesex United Way Leadership Council administering the Middlesex County 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.

Bob is the past president and director of Martin House, a non-profit supportive housing organization; and past president of the Thames River Family Program, serving formerly homeless families of single mothers.

He is a director and past chairman of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, and was a founder and co-chairman of the Environment, Energy and Land Use Committee and the Affordable Housing Committee.  Both of these committees have been instrumental in making change in Middlesex County.

Bob is a life-long resident of Connecticut.  Born and raised in Portland, Connecticut and moved to Old Saybrook in 1958 where he raised a family of two daughters and two sons who have blessed him with ten grandchildren.    He is committed to increasing affordable housing in Connecticut.

Michael “Jay” Polke

Michael “Jay” Polke’s long and distinguished history in Middlesex County began in November of 1960 in Cromwell when he took a job at the third in what was a series of bowling alleys across the state, owned by Joe Cambareri.  Cromwell Lanes opened in the fall of 1960 and joined the other bowling establishments in New Haven and Hamden, Conn. of the same ownership.

Jay developed his interest in this industry as a young boy as a patron in a hometown bowling alley in Port Chester, New York.  From age 10, he took an interest with the automatic pin-setters at the lanes.  Seeing this interest, the owner gave him a part-time job there and Jay advanced in the business’s ranks, becoming the bowling alley’s mechanic in the 1950’s.

From the age of 17, Jay worked at Mr. Cambareri’s establishments, agreeing to retain his position as a mechanic with the understanding that he would be afforded the opportunity to take continuing education courses in order to be certified in the field.  After making his way to Cromwell, Jay found a unique component to the community and elected to remain a resident of the town—which he views as a quiet and beautiful one—as the mechanic at Cromwell Lanes.

Then, in 1964, after acquiring the Middletown Lanes business, Jay entered into service as a member of the United States Army Reserves.  Here, he was on active duty for six months along with another six-and-a-half years of inactive duty.  In the meantime, Cromwell Lanes was closed.  After serving his country, Jay returned to the business community along with his friend, Mr. Cambareri, where the two were asked to manage a bar/restaurant establishment at the then-Edgewood Golf Club in Cromwell (presently the TPC River Highlands).

Jay spent the first year managing the business with Mr. Cambareri, then led it on his own until 1974.  At this time, the opportunity to open a liquor store in Cromwell presented itself.  Seeing a viable opportunity here, Jay and Mr. Cambareri opened Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe in December of 1975.  The two took on several real estate investments along with the Willowbrook property, and the two remain as current owners of several highly-visible business properties in Cromwell.

Joining the Chamber in 1978, Jay has always been the first person to take the lead not only for the business community, but also the community as a whole.  He is an energetic and dedicated member of Cromwell’s Economic Development Commission and keeps a close watch on all zoning issues.  As the owner of a liquor store, Jay has always known his duty to the community to help with the fight against substance abuse.  As a result of this ongoing commitment, the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) presented Jay with its annual Business Recognition Award in 2004.  In the effort to battle underage drinking, Jay also has collaborated with Cromwell’s Prevention and Awareness Council with many initiatives.

An effective businessman, Jay also led Willowbrook Spirit Shoppe to a Business of the Year accolade from the Middlesex Chamber.  He is also a parishioner at St. Elizabeth Seton church in Rocky Hill.

Jay has been married to his wife, Linda, for 47 years, whom he met at the Cromwell Lanes in 1961.  The couple has two children: Jennifer and Jeff, and also five grandchildren that range from 8 to 17 years old.  The family maintains its strong Cromwell roots as Jay and his son and daughter, along with their respective families, all live in the same subdivision in town—a subdivision that Mr. Cambareri and Jay developed in the 1980’s.

John W. Rafal, JD

John Rafal is the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Essex Financial Services, a Connecticut financial services firm with more than $3.4 billion in assets under management.

John has more than 30 years of experience in financial advisory services and has received numerous industry awards in the field of investment management.  Mr. Rafal was named the #1 Independent Financial Advisor in the country by Barron’s Magazine for 2007 and 2008.  John was named as on the “The Best 100 Financial Advisors” in the United States by Barron’s magazine in 2004-2011.  He is a member of the Connecticut and American Bar Associations, the Financial Planning Association and is a Registered Securities Principal.

John received a B.A. in political science from the University of Connecticut in 1971 and a J.D. from Temple University School of Law in 1975.  He serves as a Board member of the Essex Savings Bank, Middlesex Hospital, The UConn Foundation and The Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center, Inc.  He is a past member of the Board of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra and The Cove.

John is a 28 year resident of Old Lyme, Connecticut and is married to Dyanne.  He has a son Matthew who is a cum laude graduate of Northeastern University and a daughter Alysia who is a cum laude graduate of Princeton University.

For more information on Chamber events and activities, please contact Jeff Pugliese at jpugliese@middlesexchamber.com.