Person of the Week
Joining the Rotary Led Mark Lesage in a New Direction
Mark Lesage recently completed his term as president of the North Haven Rotary and continues to volunteer with the group. (Photo courtesy of Mark Lesage)
Seven years ago, Mark Lesage was at his cousin’s birthday party where he began talking to Rick DiNorscia about his involvement with the North Haven Rotary Club. DiNorscia told Mark about the different fundraisers the club was hosting including a can drive and a nickel drive. Mark was intrigued by the Rotary’s service to the community.
“I was 24 and looking for a little guidance and I found that with the Rotary,” says Mark. “They became another family and they’re an amazing group of people. There is a lot of entrepreneurship and I’ve learned a lot along the way.”
That conversation not only sparked Mark’s interest in the Rotary, but it set his career on a new trajectory, though he didn’t know it at the time. Mark originally went to trade school to become an electrician, taking after his father, who was an electrical engineer, and his uncles, who were all electricians.
A car accident derailed that career and after two back surgeries, Mark found a job at a car dealership that he “absolutely loved,” finding a passion for sales. Mark also had a business selling items on eBay and began doing marketing work on the side.
Just two years into his involvement with the Rotary, Mark earned several awards through the club. Sal Khan, owner of Nelson Ambulance, was at the ceremony and he was impressed by Mark’s achievements. In 2006, Khan hired Mark to handle the ambulance company’s business development and marketing.
“My father was my first mentor and then Sal took me under his wing when I started and showed me the ropes,” says Mark. “When he saw me getting awards for my volunteer work, he said he wondered, ‘If I give him a salary, what will he do?’”
Mark has continued his career with Nelson Ambulance as well as his volunteer work with the Rotary and has found the two overlap at various points. In 2009, Mark spearheaded the Rotary’s efforts to denote the Town of North Haven as a HEARTSafe Community, which requires a “set of criteria and guidelines designed to improve outcomes to sudden cardiac arrest emergencies through a specific set of training, preparation, and response protocols,” according to citizgncpr.org.
The efforts began after Mark found out that a defibrillator had saved Khan’s father’s life. Mark completed the application to become a HEARTSafe Community and coordinated the efforts of bringing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to all of the North Haven schools as well as widespread CPR training.
“It was really a heartfelt thing and it was great to see my company join in and do the CPR training for free,” says Mark. “After working for the ambulance company, I realized how important a defibrillator is.”
Mark is proud that he played a part in North Haven becoming a HEARTSafe Community, including helping Montowese Healthcare become the first nursing home facility in the state to have an AED on every floor.
Recently Mark also worked with the Rotary, Nelson Ambulance, and Nelcon Towing to donate to the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). The funds were used to purchase lights for the CERT van and have them installed.
The Rotary hosts many fundraisers throughout the year in order to support projects such as the HEARTSafe certification, along with many other causes, many of which are inspired by members. Mark often fundraises with a goal of helping St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Other Rotary causes include the library in honor of the late John Henry, who was a longtime Rotarian, and the Mark A. Cassella Foundation in honor of a Rotarian’s son who passed away. The Rotary also supports the Peters Rock Association, the Eli Whitney Museum, and other local organizations.
“Even though the Rotary is a worldwide organization, a lot of what we do benefits causes that those in the club personally connect with,” says Mark, who grew up in Hamden. “Being a member of the Rotary Club is rewarding and I enjoy giving back to community.”
Since joining the North Haven Rotary in 2004, Mark has served club director, vice president, and helped organize a number of events. Last year, Mark was named president and came into his term facing the club’s biggest challenge yet: COVID.
Many of the Rotary Club’s fundraisers are in-person events and with the pandemic, things like the annual Wine & Roses Fundraiser and the pancake breakfast had to be canceled. The club was also forced to adjust to Zoom meetings.
“It was a tough year and not meeting in person was hard for a lot of the members,” says Mark. “We couldn’t do our big fundraisers and we had to adjust.”
Despite the challenges, the Rotary still held several successful fundraisers, allowing it to donate $28,000 back into the community and local organizations. The North Haven Rotary Club took a page from the Branford Rotary, which had hosted a Braffle. In North Haven, it was adjusted to Restaurants and Roses as a nod to the annual Wines and Roses event.
Mark and club members purchased $150 in gift cards to local restaurants in order to support small businesses during the pandemic. The Rotary sold raffle tickets and held a live (masked) drawing with First Selectman Mike Freda. The event raised $19,000.
Jill DeChello of North Haven Magazine then approached the Rotary Club with an idea for a Pumpkin Patch Drive Through with funds benefiting the club. The event, which will be held again this fall, raised $5,000 for the Rotary Club.
DeChello’s event was so successful that she hosted a holiday drive-through as well as a Spring Fantasy. The Rotary Club helped with both, including Mark dressing up as the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland and his girlfriend Jonna Morin playing Cinderella. Morin also helped with the setup and cleanup of the event.
“Jill’s events were phenomenal and we were grateful she chose to support the Rotary,” says Mark. “It was good to bring people out of their houses and show we’re still a community. I like being out and about in the community.”
Morin has stepped up to help Mark in other ways as well. Nelson Ambulance participated in an autism walk and Morin helped with that as well. She and her two children recently moved in with Mark.
“Jonna is so supportive of my work and my community service activities and she’s a great asset to my life,” says Mark, who is also a member of the Italian American Club of East Haven and the Westbrook Elks Club. “The kids are adorable and they like to come by my work and see the big trucks.”
Outside of work and the Rotary, Mark enjoys making wine with DiNorscia. They picked up the hobby when DiNorscia was diagnosed with cancer to “keep his hopes up.” DiNorscia has since beat cancer, but they continue to make wine. They have event entered their wine in the Rotary’s Wine and Roses events, winning a few trophies along the way.
Mark also enjoys the “family tradition” of making sauce. He, his father, and his stepmother recently turned 40 bushels of tomatoes from DeFrancesco’s Farm into 300 jars of sauce. They also enjoy making marinated eggplants, limoncello, and dried sausage.
The North Haven Rotary Club meets on Tuesdays at Sam’s Place in North Haven. Those interested in joining can reach out to Rotary President Theresa Ranciato-Viele at 203-606-5127.
“When I started, I was a young buck in the Rotary and was the youngest in the club for a while, but not anymore,” says Mark. “The Rotary has all different ages, cultures, diversity, and women in business. It’s growing and joining the Rotary started my life on a new path.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .