The Abbe Family: Enchanting Children
It was 1936, the height of the Depression, and the nation was looking for distractions. Often the youthful and innocent provided them. Shirley Temple was a hit in the movies, Little Orphan Annie was the star of comics and radio. And in Ridgefield lived three children who also won the hearts of many Americans. In April that year, Patience, Richard and John Abbe became instant celebrities with the publication of their book, Around the World in Eleven Years. Written mostly by Patience, 11, and encouraged by their mother, Polly Shorrock Abbe, the travelogue was, according to its jacket, "by children for grown-ups. It is an enchanting odyssey." Indeed, the three Abbes were offspring of James E. Abbe, one of the top photographers of the era, and with their parents, they had spent most of their lives in Europe. They played with Pavlova, loved Lillian Gish, and admired Thomas Mann -- all of whom they met along with many other celebrities of the era. They arrived in Ridgefield in 1935, living first on West Lane just across the New York line and then on a West Mountain farm, all the time attending the East Ridge School. The next spring, The Press was full of reports of their exploding fame. The book was well reviewed everywhere -- even the crotchety Alexander Woollcott called it "enchanting." Hollywood wooed them for movies and politicians brought Patience to Capitol Hill, where she gave a dinner party -- preparing her own food! "In spite of the whirlwind of excitement about their book, the youngsters are not the least carried away with any idea of their own importance," The Press said at the time. "They remain perfectly natural children, with something akin to an air of resignation to their indubitable and meteoric rise to literary fame." A year later, they were gone -- moving to a 320-acre ranch in Castle Rock, Colo., purchased with the profits from the book, which sold a then-remarkable 100,000 copies. The three -- mostly Patience, who essentially wrote the first book -- penned two more volumes: Of All Places (1937) and No Place Like Home (1940). Patience went on to work in journalism and lives in California, where she is writing her memoirs. Richard eventually became a noted California judge; he died in 2000. John lives in California, too. Their dad, James Abbe, is still recognized today as a pioneer photojournalist, and many of his works are owned by major museums. Though he was born in 1883, he was from Connecticut stock – many Abbes lived in Enfield. He grew up in Virginia and worked for newspapers and magazines, photographing many of the stars and political leaders of New York, Paris, London, Berlin, Madrid, and Moscow in the 20s and 30s. His portraits of Charlie Chaplin, Tyrone Power, Gloria Swanson, Cecil B. De Mille, and others were famous. But he went on to cover breaking news, recording the Spanish Civil War, the Nazis rise to power, and events in the Soviet Union -- his 1932 portrait of Joseph Stalin was used to stop rumors that the dictator was dead. By the 1940s, Mr. Abbe had become a radio broadcaster in the West and in 1950, was one of the nation's first television columnists, writing for The Oakland Tribune until 1962 when he retired at 80. He was the author of I Photograph Russia (1934). Stars of the Twenties, a collection of his work, was posthumously published in 1975. Mr. Abbe died in 1973 in San Francisco.
Larry Adler: Harmonica Virtuoso
Like his friend and longtime partner Paul Draper (q.v.), harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler lived here during a tragic part of his life. It was the late 40s and early 50s when the House Un-American Activities Committee sought out suspected Communists, and a Greenwich woman fingered Mr. Adler in a story that made national headlines and the columns of one-time Ridgefielder Westbrook Pegler (q.v.). Born in Baltimore in 1914, Lawrence Cecil Adler taught himself the harmonica and was playing in vaudeville by age 14. Over his long career he has performed everything from classical to jazz and pop. He brought the "mouth organ" to the serious stage, gained worldwide recognition as a musician, and performed with leading symphony orchestras worldwide. During World War II he went on many USO tours with comedian Jack Benny. Mr. Adler, who lived at the James Waterman Wise (q.v.) home on Pumping Station Road, wrote several film scores including Genevieve for which he received an Academy Award nomination in 1953. About then, discouraged with the Communist witch hunt, he moved to England from which has continued to give concerts around the world, make recordings, write books, and even work as a food critic for a British magazine. He wrote Jokes and How to Tell Them (1963) and his autobiography, It Ain't Necessarily So (1985). A biographer once observed that Mr. Adler is "a good example of the adage, 'Living well is the best revenge.' "
Larry Aldrich: Champion of Art and Open Space
Art and open space -- they seem little connected. But Larry Aldrich has championed both. The noted fashion designer brought a world-class art museum to Ridgefield and also gave the town Aldrich Park, 37 acres of prime open space, the home of both nature trails and a popular Little League field. Mr. Aldrich founded a women's clothing firm in 1927. "My dress collections were an immediate success and sold in all the best stores," he told The Press in 1996 when he turned 90. His wife, Winifred, a talented artist, helped spark an interest in contemporary art and he began collecting in the late 30s, eventually becoming a central figure in the New York City art scene. The Aldriches moved to Nod Road in 1939 and by 1960, were running out of space for their art collection. In 1963, Mr. Aldrich acquired three acres and a Main Street house that had once been The Old Hundred, a 19th Century country store. The Aldrich Museum opened there in 1964 and has twice expanded over the years -- yet another expansion is planned as the new century dawns. Mr. Aldrich and the museum have championed countless new artists by showing their work. "The museum is one of Connecticut's true treasures and a living example of Larry Aldrich's vision and commitment to the arts and to his community," said UConn Chancellor Mark Emmert when he awarded Mr. Aldrich an honorary degree in 1996. That June, Mr. Aldrich donated $50,000 to the acquisition of more open space in town. "It's all part of my birthday celebration," the good-humored Mr. Aldrich said, "because I'll never been 90 again."
Edwin B. Allan: Main Street's Smile
For decades, the smiling face of Edwin Blair Allan was as much a part of Main Street as the town clock. Banker, merchant, and real estate agent, Mr. Allan is a third generation Ridgefielder who has lent his helping hand to many organizations. Born in 1929 on Mountain View Avenue, off Danbury Road (then little but fields), Mr. Allan graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1947 and joined the First National Bank and Trust Company. In 1955, he left as head teller to join his brother, Don, in buying Paterson's Clothing Store -- no surprise, since their grandfather, David Allan, had been a Main Street tailor. They moved the store twice, eventually settling at 440 Main Street (now the Gap), and renamed it Allans'. Both brothers eventually retired from haberdashery, but Eddie Allan continued to run the 440 Main building. Eventually, the building was sold and, in 1981, Mr. Allan went into commercial real estate with Ryer Associates, where he is vice president. Throughout his career, he's been active in the community. He was clerk of the Board of Finance for 17 years, served on the Parking Authority, is a director of Habitat for Humanity and Ridgefield Bank, and serves on the Boards of the Ridgefield Cemetery Association and the Branchville Fresh Air Fund. He's been on boards for the Boys and Girls Club, Wadsworth R. Lewis Fund, First Congregational Church, Family Y, and District Nursing Association. Mr. Allan was one of the original 16 members of the Chamber of Commerce, and in 1980, received the chamber's community service award. He's also active in Masonic Lodge #49.
Dr. William H. Allee: The Father of Ridgefield High
Few individuals have affected the quality of Ridgefield schools as much as William Hanford Allee, a name all but forgotten today, but renowned and respected early in the century. "Dr. Allee may properly be called the father of Ridgefield High School," The Press said at his death in April 1927. "He saw the need of such an institution in town. Although he met with strong opposition, he well knew the justice of the cause. Patiently he worked and finally triumphed." A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Dr. Allee graduated from Brooklyn Polytech and Columbia Medical School, and opened a practice in Wilton around 1905. He and his wife, Laura Curie (see Laura Curie Allee Shields), came to town in 1906, buying the former Hurlbutt place still standing at Main and Market Streets. He was elected to the school board in 1912, serving many years. "He was the guiding hand that created and developed the Hamilton High School (Ridgefield High’s original name) and saw it gradually advance into one of the best small town high schools in the state." He also led the effort to secure land on East Ridge for a new school and ball field – what started out as a grammar school and later became Ridgefield High School. Though a physician, he helped establish and was first president of the Fairfield County Farm Bureau. He was an official of the local, regional and state organizations of the Congregational Church, and his special interest was in youth groups. "His love of justice and fair play led him to champion many causes of importance in church and community," The Press said.
William I. Allen: Watchdog and More
When Bill Allen and Pam Keeler were married in 1959, Bill told his wife, "I promise you it will never be dull," Mrs. Allen recalled years later. "And boy," she added, "was he right!" William I. Allen has been called a watchdog, a troublemaker, a leader, an activist, a historian, and an individualist. In recent years he’s been best known as the founder of the Independent Party, a thorn in the side of many government officials and the only third party ever to elect town officials. An "Army brat," Mr. Allen was born in 1933 on the Philippine island of Corregidor and grew up on Army bases there, in Panama and at West Point where his father once taught. (Although his dad survived being shot down several times in aircraft over Africa during the war, he died soon after the war in a train accident.) After graduating from the State University of New York at Middletown with an English degree, Mr. Allen worked as a radio announcer, a railroad gandy dancer, a debt collector, and a photo technician. He came to Ridgefield in 1953, eventually met Pam Keeler whose family helped found the town two centuries earlier, and settled down to operate an insurance business. Over the years he has been active in many organizations, and was president of both Jaycees and Rotary. He was the first adult adviser to the Teenage Canteen, the town's first teen center. He served on the 1968 Charter Revision Commission. He was the town's Civil Preparedness director for five years – and also owned several DUKWs (pronounced "ducks"), huge amphibious landing vehicles he hoped to use here and in the area in emergencies such as floods (he drove one across the country to get it here). For a quarter century, he has been active in the Connecticut Fifth Regiment, an organization that studies and replicates Revolutionary history. In 1977 he was chairman of the 200th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Ridgefield, which drew 40,000 spectators and involved serving 8,000 meals to participants, and needed permits from 33 government agencies! Well known as a town government watchdog in the final two decades of the century, he attended and spoke at countless town meetings, and penned scores of letters to newspapers, usually criticizing spending or what he called poor planning. His disenchantment with established parties led him in 1993 to found the Independent Party, three of whose candidates have been elected -- the first was John P. Cooke (q.v.). Mr. Allen himself ran for first selectman in 1993. In 1997, he retired from active service and planned to move to a 44-foot trawler and tour the Eastern Seaboard. However, he died of cancer in January 2001 before he could fulfill that wish.
William W. Allen: Sports grows up
When Bill Allen came to Ridgefield High School in 1947 there were 36 students in the senior class, three varsity sports (six-man football, basketball and baseball) and one coach: Mr. Allen himself. By the time he retired as athletic director in 1979 there were more than 420 students in each class and 24 different sports for student-athletes to choose from. And much of the growth was in girls sports programs, which Mr. Allen was instrumental in incorporating at the high school. As a coach, Mr. Allen had success — especially in baseball. During the 1950s his baseball teams won five straight Fairfield County Class B League titles, with Mr. Allen using a platoon system to make sure everyone played. He gave up coaching football and basketball in the early 1960s to focus on the growing administrative duties of the athletic director’s job. He did continue coaching baseball until 1972. Coach Allen’s greatest contribution was in overseeing and cultivating the growth of the Ridgefield High athletic program. During his years, RHS sports went from the minors to the majors, as the number of players and teams skyrocketed. Ridgefield became a dominant power in the WCC (Western Connecticut Conference) and joined the FCIAC (Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference) in the early 1970s. Mr. Allen was a proponent of female sports, and under his guidance such programs as girls volleyball, girls track and girls tennis started at the high school. In Coach Allen’s 30-plus years, Ridgefield High sports grew up.—T.M.
The Amatuzzi Family: Big Hearts and Good Pizza
A group of senior citizens who play cards at the Community Center orders 10 pizzas and shows up at Roma Pizzeria with a check for $93. "For the seniors?" asks George Amatuzzi. "That’s all right." And he refuses the check. Some people suspect that in the last third of the 20th Century, the Amatuzzis have given away more pizzas than they have sold. Their generosity to students, sports teams, scouts, senior citizens, and public service workers is legend. The brothers George and Gigi and wives Vicki and Anna Marie have contributed not only thousands of pizzas but also cash to untold numbers of community groups, events and projects. They’ve also created an annual scholarship at Ridgefield High School. Natives of Italy, the Amatuzzi brothers, including John who later died in an auto accident, founded Roma in 1967 in a little shop on the east side of Main Street. Around 1970, they moved across the street to their present location and soon bought the landmark, Tudor-style building that had long belonged to Francis D. Martin (q.v.). For many years, they gave students with high grades free pizzas, and many people who were kids here in the 1970s, 80s and 90s remember Roma with such fondness that they make a point of visiting the restaurant and the Amatuzzis whenever they are in town. The family’s generosity has not gone unrecognized, and many organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees, Girl Scouts, Italian-American Club, and the National Education Association-Ridgefield have given them community service awards. "Others are more deserving," George Amatuzzi said in a 1992 interview before the chamber award banquet. "We try to be as good citizens as we can. It’s wonderful to do things for others."
Joseph Ancona: Branchville Businessman
Joseph Ancona accomplished what few people have: He created a successful business for himself and his family that has thrived for most of the 20th Century and still does. Mr. Ancona arrived in this country in 1912, a poor immigrant from Sicily. But, soon after, he established the forerunner of food and package stores in Branchville that were to grow over the years under the ownership of his three sons, Nazzareno, Joseph and John, and his daughter, Phyllis Taylor, and their families. A veteran of World War I, Mr. Ancona was one of Branchville’s most influential citizens for a half century, and headed the Branchville Civic Association for many years. He was also a power in townwide politics, serving as a member of the Republican Town Committee. He died in 1958 at the age of 67.
Harry Anderson: Golden Age Artist
After Harry Anderson died in 1996, one observer called him "the last of a generation of illustrators from the Golden Age of magazine illustration." For more than 60 years, Mr. Anderson's work embellished scores of magazines, including Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Collier's, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies' Home Journal. But that was only part of his artistic output. After a religious awakening in the early 1940s, Mr. Anderson devoted part of his painting talent to religious art, and became noted for his depictions of modern-day scenes in which one of the characters is Jesus Christ. Born in Chicago in 1906, Mr. Anderson started out as a mathematics major at the University of Chicago. As an escape from his math studies, he took an art course and discovered his talent for drawing. He transferred to the Syracuse School of Art, graduating in 1930, and headed for New York. Within a year, he had begun selling work to magazines, and by 1937, was much in demand by both magazines and advertising agencies -- he worked on many ad campaigns, such as Coca-Cola Santas and the Exxon (then Esso) "Great Moments in American History." For a children's book in 1945, he painted "What Happened to Your Hand?", a contemporary scene with an injured child sitting on Christ's lap. The picture touched so many people that he did scores of other paintings that showed Christ in the present day settings. He also did many paintings for the Mormons, including several large murals for the Temple in Salt Lake City. He and his wife, Ruth, came to Ridgefield in the 1950s, and he lived here the rest of his life. "He was a very modest man," said Ridgefield-born artist Bob Crofut, who studied under Mr. Anderson. "He wasn't for touting himself. But he was one of the best American artists -- I'd put him right up with Remington."
Henry B. Anderson: The Utility Man
An 1895 fire destroyed most of Ridgefield’s business district, prompting villagers to create a water system that began operation in 1900. Spring fed and financially unstable, the system was inadequate until Henry B. Anderson took over the Ridgefield Water Company in 1902 and acquired Round Pond on West Mountain as its main water source. Around the same Mr. Anderson organized the Ridgefield Electric Company to power water supply pumps and village lighting. Mr. Anderson was also involved in the creation of the Port of Missing Men, a West Mountain resort for wealthy New York men. He and Ogden Mills, secretary of the treasury under President Hoover, were partners, owning some 3,000 acres in Ridgefield and nearby Westchester County, N.Y., on which they built many of the West Mountain and Titicus Mountain Roads used today and some of the ponds. These were not his main occupations, however, for Mr. Anderson was a Yale graduate with a Harvard Law degree who had a noted legal firm in New York City (which once represented the New York Central Railroad). His first home here, a mansion on West Lane, was later sold to Frederic E. Lewis (q.v.). His second home was on Titicus Mountain. During World War I, Mr. Anderson offered his yacht, Taniwha, to the Navy; he was placed in command and assigned to patrol the New York Harbor area. He later worked in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington until the war ended. Mr. Anderson sold the water company in 1928 and by then was living at Sands Point, Long Island, where he died in 1938, age 75.
Sperry Andrews: Artist with a Sense of History
Sperry Andrews, an artist born with a deep sense of history, has continued a tradition, living and painting in a homestead that housed two of the 20th Century’s leading artists: J. Alden Weir (q.v.) and Mahonri Young (q.v.). Mr. Andrews and his wife, Doris, also an artist, bought the house shortly after Mr. Young died in 1957. "The Andrewses recognized their farm as a place of extraordinary significance to American art and were instrumental in preserving its landscape and artistic legacy for future generations of artists," the National Park Service reports. Thirty years later, they turned the property over to the park service, with the right to live there the rest of their lives. Though born in New York City in 1917, Mr. Andrews comes from Fairfield County stock -- his father and grandfather were from Danbury and he can trace back his roots hereabouts more than 200 years. He studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League and his work has been widely exhibited, appears in many collections, and has won many awards. New York Times art critic Vivien Raynor once observed that he "paints the Connecticut countryside, but with considerably more panache than Weir… Though he uses richer color and seldom if ever includes figures, Mr. Andrews often recalls Fairfield Porter in the suppleness of his Impressionistic brushwork and in his intimations of a life lived in comfortable middle class surroundings."
Donald Archer: The Tree Man
Donald Archer loved trees, and loved seeing them appreciated. The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native and Syracuse forestry graduate came here in the 1940s to work for Outpost Nurseries (see under Louis D. Conley and J. Mortimer Woodcock) after working for the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. He later worked for the F.A. Bartlett Tree Company. Mr. Archer put his expertise to community use by serving on the Parks Commission for seven years, the Conservation Commission for five years, and as tree warden from 1974 until his death in 1978 at the age of 66. As warden, The Press said, "Mr. Archer vigorously pursued his aims of making the roads of Ridgefield both safe and beautiful by caring for roadside trees." He established the town's first tree nursery and worked closely with the garden clubs, Horticultural Society and Conservation Commission to plant more trees, often as replacements for aged, ailing ones that had to be felled. He was also active in Rotary and the Masons.
Charles Ashbee: Santa Claus
The front page of the May 31, 1962 Press announced: "C.F. Ashbee, Santa Claus, Dies at 89." Charley Ashbee, an insurance man, had been a local legend. "Mr. Ashbee spent nearly as much of his long life portraying Santa Claus and delighting the children of this town as he devoted to the insurance business," The Press said. "Donning a Santa Claus suit became a habit with Uncle Charley soon after he and Mrs. Ashbee settled here." He had been born in New York City in 1872, and moved to Wilton Road West early in the 20th Century. Every Christmas for several generations, he was a fixture at celebrations on Main Street and with various organizations, and for all the joy he gave kids, was named Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1960. Among his off-season hobbies was autograph collecting, and he had the signatures of every president except George Washington.
Jessica Auerbach: Novelist
Ridgefield has been home to many novelists, but few have gotten to watch their work on television. Jessica Auerbach’s suspenseful tale, Sleep, Baby, Sleep, published in 1994, became an ABC TV movie in 1995. The story involves a baby who disappears while her mother runs to the store. A New Jersey native and Vassar graduate, Ms. Auerbach has taught high school and at Wesleyan University, has lived in Ridgefield since 1983 and has served on the Conservation Commission here. The 1983 publication of her first novel, Winter Wife, had some subtle Ridgefield connections: The publishing house was Ticknor & Fields, a firm once owned by Ridgefielder E.P. Dutton (q.v.), and her publisher there was Chester Kerr, who was the first editor of former Ridgefielder Howard Fast (q.v.). A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in 1985, Ms. Auerbach has written two other novels, Catch Your Breath (1996) and Painting on Glass (1988), and as the century turned, she was hard at work on another about a courtroom artist married to a defense attorney. Her last two books have been especially popular in France, where they've sold 10 times as many copies as here. "And I don’t even speak French," she said. Ms. Auerbach has often called upon her husband, Josh, and daughters Sarah and Eliza for their opinions. "If I get into a situation where I don’t know if something is consistent with what I’ve done up to that point, I’ll brainstorm with my family," she said. "It forces me to make sure the motivational foundation is laid."
Peggy Bacon: Author and Artist
Words like "multimedia" weren’t used during most of her life, but Peggy Bacon was an accomplished artist in both words and pictures. Born on southern Main Street in 1895, the daughter of artist parents (her mother, Elizabeth Chase Bacon, operated The Elms Inn in the 1920s), Ms. Bacon studied and taught at the Art Students League and won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1933. She did illustrations for many magazines, including the New Yorker, but she was better known in publishing for her books: She wrote or illustrated more than 60 titles. Many of her own were light-hearted children’s books dealing with cats (Lion-Hearted Kitten, Mercy and the Mouse, Off with Their Heads, etc.) She also wrote serious fiction, such as the 1952 mystery The Inward Eye and painted serious art; her works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and many other museums. She died in 1987 in Maine.
E. N. Bailey: Frontiersman First Selectman
E. N. Bailey was no ordinary politician. He "surprised some and frightened others by arriving frequently in the village with large copperhead snakes twined around his neck and shoulders," The Press reported at his death in 1955. Eldridge Nettleton Bailey wasn’t afraid of snakes "and gave the impression that he wasn’t afraid of anything else either," The Press said. "He was a tall man, carried himself erect, walked with great strides, and wore the striking clothes of a frontiersman." He was also Ridgefield’s first selectman for many years. "E.N." or "Bill" Bailey was a Shelton native who came here at the turn of the century to help H.B. Anderson (q.v.) develop the Port of Missing Men resort, now the Eight Lakes neighborhood. By 1910, he was a selectman and the next year, first selectman, a job he held most years between 1911 and 1926. Around then, he was also head of the Ridgefield Water Supply Company and the Ridgefield Electric Company. He was "a force in Ridgefield affairs and remained a controversial figure throughout his public life," The Press said. In 1930, Mr. Bailey moved to a Vermont farm, but returned to town "in his declining years," living at The Elms.
Paul Baker: The Voice of Ridgefield
For a half century, the deep, mellow voice of Paul Baker has been heard over local radio and television outlets, and his friendly, hometown conversation had entertained decades of radio listeners and racing fans. Born Paul Baldaserini in 1920, the native Ridgefielder served as an air traffic controller in World War II and, stationed in Brazil, met a West Coast radio announcer who introduced him to the profession. When he returned to Ridgefield, he wrote sports and news for The Press, but soon got a job at WLAD in Danbury where he remained until 1977, most of the time doing a popular morning show. For a generation of Danbury area people, Paul Baker and his partner, Abe Najamy, were the first thing they heard when they woke up. At the same time he was telecasting duckpin bowling shows on Channel 8 in New Haven, Channel 11 in New York, and Channel 18 in Hartford, and is in the Connecticut Duckpin Bowling Hall of Fame. Later, Mr. Baker and Mr. Najamy took over the local cable access channel, and produced daily news broadcasts and other local programming for five years. By the 1990s Mr. Baker was running an ad agency and doing a weekly radio show on Ridgefield's WREF called "Ridgefield Then and Now." However, he eventually returned to his writing roots, producing a semi-annual nostalgic newsletter, Ridgefield Then and Now, that profiles well-known Ridgefielders of the 20th Century. Sponsored by Montanari Fuel, the newsletter appears periodically as a Press supplement. For nearly 25 years, Mr. Baker was also the voice of the Danbury Racearena at the old fairgrounds (now the mall). "I never missed a Saturday night -- including the day I got married," he said. In 1981, he was honored with Paul Baker Night before 8,000 racing fans at the Racearena. He's also received the Book of Golden Deeds Award, and honors from both the Danbury and Ridgefield Old Timers. Mr. Baker lived in town till 1962 when he moved to Danbury, then New Fairfield, and finally Heritage Village in Southbury. However, he has never lost touch with his hometown, is often seen here, and is active in the Ridgefield Old Timers. And his rich voice is still heard on both radio and cable TV, though now mostly doing commercials.
The Rev. John P. Ball: Founded Black Church
In 1940, Ridgefield’s black community was large and active enough that members decided to found their own church. Led by the Rev. John Percell Ball, the Goodwill Community Church had its first service March 5, 1941, in the First Congregational Church chapel. A year later, the 34-member congregation bought the former creamery on Creamery Lane from Samuel S. Denton (q.v.), and converted it to a church (the building may be an old congregational meetinghouse that stood on the Green until 1888). The son of a minister and a graduate of the University of Virginia theology school, Mr. Ball was ordained a Baptist minister in 1934. He served the congregation until 1959, and returned in 1969 while also remaining pastor of a church he’d founded in South Norwalk. However, dwindling membership led to the closing of the Goodwill church by 1975. The building is now an apartment house. Mr. Ball died in the late 1990s in Norwalk.
Elizabeth B. Ballard: The Lady of the Park
Some people are influential through the works they performed in life. Some, like Elizabeth Biglow Ballard, were influential in death as well. She bequeathed Ballard Park, the five acres of her homestead that has brought enjoyment to countless Ridgefielders of all ages and that has helped keep the village business district within its ancient boundaries. Her father, Lucius H. Biglow, bought the one-time home of Revolutionary War hero Col. Philip Burr Bradley in 1887, called it Graeloe and enlarged the house. In her more than 80 years at Graeloe, Mrs. Ballard was active in the community . She was a founder of the Ridgefield Boys Club in 1936, serving as its chairman for many years, and had been a member of the Ridgefield Garden Club since shortly after its founding in 1914, and was twice its president. Her bequest included the Greenhouse, now used by both Ridgefield and Caudatowa Garden Clubs. She was 88 at her death June 14, 1964.
Preston Bassett: Historian & Inventor
Although he was a noted inventor and a captain of industry, Preston Bassett was better known locally as a historian, an antiques expert, and a benefactor of the Keeler Tavern. An aeronautical engineer and inventor, Mr. Bassett held 35 patents in such varied realms as anti-aircraft searchlights, automatic pilots, and commercial airliner soundproofing. A graduate of Amherst College and Brooklyn Polytech, he joined Sperry Gyroscope in 1914, became its president from 1945 to 1956, and counted the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart among his friends. In the 1950s, he bought the boyhood High Ridge home of 19th Century author Samuel Goodrich, whose pen name was Peter Parley; Mr. Bassett collected more than 100 Goodrich titles, which he eventually gave to the Ridgefield Library. President of the Keeler Tavern from 1968 to 1972, he was one of its most important benefactors, donating many artifacts, pieces of colonial-era furniture – and his expertise. The Smithsonian Institution has his collection of more than 800 antique lamps, lanterns and lighting devices, as well as some of his antique bicycles – including the oldest known American bike. Mr. Bassett was also a writer; in 1969, he published a 244-page history of Rockville Center, Long Island, and in 1981, at the age of 89, Raindrop Stories, his book of weather tales for children, was published. His autobiography, The Life and Times of Preston R. Bassett, appeared in 1976. He died at his home in April 1992, just a few weeks after his 100th birthday.
Americo ‘Ben’ Bedini: Gifted baseball player
Also known as “Kacker,” Americo “Ben” Bedini was a gifted baseball player in the late 1930s at Ridgefield High School. After graduating from Springfield College and getting a master’s degree at the University of Bridgeport, Bedini became athletic director at Falls Village (Conn.) Regional High School. He left in 1953 to become head football, baseball and basketball coach at Rye (N.Y.) High School. By 1966 he was head coach of the club football team at Iona College, and in 1970 he was named offensive coordinator for the Fordham University football team. Bedini joined the Cleveland Browns in 1981 as a college scout and training camp administrator. He stayed with the Browns until 1990 when head coach Marty Schottenheimer left to coach the Kansas City Chiefs and asked Bedini to join him. Bedini became the Chiefs’ training camp administrator in 1991. His honors include the 1955 New York Daily News Coach of the Year Award and the 1966 National Football Club Coach of the Year Award. He was inducted into Iona’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Westchester County Hall of Fame in 1992.—T.M.
Ferdinand Bedini: Silent Servant
There are community volunteers who are somehow often in the news and there are others who quietly work behind the scenes, eschewing publicity. Among the busiest civic-minded Ridgefielders in the 20th Century is Fedinand Bedini, volunteer extraordinaire. If, for instance, you have given blood any time in the last 40 years, chances are Mr. Bedini was at the Bloodmobile with you, either running it or helping out -- and being a high donor as well! He's put in countless hours for the community through the Kiwanis Club, which honored him with at least three service awards. He served his church, St. Mary's, through the Knights of Columbus for more than 60 years. Born in Italy, Ferdinand Bedini was brought over to Ridgefield when he was three months old, graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1931 and from Connecticut State Trade School four years later. He went to work for his father Vincent's contracting firm, taking over the business in 1947. During World War II, Mr. Bedini headed an Army Air Force crew that maintained and serviced the gunsights on B-17 and B-24 bombers. Over the years he's been a member of the 4-H Garden Club, the Ridgefield Boys Band, boating groups at Lake Candlewood, the board of the Community Center, American Legion, Ridgefield Men's Club, Italian-American Club, Boy Scouts, and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). In the 1990s, he became one of the area's busiest chair caners, and estimates he's done more than 3,000 chairs since 1993. He and his wife, the former Angela Antonetti, marked their 50th wedding anniversary in 1996. The same year, the Ridgefield Old Timers Association gave him its Civic Award. And again in 1996, he was named grand marshal of the Memorial Day Parade. Said parade organizer Rene Franks, "He's been a guy looked up to for what he's done not only for his country, but also for the town."
Silvio Bedini: Ridgefield's Reviewer
How did someone formerly in Army intelligence who had been writing for comic books and helping run the family contracting business wind up a Smithsonian Institution curator and author of many volumes of history, including Ridgefield in Review? "One day, I bought a clock, the first clock I had ever owned in my life," Silvio A. Bedini told The Press in 1989. Uncovered in a mouse-nest-filled crate in North Salem, the timepiece turned out to be a priceless "Silent Night Clock," with a quiet mechanism invented in 1656 for Pope Alexander VII "because he was an insomniac." That North Salem antique inspired him to study and write about ancient clockmakers. His reputation as a specialist in the field became so widespread that the Smithsonian wooed him for five years before, in 1961, Mr. Bedini went to Washington to be a curator. "From the first day I was there, I felt that's where I should have been all my life," he said. Mr. Bedini's interest in history started much earlier than the clock purchase, however. He was born in 1917 on North Salem Road and as a boy, he would walk to town along North Salem Road, wondering at the historical markers along the way (it was the route of the Battle of Ridgefield). His real awakening came when a librarian allowed him to visit the dank, dusty historical room in the Ridgefield Library basement where, among other things, he could view -- but not touch -- the sword of Sgt. Jeremiah Keeler, presented to him by the Marquis de Lafayette for heroic service in the Revolution. "It was a special treat to be allowed into the library's 'Holy of Holies,' even under the librarian's watchful eye," he said. "I never forgot what I had seen and could recall details of the weapon for years to come. I doubt that many Ridgefielders were even aware of the room's existence." During World War II, he left college to volunteer for the Army Air Corps, but wound up in G-2 intelligence at Fort Hunt, Va., a facility so secret it was blown up as the war ended. After the war, he returned to the family business, wrote for children's magazines and comic books, and did research for the Encyclopedia Americana and The Book of Knowledge. In 1958, he was asked to write a "brochure" about the history of Ridgefield for the town's 250th anniversary. In only three months under his extensive, painstaking research, the brochure turned into Ridgefield in Review, 411 pages long and the only modern history of the town. After joining the Smithsonian, his talent for careful research and his interest in the "little men" of early science led to some 20 books of history dealing mostly with such subjects as clockmakers, navigators, mapmakers, surveyors, and tinkers, but including a Renaissance pope and his elephant. Though he retired in 1987 as deputy director of Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Mr. Bedini has continued to research and write books, uncovering new information on old subjects. "This is what I enjoy most," he said, "the historical detective work."
William P. Bell: World War II victim
William Patterson Bell was an aviation radioman flying a routine patrol off the Florida coast Sept. 20, 1943, when his plane disappeared. Since he had radioed his base that the plane was heading into a severe thunderstorm, investigators believed lightning hit the aircraft. No wreckage was found, nor any trace of Airman Bell or the pilot. He had enlisted while only a junior at Ridgefield High School.
Dr. Joseph Belsky: Master Physician
In more than one way, Dr. Joseph L. Belsky is a doctor's doctor. He has not only helped patients, but also taught countless physicians, led research, and reached out into the community -- near and very far. Dr. Belsky, born in 1927 in Newark, N.J., graduated from Drew University, Wesleyan with a master's degree and, in 1955, Albany Medical College. After post-graduate training in Boston hospitals, he came to Ridgefield in 1961, opening a practice of internal medicine. Four years later, he became one of the first staff medical doctors at Danbury Hospital, hired to establish Danbury as a teaching hospital. Also a professor at Yale, as chairman of the Department of Medicine, he attracted many fine physicians as well as top-flight residents to the hospital. After the teaching program was well established, he then served as chief of endocrinology from 1980 to 1996. From 1969 to 1972, Dr. Belsky took a break from Danbury duties to be chief of medicine for the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, and undertook original research on the effects of the atomic bombs on survivors. He subsequently became active in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. In 1997, he joined a team examining the Bikini Islanders who were exposed to a U.S. H-bomb test fallout in the western Pacific. He has also taken on causes closer to home; in 1988, he helped the family of a Ridgefield nurse, brain-dead from an auto accident. Then governor of the state chapter of the American College of Physicians, he urged the State Supreme Court to allow the woman to die with dignity, opposing the State Attorney General, who wanted life support to continue. Dr. Belsky has worked for the community in other ways: he was a school board member for six years, was president of the Danbury Area Heart Association for two years, and is a consultant to an AmeriCares clinic. In 2000, he is in his second four-year term on the Ridgefield Board of Ethics. Now in his 70s and semi-retired, he works at the hospital's endocrinology clinic, teaches at Danbury and Yale, and conducts an office consultation practice two days a week. In 1999 the American College of Physicians named Dr. Belsky a "Master Physician," a title recognizing high achievement and character in medical practice and research. He is one of only seven living doctors in Connecticut so honored. Dr. Belsky and his wife, Jane, have four children and seven grandchildren.
Harry Bennett: Gothic Artist
Literally millions of people have seen hundreds of paintings by Harry Bennett, but most viewers would not know his name. Mr. Bennett, a Ridgefielder most of his life, has been one of the most prolific paperback book cover artists in the United States and probably the leading painter of covers for Gothic novels -- more than 800 of them during a 17-year period from 1965 to 1982 alone. "The Gothic presents a black and white world," Mr. Bennett once told an interviewer. "There are the innocents, the dashing and the vulgar. A problem arises and is solved, good over evil -- it's as simple as that. But along the way, there is excitement, mystery, romance." And all three qualities are seen in his covers, which have graced the covers of the works of such authors as Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, Anya Seton, Susan Howatch, Jude Devereaux, and Martha Albrand. Born in nearby South Salem in 1919, Mr. Bennett came to Ridgefield when he was a year old, grew up on Gilbert Street, and was a member of the Ridgefield High School basketball team that reached the semifinals of the state championship in 1937. During World War II, he was a major in the U.S. Army in the Pacific, and painted many of the battle scenes he saw. He also suffered a broken back in the war. Mr. Bennett studied fine arts at the Institute of Chicago, and graphics at the American Academy of Art, also in Chicago, and began doing advertising art for Pepsi, Buick, and other national accounts in the 1940s. In the late 50s, he switched to books, and began doing covers for Ross MacDonald mysteries and in 1961, Gothics -- his first for Mary Stewart's Thunder on the Right. By 1972, Gothic novels represented 25% of all paperback sales nationally, and hundreds of titles -- some selling 15 million copies -- bore Bennett covers. Mr. Bennett lived for many years at the corner of Main and Pound Streets -- a Victorian that's been turned into condominiums called Bennett House. Around 1982, he moved west and today paints expressionistic works from a studio overlooking the Pacific in Astoria, Ore.
Suzanne Benton: Artist and Feminist
Artist Suzanne Benton uses the peoples of the world as both sources of her inspiration and the audiences for her creations. Her specialty is sculpting metal masks, which she uses with myths and legends to tell stories. Ms. Benton has studied in Asia (under a Fulbright), Africa and Europe, has given performances and workshops in 28 countries, and was an artist in residence at Harvard. A skilled metal sculptor, she has written a book, The Art of Welded Sculpture, and many articles on the subject, but is also a printmaker and painter. Her masks have appeared in more than 40 solo shows and are in many museum and private collections. Ms. Benton joined the League of Women Voters soon after moving here in 1965. "I headed the public accommodations task force and got myself into hot water with many townspeople by advocating the need for low-income housing," she said years later. An active feminist both locally and nationally, especially in the 70s, she was the moving force behind the creation of the Ridgefield Women’s Political Caucus, and worked to help women win elective office, including Lillian Moorhead (q.v.), Ridgefield’s first female selectman. In 1996, the Veteran Feminists of America honored her as a pioneering feminist. Locally, she has given mask, storytelling, and sculpture programs in the schools and at the Aldrich Museum. Since 1982, she has been a member of the town’s Architectural Advisory Committee, which offers advice on major planned construction projects.
Aldo Biagiotti: The Dream Come True
"I first started out proud to be an Italian-American," said Aldo Biagiotti about researching his book. "Now I'm fiercely proud." Mr. Biagiotti spent nearly four years working on Impact: The Historical Account of the Italian Immigrants of Ridgefield, Connecticut, a 345-page volume published in 1990. He interviewed many Italian-Americans, examined old records and photographs, studied tombstones, and send out questionnaires. The result is the story of scores of immigrants for whom America "was a dream come true." They came to Ridgefield early in the 20th Century, chiefly from the provinces of Ancona and Pesaro in northeastern Italy. Impact describes their arrival, settlement and growth in their new home, the roles they played, their heroism at war, and the effects they had on the town throughout the century. It covers their everyday lives, and is full of anecdotes and even sections on nicknames that many of the old-timers acquired and the superstitions they believed in. "Lonely, bewildered and at times frightened, these Italian emigrants to Ridgefield, Connecticut faced the uncertain future with courage, determination and high hopes," Mr. Biagiotti wrote in the book's introduction. "They held fast to their dreams. In the years that followed. they forged new lives, established sound family foundations and contributed richly to the social, cultural, political, and economic life of the community." Not surprisingly, Mr. Biagiotti is the son of Italian immigrants, and was born here in 1929. He graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1947 and UConn in 1951 and became a special agent for the U.S. Army's Counter Intelligence Corps during the Korean War. In the years that followed, he was with the State Department in Italy, worked as an investigator for the New York Waterfront Commission, became a civilian intelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency in Italy and the U.S, and was a federal agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From 1971 to 1990, he taught Italian at Stamford High School. In Ridgefield, he served on the Police Commission -- his son, Peter, later became a police officer here, then left to join the Army and is now an instructor at West Point. For many years Mr. Biagiotti had a Sunday morning radio show on WREF, carrying Italian music and cultural news. His writing extends beyond history, and he has penned children's stories and contributed articles to National Gardener and other gardening publications. Like his father, Alfredo, Mr. Biagiotti loves animals, and he and his wife, Gloria Perini, maintain the old family farm on North Salem Road.
James Birarelli: First World War II Victim
The first Ridgefield native to die in World War II was also posthumously decorated for heroism. Private First Class James Birarelli was killed on April 23, 1943, when his small patrol was ambushed "by a vastly superior force" in North Africa, said his Silver Star commendation. "Private Birarelli refused to surrender. He opened fire on the enemy and assisted in driving them off. As a result of this action, he was mortally wounded." He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Nazzareno Birarelli of Colonial Park.
Harvey P. Bissell: More than a Drug Store
Harvey P. Bissell, once a power in state and town government, would probably be surprised that his name is known today only as a pharmacy. But the druggist-turned-politician would no doubt be pleased that his business is not only still alive, but is the oldest continuously operated retail store in Ridgefield. "Mr. Bissell was an indefatigable worker for his party and was highly regarded all over the state," The Press said at his death in 1930. Born in 1866 on a Morris farm, Mr. Bissell was educated as a pharmacist and came to Ridgefield in 1895 to operate the Main Street drug store still bearing his name. Five years later, he was elected a state representative, and later state senator for three terms from 1914 to 1920, when he was influential in reforming the State Health Department and narcotics laws. He was elected state comptroller in 1921, serving two years and gaining a reputation for efficiency. He was "influential in bringing about the building of concrete roads leading into Ridgefield in order to make it of easy access year round," The Press said. "This he believed would help attract many more of the most desirable people to our residential town." He served on the Ridgefield school board, and was a member of the Republican Town Committee for 16 years. Two weeks before Warren G. Harding died in 1923, the president named Mr. Bissell collector of customs for Connecticut. Calvin Coolidge reappointed him in 1928, the same year he finally sold his drug store. On the day of his funeral, the State Capitol closed in his honor.
Betsy Talbot Blackwell: Magazine Refashioner
Betsy Talbot Blackwell was one of the century's leading women's magazine editors, running Mademoiselle from 1939 to her retirement in 1971, and quadrupling its circulation. In the process, she refashioned the field. "Her attention to the college and young career women was so successful that other fashion magazines, like Vogue, Glamour and Harper's Bazaar, began to imitate Mademoiselle's youthful format," The New York Times once wrote. The daughter of a fashion-expert mother and a writer father, Ms. Blackwell began writing about fashion in 1923 and soon was on the staff of Charm magazine. In 1935, she joined the new magazine, Mademoiselle, where under several noms de plume she was editor of four sections, including fashion. Two years later, she was named editor in chief. During her career she had many accomplishments and awards. She was a Woman of the Year for the American Women's Association, and was profiled in the 1984 book, Wise Women: Singular Lives That Helped Shape Our Country. She was the first and only woman on the board of directors of Street and Smith, the magazine publishing company, and was once the only woman director of the Hanes Corporation. She was also a director of the Columbia University School of General Studies. Ms. Blackwell moved to West Lane in 1971 to be closer to her son, James M. Blackwell IV, then a Newsweek executive and school board member. She died in 1985 at the age of 79.
Charles Bluhdorn: The Mad Austrian
His death seemed like his life: high powered. Charles G. Bluhdorn, who began his career as a $15-a-week worker and became one of the world's richest and most powerful men, died of a heart attack on a corporate jet flying from the Dominican Republic to New York in February 1983. Born in Vienna in 1926, he was considered such a "hellion" that his father sent the 11-year-old to an English boarding school for disciplining. At 16, he came to New York, studying at City College and Columbia and, in 1946, went to work at the Cotton Exchange, earning $15 a week. Three years later, he formed a company that would make him a millionaire at 30; in 1956, he acquired Michigan Bumper, a small auto parts company that eventually grew into Gulf & Western, a conglomerate that ranked 61st in the Fortune 500 by 1981 and owned such well known concerns as Paramount Pictures, Madison Square Garden, and Simon & Schuster publishing. Once called "Wall Street's Mad Austrian," he was a classic workaholic. "My wife thinks I'm nuts," he told an interviewer. "But when you're building something, you're spinning a web and tend to become a prisoner in the web." In 1963, the Bluhdorns bought a 30-acre estate on lower Florida Hill Road. He quietly contributed to the community; for instance, he bought the police a boat and trailer for the scuba team. Among those who attended the private funeral services at St. Mary's Church was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Dr. Harry Blum: Super Centenarian
When Dr. Harry Blum had the first major showing of his art in 1999 at a New York city gallery, it was more than an average art-world milestone. Dr Blum was 100 years old. "I've learned a lot over the past 65 years," he said at the time. "I paint whatever I feel, and I don't think I copy anyone." But painting past 100 is hardly the only example of Dr. Blum's tireless energy. He didn't retire from his medical practice until the age of 95. At 99, he was still driving -- the state Motor Vehicle Department found his eyesight was 20-30. A native of Russia, Dr. Blum was born on Christmas Day in 1898, and came to New York when he was seven. He graduated from New York University School of Medicine and maintained a successful practice in Brooklyn until 1994. He began painting at the age of 35 under the tutelage of a French artist and almost immediately won an award from the San Francisco Museum of Art. But it was not until he was 95 that he was able to take up painting full time. He and his wife, Reggie, came to Ridgefield in 1943 and had a home on Route 7 between New and Stonehenge Roads for 50 years. From the 1950s into the early 1970s, they operated a well-known mink farm on the property. In 1995, the Blums moved to Heritage Village in Southbury. Mrs. Blum died in 1999. At 102, Dr. Blum was still painting and showing his work. "I have no plan to retire from painting," said Dr. Blum. "It keeps me young."
Robert N. Blume: World War II victim
Robert Nichols Blume enlisted in the U.S. Army immediately after graduating from Ridgefield High School in 1943. He was only 19 years old when he was killed on Feb. 10, 1945, a member of the Fifth Division of General Patton’s Third Army that was invading Germany.
Elizabeth and Mary Boland: Teaching Sisters
For two generations of young Ridgefielders, the name of Boland was impossible not to know. Between the sisters Mary and Elizabeth, they taught virtually every child who went through the school system. Their subjects were the opposites of what their given names might suggest: math for Elizabeth and English for Mary. Together they worked 93 years here. Westport natives, the Boland sisters came to Ridgefield as young children, graduated from Danbury Normal School (now WestConn), got master's degrees at Columbia, started teaching in 1919, and lived on West Lane. Mary, born in 1898, began at the Center School, then went to West Mountain School, and from 1929 until her retirement in 1964, taught at the junior and senior high school. Elizabeth, born in 1899, began at Titicus School, then Center School. In 1947, she moved to the high school and taught math there and at the junior high until her retirement 30 years later. "Bess" Boland taught for 48 years, three more than Mary. Both moved to Fairfield where they died, Mary in 1986 at the age of 87, and Elizabeth in 1990, aged 91. When they began teaching, their salary was $1,000 a year. When they left, it was only $10,000.
Dirk Bollenback: Inspiring Role Model
Teachers should instill values by example, not by preaching, says Dirk Bollenback. "We don't overtly teach values. We have to set an example, be people for [students] to look up to." Mr. Bollenback has been one of those rare combinations: An outstanding teacher in school who's also an outstanding leader in the community. A graduate of Deerfield Academy, Wesleyan, and the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, Mr. Bollenback came to Ridgefield and its high school in 1958, and was among the most honored and admired teachers of the century by the time he retired in 1996. In 1963, the social studies teacher and longtime department chairman won a John Hay Fellowship to study for a year at the University of Chicago. He received a John F. Kennedy Library award in 1991 for developing creative, effective curriculum, was voted by students to Who's Who among America's Teachers, won Outstanding Teacher Awards from Tufts and the University of Chicago, and was honored in 1996 by the League of Women Voters for service to school and community. Outside school, Mr. Bollenback was a respected member of the Republican Town Committee for four years (his wife, Beverly, also served on the committee). At St. Stephen's Church he was a vestryman, has sung with the church choir for more than 25 years, and as historian, has written a new history of the church from 1975 to 2000, supplementing Robert S. Haight's earlier history. He’s also been a volunteer at Danbury Hospital, high school commencement speaker in 1995, and Memorial Day speaker in 1994. But life as a Ridgefield teacher has not always been pleasant. In the early 1970s Mr. Bollenback was in the middle of one of Ridgefield's worst controversies when some members of the community -- and the school board -- wanted to ban several books, including Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice, from the high school. He was called a Communist by some critics. But he, other teachers and community leaders stood their ground, and the books remained. In his 38 years of teaching, Mr. Bollenback was never bored. "With each new year you're dealing with a new bunch of bright-eyed kids who have new ideas," he said in 1996. "I've never felt I'd be bored -- it's a different experience each time through." His one failing, according to Principal Joseph Ellis, was being a fan of the Boston Red Sox. "That is a major character flaw," Mr. Bollenback admitted.
Wayne Boring: Superman's Man
If you were among the many fans of Superman between 1940 and the 1960s, you saw the work of Wayne Boring, a Ridgefield cartoonist who brought the man of steel to life for millions who read the newspaper comics. Born in 1916 in Minneapolis, Mr. Boring studied at the Chicago Art Institute where he took a course by J. Allen St. John, the then-famous illustrator of the Tarzan books, to learn how to produce the muscular, Tarzan-like figure. In 1940, after a stint as a newspaper illustrator and some freelance comics work, he was hired to help illustrate the new but growing Superman strip, started in 1938 by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. At first he "ghosted" strips, filling in bodies after Shuster drew the faces. By the mid-1940s, he was the sole illustrator of the daily and Sunday comics and by 1965 had drawn more than 1,350 Sunday and 8,300 daily Superman strips, and also did some of the comic books. In all of those strips and books, incidentally, he never once drew Superman changing into costume in a phone booth, a TV series technique that always annoyed the artist. In 1957, he moved to Lincoln Lane in Ridgefield. Eleven years later, DC Comics started cost cutting and dismissed several of its veteran artists, including Mr. Boring. He then ghosted backgrounds for Prince Valiant series by Hal Foster, who lived in Redding, until 1972. He also drew for Marvel comics on and off, but late in life was forced to work as a bank security guard. He died in 1982. "Wayne Boring's Superman is one of the most enduring characters in the comics hobby," a comic art historian has written. "Boring's stylized artwork and fine linework along with his ability to handle science fiction subjects has made him one of the most popular artists of his time, and among the most remembered in comics history."
Lawrence Bossidy: Corporate Remodeler
In 1991, when Lawrence Bossidy took the job of chief executive officer of Allied Signal Corp., one of the nation's 20 largest companies, he stipulated that he would not leave his home in Ridgefield where he and his wife had lived for 20 years and raised nine children. Allied Signal's headquarters were in Morristown, N.J., but the problem was solved with a helicopter that ferried him three times a week between Danbury Airport and the headquarters -- a 44 minute commute from home to office. The former GE executive not only took over, but remade Allied Signal, eliminating bureaucratic management, involving all levels of employees in decisions, encouraging creativity and flexibility. In his second day at Allied Signal, he ordered enough hot dogs and hamburgers for a thousand people, and the whole place had an outdoor picnic with the boss. "We must tackle issues in a far more collective way," he told The Press in 1991. Top-down decision processes must be replaced with bottom-up recommendations, he said, and meetings should involve people from all parts of the company. During Mr. Bossidy's tenure between 1991 and 2000, Allied Signal stock soared 850%. Born in 1935 in Pittsfield, Mass., Mr. Bossidy graduated from Colgate University -- he once said "the best leader is probably someone from a broad liberal arts background, rather than a technocrat or a specialist." He joined GE in 1957 and by 1990 was vice chairman and executive officer of the company. In 1999, he led Allied Signal's $14-billion purchase of Honeywell, and the resulting company -- with $23 billion in annual sales -- is using the Honeywell name. At the time, Mr. Bossidy knew he would soon retire and he did so in March 2000. However, he serves as a director of several major corporations, including Merck, and J.P. Morgan. Close to home, he is active in Meals on Wheels in Ridgefield and the Dorothy Day soup kitchen in Danbury.
Thomas Boyd: Novelist and War Hero
Many people have written tales of war, but few as well as Thomas Alexander Boyd. Granville Hicks called his Through the Wheat (1923) "one of the earliest and best of the realistic war novels." The book was based on Mr. Boyd's World War I experiences in France where he fought at Belleau Wood and St.-Mihiel, and was with the first American advance through the wheat field at Soissons. He was gassed, and received the Croix de Guerre. Born in 1898 in Ohio, he had joined the Marines at 18. After the war, he worked for newspapers in St. Paul, Minn., and opened Kilmarnock Books there. The shop became a literary center, frequented by the likes of Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald, both of whom urged the veteran to write about his war experiences. Fitzgerald later called Through the Wheat "the best war book since The Red Badge of Courage" and poet James Dickey said Boyd "raises carnage to the level of vision." Mr. Boyd came to Ridgefield to be near Max Perkins, his editor at Scribner's. He later turned out a series of well-written biographies of notable Americans, including Simon Girty, the White Savage (1928), Mad Anthony Wayne (1929), Light-Horse Harry Lee (1931). The best reviewed was Poor John Fitch, Inventor of the Steamboat (1935), published posthumously as was a sequel to Through the Wheat, called In Time of Peace (1935). Like many novelists of the time, he also wrote for "the pulps" to make ends meet. His first wife, Margaret Woodward Smith (see Margaret Shane), was often co-author. By the 1930s he was living in Vermont, but returned periodically to Ridgefield. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in January 1935 at his former home on North Salem Road where he had been staying while his first wife and her husband, Ted Shane (q.v.), were in Hollywood working for MGM. "The New York critics declared his death a loss to American literature," his obituary in The Press said. Their only child is Elizabeth Boyd Nash, who later and for many years was an editor of The Press (see Karl S. Nash).
James J. Brady: First Police Chief
For most of the first half of the 20th Century, Ridgefield’s police protection was provided by state troopers, supplemented by a few town constables and deputy sheriffs. James J. Brady, a North Salem native who grew up here and began work as a mechanic, entered law enforcement as a deputy county sheriff in 1931. In his favorite case he helped state police stake out an often-burglarized Georgetown store and capture the thief. The man turned out to be stealing to make money for liquor, and led police to two Branchville bootleggers. They wound up in prison and were later killed in a Long Island gang war. Chief Brady became a full-time town constable in 1946, handling parking, traffic and minor violations, and working out of a "closet" in the town hall, he recalled in a 1975 interview. There was "very little vandalism and no domestic trouble at all." When the town voted in 1955 to establish a real police department, he became the first chief and got the fledgling force on its feet. It was a small department and despite his being chief, his duties included directing traffic on Main Street. He retired in 1965, worked part-time for 10 years as the Martin Park guard, and died in 1976 at the age of 79.
Dr. Blandina Worcester Brewster: Pioneer Woman Physician
Dr. Blandina Worcester, a physican when few women were practicing medicine, was "one of the pioneer women doctors of this country, her example having inspired other women to enter the profession," The Press reported in 1984 when Dr. Worcester died at the age of 82. She was not only a leading pediatrician in New York City, but also a professor of pediatrics at a leading university. A native of Geneva, N.Y., Dr. Worcester was born in 1902, graduated from Radcliffe College in 1923, and from Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1927. During her internship at Johns Hopkins, she worked with the Frontier Nursing Service in rural Kentucky, riding to her patients on horseback. Dr. Worcester established a practice of pediatrics in New York City in the 1930s, was on the attending staff at Bellevue Hospital's Children's Medical Service from 1933 until 1968, was medical director at The New York Infirmary for many years, and was a professor of clinical pediatrics at New York University's Medical School for 38 years. In 1935, she married Carroll H. Brewster, a lawyer and partner of Davis Polk in New York City, and a year later, the couple bought the Farmingville farm that had been "The Hickories," the home of George H. Lounsbury (q.v.), governor of Connecticut. Dr. Worcester lived in New York and spent summers and weekends here until her retirement in 1971, after which she moved fulltime to Ridgefield. She was a woman of scholarship and a keen mind, and both of her two sons became leaders in academia. Carroll Worcester Brewster, a Yale Law School graduate, became a dean at Dartmouth, and then president of Hollins College. He was later president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, his mother's birthplace (she was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters there in 1983). Mr. Brewster now lives on the family farm, whose development rights he deeded to the town in 1996, preserving the last farm in Farmingville. When he retired in 1999, the Rev. John Gurdon Brewster had been Episcopal chaplain at Cornell University for 34 years -- a position he held longer than any other university Episcopal chaplain in the country. He is also a sculptor and his work is in many collections, including Union Theological Center and The Vatican.
Todd Brewster: 20th Century Man
If anyone knows about the past century, it's Todd Brewster, co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, The Century (1998), a chronicle of the 20th Century. Mr. Brewster, who moved to Ridgefield in the mid-1990s, is a senior editorial producer who joined ABC News in 1994 to help anchorman Peter Jennings create The Century, a multi-episode documentary that appeared on both ABC and the History Channel in 1999. The TV series was nominated for two Emmy awards and received the Overseas Press Club's Edward R. Murrow Award for best television documentary. While the book was originally meant as a companion to the series, The Century won high praise on its own -- The New York Times said it "strives with considerable success to give a documentary sense of what the times were like." The book wound up selling 1.5 million copies and was on the New York Times best-seller list for 45 weeks. Mr. Brewster grew up in Indianapolis, attended Indiana University, and started out at American Heritage magazine in 1977. He then worked for Time-Life as a writer and editor for many years, covering such major events as the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Mr. Brewster also co-wrote The Century for Young People, an adaptation of the best seller. He and Mr. Jennings are working on a new book and documentary examining challenges facing America in the 21st Century.
H.H. Brickell: Ill-fated Editor & Critic
When he was a child, Henry Herschel Brickell was an omnivorous reader, consuming one or two volumes a day on summer vacations. He was, he said later, "unwittingly preparing myself for the book reviewer’s life in New York." The Mississippi native fought in the Mexican war in 1916, was a newspaper reporter and editor in the South and came to New York in 1919 to work for The New York Post as a news editor, then book review editor. He later became general manager of Henry Holt & Company (whose namesake was a Ridgefielder), and in the 1930s, wrote book reviews for The New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, and the Saturday Review of Literature. In 1941, he also became editor of the annual O’Henry Memorial Short Story Anthology. An assignment in Spain in the 30s left him with a love of things Spanish, and he became a senior cultural relations assistant to U.S. Ambassador Spruille Braden, and later was chief of the State Department’s Division of Cultural Cooperation for Latin America. He continued to write and edit here and travel in South America until one day in 1952, at the age of 63, he took his own life at his Branchville home. Police and medical officials attributed the suicide to "hard work and a tendency to despondency," The Press said.
John Brophy: Friend of Leaders
America has been a land of opportunity for countless immigrants, among them John Brophy, who arrived here from Ireland in 1850 at the age of nine and by the turn of the 20th Century had become one of the town’s leading citizens who counted three presidents – Arthur, Grant and Garfield – among his friends. His first job was after school, grinding bark for hide tanning at Jabez Mix Gilbert’s tannery at Titicus. "In his youth," The Press once said, "Mr. Brophy was studious, industrious and spent much of his leisure time in reading and improving his mind." He went to work for Henry Smith, who supplied blankets and linens for Pullman cars, but eventually became inspector of customs for the Port of New York, where he dealt with many influential people. After 16 years, he returned to his home town where he became assessor and then first selectman for eight years between 1894 and 1901. The paper described his administration as "giving to that office a dignity and business administration which is rarely seen." In 1903, he served in the state legislature and then the Republican became a Fairfield County commissioner for 12 years in the days when Connecticut still had county government. Meanwhile, he was also serving as a director or board member of both banks in town, and was a charter member and first chancellor of the Knights of Columbus here. He knew Horace Greeley well, and was friends with many leading political figures of the age, including three presidents, as well as Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Schuyler Colfax. He was also proud of noting that he had met Abraham Lincoln, and Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the suffragists. In his 80s, he had a pet parrot that could "whistle, sing and had a vocabulary of 100 words," The Press reported. He died in 1922.
Beatrice Brown: Our Conductor
For more than a quarter of a century, Beatrice Brown was conductor and music director of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, helping to turn a small community group into a organization of 75 professional musicians with a budget of nearly $100,000 a year. "We owe the success of our orchestra to Bea," Jeanne Cook, then president of the symphony board, said at the conductor's death in 1997. A native of England, she came to this country as a child and studied at the Settlement Music School. She was the first woman awarded both Fulbright and Rockefeller grants for conducting, and over the years studied with Leopold Stokowski, Serge Koussevitzsky and Hermann Scherchen. A violist, she was one of the founding members of Skitch Henderson's New York Pops Orchestra and toured worldwide with it. She joined the Ridgefield Symphony in 1970 and often introduced her audiences to new works; she won a United Nations Peace Medal after conducting the world premiere of Fables for All Time by the former Ridgefielder Vaclav Nelhybel (q.v.). She was also director of the Louise McKeon Chamber Music Concerts at Keeler Tavern. Ms. Brown had homes in Norwalk, New York and Florida, and was 79 at her death a year after she retired as conductor.
Dr. B.A. Bryon: Physician, Developer
Long before "subdivision" was a common word in Ridgefield, Dr. Benn Adelmar Bryon was a subdivider, one of the first. Dr. Bryon came to Ridgefield at the turn of the century to open a medical practice. But he was also interested in real estate, and between 1908 and 1912, developed Bryon Park, the village subdivision that includes Bryon and Fairview Avenues and Greenfield Street. He also was the original developer of the Lake Kitchawan neighborhood of nearby Lewisboro. His daughter, Kathryn G. Bryon, founded the first Girl Scout troop in town in 1921. Dr. Bryon, whose house was on Main Street where the Grand Union parking lot is today, eventually moved his practice and home to Norwalk where he died in 1949.
Dr. Joseph Buchman: Medical Leader
Dr. Joseph Buchman had always wanted to be a doctor. When he was 11 years old, his father died of a heart attack and the young man decided that cardiology would be his specialty. Since coming to Ridgefield in 1964, Dr. Buchman has run countless community programs to encourage healthy hearts. But he was also instrumental in reshaping the general medical services in the town and nearby hospitals. In the early 1970s, he built the first medical condominium in Connecticut and his center at 38 Grove Street houses more than 50 medical professionals and their services. Dr. Buchman helped convince the town to hire around-the-clock paramedics, a service that began in 1986, and he saw to it that the Ridgefield Fire Department got defibrillators for its ambulances. "I was concerned about being nine miles from any hospital," Dr. Buchman said in a 1999 interview. "Patients are much more stable if they’ve had paramedic care. Ridgefield is still the only town around with paramedics." He also installed the first pacemakers at Danbury and Norwalk Hospitals. Dr. Buchman retired from practice in 1999, but not from medical service. Today he is working on improving the health of Seminole Indians on a reservation in Florida where he has a home.
Sarah Tod Bulkley: International Gardener
Sarah L. Tod Bulkley was president of the Garden Club of America from 1932 to 1935 and traveled widely in the United States and in Asia promoting the aims of the club. At one point in the 1930s, Japanese Prince Fumimaro Konoye came to Ridgefield to visit Mrs. Bulkley at Rippowam Farm, her West Mountain home. When she later went to Japan on behalf of the garden club, the prince entertained her. (Konoye went on to become premier of Japan, resigning shortly before Pearl Harbor. In 1945, he was closely involved in efforts to stop the war.) Mrs. Bulkley, who summered in Ridgefield for 40 years, was a charter member of the Ridgefield Garden Club, serving as its president in the 1920s. Her estate on Rippowam Road, still owned by the family, included the famous cave of 19th Century hermitess Sarah Bishop, as well as an unusual swinging bridge which she herself helped design and which she allowed townspeople to visit. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Mrs. Bulkley was married to Jonathan Bulkley, head of the Bulkley-Dunton Pulp and Paper Company. She grew up in Brooklyn and lived much of her life in Manhattan. The Bulkleys bought Rippowam Farm in 1902 and maintained it many years as a working farm. Mrs. Bulkley was known for her charitable work, especially her support of the YWCA, the East Side Settlement House, and the Girls Service League in New York. Along with her daughter, Sarah Bulkley Randolph (1897-1982), she was one of the founders of the Ridgefield Boys Club. Mrs. Bulkley died in 1943 at the age of 72.
Michael Bullock: Piloting Pals
Michael Bullock, a well-known Ridgefielder in the 1970s and 80s, and two friends, Robert Herrman and Donald Gough, met in the Marines and later all three flew Marine fighters off the carrier USS Forrestal. All three later went to work for TWA, flying 747s. Captains Gough and Herrman built a biplane together. Captain Gough died in 1995 when TWA Flight 800 crashed off Long Island. Three years later, Captain Bullock and Captain Herrman were flying the biplane near the Napa Valley of California when it plunged into a lake, killing both of them. A New Jersey native, Mike Bullock moved to Ridgefield in 1967, became a founder and commandant of the Marine Corps League and ran the Toys for Tots program for several years. He was an active Republican, serving on the Republican Town Committee in the 1970s and in the Young Republicans Club. He was also active in the Lions. He and his wife, Mickey, moved to Cape Cod around 1995.
Eleanor Burdick: Inspirational Teacher
"It was Miss Burdick who opened my eyes to the world of poetry, took the monotony out of grammar, and awakened me to the value of literary creativity," a former student wrote of Eleanor Burdick when the Ridgefield High School English teacher retired in 1963. Fresh from Colby College, Miss Burdick came to Ridgefield in 1920 to teach at Hamilton High School on Bailey Avenue. Over her 43-year career, she taught English, history and math, chaired the English Department, directed the Drama Club, and inspired innumerable students. Her career spanned the tenures of nine superintendents, one of whom, Philip Pitruzzello, said of her: "That such power and humanity reside in one person is reserved to the few; that Eleanor Burdick chose to teach youth is a magnificent expression of God-given talents." After her retirement, she returned to her native Massachusetts, where she was active in church work. She died in 1979 at the age of 81.
Linette Burton: Beloved Journalist
During her 40 years as a feature writer for The Ridgefield Press, Linette "Nat" Burton interviewed many hundreds of people of almost every profession and interest – from truckers and masons to movie actors, best-selling authors, and two presidents of the United States. A native of Pennsylvania and a Wheaton College graduate, Mrs. Burton had worked for magazines and written two children’s books before moving to a Bennett’s Farm Road farmhouse in 1954. She started writing for The Press in 1958, specializing in personality features – always with a sense of humor. "How can that man wield the tremendous power of the presidency?" she wrote after a 1978 White House briefing with Jimmy Carter. "He looks like someone’s favorite big brother. No wonder everyone calls him Jimmy." Mrs. Burton had twice been president of the League of Women Voters. A painter, she belonged to the Ridgefield Guild of Artists and had several exhibits of her work. She also sang with the Charles Pope Choristers and was an active parishioner at St. Stephen's Church. Her husband, Earl Burton, an editor of Sports Illustrated, had died in 1968. After her children had grown up, she traveled widely – once literally around the world – and wrote many accounts of her adventures. She died in 1999 at the age of 83.
Orlando Busino: Gus's Master
Orlando Busino has been a cartoonist since he was a teenager in the early 1940s and he's still busy at the craft more than a half century later. "You can ask any cartoonist," he said. "They never retire -- they just keep drawing." Born in Binghamton, N.Y., in 1926, Mr. Busino started drawing as a child and by the time he was nine, planned to be a cartoonist. He graduated from the University of Iowa and studied at the School of Visual Arts, the premier institution for studying the illustrator's art. His work has appeared in McCalls, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping, Saturday Evening Post, and many other magazines, and he has three times won the National Cartoonists Society's award for best magazine cartoonist. But to many, especially boys, Mr. Busino is perhaps most famous for his long-running feature, Gus, a cartoon about a large dog that has appeared for 30 years in Boys' Life, the Boy Scouting magazine. "I don't know how that translates into dog years, but it's been a long time," Mr. Busino said. His cartoons have been anthologized in two books, Good Boy! (1980) and Oh, Gus! (1981). Mr. Busino and his family came to Ridgefield in 1961, and he and his longtime friend, Jerry Marcus (q.v.), have given countless cartooning demonstrations in classrooms and at libraries throughout the area. Aside from his wry sense of humor and his drawing ability, Mr. Busino is well known in the field for his skill at lettering. In recent years, he has done all the lettering on one of the world's most popular serial strips, Gil Thorp. "I've never had a real job," he once joked with an interviewer. "Once in a while I daydream I might want to direct a movie. But that only lasts for a minute." However, in another, more serious interview, he said: "I've enjoyed it all the way. Cartooning is not something you go into unless you enjoy it."
Christopher Calle: The Art of the Stamp
A billion copies of Christopher Calle’s artwork have been purchased and seen all over the world. And the Ridgefield artist doesn’t mind that people stick his work in their mouths. Following in the footsteps of his father, Paul, Chris Calle is an artist of U.S. stamps, more than dozen of them since 1989 when he did the $2.40 Priority Mail stamp of the moon landing (Dad had done the first man on the moon stamp just 20 years earlier). Both he and his father sometimes work together on stamps, but Chris designs not only stamps but many caches (pictures) for first day of issue envelopes that many philatelists collect. It’s not unusual for 20 or 30 million copies of a postage stamp to be printed, and thus a stamp artist’s work may be the most reproduced of any kind. However, among the stamps Chris Calle did was the 10-cent bulk rate "eagle and shield stamp" that comes in rolls of 10,000 stamps; a half billion copies were scheduled to be printed. His other stamps have included the Connecticut statehood commemorative, and issues honoring Harry S Truman, John J. Audubon, Bessie Coleman, Dr. Alice Hamilton, and Mary Breckinridge. Mr. Calle, who moved here in 1986, has also designed many stamps for the Marshall Islands. His wildlife art is exhibited widely and he has done assignments for the National Wildlife Federation, Reader’s Digest, and NASA. With his brother, zoo veterinarian Paul Calle, who does the text, he has done a series of lithographs on endangered specials, hoping to "bring about an increased awareness of the plight of the animals I portray."
Godfrey Cambridge: Actor-Comedian
When actor-comedian Godfrey Cambridge moved to Buck Hill Road in 1974, he called his place his "dream house." Within weeks, it was his nightmare, and the year that followed was full of charges and counter-charges that made national news. Raised in Harlem, Mr. Cambridge got his first role on Broadway in 1956 and by 1961 won an Obie for Best Performer for his role in The Blacks, Jean Genet’s drama about racial hatred. He soon turned to films, often comedies, and made 15. He insisted that his roles depict him "as a man, rather than as a Negro." In March 1975, he took three real estate agents before the State Real Estate Commission, charging they had misrepresented the condition of the house – for instance, he said, his foot went through the living room floor one day. The commission suspended the agents’ licenses for 60 days. Soon after, he was battling town government, which maintained that he had erected a fence too close to the road, creating problems for plows, but he eventually moved the fence. National press coverage was varied; some stories portrayed events as a rich white town against a black newcomer. While Mr. Cambridge never charged that the real estate agents or the town acted because of racial motives, he did claim that his teenage daughter had been threatened not to attend a school dance and that his car was vandalized because of racial prejudice. In late 1976, after relations between the actor and the town had quieted down, Mr. Cambridge died of a heart attack while playing Ugandan dictator Idi Amin for an ABC TV movie, Raid on Entebbe. (Amin later declared his death was "punishment from God.") Mr. Cambridge was only 43. His family abandoned the house, which was foreclosed by The Money Store in 1980.
Benvenuto Carboni: Pioneer Italian
When Benvenuto Carboni died in 1940 at the age of 70, the front-page Press obituary called him "head of Ridgefield’s first family of Italian immigrants." In 1901, Mr. Carboni had arrived to work on the new town water system and within two years, his wife, Assunta, and two children were here, too – the first of many Italian families who would make Ridgefield their home. In 1904, he established the town’s first store carrying Italian foods, opening in the ground floor of their Bailey Avenue home. Within a couple years, he moved the growing business to the corner of Bailey Avenue and Prospect Street (the east end of Yankee Ridge shopping center). In 1914, apparently tiring of retailing, he sold the business and returned to his craft, stonemasonry. His store, however, remained in business more than a half century under ownership of the Brunetti, Gasperini and Zandri families, but eventually became a restaurant operated once again by Carbonis. "Benvenuto Carboni would be a rare individual today," Richard E. Venus wrote in the Press in 1983. "He firmly believed that to get ahead in the world, a person should work hard. He instilled this philosophy in the rest of his family," which included well-known Ridgefielders Adrian ("Ade"), Octavius ("Tabby"), Navio ("Pete"), Olinto ("Lynce"), and Reno ("Renz") Carboni, and Mary Carboni Mitchell – all of whom would answer to the nickname "Bones." Over the years Mr. Carboni was very active in the Italian-American Mutual Aid Society and the local laborers’ union.
Octavius "Tabby" Carboni: civic leader
Octavius J. "Tabby" Carboni – so nicknamed because as a youth he had the agility of a cat – was among the first Italian immigrants in Ridgefield and went on to become a leading citizen. Born in 1899 in Italy, he came to Ridgefield in 1903. "My brother and I were the first two Italians who went to the public schools and the first to graduate from the Ridgefield elementary school," he said in a 1971 interview. A well-known athlete, he was also a sports reporter for The Press during his teens, hand-setting the type himself. Mr. Carboni became an insurance agent and later a banker. He served on the Board of Education for 20 years during the 1930s and 40s, belonged to the War Rations Board during World War II, was town treasurer from 1957 to 1959, and was on the Housing Authority from the mid-1970s until his death in 1992 at the age of 92. For many years his keen memory was a popular and well-regarded source of information on life in Ridgefield early in the 20th Century, and he often spoke to organizations and schools about "the old days."
Olinto Carboni: The Senior Servant
Olinto "Lynce" Carboni must hold some sort of record. Mr. Carboni, who turned 90 on Feb. 27, 1999, was still working for the town, a courier for the Board of Education that first hired him back in 1959. That year, Mr. Carboni had been hired as the only school maintenance man. Twenty-five years later, he was head of maintenance for the school system. But when he retired from that job in 1976, he didn't entirely retire from work or the schools, and became the system's courier, working as a private contractor transporting paperwork and supplies from building to building. He finally retired from that job in May 2000, age nearly 92. A son of the Benvenuto Carbonis (q.v.), he was a star athlete at Ridgefield High School, Class of 1927, and served aboard a Navy cruiser in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, he trained as a plumber and worked for Joseph McGlynn. In 1931, Mr. Carboni had eloped with Dorothy Bennett -- they were married 65 years before Dot Carboni's death in 1996, and were famed for their dancing abilities. Lynce, who was still dancing at 90, was also still mowing his lawn. "Why should I pay someone when I can do it myself?" he said.
Arthur J. Carnall: Real Estate Leader
Arthur J. Carnall was a boy of nine, fresh off the boat from England, when he arrived in Ridgefield in 1904. He made the town his home for the next 67 years and helped change the face of the community in many ways. Mr. Carnall was a real estate and insurance agent and the firm he founded in 1930 still bears his name. In the 1940s he led the campaign to buy the Community Center and Veterans Park. He fought long and hard for zoning and later planning. In 1930, he was the agent who negotiated the land purchases that resulted in the Silver Spring Country Club, where he was long an officer and an ardent golfer. He also dabbled in development – the "car" of Marcardon Avenue is he, partners with Francis Martin and Joseph Donnelly. For 15 years starting in 1941, he was the town tax collector. He was a founder of the Lions Club and of the local Ridgefield Board of Realtors, and served on countless boards and committees that showed, as The Press said in his 1972 obituary, "his love of Ridgefield and devotion to its welfare."
Leo F. Carroll: Astonishing Leader
Few public servants stand larger in 20th Century Ridgefield than Leo Francis Carroll, a man who spent 56 years of his life in public service on many fronts. He served 34 years in the state police, four years as chairman of the State Liquor Commission, 10 years as first selectman, and six years as a school board member. One of Connecticut's first state troopers, he rose to second in command of the department. He was also the town's most flamboyant -- and one of the most accomplished -- first selectman. Born in 1900 in Bethel, Mr. Carroll served in World War I and in 1919, became a state Motor Vehicles Department inspector, assigned to the "flying squad" of motorcycle men who spot-checked for defective autos. In 1921, that turned into the State Police, and Trooper Carroll was assigned to the new Ridgefield barracks in what was later the Boland (q.v.) house at 65 West Lane. Ridgefield became his home for the rest of his life. He became a sergeant in 1927 and two years later a lieutenant in command of Troop G in Westport. He continued to rise through the ranks until 1953 when Major Carroll was named chairman of the State Liquor Control Commission for four years. A Republican, he was not reappointed by Democratic Governor Abraham Ribicoff, and that ended his hope of one day becoming head of the state police – a job that had been held by his next-door neighbor on Wilton Road West, John C. Kelly (q.v.). Instead Mr. Carroll ran for first selectman of his hometown. At the 1957 GOP caucus that nominated him, he quoted Mark Twain: "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest." It was typical Carroll. Always a colorful character, Mr. Carroll proceeded through a lively 10 years as first selectman during a period when the town doubled in population. During his administration, Ridgebury, Farmingville, Scotland and East Ridge Middle Schools were built and Branchville was started. The Planning, Conservation and Historic District Commissions were created and many hundreds of acres of open space were acquired, including the 570-acre Hemlock Hills and Pine Mountain Preserves in Ridgebury. The number of miles of paved road went from 60 to 120. Much about town government was modernized – at his retirement, Mr. Carroll himself listed 50 major accomplishments of his administration. He was famous for his oratory and for his dozens of colorful letters and columns he wrote in The Press. When he retired as first selectman in 1967, The Press recalled the Twain quotation and observed that "Leo Carroll is a great showman, a sensitive man, a hard worker with an uncanny sense of people, individually and collectively. He is indeed an astonishing man." But his retirement was short-lived; in 1969 he was appointed to a school board vacancy and was later elected to a six-year term that ended in 1975. It was no breeze, either, for Mr. Carroll was in the middle of the famous "book burning" controversy in 1973 as well as many school budget and construction battles. In 1979, Mr. Carroll was named Rotary Citizen of the Year. He and his wife, Louise Gorman Carroll had three children including longtime Ridgefielder Catherine C. Petroni, wife of Judge Romeo G. Petroni (q.v.). After Louise died, he married Agnes McCarthy, who survives him and lives in Jupiter, Fla. Mr. Carroll died in 1985 at the age of 84.
Samuel Carter: Adman Turned Author
A Princeton and Oxford man who numbered F. Scott Fitzgerald among his friends, Samuel Carter III started out as an American magazine writer in Europe during the 1930s, became a Madison Avenue advertising agency executive in the 40s, and then quit in the 1960s to write books. His 20 titles were mostly histories, many of them aimed at teenagers, and included Cherokee Sunset, The Incredible Great White Fleet, Cyrus Field: Man of Two Worlds, The Siege of Atlanta, 1864, and Blaze of Glory. He lived on Silver Hill Road in the 1970s and died at the age of 84 in 1989 at Heritage Village in Southbury.
Melbert B. Cary: Almost the Third Governor
Ridgefield came close to being home to three governors. In 1902, only a year after Ridgefield Republican George E. Lounsbury left office, Melbert B. Cary of West Lane ran for governor on the Democratic ticket – he had been chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee for several years. Cary lost to a Meriden Republican, but remained a power in state government as well as influential in Ridgefield goings on. A Princeton man who was a lawyer in New York City, Mr. Cary was also a writer, whose books included The Connecticut Constitution (1900) and The Woman Without A Country and, when he was in his 80s, the novel Back Stage. He was also longtime president of the board of Flower Hospital in New York. He died in 1946 at the age of 93; at the time he was the oldest living Princeton graduate. His son, Melbert B. Cary, was an internationally known authority on type, who himself wrote several books, including a loving tribute to his mother, Julia M. Cary.
William H. Casey: Civic Businessman
For half of the 20th Century, William H. Casey has been a leader in both the business and civic life of Ridgefield. Born in Manhattan, Mr. Casey grew up on Long Island and graduated from Lehigh University, where he was president of the Class of 1939. He worked for several oil companies before deciding to start his own business. He moved to Ridgefield soon after World War II and began a fuel oil business in 1949. In 1953 the Casey family moved to an 18th Century Main Street homestead that has served as home and office for nearly 50 years. Over those years Casey Fuel has expanded with the acquisition of the heating oil businesses of Ridgefield Supply, Outpost Supply and Venus Oil. In addition, a real estate end of the business was begun in 1961. Mr. Casey was a longtime member of the Board of Finance, and also served on the Board of Tax Review. He's been chairman of the Republican Town Committee, head of the Ridgefield Board of Realtors, a director of the Community Center, and a trustee of Danbury Hospital. And he holds the distinction of being the longest, continuous, still-resident member of the Ridgefield Lions Club, which he joined Nov. 1, 1948 and of which he has been president.
David Cassidy: Famed Partridge
"This first time I drove down Main Street, I felt like I’d been here before," said David Cassidy in a 1996 interview, a year after moving to Olmstead Lane. "When I saw Ridgefield, I said, ‘This is exactly what I want.’ " The actor, his wife, songwriter Susie Shifrin, and their young son Beau, did not stay long, however, and sold their home two years later – presumably because so much of his work was in the West, especially Las Vegas. Cassidy, the teen heartthrob star of The Partridge Family in the 70s, went through serious bouts of depression, financial problems, and drug use in the 1980s, but after years of therapy, emerged to become a popular stage singer and film actor (he was nominated for an Emmy for a part in Police Story), recording artist, and writer (C’Mon Get Happy, 1994). A TV film about his life, David Cassidy and the Partridge Family Years, appeared on NBC in January 2000.
Roz Chast: New Yorker Cartoonist
For Rosalind "Roz" Chast, cartooning has been a life-long love. "I drew a lot when I was very little and continued to draw when I went to school where drawing cartoons in class was the only way to keep from imploding with boredom," she once told an interviewer for the New Yorker, where her work appears almost weekly. Ms. Chast’s cartoons, which often address modern family life, range from single panels to full-page spreads, and she has created at least one New Yorker cover. She has also produced many books, either on her own or with other authors, and her first solo title was Unscientific Americans, published by Doubleday in 1986, followed a year later by, Mondo Boxo, a book of cartoon stories published by Harper and Row. She has illustrated four children's books, including Meet My Staff (1998), and published a collection of recent work, Childproof: Cartoons for Parents and Children (1997). Her work has been exhibited in several New York galleries and is sold as prints by the New Yorker. She and her husband, writer William E. Franzen, and their two children moved to Ridgefield in 1990, and since then Ms. Chast has joined other local cartoonists in giving cartooning demonstrations in the schools. In recent years her New Street home has become famous for the seasonal exhibits she and her husband erect on their front lawn. Their Halloween displays draw viewers from far and wide, but they also have productions for Christmas and other times of the year. Usually, they are light-hearted but may take patience to appreciate. For instance, for a couple months one winter, a lighted Saguaro cactus stood on the front lawn till suddenly one day in March, it was on its side. Beneath was a "corpse," killed when the cactus toppled.
Michael Chekhov: Actor, Director, Coach
Mikhail Alexandrovich Chekhov, nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov, was born in Russia in 1891 and by the age of 21 was already a noted actor in his homeland. By 1923, he was a director at the Moscow Art Theatre, but his innovative methods eventually led the Communists to label him "alien and reactionary" and a "sick artist." Michael Chekhov emigrated to Germany and then England, establishing a well-respected method of training actors. In 1939, as war was breaking out, he moved his Chekhov Theatre Studio from England to the old Ridgefield School for Boys on North Salem Road. While here, Mr. Chekhov made his first appearance in an English-speaking role on the public stage – a Russian War Relief dramatic program on the stage of the old high school (the soon-to-be Ridgefield Playhouse), performing in each of the three short plays presented. By 1945 he was in Hollywood, where he taught and acted in films – his portrayal of the psychoanalyst in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound won him an Academy Award nomination. Among his students were Marilyn Monroe, Jack Palance, Anthony Quinn, Yul Brynner, Gregory Peck, and Akim Tamiroff. He died in 1955, but his school lives on as the Chekhov Theatre Ensemble in New York City.
B. Ogden Chisholm: Prison Reformer
Although he studied architecture in school and spent much of his life as a bank officer, B. Ogden Chisholm was best known as an expert on prison reform. Born on Long Island in 1865, he spent 41 years with the Greenwich Savings Bank in New York City. In 1908, he was named an executive board member of the New York Prison Association and began devoting himself to the study of penal institutions, traveling widely and writing and lecturing on prisons. He opposed long sentences, saying confinement should be set at one year minimum and release made dependent upon fitness to return to society. President Coolidge named him the U.S. representative to the International Prison Commission, on which he served from 1923 to 1930. He wrote such books and booklets as If It Were Your Boy, The Man Who Slips A Cog, and How Shall We Curb Crime. The Chisholm family began summering on Peaceable Street in the 1890s and by the 1910s had moved to their mansion fulltime. One of his children was Priscilla C. Lee, who owned the Bissell building for many years. He died in 1944 at the age of 78.
Samuel Chotzinoff: Toscanini Times
Arturo Toscanini, one of the leading conductors of the 20th Century, liked Ridgefield – and his friend Samuel Chotzinoff – enough to give concerts here in 1947 and 1949 to benefit the library (on whose board Mr. Chotzinoff served 10 years) and the Boys Club. Mr. Chotzinoff, who lived on Spring Valley Road from 1935 to 1955, was musical director of NBC and persuaded Toscanini to come out of retirement in Italy to lead the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He also commissioned Gian Carlo Menotti to write television’s first opera, the now-famous Amahl and the Night Visitors (Menotti and Toscanini often visited Chotzinoff’s Ridgefield home). Born in Czarist Russia, Mr. Chotzinoff came to America at 17, studied piano, and was an accompanist for Efrem Zimbalist and later Jascha Heifetz, whose sister, Pauline, he married. Later a music critic for The New York Post and other papers, he penned a novel, Eroica, co-authored two plays, and wrote a biography of Toscanini as well as an autobiography. (His daughter Anne Chotzinoff married conductor Herbert Grossman, has written several books and has translated many operas and lieder, and her daughter, Lisa Grossman Thomas, is a musician and writer.) He died in 1964 at 72.
Tom Clark: 20th Century Man
Tom Clark's life literally spanned the 20th Century. Born here in 1904, he was still an active Ridgefielder when the 21st Century arrived. The secret of his longevity? "I haven't had a glass of water in 60 years," he told The Press in 1990. "I use lots of butter, eat meat with plenty of fat, and use plenty of salt and pepper." Yes, he smoked, too. That all may not please his doctor, but his good nature and his active life -- including many years as a local athlete -- has probably kept Mr. Clark ticking and clicking more than his diet has. The son of Irish immigrants, he grew up on the family farm on Wilton Road West and went to work at the Stamford Davey Brothers' market, one in an old chain. He did so well that he was made manager when he was only 17 -- until executives in New York learned his age and "then I had no job." He worked as a carpenter for a while, but in 1932 First National hired him to run its store here. He managed the First National here until 1959; when the chain wanted to transfer him to Newtown, he retired and went to work for Wayside Market on Danbury Road for 15 years. In his younger days, he was active at baseball and basketball, but as a bowler, Mr. Clark is almost legendary -- he started when he was 15 and still bowled in his 90s, the oldest active bowler in the area. He was also famous for helping others and because his good health and eyesight allowed him to drive long after many contemporaries couldn't, Mr. Clark would often serve as a free taxi service for Ridgefield's elderly -- many of whom were younger than he was.
Mabel E. Cleves: Early Public Educator
One of the founders of the modern Ridgefield school system was Mabel E. Cleves, a Montessori- and Columbia-educated teacher who came here in 1898 and helped revolutionize how the schools taught the youngest pupils. She was a kindergarten teacher -- when she arrived, Ridgefield’s was one of the few public school systems with a kindergarten. She soon undertook helping to establish the nation’s first publicly supported preschool. In 1901, Miss Cleves also founded the town’s first PTA, which for its first 15 years was called The Mothers Club. Aside from teaching three generations of Ridgefielders, Miss Cleves told them tales. "As a story-teller to children, Miss Cleves was long without a peer in Ridgefield," The Press reported. "She told stories not only in her kindergarten classes but on Saturday mornings at the Ridgefield Library." She retired in 1938, died in 1952 at the age of 85, and is remembered today in the name of the auditorium at Veterans Park School.
Charles Cobelle: International Artist
A native of Germany, Charles Cobelle painted French scenes in America. An architect by training, he studied art in France with Marc Chagall and Raul Dufy and his work, filled with Parisian street scenes, reflect his long study there. His murals can be found throughout the United States at such places as the Henry Ford Museum, and the offices of Holland American Lines, Neiman Marcus, Gimbels, and Bloomingdale's. He also did murals for the 1939 World's Fair. In Ridgefield, his murals can be found at Bernard's Inn at Ridgefield and at Boehringer Ingelheim's headquarters. Mr. Cobelle also did commercial art for Milton Bradley, Helena Rubenstein, American Artists Group Greeting Cards, and Town and Country magazine. He lived on Seth Low Mountain Road for 32 years and died in 1994 in Brookfield at the age of 92.
Samuel A. Coe: "Mayor of Ridgebury"
At his death in April 1936, The Press called Samuel Augustus Coe one of Ridgefield’s "most distinguished citizens…Civil War veteran, holder of many public offices and a truly well-loved and respected man." The son of North Salem Quakers, he was born in 1843 and enlisted in the Army at 19. "Mr. Coe saw hard service in the Maryland and Virginia campaigns," The Press reported. "In different battles he was near death many times. Bullets struck his clothing, one burned his neck, another his cheek, and another cut a furrow through his hair … He was wounded at the siege of Petersburg in May 1864 where he was under fire for 30 days. His wound caused the loss of his left hand, thus depriving him of his dream of becoming a shoemaker." Sometime after the war, he bought the historic farmstead, once a stagecoach stop, that’s now Daniel McKeon’s Arigideen Farm. Often called the Mayor of Ridgebury, he was a town selectman for eight years, a state representative from 1911 to 1913, a deacon of the Ridgebury Congregational Church for 35 years, a member of the Board of Assessors for 20 years, and a member of the Board of Relief until he was 90. He died at 92, leaving only one other Ridgefield Civil War veteran – Hiram Davis – still living.
Charles G. Cogswell: World War II victim
Staff Sgt. Charles G. Cogswell had flown 43 combat missions as a B-17 waist gunner and was eligible to come home and conclude his hazardous duty. Instead, he volunteered for more flights and soon after, his plane was hit by German fire and the crew bailed out over the Adriatic Sea near Padua, Italy. Though he was still listed as missing in action at the war’s end, his remains were never found. The 1941 graduate of Ridgefield High School had entered the Army in late 1942, shortly after his picture appeared in Life magazine – in the background of a shot showing columnist Westbrook Pegler of Ridgefield participating in a scrap drive in front of the town hall.
Irving B. Conklin: Ridgefield’s dairyman
In a way, Irving B. Conklin Sr. symbolized the changing nature of Ridgefield – from an agrarian town, to a haven for estates, and then to a bedroom, commuter community. Born in 1899, he came to Ridgefield as a young man and became superintendent of Dr. George G. Shelton’s estate. From 1928 till the early 1940s, he owned Conklin’s Dairy, Ridgefield’s largest and last major dairy farm, and over those years had supplied most of Ridgefield with milk. In 1944 he and Leo Pambianchi started Ridgefield Motors, which grew into Conklin Motors, what is now Village Pontiac-Cadillac on Danbury Road. He moved to Stonecrest, the large estate on North Street. Both the farm and the estate he owned were subdivided: the dairy farm includes Farm Hill Road, Overlook Drive and Nutmeg Court, and his later home was also largely subdivided for Stonecrest Road and Dowling Drive – though the riding stable he established there around 1953 is still in business today. A former president of the Lions Club, he died in Florida in 1966 at the age of 66.
Col. Louis D. Conley: The Man from Outpost
Col. Louis Daniel Conley was a "man of large affairs," said the headline of his Press obituary. The efforts of one of those affairs – his nursery -- will be felt well into the 21st Century. A native of New York City, Colonel Conley was born in 1874 and headed the sizable Conley Tinfoil manufacturing company. He also commanded the old Fighting 69th Regiment of the New York National Guard from 1910 to 1918. In 1914, he retired from the family business and built Outpost Farm on Bennett’s Farm Road. By 1922, his Outpost Corporation owned included the 1,000-acre Outpost Nurseries that covered most of the land along Danbury Road and northern Route 7. The holdings also included kennels (now Belzoni’s Red Lion restaurant) and the Outpost Inn (now Fox Hill condominiums). He established and operated a summer camp for poor city boys, complete with swimming pool and a professional director, on his estate, and was a major promoter of Boy Scouting in the state. When he died in 1930 of meningitis, he was only 56. His mansion later became the Fox Hill Inn, a famous restaurant from the 1940s till the early 1970s when IBM bought it for a possible corporate site. IBM razed the house in 1974 and, in 1998, sold the land to Eureka, a developing company. The Conley family subdivided or sold much of the nursery land, and what was left was operated by J. Mortimer Woodcock for many years. However, Outpost trees and shrubs planted for stock and for decoration still adorn many roads and home lots today, and many road names in Farmingville and Limestone Districts recall the colonel’s plantings.
Michael Connolly: A Songful Life
Michael Connolly had finally "attained every actor-singer's dream -- his name in lights," said his father, James Connolly, shortly after his son died of a stroke in Los Angeles. It was 1989 and the lifelong Ridgefielder, only 41, had just completed a successful 14-month national tour of Cole Porter's musical, Can-Can, with Chita Rivera and Ron Holgate. Mr. Connolly began acting and singing as a child at Veterans Park School and in 1965 won the first $500 scholarship of the newly formed Ridgefield Workshop for the Performing Arts. One of the judges in the scholarship competition was actor Cyril Ritchard (q.v.) who was so impressed with Mr. Connolly's talent that he sent him another $500. Mr. Connolly graduated from Fordham and was certified to teach. But his career was on the stage, and he performed in more than 15 Gilbert and Sullivan operettas with the Light Opera of Manhattan, in summer stock, and in many touring productions. He performed in several Broadway shows; his first was Otherwise Engaged, with Dick Cavett, in which he was assigned a dressing room at the Plymouth Theater once occupied by John Barrymore. "It was humbling," he said, "more like a shrine to me than a dressing room." His other Broadway shows included Annie and Amadeus, and he toured the country in the national company of On the Twentieth Century with Rock Hudson and former Ridgefielder Imogene Coca. Throughout his career, he continued to perform locally, and was especially remembered for singing the National Anthem at post-parade ceremonies many Memorial Days. However, he told his family, he saved his best performances "for the ladies of the kitchen" at Italian-American Club functions. "Whenever he dedicated two or three songs to them," James Connolly said, "the staff would emerge, wiping their hands on their white aprons, to be serenaded by Mattinata, Torna a Sorrento, or Santa Lucia."
Joseph and Sandra Consentino: From Still to Motion
When Joseph and Sandra Consentino moved to West Mountain Road in 1964, he was a magazine photojournalist and she a high school art teacher. Today, they are internationally known documentary filmmakers, with three Emmys and numerous television awards to their credit. A graduate of St. John's University, Joseph Consentino studied to be a writer and received a full scholarship to Columbia School of Journalism. After Columbia, he became a freelance photojournalist, with photo essays appearing in Sports Illustrated, Look and Life. In 1966, he joined the photographic staff of The Saturday Evening Post until 1970 when he became a documentary film cameraman. After graduating from Rutgers, Sandra Consentino, an accomplished potter, taught art in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut schools. In 1970, she started her career as a film editor and joined Joseph in making their first documentary together -- they spent a year filming the lives of two farmers and their families for a PBS special, "Days Have Gone By." Together, they have produced, directed, filmed, and edited hundreds of documentaries for commercial and public television, on such subjects as the conflicts in the Middle East, the Mafia, Lucy and Desi, Muhammad Ali, and World War II. "Documentaries create that kind of sense where you're invisible, but then again people talk directly to you," Joseph told WestConn film students in 1999. "We're always amazed with how much people bare of themselves," Sandra added. In 1994 and 1998, Sandra received Emmy and ACE awards for her editing of "Lucy & Desi: A Home Movie" and "Muhammad Ali: The Whole Story." The Consentinos also produce corporate, medical, and sports educational films and, not surprisingly, some deal with Joseph's other "career." A former professional baseball player who spent two years in the Boston Red Sox farm system, he founded the Ridgefield Nighthawks in 1981. The traveling baseball teams for high school and college-age players, drawing members from many surrounding towns, are now called the Connecticut Nighthawks. In 1993, Mr. Consentino founded the New England Collegiate Baseball League and named George Foster, former Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets All-Star, as the first commissioner. Sanctioned by the NCAA and partially funded by Major League Baseball, the league has eight teams in four states and is considered one of America's premiere collegiate "wooden bat" summer baseball leagues, with more than 100 players drafted by major league teams. Fay Vincent, former Major League Baseball commissioner, is the league's president in 2000. The Consentinos' son Stephen, who sometimes works with his parents, is a top Steadicam cameraman for television and feature film productions, and daughter Susan is a professional still photographer, author and water exercise teacher.
Theodore H. Coogan: Dean of the Board of Finance
Although his father, an owner of the old Polo Grounds in New York, was a longtime friend of Franklin W. Roosevelt, Theodore H. Coogan was a Republican. But that didn’t stop him from having an open mind, and from endorsing Democrat Louis J. Fossi for first selectman four times. A Harvard graduate who was a real estate broker and consultant in New York and Ridgefield, Mr. Coogan was appointed to the Board of Finance in 1955 and held the post till his death in 1983. In the later years, he was often called "the dean of the Board of Finance," whose non-voting chairman then was the first selectman. "Mr. Coogan took a leading role in town affairs, not only the financial ones. He was outspoken on such matters as the town’s schools and building projects, the library’s expansion, candidates for office and political goings-on," The Press noted in his obituary. "He expressed his opinions forcefully, not only at town meetings and other public gatherings, but in frequent and forceful letters to The Press."
Jeanne Cook: Orchestra Force
During the 1980s and 1990s when the Ridgefield Symphony was growing and maturing into an orchestra with a widespread reputation for excellence, the woman behind much of the success was Jeanne Cook. "It's quite extraordinary for an orchestra," said Ms. Cook, who would quickly credit anyone but herself for that -- she's a modest woman who eschews publicity about her extensive community service. Mrs. Cook came to Ridgefield in 1971, opening the Jeanne Cook Travel Service on Main Street. She retired in 1997 after more than 40 years in the travel business that began in 1952 in Milwaukee. Ms. Cook joined the board of directors of the Ridgefield Symphony in 1973 and for many years, fund-raisers like the annual Derby Day took place at her home. As both president and as a board member, she has devoted thousands of hours to the orchestra, and helped lead its growth from a small symphony to an orchestra of some 75 professional, paid musicians. She worked with two directors: Beatrice Brown (q.v.) ("she was the glue that held it all together") and Sidney Rothstein (a maestro of great "artistic vision"). An advocate of volunteerism, Ms. Cook has been a model volunteer: She has also been active in the Chamber of Commerce, the Visiting Nurse Association, Mid-Fairfield Hospice, and Housatonic Valley Tourism Commission. She helped plan the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration and many Fourth of July fireworks programs here. Although she retired as orchestra president in 1999, she is still on the board, and she is still volunteering many hours in its support.
John P. Cooke: Independent Thinker
John P. Cooke has accomplished at least two things that no other Ridgefielder has: He won a gold medal in the Olympics and he was the first third party member ever elected to local public office, at least in the 20th Century. A Ridgefielder since 1965 and a longtime Emery Air Freight executive, Mr. Cooke was chairman of the committee that oversaw the building and fine-tuning of Ridgefield High School between 1967 and 1974. "We completed the new high school on time and under budget, the only school in Ridgefield that was under budget," he said. He and his wife, Torrey, were presidents of the Branchville School PTO, and he has been a member of the Charter Revision Commission. Over the years, Mr. Cooke has been outspoken on many issues. He was a pioneer member of the Independent Party and in 1993, was elected to the Zoning Board of Appeals on the Independent ticket -- and is still on the board as the new century begins. In 1995, he ran for first selectman as an Independent because "I've become disenchanted and upset like many other people with the self-appointed, elitist group which runs the town." Though he came in third behind Sue Manning and Barbara Manners, he collected a respectable 1,578 votes. Mr. Cooke graduated from Yale in 1959 and belonged to the Yale Crew. In 1956, he was a member of the U.S. eight-oar crew that won a gold medal in the Olympics in Melbourne. He continues to be active in rowing circles, has been a longtime director of the National Rowing Foundation, and has a 27-foot racing scull hanging from his living room ceiling. A veteran of five years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he was one of the founding members of the Marine Corps League detachment here.
John W. Cox: Democratic leader
For a man who had brought William Jennings Bryan to town, the first notice of the death of Dr. John Watson Cox was not all that flattering. "Body discovered in bath at the Savoy Hotel, London," said the headline in the Aug. 30, 1928 Press. Many years earlier Dr. Cox had purchased Stonecrest, a North Street estate whose mansion burned in 1949, but whose name still lives in a road. The Mississippi native became a physician but soon gave it up to pursue "politics and travel," The Press said. Reports over the years called him a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, but his obituary said only he was "formerly treasurer of the National Democratic Club." But it also noted that on April 19, 1907, "Dr. Cox had the late Williams Jennings Bryan as his guest in Ridgefield. Through his efforts the people of Ridgefield had the opportunity to meet this distinguished man. A public reception was held in Ridgefield Town Hall, which was thronged with people to hear Mr. Bryan. Upon the conclusion of the address, the people availed themselves of the chance to shake hands with Dr. Cox’s prominent and popular guest." Bryan, of course, was the golden-tongued orator and congressman, the only Democrat to run three times for president and lose all three. He later became Woodrow Wilson’s secretary of state and the lawyer who opposed Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial.
Norman Craig: Jeweler and Citizen
"They used to call him the best-dressed fireman, because he always wore a shirt and a tie," said Elsie Fossi Craig. Her husband Norman, longtime owner of Craig's Jewelry Store, was an active volunteer fireman for 15 years; when a call came in, he'd have to politely ask customers to leave, lock up, and run to the fire station to drive the second truck. Born in 1927 in Bronxville, N.Y., Mr. Craig came to Ridgefield in 1945, and joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1946. He entered the jewelry business in 1950, when his mother, Helen Craig, bought the 40-year-old jewelry store of Francis D. Martin (q.v.), then located near today's Roma Pizzeria. Fifty years later, Craig's is the second oldest retail business on Main Street (only Bissell's is older). In 1951, he and Elsie Fossi – who had been Mr. Martin’s secretary for nine years – were married. While Mr. Craig technically retired in 1983, he still helps at the store, now owned and operated by son William and daughters Karen Petrini and Lori Corsak. Mr. Craig has the rare distinction of having been a member of both the Democratic and Republican Town Committees. He started out a Republican, and served on that town committee and on the Board of Tax Review. A Democrat during the administration of his brother-in-law, First Selectman Louis J. Fossi (q.v.), he served on various town study committees, was a delegate to the 1978 Democratic State Convention and was almost elected state representative in 1981. Later in life, he returned to the Republican fold, and in 1998, won a seat on the Board of Finance he holds today. His community service includes incorporator of the Visiting Nurse Association and the Boys and Girls Club, trustee of the Family Y, assistant chief and president of the Volunteer Fire Department, director of the old Teen Center, Boy Scout scoutmaster, president and founding member of Kiwanis, a founder with Clarence Korker of the Chamber of Commerce, a member of Knights of Columbus, and sponsor of many Little League and other youth sports teams. All this activity helped earn him the Chamber of Commerce Public Service Award in 1986 and Kiwanis Citizen of the Year Award in 1990 -- and the nickname, Stormin' Norman.
Thaddeus Crane: Spectacular Exit
If you were to go house hunting in Ridgefield during most of the first third of the century, chances are you would visit Thaddeus C. Crane. He was pretty much the local real estate agent. But he was famed for something less mundane: Thaddeus Crane may have had the most spectacular death of any Ridgefielder in the 20th Century. In May 1928, for reasons unknown, Mr. Crane drove at high speed onto a railroad crossing in Wilton where a northbound train, "whistle shrieking," smashed into his Hudson sedan and hurled it into the air. The car landed atop the second locomotive, bounced onto the baggage car, flipped off into a trackside signal box, and burst into flames. Witnesses risked their lives to drag him from the car, but Mr. Crane died within minutes. Typical of sensational accidents of the era, The Press devoted more than 20 column inches to details of the crash, but only two inches to his life. Two years later, Mr. Crane’s business, housed in an office on Main Street just north of today’s Roma Pizzeria, was sold to Arthur J. Carnall, and – owned by Ridgefield Bank – still operates today under the Carnall name.
Mary Creagh: A Century of Knowledge
"There is something special about teaching children that age," Mary Creagh told Linette Burton (q.v.) in one of Mrs. Burton’s last interviews. "Their minds are open to everything." Miss Creagh (pronounced "cray") started teaching second and third graders in Ridgefield in 1933 at the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School on East Ridge, and didn’t finish until 1969, when she retired – not one of the longest-term teachers in the system, but one of the more fondly remembered. Born in 1908 into a large Ridgefield family, Mary Creagh has been a part of the town for more than 90 years. She was a member of the last class (1925) to graduate from Hamilton High School on Bailey Avenue, and she had earlier attended Benjamin Franklin where she later taught. She can remember clearly Nov. 11, 1918, when she was 10 and peace in World War I was declared; at Benjamin Franklin, "teachers and students gathered outside around the flagpole and we sang The Star-Spangled Banner." Because her knowledge spans the century and she knew many people born more than 150 years ago, Miss Creagh has been a wealth of information for local historians, such as the Ridgefield Archives Committee, and has been active in the work of the Keeler Tavern. There are now 22,000 people in town, seven times as many as when Miss Creagh was a child. "Those were our innocent years," she said. "Now, sometimes I feel like a stranger in town."
Charles Creamer: Mr. Appeals
"I encourage everyone to volunteer," said Charles Creamer in 1997. "I don’t know how you can live in a community without volunteering." Mr. Creamer was receiving the Rotary Club Citizen of the Year Award for some extraordinary volunteerism: 25 years as chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals. This five-member, elected, quasi-judicial board hears cases in which townspeople seek special exceptions to zoning regulations or overrulings of zoning decisions because either creates an unfair hardship. Mr. Creamer has spent countless hours studying zoning case law and attending conferences to be as knowledgeable and fair as possible. It’s apparently worked; between 1972 and 1997, the board was sued 127 times over its rulings, and was upheld 126 -- the only "loss" was on a technicality and didn't cost the town a dime. Mr. Creamer grew up in Milford, graduated from UConn in chemistry, worked for Union Carbide for 32 years, and was responsible for the development of 30 patents. He retired in 1993 and formed his own chemical development company. A Ridgefielder since 1967, he joined the appeals board as an alternate in 1970, became a regular member in 1971 and was elected chairman in 1972. When he started, the board was hearing fewer than 50 cases a year. It’s now handling three times that number. Mr. Creamer has also coached Little League, refereed youth basketball and been active in the First Congregational Church. "He views service to town not as a responsibility, but as a privilege," his son Rob told Rotarians in 1997.
Bob Crofut: Remembering America
Ridgefield has been home to hundreds of artists. However, Bob Crofut may be unique: He's a successful artist who not only lives here, but was born here. The son of an old Ridgefield family, Mr. Crofut graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1970 and studied at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts and got his bachelor's in fine arts from Tufts in 1975. For the past 25 years he has painted what he collectively calls "An American Remembrance," images that run from the pioneer times to the Depression Era and include baseball games, American Indians, farm families, peddlers, old storefronts, 19th Century tennis players, organ grinders, early automobiles, and even fly fishermen of the 1930s. "The kind of feeling I want to give people is kind of an apparition, something called up from memory," he once said. "I’m in love with the American experience and how we’ve evolved. We are the greatest experiment on earth -- one that has resulted in unprecedented invention, prosperity and free time. I want to paint it all -- from pioneer and farm life, to the rise of the automobile and the airplane, to the invention of baseball." His work has appeared in National Geographic, Time, Smithsonian, Reader's Digest, Yankee, American Heritage, and other publications, and his paintings are in many public, private and corporate collections. He has also illustrated books and done numerous book covers -- and painted the cover for Notable Ridgefielders.
Benjamin Crouchley: Democratic First Selectman
Benjamin Crouchley was a leading citizen who fathered a leading citizen, and was grandfather of two more, all four making their marks on Ridgefield in different ways during the century. Born in New York City, Mr. Crouchley moved to Kansas after the Civil War and had a ranch there. In 1881, he returned east, buying a farm in Newtown and working as a station agent in Bethel. In 1895, he became Ridgefield's station agent, a job he held until 1911, and moved here. Around the same time the Ridgefield Savings Bank hired him as a teller. By 1912, he became a corporator and in 1915, a director. A staunch Democrat, Mr. Crouchley was first selectman of the town three one-year terms between 1908 and 1911. In 1911, he lost to the colorful, handsome and daring Eldridge N. Bailey (q.v.), but he continued to be elected to the Board of Selectmen until 1916. The next Democrat to become first selectman was Harry E. Hull (q.v.), who took office 37 years later. Mr. Crouchley's son, Charles D. Crouchley (q.v.) was a leading businessman, and his grandsons included Ralph (q.v.), who ran the Boys Club for many years, and Charles, a longtime teacher at Ridgefield High School. Benjamin died in 1917.
Charles D. Crouchley: Bank President
Charles D. Crouchley, seventh president of the Ridgefield Savings Bank, "was a somber, serious-minded man with a tendency to grumble about the state of affairs, but he became one of the town's leading figures in the first half of this century," The Press said in 1971. The son of First Selectman Benjamin Crouchley (q.v.), Mr. Crouchley was born in Kansas in 1879, but spent 69 of his 82 years in Ridgefield. He started a successful plumbing business in 1900, selling it in 1923 to Horace A. Walker, and opened a paint and auto supplies store on Main Street where Neumann Real Estate is now. "His two gas pumps were the last in town at the curbside," The Press said. "Being in the path of traffic to the post office (where Addessi's is today), they produced a tidy revenue." He was a selectman in the early 1930s, a chief of the fire department, and active in the Masons and Odd Fellows. He became an incorporator of the bank in 1916, and by 1933, he was elected president; it was the height of the Depression -- no wonder he grumbled. But he continued to lead the bank until 1955. He died in 1961. His survivors included sons Charles, a teacher, and Ralph (below), Boys Club director.
Ralph B. Crouchley: Mentor of Boys
Ralph Bishop Crouchley was a man who worked in international commerce but came back to his hometown and, as one man influenced by him as a boy said, "he was a father figure for many kids and as a result of the respect kids had for him, a number of boys turned out well where they might have had teenage problems." Mr. Crouchley was the director of the Ridgefield Boys Club during a period when it went from a small operation in an old house to the modern, well-equipped building on Governor Street. Born here in 1904, the son of a selectman and grandson of a first selectman, Mr. Couchley graduated from the Ridgefield Boys School and Colgate, and studied at Harvard Business School before joining the Corn Products Refining Company. In 1930, with no knowledge of Spanish, he was sent to Mexico to open and organize a factory. He succeeded, but by 1936, returned to his hometown to run his father’s paint and auto store on Main Street. Six years later, he became director of the Boys Club, a job that soon became fulltime. His influence on two generations of young men of the community was almost legendary, and he won much praise and many awards for his work. He retired in 1969, but continued his many other community interests. He was a president of the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department, member of the Board of Assessors, the Ration Board in World War II and disaster chairman for the Red Cross, the first zoning enforcement officer, a charter member of the Kiwanis Club, and an incorporator of the Ridgefield Savings Bank. He died in 1981 at the age of 76.
Ely Culbertson: Revolutionary Bridge Guru
Ridgefield has had its share of colorful characters but few match Ely Culbertson, anarchist, revolutionary, politician, peace promoter, and – above all – contract bridge expert. Born in Rumania in 1891 of wealthy American parents, he grew up in the Caucasus, and before he was 20, fell in love with Nadya, daughter of a Georgian princess who was deep into the plottings of the local nihilists and anarchists. According to his own story, Mr. Culbertson began a career as a professional card player as a means of supporting the revolutionary movement. Nadya was eventually murdered and Culbertson imprisoned after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate a local governor. His father rescued him, brought him back to the U.S., and sent him to Yale, then Cornell. He failed both, and stowed away on a ship bound for Mexico where he took part in revolutionary plottings, winding up in prison again. After his release, he went to Spain for another revolutionary effort, then studied in France. By 1921, he was in Greenwich Village, supporting himself by playing bridge and developing a bidding system that became world famous. He wrote books and newspaper columns on bridge, and played in many championships. One match in 1931-32 lasted six weeks and made the front pages of hundreds of newspapers, and was covered on radio and in newsreels. In the mid-1930s, at the peak of his career, he bought the huge Lewis estate on West Lane, and while here wrote his autobiography, The Strange Lives of One Man. He also ran for Congress, but didn’t get far. By 1940, he was in financial trouble, and his home was foreclosed. Over the years before and after the war, he promoted world peace, writing several books proposing a United Nations-like system. He died in 1955 in Vermont at the age of 64.
William J. Cumming: Soldier to the End
William J. Cumming was the first man from Ridgefield to enlist in World War I and was one of only three Ridgefielders killed in action. An ambulance driver, he was "A soldier to the end," said the headline on the Feb. 5, 1918 Press, which reprinted a letter from a comrade. "I do not think we have a member that was thought more of than Private William J. Cumming and a better boy could not be found," Private W.E. West wrote the Rev. John M. Deyo, the Methodist minister here. "He was the first one in our company to be taken from us…Even in the end he did not give up and died a brave American" on Jan. 5 at a hospital in Vittel.
Robert Daley: Best-Selling Writer
Robert Daley, who lived on Nod Road from 1984 to 1989, is the author many best-selling novels and non-fiction works with police themes. A former deputy commissioner of police in New York City, his books -- such as Prince of the City and Night Falls on Manhattan -- have been made into movies and TV series. Years ago, as a 23-year-old touring France, he met his wife, Peggy, and he has always loved the country and often writes about it. The Innocents Within (1999) is based on a true story about a Protestant pastor in World War II France who rescues hundreds of Jews.
Anita Daubenspeck: 21st Century Librarian
When Anita Daubenspeck arrived as director in 1975, the Ridgefield Library had fewer than 40,000 books and other media housed in an 8,000-square-foot building. By the end of the century, the library had more than 100,000 items in a 26,000-square-foot building. But more important, circulation has grown some 330%. Under Mrs. Daubenspeck's administration, the library has gone online, increased free public programs and become a modern, multimedia source of knowledge and entertainment. "I feel I have an obligation to help and add whatever I can to the life of the town," Mrs. Daubenspeck said in 1996 when she was named Outstanding Librarian of the Year by the Connecticut Library Association. Mrs. Daubenspeck was born in 1938 in Van Wert, Ohio (where the library claims to be the oldest county library in the U.S.). At the age of 14, she was working as a clerk in, of course, a bookstore. She graduated from Rollins College and got a master's in library science from Villanova. In her years here, Mrs. Daubenspeck has been active in other segments of the community, including the Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters, the local American Association of University Women, and serving on the school board's Technology Committee. "Her ability to attract and retain an excellent staff, her mastery of technological, financial and administrative systems, and her tact and good humor in dealing with the patrons have earned her the respect and admiration of all," said Jocelyn G. Fainer of the Friends of the Library. In October 2000, Ms. Daubenspeck retired after spending 25 years leading the Ridgefield Library into the 21st Century.
Linda Davies: Her Life Was Ridgefield
Margaret Linda Davies was only 19 when she began teaching at the one-room Branchville Schoolhouse in 1929. Students called it "Branchville U." because they went there four years, transferring for fifth grade to East Ridge School. And after four years at Branchville, Linda Davies was, like her students, transferred, and taught fifth grade for decades. When she retired in 1972 after 42 years on the job, she was an East Ridge Junior High teacher. But retirement didn't stop her from teaching -- she immediately signed on as a substitute teacher and filled in for years. That's not surprising since Ridgefield was Miss Davies' life. Born here in 1909, she lived and worked all of her 90 years in town, though she had studied at a half-dozen universities and had a bachelor's and master's from Columbia. She volunteered for the Grange, the Sunshine Society, the library, the Keeler Tavern, and shared her wealth of knowledge of early 20th Century personalities by helping the Ridgefield Archives Committee identify hundreds of old Joseph Hartmann photos. "She knew everything," said Kay Ables of the committee. "She knew all the people, all the stories."
Hiram Davis: The Last Blue
When Hiram Davis died in 1947, he was one of only two Connecticut veterans of the Civil War and the last who had made his home in Ridgefield. A native of Wilton, he was only 15 when he served as a drummer boy in Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley and was with the general on his 20-mile dash from Winchester, immortalized in the Thomas Buchanan Reed poem, "Sheridan’s Ride." He lived in Ridgefield from 1865 until moving to Florida late in life. He was a stonemason and "it was said there was scarcely a chimney in Ridgefield…which had not been built or repaired by him." He served as a state representative in 1908, as a borough warden, and in the fire department. He was a Mason, Odd Fellow, and the last member of the Edwin D. Pickett Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, Ridgefield’s organization for Civil War veterans.
John H. Davis: Kennedy and Mafia biographer
Though a New Yorker by birth and primary residence, author John H. Davis spent many summers and vacations in Ridgefield where his mother, Maude Bouvier Davis, had homes on East Ridge and later New Street. An aunt of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, she had summered here for nearly three quarters of a century before her death in 1999. A cum laude Princeton graduate, Mr. Davis was a naval officer and a Fulbright scholar, living for many years in Italy where he co-founded the American Studies Center in Naples. His biographies have documented the Kennedy and Bouvier families, as well as mobsters, and in some books, joins the two (claiming, for instance, that the Kennedy brothers accepted campaign contributions from the head of the Chicago underworld). His books have included The Bouviers: Portrait of an American Family (1969), The Guggenheims: An American Epic (1978), The Kennedys: Dynasty and Disaster (1984), Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1989), Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family (1993), Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir (1996), and Twilight of the Godfathers (2000).
Morton Dean: Covering the World
He's standing in front of a live camera in Belgrade, describing the missiles that exploded in the background. It’s a frightening scene, but one not unusual for Morton Dean, a veteran of more than 40 years in radio and television journalism – often covering combat. It’s also a far cry from the quiet life of his hometown of Ridgefield where Mr. Dean can be seen jogging along Main Street. A native of Fall River, Mass., Mr. Dean graduated from Emerson College in Boston in 1957, began reporting news for radio stations, but by 1967, had joined CBS television news. After 20 years as a correspondent and anchorman for CBS, he joined ABC where he can now be seen on the Evening News with Peter Jennings. Over his career Mr. Dean has covered wars, the civil rights struggle, every election from Nixon to Clinton, space missions, riots, and legislative battles. He’s reported on combat in Vietnam, the Middle East, Grenada, Dominican Republic, Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere. He was the first TV correspondent in Kuwait City after the Iraqi invasion. His datelines have included Moscow, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Baghdad, Jordan, Lima, Havana, Bolivia, El Salvador, and, of course, Vietnam. "Open a world map, throw a dart, and he’s been there," said one writer. His honors include an Emmy, an Overseas Press Club Award, and a UPI Golden Mike Award. A collection of his essays has been published as Hello World! (1977). The journalist is also author of another book that has nothing to do with his news reporting; The Return to Glory Days (1997) is a guide to diagnosing and preventing sports injuries for people over 30. Mr. Dean is also a frequent speaker at universities and conventions. And you might even find him having a bit of fun at the circus. The holder of an honorary degree from the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Clown College, Mr. Dean performs occasionally as a Ringling clown at least once a year. "It's my Walter Mitty side," he told an interviewer.
S.S. Denton: Uncanny Businessman
During the first half of the century, S.S. Denton was, The Press said, "Ridgefield’s best-known business man" who had "a keen business sense and an uncanny system of calculating the future." Samuel Scribner Denton, born in South Salem in 1865, grew up in Ridgefield and by the 1890s, sold coal and wood. In 1910, he bought the block of stores and offices where Subway is now, and his name can still be seen under the paint high on the façade. He was active in real estate, sold fuel oil, farm machinery and insurance, maintained a car repair garage, and was vice-president of the Ridgefield Bank. He was a state representative (1912), served on the school board, and was active in the Republican Party. He was also very careful with money and wouldn’t hesitate to stop and pick up a penny on the sidewalk. He also had a dry sense of humor. "Coming home from work with pockets full of nails, screws, keys and the kind of miscellaneous junk a man collects during the day, he spread the whole lot on the kitchen table, much to Mrs. Denton’s displeasure," The Press once reported. "Fingering the conglomeration he presently remarked: ‘Now just look here, Lena, see what I found in my pocket.’ It was an expensive diamond ring, the engagement ring he had wanted to buy her many years earlier." He died in 1944 at 79.
Edwina Eustis Dick: Contralto Who Cared
Edwina Eustis Dick was a singer who spent as much time helping others as she did at her career. Born in New York, Mrs. Dick was one of the youngest singers to win a scholarship to Juilliard. A contralto, she sang leading roles with opera companies in New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and other cities, and was a soloist with the New York Philharmonic and other leading orchestras, singing under Stokowski, Toscanini, Reiner, Iturbi, and Metropoulos. (Her voice can still be heard on Sony Masterworks recordings.) In the 1930s, she worked with the Musicians Emergency Aid to help create jobs for unemployed musicians. During World War II, Miss Eustis performed more than 1,000 times during a two and a half year USO tour that took her to all five Atlantic and three Pacific theatres. She also sang before the Shah of Iran and King Farouk in anti-German propaganda concerts. After the war, she undertook a pioneering project at a Long Island hospital in music therapy for the mentally ill, which led to doctors' classifying music as "therapy." She also trained young musicians in the new field of music therapy, and an annual scholarship in her name is offered by the American Music Therapy Association. Both locally and nationally, Mrs. Dick and her husband, attorney Alexander C. Dick, were active in Republican politics. She lived for many years from the 1950s through the 1980s on Old Branchville Road, and died in Southbury in 1997 at the age of 88. A road built in 1999 on part of her former homestead was named Eustis Lane.
Al Diniz: Soccer player and supporter
In Al Diniz’s first seven seasons as head coach, the Ridgefield High boys soccer team won just 29 games. But in 1980, the Tigers made the state tournament — and they haven’t missed it since. Under Mr. Diniz’s guidance, Ridgefield has qualified for States in each of the past 21 years, including the 2000 season. The Tigers won back-to-back state Class LL championships in 1983 and 1984 and have twice been runners-up. Ridgefield has also won three Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference titles, the most recent coming in 1989. A native of Portugal who came to America in 1948 at age 15, Mr. Diniz was also instrumental in establishing the Soccer Club of Ridgefield — along with John Kreisher and Jack Hughes — in 1975. Since then the club has provided a fertile feeder program for the high school. Mr. Diniz has coached two players (Curt Onalfo and Kevin Wylie) who played professionally in the MLS (Major League Soccer) and many others who competed for Division I colleges. He has received numerous coaching honors, including the Connecticut Soccer Coaches Association Coach of the Year award and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Coach of the Year for New England. A soccer field built in 1981 next to the skating rink was named for Mr. Diniz.—T.M.
Judge Joseph H. Donnelly: The first lawyer
Although the town was more than two centuries old when he arrived in 1931, Joseph H. Donnelly was Ridgefield’s first full-time practicing attorney. (By his death in March 1992, three dozen had offices in town.) An astute real estate investor as well as a successful lawyer, Judge Donnelly was the town’s 10th highest taxpayer at the time of his death. He built the shopping center that Hay Day anchors, owned Main Street retail buildings, subdivided such areas as Donnelly Drive (his old farm), Marcardon Avenue, and the Scodon area (he’s the don; bank president Carlton Scofield was the Sco). From 1935 to 1948, Judge Donnelly was the town attorney and was instrumental in getting zoning adopted. He was probate judge (whence the title) from 1941 to 1949, served on the Police Commission, was state representative from 1939 to 1941, and often moderated Town Meetings. He aided people-helping efforts like the Salvation Army, visiting nurses, and fire department. He "helped an awful lot of people – behind the scenes," his partner, Paul S. McNamara, told The Press. "He was reserved and preferred to remain anonymous."
George Doubleday: Master of Westmoreland
George Doubleday was the once-famous, rich and powerful head of Ingersoll-Rand Corporation, but his legacy in Ridgefield is a house of worship and a neighborhood. Born in 1866, Mr. Doubleday made Ridgefield his home for 40 years, buying the former Francis Bacon home, Nutholme, on Peaceable Street in 1915, and over the years, buying up much of the neighboring land -- mostly to the west and thus his new name for the estate, Westmoreland. Mr. Doubleday joined Ingersoll Sergeant Drill Company in 1894 as an auditor, soon became treasurer, and when it consolidated into Ingersoll-Rand in 1905, was a vice-president. By 1913, he was president, a post he held till 1935. He was chairman of the board till 1955, the year he died at the age of 89. In 1939, the House Ways and Means Committee listed the highest salaried men in the nation, and Mr. Doubleday, at the then-tidy sum of $78,000, was the only Ridgefielder on it. In town, he was president of the nearby Ridgefield Golf Club for many years and his first wife, Alice Moffitt Doubleday, was active in the Ridgefield Garden Club and sang in St. Mary's Choir. (Her sister was Mrs. John H. Lynch, whose West Mountain mansion is now the Congregation of Notre Dame motherhouse.) After she died, he married his secretary, Mary White, and she too was active in the garden club and was a founder of the Boys Club. In the early 1960s, the family offered the town 250 acres of Westmoreland, some of which could have been used for a multiple school campus; town fathers turned it down as expensive and unnecessary. A Massachusetts firm subdivided it into 150 house lots, which Jerry Tuccio developed. In the early 1970s, the manor house was acquired by Temple Shearith Israel, which still uses it as the congregation's temple and school.
John Edward Dowling: Jewel of a Jurist
John Edward "Eddie" Dowling, one of only a couple of Ridgefield natives to return to town to practice law, may also be Ridgefield’s favorite – and most entertaining – attorney. "He’s the sweetest guy around," said Superior Court Judge Patricia Geen at a 1985 dinner in his honor. He’s a "classic Irishman, a rare jewel," added Judge Howard J. Moraghan. Born in 1922 on High Ridge, Mr. Dowling grew up here, drove a school bus while attending Danbury State Teachers College, and went off to war in 1942. There he won the Soldiers Medal, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for heroism displayed in April 1945 when his anti-tank gun was blown off a road in France. Though he suffered shrapnel wounds to his back and lung, he dragged two of his comrades to safety. (A modest man, Mr. Dowling rarely talked of his war exploits and did not even receive his medals till 40 years after the war.) Following his discharge, he obtained a law degree from Fordham, and spent three years as an FBI agent in Illinois and Texas. He returned to town in 1950 and accomplished the then-incredible: As a Democrat he was elected judge of probate (the previous Democrat to win the office was D. Smith Sholes in 1879.) Judge Dowling continued to practice law here for most of the next half century, but also served the community as a member of the Board of Finance and the Veterans Park School Building Committee, as town attorney in the late 1960s, and as chief prosecutor in the Danbury Circuit Court. Famed for his sharp, wry wit, he has regaled many with tales from his long career. Some tell of his FBI days, such as the time, in a Midwestern field, he stalked a criminal who turned out to be a scarecrow. Some describe his unusual law cases, such as the Bethel woman who left her sizable estate to a name she discovered using a Ouija board. And many are about life in Ridgefield, such as the time a well-known clergyman, who had been complaining for weeks about a pothole at a local gas station, grabbed a pole and went "fishing" in it to emphasize his point. But most of all, he’s remembered as a caring man. "He’s helped Ridgefield a lot," The Press once said. "He’s one of the nicest guys in town, and if somebody needs a lawyer and can’t afford to pay, he’s the one most apt to help."
Paul Draper: Blacklisted Aristocrat of Tap
One of the most famous dancers of the 20th Century, Paul Draper was known as the "aristocrat of tap." Born in 1909, his career blossomed in the 30s and 40s, and crashed in the 50s when he was blacklisted as a Communist. Mr. Draper had danced at Carnegie Hall, at the Rainbow Room, and in the movies. He often appeared with his friend, one-time Ridgefielder Larry Adler, the noted harmonica player; their team grossed over $100,000 a year for more than a decade, an amazing sum for an act that appeared on the concert stage. But his support of South Salem's Henry Wallace, Progressive Party candidate for president in 1948, and his being a spokesman for a committee of actors, writers and producers opposed the House Committee on Un-American Activities led to his being blacklisted. In 1949. Mr. Draper moved to Branchville Road, leasing a place from noted ballet leader Martha Krueger. As the controversy grew, so did Mr. Draper's disenchantment with it and in 1951 he moved to Switzerland. He returned to the U.S. in the 70s to teach at Carnegie-Mellon University, and died in 1996 in Woodstock, N.Y., at the age of 86.
E. P. Dutton: Devout Publisher
Edward Payson Dutton has left the world with countless books and Ridgefield with one of its finest mansions. The founder of the publishing company that bore his name for more than a century lived and died in Ridgefield. Born in New Hampshire in 1831, Mr. Dutton grew up in Boston and when only 21, he and a partner formed Ide and Dutton, booksellers. In 1852, this became E.P. Dutton & Company, which Mr. Dutton moved to New York in 1869. In addition to the longstanding E.P. Dutton imprint, he had bought Ticknor & Fields, a Boston publisher, and acquired American rights to the British series, Everyman's Library, under which his company turned out scores of affordable titles. In the early 1890s, Mr. Dutton decided to build a house on High Ridge, and hired Ridgefield's top builder. "Big Jim" Kennedy spent two years carefully erecting the place, which still stands at 63 High Ridge. (In the 1970s, reported Historian Dick Venus, someone did a surveyor's sighting from the front door to the back door of this house and found less than a quarter inch difference, despite the huge weight of the mansion whose roof alone is nearly the size of a football field.) A deeply religious Episcopalian who was a benefactor of St. Stephen's, Mr. Dutton would often drive his horse and buggy into the woods of town where he would park, meditate, and read his breviary. "I have his breviary," wrote Mr. Venus in the 1980s, "and it is one of my prized possessions. The name E.P. Dutton is emblazoned in gold on the cover of this fine book and you just know who the publisher was." In 1912, he joined others in contributing the money to buy the village land on which the big, brick East Ridge School, later the Ridgefield High School, was built in 1915. Mr. Dutton died here in 1923, but his firm continued on until the 1990s when it was acquired by Penguin Putnam, which still uses the Dutton imprint on some of its books.
Bernard Dzielinski: The Cat in the Chair
Bernard P. Dzielinski, who's chaired several agencies in town, often breaks out in a big grin that over the years has been likened to that of Lewis Carroll's Cheshire Cat. But it's always a warm smile from a man who has won much respect and many friends as a leader in town government and politics. A Connecticut native and UConn graduate, Mr. Dzielinski was an IBM program and product administrator before his retirement in the late 1980s. He and his wife Shirley -- a teacher at Veterans Park School for many years -- came to Ridgefield in 1968 and almost immediately he became active in the Democratic Town Committee. In 1973, he was elected its chairman and that same year, the party won one of its most spectacular victories, putting Louis J. Fossi in the first selectman's office and Lillian Moorhead on the Board of Selectmen -- Democrats controlled the town administration, despite Ridgefield's two-to-one Republican majority. Mr. Dzielinski led the party for 10 years, retiring in 1983 so he could run for the Board of Selectmen, which was being expanded from three to five members. "I've paid my dues," he said then of his "backstage" role, "and now it's time for Bernie to have some fun." He remained a selectman until 1988 when, an economist by training, he was appointed to a vacancy on the Board of Finance. In the 1989 election, his name was accidentally left off the ballot, creating one of Ridgefield's more unusual election situations. No one else was running for his seat, so he filed papers as a write-in candidate who needed only one write-in vote to win. And he did win, with many more than one vote. Soon after, he was elected chairman of the finance board, a position he's held ever since. Mr. Dzielinski had earlier served 12 years on the town's Pension Commission, eight of them as chairman. He was president of the Babe Ruth Baseball League for two years and coached in the Ridgefield Townies Basketball League. Over the years, Mr. Dzielinski has always been known for his fairness. He once advised a successor to "try to keep a balance in your perspective on questions and issues being raised. It's fine to look totally from a partisan point of view, but sometimes you must bite your tongue."
Myles Eason: Actor with a Green Thumb
Myles Eason, an actor and director on three continents, had a different claim to fame in Ridgefield: he was the only male member of the Ridgefield Garden Club. "Being Australian and English, he had ten green thumbs," said fellow club member Edith Meffley (q.v.) when he died in 1977. Born in Australia in 1915, Mr. Eason spent eight years in the Royal Artillery, serving in World War II with the famed "Desert Rats" in Africa and with Field Marshal Montgomery. In 1946, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-on-Avon, and was named actor of the year by The London Times for performances as Romeo and Richard II. On stage and in films in both England and the U.S., Mr. Eason appeared with Margaret Rutherford, Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne, Claudette Colbert, and Sir John Gielgud. He directed Joseph Cotton, Thomas Mitchell and Agnes Moorehead in the mystery play, Prescription: Murder. On television he appeared in the soap operas, As the World Turns and The Guiding Light. He and his wife, Kathleen, moved to Golf Lane, in 1964 and later lived on Olmstead Lane. He gave readings locally, performing with such groups as the Charles Pope Choristers. But he was famous for his gardening abilities. "He had an uncanny knack for growing things," said Ballard Greenhouse Director Terry Keller. "His pride and joy were leeks and endives and the flowers in his garden were sensational." At his funeral in 1977, fellow Australian Cyril Ritchard (q.v.) read the eulogy, and pallbearers included director Morton DaCosta, director of the films The Music Man and Auntie Mame.
Ralph Edwards: Truth or Consequences
Ralph Edwards, a leading personality in both radio and early television who is still a force in TV today, lived in Ridgefield for 12 years, but first met the town in a war bond drive. A native of Colorado, Mr. Edwards got his start in radio as a writer and an announcer, and in 1940, invented one of the most successful on-air programs ever: Truth or Consequences. On radio and early television, Mr. Edwards both produced and starred in the quiz show that was so popular, Hot Springs, New Mexico, changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950; a park there is named Ralph Edwards Park. In December 1944, Mr. Edwards ran a Truth or Consequences show at the Ridgefield Playhouse (now Webster Bank) as part of a war bond rally. The radio show continued till 1957, but the TV version, mostly starring Edwards' discovery Bob Barker, ran from 1950 to 1988 – altogether, nearly a half century. He also created such long-running shows as This Is Your Life and Name That Tune. In 1958, Edwards and his wife, Barbara, bought a house on the corner of North Street and Stonecrest Road, and lived there off and on until 1971, by which time he moved to Hollywood. There he and a partner concocted the long-running The People’s Court. In 1999, he was 86, living in Beverly Hills, and still active in TV production.
Geraldine Farrar: Great Voice and Fine Human
On the night Geraldine Farrar died in 1967, the Metropolitan Opera was performing Madama Butterfly, an opera Miss Farrar had starred in nearly 100 times. One of the Met's greatest lyric sopranos, Miss Farrar had spent 16 years with the company, singing the leads in Madama Butterfly, Carmen, Tosca, and many other productions. "Miss Farrar was the last of a great operatic tradition set by such stars as Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti," The Press said in her obituary. Born in Massachusetts in 1882, she was a daughter of Sidney Farrar, a 19th Century baseball player with the Philadephia Phillies, who later lived on North Salem Road. He and his wife, both church singers, sent Geraldine to singing lessons when she was 12. In 1901, she made her debut with the Royal Opera in Berlin and so impressed Lilli Lehmann that the star took Miss Farrar as a pupil. She went on to sing with companies all over Europe. She made her acclaimed debut with the Met in 1906, and over the following years, shared leading roles with such greats as Caruso, Scotti, and Louise Homer. She knew many notables in the arts, including Camille Saint-Sains, Giacomo Puccini, Mark Twain, Sarah Bernhardt, Nellie Melba, Fritz Kreisler, and Jules Massenet. She made several films, including Carmen and Joan of Arc, and wrote two autobiographies, Geraldine Farrar: The Story of An American Singer (1916) and Such Sweet Compulsion (1938). When she sang her last role in 1922, "a cheering crowd surged forward shouting her name," The Press said. "Outside 40th Street between Broadway and Eight was a solid mass of fans." After her retirement she moved to Fairhaven, a large home on West Lane. In 1954, she and her companion of 50 years, Miss Sylvia Blein, moved to a much smaller place on New Street. During her years here she did much work for the Red Cross, and during the war, drove for the American Women's Voluntary Services and served on the War Price and Ration Board. She helped the Girls Scouts and served as finance chairman of the organization. At her death at 85, The Press suggested her epitaph might be a sentiment she herself once expressed: "Far more important than being a great artist is to become a great human being."
Howard Fast: Prolific Novelist
Ridgefield has been home to countless writers, but none as prolific as Howard Fast. The high school drop-out published his first novel in 1933 -- before he was 20 -- and by the turn of the 21st Century, had written more than 75 books under his own name and a few mysteries as E.V. Cunningham. Literally millions of copies of Fast titles have been printed in a dozen languages, and many stay in print for years. Despite all this output, he takes time out to write a regular column for his local paper in Greenwich. "Howard is bored to death when he's not writing," said his wife, Bette, in a 1989 Press interview. Born in 1914 in New York City, the son of a factory worker, Mr. Fast joined the Communist Party in the 1930s, a fact that later got him blacklisted; even his famous patriotic book, Citizen Tom Paine (1943), long a classroom classic, was banned for a while in the New York City schools because he was a Communist. He was jailed for three months in 1950 for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1952, he ran for Congress on the American Labor Party ticket and in 1954 won the Stalin Peace Prize. But in 1956, he broke with the Communist Party and began a renewed career. Many of his books have been made into movies; the most famous is Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus, starring Kirk Douglas. Mr. Fast lived on Florida Hill Road in the 1960s and early 1970s, and among the books he wrote while here was The Hessian (1972), a Revolutionary War novel set in and about Ridgefield. As are several of his classics, it is still taught in many schools today. Among his other popular books, mostly historical novels, are Freedom Road, April Morning, and The Last Frontier. The Fasts now live in Greenwich and in 2000, he produced a novel entitled Greenwich.
Robert Fawcett: Illustrator's Illustrator
Throughout much of his career, Robert Fawcett was known as an "illustrator's illustrator." He did paintings for virtually every magazine of note in the country, illustrated books, and wrote about his craft -- his book On the Art of Drawing (1958) was popular for years. In 1947, he and 11 other artists founded the Famous Artists Schools, headquartered in Westport (and now home of Save the Children). Born near London, England, in 1903, he came to Winnipeg, Canada, in 1917 with his family. His father, an amateur artist, passed on a love of art in his son. At the age of 14, Mr. Fawcett quit school to work for an engraver, soon moved to New York and earned enough money working in art studios to spend two years studying art at London University. He returned to the States in 1924 and at first viewed commercial art with youthful scorn, working at it only to earn enough money to live while doing "serious" painting. But his commercial work began to sell and he eventually became one of the most popular magazine illustrators in the country. In later life, he viewed commercial painting with more respect. "Art is where you find it," he said, "and the open, acceptant mind will as easily find it in a modest effort in some remote corner of a publication as in the collections now presented in the popular art galleries. When a patronizing layman says, 'You are a commercial artist,' I am sorely tempted to say, 'Yes -- like Rembrandt!' " A member of the National Academy of Design and a leading figure in the Society of Illustrators, he and his wife Agnes came to Ridgefield around 1940. Over the years, he frequently participated in and commented on town affairs, often writing letters to the editors of The Press on politics, zoning, and the schools. He lived on Nod Hill Road until his death in 1967 at the age of 64. His former home is now slated to be the Visitor Center for Weir Farm National Historic Site.
Harvey Fierstein: Celebrating Individuality
Actor, playwright, comedian, and gay activist Harvey Fierstein added good humor and social enlightenment to the last decade of 20th Century Ridgefield. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1954, Mr. Fierstein became in 1983 the only person to win Tony awards as both the playwright and the actor in the same production. The acclaimed Torch Song Trilogy is about a homosexual man struggling to live in New York. "Everyone wants what Arnold wants, an apartment they can afford, a job they don’t hate too much, a chance to go to the store once in a while, and someone to share it with," he once said of the protagonist. A year after Torch Song, he won a third Tony for his Broadway adaptation of La Cage Aux Folles. Mr. Fierstein has appeared in many movies and on television, where he has both written and starred in productions -- he won an Emmy nomination for a part he played in Cheers, the TV series. His film credits include such hits as Mrs. Doubtfire, Independence Day and Woody Allen's Bullets over Broadway. He wrote the 1999 HBO animated feature film, The Sissy Duckling, which in July 2000 won a prestigious Humanitas Prize, given to stories that celebrate, affirm, probe, and reveal the humanity in people. He encourages and celebrates human individuality. "If we’re all the same, there’ll never be any progress," he told The Press. "There’ll never be another Einstein, another Edison…" Mr. Fierstein has crusaded for gay rights and for safe sex – his play, Safe Sex, appeared on Broadway in 1987. As a Ridgefielder, he has spearheaded efforts to help AIDS patients, particularly at Bread & Roses, a hospice in Georgetown. He has also led gay pride celebrations here, and has periodically contributed lively and incisive letters to The Press on gay issues, such as when several letter writers used scripture to maintain homosexuality is wrong. "Quoting scripture to cover up prejudice is like spraying perfume on a dung heap," Mr. Fierstein wrote in response. "In time, the truth will set itself free."
Harold E. Finch: GOP Leader
When he died in 1952, The Press called Harold Everett Finch one of Ridgefield’s "prominent and colorful sons," a leader in both the business and political communities. Born here in 1886, he was the longtime owner of the United Cigar Store on Main Street, a predecessor of the Ridgefield News Store, then Ridgefield News and Office Supply. At the same time, he was also a well-known real estate agent. Mr. Finch was chairman of the Republican Town Committee for 16 years, retiring in 1946, and had served two years as a state representative. At the time of his death, he was clerk of the Danbury Traffic Court, a job he’d held for 16 years. His son, Lewis J. Finch (below), has also been active in the community.
Lewis Finch: Community Leader
The middle generation of a family of village businessmen, Lewis J. Finch has been a leader in the commercial and civic life of the community since the 1930s. Born here in 1916, Bub Finch graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1935, went to business school, and then joined his father, Harold (above) in operating United Cigar Store. During the war he worked in the defense industry -- in the process, breathing asbestos for three years -- and then went into the building and real estate businesses. From the 1940s until the 1980s, he created many subdivisions and built scores of houses. Among his many projects were Chestnut Hills Estates, Rolling Hills, Hunter Heights, Colonial Heights, and many smaller subdivisions here and in New York state. Since the 1980s, much of his real estate work has been taken over by his son, Barry, although he still owns several commercial and residential buildings. Like his dad, Bub Finch was chairman of the Republican Town Committee. He was also president of the Ridgefield Boys Club, president of the Ridgefield Library board of trustees, chairman of the board of the Village Bank and Trust Company (now Webster Bank), president of the Lions Club, and is a trustee of St. Mary's Church.
Marcus Fischer: Orchestra Builder
In late 1964 five local musicians -- Marcus and Marguerite Fischer, Agathea Filgate, George Leeman Sr. (q.v.), and Bill Rodier (q.v.) -- conceived of starting an orchestra. In December 1964, Mr. Fischer placed an advertisement in The Press saying, "Starting a symphony orchestra in Ridgefield. All interested instrumentalists phone Marcus Fischer for time and place of first rehearsal." The Ridgefield Symphonette made its debut on April 5, 1965 in Veterans Park School with 20 players, ranging from high school students to eight professional musicians. Marguerite Fischer was concertmaster. On April 8, 1965, The Press reported that the "audience ... filled Cleves Auditorium and overflowed into the halls. ... Mr. Fischer was ‘delighted at so many contributions of $25 and over.' " Born in 1918 in Kansas City, Mo., Mr. Fischer studied at the Curtis Institute and then served in a Navy band aboard an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during World War II. From 1946 to 1961, he was a French horn player with the New York Philharmonic. Like her husband, Marguerite Fischer was also trained at the Curtis Institute -- Leopold Stokowski had sponsored her education there -- and she was a free-lance violinist with major orchestras, including Stokowski's American Symphony and the New York Philharmonic. They had moved to town in 1958 and Mr. Fischer taught instrumental music for two years at Ridgefield High School, then in North Salem schools. Mr. Fischer served as the symphonette's first president, and first conductor and music director. When it started, the board of directors had nine members, and the budget was $3,000. The symphonette eventually became the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, which today has 72 professional musicians, 32 board members, an annual budget of $235,000, and frequently plays to full houses. It created the Marcus Fischer Chair, occupied by the lead French horn player. Mr. Fischer died in 1969. Marguerite Fischer, who now lives in Danbury, has played in the orchestra off and on for 30 years.
Ira Joe Fisher: Renaissance Weatherman
Ira Joe Fisher is a TV weather reporter with a difference. The Buffalo-born journalist majored in Russian and drama, became a Texas radio disk jockey, wrote for a Spokane magazine, and eventually went to work as a weather and feature reporter for a Cincinnati TV station, winning two Emmys there for his writing. He moved to WABC TV in New York in 1983, worked with Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford, switched to WNBC for a while, and since 1995 has been at WCBS, where he's been doing both local and network weather and feature reports ever since. Mr. Fisher has also flirted with the stage: He performed off-Broadway in The Fantasticks in 1996. However, in Ridgefield, to which he and his wife Sherry moved in 199-[?], he's well known as an emcee, volunteering his services for many fund-raising auctions and dinners. Mr. Fisher is also well-known as a poet and poetry lecturer and has given several lectures at the library on such topics as the nature of poetry or Robert Frost ("Frost is my god, my poetry god … He's just a wonderful home base for poetry."). He does readings of his own work, too. "Every day, I think, all of us see poetry," he told a library gathering in 1998. "Some of us are moved to make poetry out of what we see."
Louis J. Fossi: King Lou
"Lou Fossi’s fingerprints are all over Ridgefield," The Press once wrote. He sold shoes, insurance, groceries, and real estate. He served on the town boards, and then for eight years became one of the most popular first selectmen. A native son who devoted most of his life to his community, Louis J. Fossi graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1949 and served in the Air Force where he met his wife, Anne, an Alabama native. He returned to town with his bride in 1955 and worked at Fossi’s Footwear and at selling insurance for Prudential. He later operated the Wayside Market on Danbury Road, opposite Grove Street. Always civic minded, he was active in scouting and other community organizations, but in the early 60s, "I ran for public office – got crazy, lost my head," he joked many years later. "God almighty, I can’t imagine doing that again." He served on the Board of Finance for two years, then eight years on the Board of Selectmen. In 1973, he was elected first selectman, one of those uncommon but popular Democrats who can win handily in this largely Republican town. Two months after he took office, nature gave him his first test as a leader – a December 1973 ice storm devastated the area, knocking out power for as much as a week in some areas while temperatures dipped to minus 2. There followed constant budget battles and problems with school closings. But his administration had many accomplishments: it built Ballard Green, helped bring Boehringer Ingelheim to town, replaced the dump with a transfer station, moved the police into their own headquarters, and found new uses for the almost crumbling old high school. Campaigns were lively. One year, Republicans slighted his years as a grocery store owner, saying a sophisticated town couldn’t be run like "a mom and pop store." Another year, they characterized him as too dictatorial, calling him King Lou -- for years afterward, his friends gave him crowns, scepters and other symbols of royalty as joke gifts. Mr. Fossi always won re-election by wide margins. Retiring in 1981, he worked in real estate until moving to warmer North Carolina in 1997. "You have to take your hat off to the people that run this town, whether it’s the boards and commissions or the garden clubs, whatever," he said in an interview just before moving. "They do make it a very, very attractive town to live in. Maybe we ought to pause and say ‘thank you’ some time."
Pat Freeman: Ridgefield's Cheerleader
To many a kid, she was the lady who ran the toy store. But to many a merchant, Pat Freeman has been a primary force behind the Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce for more than 30 years. A Ridgefielder since 1962, Mrs. Freeman and her husband, Jim, owned the Ridgefield Sport and Toy Caboose from 1966 to 1987, first on Prospect Street and later on Governor Street. Since then, they've operated a real estate firm. Throughout that period -- and in the years after, Mrs. Freeman was active in the chamber, including serving as its president and, for many years, on the board. Among her innovations were the very popular Halloween Walk and the gift certificate program. And she has always sung the praises of the town. "Ridgefield is really America the way it should be," she told The Press in 1990. "The town has always had a very strong community spirit." In 1997, when the Chamber of Commerce decided to give an annual Chamber Choice Award to a business person who has made significant contributions to the commerce of the town, Pat Freeman was chosen the first winner -- from 13 nominees. The Freemans moved to Cape Cod in 1999.
John Frey: GOP Star
A choir trip to the Vatican helped create one of Ridgefield's most dedicated Republicans out of a young Democrat. As an 11-year-old boy, John Frey had been a member of St. Mary's Little Singers (see Father Francis Medynski) and got to perform at the Vatican in 1974. Elizabeth Leonard, a local Republican leader, was a chaperone. "I liked her, got involved in her campaigns and in 1983 got on the Republican Town Committee," he said -- noting that first he had to switch his affiliation from the Democratic Party. Two years later, the 22-year-old ran Mrs. Leonard's campaign for first selectman. "To me she was not only a political mentor until she passed away, she was like a life mentor." Born in Greenwich in 1963, Mr. Frey came to town when he was three years old. His father died five years later, and the family became especially close-knit to overcome the hardship of his loss. After attending WestConn, he began a career in real estate; he is now co-owner of Century 21 Landmark Properties -- a firm he founded with his longtime friend, former Democratic First Selectman Louis J. Fossi (q.v.). A tireless party worker, he's been on the Republican State Central Committee since 1989, ran the campaigns of Mrs. Leonard and later of Sue Manning for first selectman, led the Dole campaign in the Fifth Congressional District, was a member of the Platform Committee at the Republican National Convention in 1996, and has worked for many other candidates. In 1995, Governor Rowland appointed him chairman of the State Real Estate Commission and he is on the advisory board of the UConn Business School Center for Real Estate and Economic Studies. In 1998, he won the job of Ridgefield's representative in the State House of Representatives, a post he holds today. Locally, he has been chairman of the Parking Authority, is a director of the Visiting Nurse Association, was president of the Ridgefield Workshop for the Performing Arts, and has been active in the Chamber of Commerce, Community Center, and Ridgefield Arts Council.
Armando Frulla: Paratrooper
Three Ridgefielders were in the same division of paratroopers who repeatedly jumped into European war zones after D-Day: Lester Hunt, who became a prisoner of war; Dominic Bedini, whose leg was broken in a jump in Belgium, and Private First Class Armando Frulla, who was killed in Belgium Jan. 13, 1945. The Ridgefield native had enlisted in 1941, served for a while in the medical corps, but then decided to become a paratrooper. He landed in France on D-Day and had fought there and in Holland and Belgium. Two years after the war ended, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Frulla, had his remains transferred from the American cemetery at Grand Failly, France, to St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Varian Fry: Among the Righteous
When he lived in Ridgefield, Varian Fry rarely talked about World War II, much less his part in it. He was more likely to chat about his irises or perhaps the state of classics instruction at Ridgefield High School. But by the late 1990s, 20 years after his death, Mr. Fry was being recognized around the world as one of the unsung heroes of the war. A non-Jew, Mr. Fry is credited with saving the lives of some 2,000 Jewish artists, writers and scholars wanted by the Nazis. As a volunteer agent for the World Rescue Committee, this scholarly intellectual spent 14 months in Marseilles in 1940 and 1941, sneaking out countless Jews and others wanted by the Nazis – among them painter Marc Chagall, sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, and painter-poet Max Ernst. His exploits – and his lack of support from the U.S. government which helped to get him expelled from France -- are detailed in his 1945 book, Surrender on Demand, reissued in 1997. His story has been told in major exhibits at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington (1993-94) and The Jewish Museum in New York City (1997-98). France awarded him the Legion of Honor in 1960, and in 1996, Israel posthumously gave him the "Righteous Among the Nations" award, presented to gentiles who helped to save Jews; he was the first American ever so honored. At the ceremony, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher apologized for Fry’s treatment by the U.S. government. In 2000, both a biography (A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry) and a movie – a Showtime film starring William Hurt as Fry and produced by Barbra Streisand – were done about his rescue work, and he was being heralded through exhibits on three continents. Mr. Fry, a writer and editor, lived on Olmstead Lane and later in Farmingville from 1956 until shortly before his death in Easton in 1967.
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