The Morris & Irmgard Wessel Fund Celebrates New Haveners with its Unsung Heroes Awards

Awards continue couple's decades-long efforts to make New Haven a better place for all its residents.


New Haven, CT (December 3, 2014) –The Morris & Irmgard Wessel Fund at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven announces the recipients if its Unsung Heroes award: Dan Kinsman, music instructor at Fair Haven School, Raymond Wallace, founder of the Guns Down, Books Up organization and Music Haven, which brings music to the community's youth. The awards were created and funded by friends and admirers of retired pediatrician Morris Wessel, now 97 years old, and his late wife, Irmgard Wessel, a clinical social worker and community activist who died at age 88 in September 2014, to continue their decades-long efforts to make New Haven a better place for all its residents. The Fund is a donor advised fund at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven; each award comes with a grant for a local nonprofit to further the Heroes' efforts.

About The Morris & Irmgard Wessel Fund's Unsung Heroes of 2014:

Dan Kinsman of Fair Haven School

Dan Kinsman oversees the music program at one of New Haven's biggest schools, Fair Haven School , a pre-K to 8th grade school that also is a newcomer center for recent immigrants. Under his leadership, students sing and experience music in general music classes, sing in chorus and learn instruments such as recorders, ukuleles, piano, guitar and African drums. Throughout the year, Fair Haven's student musicians perform in programs that celebrate the school's cultural diversity.

"Over the four years that I have worked at Fair Haven," Kinsman says, "I have seen music give students something to be proud of and something to work toward. I've seen parents beaming with pride and support and watched them take videos and pictures on their cell phones as their children performed. For all the challenges our students face in their lives, playing music provides relief and much-needed positivity."

Kinsman is in his fourth year teaching music at Fair Haven School. A Connecticut native, Dan earned a B.A. from UMass Amherst and a master's from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. In New Mexico, he taught middle- and high-school instrumental music to Hispanic and Native American student and families until returning to Connecticut in 2010 to be education director for the New Haven Symphony. Working with the diverse population of Fair Haven School has inspired him to travel and learn more about music-making around the world. During the summer of 2013, for instance, he spent a month volunteering in Leon, Nicaragua, which, among things, helped him polish his conversational Spanish. He also spent three weeks at his own expense in a graduate-level course in dance and music in Ghana.

"Dan Kinsman is an example of one person making a difference in New Haven, precisely what the Unsung Heroes awards were created to celebrate," the Wessel family said. " We selected him because of his commitment to New Haven's public schools, a long-standing interest of theirs, and his role in integrating immigrants into the community, a particular interest of Irm's, an immigrant from Germany." Kinsman plans to use the grant from the Wessel Fund to buy computer and sound equipment.

Raymond Wallace of Guns Down, Books Up

Raymond Wallace is a 49-year-old community activist who now lives in the Hill and runs Guns Down Books Up, a citywide youth program. He spends his time organizing basketball and flag football games, barbecues, and fundraisers for families of shooting victims. His organization brings residents and surrounding businesses of the neighborhoods together through events that encourage healthy living and stress the importance of early intervention and positive role models in young lives.

Wallace has been shot, stabbed and spent nights in jail. He has sold and been addicted to drugs. But when one of his good friends was murdered in 2010, he knew he had to make a difference and founded Guns Down Books Up. Wallace told The New Haven Register in a July 2014 article that he struggles every day, as he works two jobs and doesn't own a vehicle. But that doesn't stop him. "I just want to prevent other men and women from doing the same thing I put myself through," he said. "God spared my life through a lot of this stuff."

Guns Down Books Up was one of three local organizations cited by the Board of Aldermen in 2013 for efforts to reduce violence in New Haven.

"We chose Wallace for the Unsung Hero award to recognize his tireless efforts in parts of New Haven that Morris served as a pediatrician and Irm served as a clinical social worker," the Wessel family said. "Irm was particularly aware of the pain of violence from her work with survivors of homicides during her years at Family Counseling of Greater New Haven."

Music Haven

Founded in 2006 by Yale Music School graduate and violinist Tina Lee Hadari, Music Haven's mission is to build a vibrant New Haven community through performance and music education that empowers young people, their families and professional musicians.

Working out of what once was a garage behind St. Luke's Church on Whalley Avenue, Music Haven provides tuition-free after-school classical-music lessons (instruments included) to kids from New Haven's Newhallville, Dixwell, Dwight, and Hill neighborhoods. Its annual budget has grown 10-fold to $460,000 and is known for putting on public performances in non-traditional places.

"One of Morris' avocations was playing the flute, an interest that began when he played the fife in the high school band, and he still enjoys listening to music on the iPad when his children visit him," the Wessel family said. "We selected Music Haven for this year's award in remembrance of Morris Wessel's years of flute lessons in New Haven and because it brings music education to the communities in which he worked as a pediatrician. We also want to celebrate the organization as it makes a transition to new leadership as its founders move on."

Morris A. Wessel, a graduate of the Yale School of Medicine, practiced pediatrics in New Haven for 42 years until his retirement in 1993, a milestone marked by hundreds of his former patients with Morris Wessel Day at Edgerton Park. In addition to caring for more than one generation of young New Haveners, he consulted at Katherine Brennan School and the Clifford Beers Child Guidance Clinic and was among the founders of Connecticut Hospice.

Irmgard R. Wessel, who fled Nazi Germany for England as a young teenager on the Kindertransport in 1938, was reunited with her parents and resettled in Eureka, Ill., through the generosity of Eureka Christian Church (Disciplines of Christ). A graduate of Eureka College, she later earned her master's in social work at Smith College School of Social Work. For nearly 40 years, she worked at Family Counseling of Greater New Haven, where she was president of the AFSCME union local and was involved in community organizations ranging from Citizens for Better Criminal Justice to Aging at Home.

Morris and Irm both were involved in professional and political organizations, both national and local, and were passionate crusaders for peace and social justice. They were married for 62 years and had four children: David, Bruce, Paul and Lois.

Click for more information about the Morris and Irm Wessel Fund and Unsung Hereoes award or contact Paul Wessel at or 203-410-8018 or David Wessel at or 202-669-8398.

Thanks to the generosity of three generations of donors, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven awarded more than $24 million in grants and distributions in 2013 from an endowment of more than $430 million and comprising hundreds of individually named funds. In addition to its grant-making, The Community Foundation helps build a stronger community by taking measures to improve student achievement, reduce New Haven's infant mortality rate, promote local philanthropy through and encourage community awareness at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven's 20 town service area includes: Ansonia, Bethany, Branford, Cheshire, Derby, East Haven, Guilford, Hamden, Madison, Milford, New Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Orange, Oxford, Seymour, Shelton, Wallingford, West Haven, Woodbridge. For more information about The Community Foundation visit, find us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at


Tricia Caldwell
Communications Manager