Dick Fontanella
Director of the Kiwanis Hi-Liters

Richard Fontanella was born and raised in Meriden and is a lifetime resident. Dick attended local schools, graduating from Meriden High School in 1955. Thereafter, he served in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged Specialist 4th Class in 1961. He was employed at Northeast Utilities for thirty-five years, entering the company as a mail boy and retiring as an administrative assistant. Upon retirement from Northeast Utilities, Dick worked ten years at King Travel.

Orphaned at an early age and raised by his sister Levia and brother-in-law Henry, Dick recognized the need of providing an outlet for promoting musical activities for the youth of Meriden. Active as a performer and singer in the Meriden Community Theatre for many years, he noticed that there were no opportunities for the youth, only adults. Thus, he founded the Hi-Liters in 1952. Through Dick’s efforts, hundreds of young people from elementary, high school, and college age performed at area nursing homes, senior centers, libraries, and local clubs. The young performers gained self-confidence, poise, and a caring attitude for the elderly. Many went on to successful careers as professional musicians, performers (some of whom have appeared on Broadway), teachers, attorneys, etc. The Hi-Liters are now in their 61st year, and the caliber of the young participants covers 21st Century technology, media, talent, and a willingness to help others. Every participant in the shows performs or handles the responsibilities of back stage duties. No child is turned away for lack of talent.

Richard Fontanella has demonstrated great dedication and on-going interest in helping Meriden’s youth develop their talent and, at the same time, share that talent and treasure with those who need a “high light" in their lives. Throughout the performances audiences respond to a smile and a friendly handshake as the children greet them. While maintaining close relationships with the performers as mentor and confidant, Dick encourages open dialogue with their parents, and many families are involved in rehearsals and actual performances. Today, many of the involved children are the offspring of their parents who were members.

Over the sixty-one years of performing, Dick has received many awards and tributes for his dedication to the youth of Meriden by being honored by the Meriden Kiwanis as a life-time member, the Connecticut State Legislature for years of service, the President's and Chairman’s Award from Northeast Utilities, Jaycee’s Man of the Year, the Connecticut Treasure Award in 1999 (an award program instituted by then Lt. Governor Rell to recognize volunteer performance). In 2002 the City Council recognized fifty years of service and dedication to the youth of Meriden. For the past ten years, the Meriden Kiwanis has been the sponsor of the Hi-Liters and continues to play an active role. In addition, Dick founded the Ballroom Dance Class in 1961 for adults, which continues today.

(Above text from proclamation at the 2006 Meriden Hall of Fame induction ceremony)

Courtesy of the Record-Journal - May 30, 2012