During the last quarter of the century, more than 5,000 people -- from five years old on up to senior citizens -- have danced across school stages in May recitals directed by Joan MacDonald. Her students' shows became a spring tradition in town. "It seems like everyone has danced in a MacDonald recital or knows someone who has," said Robin Matthews of the Parks and Recreation Department. These shows frequently included two generations of dancers within a family and, in her last recital, three generations from her family participated. Born in Washington, D.C., in 1931, Mrs. MacDonald started studying dance when she was three years old and, during the 40s, entertained through USO shows at many military installations around Washington. After dancing at half-time shows for the Washington Redskins football team, she became a member of the Rockettes summer touring troupe, danced professionally in the Washington area, and, after college, began her career in dance instruction. She and her husband, Robert, moved to Ridgefield in 1970 and a few years later, she helped the Westmoreland Homeowners Association stage a dance act for a spring show. Neighbors were so impressed they asked her to start classes and soon after Parks and Recreation invited her to teach through their programs. Her first May recital in 1973 had 27 young students performing. By the 1990s, nearly 400 dancers of all ages typically participated in MacDonald-Pin Dancers shows. Mrs. MacDonald's staff included her daughter, Carrie Pin, and husband Robert, who created much of the scenery. Mrs. MacDonald retired in 1999, and Ms. Pin took over the school.
Once called "the most dangerous woman in America," Mary Mallon was also the subject of one of the most unusual legal debates of the 20th Century. She was born in Ireland in 1869, emigrated to the United States as a teenager and became a cook in the homes of several wealthy New York and Connecticut families. Around the turn of the century, she contracted typhoid fever, but having suffered only flu-like symptoms, probably didn't know it. However, her body became a carrier of the disease bacterium. In 1906, while working for a banker's family, six of 11 people living in the household came down with typhoid fever. The banker hired an investigator who eventually identified Miss Mallon and found 22 other cases of typhoid fever in families where she worked. New York City health officials took Mary Mallon into custody in 1907 and, without any charges or trial, kept her in an isolation cottage on North Brother Island in New York Harbor. Two years later, a brief story on the front page of the July 22, 1909 Press said: "A woman who worked as cook for Ridgefield people, and who is called 'Typhoid Mary,' has been kept a prisoner in quarantine at North Brother Island for the past two years. It is said she was responsible for six cases of typhoid fever in one family in this town. She is said to be immune herself, but can communicate the disease to others. She is known by several persons in Ridgefield…" The Press then cited a New York newspaper story that reported that Miss Mallon had appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for release, saying she'd done nothing wrong and had been illegally jailed without trial. "I never had typhoid in my life and have always been healthy," she said. "Why should I be banished like a leper and compelled to live in solitary confinement with only a dog for a companion?" While she was denied release in 1909, she was freed a year later after swearing she would not cook again. However, in 1915, an investigator tracing typhoid outbreaks at a New Jersey sanatorium and a New York maternity hospital found that Mary Mallon, using aliases to escape detection, had worked in both places. She was apprehended and returned to North Brother Island for the rest of her life, dying in 1938 but always maintaining she was not a carrier. Health officials linked 51 cases of typhoid -- including three deaths -- to her. The details of the Ridgefield cases are unknown -- many issues of The Press from the era when she was here are no longer extant and it's not known how much -- if any -- news coverage was given to the outbreak here.
The Rev. Clayton R. Lund (q.v.), minister of the First Congregational Church, once called the Rev. Dr. Aaron Manderbach "the religious father of the town." His praise stemmed from the Episcopal priest's 30 years of leadership, not only at St. Stephen's Church but in the community. "When I first came to town, there was a closed society," Dr. Manderbach said at his retirement in 1980, 30 years after having been called as rector at St. Stephen's. "Everyone was in his own church bailiwick. Now there is a wonderful feeling of cooperation among the churches." That is due in large part to Dr. Manderbach himself. In 1951, he invited the Methodist and Congregational ministers to join in the Good Friday services at St. Stephen's. From that grew the Ridgefield Clergy Association, still active today. His 30 years here can also be seen other parts of community life. He started three scout troops, promoted and supported programs and housing for the elderly, and helped the local Alcoholics Anonymous get established. "He has been a great steadying influence in the community," said First Selectman Louis J. Fossi in 1980. Dr. Manderbach was born in 1912 in Philadelphia, graduated from Temple University and Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven. Ordained in 1937, he served parishes in Pennsylvania before being called to Ridgefield with his wife, Emma, and their four small children. Emma died in 1966, and two years later, Mr. Manderbach married Judy Marin. When he arrived, St. Stephen's had only 250 communicants; by his departure, there were more than 650 parishioners. "We have grown from a country parish … to a place of prominence in the diocese," he said in 1980. "We are in the top 10 parishes in the diocese in attendance and we are a strong spiritual heartbeat in the community." His ministry emphasized working with children and looking after the sick and elderly -- "by ministering to them, you minister to many," he said. In 1981, nearly a year after he had moved from town, Dr. Manderbach was named Citizen of the Year by the Rotary Club. Aaron and Judy Manderbach first lived in Sharon, and are now in Salisbury, and Dr. Manderbach has continued to do many interim and supply pastoral assignments in his retirement years. The Manderbachs still visit St. Stephen's and are still members of the parish.
The League of Women Voters has inspired an interest in government in many women, but few Ridgefielders have been as inspired as Sue Manning. A Cincinnati, Ohio, native and DePauw graduate, the former high school math and English teacher arrived in Ridgefield with her husband and three children in 1970 and soon after became the League's observer at Planning and Zoning Commission meetings. She liked what she saw, and in 1976, applied for a commission vacancy. She was selected and in the town election a year later, was elected to the commission (where it was not unusual to see her knitting as she listened to deliberations). Not long after, she was commission chairman. In 1981, Mrs. Manning ran for first selectman, but lost in a primary to Elizabeth Leonard (q.v.). Two years later, she was elected to the Board of Selectmen and, in 1987 when Liz Leonard retired, Mrs. Manning was elected to the first of her five terms as first selectman. During her 10 years in office, many buildings, roads and sewers were improved or repaired, and her administration undertook many village improvements, including rebuilding the sidewalks along Main Street that countless people use for walking or running. The recreation center was opened, the Barn youth center was established, Branchville School reopened, athletic fields added, and many government systems and procedures were updated and streamlined. But Mrs. Manning was perhaps proudest of the fiscal condition of the town -- several years, there were no tax increases at all during her years and the year after she left office, the town's bond rating was upgraded to Aaa, the highest possible, in recognition of its fiscal strength. She was also pleased that, while she was in office, Connecticut Magazine rated Ridgefield the "Number One" town in the state. Through all her years here, Mrs. Manning has been involved in much more than government. She was president of the Ridgefield Family Y for four years, president of the League of Women Voters, and president of the Women's Fellowship of the First Congregational Church. She served on the board of Veterans Park PTA, as a director of A Better Chance (ABC), a director of the Visiting Nurse Association, an incorporator of Danbury Hospital, a member of Republican Town Committee, and a director of the Ridgefield Workshop for the Performing Arts. For all her service to the town, she was named Jaycees "Man [sic] of the Year" in 1976 and Rotary "Citizen of the Year" in 1998. An incorporator of the Ridgefield Bank, she became its vice president of business development in 1998. She and her husband, Mike, live in an East Ridge home once owned by another Republican first selectman, Winthrop E. Rockwell (q.v.).
Rudy Marconi became the last first selectman of the 20th Century and the first of the 21st when he was elected in November 1999. In his second bid for the office, the Democrat unseated incumbent Abe Morelli, who’d defeated him two years earlier. A native son, Mr. Marconi graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1966 and Nichols College, and worked in the paper and printing industry before returning to town in 1986 to join the family contracting business, Nano Marconi Inc. Before becoming chief executive, he’d served four years on the Planning and Zoning Commission, two terms on the Board of Selectmen, and was chairman of the Democratic Town Committee in the late 1990s.
In 1960, Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane flight was shot down over Russia and Premier Nikita Krushchev cancelled a summit meeting. Soon after, President Eisenhower made a speech in Portugal that began, "Have any of you seen that recent cartoon that said: 'The next speaker needs all the introduction he can get?" The cartoon was by Jerry Marcus, and thereafter it hung in the White House, the first of two to be so honored. The other, which appeared just after John-John Kennedy was born, showed two guards outside an otherwise darkened White House, with a single brightly-lit window. "It's probably the 2 o'clock feeding," one guard says. Since 1947, Jerry Marcus's gag cartoons have appeared in every major magazine, from The New Yorker to the Paris Match. While most successful cartoonists stick to either magazine gags or newspaper strips, Mr. Marcus is unusual: he's been successful at both. His King Features daily and Sunday strip, Trudy, has appeared in hundreds of newspapers since it began in 1963, and focuses on the life of a suburban homemaker -- modeled a bit after his strong-willed mother who, as a widow, had to raise four children in a cold-water flat in Brooklyn. More than a dozen books of his work, mostly Trudy collections, have been published. Born in 1924, Mr. Marcus served in the Navy during World War II, and then studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City. He came to Ridgefield in 1956 and worked here more than 40 years before moving to Danbury. He often appears with fellow cartoonists in programs at schools and libraries in the area, and hundreds of his cartoons have appeared in The Press, especially during the 1960s and 1970s when his work ran weekly. Cartooning hasn't been his only "career," though; Mr. Marcus has appeared as an extra in several movies, including Exodus, and has starred in a number of commercials -- he's been a member of the Screen Actors Guild since 1970 when he did his first commercial.
“Known affectionately as Mr. Ridgefield,” his Press obituary said, Francis D. Martin “was a jeweler, optician, banker, traveler, church and community leader, figure skater, and a philanthropist who aided many organizations and causes.” Mr. Martin was probably also the best known Ridgefield resident of the 20th Century, a circumstance made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was not a politician. When he and his wife, Doris, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1966, more than 1,500 townspeople attended the open house at their gymnasium on the former Ridgefield School property on North Salem Road. Born in 1893 in West Park, N.Y., “Marty” came to Ridgefield when he was three and by the time he was 10, had begun working. At 13 he was the night telephone operator for Ridgefield, a job he continued nights while traveling days by train to attend Norwalk High School (Ridgefield had none then). He captained his championship baseball and basketball teams and then studied to be a watchmaker and optician. In 1911, when he was 17, he opened Ridgefield’s first jewelry and optical store in the Donnelly building on Main Street. “For the first 23 years I never failed being at my place of business later than 4:30 in the morning,” he said. When he sold his business to the Craig family in 1950, he said he had repaired 125,000 watches and 25,000 clocks. In 1914, he and Dr. Edwin Van Saun started the town’s first Boy Scout troop. Soon after, he founded the Ridgefield Promoters Club, predecessor of the Lions, and later helped start the Lions Club in 1929. He was involved in many real estate enterprises, owning among other properties the Tudor building on Main Street that houses Roma Pizza and the land on which Copps Hill Plaza sits. He coaxed businesses and industries, such as Schlumberger, to town. He helped establish the Ridgefield Playhouse movie theater (now Webster Bank). With A.J. Carnall, he worked on the acquisition of Veterans Park and the Community Center, and even tried to convince the United Nations to establish its headquarters here. He was president of the First National Bank for many years. In government, he served as a member of the Board of Finance for 27 years. Today he’s best remembered for his gift to the town of Great Pond Beach, now called Martin Park. A leader in the Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, he was chairman of the church’s Board of Trustees for 35 years and led the church’s move from the center of town to its present location. He gave the church more than a half million dollars. He was a trustee of Danbury Hospital. One of his favorite activities was figure skating, and for many years he would plow snow off the ice at Lake Mamanasco in winter, and in February, invite the entire town to a skating party there. “My first hobby is helping my fellow man, my church, and my community,” he told The Press. He died in 1982 at the age of 88.
For the last quarter of the 20th Century, the Matthews family has created hundreds of young stars and starlets on the stages of the Spotlight Theater. Allan and Lillian Matthews brought Spotlight to Ridgefield in 1974 and, under the auspices of the Parks and Recreation Department, each summer dozens of youngsters aged 4 to 18 have performed in Spotlight musicals to full-house audiences. For many leading roles, several children perform the part on alternating nights so that as many youngsters as possible get a chance to be a star. Al and Lillian Matthews knew their art. Both performed widely in touring companies of major productions, invariably together -- they had known each other since they were 12 and were married 43 years before Al's death in 1986 at the age of 66. Mrs. Matthews is a graduate of the David Mannes School at Juilliard. A master sergeant in Patton's army in World War II, Mr. Matthews "always had that top sergeant quality in him when he dealt with the children, but underneath it all, there was a great love for them all," Lillian said in 1986. The Matthews spent many years with the New York-based International Road Company, taking Broadway shows on the road. In 1955, they moved to Ridgefield and soon after began giving acting lessons in southern Fairfield County. When Allan died while directing a Spotlight production of Oliver, son Victor Matthews, who'd grown up in Ridgefield and was then an actor and composer living in Hollywood, returned to Ridgefield. He took his dad's place, and has remained a director of the program ever since. "I came home from California when my father passed away, and I never got back on the plane, and I'm glad of it," Victor said in 2000. The summer productions involve not only children, but also their parents who help with costumes, sets, publicity, pictures, and ticket sales. "It's really a family affair," said one mother on the occasion of Spotlight's 25th anniversary celebration. "You don't just come to a performance at the end, you're involved from the very beginning."
Farmingville School Principal Robert McDonald liked to tell the story about a school bus ride he took to help a new driver with the stops. The kindergartners who rode the bus were talking about what their parents did for a living and one little girl asked him: "Where do you work, Mr. McDonald?" "She thought that I lived at the school, and had fun there, so obviously I must have another job," Mr. McDonald said. It sometimes seemed as if Bob McDonald lived at Farmingville School. He was its first principal when the school opened in 1963 and he remained its principal for 26 years -- he was the longest serving elementary principal in the 20th Century (only Clifford Holleran [q.v.] of the high school held a principalship longer). Mr. McDonald grew up in Danbury, graduated from Danbury State College (now WestConn) in 1953, and after a stint in the Army, taught in Stamford six years and earned a master's and sixth year certificate in school administration from Fairfield University. He came to Ridgebury School in 1961, became an administrative intern a year later, and Farmingville's first principal a year after that. Famous for his warm smile and relaxed demeanor, Mr. McDonald led Farmingville through good times and bad -- including big budget cuts and serious overcrowding -- and remained a popular leader with parents as well as children. After his retirement in 1989, he spent three years as a principal of Catholic grammar schools in Trumbull and Brookfield, but couldn't keep away from Ridgefield: In 1993, he returned to his hometown as coordinator in the career center at Ridgefield High School, a post he held until finally retiring in June 2000.
At her death in 1982, The Press called Margaret McAulay McGlynn "one of Ridgefield's most colorful and controversial 20th Century political leaders." The feisty Democrat was never afraid of a good fight, and got into many over the years of her service to her town and her party. Agree with her positions or not, listening to her express them was a treat. A native of Scotland, she "spoke with a decided accent that was richly flavored with a delightful burr that was quite pleasing to the ear," historian Richard E. Venus wrote in The Press. Born in 1893, Mrs. McGlynn came to America at the age of 16, and married Thomas J. McGlynn four years later. She was a Democrat, he was a Republican, but that didn't keep the McGlynns apart -- they marked their 69th wedding anniversary just three weeks before Margaret died in 1982. Mrs. McGlynn was a longtime chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, retiring in 1958. Two years later, she was elected to the Democratic State Central Committee and was active in the movement in 1960 to nominate John F. Kennedy for president. In town, she had served on the Board of Education in the 1930s and 40s (after she left, her Republican husband was elected for a six-year term). Over the years, she also served as an assessor, the Democratic registrar of voters, and a member of the Park Commission. She was also active in St. Mary's and its Rosary Society. Among her four children is Richard T. McGlynn (q.v.), the first chief of the modern fire department.
Called “Painter Mike” to distinguish him from his cousin, “Plumber Mike,” Michael T. McGlynn was one of the stalwart citizens of the first half of the century. He held what is now an unapproachable record for public service: Mr. McGlynn served as a member of the Ridgefield Board of Education for more than half a century! Although he was a Democrat on a board invariably controlled by Republicans, he was often elected its chairman. The Lewisboro native was born in 1861, but came here as a child and spent his working life as a house painter. But he was also a well-respected businessman, serving as a corporator or board member of the Ridgefield Savings Bank for 57 years, starting in 1902, and was vice president for many years. He died in 1959.
Richard T. McGlynn was fated to be a fireman. He was born across the street from the firehouse and his grandfather had been a founder of the fire department in 1895. He began fighting fires as a high school kid during World War II when many of the regular volunteers were in the service. In 1950, only a couple of years after Ridgefield created the position of paid fireman, Dick McGlynn joined the force of four. Still also a volunteer, he was elected chief of the volunteer department from 1964 to 1968. In 1973, he became the paid department's first chief, a post he held until his retirement in 1989. (In the early years, he was both the paid and volunteer chief at the same time.) "He's one of those rare individuals who gives everything of himself to the town," said First Selectman Sue Manning at his retirement banquet. When he started with the paid department, it had four people, enough to have one person on duty around the clock, seven days a week. If a call came in, that man could roll the ambulance or a fire truck while volunteers were being summoned. Much changed in the McGlynn years. There was one ambulance, one firehouse, and four fire trucks when he started. By the time he retired, there were 26 men, two ambulances, eight trucks, and two firehouses. At his retirement party, Police Chief Thomas Rotunda (q.v.) suggested that if the long-discussed new firehouse is ever built, it should be named the "McGlynn Firehouse." After all, one McGlynn helped found and lead the volunteers and another led the development of the professionals.
When he died in April 2000 at the age of 86, The Press described Arthur J. McKenna as "a soft-spoken, old-fashioned gentleman who was an untiring voice for fiscal restraint, open government and limited growth." For 38 years he was a factor in Ridgefield politics, holding a variety of elected and appointed offices, writing letters to the editors, taking stands at public meetings, making phone calls to get the vote out for elections and referendums. Hardly an issue arose that Mr. McKenna did not comment on, in person or in the newspaper; in many cases, especially those dealing with safe operation of the sewage treatment system and the development of the town, he raised the issues himself. Mr. McKenna served on such agencies as the Planning and Zoning Commission, Sewer Advisory Committee and Republican Town Committee. A native of New York City, he was born in 1913, attended Choate, and graduated from Yale in 1936 -- working summers on merchant marine ships to pay his tuition. After the war, in which he served as a lieutenant in the Navy, he joined Dorr-Oliver Corporation, selling and setting up filtration and chemical processing equipment around the world. After he retired there at 70, he became a consultant for another company, finally retiring at the age of 81. His community involvement over the years included working for the Keeler Tavern, the Community Center, and the Ridgefield Men's Club. "He was some great guy," his wife Marjorie said. "He was rare in being a man of absolute integrity -- just a good, solid guy with great values of family and responsibility and civic participation."
Affectionately called the "Squire of Ridgebury," Daniel M. McKeon is a Yale graduate who operated the last working farm in Ridgefield, a spread that he and his late wife, Louise (q.v.), acquired in 1938. He has been a leader in town government, in the Catholic Church, and in local and regional conservation and organic farming movements for more than 60 years. A native of New York City and son of a family that helped establish St. Patrick's Cathedral Mr. McKeon graduated from Yale in 1928 and was a stockbroker, retiring in 1965. The McKeons bought a 135-acre farm, Arigideen, on Ridgebury and Old Stagecoach Roads, and maintained as many as 45 Brown Swiss dairy cows over the years. The dairy operation, Ridgefield's last, closed in August 2000, causing much sadness among Ridgefielders so accustomed to seeing cows at Ridgebury and Old Stagecoach Roads. In 1958, Mr. McKeon was appointed a charter member of the Planning Commission. A year later, he was elected its chairman, and when the Planning and Zoning Commissions were combined in 1962, he was its first chairman. He retired in 1993. A lifelong Republican, Mr. McKeon was considered a possible Eisenhower appointee as U.S. ambassador to Ireland in 1952. Active in the Catholic church, he and Louise flew to Rome to attend the canonization of St. Elizabeth Seton, the first American saint, and later, he was instrumental in the establishment of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Ridgebury, where he was a trustee and on the parish advisory council. Mr. McKeon was considered an expert on early Ridgebury and was especially interested in the role French soldiers played in the American Revolution. In 1781, French troops under Rochambeau and Lauzun camped on the McKeon farm (it's believed that the first Catholic mass ever celebrated in town took place there), and for years Mr. McKeon was a part of an American regiment that portrayed the French troops, in both the U.S. and France. An excellent horseman, Mr. McKeon was a longtime master and member of the Goldens Bridge Hunt Club. The McKeons were involved in the preservation of the Keeler Tavern, and in the establishment of historic districts in the village. Mr. McKeon in 1950 was appointed to the Connecticut Conservation Commission. He also later served on the Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation Board of Supervisors, and had been active in the organic farming movement since 1947. In the spring of 1971, when a huge outbreak of gypsy moth caterpillars was expected, the selectmen hired a helicopter service to spray the town with insecticide. Mr. McKeon joined other conservationists in threatening to sue the sprayer, arguing that the spraying would kill useful insects and might harm people. The sprayer backed out, and the caterpillars eventually died of a natural disease.
Known to many as the queen of Ridgefield society, Louise Huguet McKeon was active for more than a half century in conservation, horticultural, historic, political, and equestrian circles. Married in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1935 to Daniel M. McKeon (q.v.), Mrs. McKeon came to Ridgefield two years later when she and her husband bought a dairy farm that he still operates. She belonged to both Ridgefield and Caudatowa Garden Clubs and, as Caudatowa president during World War II, she helped lead efforts to plant Victory Gardens. Conservation chairman of the Garden Club of America from 1965 to 1968, she was a leader in its lobbying for the national Highway Beautification Act of 1965. She was a founder and early president of the Keeler Tavern Preservation Society, and played an active role in the tavern for many years. Although she never held public office, she was a vice chairman of the Republican Town Committee and, in 1951, chairman of the Republican State Central Committee. She was long active in St. Mary’s and later St. Elizabeth Seton Parishes and in 1983 received a papal decoration, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, for her service to the church. A fox hunter, she had belonged to the Goldens Bridge Hounds Pony Club since 1941 and had been an officer. She died in 1993 at the age of 76.
In 1945, during the second of his six terms as representative from Ridgefield in the General Assembly, Peter A. McManus helped draft the State Labor Relations Act. His post that year as chairman of the House labor committee was rated the "toughest assignment" of the session by a Hartford newspaper columnist. The act established a three-member Board of Labor Relations, aimed at protecting the rights of citizens to join unions and bargain collectively. When Governor Raymond E. Baldwin was ready to sign the bill, he called Mr. McManus and other sponsors to the ceremony. It was April 12, 1945. Just then the phone rang with news of President Roosevelt's death, and the signing was postponed. Once the bill became law, the governor named Mr. McManus to the board, a post the Republican held through Democratic and Republican administrations until his retirement in 1967. A native of Scotland, Mr. McManus was born in 1889 and came to Ridgefield as a young man. He was a building contractor, and his first big job was construction of the sunken gardens at Casagmo in 1911-12. When the town had a Trial Justice Court, he served as a judge for many years. He served in the legislature from 1941 until 1953. Two of his three sons also became active in the community -- James, as the town's building inspector in the 1970s and 80s, and Joseph, as a sheriff and volunteer fireman.
Ridgefield was a leader in Connecticut in recycling and while many worked to see that recycling succeeded here, no one was more instrumental than Walter McNamara. A native of St. Louis, born in 1938, Mr. McNamara grew up in Albany, N.Y., and graduated from Brown. He flew helicopters in the U.S. Marine Corps, and was a United Airlines pilot for many years. Mr. McNamara moved here in 1969. Two years later, a League of Women Voters study of the dump and waste management inspired the formation of the Ridgefield Environmental Action Program with the aim of creating a recycling program. Soon, Mr. McNamara joined and soon REAP knew that a full-time recycling program and center were needed. He helped run REAP's first big fund-raiser, one that gained national attention: The Dump Ball took place on the parking lot of the town garage, right across the road from the town landfill. "The Dump Ball was a gala event, but every now and then you'd get a whiff of the dump," Mr. McNamara said 25 years later. The recycling center opened in 1974 and until 1987, Mr. McNamara almost single-handedly managed it. The bottle and can redemption law of 1979 cut into revenues, and later, New York's joining the redemption bandwagon hurt, too. But the center increased revenues by expanding what it would take. By 1988, the job was getting too much for REAP, a volunteer organization; some 1,200 tons were being recycled annually. The town took over and a few years later hired Hudson Baylor, a large recycling corporation, which has been running the operation ever since. When recycling became mandatory in the state in 1991, Ridgefield was one of the few towns in compliance on the first day, Mr. McNamara said. When he retired from REAP after 16 years, The Press cited some statistics, such as the fact that just the newspapers that were recycled would form a stack 140 miles high. "While the weight of what's been recycled over those years can be totaled up," a Press editorial said, "the hours Mr. McNamara has devoted to recycling in Ridgefield are incalculable. And Ridgefield's loss at his retirement is just as incalculable." Since leaving REAP, Mr. McNamara has become a leader in efforts to control the water quality at Lake Mamanasco, along whose shore he lives.
While ravens may be rare in Ridgefield, Raven's Wing is Ridgefield in Susanna Hofmann McShea's trilogy about four senior-citizen detectives who go about solving murders in a light-hearted, often lively fashion. Ms. McShea grew up in Ridgefield, graduating from Ridgefield High School in 1967 and working as a part-time reporter at The Press. She studied at Colby College and worked for the Ford Foundation and an ad agency before taking up mystery writing in the 1980s. Her first book, Hometown Heroes (1990) was followed two years later by The Pumpkin-Shell Wife and then by Ladybug, Ladybug, all published by St. Martin's Press. Especially the first two featured many recognizable places and even a few personalities from Ridgefield -- such as "Squash" Travaglini (q.v.) of Ridgefield News Store, and townspeople had great fun seeing who they could recognize (the newspaper editor in The Pumpkin-Shell Wife was clearly fictional -- to find out why, read the book!). The author and her husband live in New Jersey.
Father Francis Medynski seemed to have built St. Elizabeth Seton literally from the ground up. In the early days of the new parish, he did almost everything himself -- painting, mowing the lawn, planting all the grass and trees. When the church was erected, he hand-made the wooden stations of the cross. Though a bit of a carpenter and handyman, Father Medynski was first a priest and second a musician. These two vocations combined when he went looking for a baptismal font for the new church: He used the kettle of a kettle drum. A native of New Jersey, Father Medynski was the son of Eastern European immigrants who died in a flu epidemic when he was a baby, and he grew up in an orphanage. He graduated from Catholic University of America, got a master's degree from the University of Detroit in education, and also studied music for years. His specialty was choral music. Over his career as a parish priest, he started 11 boys choirs. In 1973, when he came to St. Mary's as pastor, he founded The Little Singers, a choir that two years later sang at the Vatican (and included among its members current State Rep. John Frey [q.v.]). In 1976, as the town's population grew, Bishop Walter Curtis asked Father Medynski to start a new parish. St. Elizabeth Seton, honoring the first U.S. native to be canonized, was created later that year, with first masses in Ridgebury School. The church opened in December 1978, and Father Medynski continued as leader of the flock until 1996 when he reached 75, the church's mandatory retirement age. "It's been a fantastic, marvelous experience and tremendous to be with the best people in the world for 20 years," he told The Press at his retirement. Father Medynski now lives in Norwalk and serves in temporary assignments in many parishes in the diocese.
For more than a third of the 20th Century, Edith Meffley has been a constant and stalwart voice of conservation in Ridgefield and the region. She has served on the Conservation Commission longer than anyone in the agency's history, almost from its creation in 1962, was its chairman for many years, and has been involved in numerous other environmental and conservation organizations and projects. A native of Upper Montclair, N.J., Mrs. Meffley began volunteering at a young age -- selling war bonds during World War II and serving as a nurse's aide in various hospitals. She graduated from the University of Colorado and lived in New Jersey and Bethel before coming to Ridgefield in 1960. Almost immediately, she was active in PTA and as a Girl Scout leader. In 1965, Mrs. Meffley joined the Ridgefield Garden Club, in which she has held nearly every office. During the 1990s, she chaired the garden club's Village Improvement Committee from which has evolved the Ridgefield Design Council. Mrs. Meffley was appointed to the Conservation Commission in 1965 and over the years has appeared at countless town government hearings and meetings, promoting environmentally sound growth, preservation of open spaces and protection of wetlands and other sensitive areas. She has also aided in the acquisition of many pieces of open space, either through purchase or donation. Mrs. Meffley helped establish a conservation curriculum in the Ridgefield schools 30 years ago and made courses on environmental studies available to teachers throughout the region. Since 1975, she has been coordinator of the Community Gardens on Prospect Ridge and in 1985 was a founder of the Discovery Center -- she's still on its board and has been its president. Mrs. Meffley has been honored by the Garden Club of America and many other organizations for her efforts at local and statewide conservation and environmental education, and in 1972 was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year. Also involved in many health organizations, Mrs. Meffley has served on the board of the Visiting Nurse Association, has been active in Child and Family Services, and works with the Nutmeg Celiac-Sprue Support Group for people who must have gluten-free diets. Both she and her husband, C. Fred Meffley, volunteer regularly at Danbury Hospital, especially on major holidays when extra help is needed most. Fred Meffley, an Air Force pilot in World War II, was chairman of both the Branchville and Scotland School Building Committees in the 1960s.
Because of his advanced size and skill, Matt Merullo regularly played with older kids in the town’s Little League baseball program. Even then, it took only a look at the young Merullo’s sweet lefthanded swing to realize he was special, the type of player who doesn’t come along too often: The rare type of player who actually makes it to the majors. Mr. Merullo, a 1983 graduate of Fairfield Prep, played six seasons in the big leagues as a catcher, first baseman, designated hitter and pinch hitter. He had a lifetime .234 average with seven home runs and 59 RBIs in 496 at-bats, appearing in 223 games. After a productive career as a catcher at North Carolina — he played on teams with future major leaguers B.J. Surhoff and Walt Weiss — Merullo was chosen in the seventh round of the 1986 amateur draft by the Chicago White Sox. Mr. Merullo worked his way through the team’s minor league system and was called up early in the 1989 season when Carlton Fisk went on the disabled list. Mr. Merullo spent the next season back in the minors but returned to the White Sox for a three-year stretch starting in 1991. He was a member of the 1993 White Sox team that won the American League West title before losing to Toronto in the ALCS. Merullo was with the Cleveland Indians in 1994 before ending his playing days with the Minnesota Twins in 1995. He was later invited to throw out the first pitch of the Ridgefield Little League season, putting a cyclical touch on the career of the town’s best-ever baseball player.—T.M.
Though he was a leading businessman for much of the first half of the 20th Century, George A. Mignerey is remembered today mostly in postcards. Over the years his Main Street drugstore published scores of views of the town, prized today as glimpses of a Ridgefield long gone. Born in Danbury in 1877, Mr. Mignerey moved to Ridgefield in 1911 when he bought Howard D. Smith's drug store on the east side of the street. He later moved across the street into the new brick block, just north of the Tudor-style building, which he had bought. He retired in 1946, selling the drug store and the building, but remained active in the community. He was a vestryman of St. Stephen's Church for 38 years, and active in the Masons and other area lodges, and was a charter member and one-time president of the Lions Club. He was a director of the Ridgefield Savings Bank from 1931 until 1956, the year before his death at the age of 79.
A murder has occurred and police summon the medical examiner. The man who gets the call is behind the wheel of a school bus. It's happened more than once in the unusual career of Dr. Henry D. Minot Jr., a physician who retired and became a Ridgefield and Wilton school bus driver as well as an assistant medical examiner. A native of Massachusetts, Dr. Minot was born in 1919. He graduated from Harvard College in 1941, was a World War II Navy bomber pilot, and obtained his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1950. A Ridgefielder since 1960, Dr. Minot had a long and distinguished career as a thoracic surgeon at Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich Hospitals. But when he retired in 1986, there was a critical shortage of school bus drivers in Ridgefield. He signed on and drove here for three years. Since 1989, he's been driving for the Wilton schools' bus company and now does so now as a fill-in. Retirement, Dr. Minot said, allows people to do low-paying jobs that are important to a community but not particularly popular. Bus driving is one example. "It's fun," he told The Press in 1992. "Some of the kids are very irritating, but most are okay and some are just amazing. It renews your faith in what's going to happen in the country and in the world." As an assistant medical examiner, another job for which he volunteered in retirement, Dr. Minot is occasionally summoned when he's aboard his bus. (He does not show up on the scene in a bus, though; he finishes the run and grabs his own car.) Does the retiree ever relax? Many ways, among them baking bread or driving his antique BMW motorcycle along picturesque back roads.
Publisher, architect, artist, novelist, mystic, mystery: John Ames Mitchell was a Renaissance man who kept to himself but influenced many. A Harvard educated architect who studied at the Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Paris, Mr. Mitchell founded the original Life magazine in 1883. Much more like today's New Yorker than the Life of the later 20th Century, Mitchell's magazine discovered and encouraged many fine writers and artists at the turn of the 20th Century, such as Charles Dana Gibson, the illustrator who created the Gibson Girl. It covered the literary scene as well as political and social issues. He and Horace Greeley of The New York Herald Tribune founded the Fresh Air Fund, which for many years operated the Life Fresh Air camp for city kids on the site of today's Branchville School. Mr. Mitchell penned a half dozen novels, the most famous of which, Amos Judd (1895), was made into the 1922 silent film, The Young Rajah, starring Rudolph Valentino. Life was purchased in 1936 by another Ridgefielder, Henry Luce (q.v.), who turned it into a picture magazine. The headquarters of Mitchell's Life is now The Herald Square Hotel in New York, a gift to Mitchell from Charles Dana Gibson in appreciation of the publisher’s having seen and developed his potential as an artist. The hotel is operated by Abraham Puchall, whose Ridgefield home was the carriage house of Mitchell's West Lane estate. Clearly, Mr. Puchall has more than a passing interest in the man, and has spent countless hours researching Mr. Mitchell, joined by Nadine Charlesen, an artist and teacher. "Mitchell, the man, is very difficult to discover," Ms. Charlsen told The Press in the early 1990s. "He did no self-advertising. He was very humble." Yet, added Mr. Puchall, he was "a man who planted many seeds." He loved cherubs, using them in his writing and as a symbol for his magazine -- Gibson had noted sculptor Philip Martiny create a cherubic Winged Life over the main entrance to the Life building. To him, Mr. Puchall said, the cupid personified a cheerful but unrelenting guide to truths about human nature and the creative spirit. Mr. Mitchell died in 1918 and is buried in Ridgefield Cemetery. Windover, his estate, was subdivided years ago, but the main house is still on West Lane.
The first Board of Selectmen, the managers of the town, was elected in 1715. For 258 years, every member was a man. The election of Lillian Moorhead in 1973 broke that tradition. “I hope my election will encourage more women to run for office,” Ms. Moorhead said after her win. Indeed, eight years later the first of two women first selectmen – or selectwomen – were elected. A native of New Jersey, Ms. Moorhead had moved to Ashbee Lane in 1963 and had been active in the League of Women Voters and in the Democratic Party before running in 1973. She was re-elected to the board four times, and ran in 1981 for first selectman against Republican Elizabeth Leonard, who won. While on the board, Ms. Moorhead fought for the Housing Authority that eventually built Ballard Green and the Prospect Ridge congregate housing. She later served many years on the Housing Authority, as well as on the Youth Commission. She was also on the boards of Danbury Hospital, the NAACP, Regional Y, and Ridgefield Athletic Association. She was a founder of the Women’s Political Caucus, belonged to the Friends of the Library, and to Meals on Wheels. “My mom was never afraid to speak her mind and did it in such a way that most never knew what hit them,” her daughter Sarah said. “She accomplished a great many things in the political arena such as housing for the elderly, advancing the Democratic Party and most of all becoming a great spokesperson for women’s rights.” At Ms. Moorhead’s 1984 retirement party, Republican Judge Romeo Petroni observed, “It’s better to be ahead of the times than behind them and, Lillian, you were ahead of them.” After leaving the board she worked in real estate. In 1991, she and her husband James retired to Martha’s Vineyard. They died there within a few months of each other in 1997.
Time was when Ridgefield was a much smaller, but just as newsy a town, and when daily newspapers throughout the area carried coverage of our goings-on. For more than 20 years through the 40s, 50s and early 60s, that news came from Florence Ethel Morgan, who was the Ridgefield correspondent for The Danbury News-Times, The Norwalk Hour, The Bridgeport Post-Telegram, The Stamford Advocate, The New York Times, and even the Associated Press. And, of course, she also wrote for The Ridgefield Press, sometimes seeming to fill half the issues with her columns called “News of Your Neighbors.” Her stories covered everything from school controversies to sensational crimes, but mostly she told about who visited whom last weekend, where so-and-so went on vacation, or why someone was honored at a club meeting. A native of Iowa, she started out as a teacher and moved to Ridgefield in 1932. Her husband, Bayeux Badeau Morgan, was for many years the town’s chief assessor. She retired in 1962 to New Hampshire, often sending back columns about life up north and memories of Ridgefield. She died in 1988 at the age of 89.
In 1970, when enrollments were skyrocketing, town officials planned to buy many portable classrooms for the junior and senior high schools. Paul J. Morganti stepped in and said that not only would he build the town permanent classrooms of block and brick, he’d do it less expensively than portables and have them finished before portables could arrive. He did the job over the summer -- and ahead of schedule. Today, one set of rooms is the town hall annex at the old high school while the other is still in use at the middle school. When it came to building, few people in town were as knowledgeable or available as Mr. Morganti. With his brothers Robert, Joseph and John, Mr. Morganti built their father’s small, local company into one of the nation’s 100 largest contracting firms. Born in 1920, he grew up on Bailey Avenue and in 1938, joined John Morganti and Sons. After service in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to his father’s business, becoming president in 1959 and later chairman of the board. His company built East Ridge Middle School and Ridgebury School (and dozens of schools in the region). Morganti Inc. also built Yankee Ridge Shopping Center, Ridgefield Commerce Park and the big Silicon Valley Group building on Route 7, originally the Benrus Center. At its height, Morganti Inc. had offices here, in Virginia and in Florida, building hospitals, corporate offices, sewer plants, and schools in many states and in the Middle East. He was also active in town government, either officially or as an adviser. He served on the Board of Selectmen twice -- from around 1955 until 1965 and from 1993 to 1995. He was on many building committees and wrote the town’s original road ordinance at a time when many of the old dirt roads were being upgraded. He served on the library board, aided the Boys Club, was on the boards of the Ridgefield Bank and Union Trust Company, and was named Rotary’s Citizen of the Year in 1986. Mr. Morganti died in 1997 at the age of 77.
"I thought I would make half the town mad the first two years and the other half mad the second two," said Abe Morelli, who served one term as first selectman, but lost a bid for re-election. "I was just more efficient." A Ridgefielder since he was six months old, Mr. Morelli spent more than 25 years volunteering in town government and in the community before being elected first selectman in 1997. The Republican started out as clerk of the Board of Finance, and became town treasurer, and then a member of the Board of Selectmen. He also served on many advisory and planning committees. Mr. Morelli was a founder and first president of the Ridgefield Family Y and has been active in recreation programs, coaching and sponsoring many teams. Born in 1940, Mr. Morelli is a graduate of Bucknell with degrees in mechanical engineering and mathematics. He joined the family business – Bedient’s Hardware – and later struck out on his own, operating Morelli’s floor covering. Mr. Morelli lost the 1999 election to Rudy Marconi (q.v.) in a contest that focused on school building plans and open space acquisitions. In 2000, he and his wife, Leslie, moved to a town near Syracuse to be closer to their children. Like her husband, Leslie Morelli was a longtime volunteer, aiding the handicapped, teaching religious education at St. Mary's, serving as chairman of the Commission on Aging and of the Regional Mental Health Board. Mrs. Morelli worked many years for the Visiting Nurse Association, where she started the popular Well-Child Clinic. She was also a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals for many years.
Donald Moss is one of the leading artists of the world of sports in the last half of the 20th Century. Mr. Moss, who lived on Peaceable Street for 23 years before moving to Farmington in 1999, painted hundreds of covers and inside illustrations for Sports Illustrated from the 1950s to 1980s, and designed more than a dozen U.S. postage stamps, most with sporting themes, including the 1976 Olympics set. His paintings are in all the major sports halls of fame, the Society of Illustrators Museum, the National Art Museum of Sport, the U.S. Sports Academy, the U.S. Air Force Art Collection, and the U.S. Marine Corps Museum (an ex-Marine, he survived Guadalcanal). In the 1980s. President Reagan invited him to the White House opening of Champions of American Sport, a Smithsonian exhibit that included three of his Sports Illustrated paintings.
Few people have seen the world as Hugh Mulligan has. He drank with John Steinbeck, covered the death of three popes and President Kennedy, was the only reporter -- British or American -- at the wedding and the funeral of Princess Diana, and was dining with Salvador Dali when the artist was booted from a restaurant because his ocelot defecated on the floor. He covered both the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, accompanied Pope John Paul II on 26 journeys, went to the North Pole in a Navy blimp, and rode an 18-wheeler up the Alcan Highway in the middle of winter. He has thousands of stories to tell of his half century as an Associated Press reporter, covering everything from wars to weddings, in 142 countries. A favorite anecdote concerned Steinbeck, with whom Mr. Mulligan had tried for weeks to get an interview at the author's Long Island home. Mr. Mulligan gave up when he had to go to Vietnam. Three weeks later, Mr. Steinbeck checked into the same Vietnamese hotel where Mulligan was staying. When the author, whose wife was trying to wean him off alcohol, discovered Mulligan had liquor, he started visiting the reporter's room every night. "I finally had to tell him, 'Steinbeck, for three months I couldn't get an interview with you and now I can't get you out of my room!' " Mr. Mulligan has many awards, but his most prized was the 1967 Overseas Press Club Award for his coverage of the Vietnam War (about which also he wrote one of his three books, No Place to Die: The Agony of Vietnam). A native of New York, Mr. Mulligan is a summa cum laude graduate of Marlboro College in Vermont and earned a master's in English from Harvard and one in journalism from Boston University, both awarded in the same week without either school knowing he was also attending the other. Mr. Mulligan, who joined AP in 1951, has lived in Ridgefield since 1977. Though he continues to cover the world for AP, he occasionally writes columns about his experiences in his hometown.
Charles S. Nash, the town's leading carpenter and builder for many years, has had the unusual distinction of having his birth and early life recorded in a diary that has been published in The Press. On Friday, Oct. 8, 1865, Jared Nash, his father, wrote: "Clear, some warmer. Dug potatoes in orchard. Went to P.O. just at night. Chas. S. Nash born." Later entries talk of "Charly" and the toys and shoes his father made for him, his sicknesses, and his first birthday and baptism. Charles Nash learned the carpenter's trade from William H. Gilbert, and took over his business when Gilbert retired. William F. Hoyt joined him and as Nash and Hoyt, they did much of the building in Ridgefield during the first quarter of the century. Unlike his dad, Charles Nash was very involved in the town. He was the first chief of the volunteer fire department, helped organize the Boy Scouts here, and was a member of the Board of Burgesses that ran the old village borough. He was on the Board of Finance, a trustee of the Methodist Church, a director of the Ridgefield Savings Bank for many years, and vice president of the First National Bank and Trust Company. He was also very sharp. The Press once reported that while on the Board of Burgesses, "Mr. Nash figured out how to connect the sewer line for the new Bryon Park development into the borough's main sewer system, rather than to build a new treatment plant. Mr. Nash was quite proud of that accomplishment because the skilled civil engineers who had been called in to study the problem said it couldn't be done." He died in 1929 at the age of 64.
Although she had what many would consider a wild childhood, Christie L. Nash led a quiet and long life as a librarian. Born Christie Jones in Wilton in 1882, she spent her early years in the wilds of Colorado where her father, David L. Jones, laid claim to and developed a copper mine. When she was 10, the family returned East when Mr. Jones bought a dairy farm in Farmingville that is now mostly the Walnut Grove subdivision. Mrs. Nash went to the old Farmingville Schoolhouse and later, after studying at Mt. Holyoke, taught there. At the turn of the century, she became an assistant at the Ridgefield Library, left in 1907 after her marriage to Howard P. Nash, but returned after his death in 1922. She was an assistant librarian and later the chief librarian, retiring in 1955. Her children included Karl (q.v.) and John Nash, who became owners of The Press, and Elizabeth Nash Baxter, who was treasurer of The Press and whose husband was a grandson of D. Crosby Baxter, founder of The Press.
Few people have devoted as much of their life to a community as Karl Seymour Nash did. For more than 60 years, he not only covered Ridgefield, he also served it in many official capacities – including more than 20 years on the Board of Education. Born in 1908, he was descended from several of the founding families of the town. He originally planned to become a minister but after getting a Harvard degree in government, he turned to journalism. As a teenager he had covered local events for The Press and area dailies, and had started his own, short-lived Ridgefield Record. He became a Danbury News-Times reporter until 1937 when he and his brother, John, bought The Press for less than $2,500, mostly borrowed. Under his ownership, the parent company, Acorn Press, grew from a “run-down, $12,000-a-year-gross business” to a multi-million dollar group of as many as eight weekly newspapers. John left the business in 1948 to own and operation other weekly and daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Karl married Elizabeth Grace Boyd in 1951, and the two co-edited the paper for many years. The Wilton Bulletin was added in 1938, The Redding Pilot in 1966 and other papers in the 1970s and 80s. Always active in town, Mr. Nash was chairman of the school board for 17 years, served on many school building committees, belonged to the Parks and Recreation Commission, and moderated countless Town Meetings. A Republican much of his life, he was kicked out of the party in the mid-1960s when he helped form the Good Government Party in reaction to what he saw as anti-education efforts by the established parties. Always curious about the town's past, he wrote many pieces about Ridgefield history and as chairman of the town’s huge 250th anniversary celebration in 1958, arranged to have Silvio Bedini write the town history, Ridgefield in Review. But mostly, he was the epitome of the country journalist. “He was a gifted and tough editor who taught dozens of young men and women how to write – and appreciate the beauty of – a simple, declarative sentence,” his son, current Publisher Thomas B. Nash, wrote in his father's obituary in 1992. “He was a serious newsman who sought to treat people fairly and in a consistent manner.”
In 1955, Frederick Nebel marked the 25th anniversary of his career as a full-time freelance writer. "In that quarter century," The Press said, "he has, by his own estimate, pounded out more than 4,000,000 words on his three typewriters -- in the form of novels, novelettes, short stories, and articles." Many of those words were for some of the classic "pulp" magazines of the 20s and 30s, such as Black Mask and Dime Detective. He and his friend, Dashiel Hammett, were leading producers of the noir style of hard-boiled detective tales. Seven of his stories were turned into Hollywood films, and many more movies sprang from characters he'd originated. A native of Staten Island, N.Y., Louis Frederick Nebel was born in 1903 and dropped out of school at the age of 15. He worked on the docks, sailed on tramp steamers and worked as a farmer in northern Canada until he was in his early 20s and began to write. His first story appeared in Black Mask in 1926 and he soon created the MacBride and Kennedy series about a police detective and a hard-drinking newspaper reporter. He later sold the rights to Hollywood, which turned the boozing Kennedy into a newspaper reported named Torchy Blane, and seven movies -- not involving Nebel -- resulted. Despite his output, he wrote only three novels; today editions are so prized that copies of Sleepers East (1933), But Not the End (1934) or Fifty Roads to Town (1936) fetch as much as $1,200. After he and his wife, Dorothy, came here in 1934, his popularity continued to rise and he began writing for "slick" magazines such as Collier's. Unlike many writers and artists who've lived here, Mr. Nebel became active in the community. During World War II, he was a member of the War Price and Ration Board and later served as one of the first members of the Zoning Board of Appeals -- including stints as its chairman. However, in the late 1950s, he became ill and the Nebels moved to Laguna Beach, Calif. He died of a stroke in 1967 at the age of 63. "While Nebel's work is not as well known as his good friend Hammett and while much of his early work has not been reprinted, he deserves to be read and reread as a hero of pulpdom," said Hugh Lessig, a writer and student of the "hardboiled pulps."
Vaclav Nelhybel, who lived at the Ridgefield Lakes, was a prolific composer -- more than 400 of his 600-plus works have been published and many have been performed by leading orchestras such as the Vienna Symphony and the Orchestra de la Suisse Romande. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1919, Mr. Nelhybel studied composition and conducting in Prague and Fribourg. By 1948, he’d escaped from the Communist bloc and was composing for Swiss National Radio, and in the early 50s, served as music director of Radio Free Europe. In 1957 he moved to this country, becoming a citizen in 1964. He composed symphonies, ballets, a ballet-opera, and hundreds of other works for orchestras and bands, and conducted music and lectured at universities in more than 30 states – including at Ridgefield High School. More than 1,000 people attended the April 1973 Vaclav Nelhybel Festival, with the composer leading junior and senior high bands. In 1980, the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra premiered his work, Six Fables for All Time, commissioned in honor of the 35th anniversary of the United Nations. De Profundis, a demanding piece for trumpet, was premiered in 1975 by Doc Severinson and has been performed by Seneca Black, who serves as lead trumpeter with Wynton Marsalis’s Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.. He and his wife and moved to Lake Road in 1968 and moved to Newtown in 1973. He died in 1996 at the age of 76.
In 1970, when Dr. Patrick Neligan was appointed Ridgefield's director of health, the town was already in serious trouble. Scores of septic systems, some only a few years old, were failing because of poor design and improper installation and placement. Wells were being polluted. Restaurants weren't being inspected. "This town needs some drastic changes for the better," he warned the selectmen. Upon appointment, Dr. Neligan created the town Health Department, hired George Frigon as the town's first full-time, registered sanitarian, and the quality of health-related services immediately began to improve. In the 30 years that followed, Dr. Neligan, through the Department of Health, has ensured strict compliance with the state's public health code. In 1985, he also initiated and aggressively promoted the concept of having paramedics provide around-the-clock medical care in Ridgefield, and the next year, they were in place. A native of Ireland, Dr. Neligan graduated from the University College Dublin School of Medicine in 1951. He came to the United States in 1954 on a fellowship to study at Cornell, sponsored by Sir Daniel Davies, then physician to King George VI, and Sir Alexander Fleming, discoverer of penicillin and a longtime friend of Dr. Neligan. In 1956, Dr. Neligan and his wife, Veronica, came to Ridgefield and he opened a family practice on Main Street. A year later, he joined the staff of Norwalk Hospital and in the years since has served on almost every committee of the medical staff and held many offices. In 1975, his peers elected him chief of staff and he served three two-year terms. From 1985 until his retirement in 1995, he was vice president of medical affairs, medical director and director of medical education. In 1996, he was given the William J. Tracey M.D. Award for "exemplary commitment and philanthropic leadership" at Norwalk Hospital. But retirement from the hospital and the practice of medicine did not mean retirement from promoting and advancing quality medical care, and Dr. Neligan immediately set about solving a problem that had long concerned him: the desperate need for quality health care for the people of South Norwalk. No primary care physician had opened a private practice in South Norwalk in decades, and the poverty was so extreme that the people could not even afford a cab to go to the hospital for medical help. "I know what it's like to be poor," he said, recalling his weekly visits as a medical student to the destitute in the slums of Dublin. In April 1999 the 10,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Norwalk Community Health Center opened and today provides hundreds of poor families with primary medical care. "Everyone in this country has a basic and fundamental right to quality health care -- a place where the sick, the poor, and the indigent, can get quality health care in their own community," Dr. Neligan said.
The end of the war in the Pacific came too late for Private John Evald Nelson, who died of wounds received in northern Luzon in the Philippines on July 12, 1945, a month before Japan surrendered. Private Nelson, who had grown up in Ridgefield, had entered the service in November 1944. His survivors included two brothers who were also in the war.
Allan Nevins, the only writer to win two Pulitzer prizes for historical biography, lived in and loved Ridgefield in the 1920s. "A town like Ridgefield may be called a community of friends or acquaintances," he once wrote. "The people who dwell there … are united by shared experience, by pleasure in a beautiful environment, and a common simplicity of outlook. (At any rate, it should be simple.)" While living at The Elms on Main Street, he wrote a brief history of Ridgefield, which was published in limited edition. He also wrote the introduction to Silvio Bedini's 1958 history of the town, Ridgefield in Review. A longtime professor of history at Columbia, Professor Nevins won Pulitzers for his biographies of Grover Cleveland (1933) and Hamilton Fish (1937). He died in 1971 at the age of 80.
While scores of young Ridgefield Press reporters went on to other careers (more than a dozen became lawyers!), many stayed with journalism. Few have been a successful as Kevin Noblet, an editor at Associated Press's headquarters in New York. A Stamford native who was born in 1953, Mr. Noblet studied at Eastern Connecticut State University and UConn before joining The Press in 1976. He lived on Fairview Avenue with other Press staffers, including current Editor Macklin Reid. Even then, Mr. Noblet knew he wanted to be an A.P. correspondent in Latin America. "I wanted to wear a white linen suit, sit on the veranda and send my faithful Pedro in search of quotes," he recalled with a smile. "The reality was entirely different -- and I never bought a linen suit." In 1978, he joined the Stamford Advocate to gain daily newspaper experience and two years later was hired by AP and sent to New Orleans, where he met his wife, Joan. In 1984, he got his wish: AP made him a news editor in Buenos Aires. Three years later, he was bureau chief in Santiago, Chile. In 1990, Mr. Noblet was awarded a prestigious Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard for a year and was then sent to Puerto Rico to cover the Caribbean. In 1993 he was named deputy international editor in New York. Since then his reporters have won two Pulitzer Prizes: In 1995 for A.P.'s coverage of massacres in Rwanda, and in 2000 for uncovering American troops' alleged shooting of hundreds of villagers at No Gun Ri Bridge during the Korean War. In 1999-2000, he was also the Scripps Howard Visiting Professional at Ohio University's E. W. Scripps School of Journalism. Now working as AP's deputy business editor, Mr. Noblet lives in Rye, N.Y with Joan and their two children.
One of the film industry’s leading composers lived on Great Hill Road from 1950 until the early 1960s. Born in 1910 in Chester, Pa., Alex North studied piano at the Curtis Institute of Music and Juilliard School, and the Moscow Conservancy. He wrote ballet and classical music in the 30s and 40s – Benny Goodman performed his Revue for Clarinet and Orchestra. His first movie score, for Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1951 won him an Academy Award nomination, and he was eventually nominated 12 more times. He wrote the music to dozens of leading films, including Death of A Salesman (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), The Rose Tattoo (1955), The Rainmaker (1956), Stage Struck (1958), The Sound and the Fury (1959), Spartacus (1960), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1968), Willard (1971), Dragonslayer (1981), Prizzi’s Honor (1985), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), and The Last Butterfly (1990). He wrote much music for TV and won an Emmy for the score to Rich Man, Poor Man in 1976. He died in 1991. In 1954, he, Time magazine chief Henry Luce (q.v) and Ridgebury conservationist Daniel M. McKeon (q.v.) successfully sued the town to stop a development by William Winthrop (q.v.) along Great Hill Road.
Dr. John Norman has long been a student of the people and politics of the world – from his days in the OSS (predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency) to his years as a college professor, the Cooper Road resident has watched closely what people of other nations are saying. During World War II, as an OSS field representative, he debriefed many who fled the Nazis – such as writers Thomas Mann and Lion Feuchtwanger (whose escape was engineered by another Ridgefielder, Varian Fry [q.v.]). What refugees reported was turned over to the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and intelligence officers. “They were walking encyclopedias on names, dates, places and politics of their respective countries,” Dr. Norman said in a 1984 interview. The professor has taught history and political science at Syracuse, Carnegie Institute, Fairfield, and most recently at Pace University. Author of many articles and two books on political subjects, Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Labor and Politics in Libya, he has been a voracious reader of publications, even propaganda, from around the world. “Propaganda lets you know what that country wants you to believe, and that’s important,” he told Ridgefield Republicans in 1980. He’s also a widely published poet; Life Lines, a collection of his work, came out in 1997 on the occasion of his 85th birthday. A Ridgefielder since the early 1970s and a longtime member of the Democratic Town Committee, Dr. Norman has often spoken out on local issues, especially education.
If Main Street could have a grand dame, that woman in the 20th Century would probably be Mary L. B. Olcott. Miss Olcott lived at Casagmo, the Italianate mansion near the head of Main Street, for much of her 97 years and was part of the "high society" of the community and New York. She was the daughter of George Mann Olcott, a wealthy drug importer and a founder of the First National Bank of Ridgefield, who built Casagmo ("casa" for house and "gmo" for his initials) in 1893. Born in Brooklyn in 1864, Miss Olcott became an ardent feminist, serving on numerous committees and speaking at many gatherings in support of woman's suffrage. A poet who had a book of her work published in 1902, she also wrote articles on gardening and related subjects and was a founder of the Ridgefield Garden Club. She maintained elaborate gardens and also bred poodles, game birds, poultry, and swans at Casagmo. In the 1950s, Miss Olcott completed a lifetime work -- a comprehensive genealogy of Olcotts in America and England. She was also interested in local history: Her family was only the second owner of their property since 1708 and the Battle of Ridgefield took place there in 1777. To commemorate the fact that both British and American soldiers were buried on the site, Miss Olcott erected the still-standing plaque in the wall on Main Street. Miss Olcott, who wrote her own obituary, listed some two dozen genealogical, social, historical, kennel, and gardening societies to which she belonged. She died in 1962. The same year her house was sold at auction, and six years later, still empty and much vandalized, it was razed to make way for the apartment complex.
Who was the greatest athlete ever to have lived in Ridgefield? Probably Elmer Q. Oliphant, a name virtually forgotten today but known to almost every sports fan of the first quarter of the 20th Century. The Indiana native went to Purdue from 1911 to 1913 and though there only two years, is today listed as one of the school's 10 greatest football players. In 1913, he arrived at West Point where he became the first cadet to letter in seven sports (football, baseball, basketball, track, boxing, swimming, and hockey). In 1916, as an Army back, he was a football All-America and Knute Rockne later included him on his own all-time All-American team. His abilities were legend. The New York Times once reported that "Mr. Oliphant's most notable field goal was kicked after he had suffered a broken ankle in a game against Illinois. His kick accounted for a 3-0 victory. While playing basketball for Purdue against Wisconsin, he shot the winning basket while seated on the floor." During his later Army service at West Point, Mr. Oliphant established the first college intramurals program in the nation -- "you're talking to the daddy of intramural athletics," he told a Press reporter in 1950. The idea was copied by the Naval Academy and was soon used in colleges and universities across the country. After the Army, he played for the NFL's Buffalo All-Americans in the 1920s and then joined the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, for which he worked many years. In 1955, Mr. Oliphant was admitted to the National Football Hall of Fame. He and his wife Barbara moved to Wilton Road West in the 1940s, and both -- especially Barbara -- were active in the community. They moved to New Canaan in 1952, but after Mr. Oliphant died in 1975 at the age of 82, he was buried at St. Mary's Cemetery in Ridgefield.
Olaf Olsen has had a long and distinguished career both in front of and behind the camera. A native of Germany who was born in 1919 and came to England when he was 15, Mr. Olsen played in 29 British films including The Man in the White Suit, Lili Marlene, and We Dive at Dawn, performing alongside such greats as Alec Guinness, Deborah Kerr, and Leslie Howard. At 18, he played a German POW in the BBC production of Journey's End, the first full-length drama ever broadcast over live television. He was only 19 in 1938 when he played Queen Victoria's son-in-law with Dame Anna Neagle as the queen in Sixty Glorious Years, a film about the reign of Queen Victoria. In 1953, the year of the present queen's coronation, he portrayed Prince Albert with Miss Neagle in the musical version of the Victoria story, The Glorious Days, which was at the Palace Theatre for two years. Mr. Olsen also appeared in more than 1,000 BBC radio and TV broadcasts. In 1954, he went to Hollywood to sign a movie contract but Jack B. Ward (q.v.) offered him the vice-presidency of Ward Acres Studios of New Rochelle, N.Y., a newly formed enterprise that produced TV commercials and documentaries. In 1957 he and Mr. Ward moved to the former Ridgefield Golf Club calling it Ward Acres, and breeding and raising award-winning thoroughbred racing horses. He continued to produce travel documentaries as the Olsen Film Productions Company, serving as cameraman, producer, director, cutter, editor, and synchronizer. Distributed by the J. Arthur Rank Group, many were world travelogues, but some also dealt with horses and wildlife. His favorite is the widely shown Lion Country Safari. Almost as soon as he arrived here, Mr. Olsen became active in the Red Cross. He also formed a group that visited and entertained patients -- including the criminally insane -- at the old Fairfield Hills State Hospital in Newtown, Southbury Training School, and other institutions and hospitals in the region. He showed his films to many organizations and in many schools. Did he miss acting? he was asked in 1975. "No," he replied. "When you've had your name in lights for two years in London, what else do you want?" Nonetheless, in 1996, when he returned to London for a memorial to Dame Anna Neagle, mobs of fans sought his autograph and Princess Anne invited him to a party. "What a delightful and fascinating man he is," the Princess was quoted as saying after meeting and chatting with Mr. Olsen.
Edna-May Olson is proof that retirement need be neither retiring nor boring. Mrs. Olson had been administrator of the health and life insurance program of W.R. Grace and Company in New York City when she retired in 1967. She then set about making retirement virtually a second career. Edna-May and Victor Olson began coming to Ridgefield in the 1950s as summer residents at Lake Mamanasco. They became full-time Ridgefielders in 1971 and two years later, were among the founders of one of Ridgefield's most successful organizations: the OWLS (Older Wiser Livelier Set). Mrs. Olson was its first president and for many years, she wrote the OWLS News column that has appeared in The Press for more than 27 years. After Mr. Olson died in 1978, Mrs. Olson became even more active. She went back to college and in 1982, received a WestConn degree in social services. Her specialty has always been the town's senior citizens and since 1982, she has held the office of municipal agent for the elderly, assisting many in need of a helping hand. "I love the job because I love the people," she once said. Mrs. Olson also runs the town's Food Pantry, has served on the Commission on Aging, and was active in supporting congregate housing for the elderly. Her activity isn't just local, however, and Mrs. Olson also enjoys traveling. In 1990, she took a 34-day private jet trip around the world that included a balloon flight over Kenyan bush country and sailing the Polynesian islands from Tahiti in a four-masted ship.
Eugene O'Neill rarely seemed a happy man. But America's only Nobel Prize-winning playwright seemed particularly unhappy in Ridgefield. He disliked the cold winters and what he considered a gloomy house, and he may have imagined ghosts watching him. What's more, his marriage was in the process of breaking up. Nonetheless, Mr. O'Neill used Brook Farm on North Salem Road and its environs as the inspiration for the setting of one of his best plays, Desire Under the Elms, and he wrote at least five other plays while here (All God's Chillun Got Wings, Marco Millions, The Great God Brown, Lazarus Laughed, and Strange Interlude). A native of New York City, he was born in 1888, the son of an actor, and lived his first seven years mostly in hotels and on trains. He was expelled from Princeton, studied briefly at Harvard, and held many jobs -- including a stint as a newspaper reporter. He began to write plays in 1913 and by 1920 he had won his first Pulitzer Prize for Beyond the Horizon. Mr. O'Neill bought Brook Farm in 1922 and moved here with his second wife, Agnes, and son Shane. Silvio Bedini (q.v.), the Smithsonian historian, grew up nearby and, as a boy, played with Shane O'Neill, whom he found both lonely and spoiled. To Silvio and his brother Ferdinand (q.v.) Bedini, Mr. O'Neill was a stern, brooding, almost superhuman presence in and about the house. Indeed, the playwright suffered from loneliness, depression and alcoholism (one biographer describes a famous binge in Brook Farm's cellar after O'Neill broke open a barrel of hard cider with poet Hart Crane and critic Malcolm Cowley. At one point, as the playwright poured pitchers of cider, the poet, waving a dead cigar, gave a recital as the equally drunk critic watched in admiration.) O'Neill scholars and biographers say he was unhappy at the house, possibly because of the cold, perhaps because it was not near the sea. At one point, a biographer said, O'Neill believed "someone was peering over his shoulder as he wrote, and one night he thought he heard footsteps outside, going round and round the house." Nonetheless, he found inspiration in the trees and the stone walls that he employed in Desire Under the Elms. In 1925, while he was living here, his daughter was born; when she was 18, Oona O'Neill married comedian-director Charlie Chaplin, and she remained devoted to him until his death in 1977. She died in 1991. By 1926 Eugene O'Neill was using Brook Farm only occasionally, but in a letter to his wife written in September 1927 shortly before he sold the place, O'Neill wrote: "Going to Ridgefield made me sad. It's so beautiful right now, and I couldn't help feeling more keenly than ever that that's where our family ought to be. I have half a mind to open (the house) myself, except that it would be so lonely all by myself." O'Neill went on to live in many other places here and abroad, win the Nobel Prize in 1936, and begin a long decline in health from a neurological disorder that ended in his death in 1953. But though his output had dwindled in his last 20 years, one of his most important works, the autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night, was completed near his death and published in 1956, earning his fourth Pulitzer Prize. The only other individual to win that many Pulitzers is poet Robert Frost.
Curt Onalfo was born under a good sign for soccer players, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Although he and his family soon relocated to Ridgefield, Mr. Onalfo went on to put together a resume that would have done his soccer-crazed birthplace proud. And it’s a list of accomplishments that make him one of Ridgefield’s top all-time athletes. At Ridgefield High, Mr. Onalfo played on two state championship teams with his older brother, Cliff, an All-State midfielder. He also won two FCIAC titles and helped the Tigers reach the state finals during his senior season, when he scored 28 goals. Mr. Onalfo headed to rising soccer power Virginia, where his coach was Bruce Arena, who is now coaching the U.S. Men’s National Team. The Cavaliers shared the NCAA title with Santa Clara in 1989, battling to a 1-1 tie after sudden-death overtime. Mr. Onalfo, a central defender, earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors as a junior and senior. As a member of the U.S. Under-20 national team, Mr. Onalfo helped the Americans win the gold medal at the Pan American Games and record a best-ever fourth place finish at the U-20 world championships in Saudi Arabia. The highlight of Mr. Onalfo’s international career came in 1992, when he played on the U.S. Olympic team in Barcelona. The Americans went 1-1-1 in their three games, with Mr. Onalfo twice starting at sweeper. Following successful treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, Mr. Onalfo was signed by the MLS (Major League Soccer) for its inaugural season in 1996. He played that year for the Los Angeles Galaxy, which lost to DC United (coached by Arena) in the first MLS title game. Mr. Onalfo played three more seasons in the MLS — one with San Jose and two with DC United — but was limited by injury problems.—T.M.
Army Chief Warrant Officer John T. Orrico was the third and final Ridgefielder to die in the Vietnam War. He was killed Nov. 2, 1970, when the helicopter he was piloting had a mechanical failure and crashed. Just a few months earlier, he had received the Distinguished Flying Cross “for heroism in action while engaged in aerial flight in connection with military operations against a hostile force.” Before that, he had been awarded the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Air Medal. The 1966 Ridgefield High School graduate had attended The Citadel before entering the Army in 1968. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred G. Orrico, had founded the King Neptune Restaurant here.
"Small of stature but with a voice of a giant" was how The Press once described Richard Waldo Osborn, an important man in town during the first third of the century. A fine speaker and a keen debater, he frequently spoke at town meetings and his arguments were "concise and convincing." Born in the Bennett's Farms District in 1850, Mr. Osborn founded in the 1880s the lumber and coal business that later became the Ridgefield Supply Company (see Louis H. Price). He was a director of the Ridgefield Savings Bank many years, and was named its president in 1932, only to die the next year. A widely read man, he was a director of the Ridgefield Library and a member of the Board of Education. As board chairman, "he tangled repeatedly with the late Miss Charlotte J. Wakeman (q.v.), the town's first superintendent of schools, and with the late Dr. William H. Allee (q.v.), her sponsor and supporter," The Press said. He was a registrar of voters, a burgess, borough clerk, and trustee of the Methodist Church.
The plaque outside the library at Veterans Park School reads: "An innate compassion and deep understanding of human beings, coupled with a keen mind and fine administrative talents, make her an outstanding personality." The plaque honors Isabel M. O'Shea, first principal of Veterans Park School. The school's library is named for her; so is the auditorium of East Ridge Middle School, which she helped to design. Miss O'Shea, born here around 1906, became a teacher here in 1925. She became elementary principal in 1944, when those grades were housed at the East Ridge School and at the Garden School on Bailey Avenue. When Veterans Park opened in 1955, she was its principal, serving till her retirement in 1960. Though she left her job, she didn't leave community service. In 1961, she became a member of the building committee that erected Farmingville School and then served on the East Ridge Junior High's building committee till illness forced her retirement. She had also served on a town recreation study committee, and was active in the District Nursing Association. In 1960, she was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year, only the second person and first woman so honored.
In 1950, when Hildegarde Hawthorne Oskison had turned 79 years old and had produced 23 books and countless articles, she announced that she would commence to enjoy what other folks had written. She retired from writing but not from community involvement and continued to attend Town Meetings and First Congregational Church activities and could be seen each day walking to the post office from her home on East Ridge. The native of New York City had writing was in her blood; Mrs. Oskison was a granddaughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne. When she was only 16, she began selling articles to St. Nicholas Magazine, a popular publication for children, and she continued to write for the young for most of her life. She wrote for adults, too, and among her best-known books was The Romantic Rebel, a biography of her grandfather based on family gossip, his diaries and his letters. Mrs. Oskison moved here during World War II and died in 1952 at the age of 81.
A Booster For Girls Sports
Before girls sports at Ridgefield High School received an equality boost from Title IX legislation in the early 1970s, they got a formative hand from Margaret O’Sullivan some 30 years earlier. When the woman whom students called “Miss O” joined the high school faculty as a physical education teacher in 1943, there were no interscholastic girls sports teams. Miss O’Sullivan quickly organized varsity and junior varsity girls teams for one sport each season: field hockey (fall), basketball (winter) and softball (spring). Turnout was good for the programs, conditions were not. The girls had limited equipment and shared fields with boys sports teams, practicing and playing when the latter were at away games. Miss O’Sullivan later started a club team for girls tennis. She served as head of the girls physical education department at the high school until 1962, when she became a guidance counselor. Miss O’Sullivan retired in 1973.—T.M.
When she retired in 1999 after 53 years with the Ridgefield Library, The Press described Phyllis Paccadolmi as “the friendly face, the kind voice, the hometown touch that made the Ridgefield Library more than a place of books and research.” A Ridgefield native, Miss Paccadolmi joined the library after graduating from Ridgefield High School in 1946. She was one of two employees then; when she retired, there were 18. “Generations of Ridgefield’s mothers and children, students and senior citizens came to know the library under Ms. Paccadolmi’s presiding spirit,” The Press said. “And in a world sometimes indifferent, sometimes too busy, they found a refuge of kindness, warmth and humanity.” What is she doing in retirement? Among other things, volunteering with the Friends of the Ridgefield Library, helping at the library.
In his front-page obituary, The Press described Charles F. Palmer as "a farmer, a public servant and good neighbor." He was also for most of his life the Ridgebury reporter for two newspapers. Few knew the territory better. Mr. Palmer was born in Ridgebury in 1877, was a pillar of the Ridgebury Congregational Church much of his life, and died in Ridgebury in 1950. His community service spanned more than a quarter century, including service on the Board of Selectmen from 1926 to 1947, and several terms on the Board of Education. Mr. Palmer had been a correspondent for both The Press and The Danbury News-Times, writing for the latter for 55 years and starting when it was still a weekly newspaper. He was also a director for many years of the Ridgefield Savings Bank. He was so widely known and respected that, The Press noted in his obituary, "in tribute to Mr. Palmer, stores and business offices closed on Monday during the hour of his funeral." Imagine that happening today?
Only one Ridgefield police officer has ever died in the line of duty. John K. Palmer was killed instantly when his motorcycle collided with a car at East Ridge and Governor Street – right in front of the state police station – on July 31, 1932. Chief Palmer, as he was called, was responding to “the East Ridge ball grounds to investigate the authority of a man to peddle his wares during the afternoon ball game.” The woman who drove the car was arrested, then required in any fatal accident. Chief Palmer, a 53-year-old former state policeman, had been the village district policeman for four years. He took care of parking regulations, supervised “transients” in the town hall lock-up, and was a general “watchman” over the village. He was also a deputy fire warden. Hundreds attended his funeral at the Methodist Church, including scores of policemen from around the state – among them the commander of the Connecticut State Police.
A handful of families have contributed to the community. Among the best-known and most generous are the Pambianchis, who’ve given their time and money to the town’s well-being for more than half the last century. That generosity was recognized in 1999 when the Kiwanis Club gave the whole family its Community Service Award, an honor usually reserved for individuals. “The award is dedicated to those who reach out into our community and beyond, both publicly and privately,” said Kiwanian Sue Dufner. “The Pambianchi family is well deserving of this award.” Brothers Harry and Armando “Matty” Pambianchi were the sons of Ferdinando and Matilda Pambianchi who came to this country from Ancona, Italy, in 1908. The two men started Pamby Motors, Ridgefield’s oldest and largest auto dealership, in 1948, when they opened a garage on Bailey Avenue, just east of The Press building. By 1953, they were selling Packards and Studebakers, top-line cars of their day, at the corner of Danbury Road and Grove Street. Over the years, the business expanded to pick up the old Ritch Chrysler-Plymouth dealership at Copps Hill Road, and then in the 1990s built a showroom on Route 7. They’ve sold many brands -- Dodge, Jeep, Plymouth, Eagle, Mercury, Lincoln, and even Yugo -- and have always been known for customer satisfaction with service. But the countless donations they’ve made in money and time to community groups sparked the Kiwanis award. Pambianchis not only sponsor, but coach, many youth sports teams. They contribute to the arts, such as the Ridgefield Orchestra. They help education with scholarships and books for the Ridgefield Library. They sponsor blood drives and help underprivileged kids. “They” include Gilda, wife of Matty, who died in 1986, and her sons, John, Mike and Fred. “Ridgefield has been very good to us as a family,” John Pambianchi said when the Pambianchis were honored. And they’ve been good to Ridgefield.
After she turned 90 in 1975, Alice Paul, author of the Equal Rights Amendment, showed a Press reporter a red, white and blue doll. “This is Miss Liberty, who didn’t get her liberty in 1776,” Dr. Paul said. “If you are going to have liberty, you have to have what the ERA is – an equality in everything about earning a living, everything in the economic life of a woman.” Dr. Paul, a part-time Ridgefielder for 30 years, was then in Altnacraig convalescent home here. The next year, she returned to her native Moorestown, N.J., where she died in 1977. Born in 1885, Dr. Paul earned a half dozen bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in social work and the law, but most of her life was spent in the cause of woman's rights – a cause that was compatible with her Quaker heritage. After two years as a social worker in New York City, she went to Great Britain in 1907 to study and joined suffrage campaigns of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. She was jailed three times. Returning to the States in 1912, she "breathed new life into the ebbing suffrage movement," her Press obituary said. The National Woman Suffrage Association sent her to Washington, D.C., to lead its campaign for a federal suffrage amendment. She led protests and marches, the most famous in 1913 on the night before Woodrow Wilson's inauguration, when 5,000 people marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. She was arrested, jailed, and during a hunger strike, force-fed. Her treatment sparked a public outcry and much attention. She founded the National Woman’s Party in 1916 and four years later, the 19th Amendment was adopted. Having a part in its passage "was the most useful thing I ever did," she said. Recalling these years in the 1975 interview, Dr. Paul mentioned the song that imprisoned women used to sing, at first in England. “It was ‘shoulder to shoulder, friend to friend,’ ” she said. “We brought it back to this country when we came. And any time anybody went back to prison, we always took our song along.” In 1921, Dr. Paul penned the Equal Rights Amendment, guaranteeing equal treatment for the sexes, and starting in 1923, the ERA was introduced into every session of Congress till 1972 when it was finally passed and sent to the states. Only 35 of the needed 38 legislatures ratified it, and the congressional approval expired, so the ERA is once again being submitted annually to Congress. Dr. Paul, who lived both on Branchville Road and in Washington, D.C. from the 1940s to the 1970s, founded the World Woman's Party in 1938; it successfully pressured for an equal rights pledge in the United Nations charter. But she died disappointed that the Equal Rights Amendment had not been adopted. “The great victory was getting the vote,” she said in 1975. But “it’s unthinkable that we can’t complete it with economic equality.”
Though David L. Paul never lived in Ridgefield, was rarely praised by townspeople, and wound up in prison, he had a profound – and positive -- influence on the community for decades. Mr. Paul developed both Casagmo and Fox Hill, whose more than 600 condominiums have allowed thousands of people to live in Ridgefield who might not otherwise be able to afford to, including young people starting out and old-timers who no longer need or can maintain houses. Mr. Paul, a Long Island lawyer who’d developed apartments elsewhere, arrived on the scene in 1967 when he bought the former Casagmo estate, already zoned for apartments, and built the 320 units there. In 1969, he bought the old Outpost Inn/Shapley School property on Danbury Road and got zoning for 286 units. Casagmo was originally apartments and Fox Hill was due to be rentals, but the Planning and Zoning Commission convinced Paul to try condos. He did and they were so successful, all units in both developments became condominiums. Mr. Paul tried to get a third development on the land across Route 35 from Fox Hill, but zoners turned him down. By 1983, he was in Miami, Fla., where he acquired the ailing Dade Savings Bank and turned it into CenTrust Bank, Florida’s largest savings and loan. By 1990, however, the federal government took over CenTrust with losses that cost taxpayers $1.4 billion. The government charged Paul had spent millions in bank money on an elaborate lifestyle that included a Miami Beach mansion, an expensive yacht, and paintings by the masters. In 1995, Mr. Paul began serving 11 years in prison on 97 counts of bank fraud. But by 1999, while in a South Carolina prison, he was suing the U.S. government, alleging that it illegally seized his bank, costing him millions.
One day in the early 1990s, two teenagers received $3,000 checks in the mail from a woman they’d never met. The boys' parents had casually known Louise D. Peck for 25 years. Miss Peck told the parents later she had seen the boys walking to school for many years and wanted to help with their college educations. It was just one small example of the generosity – often unexpected or unusually generous – of a woman who gave away millions of dollars to charitable, conservationist, educational, and civic organizations. She did so quietly; Miss Peck was much better known as a vocal conservationist, who fought for land preservation long before it was popular. She spoke at meetings, wrote letters, served on the Conservation Commission for 11 years, was a supervisor of the Fairfield County Soil and Water Conservation District, and belonged to the conservation committee of the Ridgefield Garden Club for years. She donated 10 acres at Turtle Pond and later her own homestead on North Salem Road to the Land Conservancy of Ridgefield. She served on the library board, was a director of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, and a founder of the NAACP chapter here. The New York City native arrived in 1946 after serving in the Army during the war, with her longtime companion, Grace Woodruff. A Barnard English major, she wrote poetry that appeared in such publications as Harper’s and The New York Times. She died in 1999 at the age of 79, leaving behind several million dollars in bequests to local organizations.
Westbrook Pegler, the caustic columnist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his exposure of labor union racketeering, lived here from 1941 to 1948 during which time he seemed more famous locally for his attack on the plumbing code and his efforts to collect bumpers than as a national columnist. Both his local campaigns occurred during World War II. While expanding his 100-acre estate on Old Stagecoach Road, he wanted to use cheaper, unlicensed plumbers and the town code, modeled after the state’s and supported by unions, required licensed plumbers. Pegler called it discriminatory and tried to get the Town Meeting to abandon the code. He failed. He was more successful in his campaign to get people to turn in the steel car bumpers toward the war effort – the cover of Life magazine once featured him removing his own bumper in front of town hall. The nationally syndicated writer started out as a sports columnist in the 1920s, but turned to politics and labor. Famous for his conservative, anti-Communist writings, he “used his typewriter like a meat ax,” said one critic. In a 1950 column, he described Ridgefield as “an old aristocratic town of moldering white mansions on a white main street” that “has quietly become infested with wealthy Sixth Columnists.” By the mid-1950s he fell out of favor, and his columns appeared only in the magazine of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. He died in 1969 in Arizona, aged 74.
Romeo G. Petroni is the only native son to become a Superior Court judge during the 20th Century. “It’s a demanding, challenging position that requires broad knowledge of the law, but at this point in my life, I’m ready for it,” Judge Petroni said in May 1990 when he received the appointment. Judge Petroni had lived 60 years in Ridgefield, but soon after the appointment, moved to the New Haven area. Born here in 1929, Judge Petroni graduated from Ridgefield High School, Syracuse, and Fordham Law School. He became town attorney in 1957 and a state representative in 1961, serving until 1967. In 1966, he made an unsuccessful run for Congress, but was always proud of the fact that at a fund-raising dinner in his honor, the speaker was Gerald R. Ford, then a congressman and minority leader of the House. From 1971 to 1974, he was state senator and in 1974 was elected Ridgefield’s probate judge, a post he held for 16 years. In 1986, he ran for governor, but failed to get the Republican nomination. Oddly enough, he was nominated to the Superior Court by the man he would have run against, Democratic Governor William O’Neill. Throughout his career in Ridgefield, Judge Petroni was very active in the community, and among other things was a director of the Boys Club and the Village Bank, served as a trustee of St. Mary’s Parish, and belonged to the Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Italian-American Club, and the volunteer fire department. He has received many honors, including Rotary Club Citizen of the Year in 1984. Judge Petroni continued to serve as a regular judge until he turned 70 in 1999, when he was named a judge trial referee, a part-time position in which he can be selected to preside over special cases. He and his wife, Catherine (daughter of Leo F. Carroll [q.v.]) live in Hamden. They have three daughters, Carla L. Solberg, Elise C. Kamp, and Marissa G. Coor, and six grandchildren.
Harry Pierandri: Football Star
Harry Pierandri was the first Ridgefield High School athlete to receive a Division I college scholarship. A 1964 graduate, Mr. Pierandri was a two-sport star at RHS, excelling in football and basketball. He was named to the All-Western Connecticut Conference team in basketball, and also made the All-Tournament Class C state team. As quarterback of the Ridgefield High football team, he led the Tigers to a conference championship and was chosen to the All-WCC team. Mr. Pierandri went on to play defensive back at Boston College.—T.M.
Seth Low Pierrepont gave much to the town during his lifetime and even more in his death. One of the town’s wealthiest citizens, he was also among the most generous, and the 314-acre Pierrepont State Park in north-central Ridgefield, part of his large estate, was his bequest. Born in 1884 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Pierrepont was a Columbia graduate who was in the diplomatic service in Portugal, Italy, France, and Chile before becoming chief of the Latin-American Division of the U.S. State Department from 1911 until 1913 when he came to Ridgefield. He built Twixthills, his home on Barlow Mountain, but soon went off to naval service in World War I. He then became active in local government, and represented Ridgefield in the General Assembly from 1921 to 1927, and helped create the state police department. During World War II, he was state chairman of the Connecticut Salvage Committee, which collected scrap for the war effort. In town, Mr. Pierrepont served on the Board of Finance from its establishment in 1921 until 1951, was a president of the Ridgefield Library, chaired the Ridgefield Celebration of the Connecticut Tercentenary in 1936, was first president of the Silver Spring Country Club, and was a leader at St. Stephen’s Church. Today, his name lives on in the pond he created along Barlow Mountain Road and the park he gave bordering most of it. He had hoped what’s now Twixt Hills subdivision would be added to the park, but his widow sold the land to developer Jerry Tuccio instead.
“She’s a revolutionary, the Abigail Adams of our time,” the Rev. Clayton R. Lund (q.v.) said of Dr. Clara Platt when she was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year in 1982. The Texas native had a long career in education, starting as a teacher and winding up as professor of early childhood education at New York University. She and her husband, Raye, moved to Ridgefield in 1950 and she soon became active in school circles. She served on the Board of Education from 1955 to 1961, during a population boom that was putting much pressure on the schools. The Democratic leaders’ failure to nominate her for another term helped spark the creation of the pro-education Good Government Party. When the public schools dropped its preschool program in 1959, Dr. Platt helped found the still-thriving Ridgefield Community Kindergarten, serving as its president for five years and remaining active in the school until she returned to Texas in 1982. But the woman who was so involved in youth was also a major force in services for the elderly. She also served on the town’s Commission on Aging, playing a major role in the town’s adoption of senior tax breaks and in the creation of the Ballard Green. “Without Clara Platt senior citizen housing and tax relief for the elderly never would have taken place,” said former First Selectman Louis J. Fossi (q.v.). She died in 1983.
On March 9, 1945, Private First Class Geno Polverari wrote his wife, Marguerite, that he was fine. Four days later, he was dead of wounds suffered in battle with fleeing German forces. A member of the 85th Mountain Infantry, trained with the ski troops, he had been in combat in Italy since January. The Ridgefield native had worked at Joe’s Store, now Country Corners, before going into the Army. He left not only his wife, but a two-year-old son, John.
"I love my life," Mike Pontello told a friend one day in 1999. "I love what I'm doing. I love Ridgefield. To me, Ridgefield is a romance." And to Ridgefield, Mike Pontello has been a one-man cheering squad, a smiling face who has worked hard to promote the village -- right down to building dozens of storefront flower boxes and trash-can housings that used to line the street. "I'll do all I can to keep Main Street afloat," he said when times for the business district were tougher than they are now. Orphaned as a boy, Mike Pontello grew up with a family in Norwalk and served with the Army in Korea (where he was injured by shrapnel). In 1955 he met Ridgefield native Agatha Mugavero and they were married a year later. Mr. Pontello attended barber school, and went to work for his father-in-law, Jerry Mugavero, at Jerry's Barber Shop on Main Street. He took over the business in 1970 when Mr. Mugavero retired, and has been running Mike's Barber Shop ever since. In the 1980s, he began making colorful wooden toys and signs at the shop, and many of his creations have been donated to beautification efforts and for fund-raising campaigns. In 1990, he contributed the new town hall flagpole in memory of his wife, who had just died. He's received many honors, among them the Chamber of Commerce Public Service Award in the 1980s. In 1991, Rotary named him Citizen of the Year. "The achievements and deeds of Mike are to known to anyone who has any appreciation of the aesthetic side of the community," said Dr. David E. Weingast (q.v.), former school superintendent, at the Rotary awards banquet. "Artifice and phoniness are alien to Mike (who) has a very great love of other human beings. He's impelled to conduct good deeds." In 2000, recognizing a need and seeing the right person for it, the town hired Mr. Pontello as the part-time caretaker of Main Street.
When Dr. Florence Powdermaker died in 1966, The New York Times reported that "much of her career in medicine was devoted to the problem of making children feel secure in society." Her book, Children in the Family (1940), later called The Intelligent Parents Manual, was widely read and respected in the 1940s and early 50s. Born in 1894, Dr. Powdermaker earned a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1922 and a medical degree from the University of Chicago four years later. She held various positions in psychiatry in New York City. At one point after World War II, she was a consultant to the supreme allied commander in Japan; one of her specialties was treating combat-shocked servicemen. In 1950, Dr. Powdermaker and her sister, Dr. Hortense Powdermaker, bought a 103-acre farmstead on upper Ridgebury Road. Hortense Powdermaker was a noted anthropologist and author of such books as Hollywood, the Dream Factory (1950). Several of her books, including Stranger and Friend (1966), are still in print and widely assigned to anthropology students. She spent some time in Ridgebury, but lived mostly in New York, where she taught at Queens College, and was living in Berkeley, Calif., when she died in 1970 at the age of 69. Powdermaker Drive in Ridgebury is named for Florence.
Millions of people have admired his art -- in fact, it often induced them to spend money. But few knew the name of Richard M. Powers, whose work revolutionized science fiction art and graced the covers of more than 800 science fiction books during the last half of the 20th Century. The Chicago native was born in 1921 and began doing science fiction covers for Doubleday in 1949. A critic said his work “revolutionized science fiction book cover art in the 50s when he became the first primarily surrealistic artist to work in the field.” His paintings, which he called “abstract surrealistic expressionism,” have been widely exhibited and are in many museum collections. Also involved in the local art scene, Mr. Powers did illustrations for Silvio Bedini’s Ridgefield in Review, and released a print of the Battle of Ridgefield in 1983 as part of the town’s 275th anniversary celebration. He and his family moved to Ridgefield in 1954 and he had a home on Bloomer Road when he died in 1996 in Madrid, where he spent winters, at the age of 75.
When Bedient's closed in 1998, Ridgefield Supply Company, founded in the 1880s by Richard W. Osborn, became the oldest, continuously operated retail business in town. At its helm for more than 40 years was Louis H. Price, both a business and a civic leader. Mr. Price was born in 1910 in Raven, Colo., a mining town on the Rifle Creek that today consists only of a church and a few houses. In 1933, at the age of 23, he came to Ridgefield to manage Ridgefield Supply. He left during World War II to serve as an Army lieutenant in the Asia Pacific Theater (while he was away, his dad, Louis W. Price, filled in for him). Mr. Price returned after the war, bought Ridgefield Supply in the 1950s, and led its expansion and modernization during the period of the building boom during which the town's population more than doubled. Mr. Price was instrumental in establishing a regional cooperative among lumber merchants. He retired in 1976 and turned over the business to his son, Louis H. Price Jr. Active in the community after the war, Mr. Price served on the Board of Education for six years, and was a member of the committees that built Veterans Park School and remodeled the old high school. He served on the regional Draft Board, became an incorporator and director of the Boys Club, was a longtime Rotarian, and served as a Boy Scout leader. In 1968, the Jaycees gave him its Distinguished Service Award for his community work. He died in 1984 in West Trenton, Maine, at the age of 74.
Hundreds of businesses have come and gone during the 20th Century in Ridgefield. Only one can lay claim to Ridgefield Hardware’s achievement: It is by far the oldest village business owned a single family. Founded in 1938 by Edward Rabin, Ridgefield Hardware is operated today by second and third generations of his family. One of those old-fashioned hardware stores that has “everything,” including personal and knowledgeable service, it not only survives but thrives in the face of competition from big chains. When Edward Rabin opened his store on Main Street, he was one of the few Jewish Ridgefielders. "He had a very tough time when he first came to Ridgefield, but he stuck it out," said his son, Jerry. He worked hard to offer service and wares that Ridgefielders couldn’t fine elsewhere. During World War II, for instance, he would save his gas ration stamps, make periodic trips to New York and, using his knowledge of the city and contacts there, procure items that were then hard to obtain. "I'd empty my pick-up and they'd buy every shovel I had," he once said. Edward Rabin was born in New York City in 1911 and lettered in four sports in high school. He began his sales career as a vendor of peanuts and hot dogs at Yankee Stadium in the late 1920s; for the rest of his life, he was proud to have met and known Babe Ruth and other Yankee greats of the era. He and his wife, Dorothy, moved to Ridgefield and opened Ridgefield Hardware on the east side of Main Street, where Village Emporium is today. As the business grew, he needed more space and in 1948 built a new store across the street, where Ridgefield Hardware is today. Mr. Rabin retired in 1975 and Jerry and his family took over and have continued to expand and build the business. Active in the town, Edward Rabin was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club and a longtime member of the Lions. He died in 1995 at the age of 83.
Chuck Rapoport switched from being a success at taking still pictures to a success at writing the words behind moving pictures. A photographer for major magazines who shot such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Khrushchev, DeGaulle, and John F. Kennedy, Irwin Charles Rapoport became frustrated with the medium in 1971 and turned to his other love, screenwriting. The Bronx native had "spent his youth battling youth gangs from other neighborhoods," began summering in Ridgefield with his family in 1952 when he was 15, and moved to town fulltime in 1971. His first professional photo appeared in The Press in 1958 when he was a photojournalism student at Ohio University. He spent 12 years working for Life, Time, Saturday Evening Post, and Paris Match, but by 1971 "I was getting frustrated taking still pictures for magazines." He had already begun writing screenplays -- the first to be made into a film was the little-known To Kill A Clown (1970) -- and he turned fulltime to writing. In 1978, after a stint as a deputy county sheriff here, Mr. Rapoport moved to the West Coast to be closer to the industry and soon he was turning out many scripts for television films; more than a dozen have been produced. In the 1990s, he became an executive story editor and a co-producer on Law and Order, the critically acclaimed TV series, where he wrote many shows and won a 1997 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He has also written episodes of Baywatch and The Profiler; for the latter, he was a producer of episodes. Mr. Rapoport lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Mary, a consultant in non-profit fund raising, who was a founder of the Women's Political Caucus here. She has been a leader in the Los Angeles, California and National Women's Political Caucuses, and was development director of the Los Angeles Women's Foundation for eight years.
In 1962, when Noel Regney and his wife, Gloria Shayne, wrote the Christmas song, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” they had no idea it would be a hit or even published. “Columbia records was doing a cute Christmas song and they asked us to do something offhand for the other side of the record,” Ms. Shayne told The Press in 1969. “Noel wrote a beautiful song and I did the music. We couldn’t sing it through; it broke us up.” The deal fell through, the Regneys went to Mercury, the song brought tears to record executives eyes, and the rest was history. Now ranked among the 25 top Christmas songs of all time, the composition has been recorded on more than 120 albums by the likes of Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Mahalia Jackson. The Regneys moved to High Ridge in 1969 and were divorced in the mid-1970s. Mr. Regney remained a Ridgefielder, continued to write and often performed here on piano into the 1980s; he now lives in Danbury. Gloria Shayne Baker lives in Stamford.
Frederic Remington’s dream house in Ridgefield quickly turned out to be his last home. Mr. Remington, a leading artist and sculptor, was at the height of his career -- his work was being acclaimed, his art was continuing to develop, and his finances were back in order after some tough periods. He and his wife Eva moved into “Stony Broke,” a handsome Barry Avenue home which they had designed themselves, in July 1909. Less than six months later, on the day after Christmas, Remington was dead, the result of an attack of appendicitis that he had exacerbated by treating himself with laxatives. Frederic S. Remington was born in 1861 in Canton, N.Y., and attended Yale’s School of Fine Arts. At 20, he went West and began documenting the lives of cowboys, soldiers and American Indians in illustrations for many leading magazines, such as Harper’s and Scribner’s. He became widely praised as a leading illustrator, but by the turn of the century, Remington wanted recognition as an artist and was devoting much of his time to painting -- and even burned many past works he felt were too much like illustrations. He was being strongly influenced by the Impressionist movement and picked Ridgefield to be close to some of the leading impressionists, including his friend Childe Hassam and J. Alden Weir. During his career he produced more than 3,000 drawings, illustrations, paintings, and bronzes. “The extent of what he might have been was curtailed only by his untimely death at a time when he could have had 20 years of growth ahead of him, but he was already the paramount exponent of his kind of art and the most American of them all, ” said one biography.
For most Ridgefielders, her name is a park on North Salem Road or the auditorium at Ridgefield High School. However, Anne S. Richardson was once one of the most influential women in town, “a moving spirit for its preservation and betterment,” The Press reported at her death in 1965. Born in 1884 into a wealthy family, Miss Richardson came here in 1915 and build her home, Mamanasco Farm, on the plateau created by the great rock overlooking the north end of lake. She and her lifelong companion, Miss Edna Schoyer, helped organize the League of Women Voters here, and, after World War II, started the Ridgefield branch of the Association of the United Nations. Though she lived far from the village, Miss Richardson worked for beautification of Main Street, especially preservation and replacement of trees, both as a longstanding member of the Ridgefield Garden Club and as head of its Village Improvement Committee. In 1939, Miss Richardson, a Republican, and Miss Schoyer, a Democrat, were elected to the Board of Education, serving three years. (Ridgefield High School stands on part of her farm; the land was purchased by the town from her estate for a small price.) Miss Richardson was appointed to the original Park Commission in 1946 and died in office. She helped found the Boys Club, was active in selling War Bonds, and served in the American Women’s Volunteer Service Corps. In 1964, she was named Rotary Citizen of the Year. She and Miss Schoyer loved travel, and visited scores of countries on every continent (after sailing up the Amazon, The Press reported, she confided in friends that the natives on the shore were more fully clad than some of the women onboard ship). Her will, which bequeathed millions to trusts and charities, gave Richardson Park to the town, ordering that her house on the land be razed. She also specified that $1,000 be given annually to St. Stephen’s Church, of which $25 was to be spent for flowers on Christmas Day in memory of Miss Edna Schoyer.
During World War II when he made an effort to write many of Ridgefield's servicemen, Americo V. Ridolfi would sometimes get letters addressed to "The Mayor of Branchville, Conn." And in those days before the Zip Code, they'd always be delivered. Mr. Ridolfi was widely known by the unofficial title, bestowed on him during his more than 40 years of efforts at building community spirit in Branchville. Born in Bridgeport in 1905, he came to Branchville as a teenager and eventually owned Americo's Restaurant where Amici's is now. In the mid-1940s, he headed efforts to found the Branchville Civic Association. As its first president, he led the group in creating the still-popular Branchville playground and its baseball field. He and the association were also instrumental in stopping the town from selling the Branchville Schoolhouse, which they turned into a community center. He was a member of the Ridgefield Republican Town Committee, the Board of Finance, the Italian Club, and various Georgetown groups, including the fire department. He died of leukemia in 1960 at the age of 55.
Millions knew him, not by his name but by his character. For Cyril Ritchard played Captain Hook alongside Mary Martin when the acclaimed Broadway production of Peter Pan was staged live for television March 7, 1955, making TV history with its huge audience and high quality. His face and his voice were famous and he enjoyed telling of the time he was spotted by a gang of teenagers who surrounded him. "I thought they were going to attack me, but instead they stared and exclaimed: 'You're Captain Hook!' I'm glad the reason for their attention was curiosity, not animosity." The witty Australia-born actor starred in countless stage and screen productions around the world and over a career that started before World War I and ended in 1977 when he collapsed on stage of a heart attack. He bought his Danbury Road home, Lone Rock, in 1960, and "absolutely loved Ridgefield and that little house," actress and longtime friend Kathleen Eason of Olmstead Lane said. "He couldn't wait to get out of New York and to his Shangri-La, as he called it." Five years before, his beloved wife, actress Madge Elliott, had died, and he even had her remains moved from New York to St. Mary's Cemetery. Born Cyril Trimnell-Ritchard (a name he shortened to fit on marquees) in 1898, Mr. Ritchard appeared in comedies, Shakespeare, musicals, and even operas. "I have four notes, two of them good," he said of his singing. He was often seen about town with his poodle, Trim (a trimmed version of his trimmed name), and contributed to many local organizations including the Ridgefield Workshop for the Performing Arts. He read the Declaration of Independence at a 1976 Bicentennial ceremony here. "I was shocked when they asked me to do this," he told the crowd. "I'm not an American. I'm a citizen of Australia. And I love the British. So there!" A devout Catholic who attended daily Mass, he was a benefactor of St. Mary's Parish. His funeral was there, with the Mass celebrated by longtime friend and TV celebrity, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He is buried next to his wife.
Some people are killed in war. Others die of war injuries long after combat. That was the case with Joseph A. Roach, who was wounded in World War I but lived with his injuries and contributed considerably to his community until 1948 when he finally succumbed at the age of 50. The Ridgefield native entered the Army’s Yankee Division and, after instruction in intelligence work with the French Army, was in combat in France. At Seicheprey, “he was knocked unconscious in an enemy raid, sustaining four bullet wounds and eight shrapnel wounds,” The Press reported. He was taken prisoner by the Germans and transferred to Westphalia. From there he escaped to the border of Holland 43 miles away, crossed to England and was returned to the United States. Here, he became the first commander of the American Legion Post, was a grand knight of the Knights of Columbus, served on the Board of Education, and operated the stonecutting and monument business of his father. He was also active in Boy Scouting. His death in 1948 at the Veterans Hospital in Rocky Hill was attributed to the wounds he sustained in battle 30 years earlier.
As late as the mid-1970s, the sight of a roaming dog was commonplace in Ridgefield. But by the time Gail Roberts died in 1997, a roaming dog was as rare as a gray fox. The town’s dog warden from 1977 until her death, Mrs. Roberts was especially tough with people who allowed their dogs to roam because, she repeatedly pointed out, many loose dogs were maimed or killed by cars. She told of once coming across a dog “flatter than a pancake” on Barry Avenue. She called the owners and when they said they thought the town should take care of the dead dog, she ordered them to pick up the body. “By the way, bring a shovel and a box,” she told them. “When an owner has to do that,” Mrs. Roberts said later, “they will think twice about letting a dog roam.” She started as assistant warden in 1973, became full-time in 1977, and during the quarter century she did the job, facilities and treatment of animals improved considerable. She worked hard to try to find homes for abandoned dogs.
Paul Roche, only the third superintendent of the Parks and Recreation Department, has been on the job far longer and done far more than either of his predecessors. Mr. Roche has directed a minor town agency that has grown from mainly mowing a few fields and maintaining Martin Park to a multimillion-dollar operation that runs hundreds of programs and maintains the grounds of almost all town property. Mr. Roche grew up in Marlboro, Mass., the son of the supervisor for the local parks and forestry agency. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire, majoring in parks and recreation administration, and got his master’s in leisure services from Southern Connecticut State University. He worked in Old Saybrook and as an instructor at Southern Connecticut State University before coming to Ridgefield as parks and recreation superintendent in 1977 (today, Mr. Roche is one of the longest-serving administrators in town government). During his years here, the Parks and Recreation Department added the Yanity Gym, converted the old Ridgefield Family Y into the Ridgefield Recreation Center, took on the job of maintaining all school fields and grounds, added scores of programs, built many playing fields, and an indoor swimming pool. When he started out, the town's recreation budget -- including the golf course -- was $284,000 -- of which $160,000 or 56% came back as income. In 1999, the recreation budget totaled $3.4 million, offset by $2.7 million in revenue -- 79% of expenses. Many of the people who work at Parks and Recreation have been there for years as have many of the members of the Parks and Recreation Commission, which oversees the operation. "The town is fortunate to have people this dedicated," Mr. Roche said. "I've worked with wonderful people here -- very, very special." He is married to Debbie Roche, a Ridgefield bank executive, who has been very active over the years in the Chamber of Commerce, the Ridgefield Community Center, the Ridgefield Woman's Club (she was named president in 2000), the Lions Club, Girl Scouts, Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, and other community service organizations.
For George L. Rockwell, a man of several careers, history was a hobby. But it is for his History of Ridgefield that Mr. Rockwell is remembered today. The 583-page look at the town's first 219 years was published in 1927, but many sections of the book had originally appeared as features in The Press over the first quarter of the century. "That history is a reflection of the man, his interests, his family, his devotion to his beloved community," Press Editor Karl S. Nash once wrote. A descendant of Jonathan Rockwell, one of the founders of the town, Mr. Rockwell was born in 1869 in New Haven, but came to Farmingville as a boy. He lived with his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. George E. Lounsbury (George [q.v.] later became governor), whose house, The Hickories, later became Mr. Rockwell's home. In 1888, he went to work for his uncle's shoe factory in South Norwalk, remaining there 21 years. By the turn of the century, he was active in town and state politics. He served as state representative in 1904 and 1937, as town treasurer, and as a member of the first Board of Finance in 1921. In 1904, he was a Connecticut delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated Theodore Roosevelt. His work for the GOP won him appointments as Ridgefield postmaster from 1912 to 1916 and again from 1924 to 1935 (his son, George L. Jr., was postmaster from 1949 to 1953). President Taft named him U.S. deputy consulate general at Montreal in 1911 and he served there several years. In 1938, he made an unsuccessful bid to be Fourth District congressman. His first wife died in 1901 and his second wife was an aunt of Pat Nixon, wife of the president. Though history was an avocation, Mr. Rockwell was well-known and respected for his knowledge of Connecticut and especially Fairfield County, so much so that Duquesne University in Pittsburgh invited him to speak on the Western Reserve, originally part of Connecticut, at its 1938 commencement and awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree.
Of the many men and women who served as first selectman during the 20th Century, none did so longer than Winthrop Edward Rockwell. And perhaps none was more surprised. For when he first ran at a 1926 Republican caucus, it was for second selectman. When he woke up the next morning, he found he’d been selected first selectman candidate, which meant almost automatic election in October (when town elections were then held). He went on to win every annual and late biennial election until ill health forced him to retire in 1947. Win Rockwell, who attended the little Farmingville Schoolhouse, studied at Phillips Exeter, Yale and Johns Hopkins, but because of ill health never graduated. His government service began during World War I when he was on the draft board. He was an assistant town clerk and then a registrar of voters. As first selectman, The Press reported, “Mr. Rockwell guided the town’s affairs through many trying years. It was during his terms that the town’s dirt roads practically disappeared. It was during them that two school building projects were completed. Relief problems were particularly acute during the Depression years. Wartime demands upon the first selectman’s time were also burdensome. Only infrequently during his long years in office did Mr. Rockwell take a vacation.” Outside government, he was a charter member of the Lions Club, belonged to the Grange, was a director of the Ridgefield Savings Bank, and was an active member of the Methodist Church. He died in 1947, seven weeks after he left office, but in time to congratulate Harry E. Hull, the first Democratic first selectman since 1910.
The beauty of the town drew William and Marywade Rodier to Ridgefield, and they both wound up contributing to the town’s beauty in several different ways. In 1935, after earning a degree in landscape architecture from Columbia, Mr. Rodier took a job with Outpost Nurseries (see Louis D. Conley), then the largest retail nursery in the East. Mr. Rodier eventually started his own landscaping business, which he operated with the help of his wife for many years. Rodier Contracting Company specialized in design, construction, planting and maintenance. An accomplished violinist, Mr. Rodier was a founder of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra and played with it during its early years. He was also a member of the Park Commission in the 1960s, and served on the building committee that erected Farmingville School. A skilled painter, Marywade Rodier was a founder of the Ridgefield Guild of Artists in 1975, and remained active in the organization for many years. But the Rodier name is best known for Rodier Flowers, the shop Marywade founded in the 1950s on Bailey Avenue. The store later moved to Main Street where it still operates today with new owners but still under the Rodier name. William Rodier died in the late 1990s; Marywade now lives in Florida.
In a 1966 talk to the Republican Women’s Club here, Donald I. Rogers disclosed that President Kennedy cancelled his subscription to the New York Herald-Tribune because of Rogers’ column. “I am worse than a Republican, I am an economic conservative,” he told the group. “I’m not a John Bircher and I’m not a true right-winger, but I am a conservative when it comes to economics.” Mr. Rogers’ syndicated business-affairs column ran from 1950 until 1966, but he was also the author of 14 books, including Teach Your Wife to Be A Widow, How to Beat Inflation Using It, and The Day the Market Crashed. In The End of Free Enterprise: A Manifesto for Capitalists (Doubleday, 1966), he observed that “what the business world needs is a decision about the principles it stands for. It needs a credo, a manifesto, a set of guides and goals behind which harried and hard-working executives can rally. Lacking this, the enterprise system will be whittled away by the voting strength of those who don't understand it or who, understanding it, are opposed to it." Mr. Rogers moved to Mimosa in 1964 when he was publisher of the once popular Bridgeport Sunday Herald, a conservative Sunday-only countywide paper. Around 1975, he tried to do what no one else has done: publish a Fairfield County daily newspaper and was editor and publisher of the short-lived attempt, The Fairfield County Courier. He moved to Manhattan in 1976 and died four years later at the age of 61.
Albert and Toni Roothbert, modern art collector and fashion photographer, lived on Topstone Road during the middle of the 20th Century. Born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1874, Albert Roothbert came to the United States in 1902 and soon became a partner in a Wall Street investment firm. In 1925, at the age of 50, he retired and began studying and collecting of modern art. With the noted Mexican painter Miguel Covarrubias, he studied the art of Bali, and traveled from Paris to Peking in search of fine examples of modern European and Oriental art. Baroness Toni Von Horn, who also emigrated from Germany, was a leading fashion and advertising photographer in the 1920s and 30s for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. She did many portraits, including Greta Garbo, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, and a photograph of Albert Einstein, whose work at Lambarene Mission in Africa she later supported for years, has been called the best ever made of him. Albert and Toni met in New York City and married in 1937; she closed her studio and never took another picture. In 1958, the Roothberts established the Roothbert Fund to aid “students motivated by spiritual values, who can satisfy high scholastic requirements and are considering teaching as a vocation.” Recipients, called Roothbert Fellows, participate in periodic get-togethers. They have included black students expelled from Southern University in 1960 for pioneering lunch-counter integration in Baton Rouge and top-ranking Yale graduates. Mr. Roothbert died here in 1965 at the age of 90. In his will he left money to create the Ridgefield High School scholarship fund as well as a grant to the Ridgefield Library. Mrs. Roothbert died here in 1970 at 71.
“I have a fierce sense of protection for our historic past,” said Kathryn Venus Rosa in a 1996 Press interview. “I’d like to be remembered as someone who committed herself to the preservation of our past for future generations, someone who felt it was a privilege to live in a town as beautiful as Ridgefield.” A lifelong Ridgefielder, she acquired a sense of history from her mother and grandmother, who would take the young girl to antiques auctions at many of the large homes in town. Kitty Rosa became the leading voice for the cause of historic preservation in the last half of the 20th Century. In 1965, when the private home once known as the Keeler Tavern came on the market, Mrs. Rosa was one of a small, non-profit group to acquire the property for $85,000, then a hefty sum. The result is the Keeler Tavern Museum, for which Mrs. Rosa has worked tirelessly over the years and of which she has been president many of them. Her efforts didn’t stop there. In 1969, she was appointed to the Historic District Commission, the agency that oversees the preservation of properties on southern Main Street, eastern West Lane, and southern High Ridge, and has served ever since – from 1973 through 1999, she was chairman. She and her husband, Paul (q.v.), who live in a 1750 house on Olmstead Lane, were honored as the Kiwanis Club's Citizens of the Year in 1997. In May 2000, Mrs. Rosa received the Harlan H. Griswold Award for Historic Preservation, the state's highest award for historic preservation achievement. John W. Shannahan, director of the Connecticut Historical Commission, said Mrs. Rosa is "the woman who, perhaps more than any other individual, has been directly responsible for protecting the historical and architectural integrity of this extraordinary, yet most livable, community."
When Paul J. Rosa retired from public service in 1997, The Press called him “a versatile political workhorse.” And, the story said, “in a world sometimes distorted by partisan passion and personal ambition, his has been a voice of reason in the cause of public good.” Starting in 1960 when he joined the old Zoning Commission, Mr. Rosa served Ridgefield for 37 years. He did stints on the Planning and Zoning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, Board of Selectmen, and Board of Finance. Along the way he was also chairman of the Republican Town Committee for 10 years, and a member of committees on tax relief for the elderly, and data processing. All volunteer. “Politics is a way of getting the government going, but the true end is government,” Mr. Rosa said. “That’s our true goal, good government.” The husband of historic preservationist Kathryn Rosa (q.v.), Mr. Rosa came to town in 1959 and was a Perkin-Elmer systems expert. He grew up in Stamford and New Canaan and graduated from UConn, where he knew Bernard Dzielinski (q.v.), who’s almost the Democratic counterpart of Mr. Rosa – both served as selectmen, finance board members, and chairmen of their parties.
Lt. Walter Rose, whose family lived at Outpost Farms, was a decorated Army Air Force navigator during World War II. He had served in Greenland, Iceland, Labrador, and England before being assigned to the invasion of North Africa. On the night of July 9, 1943, his plane became part of the assault on Sicily, helping carry hundreds of paratroopers into battle. Lt. Rose was wounded during the mission and two weeks later, on July 24, he died. For his service, he was posthumously awarded the Air Medal.
The town's beauty has attracted countless artists and among them was Alexander Ross, who, especially late in his career loved painting nature. He was "obsessed with the celebration of all the joys of nature, especially spring and summer -- the profusion of wild flowers, the burst of buds into full-blown petals, the murmur of voices from the young children and young nudes lone with their thoughts in sylvan settings," said art critic Martha B. Scott. A native of Scotland, Mr. Ross was born in 1909, and came to western Pennsylvania when he was five. He studied at Carnegie Tech and began working as a commercial artist in Pittsburgh in the 1930s. One of his first big breaks came in 1941 when Good Housekeeping commissioned him to paint a cover, and he wound up doing 130 more covers for the magazine over the next 12 years. His work also appeared in Saturday Evening Post, McCall's, Cosmopolitan, and Colliers -- often including some or all of his four children who early on learned to model for him. He retired from commercial art in 1965 and began painting in a style reflecting his interest in abstract expressionism and French Impressionism, which he called "inventive realism." "Realism and abstraction strike a dream-like balance," said one critic of his work. His paintings were exhibited widely and he won many awards, but his work went beyond canvases. In 1969, he designed a U.S. commemorative postage stamp marking the 100th anniversary of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Deeply interested in religious art, he designed the stained glass windows for a church in Danbury and illustrated three religious books late in life. Mr. Ross, who had lived here from the 1970s, died in 1990 at the age of 81.
When he was 15 years old, Thomas Rotunda quit Danbury High School to go to work to help support his family. Forty years later, he was head of the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue, an agency that oversees the $1.2-billion gambling industry. Along the way, he was chief of the Ridgefield Police for 22 years. Though he began work in a hat shop, Chief Rotunda eventually got a part-time job as a special police officer in Danbury. He got a job with the Ridgefield Police in 1965, made sergeant three years later and in 1977 was named chief when John Haight (q.v.) retired. During his years in command, he modernized the department, and improved education of its officers. Good training, he said, had a lot to do with the fact that a Ridgefield police officer had not fired a gun at another person in more than 30 years. In 1999, Governor John Rowland asked Mr. Rotunda, who lives in Ridgebury, to become executive director of the Division of Special Revenue, whose 240 people oversee two casinos, the state lottery, two dog tracks, jai alai, off-track betting, and even church bingo. “Our task is to make sure that the gaming regulations are followed so that the honest bettor has a fair chance,” he said. The agency also makes sure the state gets its proper share of gambling income. Though he is the 13th director of the agency, Mr. Rotunda did not consider it a bad omen. After all, he became a policeman on April 13, 1965. His phone extension at police headquarters was 13. And a big testimonial in honor of his retirement as chief was March 13, 1999.
By the time he retired from public and private teaching, Dr. Robert A. Rowe of High Ridge estimated he had taught music to 10,000 students. Dr. Rowe came here in 1946 as the $2,500-a-year supervisor of music, a brand new post that raised some eyebrows back then. But, noted Dr. Rowe, by the end of his first year here, 80% of the high school students were involved in music in one way or another. He developed what The Press called “one of the most innovative kindergarten-12th grade music curricula in the state.” A Vermont native born in 1917, Dr. Rowe graduated from Middlebury College, studied at Juilliard, joined the Marines (he performed the first-ever live television broadcast of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Marine Band in 1944), and in 1960 got a doctorate in music at the University of Connecticut (he was one of the first Ridgefield faculty members to hold a Ph.D.). After his retirement from the public schools in 1979, he continued to teach piano and organ privately, and worked with various musical organizations. He was music director of the First Congregational Church for more than 20 years, and was active in Rotary. He died in 1998 at the age of 81.
In an era when women in politics were uncommon, Alice V. Rowland stood out as a leader on many fronts. In 1931, she was the second woman elected a state representative from Ridgefield. In 1943, she became the first woman state senator from Ridgefield, was elected to three more terms, and, according to The Press, “wielded considerable influence in the Capitol … As a legislator she promoted the development of Sherwood Island State Park, larger state aid grants for schools, and the construction of state-owned technical schools.” Her interest in education was no accident; she had been a teacher in Easton in the 1910s, and in 1943, Gov. Raymond E. Baldwin appointed her to a six-year term on the state Board of Education. Around 1950, Mrs. Rowland also became Connecticut’s first woman deputy sheriff, a job she held four years. A native of New York City, Alice V. MacSherry was born in 1894 and came to Ridgefield with her carpenter husband, Joseph, in the 1920s. She was active in the PTA (there was only one for all the schools), the Grange, the League of Women Voters, Republican Women’s Club, Red Cross, war efforts, and many other community groups. She served a term on the Republican State Central Committee and, in 1954, party leaders asked her to run for secretary of the state; after eight ballots at the convention, she lost to another woman whom party leaders decided had a better chance of winning. Mrs. Rowland retired from politics in 1964 and eventually moved to Florida where she died in 1971 at the age of 75. Rowland Lane, off East Ridge, was named for her and her husband.
Cornelius J. Ryan died in 1974 just weeks after completing A Bridge Too Far, the third of his massive, meticulously researched books on World War II. “He had struggled valiantly against the cancer that finally claimed his life, almost forcing himself to stay alive until his book that chronicled the battles and the men who fought them was completed,” Linette Burton wrote later. Mr. Ryan’s trilogy, which included The Longest Day and The Last Battle, is famous throughout the world, and his abilities as a historian of World War II were legendary. For The Longest Day alone, he interviewed more than 700 Americans, Frenchmen, Germans, and others who took part in the battles. All three books were made into films. Born in 1920 in Dublin, Ireland, Mr. Ryan became a reporter covering the war in Europe for Reuters and the London Daily Telegraph, including the landing at Normandy. D-Day is the subject of The Longest Day, which he spent 10 years researching and which has sold more than four million copies. The book appeared in 1959 and he devoted the rest of his life to the rest of the trilogy. Much of the work on the second two books was done at his Old Branchville Road home with the help of his wife, writer Kathryn Morgan Ryan (q.v.). Four years after his death, his struggle with cancer was detailed in A Private Battle, written by his wife, from notes he had secretly left behind for that purpose.
Only five years after women won the right to vote, Ethel McGlynn Ryan was representing Ridgefield in the State Legislature, the first woman to hold a state legislative office from the town. Born in New York City in 1886, Mrs. Ryan was a daughter of Michael and Bridget McGlynn, whose children and grandchildren have been part of the fabric of Ridgefield throughout the century. She graduated from Danbury Normal School (now WestConn), taught at the Titicus School and was later a member of the Board of Education. An active Republican, she served three terms in the House, from 1925 until 1929, and again from 1943 to 1945. She was a member of the Merritt Parkway Commission, which oversaw the design and placement of Connecticut's first four-lane limited-access highway -- still considered one of the most beautiful roads of its kind in the Northeast. Her husband was William H. Ryan, businessman and former State Highway Department foreman, who died in 1954. Around 1960, Mrs. Ryan moved to Sarasota, Fla., where she died in 1971.
When author Cornelius Ryan (q.v.) died of cancer Nov. 23, 1974, he left his daughter, Victoria, a note to “tell Mom to look in the files underneath the Eisenhower interviews.” Kathryn Ryan went to the files, filled with notes, notebooks, tapes and diaries, and pulled out one marked “C, 1970.” “In that file,” Mrs. Ryan said, “was everything Connie had learned pertaining to cancer. It was a totally secret account of his private battle against cancer.” Using these extensive notes as a basis, Mrs. Ryan wrote A Private Battle, the story of her husband’s death from cancer. No amateur at writing, Mrs. Ryan was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism who had been a writer and editor for many Conde Nast magazines, and an award-winning senior writer at Time Inc. She helped her husband research his books and was co-author of A Bridge Too Far. Her novel, The Betty Tree, tells of a youth growing up in her native Iowa. Much more involved in the community than her husband, Mrs. Ryan was active in helping the District Nursing Association, belonged to the Ridgefield Garden Club, and served on St. Stephen’s Church committees. She lived here from 1959 to 1989, and died in Florida in 1993.
Press Back button on your browser to return to index.