Jolie Gabor, the colorful mother of the even more colorful Gabor sisters -- Eva, Magda and Zsa-Zsa -- considered her home in Ridgefield a quiet retreat compared to her places on Long Island and in California. "I only get a chance to play bridge in Ridgefield because the social life is so busy in Southampton and Palm Springs," Ms. Gabor once said. She was born Jansci Tilleman in Budapest in 1900 -- her wealthy parents, wanting a boy, named her Jansci -- Johnny. She became a socialite, musician and actress and, in 1936, age 35 and married, was selected Miss Hungary. She came to the United States in 1939; when she arrived she had only $100 and a diamond ring. However, she was hardly without means -- daughter Zsa Zsa, who arrived earlier, was married to Conrad Hilton, the hotel owner. With Zsa Zsa's help, she established a Madison Avenue jewelry business that thrived off the reputations of her increasingly popular and marriage-prone daughters. At one point, among the four of them, the Gabors had had 21 husbands. Actor George Sanders was married to both Magda and Zsa Zsa and was attracted to Jolie. "You know, Jolie," he once wrote her, "I think marriage is for very simple people, not great artists like us." Zsa Zsa, on the other hand, observed of Sanders: "When I was married to George Sanders, we were both in love with him. I fell out of love with him, but he didn't." In 1966, Jolie and her husband, Count Odon de Szigethy, bought a modest home on Oscaleta Road and immediately set about glamorizing the place. "I like to make from a nothing something," she told The Press. The de Szigethys sold the place in 1970 and Ms. Gabor died in 1997 in California at the age of 96.
"Education was my family's business, over many years and playing many roles in many places," Mary Hughes Boyce Gelfman once said. Since 1969, when she joined the Board of Education, Mrs. Gelfman has been promoting excellence in education here and in Connecticut. She served 11 years on the school board, including several as chairman, during some of the roughest periods the schools have faced. While doing that, she was also attending law school, earning a J.D. degree from the University of Connecticut in 1978 – the same time her oldest child graduated from Ridgefield High School. As an attorney, she worked for the State Department of Education from 1979 to 1984. She then maintained a solo law practice limited to school law from 1984 to 1991, while also teaching programs on school law and legal issues in special education for educators in school districts in Connecticut and other states. Since 1991, she has been a state Department of Education hearing officer, presiding over special education hearings and, since 1997, over expulsion hearings in state vocational-technical schools. She also writes about education legal issues for professional journals and is co-author of Educational Records: A Manual (1997) and Legal Issues in School Health Services (2000). One of five daughters of a physicist and an astronomer, Mrs. Gelfman was born in Boston in 1935, and graduated from high school in Illinois, and from Swarthmore College in 1957 with a history degree. She received a master's in education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and taught high school math in New York and Connecticut. Since she and her husband, Nelson (q.v.), moved to North Salem Road in 1964, she has been active in the League of Women Voters and the Women's Political Caucus, was a director of the Ridgefield Community Kindergarten, and served on the Flood and Erosion Control Board in the 1960s. A lifelong Democrat, she was a member of the Democratic Town Committee for eight years in the 1990s. “She is a passionate advocate of women in politics and has been a strong force within the Democratic Party for bringing women into the political process,” the Democrats said in 1999 when she retired from the committee.
When he was a younger commissioner attending meetings that would often last four or five hours, Nelson A. Gelfman, M.D., would doodle dozens of dragonlike creatures all over his agenda. It wasn’t that he was interested in monsters; Dr. Gelfman is a noted amateur herpetologist whose interests in reptiles and amphibians has helped him become one of the most outspoken forces of conservation in Ridgefield. Since 1967, Dr. Gelfman has served on the Planning and Zoning Commission, including a stint in the 1990s as chairman. That’s longer than anyone has ever served on the commission. He also spent five years on the Conservation Commission. Over the years he has been a leading spokesman for the preservation of open space, and for the protection of wetlands and waterways – including the ephemeral “vernal pools” so important to many forms of wildlife. "The main reason I'm on Planning and Zoning is to try to preserve the habitat," he said in a 1999 interview. Especially in the spring he gives many talks and walks on amphibians and reptiles. A longtime supporter of the schools, he served on the building committees that erected Branchville, Scotland and Barlow Mountain Schools (now the Recreation Center), and was also a member of the Democratic Town Committee in the 1960s and re-elected to the committee in 2000. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1927, he grew up in Caldwell, N.J., where he could expand his interests in nature, scouting (he was an Eagle Scout), and athletics (track and football). He received his bachelor's from Rutgers and, in 1954, his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a flight surgeon in the Air Force from 1956 to 1958, stationed for a while in Greenland. A pathologist, Dr. Gelfman came to Danbury Hospital in 1962 as assistant director of the laboratory and eventually became director of the Renal Dialysis Unit. He has been president of the hospital medical staff, an assistant clinical professor of pathology at Yale School of Medicine, and medical director of the pathology assistants program at Quinnipiac University. Although he retired in 1996, Dr. Gelfman has continued to provide weekend coverage in the dialysis unit and to teach at Yale and Quinnipiac. He is married to Mary Gelfman (q.v.), who has been active in the education community for many years.
Each day, 4,000 American women enter menopause, so it's no surprise that an organization that provides support for this often-upsetting change would find a lot of customers. But it is surprising that nothing existed until Karen Giblin came along. In 1991, while she was a selectman, Ms. Giblin had a total hysterectomy, plunging her into early menopause. "It was really disconcerting to me," she said. "It was frightening." She looked into available help, found little, and established a support group through the Visiting Nurse Association of Ridgefield. About 30 curious women came to the first meeting June 1, 1992. Attendance soon grew, and meetings were moved to larger quarters at Danbury Hospital, and the group called itself Red Hot Mamas, a humorous reference to the hot flashes that often accompany menopause. Word spread and Ms. Giblin, assisted by Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a menopause expert at Yale, began producing education materials. She founded Prime Plus/Red Hot Mamas, a menopause management education program that is now used across the country, often in association with hospitals. Ms. Giblin lectures widely and has appeared on television, radio, in many newspaper and magazine interviews, and even on a billboard in Manhattan. "We've mushroomed into the largest menopause education and support group in the country," she said in 1997. Born in 1950, Ms. Giblin grew up in Maryland, studied at Towson State College there and SUNY Stony Brook, and became a manpower official in the Baltimore city government. A Ridgefielder since 1981, Ms. Giblin served on the Democratic Town Committee, the League of Women Voters, worked on traffic studies, and was chairman of the Parking Authority before being elected a Democratic selectman in 1987. She served until 1993, then devoted fulltime to Prime Plus/Red Hot Mamas. In 1997, Governor John Rowland named her to the state's Permanent Commission on the Status of Women.
Albert Earl Gilbert, one of the nation’s leading wildlife artists, lived on Main Street in the 1960s and 70s. His work has appeared in many nature books, as well as the Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book Encyclopedia, on several federal duck stamps, and on many of the famous Christmas Wildlife Stamps of the National Wildlife Federation. Born in Chicago in 1939, Mr. Gilbert had no formal training in art, and taught himself to draw and paint. While freelancing as an artist, he worked as a naturalist with the Cook County Forest District, and used his field experiences there to increase the technical accuracy of his work. He has traveled extensively around the world, visiting many jungles and other remote regions to observe native wildlife. He has also served as president of the Society of Animal Artists. Today, living in Bridgewater, he continues to both paint and write about wildlife, and his work is in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, the Field Museum in Chicago, the National Wildlife Federation, and the National Audubon Society, among others.
In New York, his Woolworth Building – once the tallest in the world -- still dominates the skyline. In Washington, his Supreme Court building still stands strong. But in Ridgefield, Cass Gilbert is better known for the fountain he gave the town in 1915 that, despite some errant automobiles, still stands at Main Street and West Lane. Mr. Gilbert, who owned the Keeler Tavern as his summer home, was one of the most famous architects of the 20th Century, and designed many important buildings and bridges (including the U.S. Custom House in New York, the state capitols of Minnesota, Arkansas and West Virginia, the libraries of St. Louis and Detroit, and the campuses of the Universities of Texas and Minnesota). He was president of the National Academy of Design and appointed to the Council of Fine Arts by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson. He died in 1934 while on one of his frequent trips to England where he was held in such high esteem that he was elected to the Royal Academy of Arts, the only American since John Singer Sargent, the painter, to be so honored. Mr. Gilbert was not optimistic about the future of skyscrapers like his Woolworth Building, saying he was uncertain that form of architecture was “here to stay,” The Press reported in 1931. “When I see the long shadows cast even at noon on a winter’s day,” he said of the skyscraper, “I sometimes wonder if the light and air their occupants enjoy compensate for the sunlight their neighbors lose.”
Some say George Washington Gilbert snapped when he was deserted by his sweetheart. Others say he was just odd. For years he lived -- usually barefoot -- in his family homestead on Florida Hill Road as it fell down around him. Born in 1847, little is known of his early life until he began to attract attention as a hermit. Although he never came into town in his later life, he enjoyed visitors and hundreds of people called on him each year to hear him spin yarns or pose mathematical questions, such as "What is a third and a half of a third of ten?" Colonel Edward M. Knox, a wealthy businessman who had a 50-room mansion nearby, took pity on Gilbert, and built him a little cottage nearby. "This was cluttered with old newspapers and magazines, the furniture of his ancestors, and the old man's memorabilia," said The Press. Among his most prized possessions was a sword he said his grandfather had captured from a Hessian officer at the Battle of Monmouth during the Revolution. The sword is now in the collection of the Ridgefield Library. On Jan. 6, 1924, during a bitterly cold spell, a neighbor looked in on Mr. Gilbert and found him frozen to death. His gravestone in the Florida Cemetery on Route 7 reads "The Hermit of Ridgefield.”
Huntington Gilchrist, a man of many interests, had a unique career in international relations. A journalist, corporate executive, diplomat, soldier, educator, and political scientist, he was the only person from any nation to serve as a senior member of the international staff in the establishment and operation of both the League of Nations and the United Nations. Born in Boston in 1891, Mr. Gilchrist graduated from Williams, Harvard and Columbia, taught two years at universities in China, was an Army captain in France in World War I, and had a distinguished career with American Cyanamid Company from 1928 to 1955. From 1919 to 1928, he was the only American on the senior staff working to establish the League of Nations, and he then worked with the United Nations off and on from 1944 to 1957, helping draft the UN charter in 1945. In 1950, he went to Brussels as U.S. minister in charge of the Marshall Plan in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Belgian Congo. He represented the UN in Pakistan in the mid-1950s and helped found the International School in Geneva. He was a longtime trustee of the Brookings Institute, and wrote and lectured on foreign affairs and education. In 1960, 20 years after moving to Ridgebury, he was chairman of the 200th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Ridgebury Congregational Church. He died in 1975 at the age of 84.
Lillian Barnard Gilkes was a nationally recognized scholar, author and critic whose notoriety here was chiefly civic and political. "When I came to Ridgefield in 1942," she recalled, "the Democratic Party was underground; to be a Democrat carried a social stigma: merchants and tradespeople suffered a loss of business if affiliation with the minority party became known." She worked on presidential and congressional races and in 1947, helped Harry E. Hull (q.v.) become the first Democratic first selectman in decades. "It may truly be said, I think, that Harry Hull's leadership throughout that time has been a positive force in bringing about a more equitable balance of power between the parties in Ridgefield, certainly a much healthier state of things, if the two-party system is indeed the keystone of our political democracy." Born in 1903 in Jacksonville, Fla., Miss Gilkes studied and taught at Columbia and Hunter College, specializing in the short story. Her textbook, Short Story Craft (1949), was used for decades, but she was most known for her book, Cora Crane: A Biography of Mrs. Stephen Crane. Cora, a well-born Bostonian who ran "the smartest ‘sporting house’ in Jacksonville," had nursed writer Stephen Crane to health after a shipwreck, and became his common-law wife. Miss Gilkes also wrote acclaimed short stories as well as book reviews for Saturday Review and, in town, was active in civic and charitable work besides politics. Around 1962, she moved to Tryon, N.C., where she died in 1977 at the age of 74, with three books unfinished.
Tom Gilroy, a member of the Class of 1978 at Ridgefield High School who was one of the two class speakers at graduation, employs his way with words both on and off camera. The actor-filmmaker used his memories of Ridgefield -- and used Ridgefield itself -- to make his first feature-length film, Spring Forward, in 1998. He wrote and directed the movie, which stars Ned Beatty and Liev Schreiber and which has won acclaim at major film festivals. After graduating from Boston College, Mr. Gilroy worked as a reporter at The Press and then went off to New York to attend the Lee Strasberg Institute. He started up a theater group for which he wrote, directed and acted in plays, and he has appeared in several films, including Ken Loach's Land and Freedom, a tale of the Spanish civil war that earned an award at Cannes. One of the focal events in Spring Forward involves a parks department worker giving money to a homeless person, found sleeping under the bandstand in Ballard Park. "There were many acts, private acts of kindness and generosity that I saw when I was living here," Mr. Gilroy told The Press in 1998. "It is a place where many, many people gave what they could to the town, whether it was donating land for a park, or donating their time as volunteers."
"He is comic, creative and charismatic, and he likes people to treat him like the typical guy next door," said a 1998 Press interview with Andrew Gold. Mr. Gold is the voice and music behind many popular tunes including some of Linda Ronstadt's hottest hits such as You're No Good and Heatwave. Besides songwriting and singing, he has been a producer, engineer and musician. That he started writing songs when he was 13 is no surprise; his father, Ernest Gold, was the Academy Award-winning composer of the many film scores including, Exodus and On the Beach, and his mother, Marni Nixon, is in films the singing voice of Natalie Wood in West Side Story, Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady and Deborah Kerr in The King and I. As a boy, he learned to play drums, bass, guitar, and keyboard and in 1973, joined Linda Ronstadt's band and also arranged much of the band's music in the 1970s. Over the years Mr. Gold has also produced and written songs and music for many television and movie soundtracks, such as the theme to Mad About You on TV. He has even served as the voice of Alvin, the singing chipmunk! Many albums of his songs have been released, and he has produced many albums of other artists. The Spence Manor Suite -- which Mr. Gold called "the closest thing to my old records in years" -- was released in the summer of 2000. Besides living here, Mr. Gold had a studio on Bailey Avenue for a couple of years, but moved it to Nashville in 1999, and commutes between there, London and his home.
Dr. Mel Goldstein loves Connecticut's weather: hurricanes, blizzards, floods, tornadoes, ice storms, the hot and humid, frigid and dry. "We, in our unique and special corner of the earth, manage to have it all," the veteran meteorologist once wrote -- with excitement. Dr. Goldstein grew up in the Massachusetts fishing village of Swampscott. "Where I lived, the conversation was always about the weather," he told The Press in 1987. "If a storm was coming, I'd be up all night, looking out the window. It was fun." Those roots led him to a 1967 Penn State degree in meteorology and a doctorate from NYU. In 1972, he and his family moved to Rowland Lane, and Dr. Mel, as his students called him, taught at WestConn, ran its well-known weather station, did research, and supplied forecasts to 20 radio and TV stations as well as many corporations. By the 1990s, he was the full-time weatherman at WTNH, Channel 8, in New Haven and was writing a weather column for The Hartford Courant, the state's largest newspaper. In November 1996, Dr. Goldstein was found to have cancer in his back, a multiple myeloma that was supposed to kill him in less than three years and that was already crippling him. He and his wife Arlene moved to the New Haven area and he underwent the latest treatments at Yale-New Haven. "I received a flood, an avalanche of calls and mail," he said. "Masses were held for me -- even in Rome. I was able to see a part of human nature that so often is obscured during our routine tribulations … That, along with the exceptional medical care, provided healing for my body." Today, Dr. Mel is back at WTNH, teaching, and writing. His Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather was published in 1999 and has been a top-selling book.
Samuel Grafton, who lived on Barry Avenue from 1948 until 1962, was a writer who was accomplished in many genres. He wrote the nationally syndicated column, “I’d Rather Be Right,” penned several books on politics and economics, freelanced for magazines, published a popular mystery novel A Most Contagious Game (1955) and with his wife, Edith, wrote a Broadway play and acclaimed scripts for television. Today, one of his observations is still being frequently quoted: “A penny will hide the biggest star in the universe if you hold it close enough to your eye.” Born in Brooklyn in 1907, Mr. Grafton grew up in Philadelphia, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. He became an editor of The New York Post and in 1939 began the daily column that appeared in many major newspapers for more than 10 years. Early in World War II, he was the leading American journalist supporting de Gaulle and the Free French, and denouncing Vichy as a Fascist front. For this, he later received the French Legion of Honor. While a Ridgefielder he often freelanced for major magazines, including Look, McCall’s, TV Guide and Saturday Evening Post. After leaving Ridgefield, he and his wife founded Grafton Publications, a small firm that produced newsletters on youth and drug addiction. He died in 1997 and Edith in 2000. Their son, Dr. Anthony Grafton, who grew up here, is now Dodge Professor of History at Princeton, and author of several books of history. Son John is an executive with Dover Publications and daughter Abigail is a clinical psychologist and organization consultant in Berkeley, Calif.
It wasn’t long after Debbie Gravitte arrived in Ridgefield in the late 1990s that she volunteered her talents to help the town. The Tony Award-winning singer performed at the October 1999 benefit for the new Ridgefield Playhouse. She has donated her talents to everything from Bread & Roses benefits to helping her son's elementary school class. Ms. Gravitte, whom the Associated Press called “one of the best voices on Broadway,” won a 1989 Tony for best feature actress in a music – “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway.” The Los Angeles native made her Broadway debut in 1979 in the original cast of They’re Playing Our Song, a musical produced by Manny Azenberg, another Ridgefielder. She’s also performed in Zorba with Anthony Quinn, Les Miserables, Perfectly Frank, and other shows. On TV she’s had a co-starring role in the CBS series Trial and Error and various PBS music specials. She’s one of the voices in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, and has recorded for MGM. Ms. Gravitte is married to Beau Gravitte, an actor who has appear in films, on stage and in such television series as Third Watch and Murphy Brown. He has taught acting classes here.
“The English language has an enormous amount of power if it’s used right,” Max Gunther told The Press in 1976. “In English, you can roll up your sleeves and really say what you want with impact.” And for nearly 50 years, doing it right was Max Gunther’s work. He wrote 26 books – two of them best-sellers – and countless magazine articles. A native of England, he came to the United States as a boy, served in the Army, and graduated from Princeton in 1949. He wrote for Time, Business Week, Saturday Evening Post, Playboy, McCall’s, Reader’s Digest, Redbook, TV Guide, and many other magazines. His first book, Split Level Trap (1960), described suburban life and became a best-seller, as did The Weekenders (1964), a popular study of how Americans spent their weekends. Most of his two dozen other books were non-fiction, many dealing with mystical subjects. He lived on Peaceable Ridge and later Beechwood Lane from 1960 until 1987 when he moved to Heritage Village. He died in 1998 at the age of 72.
Several noted cartoonists have lived here, but none has taken up Ridgefield as a subject like Bob Gustafson, Press cartoonist for more than 40 years. Whether he's teasing town officials, promoting a good cause, or just sharing a great gag, Mr. Gustafson has produced several thousand cartoons for The Press since 1959. A native of Brookline, Mass., he was born in 1920. He was a paperboy as a youngster, served in the U.S. Army as a pilot, pitched semi-pro baseball in the Boston area, played drums in a band, and studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. Before he was 21, he was sending cartoon gag ideas to The New Yorker, and several were purchased and used. After working for a Boston magazine and a newspaper, he got a job with King Features, ghosting several comic strips and eventually taking over Tilly the Toiler. He later did cartoons for magazines like Good Housekeeping and Saturday Evening Post and worked for Mort Walker on both Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois. "Cartoonists never stop learning," he once told an interviewer. "They're always observing." Though he lived in Ridgefield only from 1954 to 1960, Mr. Gustafson has continued to "observe" town affairs at his Greenwich home through the pages of The Press, which he reads thoroughly each week for ideas.
John F. Haight might accurately be called Ridgefield's first career cop, a man who over 30 years rose from constable to chief and who saw the force grow from three to 30. A Ridgefield native, Chief Haight attended Ridgefield High School and served in the U.S. Army's Fourth Armored Regiment under General Patton in World War II, receiving the Bronze Star for heroism. In 1947, he was hired as a policeman -- called a constable then, joining Charles Wade Walker (q.v.) and James Brady (q.v.) in policing the town under the command of the first selectman. "In those days, we patrolled in our own cars," the chief recalled. "We had no car, no radio, no equipment, no nothing." The town bought its first police car in the early 1950s. In 1955, the town created a formal police department, with James Brady as chief. Ten years later, John Haight took command of the 10-person department, serving until his retirement in 1977 after 30 years on the job -- a tenure only one or two others have attained with the police force. During his 11 years as chief, the department grew threefold to 30 officers, added a detective bureau, and moved from a few rooms in the town hall basement into its new quarters on East Ridge. "In all humility, I believe I have turned over a police department to my successor of which you, the community, will be proud," he said at a 1977 testimonial. After his retirement, Chief Haight moved to Cape Cod, but returned periodically for visits and to host testimonials -- after he stepped down as chief, he became a celebrated toastmaster, famed for his wry wit.
Paul Hampden is not a native, but few natives have called Ridgefield home as long as he has. Mr. Hampden, then 4, came to Ridgefield in 1911 when his actor father Walter (q.v.) bought a farm on Mopus Bridge Road. He went to the Ridgefield School for Boys on nearby North Salem Road. With time out for schooling at Princeton and the University of Grenoble, and work for General Motors in Michigan, and some other career assignments, Mr. Hampden has continued to live on the family farm into the 21st Century. An advertising executive, he spent his career with GM, Atlantic Monthly and Saturday Review and finally as assistant to the publisher of Reporter Magazine. Over the decades, he has observed Ridgefield with a critical eye, speaking at innumerable town meetings, writing many letters to the newspaper, and in his later years, penning poems that comment on current affairs and often tease politicians. Many have appeared in The Press in the past 20 years. He served, too, as a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1963, he ran unsuccessfully for first selectman. Having lived in town nearly 90 years and known many of its leading families, Mr. Hampden has also been a rich source of Ridgefield history, both 20th Century and much earlier. As he proudly pointed out to a reporter in 1992 as he stood alongside Mopus Bridge Road, "this was one of the first roads to connect Danbury and North Salem. General Rochambeau marched his troops right by here, you know."
Although he honed his acting skills playing Shakespearean roles in England, Walter Hampden was a Brooklyn-born son of a noted attorney. He went on to star alongside many of the stage and film's greatest names in the United States. Walter Hampden Dougherty was born in 1879 and at 16, while studying at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, played Shylock in a student production of The Merchant of Venice. He went to France to study music, but the lure of the stage soon brought him to England, where he joined the Frank Benson Stock Company, touring Great Britain and becoming known for what has been called his "orotund voice." He returned to the States in 1907, and bought a Ridgefield farm four years later. In 1919, formed his own company with a predominantly Shakespearean repertory. In the 1920s, he opened his own theater in New York, playing Hamlet with Ethel Barrymore in the premier production. In 1923, he performed Cyrano to much critical acclaim, and revived the play several times during his career. While he continued to perform on the stage for most of the rest of his life -- his last Broadway performance was in Arthur Miller's The Crucible in 1953, he increasingly turned to film late in life, often playing "distinguished old blowhards," as one critic put it. Among his film roles were as the archbishop in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), an American Indian in Cecil B. DeMille's Unconquered (1947), a pompous actor in All About Eve (1950), the British ambassador in Five Fingers (1952), and the father in Sabrina (1954). He died of a cerebral hemorrhage while in Hollywood playing a leading role in the film, Diana, with Lana Turner. His wife, the actress Mabel Moore, and son, Paul (q.v.) were at his side when he died. He was 75 years old.
Joseph Hartmann may have thought himself an artist, but it’s doubtful he considered himself a historian. Yet, the photographs he took of Ridgefield and its people from the 1890s through the 1930s are a graphic history of the town in one of its most fascinating periods. Pictures of rich and poor, young and old, luxurious mansions and dusty workshops, are included in the 6,000 glass negatives he left. Born in 1867 in Germany, not far from the artistic center of Munich, Mr. Hartmann studied photography in Italy and was accomplished at his art when he came here around 1890. He set up a studio in the Bedient building at Main Street and Bailey Avenue, and took thousands of portraits. He also photographed weddings, civic and social groups, babies, musicians, insides and outsides of houses, cars, gardens, pets, and even bodies in caskets. “His work, characterized by the use of natural light and perfection of pose and detail, clearly shows the influence of the Munich painting school,” a Hartmann student once wrote. His later work was influenced by impressionists Frederic Remington (q.v) and Frederick Diehlman, noted American artists who lived in Ridgefield and were friends of Hartmann. “His photographs … are marked by richness and depth of tone, marvelous resolution and perfection of composition,” the student wrote. Many Hartmann pictures have appeared in The Press, including a long-running “Old Ridgefield” series that attempted to get many identified. The Hartmann Society was formed in the 1970s to preserve, catalogue, and identify the thousands of negatives, which Hartmann’s daughter, Ridgefield High School teacher Elsa Hartmann, had given The Press. The Press eventually gave them to the Keeler Tavern, which holds the collection today. Hundreds of the images have been transferred to modern film. Some were used in the 1999 book, Images of America: Ridgefield, produced by the Ridgefield Archives Committee, a sort of successor of the Hartmann Society. Mr. Hartmann, who lived many years on Catoonah Street just west of the post office, died in 1938.
In his long career in Ridgefield Paul Hazel has been an educator, a novelist, and a matchmaker. A native of the Nichols section of Trumbull, the Yale graduate came here in 1972 as head of the English Department at Ridgefield High School. A year later Superintendent David E. Weingast (q.v.) put him in charge of professional personnel and he’s worn that hat for 27 years, searching for and hiring teachers and other professional staff. “It’s about matching,” Mr. Hazel said of his job of hiring staff. “It’s not only who I find capable, but who will fit in with the teachers that are there, who will be a good part of the school community and who the principal thinks is interesting," he told The Press. "It’s not a match unless a lot of other people buy into it.” As the century ended, Mr. Hazel had served more years as a central office administrator than anyone else on the staff. But through those years, he’s had a second career: a writer of sophisticated and well-reviewed fantasy novels, mostly with Celtic themes: Yearwood (1980), Undersea (1982), Winterking (1985), and The Wealdwife’s Tale (1993). When not hunting for teachers or perfecting plots, Mr. Hazel enjoys building finely designed rock walls in his garden. He also enjoys long distance bicycling, both here and in Europe, with his wife, Reggie, who is the first selectman's administrative assistant and a former school board chairman.
For 36 years, Clifford Ambrose Holleran was principal of Ridgefield High School and in all that time, he could call each student by name. "Whenever a graduate would return to the halls of his secondary school learning, he or she would first stop at Mr. Holleran's office, not because he had to, but because he wanted to," The Press said in an editorial about the principal. Born in 1895, "Kip" Holleran grew up in Watertown and graduated from Bucknell in 1920. A year later, he was hired as both a principal and a teacher at Hamilton High School, the original Ridgefield High School, on Bailey Avenue. In his early years, he spent more time teaching than principaling -- he taught geometry, trigonometry, science, chemistry, physics, and mechanical drawing. When he arrived there were no organized school athletic teams, and he created baseball and basketball squads. For 20 years, he coached both, transporting them to out-of-town games, running magazine drives to pay for them, and sometimes winning championships. Occasionally he'd even referee the games -- because of his reputation for fairness, opposing teams didn't mind. After the war, when the school grew large enough to hire an athletic director to take over, football was finally added and Mr. Holleran became a full-time principal -- and twice was acting superintendent. He retired in 1957, but like many educators of the first half of the century, Mr. Holleran lived here, was active in the non-school community, and remained so in retirement. He was a founder and the first president of the Rotary Club, served on the Ration Board during the war, and was a director of the Boys Club for 14 years. He loved golf, and his favorite partner was Tabby Carboni (q.v.). In 1947, he married his longtime sweetheart, Grace C. White, after her retirement following 44 years of teaching here. She died in 1963 at the age of 79, he in 1971, age 78.
A widely known and respected collector of antique books and manuscripts, Harrison D. Horblit was also a philanthropist who, along with his wife, Jean, has made often incalculably valuable contributions to many organizations -- including those interested in the history of Ridgefield. Born in Boston in 1912, Mr. Horblit graduated from Harvard in 1933 and became a textile executive. But his avocation as a collector made him known around the world. His specialty was antique books and manuscripts related to the history of science, mathematics and navigation, and his own book, One Hundred Books Famous in Science, is still considered a bible in its field. Much of his collection of rare books and manuscripts, including many items from the 1400s and 1500s, was donated to Harvard's Houghton Library. His wife, Jean, gave a large collection of early photographs and daguerreotypes from as early as 1839, to Houghton which, in 1999, mounted a major exhibition, The Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography. Mr. Horblit was also interested in local history. In 1973, when a group of Ridgefielders tried to buy a 1780 English print of the Battle of Ridgefield at a Sotheby's auction, they quickly ran out of money. Mr. Horblit stepped in and eventually paid $16,000 for an item Sotheby's had valued at under $2,500. "This print belongs in Ridgefield if it belongs anywhere," Mr. Horblit said at the time. Three months after his death in 1988, Mrs. Horblit donated the print to the Keeler Tavern. She has also been a major benefactor of the new Ridgefield Historical Society. Jean Horblit was born in New Haven, attended Columbia University, worked as a textile converter for Colonial Fabrics, a former manufacturing division of Marshall Field & Company, and eventually became the head of its Designing Department in the capacity of fabric stylist. She is a collector of antique Japanese woodblock prints, illustrated books and maps known as Ukiyo-e or "images of a floating world," which cover scenes from everyday life of the people. Her prints and books have been exhibited at the Hammond Museum, Princeton University, and Katonah Gallery, and a rare 17th Century map of Tokaido was shown at the New York Museum of Natural History. The Horblit home itself, a magnificent English Georgian-style mansion meticulously maintained by Mrs. Horblit, is an important piece of Ridgefield history. Built in 1930 from limestone imported from France, "Oreneca" was all but abandoned by its owner, Philip D. Wagoner, after the death of his wife a few years later. When the Horblits bought the place in 1965, the property was so overgrown they did not know the house overlooked Round Pond. Avid yachters, Harrison and Jean Horblit sailed the Maine Coast for two months every summer for many years.
She was called Ridgefield’s “Florence Nightingale on Wheels,” and for decades her name was synonymous with the District Nursing Association -- and a helping hand. Irene Smith Hoyt was a nurse – for many years, the nurse – at the DNA from 1927 until her death in 1972. But she was more than a nurse. “When Irene Hoyt came into a sick room,” Linette Burton wrote in a Press editorial, “the patient’s spirits rose as she crossed the threshold.” The Wilton native grew up in Ridgefield and graduated from the high school in 1925. After two years of nursing school, Miss Hoyt joined the DNA, now the Visiting Nurse Association. During her 45-year career, she ministered to literally thousands of Ridgefielders. Philanthropist Jack B. Ward (q.v.) recalled in an interview that Miss Hoyt “was all by herself and she had a tiny little dilapidated car – it was almost like in the old-fashioned days when a nurse got on a horse and went up into the mountains. That little lady worked so hard that I decided to buy her a proper car.” And the building she worked in “looked so run down inside” that he renovated the association headquarters. And it was in her office, doing the work she loved so much, that Miss Hoyt died suddenly one Sunday at the age of 63. “She devoted her talents to helping people who were in trouble – physical, mental or emotional – and her success can be gauged by the number of people who will miss her gentle ministrations,” Mrs. Burton wrote.
When Elizabeth A. Hull died in 1996 at the age of 96, many were surprised to learn of her numerous, generous gifts to the community, to conservation and to the art world. Miss Hull, who came to Silver Spring Road in 1936, had been a longtime conservationist and bequeathed 24 acres of her homestead to the Land Conservancy of Ridgefield and gave $1.5 million from the sale of other property to The Nature Conservancy. In all, she left more than $4 million in cash, antiques and art works to museums, charities and conservation organizations. In her 60 years in Ridgefield, she was a pillar of the Ridgefield Garden Club, was first president of the Women’s Town Club, worked with the motor transport service in World War II, and was instrumental in founding the Ridgefield Auxiliary of Family and Children’s Aid. The daughter of a leading Army surgeon, she met President Theodore Roosevelt when she was five. “He gave me a white carnation,” she recalled in a 1992 Press interview.
Harry E. Hull accomplished two things few others could: He was elected a Democratic first selectman four times in a hugely Republican town and he led the Memorial Day parade for more than 65 years. A Ridgefield native and house painter who became a selectman in the 1930s and first selectman in 1947, Mr. Hull was respected in his prime years and almost venerated in his later life. “You could learn a lot from Harry,” fellow Selectman Richard E. Venus once said. “He was superb in the way he could organize and get things done.” His administration built the town’s first “modern” school – Veterans Park, bought the Community Center property that includes Veterans Park, established a real police department instead of using state police and town constables, and led the recoveries from two natural disasters – the tornado that blew the roof off part of the high school and the famous flood of 1955. He served on almost every board and commission in town, including the school board – which he chaired -- and Board of Finance. He also headed the Democratic Town Committee, was a deacon of the First Congregational Church, and a member of the volunteer fire department, among many other organizations. But in his later years, he was best known as a veteran. Harry Hull had sailed for France on his 19th birthday in 1917, fought in many of the major battles of World War I, was wounded at Chateau Thierry, and sent home to recuperate in 1919. “It was supposed to be the war to end all wars,” he said in a 1981 Press interview. “The theory was right but the actuality wasn’t.” He helped establish the local American Legion, and was not only the first grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade, he was the only one for 67 years. For all but the last few, he marched at the head of the parade; in his last, he rode. He died Jan. 11, 1987, at the age of 88.
One of the first traditionally male offices that was finally assumed by a female was town clerk, the person who records and preserves all of Ridgefield’s important records. In 1949, Ruth Mildred Hurzeler was elected to the office that had been held by men since the town was founded in 1708, and oddly enough, women have held the position ever since. Miss Hurzeler herself was re-elected to 11 more two-year terms, sometimes unchallenged. She was defeated in 1973 for her 13th term in a contest that centered around how the town clerk was paid. Miss Hurzeler, a Republican, favored the age-old system of fees for services like filing deeds; Democrat Terry Leary wanted a salary (which turned out to be much less than the fees). The daughter of Swiss bakers who had had a popular bakery on Main Street, Miss Hurzeler was an influential member of her party, and was vice-chairman of the town committee when she died in 1977 at the age of 60.
As the 20th Century ended, no administrator in town government could match the years of service -- and maybe even degree of the success -- of Oswald "Ozzie" Inglese. Mr. Inglese became planning director in 1972 and while the job has changed and grown over the years, he is still directing the future of Ridgefield -- so successfully that he received the 1998 Professional Planner Award of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association. Mr. Inglese came to this relatively small town with a world of experience. A native of Argentina, he graduated with a degree in architecture and fine arts from the University of Buenos Aires, and moved to the U.S. to work for a planning company. He got planning assignments throughout Central and South America, Asia, and Africa, and from 1963 to 1967 became a planner and designer for the United States Agency for International Development. In 1972, while working for a planning firm in Hamden, he was wooed by the Ridgefield Planning and Zoning Commission, which hired him as its third planner (his two predecessors had lasted only a few years). With his commission's support he set about designing regulations that helped control the kind of growth that had led to the town's doubling in population, too often in haphazard fashion, during the previous decade. He encouraged careful subdivision design, protection of environmentally important areas, scenic roads and ridges, and preservation of meaningful open spaces. He wrote plans for the village and the Copps Hill business areas, aimed at making them attractive and easy to use shopping districts with convenient parking and traffic circulation. He wrote the Inland Wetlands Regulations in 1974 and became the wetlands agent for the town. He worked for years to encourage affordable housing. And he did all this without becoming the "enemy" of the conscientious builder or developer. In fact, he made life easier for both builder and regulator by, for instance, streamlining the process in which a builder needs to get 11 different permits to erect a house. That used to take 20 to 25 days; now it's four to six days. "Ridgefield is a model of a well-coordinated development review process," said the director of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials when Mr. Inglese was selected for the 1998 APA award. "Ozzie has worked hard for many years to achieve this." Mr. Inglese and his wife, Otty, a language professor, have two children who have, in a way, emulated their parents in careers: Son Ozzie Jr. is a Connecticut environmental official who heads the state's solid waste and recycling program, and daughter Daniela is a teacher in Westport.
While Ridgefield has elected several Democratic first selectmen, rare is the Democrat chosen to represent the town in the General Assembly. Barbara Ireland made it not once, but four times, serving as state representative from the 111th District from 1987 to 1995. She came to the job with years of volunteer civic and government experience, and left to become a staff adviser to the speaker of the General Assembly. Born in 1945, Ms. Ireland was a political science graduate of Morris Harvey College, and was so active in West Virginia civic, educational and mental health work that she was selected for "Outstanding Young Women in America" in 1970. She and her husband, Roger, and their family moved to Ridgefield in 1975. Almost immediately she was involved in a half dozen organizations -- from the League of Women Voters, where she was action chairman, to the PTAs, where she was a president, Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, where she was on the social concerns commission, and the Ridgefield Library, where she served on the board. In 1991, she became the first female member of the Rotary Club. In Hartford, Ms. Ireland quickly rose to positions of leadership, serving on most of the most powerful committees, chairing the Special Education Committee, and eventually becoming deputy minority leader. Her specialties were education, transportation, the elderly and the environment, and she won many honors for her work, including a Toll Fellowship, given annually to only 32 people who are recognized as emerging leaders. Soon after her retirement from the House in 1995, the Irelands moved to Sherman.
A man who was born in Copenhagen and served in the Danish King’s Guard wound up a leading Ridgefield citizen and Democrat. Otto H. Jespersen Sr. came to this country in 1924 and to Ridgefield in 1937, working at first for Outpost Nurseries and then many years as an antiques restorer. His home and workshop on Ivy Hill Road was the former Ridgefield electrical power plant, and he’s the “Jeff” of the nearby Jeffro Drive. He was an active Democrat for 35 years, 20 of them on the Democratic Town Committee and 10 as party chairman. He was also a president of the Boys Club, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Board of Assessors, and other town agencies. He left town after the death of his wife, Grethe, in 1971 and died at the age of 80 10 years later in New Jersey.
Fred B. Jones, one of Ridgefield’s last farmers, was also a dog warden whose feats were famous. Caretaker of the working farm at the Brewster estate on Lounsbury Road for nearly 60 years, he was dog warden in the 1950s and 60s. In 1960, a New York City newspaper called him “the best darned dog warden in Connecticut” and described how he tracked down the owners of a lost collie by contacting authorities in Long Island, Michigan and Florida, and mailing more than two dozen letters. The paper told how one day a Ridgebury recluse died while walking home from Danbury and his two dogs refused to let police or the medical examiner approach the body. Mr. Jones talked to the snarling dogs, then walked into the dead man’s cabin. The dogs followed him and he locked them inside, reporting he had just employed some simple dog psychology. A woman once called to demand that he should do something about the two peacocks fighting in her yard. “Madam,” he replied patiently, “I am not the peacock warden. I am the dog warden.” Mr. Jones was an expert lapidary, a person who cuts and polishes gemstones. By the 1970s, he and his late wife, Ruth, were traveling 25,000 miles a year, acquiring and selling rocks in a business called as Fred’s Gem Den. He died in 1999 at the age of 92.
After setting two county and two state records as a junior, it would have seemed almost inexcusable for Janel Jorgensen to skip her senior season with the Ridgefield High girls swim team. But Jorgensen had a good excuse: she was competing in the Olympics. In September 1988, the 17-year-old Ms. Jorgensen became the first Ridgefielder to win an Olympic medal when she was part of the U.S. women’s 4x100 medley relay team that finished second to East Germany in Seoul, South Korea. Jorgensen also placed fifth in an individual event, the 100-meter butterfly, with a time of 1:00.48. When Ms. Jorgensen returned from Seoul, she was honored in a halftime ceremony at a Ridgefield football game. First Selectman Sue Manning presented Jorgensen with another silver medal, this one engraved with the town’s seal. Ms. Jorgensen then competed for Stanford University, playing a major role as the Cardinals won consecutive NCAA titles during her freshman and sophomore years. Stanford finished second at the NCAA meet when Ms. Jorgensen was a junior and senior. Her Stanford teammates included some of America’s best known swimmers: Janet Evans, Summer Sanders and Jenny Thompson. Jorgensen won five individual NCAA titles and earned 27 All-American honors, still the most in Stanford history. She holds the Pac-10 conference record in the 200 individual medley (1:58.41). Jorgensen remains the only Ridgefield athlete to have an Official Day named in her honor.
James Joseph was an old-fashioned success story, both in his life's work and his life's length. He died March 6, 1972 and since his birth certificate said he was born Jan. 1, 1858, he was apparently 114 years old. Born in Lebanon, then part of Syria, of an ancient Druze family, Mr. Joseph came to the United States in 1903, and joined his brother, M.C. "Joe" Joseph, in operating a store in Danbury. They also sold fruit and vegetables on an auto delivery route through Ridgefield and in 1918, Joe Joseph began operating Joe's Store near the corner of Main Street and Danbury Road while "Jimmy Joe" ran a similar store in Georgetown. The first Joe's Store was in a brick building on Danbury Road that has been recently used as a candy store, but soon, Joe Joseph moved to the corner in the building now called the Country Corners. For much of the century, the neighborhood was called Joe's Corner. In the early 40s, Joe Joseph died, and James took over the Ridgefield store. He became a citizen in 1958, but could not become a voter because he couldn't pass the literacy test -- though he was well-read in Arabic. When the Supreme Court banned literacy testing as a voting requirement in 1970, James Joseph, well over 100 and a resident for nearly 70 years -- came to Town Clerk Ruth Hurzeler to be sworn in as a voter. "He had tears in his eyes," Miss Hurzeler said later.
His name is found on clothing, on furniture, wallcoverings, window treatments, paints, towels, even on scents. From the late 20th Century into the 21st, Alexander Julian has been one of the nation's leading designers of both fashions and furnishings, specializing in products that, as he put it, are "timeless" and "appealing to both men and women simultaneously." A native of Chapel Hill, N.C., Mr. Julian worked as a boy at his father's clothing store, Julian's College Shop, learning about style and taste, and how to respond to and influence both. He was apparel manager at 16. In 1975, he moved to New York to design menswear, and before he was 30, had won a Coty Award for design, the youngest person ever to do so (and then won four more and became the youngest person inducted into the Coty Hall of Fame). Mr. Julian, the first American clothing designer to create his own exclusive furniture fabrics, has received many awards for his work, examples of which are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Design. In 1994, he launched a line of furniture and more than 150 pieces are in production, and many more in design. Among his special projects have been the 14-color "Knight's Castle" baseball stadium in Charlotte, N.C., the uniforms of the Charlotte Hornets basketball team, and the color concept and design for the cars, racing suits and pit crew for Mario and Michael Andretti, and Nigel Mansell. Mr. Julian designed the uniforms of the staff of the Four Seasons restaurant in New York to vary with the seasons. "Alex is all about American design," his wife, Meagan Mannell-Julian, also a designer, told The Press in 1996. The couple, who moved here in 1988, built a 5,700 square-foot-house on 33 acres.
Dr. Joseph Juran overcame a deprived childhood to become the internationally famous expert in “managing for quality.” His work helped transform resource-poor, postwar Japan from a synonym for shoddy goods to an industrial superpower famed for the quality of its products. Born in 1904 in Rumania, he came to the United States in 1912, earned degrees in electrical engineering and the law, and went to work for Western Electric. Over his career he wrote 16 books – including his famous Quality Control Handbook – and hundreds of professional papers. In 1979, Dr. Juran founded the Juran Institute, based in Wilton, “to create new methods and tools for making quality happen within organizations throughout the world.” He and the institute have advised hundreds of major American corporations on how to attain high quality products. His concepts and methods have contributed to the creation of the new science of "managing for quality." Dr. Juran has been awarded more than 40 medals, fellowships, and honorary degrees from 12 countries. These include the Order of the Sacred Treasure, awarded by Emperor Hirohito of Japan for Dr. Juran's “development of quality in Japan and the facilitation of Japanese and American friendship,” and the National Medal of Technology, awarded by President George Bush "for development of key principles and methods by which enterprises manage the quality of their products and processes."
Roger Kahn’s 1972 bestseller about the Brooklyn Dodgers was so famous that when New York Governor George Pataki created a commission in 1997 to explore bringing the Dodgers back to Brooklyn, he named Mr. Kahn to it. The Boys of Summer, which had led the New York Times bestseller list for weeks, told the story of the 1950s Dodgers. The book, called by James Michener “the finest American book on sports,” sold hundreds of thousands of copies, is still in print, and a quarter of a century later, was made into a movie. The book came out just before Mr. Kahn moved to North Salem Road in 1971, and the promotional tours and interviews that the book prompted made writing tough. “Each day I keep kicking the wastebasket and beating my brains to get out one page a day,” he told The Press in June 1972. The Brooklyn native started covering the Dodgers when he was just 24 and a reporter for The New York Herald-Tribune. He went on to write for Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, and Esquire. He has written a dozen books; recent ones are about boxer Jack Dempsey, Kahn’s friend Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, and Memories of Summer: When Baseball Was an Art, and Writing About It a Game. He moved from Ridgefield to New York City in the mid-1970s.
Irene Kampen's divorce led not only to a new career, but a popular TV series starring another recent divorcee, Lucille Ball. Ms. Kampen, who'd been a newspaper reporter, and her husband Owen, moved to Ridgefield in 1954 and almost immediately, their 11-year marriage fell apart. Forced to support herself, she was soon exhausted commuting to work at her father's New York City flower shop, and began writing fiction. The result was the light-hearted Life Without George, published by Doubleday in 1961, which became the inspiration for The Lucy Show, a comedy about a divorced woman starring Miss Ball, who had recently divorced Desi Arnaz. Ms. Kampen went on to write 10 humorous novels, often based on her own experiences, with such titles as Here Comes the Bride, There Goes the Mother, Fear Without Childbirth, Due to a Lack of Interest, Tomorrow Has Been Cancelled, and Nobody Calls at This Hour Just to Say Hello. She lived on Stonecrest Road, Lookout Drive, and finally Rockwell Road, was active in the Women's Town Club and the Ridgefield Woman's Club, was a frequent luncheon speaker, and wrote pieces for The Press, including a column under the pseudonym, H. Loomis Fenstermacher. She moved to California in 1988 and died 10 years later at the age of 75.
John Katz wears many hats, all of them Western-style and all of them aimed at helping people -- or animals. The outspoken Ridgeburian, famed for his Western garb and his golden tongue, spent the last quarter of the 20th Century as an advocate of safe and healthy kids, kindness to animals and careful planning and zoning. Though his sometimes acerbic comments have earned him a few enemies and even a libel suit, probably no one living in Ridgefield today has volunteered more time in the service of the community in the last quarter of the century. Born in 1938 in New York City, John Katz came to Ridgefield as a child -- his parents had bought a farm in Ridgebury in 1936; his father, Gene, headed a big New York ad agency. John and his wife, Nancy, a former school board member, still live on the homestead. After graduating from Johns Hopkins, he had careers in radio broadcasting, advertising and as a social worker at Southbury Training School. In 1979, he joined the Planning and Zoning Commission and soon became its chairman; today, he is the second longest-serving commissioner. His work on behalf of youth, which also began in the 1970s, is manifold. He developed the Ridgefield Youth Service Bureau, which provides counseling and programs for young people, and has served as its volunteer chief executive for more than 20 years. He founded the Host Homes program, which offers kids with serious family troubles a temporary place to stay. He's been a member of the Youth Commission since its beginning in 1977 and helped start The Barn teen center. He serves on the Ridgefield Alcohol Awareness Committee, the Ridgefield Diversity Committee, the Ridgefield Schools Alcohol and Drug Committee, the advisory board of the Department of Children and Family Services, and the Board of Trustees of Wooster School. In 1996, the Connecticut Youth Services Association awarded Mr. Katz its Youth Advocate Award for his work with youngsters and his efforts to raise community awareness about youth issues. When he's not working for people, he's helping animals. As a special agent in New York for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, he investigates animal abuse cases and has had people arrested, and many animals -- especially horses and dogs -- rescued. He's also been shot at and threatened with a baseball bat. A man of strong convictions, Mr. Katz is not afraid to share them. Over the years scores of his terse, pointed letters have appeared in The Press, penned in colorful style quickly recognizable as his. Who else could have said of a noted politician that his "piously ponderous pandering to part-time patriots misses the point of what our nation is all about." And who else would have told a reporter, when he won the Youth Advocate Award, "I think I'm basically a self-centered son-of-a-bitch. I do what I want for me, and I think it's wonderful when it benefits others. I'm certainly not looking for strokes and I don't think I deserve any."
Scores of reporters and editors got their early experiences at The Ridgefield Press, but few were as colorful and subsequently successful as Burt Kearns, who went on to be managing editor of two of the nation's most popular tabloid TV shows, and to write a book about it. Mr. Kearns grew up in Trumbull, graduated from Fairfield University and joined The Press staff in 1978. He covered some of the more unusual local stories of the century, including the uncovering of a devil worshipping cult in town and the suspicious death at a rock star's house just across the line in South Salem. He went on to become editor of sister paper, The Wilton Bulletin, where he covered some equally sensational stories, such as the arrest of the chairman of the Board of Finance for embezzling his employer, and allegations that the local landfill was causing cancer in neighbors. In 1981, he moved to New York City, joined WNEW Channel 5's 10 O'clock News, and in a 1983 moved to WNBC-TV News as a newswriter and assignment editor. A few years later, he was hired as managing editor of A Current Affair, Rupert Murdoch's pioneering "tabloid TV" show starring Maury Povich. In 1990, he switched to the competition, Hard Copy, and moved to California where the show was produced. In Tabloid Baby (1999), a 490-page autobiography of his A Current Affair and Hard Copy years, Mr. Kearns exposed the bad -- and sometimes the good -- world of tabloid journalism. He describes hundreds of wild adventures -- including escapades at the fallen Berlin Wall and in East Germany, snitching news feeds from the competition, and covering celebrity scandals. "Sad, funny, undeniably authentic, Tabloid Baby tells the tale of what befell too much of mainstream television news over the past couple of decades as the bad drove out the good," said CBS TV newsman Mike Wallace. After tiring of tab TV news, Mr. Kearns became executive producer of the TV series, Strange Universe, and has been producing off-beat documentaries, such as When Good Pets Go Bad II, for Fox, Panic for HBO and Death of a Beatle for Court TV, and working with Miramax, Discovery, and Showtime networks. He and his wife, British TV personality Alison Holloway, live with their son, Sam, in Pacific Palisades.
Lawmaking ran in Robert R. Keeler’s family: His grandfather, father, and uncle were all state representatives from Ridgefield before he himself served six terms in the state House. When he died in office in 1959, his widow, Mary Bassett Keeler, ran unopposed to fill out his term (because the legislature met every two years then, she never even needed to travel to Hartford to do her job). A descendant of the founding Keelers of Ridgefield, Robert Keeler was born in 1898, he attended the Whipstick Schoolhouse, graduated from Connecticut Agricultural College, now UConn, and like generations before him, was a farmer. But he was also a public servant, both near and far. Afar, he was in the U.S. Army in both World War I and II, retiring a lieutenant-colonel. Near, he was a constable, justice of the peace, member of the Board of Assessors, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and was Republican registrar of voters. He was active in the First Congregational Church, American Legion, Horticultural Society, and many other local groups. He was first elected to the House in 1950.
When he was 86 years old, Samuel Keeler was still commuting to his law office in New York City and was reputedly the oldest commuter on the New Haven line, both in age and length of endurance. But though his business was in the city, his heart was in Ridgefield and “Lawyer Sam,” as he was called to distinguish him from grocer Sam (S.D.) Keeler, had a considerable influence on the town during the first third of the 20th Century. Born in 1845 in Wilton, Mr. Keeler had as one of his childhood teachers George E. Lounsbury (q.v.), who later became governor and from whose brother he later acquired The Press. He began commuting to law work in the city soon after graduating from Yale in 1867, but was also busy in Ridgefield, serving as a school board member for 20 years from 1892 until 1912, one of the burgesses of the borough, and a pillar of the First Congregational Church. In 1900, he was a founder of the First National Bank (now First Union), and was later fifth president of the Ridgefield Savings Bank, serving from 1907 to his death in 1932. Early in the century, controlling interest in The Press was held by ex-Gov. Phineas Lounsbury, a staunch Methodist who had ordered that no liquor advertising appear in the paper. One day, he picked up The Press and found a liquor ad. Outraged, he immediately sold The Press to Mr. Keeler, “as staunch a Democrat as Mr. Lounsbury was a Republican,” The Press said years later. While he kept his feelings out of the news columns, Mr. Keeler wasn’t afraid to take on Republicans editorially, and he fought a long battle with the administration over inequitable property assessments, going so far as to publish several pamphlets on the subject. He remained owner until his death, at which time The Press observed: “Mr. Keeler was a man who always minded his own business. In the wake of his course over the sea of life, there was no tacking or filling.”
Early in the 20th Century, the name S.D. Keeler was synonymous with business acumen. During one year, his grocery and other merchandising operations grossed more than a half-million dollars, a tidy sum in those days and equal to more than $5 million today. “Expressing admiration for Mr. Keeler’s aggressive business tactics,” The Press reported, one businessman “declared that his delivery system was so good that he would even take a yeast cake over the dirt roads to a home up on West Mountain if anyone were bold enough to ask.” His career began in 1884 when he opened a small grocery stand in the village. It grew into the first up-to-date market in town, open nightly till 9 and till 11 Saturdays. In 1901, he built the first cold-storage warehouse in town – a predecessor of the modern freezer. He had the grain and feed elevator on lower Bailey Avenue, much of which still exists. Outside the village he owned the Titicus Store and the Corner Store by the Fountain. In 1921, he sold his businesses – his village market later became Gristedes, and the building, now housing Bone Jour, was purchased in 2000 by the Rabin family (see Edward Rabin). Samuel D. Keeler died at his Branchville Road home in 1926 at the age of 73.
Specialist Fourth Class William Howard Keeler was 19 years old when he was killed in action March 24, 1969, in Vietnam. The Ridgefield native, who had worked as a laborer before joining the Army 13 months earlier, was in an engineering battalion that had been stationed in Vietnam since the previous summer.
A descendant of Keelers who founded the town, William Raymond Keeler was a well-known Ridgefielder in the first four decades of the 20th Century. Born here in 1866, he spent his early years as a plant superintendent of the New Haven Clock Company. But the death of his father in 1892 brought him back to town where he took over the livery stable business, and then added insurance and real estate, eventually known for years as Keeler and Durant. Mr. Keeler also became president of the First National Bank (now First Union), and was also a state representative at the time of his death – one of only two Ridgefielders who died in office while serving the town in the legislature (the other was William O. Seymour, q.v.). His death at age 74 was the result of having fallen in his bathtub. Mr. Keeler was also widely known for his love of horse-racing, and for years was one of the judges of the harness races at the Danbury Fair.
For more than 40 years, Jill and Sid Kelley have been contributing their time to the understanding and protection of Ridgefield's and the region's environment. Mrs. Kelley served on the Conservation Commission from 1971 to 1985, and in 1985 was a founder of The Discovery Center, an organization that stages scores of programs each year to help increase awareness of the natural world around us. She's still a board member. From 1974 to 1981, Mrs. Kelley was coordinator of volunteer services for the Ridgefield schools, and she has been on the board of the Visiting Nurse Association since 1993. Born Jocelyn Bennett in New Jersey in 1928, Mrs. Kelley graduated from Vassar in 1950, and married Sidney G. Kelley in 1954. The Kelleys, who have three children, came to Ridgefield in 1958. Mr. Kelley, born in New York City in 1926, served in the Navy and graduated from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1950. He worked at Perkin-Elmer in technical publications for 35 years. Since the early 1970s, Mr. Kelley has been a member of the board of the Land Conservancy of Ridgefield, a private organization that owns hundreds of acres of open space in town, usually obtained as donations; since 1998, he has been the conservancy's president. He's a volunteer with the Archives Committee of the Keeler Tavern and has also had the unusual distinction of being a spirit: As a trained Nature Conservancy guide, he plays the part of the ghost of the miller at the restored mill at the huge Devil's Den reservation in Weston.
Two of the leading law enforcement officials in the state during the 40s and 50s lived next door to each other on Wilton Road West: John C. Kelly, who commanded the State Police Department, and Leo F. Carroll (q.v.), who became second in command of the state police. John Cornelius Kelly, a Ridgefield native, was born in 1895 (his paternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Kelly, were among the first Catholic families to settle here). After service on a submarine chaser during World War I, he joined the state motorcycle police, absorbed by the state police in 1921. A year later, he took command of the Ridgefield station, Troop A, on West Lane, which in 1927 moved to what’s now the Ridgefield Police headquarters. By 1931, he was instruction officer for the whole state and in 1945, second in command of the department. Four years later he was named chairman of the State Liquor Control Commission, but in 1953, Republican Gov. John Lodge named him commissioner (the equivalent of chief) of the state police. He retired in 1955 when Democratic Gov. Abraham Ribicoff picked a Democrat as commissioner. Mr. Kelly later served several terms as state representative from Ridgefield, and was a legislative consultant until he was 82. He died in 1984 at the age of 88.
Ridgefield has had many teachers with long careers in the classroom, but few if any in the 20th Century matched Marie A. Kilcoyne, a native daughter who taught for 50 full years, 43 of them in Ridgefield. "I teach because I love children," Miss Kilcoyne told The Press in 1955. "Their vivid imagination and their willingness to please is one of the great pleasures of a primary teacher." Marie Kilcoyne started her education here as a pupil at Titicus School, then went to the East Ridge Grammar School and graduated in 1925 from Hamilton High School on Bailey Avenue. After two years of study at Danbury Normal School (now WestConn), she taught in Easton for seven years, starting in 1927. She came to the old Branchville Schoolhouse in 1934, teaching first through fourth grade in one room until 1939 when the school was closed. She moved to the Garden School, once the high school she had attended as a teenager, and taught second grade. When Veterans Park opened in 1955, she continued as a second grade teacher there the rest of her career. When she retired in 1977, she seemed saddened by the fact that TV and other activities were drawing children -- which she called "her kiddies" -- away from reading and that they seemed to need more direction. "The children are not as able as they once were to do things for themselves," she said. "Maybe they have too much supervision." But she was optimistic, too. "And yet the children are smarter today than in years gone by. They can discuss things more intelligently and their school program is broader." Miss Kilcoyne died in June 2000 at the age of 93.
More than a hundred clergy have served Ridgefield in the 20th Century, but few made the town home. Whether it's the nature of the religion or the inclinations of the person, most moved on to new assignments after a few years. The Rev. John Kjoller and his congregation at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church found a match in each other, and as the new century dawned, he was in his 32nd year as pastor. Mr. Kjoller, pronounced "Keeler," was installed on Sept. 14, 1968, when the recently founded St. Andrew's still held services at Veterans Park School. Born in 1936 in Holyoke, Mass., he has not forgotten his Bay State roots and still proudly describes himself as the "self-proclaimed, number-one Boston Red Sox fan in Ridgefield." He graduated from Valparaiso University and Concordia Seminary, spent four years in the Army Reserve as a chaplain, and served parishes in Kansas and New York before coming to Ridgefield. Here, he led the congregation in the building and later the expansion of its church on Ivy Hill Road, and he and his wife, Elizabeth, raised four children. Mr. Kjoller has seen the town change from a time when "it seemed like half the congregation worked for IBM -- they all wore white shirts and dark ties" to a more diverse -- and tolerant -- community. However, he has also watched the family as a unit spend less and less time together as more parents work and more children are involved in activities. At least one night a week ought to be free of activities so families can be together, he said in a 1999 interview. "By strengthening the family, our society is made more whole."
From the late 1950s onward, Ridgefield has been home for hundreds of airline pilots, but none quite match the Klopfer family. When they came here in the 1970s, Bernd Klopfer was a TWA 747 captain. His wife, Joy, envied her husband’s job, took up flying, and at the age of 31, decided to make it a career. She flies for United, one of the 5% of commercial airline pilots today who are women. Not surprisingly, son Glenn, a 1988 Ridgefield High School graduate, got bitten by the flying bug, became a pilot, and wound up joining United, too. And on Oct. 29, 1999, Joy and Glenn Klopfer made history: They were captain and first officer respectively on a United flight from Kennedy to Los Angeles – the first time ever that a mother-son team piloted a commercial airline flight. Dad went along for the historic ride and took photos.
Five writers who've lived in Ridgefield have won Pulitzer Prizes. The most recent winner was Richard Kluger, who received the non-fiction award in 1997 for his exposé of the tobacco industry, Ashes to Ashes: America's Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris. Mr. Kluger and his writer wife, Phyllis, lived at 14 Main Street from 1969 until 1976. While here, he wrote Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality (1976), a much acclaimed book that is still in print and still widely read. That and The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune (1986), written with Phyllis, were both National Book Award nominees. Mr. Kluger began his career at The Wall Street Journal, wrote for Forbes, The New York Post, and became literary editor of the New York Herald Tribune during its final years. He was an executive editor at Simon and Schuster and editor-in-chief at Atheneum before becoming a fulltime writer in 1974. A painstaking researcher, he spent seven years working on Simple Justice, traveling 15,000 miles and visiting 27 libraries (the biggest: The Library of Congress; smallest: Ridgefield Library). He's also written six novels including Members of the Tribe and The Sheriff of Nottingham. The Klugers met at Princeton in 1954, were married three years later, and have two sons -- one is Matthew, who, at 14, was speaking at school budget hearings in Ridgefield and was also a Press paperboy. The Klugers now live near Princeton in New Jersey.
Joseph Lewis Knapp was an example of success through hard work. The Ridgefield native and his brother, Bob, started a lawn care, landscaping and tree care business after the Korean War. In 1954, they had one tree crew. By 1980, Knapp Bros. Inc. tree surgeons had two dozen crews working in southwestern Connecticut, often on jobs for CL&P or SNET, and the company, now run by sons, is still busy and successful. Mr. Knapp was born in 1929, the sixth of 10 children. His family was poor and he went off on his own when he was only 16. He lied about his age and enlisted in the Merchant Marine "so he could be assured of three meals a day," son Darin said. When his age was discovered, he was sent home where he worked as a caretaker on large estates and as a janitor at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Prospect Street; later he was a member of Board of Directors of Village Bank and Trust Company, located in the old Playhouse building. Mr. Knapp joined the Army in the Korean War, and won two Bronze Stars as a combat engineer. He was injured when an Army truck crashed into his tent, running over his legs and killing a fellow soldier while they were sleeping. Over the years he was active in the Lions Club and other community organizations, as well as old car groups. He and his wife, June, had six children, all with five-letter names beginning with D: David, Daryl, Darin, Dayle, Darcy and Dawne. "My mother just wanted it that way, and she was great with names," Darin said.
When Bob Knox turned 16 and got his driver's license, the first thing he wanted to do was drive up from his home in Greenwich to the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield. He wound up becoming a contemporary artist living in Ridgefield -- and having his work exhibited at the Aldrich. Noted for his dozens of New Yorker magazine covers, Mr. Knox is a whimsical artist whose work is full not only of meaning, but of fun. You can, for instance, look closely at a New Yorker cover of what seems to be a Grecian urn and discover that it's really a scene of zombied commuters on a subway train. One of his favorite subjects is large paintings of almost photo-realistic scenes of house interiors from the 1950s. (He's represented by the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York City.) Born in 1953, Mr. Knox graduated from Wesleyan, worked and studied in New York, Scotland and Germany. In the late 1980s he settled on Bryon Avenue, which he described as "almost like living in Europe" since so many amenities are within a short walk. He's also accomplished at collage and has written and illustrated several books for children, including the critically acclaimed, The Great Art Adventure, about two children and their magical adventures in the Museum of World Art.
When she lived in Ridgefield, Sophie Cary Knox was Mrs. Albert H. Storer, a founder of the Ridgefield Garden Club and its first president. In fact, the club’s first meeting June 9, 1914, was in her Main Street house. Mrs. Storer was a well-known civic leader in the first third of the 20th Century, and had been a pillar in the Village Improvement Society, which she helped found in 1899, and in St. Stephen’s Church. Her husband was also active in the church, was on the board of the library, and served on the school board. After his death in 1933, Sophie Storer married Henry H. Knox and moved to Santa Barbara, Calif. She died in 1946.
"I feel like I'm in a dream world," 18-year-old Karen Kopins told The Press in 1977. "It's something I've wanted since I was a little girl watching it on TV. I wanted to be Miss America. I used to pray to God that I'd be Miss America." Karen Kopins came close. In 1977, during the few years when the town had a Miss Ridgefield competition, Miss Kopins became not only Miss Ridgefield, but Miss Connecticut and went on to compete in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City that September. It was the beginning of a career that led to modeling and acting. The 1977 Ridgefield High School graduate was on the cover of Redbook and appeared in Mademoiselle, Glamour and extensively in Seventeen. She made TV commercials for Coca Cola, the Gap, Caress soap, Mountain Dew, and others. Between 1978 and 1995, she had roles in ten movies as well as several TV series, including a starring role in Dallas. In 1990, Miss Kopins, who grew up on Marshall Road and graduated from Marymount College, married her high school sweetheart, builder Marc Shaw, and settled in Redding.
When Hans Peter Kraus came to this country in 1939 to escape the Nazis, he had only $500 and five antique books. By his death in 1988, Mr. Kraus was one of the world's most renowned rare-book dealers -- a man who owned one of the three Gutenberg Bibles still in private hands and whose collection included a copy of the Declaration of Independence and a first printing of the U.S. Constitution. He was a major benefactor of the Library of Congress. In 1969, he donated 162 historical documents spanning 300 years of colonial Spanish America, including a narrative by Amerigo Vespucci of his four voyages to America between 1497 and 1502. It was "the most important acquisition of Hispanic materials," the librarian of Congress said at the time. The son of a professor who was also a bibliophile, Mr. Kraus was born in Austria in 1907 and in 1932 established a rare-book business in Vienna. After arriving in New York, he started a new dealership, H.P. Kraus, in a two-room flat, and by the 1960s, had 16 employees. Over the years he acquired some of the most famous and rare books and manuscripts in the world, and helped raise the nature of the business to a more sophisticated level. "Dealers are scholars," he said in 1967. "We are not tradesmen." His firm still exists, operated by his wife, Hanni Zucker Kraus. In 1966, the Krauses bought the former home of Henry and Clare Boothe Luce (q.v.) on Great Hill Road. Mr. Kraus died at the age of 81 and Mrs. Kraus soon moved away. Among their gifts to the Library of Congress is the Hans and Hanni Kraus Sir Francis Drake Collection, which contains early books, manuscripts, maps, and memorabilia related to Drake's explorations. Once asked by The Washington Post whether he reads the books he owns, Mr. Kraus replied: "Read them? Books are to be admired. To be studied. To be cherished -- not to be read. The worst thing you can do to a book is to read it. That's what paperbacks are for."
"There are thousands of apples-on-a-table paintings," abstract artist Nicholas Krushenick once told The Press. "I have a vocabulary of shapes that I hone and define. I can have no cliches of known values." A self-described former starving artist, he once supported himself by framing paintings and delivering them in an old Cadillac hearse. He was discovered in the 1950s and his work is now widely known and displayed; The National Gallery of Art owns a dozen of his paintings. Mr. Krushenick taught at Darmouth, Yale, Cornell, and other universities, and also designed sets for theatric productions. He lived here in the 1960s and early 1970s, and died in his native New York City in 1999 at the age of 69.
The 1970s was a decade when women made many inroads into town government offices once the sole realm of men. That movement perhaps began in November 1970 when Lodi Kysor of Olmstead Lane was elected first woman chairman of the Board of Education. Mrs. Kysor, a Democrat who served as a member from 1966 until 1973, ran the board during some of its most tumultuous times that included the infamous "book burning" as well as threats of teacher walk-outs. Her main interest was the average student. "We do a lot for smart children, and for children who have trouble in school, but are we doing enough for our most numerous 'middle'?" she asked in 1970. "I think there's a lot of untapped brainpower there." A native of Louisiana, Mrs. Kysor had been a dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. With her husband Harley, she moved to Ridgefield in 1962 to a house that had been owned by Varian Fry (q.v.). She has been active in community work, especially the Ridgefield Library, where she served as president of the board, and the Visiting Nurse Association, where she was also president. She also belongs to the Caudatowa Garden Club and the PEO Sisterhood, and serves on the Commission on Aging.
It’s hard to imagine Ridgefield baseball without Frank Lancaster Jr. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Mr. Lancaster has been involved in the town’s version of the national pastime since the late 1950’s, when he was a Little League pitcher. He went on to play the sport — and also football and basketball — at Ridgefield High, and has been the Tigers’ head baseball coach for the past 26 seasons. He has also been the longtime coach of the RHS girls volleyball team. Mr. Lancaster’s insistence on fundamentals has helped Ridgefield produce many college baseball players and perennially strong teams, including the 1988 squad that won the FCIAC title. As a player, Mr. Lancaster was a member of Ridgefield High teams that had a combined 41-7 record and won three straight WCC (Western Connecticut Conference) titles in the late 1960s. A lefthanded pitcher, Mr. Lancaster went 19-4 in his final two seasons, striking out 229 batters in 157-plus innings and recording an ERA under 2.00. He batted .366 as a senior and was twice named All-Conference. Mr. Lancaster was also an All-WCC safety in football and played on RHS teams that won three consecutive conference titles. He continued his baseball career at Central Connecticut State University, from which he graduated in 1973. Later that year he began teaching math at Ridgefield High. He currently teaches geometry and computer programming at the high school. The varsity football field is named in honor of his late brother, Steven.
The New York Times once described Karl F. Landegger as "the very model of the urbane and impeccable European businessman…and a tough Yankee trader." Fortune said: "Hard-driving, sophisticated, and a cool risk taker, he will obligingly arrange payment and long-term credits, in any one of six different currencies, and spend $300,000 bidding for a paper-mill contract in far away Egypt that he may never get." A mill magnate Mr. Landegger may also have been the wealthiest man ever to live in Ridgefield. In 1964, Fortune magazine estimated his worth at $34 million, but a year before, Parade magazine put his fortune at $250 million, "making him one of the wealthiest men in America." His wealth was earned through years of hard work and wise investments. A native of Vienna, he was born 1905 and when he was only 25, had saved $5,000 -- and borrowed $200,000 -- to buy a paper mill in Austria. Fleeing the Nazis in 1938, he went to London where he joined a pulp merchandising firm that sent him to the U.S. in 1940. Four years later he bought Parsons & Whittemore, a pulp, paper and mill equipment merchandiser and later added other companies. Today, it's the fourth largest producer of paper pulp in the world. In the 1950s Mr. Landegger began building paper and pulp mills for developing nations. At one point he had built 14 mills in 10 countries in five years, with 12 more under construction at a total capital investment of a half billion dollars. In the early 50s, Mr. Landegger and his family bought Flat Rock House, a 160-acre estate here, which his family still owns. Mr. Landegger died in 1976 while at his winter home in the Bahamas. He was 70. Though he was never involved in local organizations, Mr. Landegger and his family have quietly made many contributions to the community. In addition, the Karl F. Landegger Program in International Business Diplomacy at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service was endowed to train future leaders in international business, public policy, and business-government relations.
“I am probably one of the most prolific mothers out there,” said Jessie Royce Landis in a Press interview in 1966, the year she moved to Old Branchville Road. “But I am lucky enough to have children who are doing nicely and give me no trouble.” The “children” included Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, June Allyson, Tab Hunter, Anthony Perkins, Jean Peters, and Kim Novak. Miss Landis played mother to all of them in films. A stage and screen actress for 50 years, she was often cast as a mother, but also played countless other parts with the likes of Noel Coward, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Ray Milland, and Ingrid Bergman. Her career began on the stage, from Shakespeare to comedies, and wound up on television, where she appeared in scores of shows – often as a mother. Also a writer who penned comedies for the stage, she detailed much of her life in her autobiography, You Won’t Be So Pretty, But You Will Know More, about which one critic wrote: “It’s a pity it is true. It would make such wonderful fiction.” Miss Landis, whose husband was Army General J. F. R. Seitz, died in 1972 and is buried in Branchville Cemetery.
When Elliott Landon arrived as school superintendent in 1977, many teachers, town officials, and taxpayers looked at the Board of Education with distrust. Bitter budget and contract battles were commonplace. By the time he left in 1986, a new spirit of cooperation existed, budgets got support, programs were improved, and teachers won better contracts. In Dr. Landon's eight years here, school spending went from $9.8 million to $20.3 million while enrollments dropped from 5,675 to 3,844. "The relationships between the board and the administration and the teachers' association have improved considerably," he said when he announced he was leaving in 1986. "I think the feelings of distrust and negativism that were here when I came have improved." Only 37 when he was hired here, Dr. Landon was a native of New York City who majored in chemistry at Brooklyn College and got master's and doctoral degrees from the Teacher's College at Columbia. He taught chemistry and science in New York before moving in 1967 to administrative positions in Port Washington, Long Island, a suburban town of Ridgefield's size. He was assistant superintendent when Ridgefield hired him. In his years here, Dr. Landon gained respect from traditional school board critics. His first budget was approved uncut by the Board of Finance -- unheard of in decades -- and even the teachers' union eventually sang his praises. He converted the junior high to a middle school, set up programs for improving both curriculum and teachers, and boosted the quality of special education. "I think we've really enhanced and improved the program so it better meets the needs of all kids," he said in 1986. "The thing I enjoyed most was being able to make some real, long-term programmatic changes which will benefit this community for years and years." He ruffled his share of feathers, too -- closing both Barlow Mountain and Branchville Schools, firing a veteran high school department chairman for incompetence and "counseling" other staff of questionable proficiency into retirement. In 1984, he was named one of the "100 best school managers in North America" by a magazine for school administrators. While Dr. Landon was lured away by Garden City, Long Island, a school system that spent millions more dollars than Ridgefield on hundreds fewer children, he was back in Connecticut by the end of the century: He's superintendent of Westport.
Dr. Herbert Lapidus has a nose for a good idea. He's the man behind Odor Eaters, the deodorizing shoe inserts that have graced more than 300 million feet since he invented them back in 1974. "You have a problem and you look for a solution," Dr. Lapidus told The Press in 1988. "Basically, that's what an invention is." The Odor Eaters inspiration came long before the invention, though, back in his college days in the early 50s. "I had a roommate who had very smelly feet." Odor Eaters and a related Lapidus invention, Sneaker Tamers, are so popular that for 25 years, his employer, Combe Inc., has sponsored an International Rotten Sneaker Contest to find the annual worst-smelling sneaker. The Columbia/Rutgers graduate started out as a hospital pharmacist in the Army, worked for Bristol-Myers where he developed Silence Is Golden cough syrup and worked on Excedrin. In 1970, he joined a then-new Combe where he developed Odor Eaters and Sneaker Tamers. But his focus wasn't always on the bottom of the body. Dr. Lapidus, who's lived on Nutmeg Ridge since 1972, is the man behind Grecian Formula and Just for Men hair colorings. And he has helped in creating more than two dozen other Combe products, including Lanacane skin cream, Vagisil, and Sea-Bond for dentures. But Odor Eaters has long been what he's famous for, earning him such titles as "the Einstein of odor" or the "expert in odorology." "I've gotten a lot of teasing about that," he admitted, now a senior vice president at Combe.
A man who listened to advice and a woman who was grateful for help were behind a generous philanthropic fund. Paul and Johanna Laszig were born in Germany and emigrated to Ridgefield in 1932. For 33 years Paul Laszig operated The Modern Barber Shop on Catoonah Street. On Wednesdays, when the shop was closed, he’d visit the homes of some of the wealthy and powerful men in the area to cut their hair and, in the process, he'd get their advice on smart stock investments. Among his clients were former U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace of South Salem, Ingersoll-Rand Chairman George Doubleday (q.v.) of Ridgefield, and pollster Elmo Roper of Redding. Mr. Laszig retired in 1965 and died in 1974. After Johanna, who was wheelchair-bound, died in 1980, it was revealed that she had an estate worth more than $1.4 million. Grateful for the help she had gotten from such organizations as Meals on Wheels, Mrs. Laszig bequeathed $400,000 to create a fund to benefit the elderly. Today, the Laszig Fund annually hands out many thousands of dollars to local organizations.
“When I die,” Sylvia Latanzi told a Press reporter in 1972, “I want my coffin closed because no one’s ever seen me with my mouth shut.” Indeed, the feisty Republican spent more than 40 years speaking her mind at thousands of public meetings. The New York City native came here in 1931, got a driver’s license at 36 and wound up driving a school bus during World War II. She became active in the Republican Party in the 1930s, and served on the GOP Town Committee for 35 years – the last 15 as its vice chairman. While she also belonged to the League of Women Voters and the Women’s Republican Club, she never held official office. Nonetheless, many a town official sought her opinion – or got it without asking – at Town Meetings, school and zoning hearings, and anywhere else the public’s business was being discussed. Leading GOP figures like senators, governors and congressmen would make a point of courting her favor when they campaigned here, and guest lists at parties in her honor read like a Who’s Who of town government. “No one ever has to worry about what’s on Sylvia’s mind,” former First Selectman Louis J. Fossi once said. “You usually hear it.” She died in 1990 at the age of 95.
When George B. Leeman was only two years old, he astonished family members by picking out tunes on a piano. "By the time his fourth birthday rolled around," The Press reported in 1962, "he was ready for a recital." The Oklahoma native went on to study music at the University of Oklahoma and went from there to RKO studios in Hollywood. But he soon wound up in New York, working CBS radio and later television as a composer and arranger for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dick Haymes, Paul Whiteman, Andre Kostelanetz, and for 12 years with Arthur Godfrey. A Ridgefielder since 1942, Mr. Leeman helped found the Ridgefield Symphonette in 1964, and helped it grow into the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. (His son, George Jr., has also been a leader in the orchestra, and wrote the program notes for many years.) After his retirement from CBS in 1962, Mr. Leeman gave private piano lessons to Ridgefield youngsters. He also composed and arranged many songs that were performed by children in the Ridgefield elementary schools, where his wife, Evelyn, taught for many years. "Music," he said, "is a therapy. Most children find something in music that relaxes them." Mr. Leeman died in 1978 at the age of 70. Two weeks after his death, the Board of Education named the auditorium at Scotland School "the Leeman Room" in his honor.
"Be yourself and you'll be right" Ruth Leibowitz tells young people. Ms. Leibowitz, who spends most of her waking day working for kids, is involved in at least a half dozen youth programs, some of which she created herself. A native of West Virginia, daughter of a Russian father and Polish mother, Ms. Leibowitz left home at the age of 16 to pursue a career in dance. She worked for the Children's Aid Society, and studied first at George Ballanchine's school for dancers and later at the American Ballet Theatre in New York under a full scholarship. Eventually, she became a character dancer on PBS television's Children's Dance Theater. She also taught drama and movement in New Jersey before moving to Ridgefield in 1976 and a year later, began a long association with the Wooster School in Danbury where she has taught dance and drama. In 1982 she joined the Ridgefield Youth Commission, of which she has been chairman for many years. Three years later, concerned about the lack of understanding between parents and kids, she founded Inside Out, a theatrical-style group that lets young people act out extemporaneous dramas about the problems they face -- such as drugs, alcohol, school, peer and parental pressures. Over the years Inside Out has given hundreds of performances for both adults and young people throughout the region, and has won widespread praise and even the support of United Way. In 2000, she has started a middle school Inside Out who will perform for elementary school students. Ms. Leibowitz is also active in the Ridgefield Youth Service Bureau, helped establish The Barn teen center, and was one of the founders of A Better Chance, which lets minority teenagers from cities live here and attend Ridgefield High School. All this from a woman who's four foot ten inches tall and weighs 95 pounds. "I have all this energy," she once told an interviewer. But someone once put it more colorfully: "She reminds me of a single-serve package of Rice Krispies. Small and compact, full of snap, crackle and pop."
A captain of industry whose writing was once likened to Jules Verne, Henry J. Leir was also a philanthropist who gave away millions in his lifetime and whose Ridgefield Foundation still donates millions to universities, hospitals and other organizations. Born in 1900 in Prussia, Mr. Leir fled Germany in 1933 and settled in Luxembourg, where he wrote a novel, La Grande Compagnie de Colonisation, which promoted a world peace through a global corporation that fueled development, training and discovery to promote increased worldwide economy. While the book sold few copies at the time, it was still being studied in the 1990s for its ideas. Mr. Leir came to the U.S. in 1938 and to Ridgefield in 1954. His metals companies, including International Mining and Chemicals Corporation, were leaders in their fields. Through their Ridgefield Foundation, so called because they were so fond of their home town, he and his wife, Erna, contributed quietly to many international, national and Ridgefield groups; one of its largest grants was $500,000 to the Aldrich Museum in 1996. In 1996 the fund had $13 million in assets and gave away nearly $700,000. Mr. Leir died in 1998.
In a town where men had been managers for more than two and a half centuries, Elizabeth Mary Nowotarski Leonard made history in 1981 when she was elected the first woman first selectman. And her election wasn’t even close, for Mrs. Leonard was already widely popular, famed for her devotion to Ridgefield and its people. The New York City native arrived here in 1958, and worked for a decade as the Ridgefield reporter for The Danbury News-Times, often turning out six or seven stories a day. Around 1970, she turned the tables; instead of covering politicians, she became one. She left the newspaper and joined the Republican Town Committee, serving as its secretary, and also became vice president of the Fifth Congressional District Women’s Republican Club. She was named to a Charter Revision Commission, and began a long stint as a lively and witty moderator of Town Meetings. In 1976, she overcame opponents on the town committee, in a caucus and at a primary to win the nomination for state representative, and went on to defeat Lillian Moorhead in the election. She served in the State House till 1981, earning the nickname “Studs” for her support of legislation allowing studded snow tires. Because of her efforts for improved rail service on the Danbury line, a self-propelled Budd car was named Lizzy in her honor. During her six years as first selectman, the town began paramedic service, built more housing for the elderly at Ballard Green, added a sewage treatment plant for Route 7, refurbished athletic fields, rebuilt schools, and began work on the Prospect Ridge congregate housing for the elderly. When she left office, the town had a $700,000 budget surplus. Ill health, including severe arthritis, forced her to retire from office in 1987, but not from the Board of Selectmen, where she continued to serve until her death in 1992 at the age of 56.
Ridgefield had many great estates early in the 20th Century, but few surpassed Frederic E. Lewis’s “Upagenstit.” At one time this spread on West Lane employed nearly 100 people. The garage alone held 15 cars, and the estate was equipped with an indoor swimming pool (natatorium) and houses for workers – many still exist along West Lane and on Lewis Drive. His place was so big that, with little modification, it became a college in the 1940s. President of Adams Express Company, a competitor of American Express and Wells Fargo, Mr. Lewis came here in 1907, buying and expanding the estate of H.B. Anderson (q.v.). He was a First National Bank director, but behind the scenes he was also a major philanthropist. “He was a friend of the worthy needy and he freely, but absolutely anonymously, has contributed largely to the relief of the distressed,” said his obituary when he died in 1919 at age 60. “The extent of his philanthropic work will never be known as he never spoke of it and would not permit others to mention it. Many a worthy case that received timely help will never know the identity of their benefactor.” His son, Wadsworth R. Lewis (q.v.), carried on the interest in philanthropy. His widow, Mary Russell Lewis, continued to live in the estate until 1934 when it was sold to bridge expert Ely Culbertson (q.v.).
Thousands of people have benefited from the Lewis Fund, but few have known who Lewis was. Like his father, Frederic E. Lewis (who also died relatively young), Wadsworth R. Lewis was interested in the welfare of the people in his community. The fund he set up in his will had, by 1999, given away more than $1.7 million since 1950 for “charitable, educational or religious purposes.” “Waddy,” as he was called, grew up at the family estate, Upagenstit, on West Lane and was a lieutenant in the Naval intelligence service during World War I. In 1939 he built his own home, Taghkanick, on Bennett’s Farm and Great Hill Roads and became active in the community, serving on the school board, Draft Board, the Ration Board, and the Town Hall Building Committee. He was also an award-winning grower of orchids. But he was also frail and died in 1942 at the age of 53.
Fortunately for us all, some people share themselves for the betterment of their communities. Few people have shared more than Joyce Ligi. Throughout her career in banking, Mrs. Ligi has used her financial and leadership talents to help innumerable agencies and she seems never to run out of energy to volunteer her services. "First you have to want to do it," she said in a 1990 interview. "Then you have to have the time and finally you need to have family and employer support." A Ridgefield native and lifelong resident, Joyce Casavecchia Ligi graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1960 and was immediately hired by Francis D. Martin (q.v.) at Fairfield County Trust Company as a teller. The bank became Union Trust Company and Mrs. Ligi eventually became a senior vice president, in charge of 13 area offices. Since the 1980s, Mrs. Ligi has had a special interest in United Way of Northern Fairfield County and in spreading the word to Ridgefielders about how much the organization helps them as well as the region through the many agencies it supports. She's been on the United Way board for many years, was chairman in 1990 and has led fund-raising drives in other years. Another favorite agency is the Visiting Nurse Association of Ridgefield, of which she became treasurer in the 1970s and was elected president in 1998. Among the other organizations she's served are the American Red Cross, Datahr Rehabilitation Institute, Ridgefield Library, Little League, Lions Club, Keeler Tavern, Weir Farm, Girl Scouts, Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, the Community Center, Danbury Rotary, and the Wadsworth R. Lewis (q.v.) Fund, Over the years she has received accolades for her work with many of them. Mrs. Ligi, who has been a president in the National Association of Bank Women in Connecticut, became senior vice president of business development and community relations at Ridgefield Bank in 1996. She is married to Dante Ligi..
For Richard Ligi, working for the Ridgefield Police has been almost a lifetime affair. He was so young when he joined the department in 1967 that he wasn't allowed to carry a gun, and had to do clerical work. He was attending Post College in Waterbury and, as soon as he turned 21 in 1969, Richard Ligi was sworn in as a full-time officer. From there promotions came steadily, to sergeant in 1977, lieutenant in 1980, captain in 1990 and major in 1996. When Thomas Rotunda (q.v.) retired in 1999, the Police Commission unanimously chose Major Ligi as the town's fourth police chief, the second one to be a native son. Chief Ligi has been especially noted and praised for his involvement with youth. He coached Little League and other sports, and has helped develop anti-drinking and drug programs such as Party Patrols and Cops and Shops; the former cracks down on "keg parties" and the latter uses underground police as liquor store clerks. The chief has also worked to improve how youth view the police, such as expanding the involvement of the youth officer in the schools and their students, and proposing a "school resource officer" who could work with kids at the high school daily. "Relationships create better rapport, and that rapport may help kids better understand what we're doing," he said in 1999.
Otto H. Lippolt was a man who loved the land and collected what he loved. A native of Pleasantville, N.Y., Mr. Lippolt moved in the 1920s to a 100-acre farm at the corner of Ridgebury Road and George Washington Highway (the farmhouse is now the Ridgebury Congregational Church parsonage). A well-known and respected well driller and serviceman, Mr. Lippolt would go out in the middle of the night to help a person whose water had stopped running. He also collected Ridgebury land during the Depression, mostly at tax sales. By the 1950s he had amassed more than 700 acres, and began slowly subdividing a development he called Hemlock Hills, which includes Old Mill and Bear Mountain Roads. But he was not a cut and slash developer. “He had an outdoorsman’s love of the land,” wrote author Carl Baumhart in a 1965 tribute after Mr. Lippolt died. “You could almost see his keen, far-seeing eyes stroking the surrounding hills gently as he gazed across them. He liked to detour now and then just to take a look at a particular giant of a tree that had become almost a personality to him… He knew there’d eventually be a population explosion and that Ridgebury would participate. He meant to see to it that the lovely land he owned went to those who felt much as he did about it. He wouldn’t sell to just anybody.” As it turned out, two years after he died, Marion Washburn Lippolt, a Ridgebury native, sold 570 acres to the town at the modest price of around $5,000 an acre; she could have sold to a developer, but she knew her husband’s love of the land. Today, the Lippolt land is the Hemlock Hills and the Pine Mountain Refuges, the largest contiguous piece of open space in Ridgefield and one of the largest in Fairfield County. Mrs. Lippolt died in 1984.
Millions of people have seen Franklin Lischke naked, but he didn't mind at all. In fact, Mr. Lischke was proud of the fact that as a boy, he was a frequent model for Norman Rockwell, the artist who in the late 1920s rented studio space in the Lischke family barn in New Rochelle, N.Y. He used young Frank as a model for many Saturday Evening Post covers, including the famous scene of three skinny-dipping boys, clothes in hand, running by a "No Swimming" sign as they flee the law. Mr. Rockwell, a lifelong friend, urged Mr. Lischke to pursue art, and he did. He became a well-known commercial artist in New York City, specializing in fashion work for stores like Bloomingdale's and Saks. A Ridgefielder from 1946 to 1986, he used his talents to contribute to the community, doing many of the illustrations for Silvio Bedini's 1958 history, Ridgefield in Review, the Bicentennial commemorative book, Heritage '76, and the 1975 history of St. Stephen's Church, where he served on many parish committees. He also designed graphics and did art for the Keeler Tavern, the library, the Ridgefield Garden Club, and the Ridgefield Orchestra. In 1986, he and his wife, Martha, moved to Litchfield, where he died in 1991 at the age of 83.
"The first third of your life, you learn; the second third, you earn; and the third, you return," says Philip Lodewick. Mr. Lodewick and his wife Christine have spent more than 20 years as Ridgefielders giving back to the community. They are well known locally as the moving forces behind A Better Chance, the organization that since 1987 has been bringing promising young minority women from inner cities to Ridgefield to study at the high school, to gain both a good education and the chance to become leaders of tomorrow. Each year the Lodewicks sponsor the "Jazz at Maple Hill" festival at their home to raise money for ABC. Philip is a member of the founding board and each has been president of ABC. Other beneficiaries of their generosity include the University of Connecticut, to which they gave $1.5 million to construct the Lodewick Visitors Center opened at the Storrs campus in September 2000. "It's a really good school that's finally coming into its own," Mrs. Lodewick said in a 1998 interview (UConn had recently been listed as one of the top 20 universities in the country). Both Lodewicks are graduates -- Philip with a bachelor's in business in 1966 and an MBA a year later, and Christine with a master's in speech pathology in 1966. Mr. Lodewick is a longtime member of the board of the fund-raising University of Connecticut Foundation, and has been its chairman. He owns the Tradewell Corporation, a high-technology equipment leasing company, which provides and finances computers, communication networks, telephone systems, and scientific instrumentation to companies across North America. Ridgefielders since 1978, both have been active in St. Andrew's Lutheran Church. Mr. Lodewick is a founder of the Discovery Center and the International Forgiveness Institute headquartered in Madison, Wisc. Mrs. Lodewick has been president of the Ridgefield League of Women Voters, an officer of the American Association of University Women and is a board member of the new Ridgefield Center for the Performing Arts. "We're the fund-raising arm of everything," Mrs. Lodewick said with a laugh in the 1998 interview. "If you talk to people, they say, 'What are you going to hit me up for now?' "
George E. Lounsbury didn’t get to see much of the 20th Century, but the popular Ridgefielder was governor of the state in the year 1900 and was one of the town’s most influential citizens. In fact, his Press obituary in 1904 reported that “he wielded a greater influence over his fellow townsmen than any other single person.” He was born in Pound Ridge, N.Y., in 1838, but his parents moved to Farmingville two years later, and it was at the schoolhouse there and at Yale that he was educated. He began his career as an Episcopal minister, but because of health problems, entered the family business, a shoe factory in Norwalk, and headed it the rest of his life. An active Republican, he was elected a state senator in 1895 and 1897, and governor in 1899 and 1900. (His brother, Phineas, had been governor 12 years earlier – see below.) After his retirement, he became president of the First National Bank here (the ancestor of the First Union branch on Main Street). “Although he was more than ordinarily successful and acquired wealth, position and prominence, he always retained an interest in the common people, with whom he mingled freely and in whose welfare he was deeply interested, as he often showed in many practical ways, unknown to the general public,” he obituary said. He died in 1904.
Although he was governor of Connecticut – the first of two Ridgefield brothers to run the state, Phineas Chapman Lounsbury is better known today as the man who built what’s now the Community Center – officially known as the Veterans Memorial Community Center, also called the Lounsbury Mansion, but named by him Grovelawn. Born on a farm in Farmingville in 1844, Mr. Lounsbury graduated from Wesleyan, served in the Civil War, and was a businessman in New York City – serving as chairman of the board of Atlantic National Bank and on the board of many other companies, including Ridgefield’s First National Bank. He was also a partner in the family shoe factory in Norwalk. He began his political career in 1874 when he was elected a state representative from town and was elected governor in 1887. After he died at Grovelawn in 1923, aged 81, The Press said of him: “His career was notable and brilliant. He participated in almost every state and national political campaign since the World War and by his masterly insight into public questions and oratorical powers became a recognized power.”
Ridgefield once had a motel called The Green Doors. It also once had the author of The Green Door, a number-one hit song in 1956. Jim Lowe, a radio personality for more than a half century, lived at Twin Ridge in the 1970s while he was an afternoon disc jockey on WNBC in New York. Mr. Lowe, who is still broadcasting the syndicated "Jim Lowe and Friends" show today, wrote and sang The Green Door and also wrote The Gambler's Guitar, the 1955 hit sung by Rusty Draper, and Close the Doors They're Coming in the Windows, a million-seller country hit. Though he sang The Green Door, he admitted in a 1971 Press interview, "I knew I couldn't really sing." So after his brief but successful flirtation with recording, he returned to being a disc jockey, a career he'd begun in 1948 when he graduated from the University of Missouri. He also did many commercials during the 70s and 80s. Today he lives in New Jersey and is considered an expert on the popular music of the 40s and 50s.
For a half century, Dr. Russell W. Lowe was more than the community doctor; he was among the handful of leading citizens who were always looked to for advice on running the town. A native of Oneida, N.Y., he graduated from New York University medical school in 1889 at the age of 21, the youngest in his class. Soon after he arrived in Ridgefield where he practiced for 53 years -- except for service in the Army Medical Corps in World War I. For most of that time, he was the town health officer, the medical examiner, and the school physician. He was a major fund-raiser for Danbury Hospital -- a waiting room was named in his honor in the 1940s -- and was president of the Danbury Medical Society for 40 years. A longtime member of the Republican Town Committee, he was "one of the party's most influential leaders," his obituary in a 1944 Press said. Dr. Lowe was also among the first Ridgefielders to own a car which, of course, he used primarily to make house calls. He was also active in the Branchville Fresh Air Association, which brought many city kids to camp in the country. "To have known Dr. Lowe was an inspiration -- a perfect gentleman, a wonderful diagnostician, and a man who gave everything to the public and his profession," said a testimonial in The Press. "In his practice, he was extremely conscientious -- rich and poor were treated alike."
One of the saddest, most shocking events in 20th Century Ridgefield was the arrest of Harvey Lown (1899-1967), tax collector and well-respected civic leader. He had been a World War I war hero, a school board member, chairman of the School Building Committee, a state representative, and a member of many community organizations. But on Jan. 16, 1940, he was arrested for embezzlement. State tax department auditors had been checking many towns for suspected "co-mingling" of funds by tax collectors. Not until they reached Ridgefield did they have success. They found $14,000 missing from the town coffers and determined that Mr. Lown, tax collector since the late 1920s, had been using tax money to pay insurance premiums of the financially strapped customers of his Lown Agency. He wound up financially strapped himself. The state was pleased. It had nailed not only a tax collector, but the president of the State Tax Collectors Association, and he was held up as an example. After a trial in Bridgeport, Mr. Lown was sentenced to two tough years in prison -- during the first year, he could receive only one letter a month and his wife, Elizabeth, could have only two, half-hour visits a month. Elizabeth took over the business and got much support from the townspeople, many of whom still loved Harvey for all the good he had done. One doctor doubled his life insurance coverage, just to show support. When he was released from prison, Mr. Lown continued to operate his insurance business until shortly before his death in 1967. But he and Elizabeth were never the happy and vibrant people they once were, wrote Town Historian Richard E. Venus in The Press. "It was truly a sad chapter in the history of Ridgefield. Harvey's loyal friends have always felt that he never shortchanged anyone but himself."
Writer, Congresswoman, and Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce “had those sought-after qualities – good looks, style, a sharp tongue, and great boldness – that made her one of the most popular and admired women of her day,” The Press said in Mrs. Luce’s obituary in 1987. She and her husband, Time magazine publisher Henry Luce, had their country home here from 1946 to 1966. She was born into near poverty in 1903 and her musician father soon abandoned her chorus girl mother, who worked hard to see that her daughter was well-educated. Mrs. Luce worked hard to use that education. By 1930, she was a $20-a-week writer for Vogue; three years later she was managing editor of Vanity Fair. She wrote plays, movies and books, including a 1940 best seller, Europe in Spring. Several of her plays were on Broadway, including the smash hit, The Women. She was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1949 film, Come to the Stable. As a Greenwich resident she served as Fourth District congressman from 1943 until 1946, when the Luces bought the 100-acre former estate of Wadsworth R. Lewis (q.v.) on Great Hill Road. At a PTA meeting here in 1950, she urged more federal support of schools, particularly “Negro” schools in the South. An active Catholic, she also favored public support of non-public schools. “To deny aid to private and parochial schools seems to me to be class legislation,” she told the PTA. During the Eisenhower administration, Mrs. Luce, a staunch Republican, was appointed U.S. ambassador to Italy. In 1962, she was a rumored U.S. Senate candidate from Connecticut, but the Luces both changed their voting address to New York and she ran for the Senate there on the Conservative ticket. She held such stature in the party that when George Bush was first running for president, he visited her in Hawaii to get her support. Nonetheless, Mrs. Luce was also interested in local politics and among other events, attended a famous 1950s GOP caucus in town in which six people -- four of them women -- sought the party endorsement to run for state representative (Nancy Carroll Draper won). In 1966 the Luces sold their 22-room mansion to rare book dealer Hans P. Kraus (q.v.). Henry Luce died a year later, and Mrs. Luce lived in Honolulu and Washington before her death in 1987 at the age of 84.
Ridgefield has been a home to many leaders but few could match Henry R. Luce for power and influence. A graduate of Yale who studied at Oxford, Mr. Luce became a newspaper reporter in Chicago and Baltimore, and in 1923 co-founded Time magazine with Briton Hadden. When Hadden died a few years later, Mr. Luce was in sole control. He later started Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated, and was long considered the most influential magazine publisher and among the most influential people in the United States. His company became Time Warner, and in early 2000, its merger with America Online was announced. In 1936, he established the Henry Luce Foundation which, at the end of the century, had $900 million in assets used to help higher education, scholarship in American art, opportunities for women in science, and other causes. A conservative Republican, Harry Luce did little in Ridgefield except rest and vote, though his wife, Clare Boothe Luce (q.v.), was more active locally. At a dinner party here one time, a local Catholic woman, knowing Mrs. Luce was a devout Catholic, asked Mr. Luce if he'd every considered converting. "My parents were once Presbyterian missionaries in China," he replied. "Certainly not." Mr. Luce, who died in 1967, is one of the two Ridgefielders to have been pictured on a U.S. stamp, a 32-cent issue that in the Great Americans series that came out in April 1998.
A long-ago world of English royalty fascinated Mary Luke, a meticulous and critically acclaimed novelist and biographer whose specialty was the wives and children of Henry VIII. Between 1967 and 1986, she wrote seven books on Elizabethan and Tudor royalty, all well received by The New York Times and other reviewers. Mrs. Luke researched her subjects thoroughly, visiting the places where the characters lived, reading their letters and journals, and viewing sites where dramatic episodes in her books took place. Born Mary Munger in Pittsfield, Mass., Mrs. Luke graduated from business school and worked in advertising and for documentary film companies before finding herself as a writer. Her first books (Catherine the Queen, A Crown for Elizabeth, and Gloriana: The Years of Elizabeth I) chronicled the often complex relationships among the legitimate daughters of Henry VIII. Subsequent books covered such people as Lady Jane Grey (The Nine Days Queen) and even a castle loved by Elizabeth (The Nonsuch Lure). A Ridgefielder for nearly 40 years, Mrs. Luke was president of the Ridgefield Library and a longtime board member. She also worked for the District Nursing Association, and the Thrift Shop, and was active in the conservation efforts of both the Ridgefield and Caudatowa Garden Clubs, often penning letters to officials and The Press about local issues affecting the environment. She died in 1993 at the age of 74.
Only two pastors in the three-century history of Ridgefield's oldest church have served longer than the Rev. Clayton R. Lund (one was his predecessor, Hugh Shields [q.v.], and the other was Jonathan Ingersoll, from 1740 to 1778). The 17th minister of the First Congregational Church arrived in 1956 and retired just 30 years later. During his first 10 years here, the congregation tripled in size to 800 people, a church school was added, and an assistant minister was hired. A native of Cranston, R.I., Mr. Lund graduated from Andover-Newton Theological School. He served congregations in Massachusetts and New York before coming to Ridgefield at the age of 37. "A ministry is a life of service to other people," Mr. Lund said in 1986 when he was retiring after 42 years of parish work. "My daily agenda is created by the needs of others. A minister has to be a teacher, preacher, pastor, administrator, and community leader." Mr. Lund was all of those, often participating in community organizations and speaking up for people in need. He was also a strong leader. In 1978, just after extensive renovations were completed, a fire destroyed in the Church House. Mr. Lund led efforts to build a new church house, which was completed in 1980 and named Lund Hall in his honor. However, over his three decades in Ridgefield, Mr. Lund was best known for comforting those in need. At his retirement, novelist and historian Kathryn Morgan Ryan (q.v.), whose Roman Catholic husband was a close friend of the minister, called Mr. Lund "a man of surging talent and uncontainable compassion. Very soon now…we in the town he loves will realize that, like others in our lives, we took him for granted, that we believed he would always be here for us -- all of us, any of us, at any time. It is hard to let go of the security he represents." He was so respected as a minister that in 1990, Andover-Newton, his alma mater, established a $20,000 Clayton R. Lund scholarship for ministerial students. Mr. Lund, who had lived in Danbury in recent years, died in July 2000 at the age of 81.
"After completing a 35-year job, many men would be content to slip quietly into retirement," said a Press editorial in 1950. "Not Mr. Lusk. Long ago his stout heart committed him to a lifetime of devotion to humanity." Indeed, the Rev. William B. Lusk, rector of St. Stephen's longer than anyone in the church's 275-year history, had retired and was heading off to England on an unusual mission. He had joined the staff of London's All Hallow's Church, which despite having been bombed out in the recent war, was still holding open-air services every day; it had been holding services daily for 1,275 years. He was to minister to the congregation and help London's oldest church raise money to rebuild. A native of Northern Ireland, Mr. Lusk was born in 1869, graduated from Queens College, Belfast, and came to this country in 1894, graduating three years later from Princeton Theological Seminary. He became a Presbyterian minister in the Adirondacks, but in 1907 joined the Episcopal Church and in 1915, was called to Ridgefield. That was the same year the current stone church building was completed. A year later, the new rectory opened. During his years here, he came to be known as "Daddy," not only by parishioners but also in the community. He served the congregation during two world wars -- in World War I, he traveled to France to visit and encourage the troops. After World War II, he served on the Postwar Planning Board, which aided returning servicemen. During his years, the church prospered, but maintained a country flavor -- for most of their years here, William and Edna Lusk had chickens, a cow, and some rabbits out back of the rectory. (In 1938, the vestry ordered a halt to the brooding of chickens in the rectory basement because of the "disagreeable odor.") After working in England, the Lusks returned to Ridgefield, living on High Ridge. Mr. Lusk died in 1953 at the age of 83. Edna Lusk, also a native of Northern Ireland who was active in the Red Cross here, died 10 years later, age 79.
To return to index, press browser’s “back” button.