A Reluctant Man of the Year

The Hartford Courant
December 14, 2000

CROMWELL - Frankly, this was the last thing Howard Nielsen wanted: to be named Cromwell's Man of the Year for 2001, to be made the center of attention at a reception in his honorand to have his picture hung at town hall all year.

It almost could be a joke played by his old friends at the Knights of Columbus, knowing his aversion to attention - if he hadn't earned the accolade with years of quiet service to the town and state.

"He's an unsung hero type," says Don Anderson, a friend from the K of C's DeSoto Council No. 6, which gives the award to a Cromwell resident in recognition of the length, depth and breadth of the individual's commitment to the community.

"Many people contribute a great deal to the town - and are relatively prominent in so doing," Anderson says. "For many years, Howard has been quietly contributing to the benefit of the community, and beyond the community, in a way that has been less visible. He was not often in the public eye, but the public has gained in many ways."

Nielsen calls the recognition "very embarrassing."

It's about the last thing I looked forward to achieving," the 75-year-old Cromwell native says. "Who needs it - other than it's very nice, very flattering and very humbling."

A graduate of Middletown High School, Nielsen was a sergeant with the Army Air Corps in the Pacific, winning battle stars for air offensives on Japan, occupied China and Okinawa.

Nielsen worked for 37 years at the Aetna Insurance Co., rising to underwriting manager for the Hartford region and finally to secretary of national commercial underwriting before his retirement in 1983. From 1983 to 1995, he served as general manager of the Connecticut Fair Access to Insurance Requirements plan, a quasi-governmental agency formed to provide insurance to inner-city property owners after the riots of the 1960s. He was chairman of the National Committee for Commercial Insurance Underwriting.

Nielsen began advising local officials on insurance in the early 1950s. When the town formed an insurance commission, he was named chairman, a position he held for 30 years. He was appointed to the Cromwell fire district commission in 1986, and continues to serve as its vice chairman.

In 1987, Gov. William O'Neill named Nielsen to the state fire marshal's training council, a panel Nielsen now presides over. He started the state's arson tip line, a program that gives police and firefighters stipends to train in fire investigation, and the annual fire safety poster contest, which draws entries from more than 30,000 schoolchildren each year.

He also found time to be involved in scouting, to preside over the CCD program at St. John Church, and to participate in the American Legion and the K of C, where he is a past grand knight.

"He's been involved in so many things," says Don Swanson, a golfing buddy who has worked with Nielsen on the fire district commission and at the K of C. "He's always willing to work, to help wherever he can."

Howard Nielsen will be honored as Cromwell's Man of the Year for 2001 at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 573 Main St., Cromwell. Tickets are $10 and may be obtained by contacting Bob Jahn at 860-635-5355, Stan Stachura at 860-635-2648 or Don Anderson at 860-635-5245.