Board Of Directors

Jay T. Willerup, A.I.A.Board President

In 2001, Jay and his family hiked up to the Heublein Tower.  Being a native of Avon and a current resident of Simsbury, the Heublein Tower has always been a touchstone representing home.  On this particular hike he had his small children, who were looking at it with new eyes.  As he reached the guest book he signed his name and profession, architect.  That seemingly simple action set him off on the great adventure to today.  As the current President of The Friends of Heublein Tower, Jay is proud of the things the board has accomplished towards the goal to restore the Tower back to the grandeur of its earlier days.  

The global community spirit is most evident at the Tower where between 100K and 130K people, from from 48 states and 44 countries, hike the park in a typical year.

Jay is also currently on the Board of Directors for the Friends of Connecticut State Parks, where he serves to gather the knowledge from one Friends group and share it with another, all for the betterment of Friends of State Parks throughout Connecticut.

One of his greatest joys is knowing that the Tower is still relevant today, as his three daughters enjoy hiking up to the tower with their friends just like he and his wife did in their youth with their friends. 

During the Times Tower era, Jay’s father was be hired to play piano for guests at the many parties there.  Little did he know nearly 50 years later his involvement would be what it is today.

As Jay looks to the future, the board continues to grow in strength and dedication. “We are fortunate to have a board that is dynamic and committed to making the tower experience the best it can be today and looks forward to expanding that experience in the future. Come to the tower to see what we do, how we do it and why we do it. We do it for you and with your generous support!”

Interesting fact: Jay loves winter.  He floods the front lawn to make a skating rink and with the right snow an igloo.  He also makes delicious "Rink Side Maple Syrup" for his friends and family.

Otto Ruppert

(Otto, featured left)

Vice President, Treasurer

Otto’s first taste of volunteering started with the Avon Lions Club in 1968. This lead to being elected to the office of District Governor in 1978,which encompassed clubs in both Hartford and Litchfield counties.

The Avon, CT Congregational Church also played a large role in his volunteering efforts, having served on many committees during his membership there for well over fifty years. He served as treasurer for several years thereafter.

The Tower has always been viewed from his backyard, and when he was asked to join as its Treasurer and Board member in 2006, he jumped at the chance. Otto and Barbara have chaired the always popular annual Tower Toot for about seven years, which has evolved into being the largest yearly fund raiser for the Tower. Working with other Tower board members (who will remain friends for life) makes this effort very gratifying, and it is a joy - despite all the meetings and hours dedicated to it! Like Barbara, he continues to work at his family business, Ruppert and Company - Property Services - where he serves as President & CEO.

Interesting Fact: Otto is also President of two cemetery associations in Avon.  

Dawn Ayers

Board Secretary

Dawn was born and raised in the Hartford, CT area, and was blessed with two children, one grandson, and has another grand miracle on the way.  As a Customer Service Representative at Eversource, Inc. (formerly known as Northeast Utilities, Inc.), Dawn had the opportunity to volunteer for ‘Day of Caring’ at the Heublein Tower on September 20, 2011, where volunteers were asked to help with painting, weeding, and getting the grounds ready for the upcoming Fall festival known as the Tower Toot. When the chores were done, Kathryn Hoidge gave a dissertation about the tower, and what the Friend’s group was all about. Dawn immediately volunteered to help with the Tower Toot, and was asked to join the board shortly thereafter.

Interesting Fact: Dawn has been a volunteer at the thrift shop in her hometown for over ten years, and loves anything to do with nature, the ocean, and listening to big band music.

Laura Boogaert

Board Member

Laura is thrilled to serve on the Friends of Heublein Tower board. She brings experience and enthusiasm with her set of eclectic skills gained from years as an entrepreneur, as well as her work within the profit and nonprofit sectors.

“I grew up hiking Talcott Mountain and visiting the tower. I have seen the tower in various stages through the years from neglect to restoration. Over the last decade, I have admired the incredible Tower improvements due to the dedication and efforts of this board. I’m honored to be able to serve alongside them and continue the mission of fully restoring this iconic landmark.”

Laura’s other volunteer activities include Achilles International, where she serves as on the Connecticut Advisory Board and as a running guide for their disabled athletes. Laura is a volunteer reader at C.R.I.S. Radio. And, she serves on the Board of Governors at The Westover School, an independent all-girls school in Middlebury, Ct.

Her interests include hiking, cycling, kayaking, and reading. Laura & her husband, Erik, reside in Simsbury, currently as empty nesters with their two kids off at college!

Interesting Fact: Her family includes 4 dogs, 3 cats and an African Grey Parrot!

Frank and Carol Burnham

Board Members

Frank and Carol were both born and raised in CT, Frank in Bloomfield and Carol in Hartford and Avon. Both of their families go back several generations in the Greater Hartford area. Frank retired as general manager of MacDonald's Garage in Avon and Carol is still working part time as an interior designer and is president of The Detricks Interiors, Inc.

The Heublein Tower has always been a favorite landmark and they have hiked up numerous times. They both were asked to join the Friends of Heublein Tower 8 or 9 years ago. They find working to preserve the tower extremely rewarding. Frank and Carol have three adult children and three grandchildren, and when they have time, they like to travel.  

Interesting fact: They have traveled extensively by motor home throughout the US and Canada.

Janet Carville

Board Member

Janet was first introduced to the workings of the Heublein Tower through the former co-president and current member Kathryn Hoidge. Kathryn would frequent the Pickin’ Patch, the family farm at the base of Talcott Mountain, owned and operated by Janet’s family for over 300 years! Kathryn would inquire about the unsold flowers at the end of season and asked Janet if she could use them for decorations around the Tower grounds. A lifetime friendship was born, and after Janet’s husband passed, she got a call and was asked to join the Board in 2005.Just after just her second meeting, she volunteered to be the manager of the gift shop. With no retail experience, she jumped right in and wound up managing for 10 years.

Janet fondly remembers  that when she was little her father, a telephone repairman had to visit the Heublein Tower to repair the phone lines, and took her along for the ride. She remember riding in the elevator up to the top, and passing a room that was black and pink - later finding out that was Mrs. Heublein's bedroom with those colors. She recalls as she looked down to the lawn area from above that she was enchanted with the Tower and its longstanding history atop the mountain. 

Interesting fact: Janet enjoys needle work projects, and supporting her church choir (now for more than 70 years singing!)

William T. Case

Board Member

William T. Case is a partner in the Avon law firm of Case & Case, P.C where he practices commercial transactional law with his father Richard. Bill has been a member of the Friends of Heublein Tower Board since 2011. Having grown up in Simsbury where he regularly hiked the Talcott Mountain Trails to the Heublein Tower, he has fond memories of scaling the rocks and making it to the crest of the hill to find the majestic Tower locked and boarded up. Now, thanks to the decades of hard work and perseverance by the Friends, the Tower is being restored and enhanced and Bill is honored to be a part of this hard working and dedicated Board. Bill has spear headed the successful Hike to the Mic – Music and Art Happenings at the Tower and looks forward to the next phase of the Tower’s restoration and improvements. 

When not at his desk, Bill enjoys cooking, fly fishing the Farmington, cheering on his two great kids at whatever they are doing and spending time with his beautiful wife Tria. 

Interesting Fact: While a student at Union College, Bill spent a semester in Barbados and had the good fortune of being hosted by the owners of Mount Gay Rum known by the locals as “Daddy’s Farm.”  

Jessica Hinman

Board Member

Jessica Hinman is employed with Hartford’s Camp Courant as their Director of Community Outreach and Special Events. A Greater Hartford native, Jessica grew up in Avon, CT and attended Watkinson School in Hartford. She received her B.A. in Communications and Fine Art from Central Connecticut State University and is currently pursuing her graduate certificate in Nonprofit Management from UCONN.

From an early age Jessica would hike up Talcott Mountain with her father and brother and was always enamored by the Heublein Tower. It’s unprecedented view, rich history and connection to the entire Farmington Valley kept that attraction throughout her childhood and early adult years. She more than happily accepted her invitation to the board of directors in 2016! 

Along with her professional career, Jessica is martial arts instructor and international competitor in Tang Soo Do karate. Jessica is an also the board president of the Literacy Volunteers of Central CT and volunteers with several organizations including the Canton Historical Society and the American Legion. In her spare time, Jessica loves to read, cook for family and friends,and cruise on her motorcycle when the weather is warm. Her car (or bike) will always stop for a bookstore, antique shop or historical museum. 

Interesting Fact: An avid traveler, Jessica has visited 9 countries and 27 states and intends on exploring many more! 

Kathryn Hoidge

Board Member

Past Co-president, Friends of Heublein Tower, Inc.

Kathryn was a resident of Connecticut for over 50 years and recently retired to Naples, Florida. She continues her affiliation with Heublein Tower as a life time board member, working on projects that benefit the group from a far. Her interest in "all things Tower" started when, in 1995, she first volunteered and shortly after she was asked to join the board, knowing that her goal was to be a voting member of the group.  Early in 1996 she was asked to be president of the 14-member board of directors and remained in the co-president seat for over 20 years.

Interesting fact: Currently, she is volunteering to tutor inner-city children in Naples for a faith-based organization.

Jeanine Longfritz

Board Member

Jeanine works for Nathan Accounting Group in Avon where her office has a fantastic view of the Heublein Tower.

Growing up in East Granby, with her five siblings, Jeanine logged many hikes on the Metacomet and Talcott Mountain trails. She settled with her husband and two children in Simsbury. They hike to the tower as a family and her children now enjoy hiking with their friends.

Jeanine became familiar with the Friends of Heublein Tower through volunteering at the” Hike to the Mic” and “Tower Toot” events. Jeanine was asked to join the Board in 2017. “I continue to be amazed at the energy and commitment this group brings to their mission and am honored to work beside them.”

Interesting Fact: Jeanine serves as Treasurer for a Cape Cod Cottage Association. She and her extended family love to play Setback and host an annual tournament.

Richard Pelzar

Board Member

Bio coming soon...

Steve Read

Board Member

Living in Avon, CT for the past 64 years Steve was always fascinated by the Heublein Tower and its flashing beacon on top of the mountain. When he was little and riding back home from friends or relatives he would see that blinking light and know that he was almost home, his guiding light. As he grew older we would hike up to the tower with friends and witness how it had fallen into disrepair and wondered if it could ever be saved. Fast forward to about 8 or 9 years ago when his cousins Barbara, Otto and Janet asked if he would be interested in visiting the Tower and sit in on a board meeting. Come to discover he knew a few others there so when they then asked him to join the board he jumped at it! Steve has been involved with all sorts of tower projects ever since and enjoys working up there with the other board members.   

For the past 4 1/2 years he has been happily employed at Larsen Ace Hardware in Canton, CT. When his son was in Avon High School he was a mentor on the Uberbots robotic team for 4 years and had a great time working with the kids and the other mentors. In his spare time does quite a bit of scroll sawing wooden projects. His latest passion is cruising around with his wife in their little Mazda Miata.  

Interesting Fact: Steve and his son have taken the Skip Barber racing classes at Lime Rock Racetrack and found that they were an absolute blast to drive. He’s put on more miles on the Mazda in 5 months than the first owner did in 3 years! 

Kent Robbins

Board Member

Kent is a lifelong resident of Connecticut and resides in Simsbury, with his wife Anna of 29 years. He is owner/operator of Robbins Hardwood Flooring LLC. Kent first became involved with the Friends of Heublein Tower, when invited to reproduce the ballroom floor, on the sixth floor, eight years ago. This was the start of his commitment to the Tower, after which he quickly joined the Board’s crusade.

“I love serving at the Tower and seeing our community and visitors from afar marvel at its uniqueness and splendor. It is very fulfilling to know I have some hand in it.”

Kent also loves serving God and others on the deacon board at Valley Community Baptist Church in Avon. He also enjoys relaxing with his wife and friends in Nantucket, and with their grown children Owen, Emily, and her husband Arnold, as often as possible. His other interests are fly fishing, boating, woodworking, biking and motorcycling.

Interesting fact: Kent was in Port au Prince, Haiti one year after the earthquake to help rebuild and support the people; all with no electricity in 100 plus degree temperatures. The coolest spot to sleep was on the roof of the orphanage where he served.

Barbara Ruppert

Board Member

Otto and Barbara were asked by Janet Carville (Barbara’s sister) to attend a “feeler” meeting of the Board of Directors of Heublein Tower in the Spring of 2006.  Otto and Barbara were both were officially accepted as Board members later in 2006.

One of Barbara’s earliest memories of the Tower was when she and her sisters –as youngsters – would hike up the mountain (using an old “blue” tree-painted trail) carrying a snack or picnic lunch, making  their way past the Tower to climb into King Philip’s Cave. She grew up in sight of the Tower as they lived at the base of the mountain on Nod Road, and they had opportunities to experience adventures like spotting salamanders in an old well house or being excited to see small wild life while on their climbing trips. She warmly recalls the Tower’s flashing red beacon always meant they were close to home.

Otto and Barbara continue to reside on Nod Road (not far from her childhood home) next to Janet.

They are both are still working together in their family business, Ruppert and Company – Property Services, that they started back in the 1980’s. Barbara’s hobbies include gardening, sewing, cooking with Otto, attending craft shows, traveling, volunteering for activities at their church and for the Lions Club – and solving Cryptograms! Barbara states there is a warm camaraderie within their  “family” of Tower Board members -- a good working group with the major goal of restoring the original condition of and encouraging interest in this unique structure perched proudly on Avon Mountain.

Interesting fact: In 1978 Otto and Barbara attended the Lions International Convention held in Japan.  A side trip brought them to Hualien, Taiwan, where they walked (slowly and carefully) over the deep Taroka Gorge by way of a very unsteady rope bridge!

Beth Willerup Volle

Board Member, Gift Shop Manager

Beth was born and raised in Avon, CT and attended Wheaton College in Norton, MA. After working at Lord & Taylor in West Hartford and NYC, and as a buyer at Talbots in Hingham, MA, she returned to the Farmington Valley in 1981 after marrying her husband, Bob. While raising their now-grown children Catherine and David, she worked at The Work Shoppe in Simsbury, CT for many years before becoming a co-owner in 1998.  Eleven years later she sold the shop and in 2014 she was approached by her brother, Jay Willerup, co-president of the Friends, to use her 40+ years of retail experience to help manage the HeubleinTower Gift Shop. She was elected to the Board of Directors in 2015.

Working in the "Shop at theTop" and being involved with the "family" of other long-term Board members has offered the opportunity to learn more about the rich history of the Heublein Tower building, the Heublein family and corporation, and the geological characteristics of the State park the building is situated in. She looks forward to contributing to the future growth of the Friends' mission and sharing this knowledge with the public.

Interesting fact:  Beth and Bob currently share their home in Simsbury with four Labrador Retrievers who make the hike to the Heublein Tower several times each season.