April 07, 2017

Sonia Basko honored for her grit, loyalty and dedication to unionism

Source: NYSUT Communications
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Caption: CELEBRATING SONIA. Left to right: Sonia's good friend Patsy Pilkenton, her sister Alexandra Basko, and her mother Kathy Basko.

basko“Job. Well. Done.”

Small, smooth words, like precious stones.

Alexandra Basko carries them with her as her mantra in remembrance of her sister, Sonia Basko, who was honored posthumously with “Not for Ourselves Alone:” The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award during the opening session of NYSUT’s Representative Assembly.

A teacher, former president of the Penfield Education Association, NYSUT Board member and then special projects coordinator on NYSUT’s staff, Sonia turned action into activism. She enlivened unionism, empowered members, initiated campaigns for social justice, and organized spirited rallies, such as the statewide Picket in the Pines march in the North Country.

“She knew that change would be more far-reaching when we advocated for people to speak for themselves,” Alexandra Basko said. She said her sister always had a task for her and “made me feel like I was magnetic. I felt cherry picked for her challenge.” Along the way, she realized her sister had this same effect on the many people she worked with.

In a powerful video tribute, Kate Sacco of the Kenmore Teachers Association said Sonia had a knack for finding people and bringing them to leadership roles. Selena Durio, a NYSUT Board member, said she had a way of making groups a lot more focused.

“Sonia was never too busy,” said John Kozlowski, president of the Monroe County Federation of Teachers, where Sonia had served as vice president.

Andy Palotta, NYSUT executive vice president, said she had “a warrior-like attitude.”

Alexandra Basko said her sister’s greatest assets were “self-realization, personal growth, loyalty and dedication.”

As Alexandra Basko accepted the NFOA award on her late sister’s behalf, delegates from around the state rose in a standing ovation. She thanked her mother, Kathy, an immigrant, for passing on to her daughters her feminine strength. Her mother stood bravely in the front row.

The family was also presented with proclamations from the New York State Assembly through Speaker Carl Heastie and from State Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli.

Sonia served as NYSUT staff liaison to the American Cancer Society Making Strides walk. She died in December of complications from cancer at the age of 43. Sandra Feldman, former UFT and then AFT president who the award is named after, also died of cancer.

The NFOA award, said NYSUT vice president Catalina Fortino, is presented to someone who has a history of “activism, selfless service and commitment to our union.” While it is historically presented to a unionist with 30 years of service, Sonia was chosen as someone “whose work and whose promise was so stirring,” she said.

“Sonia was just irreplaceable,” said Kozlowski, eyes rimming with tears.