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Dynamic duo helped many people through the years

Two first-class ladies who have helped thousands of people travel safely in the often confusing areas of health care and government are on the road to well-deserved retirements this week.

Betty Albano, who started her career in 1968 as a nurse’s aide at Fairview Hospital, helped start one of the first paramedic programs in Ohio and has been one of the key people in organizing and maintaining the innovative WESHARE paramedic continuing education program is leaving her extended “family” of firefighters and paramedics in top condition.

In addition to Betty, Maureen Nakonek, the longtime executive assistant to Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland and even longer active member of multiple Northern Ohio community groups, is now up in Michigan after husband Chuck got a better automotive industries job.

True to form for both ladies, neither of them wanted a lot of attention when they let people know earlier this year that they would be leaving their respective jobs. But, ignoring it would have been impossible to do, given the fact that there has been a lot of both moaning by many people about their leaving and good wishes for all the help they’ve been to so many others.

In Betty’s case, I’d heard her name for years from firefighters and paramedics as this whirlwind, fiesty lady who was instrumental in keeping people in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties safe with her top-notch training and continuing education programs in multiple jobs, including EMS coordinator at Fairview Hospital.

When she initially grumbled that “she was just doing her job” when told something was being written about her impending departure, she was told that roughly two shifts of firefighters or about 10 to 20 safety workers from several different departments, had made sure we knew about the coming retirement and could we possibly write something about it?

Albano noted that the work with firefighters and paramedics comes from her longtime goal of being a nurse, which she attained and then built upon in establishing other programs. Initially, she worked with Dr. Richard Watts on training firemen in pre-hospital cardiac care. She moved into the paramedic training, and ultimately the WESHARE program in the Westshore cities of Bay Village, Fairview Park, North Olmsted, Rocky River and Westlake. Within a few years, Avon, North Ridgeville and Olmsted Township had also joined.

Lt. Ken Hehnen, who supervises the North Olmsted Fire Department, said his department’s top-notch program and others around the WESHARE cities, wouldn’t be as good as they are without Betty.

“She’s saved lots of people through the years with the training she’s given us,” she said. “She knows how to work with us and make sure we understand what’s going on.”

Hehnen and others note that she has a knack for getting along with the firefighters and paramedics, while still making sure she gets her point across with a bunch of periodically hard-headed and dedicated safety workers.

“It’s like any family, we can fight and argue a little, then we get through it and make sure we get done what we need to do to do our jobs,” she said. “I think they’re a great bunch of guys and I’m going to miss them.”

Seeing her several times with different groups of firefighters, an observer can see the respect and affection they have for Betty. When a proclamation was read in her honor by North Olmsted Mayor Kevin Kennedy, firefighters and others filled the back of the room to honor her.

With Maureen, many people throughout Bay Village and other parts of Cuyahoga County can tell you of how she helped them navigate through one governmental or community problem maze. Whether it’s a community bulletin board, cable TV, trash pickup or any other of the different problems that can beset a citizen, Maureen either would have a solution or know someone who could deal with whatever the issue was.

Sutherland notes that Maureen has been her assistant for about seven years – but her friend even longer.

“We’ve known each other about 20 years,” Sutherland said. “We’re already making plans for road trips to and from each others’ homes in Ohio and Michigan. Bob (Sutherland’s husband) and I are going to miss Chuck and Maureen terribly.”

Sutherland chuckles when noting the friendship and connection took off pretty quickly through community work and dinners two decades ago.

“There’s been a lot of that through the years,” she said.

This particular journalist got a quick primer in learning of the two’s loyalty to each other when once I noted to the mayor that someone at a community function impressed by his encounters with Maureen had asked me if there was any possibility of hiring her away from the city. Given the glare I got from Sutherland, I quickly reminded her of the old adage “don’t shoot the messenger,” adding that I wasn’t endorsing it either, because Maureen had been a help to our publication on many occasions in her role at the city.

What I will endorse is a thank-you to both ladies for all they’ve done for so many people through the years and good wishes for many more years.

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