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Coginchaug Valley Education Foundation board member Merrill Adams presents Robin Heath with the Howard Kelley Award Dec. 12 at Indian Springs Golf Club. Heath was recognized for his work with the Boy Scouts.

Robin Heath wins CVEF’s Howard Kelley Award

The Coginchaug Valley Education Foundation honored Robin Heath’s spirit of turning a challenge into fun, and his years of teaching boys and young men independence, at a ceremony Dec. 12.

The foundation awarded Heath its Howard Kelley Award.

“I’m just out there having fun,” said Robin Heath of his camping trips with the Boy Scouts in the lakes, rivers, mountains, and deep woods of America and Canada. Heath has been working with the Boy Scouts since a 1994 snorkeling trip to the Florida Keys with his son Eric.

Heath, of Middlefield, still camps with the scouts even at “a young 69” and serves as Scout Master for Troop 33 in Middlefield.

“My favorite part of scouting is the ‘outing’ part,” said Heath in an interview with the Town Times before accepting the award.

Since 1994, numerous scouts from the area have gone hiking in New Mexico, canoeing in the Boundary Waters park in northern Minnesota, and swimming in Florida under Heath’s guidance and supervision. Heath calls the Boundary Waters his favorite spot. “It’s the wilderness of it. The boys really have to know their stuff,” Heath said. “You’re out in the middle of nowhere.”

CVEF’s award goes to an individual who demonstrates a commitment to giving back to the community in an educational way. The late Howard Kelley served as RSD13’s first school superintendent and oversaw the start of the Integrated Day program as well as the Youth Effectiveness Seminar (YES) program.

Kelley’s wife Renee, who attended the award presentation, recalled that her husband’s commitment to education continued after leaving the superintendent’s position in 1991. Kelley became the CEO of the American School for the Deaf and learned to sign at age 75.

CVEF and Board of Education member Merrill Adams said that Kelley, like Heath, showed no fear of the elements. “All the teachers would complain because he would never close the schools,” said Adams.

When he heard that he had won the award, Heath said he was in the midst of planning a scouting camporee to West Point. Heath’s son Eric, who was on hand to watch the ceremony, said that such trips taught scouts independence, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Members of Heath’s family, including his wife Terry, said that Heath was already hoping his grandson, not yet two, would eventually camp with the scouts.

In her nomination of Heath and in her speech at the award presentation, Pam Moore Onofreo pointed to Heath’s guidance of scouts to the Eagle Scout rank as a reason Health made a good Howard Kelley Award recipient. Eagle Scout is the highest honor a scout can achieve and is only awarded after a significant community service project.

According to Onofreo, there have been 41 Eagle Scouts since the inception of the troop decades ago. Of those, 30 have been guided to the rank by Heath, an enormous number for that time frame.

“A lot of good things happened in town because of those scouts,” said Heath. He thanked many people who helped make scouting successful in Middlefield, including his fellow scout volunteers and the parents of the scouts.During his speech, Health said the tally of Eagle Scouts could have been higher. “It would be 31 but we got snowed out on Tuesday night.”

Heath was the third recipient of the Howard Kelley Award.

The first one went to Christine Willett, for her efforts with her charity After the Storm, which include education for the community and cancer patients about about holistic therapies.

The second Howard Kelley Award was given to Susan Michael, science teacher at Coginchaug Regional High School, for her environmental and educational efforts in the community and through the ECO club. Michael started recycling and conservation programs, such as the composting efforts at the Durham Fair.

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