Hartford HealthCare might be where we work, but when we asked you where you find fun, relaxation or deeper meaning in your lives, we were astonished at the variety of hobbies and activities you pursue in your spare time. Here are a few of those stories, and we’ll have more in upcoming issues of Moments. To share your hobby, email email@example.com.
Old Rides Make Her Heart Rev
Operating room nurse, Backus Hospital
Since she was a little girl, Whitney Zajac has had a thing for cars or, technically, a thing for vehicles since her dream ride was a 1950s Chevy pickup. She says she inherited this from her father, who spent a lot of time tinkering under the hoods of various vehicles while she was growing up in Plainfield. She met her future husband –—who shares her passion — at a car show. They got married in Vegas while there for a car show. Their daughters, Shelby and Sierra, are named after cars.
How many vehicles do you own?
We own two “daily” cars we drive to work. I drive a GMC Acadia and my husband drives a Volkswagen Passat. We have four show vehicles: a green 1952 Chevy pickup my husband built for me; a 1938 GMC rat rod he built; a ‘67 Chevrolet Caprice station wagon we call ‘Large Marge;’ and an ‘87 Chevy pickup that’s lifted.
Do you compete in car shows or just go for fun?
We love going to shows and travel from New Hampshire to Delaware for them. Sometimes, we win trophies but we don’t do it for the competition. We probably go to 10 shows a year. We got the station wagon to bring the kids with us.
Do you look for specific vehicles or just happen upon them?
We don’t really look for anything specific, although I did tell my husband my dream truck was a 1950s Chevy so he found me one. He actually found it at an Old Navy in Massachusetts. The shell was being used as a prop in a store and they were selling it. He bought the shell and brought it home to build me the truck. He put a lot of time into it, a lot of late nights and a lot of swearing!
Are all of them registered and drivable?
Yes, we drive them. With my truck and his rat rod, we had to have VIN checks to make sure they were legitimate. Then we registered them.
Word is you and your truck are kind of famous.
Everyone knows my truck. I get tagged all the time on Facebook and people are always shocked that it’s a woman driving. My husband got me the vanity plate ITS-HERS. Photographers would reachout to use it as a prop, so I started renting it out for photo shoots. It’s surreal to think that people have family photos with my truck in it hanging in their houses. I really like seeing other people get excited about my truck.
Laughter is the Best Medicine for this APRN
Angel Rentas, APRN
Electrophysiology lab, Hartford Hospital
Angel Rentas started stand-up comedy in 1982 to help pay for college tuition. He has since performed at the Boston Comedy Festival, North Carolina Comedy Festival, Coors Light Comedy Competition, Connecticut’s Funniest Comics and with the Latino Kings of Comedy. His comedy is based on his experiences in a multicultural Latino family and observations of everyday life.
“You bring humor into your workplace because it’s therapeutic, and then you bring your workplace into when you do jokes, and it’s an outlet,” he says.“It’s an outlet for patients, and it’s an outlet for providers as well.”
How did you take this path?
When I was in college, I needed to eat. There was a fashion show, and it didn’t have an emcee, and the organizer says to me, “Hey, you’re kind of funny, can you go up there and do some jokes?” So, I went up and did a little, and when I was done he gave me 25 bucks. At that time, it was a lot of money for a guy in college so I started doing stand-up.
When you were growing up, was there anyone you saw who made you say “I want to try that?”
We used to watch the Ed Sullivan Show, and I saw Red Skelton. But, my uncles introduced me to Richard Pryor on eight-track tapes. I listened to a lot of Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Bill Cosby, Woody Allen. Just a lot of different people.
Talk about your journey from Puerto Rico to Hartford.
My dad was in the Army and he came here first, to Florida and then Connecticut. He started out with jobs in the picking industry, strawberries and then tobacco. Then he moved onto other jobs. The experience he had, and the experiences we had coming here, they brought up issues you had to deal with and humor for me was a good way to deal with them. I’ve always used humor to get me out of situations. If somebody’s laughing, they can’t really beat you up!
Many comics dedicate their life to that career, but while you find joy in it, your calling is healthcare.
I wanted a job where I could help and use my skills, and I enjoy people so (nursing) was a natural progression. As far as comedy, you really do need to do it full time but it was good for me. It gave me a lot. I do this joke and say, “When I used to work in emergency, I worked with a guy named Jesus, so when I would walk in (to a patient), I would say I’m Angel, this is Jesus, we’re going to take you upstairs.”
Why subject yourself to the hours at the comedy clubs?
I’m like a garage band — I come, I get paid. I make a decent living, I have a house, the kids, and everything I want so when I do a show, I try and find an organization that needs money, or a cause, and those are the shows I do.
– Elissa Bass
Collector Shares Love of History Through Museum
Manager of communications and marketing, Behavioral Health Network
One of my favorite work projects lately has been helping to promote the 200th anniversary of the Institute of Living. It seems this is a perfect fit, as I grew up watching my mother, Patty, found and run a local museum offering the history of Unionville.
How did this all start?
It’s really a family affair that started in 1984 when my mother, a lifelong Unionville resident, became a founding member of a newly formed history museum housed in a former Carnegie Library building in the historic downtown area.
She remained a board member and, several years ago, invited me to join to help bring in a new generation of people to move the museum into the digital age and appeal to broader audiences. Today, my mother currently serves as president of the board of directors and I am vice president.
What does the museum showcase?
The nonprofit has grown to a collection of more than 10,000 photographs and historical items, and we have presented more than 80 special exhibitions and numerous special events and programs. It’s an exciting time for the museum. We are so fortunate to have an amazing amount of interest from residents in preserving the local history of our town. It has always been my mom’s passion and I definitely inherited that from her. We really enjoy it.
What do you do?
Together we plan new exhibitions, manage special events, conduct marketing and publicity, and fundraise. Recently, we headed the museum’s first capital campaign, raising $70,000 for the construction of an addition to the building to add a kitchen and handicapped-accessible bathroom. Check it out at www.unionvillemuseum.org.
Why do you do it?
It definitely takes up a lot of free time, it’s really a labor of love for us both and it’s a lot of fun. We both have collections of antiques and vintage collectibles that inspire exhibitions. From vintage clothes and toys to kitchen utensils and cocktail shakers, some of our possessions usually end up in an exhibit! As my mother says, it’s satisfying as collectors to share our treasures with others. The museum allows us this opportunity as we help preserve the rich history of the Farmington Valley.
– Tim LeBouthillier
Aide is Strokes Ahead of the Competition
Cafeteria service aide, St. Vincent’s Medical Center
Anyone who frequents St. Vincent’s Medical Center cafeteria knows James Vaccaro. His smile and laugh are unmistakable and brighten up even the worst days. James joined the team in 2013 as a cafeteria service aide through St. Vincent’s Special Needs Services Adult Day Program, which provides services emphasizing recreation, education, social and vocational activities for adults with developmental disabilities. Outside of his life at St. Vincent’s, James is a Special Olympics swimmer with too many medals to count.
When did you start swimming?
I started swimming in middle school. I do the backstroke, freestyle and relay.
Is swimming a hobby or are you on any teams?
I am on the team Milford Operation Mainstream. We practice from January through May at the Academy in Milford.
When did you start competing in the Special Olympics?
In middle school. It is once a year. Regionals are at Fairfield University and the summer games are at Southern Connecticut State University. I have won a lot of medals and have them all hanging up in my room. This summer, I won gold in relay, silver in the 200 backstroke and silver in the 100 freestyle.
What do you like the most about swimming and competing?
I like meeting new friends and my favorite stroke is freestyle. It makes me happy. We have dance parties at the summer games.
What else are you involved in besides swimming?
I do the Best Buddies Program on Zoom. For the Adult Day Program, I am the editor of the Off Target News monthly newsletter and write about the things that each room does (birthdays, events, parties).
Check out James competing in 2011. He is the last swimmer toward the end of the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFIdFjKerLU