• Konakowitz’s memory will live on, thanks to Waterford Youth Services

Published December 21. 2017 8:01PM | Updated December 21. 2017 11:30PM

By Mike DiMauro   Day staff writer

m.dimauro@theday.com  BCgenius

Waterford — Maybe Andy Williams is right. Maybe it is the most wonderful time of the year. Except that there’s no manual detailing the grieving process, particularly in a season wrapped in sentiments and memories.

Which is why Waterford Youth Services earns a giant salute today, not merely for its holiday gift-giving program — nearly 4,000 donated presents are making their way throughout town — but for one idea in particular.

Turns out that Dylan Konakowitz, a popular young man from town who died in his sleep three months ago, has accomplished more in death than many have in life.

Konakowitz played basketball and baseball in Waterford. His framed jersey hangs now at Filomena’s, where he was a beloved member of the staff. And now his name is affixed to hundreds of “Lancer Nation” T-shirts, worn by members of the high school’s clever student section at basketball games and other youngins throughout town.

“Every year, we have a legacy gift for somebody in the community that has passed on that we recognize as having left their mark,” youth services director (and Waterford native) Dani Gorman was saying the other day from her office piled with yet-to-be-distributed gifts.

“It started with Jason Gigliotti (who died at 34 in 2008). His mom and dad came to us and said ‘we have a check for you what can you do with it?’ We read Jason’s obituary and learned he was passionate about the Red Sox and fishing. So we bought gifts for people that were themed to his passions.

“This year, when Dylan passed away, he certainly did leave his mark. One of the requests we get a lot on our wish lists are Lancer Nation T-shirts. We thought it would be cool to get a Lancer Nation T-shirt and tag it with his initials and his number (11). There’s about 100 kids who are getting the ‘DK’ Lancer Nation T-shirts. But because we respect the confidentiality of the children in the program so much, we didn’t want them to be identified by that T-shirt. So we had 100 more made and gave them out everywhere.”

Then Dani Gorman paused and said, “It’s very powerful to see that your child’s legacy is going to touch the life of another child in need.”

And so “Ski,” a nickname given to Konakowitz in homage to his lengthy Polish surname, lives on through royal blue T-shirts … and every barb aimed at opponents from Lancer Nation this season.

The legacy gift is but part of Gorman’s program that’s helping 162 families from town in need. It’s not always the season to be jolly, even in Waterford, home to financial stability. Or so the stereotype goes.

“Life is expensive,” Gorman said. “Lots of families move to Waterford because of a great school system and they’re working really hard to live here. So families don’t have as much money left at the end of the day. … Sometimes, it’s hard even when you’re working to make ends meet. Christmas can wipe you out. That’s what makes this special. I’ve said this since the day I got here. Waterford really values helping their neighbors in need.”

The holiday giving program extends beyond the youth, despite the umbrella of youth services. The elderly, disabled, young adults and families are all eligible to fill out a form. A screening process and subsequent conversation determines the level of need.

“Wish lists are given to donors,” Gorman said. “A donor adopts them. Everything that’s given is given 100 percent by donors. It’s a lot of things. Food, heating oil, gifts, whatever they need.”

Now you know why Waterford is such a desirable place to live.

“Firemen roam neighborhoods with Santa on the truck collecting gifts,” Gorman said. “People do food or gift drives in their homes just because. Businesses and civic organizations. Every facet of this community has touched the program. Teachers will go without getting presents from their students. Instead they ask to give to this program, which is really, really special.

“We inventory everything because we want to make sure every child has the same number of gifts. We’ve often said what we give through the program is more than we’d give our own children.”

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


  • In his brief life, “Ski” provided contagious happiness

Published September 23. 2017 6:15PM

By Mike DiMauro   Day staff writer

m.dimauro@theday.com  BCgenius

Waterford — They called him "ski," in honor of (and it was easier to say) than his lengthy Polish last name: Konakowitz.

Dylan William Konakowitz.

"Did you ever go to Filomenas/baseball field/everywhere else and not leave with a smile after talking to Dylan?" his friend Dean Beebe wrote a few days ago. "Contagious happiness. RIP."

Contagious happiness.

And it is with unspeakable sorrow that hundreds and hundreds of friends and family members mourn his recent death.

"Ski," a Waterford High graduate and student at Eastern Connecticut, died in his sleep Wednesday night. He was 21.

We begin and end here: Those of us who knew him will spend the rest of our lives missing him.

Konakowitz played on the 2011 Babe Ruth baseball team in Waterford that won the state championship. Maybe he was best known, though, on the wait staff at Filomenas, the unofficial nerve center of the 06385, where Mike Buscetto, the owner, hasn't just assembled a bunch of employees, but de facto members of his family.

"They lost a family member and so did I," Buscetto said.

Buscetto arranged for a night in "Ski's" honor Thursday at the restaurant, helping defray the costs of funeral expenses through the Cactus Jack Foundation.

"I couldn't believe how many people were there. It was like Thanksgiving Eve," Mike's wife, Heather, said, alluding to the annual party that fills the place. "I kept thinking Dylan was over there in the corner laughing at Mike because there's this big crowd and Mike couldn't boss him around anymore."

Then Mike Buscetto posted this on his Facebook page:

"We got you Dylan! Stacey (Dylan's mother) ... because you did such a great job bringing up this kid, the community has responded with a resounding 'thank you' to you and your family. We raised $13,000 and counting. On behalf of Cactus Jack, Filomenas and the entire community... we did it ... we took care of mom for you, little buddy. Love ya kid!!"

And there is the power of "Ski." He made people feel better about themselves just by being ... himself. It's a gift. He could have, presumably, lamented his Type 1 diabetes that no 21-year-old — or anyone else, really — should have to endure. But he never let on. Instead, he remained happy and goofy and one of those people who made the room better just by walking into it.

There are no words to console his friends and family. This isn't supposed to happen. It tests your faith. Why? Why was such a good, vibrant kid taken from us at 21? There is no answer.

But if there was ever an illustration of the old Dr. Seuss line, "Don't cry because it's over; smile because it happened," this is it. The genuine love the community has shown tells us all we need to know about Konakowitz's impact. He did more good in 21 years than many do in a lifetime.

His death, too, underscores the power of people in our lives who make us happy. Maybe it's what he did: work in a place where people go to have fun, relax, be happy and talk to friends. That's Filomenas. And so many other places like it in the region.

From Old Lyme to the east, wherever you like to go ... Hideaway, Black Sheep, Flanders Fish, Filomenas, Mr. G's, Dutch, Spot, Harp & Hound, Bravo, CC O'Brien's ... wherever. There are people who don't just wait on you. They are your friends. People you associate with good times and laughter.

Konakowitz reminds us all over again how important they are in our lives.

We just lost one of the MVPs of such a category.

So let's make sure we treasure who we have remaining.

I'll miss walking into Filomenas and seeing Konakowitz schlepping a tray, delivering food or filling a water glass. We'd have a routine. I'd yell "Ski!" He'd yell, "Mr. D!" He'd yell 'Ski and Mr. D!' That rhymes!'" And we'd laugh, even though we both knew it was coming.

My heart aches for his family and friends. But tributes like this don't happen for just anybody. This was one special kid. From whom we can learn this much:

Don't ever stop daring to make someone else smile.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro