MADISON — If there was a big event in town, you’d probably see Tom and Eileen Banisch there.
At the town’s Fourth of July celebration, Rotary Carnival, Turkey Trot, Vista Starlight Benefit and the Madison Chamber’s Antiques Show. Or maybe you saw them in sneakers doing their daily fitness walk through downtown.
Once called Madison’s “power couple,” Tom Banisch, a former first selectman, and his wife, Eileen Banisch, Madison Chamber of Commerce executive director, are packing up and moving south.
Friends, colleagues and members of the community are getting together to throw them a parade.
Since moving to town more than three decades ago, the couple has immersed themselves in the local scene, volunteering, working and enjoying all Madison has to offer.
Married 13 years, they know just about everybody in town between the two of them — that is, anyone who’s served on local boards and commissions or civic organizations, or volunteered or participated in town events or has a local business. That’s just to start with.
Now, they are packing up their handsome, historic home on Route 1, filled with more than 13 years of memories and moving South Carolina.
“I’m excited,” Eileen Banisch said. “I’m looking forward to warmer weather and no snow.”
With the impending move, friends of the couple have rallied to put together a thank-you celebration.
“As I ran into people or heard from people, I think everybody was thinking the same thing: ‘We can’t have this amazing couple leave without acknowledging them,’” said Noreen Kokoruda, a former state representative and longtime selectman.
A celebration of the couple’s commitment to Madison includes thank-you posters in all the local stores, teal-colored lawn signs made to match the Banisches’ distinctive front door, and a townwide parade at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 21 at the Surf Club.
The parade will include firetrucks, local civic groups and citizens. The procession will make its way to the Banisch home on Boston Post Road, where the couple will be sitting on their front lawn, facing Route 1.
“It’s open to everyone who just wants to come by and thank a couple that have really stood out for what they’ve done for Madison,” said Kokoruda.
Kokoruda said everyone will be “socially distanced and playing by the rules, because we have to and need to.”
The couple’s contribution to the town during the coronavirus pandemic is evidenced by their delivery, last spring, of some 2,200 masks and 100 thermometers to local businesses on behalf of the state.
This is just one way the couple has contributed since adopting Madison as their hometown.
Immediately after moving here in 1978, Eileen Banisch was the membership director for Madison A Better Chance, and went on to coach the Bishop’s Beauties Little League team and volunteer for Island Avenue, Jeffery and Academy Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) and the Nite in Hand High School graduation party, in addition to a variety of sports while raising her children.
Then there is the Madison Rotary, Republican Town Committee, Historic District Commission and St. Margaret Church.
But she may best be known for her role as executive director of the Madison Chamber of Commerce, which she will continue to do remotely until someone is hired to fill her spot. She has been active in the chamber for 27 years.
Carlene Weis, former owner of Jolie Boutique in downtown Madison, remembered Eileen Banisch welcoming her to town 15 years ago.
“She came bounding in to tell me that the chamber welcomed us to town and she went on and on about how wonderful it was and what a great community Madison was,” Weiss recalled.
Over the years the two formed a friendship and worked on many local events.
“She knows everybody,” Weis said. “She knows who to go to for getting things done.”
Eileen Banisch was honored for her commitment to Madison at the 2014 Vista Starlight Benefit. At the time, Vista Development and Public Relations Manager Malley O’Shea told the ShoreLine Times, “Eileen is such a great role model, not only in the Madison business community, but in the civic organizations she is involved with.”
The breadth of Tom Banisch’s civic participation since moving to town in 1985 includes Madison Youth Soccer, the voice of the Daniel Hand Football Tigers since 2004, Mercy by the Sea board of trustees, Madison Rotary, Madison Republican Town Committee and Shoreline Chambers Government Relations Committee.
Over the years he has been honored with the Madison Rotary Club Paul Harris award, Madison Little League Man of the Year, Madison Jaycees Distinguished Service award and Madison Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year.
He served the town as first selectman for four years, losing the election to First Selectwomen Peggy Lyons in November 2019.
Although he resigned from the Board of Selectman shortly thereafter to focus on his new job at the Office of the House Clerk in Hartford, he has remained active in town.
“I met Tom and Eileen almost immediately upon arriving in Madison when I moved here in 2012,” siad John Mathers, general manager of the Madison Beach Hotel.
As executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, Eileen Banisch paid Mathers a visit at the hotel to welcome him to town.
“It was so grassroots and it was so informal,” he recalled.
Mathers currently serves as a Chamber of Commerce board member.
Another member of the chamber board is local resident Ed Pellegrino, who served as president of the board in 2017-18.
As well as the chamber, the couple encouraged Pellegrino to get involved with the Rotary, where he worked his way up to president.
“They’re good people,” he said. “I’m going to miss them very much. They do so much for this town. It’s a loss for Connecticut and a gain for South Carolina.
“They would drop anything to do something for somebody that needed help,” he added. “They’re just that kind of people. They’re just special people.”
It is the connections they have made with the people in town that both Eileen and Tom Banisch say they will miss most.
“It’s not the events that I’m going to miss, so much as the people,” said Eileen Banisch. “Obviously I love the organizations I have been supporting, but it’s going to be strange for me to be going to a new place knowing nobody.”
Her husband echoed that sentiment.
When asked what he will miss most about Madison: “All the friendships, all the people that we’ve grown to know and become very close with,” he said. “There’s a ton of people, in all different areas and all different places, for whatever reasons that we’ve become close to in different ways.”
Mathers reflected on the couple’s contributions to the town and said they will be missed.
“They’re both so committed to this community in so many ways, that their absence will be felt,” he said. “I think their absence will be felt in a big way.
“Eileen and Tom, you go to any community event, they’re always there,” he added. “It doesn’t matter where you go and what you do, there they are. They support everyone. I think we will miss them for sure.”