Few Ridgefielders in the 1920s and 30s knew the name Carmella Sabilia but, as Dom D’Addario noted, “everyone knew the Peanut Lady.” Mrs. Sabilia lived in Georgetown with her grocer husband and by 5 a.m. each Sunday she’d be up roasting peanuts over a wood fire. She’d package them in bags, put them in two baskets and be off on a 13-mile walk that took her through Branchville and up the long, five-mile hill to Ridgefield village, selling her bags of peanuts along the way at 10 cents each. “She always wore a hat and two or three layers of coats or jackets,” said Mr. D’Addario, a child in Branchville at the time. Anyone who lived in Ridgefield back then knew the Peanut Lady, who was probably in her late 70s or early 80s before she stopped her weekly treks. A native of Italy, Mrs. Sabilia spoke little English but reportedly left behind a small fortune when she died.
When Dr. Theodore Safford was named Connecticut Family Doctor of the Year in 1985, the president of the state Academy of Family Physicians called him "a dedicated family physician, an outstanding family man, and an involved community resident. Family practice in the United States has scaled virtually unattainable heights as a result of 30 years of extraordinary effort expended by Dr. Safford." Dr. Safford went on to become the sole runner-up for Family Doctor of the Year for the whole nation. A native of Ohio who was born in 1923, he graduated from Dartmouth and Long Island College of Medicine. He came to Ridgefield in 1951 after service in the Navy, and practiced more than 40 years. The national academy praised his work in training doctors through Norwalk Hospital, noting in 1985 that he was the only family physician in the state to be a director of continuing medical education at a major teaching hospital. He's also been a member of the Board of Editors of Patient Care magazine. First appointed a medical examiner in 1961, he still serves in that capacity. Locally, he was better known as the family doctor. As the late John Tower expressed it in 1987 when Dr. Safford was named Rotary Citizen of the Year, "Ted's career has always been marked by the caring and compassion with which he served those of us who depended on him. No matter how busy or tired or otherwise engaged he was, his patients came first." Dr. Safford has worked closely with the Visiting Nurse Association in improving and expanding its services. He is, said Mr. Tower, "a man of stature in his own community with a reach far beyond the borders of our town."
Jay David Saks has won seven Grammys and two Emmys. In the field of the performing arts, he has earned far more major awards than any Ridgefielder. Why then isn't his a household name? Because Mr. Saks is a music producer, the man behind the scenes who makes the great artists sound great on recordings, radio, television, and film. His specialty is classical and Broadway music, and he has worked with some of the world's greatest musicians, such as Eugene Ormandy, Yo Yo Ma, James Levine, Pinchas Zukerman, Seiji Ozawa, James Galway, Marilyn Horne, Michael Tilson Thomas, Emanuel Ax, and Andre Previn. His many Broadway cast albums have included Chicago, Cabaret, Fosse, Ragtime, Guys and Dolls, Into the Woods, Once Upon A Mattress, Anything Goes, and Steel Pier. In his more than 25 years with RCA, he has produced nearly 300 albums -- each with its own challenges. If it's a Broadway cast, he wants it to sound alive and theater-like. If he's dealing with artists who are nervous about being recorded, he must soothe them. Everything must be just right. "If they play a lousy concert, it's just one night," he said in an 1989 interview. "If they make a record that's not so good, it's going to be around for a long time." Born in 1945 in New York City, Mr. Saks studied violin and music theory at the Juilliard School's preparatory division, and graduated in 1970 from Mannes College of Music with a degree in orchestral conducting. Three years later he was a music editor. Soon after that he was doing full-fledged production for RCA Red Seal and is now vice president and executive producer at RCA Records Group, and his talents became much in demand. "I'm always in the middle of the most wonderful projects with hardly enough time to finish them properly," he once said. Mr. Saks' skills have also been used for more than 20 years in radio and television as the audio producer for the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday afternoon "Live from the Met" broadcasts. He's also done sound direction for the Great Performances series on PBS, and produced the music soundtrack for Walt Disney's Fantasia 2000, in IMAX, performed by James Levine and the Chicago Symphony. Mr. Saks and his wife, Linda, a paraprofessional at the high school, moved to Ridgefield in 1977 and have two grown sons. When not at work, he may often be found at Dlhy Ridge Golf Course. He's been a member of the board of the Men's Golf Club for many years, and is the club's tournament chairman.
"He was a character beyond imagination," said business associate Thomas Quinn after the February 1988 death of Bartholomew T. Salerno, an entrepreneur who started WREF, fed Olympic athletes, renovated old buildings, and enjoyed talking to anyone who struck his fancy. Born in New York, he came to Ridgefield High School in 1954 as an art teacher fresh out of Danbury Teachers College. A year later, he bought the West Lane carriage house of opera singer Geraldine Farrar (q.v.) and converted it to a home. For many years he operated Bart Associates, a real estate and insurance firm, but had many other interests. He spent 15 years getting licensing and antenna approval for WREF. He renovated the Big Shop, the early 1800s hall and factory that Hannibal Hamlin, as vice president under Lincoln, spoke in and that the town had condemned in the early 1970s; it's now restaurants, shops and offices off the Bailey Avenue parking lot. Mr. Salerno had an eye for a winner, as demonstrated in 1977 when he sponsored Karen Kopins (q.v.) in a Miss Ridgefield pageant. She went on to become Miss Connecticut, competed in Miss America, and acted in many movies and TV series. He part-owned the company that fed the athletes at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid and then supplied food to the American team at Sarajevo in 1984. "He was happiest around peasants and poor people," said Mr. Quinn, another owner, and instead of hanging around formal functions in Sarajevo, could often be found playing cards with the locals. When he did join in the formalities, he was sometimes lost. "I can remember him sitting next to John Denver and Kirk Douglas and calling John Denver Kirk Douglas and Kirk Douglas John Denver," Mr. Quinn said. "He told John Denver he enjoyed him in Spartacus!"
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Chip Salvestrini has made his mark in two different aspects of Ridgefield athletics: as player and administrator. Before graduating from Ridgefield High, Mr. Salvestrini established himself as one of the school’s best all-around athletes, earning eight varsity letters in three sports. He was a two-year starter in basketball and a three-year starter in baseball, where he was named to the All-Western Connecticut Conference team as a junior and senior. But football was Mr. Salvestrini’s favorite sport, and also his best. An intimidating offensive and defensive lineman, Mr. Salvestrini was twice chosen to the All-WCC team. As a senior, he received honorable mention All-State and made the All-(New York) Daily News team. Mr. Salvestrini continued his football career at Yankton College in South Dakota. A defensive tackle, he was named to the All-Conference team as a sophomore, junior and senior. Mr. Salvestrini received All-American honorable mention honors as a senior, when he was chosen one of the top 100 defensive tackles in the country. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, but didn’t make the final roster. After playing minor league football with the Long Island Giants and New Jersey Rams, he was signed to a free-agent contract by the New York Giants in 1977. He attended training camp, but was cut before the season started. His administrative path started at New Milford High School, where he became athletic director after two years as head football coach. Two years later, Mr. Salvestrini was named athletic director at Lehman College in the Bronx. In 1993 he returned to his roots, replacing Bob Mark as athletic director at Ridgefield High. During his tenure, Mr. Salvestrini has helped expand the high school athletic program, making it one of the state’s most ambitious. Several club teams such as boys volleyball and girls golf became official varsity sports, and club programs were started in other sports.—T.M.
Most people turn to Mark Salzman's books to learn about China, but for anyone who has lived in Ridgefield during the last third of the 20th Century -- especially for anyone who was a kid then, Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia is must reading. Salzman's surburbia was Ridgefield and his youthful years here are detailed in the 1995 novel-style autobiography that offers many details of life in town in the 1970s. But Mr. Salzman is better known for his modern classic, Iron and Silk (1986), which describes his two years in China where, after graduating from Yale, he taught English to medical students and continued his study of martial arts. "When I was 13, living in Ridgefield, I saw a Kung Fu movie on TV and from then on, I had a burning interest in the Chinese," he told The Press in 1989. "As an adolescent, I was very shy, under five feet tall, and I wanted to impress the girls. I decided I could learn Chinese martial arts." The book was made into a movie that starred Salzman himself. His 1991 novel, The Laughing Sutra, is also based on this experience. A cellist who once played with Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax at Lincoln Center on network television, Mr. Salzman has also written The Soloist (1994), a novel about a former child prodigy cellist. The son of former Ridgefield Orchestra harpsichordist Martha Salzman, he now lives and writes in California.
One of the world’s leading portrait artists, John Howard Sanden has painted more than 600 commissioned works of celebrities, corporate CEOs, senators, congressmen, and heads of colleges and universities. While most of his works are corporate chiefs – he has painted nine of the 400 richest people in the world, Mr. Sanden has done leaders in other fields. “Billy Graham came to my studio twice, and before I finished the portrait at his home in North Carolina, he asked if he could pray for the success of the portrait,” Mr. Sanden told The Press in 1999. “I never had anyone else do that, and it was thrilling.” A native of Austin, Texas, he grew up in the South and lived many years in the Midwest. He studied at the Minnesota School of Art, and began doing portraits for Reader’s Digest, based on photos taken by others. Now, he takes his own pictures. In 1969, at the age of 34, he moved to New York where he studied and later taught for 23 years at the Art Students League. He established a studio and has never run out of commissions to paint. Mr. Sanden, who came to Ridgefield in 1985, commuted to his city studio at Carnegie Hall for 13 years, but in 1998, built a home studio here and now does only the first and final sittings in New York. He lectures widely on portraiture, does demonstration classes, and has produced seven videos on portrait painting. He has also written three books on the subject and will publish a fourth -- a collection of his portraits -- in 2000. In 1995, he was the recipient of the first John Singer Sargent Medal for Lifetime Achievement from the American Society of Portrait Artists.
When he lived on Stonecrest Road in the late 1980s, Aram Saroyan was better known among Ridgefielders as a Little League coach than what he really is: novelist, poet, and biographer whose father was Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Saroyan and whose mother is actress Carol Marcus (Mrs. Walter Matthau). Aram (pronounced “Arm”) Saroyan has written a dozen books, among them the well-known narrative biography, Trio, which deals with the friendship of his mother, Oona O’Neill Chaplin (see Eugene O'Neill), and Gloria Vanderbilt. He wrote about his father in Last Rites, but is also a widely published poet and novelist (The Romantic was written in Ridgefield). In his youth, he was what one writer described as a “fastidious pothead.” He and his artist wife, Gailyn, drifted and hung out with the likes of Ted Berrigan, Allen Ginsberg and an aging Jack Kerouac. His early poetry included the one-word work, “Lighght,” which was once denounced by a congressman. His early life is described in Friends in the World: The Education of A Writer (1992). He now teaches writing at the University of Southern California.
Little is known of Carlo Scaglia, except that he died in the service of his adopted country. Born in 1889 in Italy, he came to this country with his parents and entered the Army in May 1918. Four months later, he was dead, blown up by a shell during combat in France.
In 1799, The Elms Inn was established on Main Street and has continued to operate ever since, making it by far the oldest business in Ridgefield. In all that time, only four families have owned the property. For nearly half of the 20th Century, the owners have been the Scala family. In 1951 Giancarlo Scala -- "Chef Scala" to a generation of Ridgefielders -- acquired The Elms. Born near Torino, Italy, in 1899, he was a master chef when he came to the states in 1921 to work for the St. Regis Hotels and later, the Longchamps restaurants. In 1937, he came to Ridgefield as chef for the Outpost Inn, then operated by the late Joseph J. Gibney. In 1948, Mr. Scala established Scala's Restaurant on the corner of Main and Catoonah Streets and three years later bought The Elms from the James H. Perry estate. Sons Mario and Robert joined in the business (sons Richard, a well-known local dentist who was a school board chairman, and Carl, a retired Schumberger chemist, worked there early in their careers). When his dad retired, Mario became chef, "a post in which he took great pride in dispensing good food," The Press once said. Giancarlo died in 1971 and Mario seven years later. For many years, the Elms was run by Violet Scala, Mario's widow, and Robert Scala, who built an extensive wine cellar with a national reputation (at one time he had century-old bottles of Chateau Lafite). The inn's reputation and ratings grew. "It's a place where people have celebrated," Robert Scala said. Among the celebrators have been Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Lily Pons, Arturo Toscanini, and even Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Robert Scala retired in 1996; he and his wife, Susan Pfeifer, a well-known local artist, moved to Stonington. Steve Scala, a vice president at Goldman Sachs and Mario's eldest son, purchased Robert's interest in the inn and became co-owner with Violet, and with Edward and Bill Scala, also sons of Mario. Ed and Bill manage the inn's accommodations. The restaurant is leased to Brendan Walsh, a celebrated chef, who grew up in Ridgefield. Incidentally, in the year 2000, Violet Scala was the longest, continuous resident of Main Street, having moved there after her marriage in 1952.
George Scalise, who owned a mansion on Lake Mamanasco, had the misfortune to run up against a soon-to-be Ridgefielder, Westbrook Pegler (q.v.). Scalise wound up in jail and Pegler wound up with a Pulitzer Prize. Scalise was “swaggering president of the Building Service Employees’ International Union,” as one New York newspaper put it, and an associate of mobster Dutch Schultz. He was arrested in 1940 by the crusading district attorney Thomas E. Dewey, later governor of New York and almost-president, and was charged with extorting $100,000 from hotels and contracting firms. But the arrest came only after Pegler exposed Scalise as part of a series of anti-racketeering columns that won him a Pulitzer. In a 1940 piece, Pegler described how Scalise had acquired the 27-room mansion on Tackora Trail, apparently with union funds. “A remarkable proportion of Mr. Scalise’s fellow officers of the union have criminal records, and he reached the presidency by private arrangement with the officers and without any vote, direct or indirect, of the rank and file chambermaids, charwomen, window cleaners, janitors and other toilers,” wrote Pegler, who moved to Ridgefield a year later. He also noted that just across North Salem Road was the town poor house. “Villa Scalise” was later acquired by the Jesuits, and is now the St. Ignatius Retreat House.
Bananas Gorilla with his armload of watches. Sergeant Murphy blowing his whistle. Mr. Fixit and chest of tools. Any kid who grew up from the 1960s onward and who didn't know these folks was deprived. Along with Huckle Cat, Lowly Worm, and many other characters from the pen of Richard Scarry, they have been friends to tens of millions of children. "Scarry revealed to kids that the everyday world was a place that could be understood -- and that learning was fun," said one biography of the author and illustrator. Born in 1919 in Boston, Richard Scarry studied at the Museum of Fine Arts school there. After serving as an Army lieutenant during World War II, he became a freelance artist in New York City. In 1950, he illustrated Katherine Jackson's The Animals Merry Christmas for Simon and Schuster, and a career was born; first editions of this 19-cent book fetch more than $100 today. Around 1951, he and his wife Patsy moved to Ridgefield from New York City, renting a place on the Conklin Farm on North Street -- a locale that inspired many of his later farm illustrations. In 1953, the couple bought a house nearby, and the Scarrys could often be seen in town in their MG sports car. Throughout the 50s Mr. Scarry illustrated books for Golden Press. In 1955, he did Jane Werner's Smokey the Bear, a Golden Book that helped popularize the rescued cub that became a national symbol for outdoor fire safety. In 1953, their son was born; though they named him Richard, he was always called Huck -- like the Busytown cat who would follow -- and today Huck Scarry is an illustrator of children's books himself. In 1959, the Scarrys moved to Westport, and 10 years later, to Switzerland. His first book as an author illustrator was The Best Word Book Ever, published in 1963, that also introduced Busytown. Over a relatively short 26-year career, he did more than 300 books, nearly 100 of which are still in print and most set in Busytown. "I'm not interested in creating a book that is read once and then placed on the shelf and forgotten," he once said. "I am very happy when people write that they have worn out my books, or that they are held together by Scotch tape. I consider that the ultimate compliment." Richard Scarry died in 1994 in Switzerland at the age of 75.
Captain Meinhard Scherf’s life and death were full of ironies. The first of more than a dozen Ridgefielders to die in World War II, he was killed by his native country serving his adopted land and doing what he loved best: sailing the seas he was literally born on. The son of a German Merchant Marine captain, Meinhard Scherf was born on a ship. At 13 he ran away from home in Germany to sign on as a cabin boy aboard a freighter. Just before World War I, his ship docked in Portland, Ore., and he went ashore to visit a friend. When he returned, the ship was gone. The young man decided to become an American citizen and soon joined the Merchant Marine. In all, Captain Scherf had spent 37 years at sea when, on March 29, 1943, he took command of the William P. Frye on its maiden voyage. The Liberty Ship, loaded with wheat and explosives bound for Britain, was torpedoed in the North Atlantic by a German submarine, U-610. It carried 40 crew and 24 Navy guards; five crew and two guards survived. Captain Scherf went down with his ship. (Seven months later, U-610 was bombed and sunk in the North Atlantic; all aboard were lost.) In another sad bit of irony, the William P. Frye was named for the first American vessel sunk by the Germans in World War I.
As an advocate of suffrage, of education, and of community service, Edna Schoyer was a leader in Ridgefield. A native of Pittsburgh and a longtime companion of Miss Anne Richardson (q.v.), Miss Schoyer came to Ridgefield around 1915 and immediately became active in the woman’s suffrage movement. She then led the organization of the League of Women Voters, serving as its president from its beginning in 1921 until 1933. She and Miss Richardson were twice elected together to the school board, serving from 1936 to 1942. She was also head of the Ridgefield Garden Club from 1939 to 1941, and had been long active in the club’s Village Improvement Committee. Her brother, novelist Preston Schoyer, who often stayed at her home, spent much time in China and Miss Schoyer was involved in raising money for China relief before the war. She also chaired the United War Fund, served as the Red Cross home nursing chairman, sang with the Ridgefield Choral Club, and, as The Press put it in her 1946 obituary, “participated in a multitude of community affairs, serving on committees and working for the betterment of Ridgefield.”
More than 5,000 children learned dance from Patricia Schuster, a professional ballet dancer who brought the art of fine dance to Ridgefield in 1965. An Ohio native who grew up in New York City, Miss Schuster studied at the American Ballet Theater School and with teachers from the Royal Ballet and the Kirov Ballet. She danced professionally with the Brooklyn Opera Company, the Boris Goldovsky New England Opera Theater and other companies. In 1964 she moved to Ridgefield and a year later opened the Patricia Schuster School of Dance in the Community Center. Later, she renamed the school the Ridgefield Studio of Classical Ballet, which still operates on Main Street. She also founded the Ridgefield Civic Ballet, which has staged many productions with local students and international stars. A number of her students have gone on to professional ballet, including James Fayette, a leading dancer with the New York City Ballet. However, many who did not become dancers benefited from the experience. “My daughter took ballet lessons from Pat for years and the poise and self-confidence she gained was immeasurable,” said Nancy Pinkerton. “She later became Connecticut Junior Miss using ballet dancing as her talent. The scholarship money was a big aid in college expenses.” When Miss Schuster died in 1999, Susan Consentino, who’d been a 17-year student, spoke at her memorial service: “Miss Schuster never had any biological children of her own, but in reality, and far better, she actually had thousands of adoring ‘children.’ She helped shape and influence every one of us, and not just while we were her students. She gave each of us skills to carry with us in life that consciously or unconsciously are part of us to this day.” In May 2000, it was revealed that Miss Schuster had bequeathed her Ridgefield Studio of Classical Ballet to the Friends of the Ridgefield Playhouse, the organization that is renovating the old high school auditorium into a performing arts center. The Playhouse would provide a venue for student performances for the non-profit school, to be renamed the Patricia Schuster School of Dance, and Miss Schuster's bequest included funds to support the project.
Longtime Ridgefielder Stephen Schwartz is one of the most successful Broadway and movie composers and lyricists of the last third of the 20th Century. He became a sensation in 1971 when, only in his early 20s, he wrote the music and lyrics for the highly successful musical, Godspell, for which he won two Grammys. Subsequent successes included the music and lyrics for Pippin, directed by Bob Fosse, and The Magic Show. Born in New York in 1948, Mr. Schwartz grew up on Long Island and attended Juilliard School of Music's Preparatory Division and graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University with a degree in drama. "I was always interested in music and composing, even as a young child," he said, "but my attraction to musical theater can perhaps be traced to a friendship my parents had with a composer named George Kleinsinger and the fact that I saw a Broadway show for which he had written the music, Shinbone Alley, when I was quite young." Early in his career, he collaborated with Leonard Bernstein, writing the English texts for Bernstein's Mass. In the 1990s, he began working on animated films, winning two Academy Awards in 1996 for Disney's Pocahontas, for which he wrote the lyrics in collaboration with composer Alan Menken of North Salem. He also wrote lyrics to Mr. Menken's music for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and wrote the music and lyrics for the DreamWorks animated feature, Prince of Egypt, whose song, "When You Believe," won him a third Academy Award. His most recent theater work has included the score for Children of Eden. He provided the songs for an original television musical, Geppetto, seen on the Wonderful World of Disney, and has recently released a CD of original songs, entitled "Reluctant Pilgrim." He is currently working on a new musical for the theater, entitled Wicked, and a second CD of new songs. Mr. Schwartz and his wife, Carole, have lived here since 1971, and both their children, Scott and Jessica, grew up here. He cites as his most exciting local achievement his winning the Men's B Singles Town Tennis Championship in 1983.
Harold Walter Scott was one of several Ridgefielders who went off to World War II and disappeared. Sgt. Scott enlisted in March 1941, 10 months before Pearl Harbor. He spent 18 months in the coastal artillery in Alaska, when he decided to switch to the Army Air Force where he became a gunner on a bomber. On March 23, 1945, his plane was on a mission in the Philippines when it disappeared over Cebu. He was 25 years old. Sgt. Scott was a member of the Class of 1938 at Ridgefield High School and in 1952, his classmates placed a plaque in his honor in the downstairs hall of the old Ridgefield High School.
When journalist John Scott worked with his hands, it was not just to type his eight books, scores of white papers, and countless Time magazine articles. Mr. Scott started out as a welder in Russia, and later, when he came to Ridgefield in 1948, built his stone-and-wood Peaceable Ridge home with his own hands. The son of the liberal social reformer, Scott Nearing, Mr. Scott dropped his father's name after a disagreement, left college after two years, and, intrigued by communism, headed for Russia where he worked in a Urals factory as a welder for several years. In Stalin's 1937 purge, he lost his job, but remained in Russia as a French and British news correspondent. Kicked out in 1940, he began covering World War II for Time magazine, remaining with Time until his retirement in 1973. During his journalistic career, he wrote eight books on world politics, economics, war, and hunger, did countless Time special reports that were widely circulated in government and industry, and delivered more than 4,800 speeches -- including some in Ridgefield -- all while also writing for Time. After his retirement, he became vice president of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. He still had time for home town, belonging to the Democratic Club early on -- a frequent guest at his house was Vice President Henry Wallace of South Salem. But he later became a Republican. He often spoke here, and in 1966, delivered the Memorial Day address. "He wanted to build the structure of a better world," said the Rev. Clayton R. Lund of the First Congregational Church at his funeral in 1976. "Such optimism never left him because he had such access to human weakness and nobility; he was obsessed with the triumph of the human spirit."
When he died mysteriously at the age of 42, Robert Paine Scripps was one of the most powerful men in American journalism. The Scripps-Howard Company, of which he was president, owned more than 30 daily newspapers in all the leading cities: New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Dallas, Denver. Most were started from scratch by his father, Edward Willis Scripps, whose career began in 1878 when, at 24, he founded the Cleveland Penny Press. Robert Scripps joined the company when he was 16 and by 1917, was editorial director of the chain and in the 1920s became president and chief stockholder. In 1924, he bought the South Salem Road estate of Reginald Lewis, a son of Frederic E. Lewis (q.v.), and lived there fairly regularly until around 1933 when he moved back to his native California. His family continued to use the Ridgefield place, which is opposite Cedar Lane, as a vacation home until the late 1930s. In March 1938, Mr. Scripps died unexpectedly aboard his yacht off Baja California; the cause of death was listed as a “throat hemorrhage.” Twelve years earlier, his father had died aboard his own yacht off the coast of Africa. Among the Scripps children who lived in Ridgefield was Nackey Scripps Loeb, who married William Loeb, publisher of New Hampshire’s largest daily newspaper, The Manchester Union Leader. For many years, the Loebs also owned the Connecticut Sunday Herald, a conservative Sunday weekly published in Bridgeport and later Norwalk. William Loeb died in 1981 and Nackey Loeb continued to publish the Union Leader until she retired in 1999. A year later, she died, leaving the paper to the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.
Maurice Sendak of Ridgebury is generally acknowledged to be the leading visionary in children's literature today. For more than 40 years, he's written and illustrated books that have entertained children and adults alike, but have also challenged established ideas about what children's literature is and should be. The New York Times said Mr. Sendak's work "has brought a new dimension to the American children's book and helped change how people visualize childhood." His more than 80 books have sold more than seven million copies worldwide in a dozen languages. They include such classics as In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and Where the Wild Things Are. His many awards include the 1964 Caldecott Medal for the most notable picture book of the year. In 1970, he became the only 20th Century American to receive the Hans Christian Andersen Award in recognition of his entire body of work. And in 1997, President Clinton awarded him a National Medal of the Arts in recognition of his contribution to the arts in America. Yet, when it first appeared in 1963, his most famous book, Where the Wild Things Are, was greeted with as much controversy as acclaim. Protective parents, teachers and librarians called the story and artwork too scary for children. Some even thought the book could be psychologically damaging because young Max's mother deserts him and he's sent to bed to confront his nightmares alone. But child psychologists said the book helped express hidden childhood fears. Born in Brooklyn in 1928 to Eastern European immigrants, Mr. Sendak spent much of his childhood in bed, suffering from a variety of illnesses. He read extensively, drew comic strips, and illustrated his older brother's stories. His father, a gifted storyteller, entertained the children with disturbing tales of the old country that often ended unhappily. "These were the stories he told us before we went to bed," Mr. Sendak said. "No wonder I'm an insomniac. I didn't know these stories were considered intensely inappropriate for children until I repeated them in school and was sent home to have my mouth washed out. Up until my generation, there was a soft innocence, a sweetness in books for children which I thought was inappropriate. It had nothing to do with my childhood or other people's as I saw it." Mr. Sendak's experience growing up as a poor Jew in Brooklyn during the Holocaust profoundly influenced his life and work. The monsters in Where the Wild Things Are were inspired by relatives who'd fled the Nazis and come to live with his family in New York. "They are my uncles and aunts, who poked us, pinched us, said absurd, patronizing things to us, took up all the room, ate up all the food," Mr. Sendak said. In his teens, Mr. Sendak studied at the Art Students League and was only 19 when he illustrated his first book, Atomics for the Millions, in 1947 (he did the book for his physics teacher in exchange for a passing grade and a small fee). When he moved to Ridgefield in 1972, Mr. Sendak had lived in New York City all his life, and had never needed a car. “I’m a 44-year-old neurotic who just learned to drive,” Mr. Sendak told a Press reporter. “Maybe you should warn them that I drive a green Plymouth.” Over his years here, his work has expanded into the worlds of opera and ballet; he's designed sets and costumes for several successful productions, including an opera of Where the Wild Things Are. He believes his art has always been deeply connected to the music he enjoys. "Designing for operas is as close as I can get to pretending that I'm a musician," he says. At 72, he is working on a theatrical production and a new book and, says an aide, "continues to try to understand and express the meaning of childhood, his and ours."
Everett Ray Seymour, a member of a battalion fighting the Germans near Fere-en-Tardenois, France, was working his way up a hill on a farm when he was cut down by a bullet on July 29, 1918. “Private Seymour is Ridgefield’s first son to meet his death on the firing line” in World War I, The Press said Oct. 1 in announcing the death. He was 23 and “was a bright young man of straight-forward, clean-cut habits.” He was buried in the field where he fell. Because he was the first to die in the war, the American Legion chapter that was formed after the war named itself the Everett Ray Seymour Post.
The Hon. William Oscar Seymour was one of the leading citizens of the first decade of the 20th Century. Perhaps flustered a bit by Mr. Seymour's importance, the Press obituary writer said on the front page Jan. 26, 1911: "He was a man among men, a consistent Christian, a good citizen, one of the few whom our town could afford to lose." Born in 1833 in Ridgefield, he became a teacher in the schools here, and in 1860, started his own private school in town. By 1870, he had turned to civil engineering, and soon became chief engineer of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. He eventually headed west, designing lines for railroads in Wisconsin and Illinois. By the late 1880s, he was back in his home town and served his town and state in many capacities. At his death at the age of 77, he was a state railroad commissioner, a state representative from Ridgefield, and vice-president of the Ridgefield National Bank, which he helped found in 1900. He'd been a borough warden and a member of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, forerunner of the Board of Finance.
Margaret Woodward Smith Shane lived in a world of writers. She was born in 1895 in Indiana to a former high school principal who wrote articles for the old Delineator magazine and a weekly newspaper editor and publisher, later a humor columnist. She attended the University of Chicago and worked for newspapers in Chicago and St. Paul before marrying Thomas A. Boyd (q.v.), also a writer. In 1922, her first novel, The Love Legend, written under the penname Woodward Boyd, became a best-seller. A year later she produced Lazy Laughter and then The Unpaid Piper (1927). The couple came to Ridgefield in 1925 and bought a house on North Salem Road, which she retained on their divorce in 1929. She married another writer, Ted Shane (below) and, as Peggy Shane produced more novels including Tangled Wives (1932) and Change Partners (1934). They made their home here except for several stints in Hollywood, writing for movies. In 1941, she and Arthur Sheckman wrote Mr. Big, a Broadway show directed by George F. Kaufman and starring Hume Cronyn and Fay Wray. (When a Hollywood studio later appropriated their title for a different film, the playwrights successfully sued and collected damages.) Mrs. Shane lived most of her last 10 years in England and France, but fell ill and came back to Ridgefield in 1965. She died a short while later. Her father, Duncan M. Smith, a Chicago journalist, spent his last 25 years in Ridgefield and wrote the popular Press column, "A Birdseye View," for many years. Her daughter, Elizabeth Boyd Nash, was an editor and co-owner of The Press for nearly 40 years.
How can a humorist be a "lady" from hell? Ted Shane wrote books and magazine articles, and created the "Cockeyed Crosswords" that were popular from the 1930s to the 1960s and appeared in various magazines. But before he became a humorist and writer, he went to Canada to enlist in the Black Watch, the famous kilted Scots division called the "Ladies from Hell." Only 16 when he joined, he fought in World War I with the division. Born in New York City in 1900, Mr. Shane graduated from Columbia in 1923 and began writing book and movie reviews and humor pieces for magazines that included the old Liberty, where his humorous crosswords also appeared. He came to Ridgefield in 1930 when he married Margaret Woodward Smith Boyd, also a writer, and lived here off and on until his death in 1967 -- he also spent three years in Hollywood writing for MGM and 12 years in Europe. He wrote profiles, particularly of sports figures, for Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, Reader's Digest, and other magazines, and worked as editor of 1,000 Jokes magazine. He published several crossword collections as well as Heroes of the Pacific (1944) and, though he did not drink, the light-hearted and popular Bar Guide (1950), illustrated by VIP (Virgil Partch). In 1940 he and Lowell Thomas wrote Softball, So What? about their experiences on Thomas's famous softball team, The Nine Old Men, who appeared here and in other places for benefit games in the late 1930s and early 1940s. In 1946, he tested the local political waters, running unsuccessfully for state senator from this district. He was a Democrat in a very Republican district.
In March 1938, 31 Ridgefield veterans of World War I gathered for dinner and offered the toast: “To our dear departed comrade, may God and this club preserve his memory.” Each year, The Last Man’s Club would assemble over dinner until only one member was left. In 1989, Thomas Shaughnessy became that last man. Born in New Canaan in 1900, Mr. Shaughnessy sailed the world as a radio operator in the Navy and later on freighters and liners. By 1930, he had settled on shore, buying a house on High Ridge, opening a tree surgery business and serving as Ridgefield’s tree warden until 1976. However, he kept in touch with the world through ham radio. He was a commander of the American Legion, and belonged to Rotary and the Knights of Columbus. In a 1974 interview, Mr. Shaughnessy reflected on his world travels and his Ridgefield years, saying “I wouldn’t want a life unless it was interesting.” He died at 92 in 1992.
Charles Sheeler, who lived and worked in an old schoolhouse here, was one of the leading American artists of the 20th Century, famed for his precisionist paintings. But he was also a famous photographer who worked alongside Edward Steichen of Redding, was hired by Henry Ford to photograph his factories, and who worked many years for such Conde Nast publications as Vogue. Born in 1883 in Philadelphia, he studied art in France and was a successful painter early in the last century when he turned to photography to help his income. That work influenced his art, and his paintings took on the precision of a photograph. His work for Ford also influenced him, and he became a well-known painter of machines and industrial scenes as well as ships. His work is in many of the major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mr. Sheeler moved here in 1932, living in the former Whipstick Schoolhouse at the corner of Nod and Whipstick Roads, which had been converted to a house (and was torn down in 2000 to make way for a large house). He first wife died in 1933 and he married again in 1942, and moved to Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. He died in 1965.
For most of his long career in Ridgefield, the Rev. Hugh Shields served two churches. He also served the needs of both the church and the government. The Indiana native helped earn his way through drama school at Butler University by giving readings of James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet. But he eventually took not the stage, but the pulpit, graduating from Yale Divinity School and accepting a calling as the minister of the First Congregational Church here in 1919. He remained minister until 1956 and was pastor emeritus thereafter until his death in 1971 at the age of 80. Among his accomplishments was the acquisition of the old Ridgefield Club building, converted to a church hall, and the resurrection of the failing Ridgebury Congregational Church, of which he was also pastor from 1923 until 1962. Mr. Shields was the only Ridgefield minister to represent the town in the Legislature, serving two terms starting in 1928. He was a popular speaker, and belonged to Rotary, Lions and the Masons. His son, Reed, was a well-known Ridgefield attorney and probate judge for many years. In 1963, when he was named Rotary Citizen of the Year, Mr. Shields observed, “I love Ridgefield and its people, and find as each year goes by that I love them more.”
It was a steaming July in 1920 when Laura Curie Allee got a call from the headquarters of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association, soon to be the League of Women Voters, asking her help in getting the 36th and last state, Tennessee, to ratify the 19th amendment. Mrs. Allee had been a leader in the suffrage movement regionally. She, Miss Mary Olcott and Mrs. James Stokes headed for Ohio to convince U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding, who was running for president, in getting neighboring Tennessee to vote for the amendment. Both the gruff Miss Olcott and the meek Mrs. Stokes were rebuffed by a Harding aide when they tried to explain their mission, but Mrs. Allee gave it a try and was successful. They were ushered into the office of the senator who, when he learned where the women came from, said: “I have an aunt who lives in Ridgefield. Do you know her? Mrs. Northrop.” Mrs. Allee knew her well – both belonged to the Congregational church. “That was open sesame,” Mrs. Allee said later. The group explained their mission convincingly and, on July 21, Senator Harding announced that he was urging Tennessee to ratify the Amendment. Tennessee did so Aug. 26, and three months later, Mr. Harding was elected president of the United States – with a plurality that no doubt included three newly enfranchised Ridgefield women. Mrs. Allee was the wife of Dr. William H. Allee (q.v.), who died in 1929. In 1933, she married James Van Allen Shields. Throughout her life she was active in the support of schools, the League of Women Voters, the DAR, and other community organizations, and helped in the effort to acquire the Keeler Tavern. In 1953, The Press reported a comment about Mrs. Shields on the occasion of her 20th wedding anniversary: “It is said that a good woman does not always find flowers in her footpath, but they are always growing in her footsteps.” She died in 1968 at the age of 97.
Reed F. Shields, a native son who was active for years in the business, civic and legal side of Ridgefield life, was son of the Rev. Hugh Shields (q.v.). He was a member of the last class to graduate from the Ridgefield School for Boys in 1938. During the war he served in the Pacific with the Army Air Force, winning two Bronze Stars and the Medal of Merit. He graduated from Butler University and New York University's Law School, and began practicing here in 1950 and was town attorney from 1951 till 1954. He became the town's probate judge from 1955 until 1975 after one of one of the closest, most-watched elections in years -- he edged out incumbent Democrat and fellow native John E. Dowling (q.v.) 1,295 to 1,168 in November 1954, even though Judge Dowling collected hundreds more votes than any other Democrat on the ticket. Judge Shields was also vice chairman of the Board of Education for many years, was a director of the Community Center, the Boys Club, the Ridgefield Savings Bank, and Silver Spring Country Club, and was active in Rotary Club, Masons and Boy Scouting. In 1976, he and his wife Audrey moved to Redding and in the 1980s, they retired to South Carolina.
When he died in October 1934, The Press called the Rev. Richard Edward Shortell “one of the most beloved priests in the State of Connecticut.” The St. Mary's pastor was so popular that, for years, babies were named Richard Edward in his honor -- among them, Town Historian Richard E. Venus (q.v.). Father Shortell had led St. Mary’s Parish for 41 years, and “it seemed that with his coming to Ridgefield, St. Mary’s Church seemed to grow and prosper,” The Press said. He built the church in 1896, a rectory (since torn down) and clubhouse across from the church, long used by the Knights of Columbus, which he also founded. But he was not just a pastor, but an influential citizen of the town who served for many years on the Board of Education, “contributing incalculable services to the public school system here.” As early as 1927, he was promoting the benefits of zoning (which wasn’t adopted until 1946). Town officials, whether Catholic or not, would often seek his advice, and The Press once reported that early in the 20th Century, the three men considered the “powers” of the town used to meet regularly in the back of Bissell’s Drug Store to discuss town affairs: H.P. Bissell himself, Dr. R.W. Lowe, the town doctor, and Father Shortell. In 1918, Father Shortell quashed efforts to give him a 25th anniversary party. But when he reached 30 years in 1923, parishioners took matters into their own hands and had a surprise party at which "the largest crowd of Catholics ever seen in St. Mary's Hall assembled" and gave him not only a grand anniversary, but a brand new Cadillac Coupe.
While on a tour in Germany in 1981, Russian symphony orchestra conductor Maxim Shostakovich requested and was granted asylum in the United States. Soon after, he had moved to Florida Road with his son, Dmitri, who had escaped with him. Born in Leningrad in 1938, Maxim Shostakovich was the son of the noted Russian composer, Dmitri Shostakovich, whose works Maxim specializes in conducting. He has led almost every major orchestra in the United State and Europe and while in Ridgefield, was conductor and music director of the New Orleans Symphony for five years. In the mid-1980s, he led the Ridgefield Symphony in a special all-Shostakovich concert that featured son Dmitri performing the Second Piano Concerto. In 1994, Maxim returned to his native country for the first time to conduct a concert in St. Petersburg. Mr. Shostakovich moved to Redding in 1991.
Like his father, Henry Merwin Shrady, who created the Grant Memorial in Washington, Frederick C. Shrady was a self-taught sculptor. But his work, especially on religious subjects, was famous around the world and his 1983 statue of Our Lady of Fatima became the first sculpture by an American to be placed in the Vatican gardens. Born in East View, N.Y., in 1907, Mr. Shrady had been a successful painter before World War II and had studied at Oxford and in Paris. During the war he was a translator in Europe where he met his Austrian-born wife, Maria, who became an author of religious books. After the war he turned to sculpture, living in the 1950s on Mountain Road and in 1959, moving to Easton, where he died in 1990. His works include the statue of St. Elizabeth Seton in St. Patrick’s Cathedral; a sculptor for the FBI headquarters in Washington that portrays fidelity, bravery and integrity; the 18-foot bronze Human Rights statue for the U.S. Mission at the United Nations; and St. Peter the Fisherman in Lincoln Center. “I have a feeling for spiritual work,” he told an interviewer in 1984.
Dr. Michael Skandera is unique: He was a Ridgefield educator for 45 continuous years, longer than anyone else. Other staff members had longer careers, but none spent as many years on the job in Ridgefield. Dr. Skandera is proud of that. “Well over 3,000 pupils have passed through my portals during my career, and I’m thankful for the rich experience they afforded me,” he told The Press in 1992 when he retired. A Danbury native, Dr. Skandera graduated from Danbury Teachers College (WestConn) and, during World War II, was a bomber pilot who flew 50 missions over Europe. He came to Ridgefield in 1947, teaching at the East Ridge School, which then housed elementary, middle and high school years. For a long time he was the only male elementary school teacher in town. The starting salary then, considered high in the region, was $2,400. “In surrounding towns, most teachers made around $2,000,” he said. When Veterans Park opened in 1955 to handle elementary grades, he remained at East Ridge with the fourth through sixth grades and was "teacher in charge." When Ridgebury arrived in 1962, he went there, specializing in sixth grade science. The only elementary teacher with a doctorate in education and one of the first to be named a "master teacher" here, Dr. Skandera did stints as principal of Veterans Park and of Ridgebury, but each time returned to the classroom because, he said, he liked teaching kids better than being an administrator. Dr. Skandera’s interest in nature showed itself at Ridgebury where he helped set up the nature trails at that school and used them fall, winter and spring to teach science to pupils and to give teacher workshops. Now a retiree still living in Danbury, Dr. Skandera has been active in performing rhythmic calisthenics, in mushrooming, and in his favorite sport, golf, in which he may hold another regional record: He has had five holes in one in his lifetime.
One trip gave George Henry Smillie years of inspiration. A leading American landscape artist at the turn of the 20th Century, Mr. Smillie lived for many years on Main Street in the house just south of the Keeler Tavern. Born in New York City in 1840, Mr. Smillie (pronounced Smile-ee) studied painting under James McDougal Hart and in 1871 headed west, sketching and painting particularly the Rockies and California's Yosemite Valley. Many sketches served as models for years of oil and watercolor landscapes he was to paint in Ridgefield and in Bronxville, N.Y. Many showed mountain scenes as well as American Indians. He also painted locally, and one of his most interesting Ridgefield works is a view of the old Stebbins homestead, painted in 1892 shortly before the house was razed to make way for the Casagmo mansion. He died in 1921 in Bronxville, and his work is in many major collections including those of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.
A few good words from a teacher can mean a lot to a student. For Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, it meant a career. Ms. Smith is the author of a five novels, the most recent of which, An American Killing, has been widely acclaimed and has sold more than 160,000 copies. A Ridgefielder since 1970, Ms. Smith grew up in Hartford; her 1994 novel, Masters of Illusion, is about the famous 1944 Ringling Brothers circus fire there. One day at Hartford Public High School, an English teacher told her that "your writing flows like a river." Her reaction was both wonder and a determination to develop her talent. "Being raised a Catholic in the 50s meant you were always singing that damnable hymn, 'Oh Lord, I Am Not Worthy.' That to me was the human condition. Obviously I didn't like it since I was so thrilled and relieved to know that maybe I could do something well." The results began to appear in book form when her novel, The Book of Phoebe, appeared in 1985. There've been short stories, including ones about her Peace Corps experiences in Cameroon, and four more novels, including Port of Missing Men (1989) whose title, but not plot, was inspired by a turn of the century resort on West Mountain. A sequel to An American Killing is in the works. In her 30 years in town, Ms. Smith has been active in a co-op preschool, the Norwalk River Project and managing concession stands for Little League. Since 1991, Ms. Smith, who knows how a critical eye and a kind word can help a budding author, has been involved in the Young Writer's Institute, a Hartford-based program in which professional writers become mentors for promising writers from Hartford-area high schools. "That these writers are 15 does boggle the mind," she said of their talent.
“I’m young enough to think I’ll be back in government,” Theodore C. Sorensen told The Press in 1972, shortly after moving to Bennett’s Farm Road. One of President John F. Kennedy’s closest advisers, Mr. Sorensen headed Mr. Kennedy’s staff for the eight years he was a U.S. senator, and then spent three years as the president’s special counsel on domestic affairs. Five years after the interview, President Jimmy Carter nominated Mr. Sorensen to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, but after a storm of protest connected with charges he had leaked classified information as a Kennedy adviser, Mr. Sorensen withdrew. However, the next year, President Carter named him to the Presidential Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and he was involved in the late 1970s negotiations that led to turning the Panama Canal over to Panama in 1999. He served President Clinton as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships and has endowed a grant of his own: the Theodore C. Sorensen Research Fellowship at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston to help scholars of domestic policy, political journalism, polling, and similar subjects. Mr. Sorensen has written several books, including Kennedy, The Kennedy Legacy, and Watchmen in the Night: Presidential Accountability after Watergate. He now lives in Bedford, N.Y., and is an attorney in New York City.
B.E. Sperry, a prominent Ridgefield businessman for a half century, died amid much family sadness. In the fall of 1946, he drove to Michigan to visit his brother, Frank, hospitalized with burns suffered when a relative's house burned down only a few weeks after he had gone to live there following a recent trailer fire that killed his brother, former Ridgefielder Fleet Sperry. On the day before Halloween, B.E. Sperry suffered a heart attack at a hotel and died. Born in 1871 in Michigan, he came to Ridgefield in 1892 and worked at the Adams and Keeler livery stable. Five years later, he opened his own in a huge building on Catoonah Street opposite the firehouse. He had as many as 75 horses at one point. "When automobiles began to provide better local transportation," his Press obituary said, "Mr. Sperry turned to taxicabs." He continued in that business until World War II and also sold coal and wood. Mr. Sperry was active in the Lions Club and other local groups. His old livery stable, which had been the last in Ridgefield, collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow Jan. 17, 1948. (see also dd132)
"Before he arrived," high school Principal Joseph Ellis said of Charles A. Spire, "the music program was practically non-existent. With Charlie's leadership it became one of the finest music programs of any school district, anywhere." In 1973, when Mr. Spire became supervision of music, programs that Dr. Robert Rowe (q.v.) had started years earlier were long gone; music had taken the brunt of budget cuts as enrollments exploded in the 60s. By the time Mr. Spire retired in 1990, music was flourishing in the schools and students were performing both here and in Europe. "My master plan is to see that every child, K through 12, is touched by culture," he once said. Mr. Spire was born in 1929 in Gowanda, N.Y., where, during the Depression, music was one of the few diversions. "I saw what music did for the small town where I grew up," he said. As a boy he performed on any instrument he was given with any group he could. He studied music at Boston University, and with the likes of Arthur Fiedler and Paul Hindemith. He made his concert piano debut with the Boston Pops and also performed at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony. But after serving as an Army major during the Korean War, Mr. Spire decided he wanted to work with children. He taught music in New York state from 1955 until coming to Ridgebury School in 1967. In 1971, he established the Ridgefield Youth Orchestra, which became so proficient it was invited to give concert tours in Europe in 1979, 1984, 1989 and 1991. Recalling the performances he'd heard or been a part of as a small-town child, he staged 73 concerts in Ballard Park between 1973 and 1990, showcasing hundreds of student musicians. A member of the board of Opera New England, he brought opera stars to the schools and took countless students to Lincoln Center for great performances. In 1975, he began spring Broadway musicals at the high school that continue to this day, and in 1976, staged a huge, all-day school Art and Music Festival in Ballard Park to celebrate the Bicentennial. For these and other accomplishments, Mr. Spire was named Kiwanis Citizen of the Year in 1976 and Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1993. He has also found time to compose music (a march he wrote became the theme in the popular film, The Great Escape), to write for Symphony Magazine, to serve on the board of the Charles Ives Center in Danbury, and to teach music privately. When he retired he received a letter complimenting him for inspiring students "to strive for excellence in all things so that, in working hard and displaying individual initiative, they will know they can make a difference in the world." President George Bush signed the letter.
Rabbi Theodore Stainman was the first leader of the first Jewish congregation in Ridgefield. Then still enrolled at Hebrew Union College in New York City, the New Jersey native was a student rabbi who served Temple Shearith Israel during two important, formative years. Rabbi Stainman came in the summer of 1967 just after the congregation voted to form. Early services were in the First Congregational Church, then at Odd Fellows Hall. The next year, Temple Shearith Israel bought the old Doubleday mansion on Peaceable Street, which has been used for services and education ever since. Rabbi Stainman remained with Temple Shearith Israel until the spring of 1969. He was ordained in 1970 and joined the Air Force. In his first assignment as a chaplain, he covered the entire state of Alaska. He made a career of the Air Force, serving in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East and retiring as a colonel in 1993. He then taught at a Delaware College and, since 1995, has been rabbi of Congregation Bet Chaverim in Kent, Wash.
Although a few black slaves and freemen had lived in Ridgefield in the 18th Century, one of the first black families to settle here were the Steeles of Farmingville, according to The Press Jubilee in 1950. Miss Mary Steele, who died in 1933 at the age of 75, was born in 1859 in Farmingville and said her family had lived in the area since the 1700s. She recalled hearing her great-grandmother tell of attending a gathering in North Salem during the Revolution when General Washington and General Lafayette and their staffs stopped for refreshments en route to Hartford. Aunt Sibby Sickle had also been present when the French Army under General Rochambeau passed through North Salem and Ridgebury. Miss Steele’s parents managed a farm for Governor George E. Lounsbury, who also lived in Farmingville. She was "a nice little old lady that everyone thought the world of," recalled Dick Venus in 1983. "Mary did a lot of walking and always dressed in a black dress with large white collar and a black straw hat with a white band… She was very kindly and told wonderful stories."
Carleton Ross Stevens, barely 20, had one of the most important jobs in World War I: He delivered the first sectional terms of the armistice to General Pershing. Sgt. Stevens rode a motorcycle more than 800 miles in 19 hours. He stopped only three times – once when he crashed – and ate only chocolate. Sgt. Stevens, who had entered the service in June 1918, was often under fire while on duty as a motorcycle dispatch rider. In one case, while on a motorcycle trip in France, enemy fire was so heavy he had to hide in a swamp for five days, with only raw bacon to eat. Never formally schooled beyond the eighth grade, Mr. Stevens went on to invent numerous machines and electronic devices, lecture at Yale during World War II and build a highly successful manufacturing business in Waterbury. Born in 1898, the Ridgefield native joined American Brass in Waterbury after the war and began inventing automated machines and later, electronic devices. (In 1912, as a boy of only 14, he had set up the first wireless “ham” radio station in Ridgefield and he remained a ham all his life.) He founded his own company and during World War II, created devices for the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb. An Army signal corps major in the Second World War, he lectured at Yale on the Manhattan Project. He died in 1970 in Thomaston.
Although he operated a country inn in a small Connecticut town, Albert Stockli was one of the most renowned chefs in America, the man who had created the Four Seasons, the Mermaid Tavern, the Forum of the Twelve Caesars, Trattoria Zum Zum, and other famous New York City restaurants. But a liver ailment in 1965 prompted Chef Stockli to leave the city’s hectic life and his partners, Restaurant Associates, and to run Stonehenge. Already famous under founder Victor Gilbert, Chef Stockli’s Stonehenge gained a worldwide reputation for excellence, and many notables dined there. A native of Switzerland, Chef Stockli began cooking at nine, studied in the capitals of Europe and came to this country in the 1940s. He was known for his inventive dishes that used fresh neighborhood foods – he visited farms and dairies himself, and had a network of hunters and fishermen who would bring him game. In 1970, Knopf published Splendid Fare: The Albert Stockli Cookbook. He died in 1972 at the age of 54.
James Stokes was a wealthy banker and lawyer who was known internationally for his philanthropy, especially in connection with the YMCA movement. France awarded him a Knight of the Legion of Honor after he and his family paid almost half the million-franc cost of building a YMCA in Paris, and he was also honored by other nations, including Russia, for his YMCA work. A world traveler, he had been to many parts of Asia and Africa as well as Europe, and belonged to several major geographical societies. He died in 1918 at his mansion, Sunset Hall, which still stands on Old West Mountain Road and was subsequently owned by the brother of magician Harry Houdini and by actor Robert Vaughn (q.v.).
"Albert Storer was noted for his many friends here, there probably being no other man in Ridgefield who had as many." That was among the tributes to Albert Henry Storer that appeared in his 1933 obituary. A warden of St. Stephen's for more than 30 years, he was a borough warden, a longtime director of the Ridgefield Library, a member of the Board of Education and of the committee that erected the East Ridge School (old high school). Born in 1858 in New York, he had been publisher of the New York Shipping and Price Courant. When he sold the paper at the turn of the century, he retired to live on Main Street and become involved in the community. (His wife was founder of the Ridgefield Garden Club -- see Sophie Storer Knox.)
In 1999, when the Ridgefield Old Timers Club honored him, Earl Sturges was called "The Firemen's Fireman." He had, after all, been a volunteer fireman for 68 years, and well into his 70s he was still responding to fires. He was "always the first guy at the door at a fire," said Chief Richard McGlynn at a 1983 banquet honoring his 50 years of service. And though he had bowed out of active duty by his 80s, Mr. Sturges still participated in departmental events -- including riding in the Memorial Day Parade. Born on Haviland Road in 1910, the house painter became a volunteer fireman as soon as he turned 21, and fought countless fires including a Peaceable Street blaze in which leaking gas exploded as he and Jack Leary were trapped in a basement, almost killing them both. Mr. Sturges held every office in the department, including chief. Many have sung his praises, including both President Reagan and Governor O'Neill who sent personal congratulations on his 50 years of service in 1983. But his achievement was perhaps best expressed by First Selectman Elizabeth Leonard: "How do you say something to someone who has given 50 years of his life to an ideal?"
Ridgefield, home to many fine musicians, was once also the home of the Dunrovin Music Festival that brought leading opera and chamber music personalities to a privately created theater off West Lane on the estate called Dunrovin. In 1936 William Matheus Sullivan, a New York City lawyer and patron of music, bought Dunrovin, the estate of the late Melbert B. Cary (q.v.), as his country home. Mr. Sullivan converted a carriage house into a theater modeled after Frederick the Great's opera house in Bayreuth, Germany, and in 1938 began staging music festivals that featured such leading operatic voices as Lily Pons, Grace Moore, Lawrence Tibbett, Edward Johnson, and Geraldine Farrar (q.v.). In 1940, when war had broken out in Europe, Mr. Sullivan began turning over the proceeds from the concerts to the Red Cross. Suspended during the war, the festivals resumed in 1946, but ended with his death in 1947. The playhouse was also the scene of many private concerts, some benefiting such causes as Danbury Hospital. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Sullivan was the attorney for the Metropolitan Opera House and for many of its singers. He also sponsored young artists who went on to become leading singers and musicians. An art and antiques collector, he owned Van Dyke's "The Holy Family," which he hung in his playhouse. He was often seen in the village with his English sheep dogs, one of which was the gift of his friend, the Duke of Windsor, when he was king of England. In his will, Mr. Sullivan established the William Matheus Sullivan Musical Foundation which, to this day, awards grants to promising musicians to help with their studies.
According to his obituary in the Feb. 5, 1931 Press, Frank Taylor was "Ridgefield's first regular officer" of the law. He may have also been the only one ever to shoot a suspect. A native son, he was born in 1860 in the Limestone District and in the late 1890s, became "the village night watchman," a job he held some 25 years. Merchants chipped in for his $100 a month salary, and he would nightly check their front and back doors, and see that other things, such as streetlights, were in order. And, noted Dick Venus in a Dick's Dispatch column, Constable Taylor and his large nightstick were well respected by kids and appreciated by parents. When he approached groups of youngsters at 8 or 9 at night and suggested it was time to head home, "it would have been a very rare occasion if a dissenting opinion was expressed," Mr. Venus wrote. But he also was not so low-key. In 1903, a trio tried to rob the post office and Constable Taylor responded on foot, firing his huge .45, wounding one thief and chasing all three out of town (see Time Line). In the mid-1920s, he was transferred from night duty to become the first daytime patrolman of the village, a job largely devoted to traffic and parking problems. For many years he was also active in the fire department, served as a registrar of voters, was chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, and led the local Odd Fellows lodge. "Mr. Taylor was kindly and cheery in disposition, always ready to do a good deed or to assist in any good cause," his obituary said.
Robert Lewis Taylor was one of two Pulitzer Prize-winning writers to have lived in Ridgefield, and he was reportedly almost as conservative as the other, columnist Westbrook Pegler. But his ways and eccentricities often surprised those who knew him. Mr. Taylor won the Pulitzer for The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, a 1959 novel about a 14-year-old boy and his father who trekked West during the Gold Rush. It became the basis for a 1960 TV series of the same name, starring nine-year-old Kurt Russell. The Illinois native got his start in newspapers, but eventually wound up at The New Yorker, where he was noted for his witty profiles. He wrote for many other magazines and produced nearly a dozen novels and biographies before his death in 1998. Mr. Taylor, who lived on Old Branchville Road in the 1950s and 60s, once told an interviewer that he enjoyed serving in the Navy during World War II. But by the time of the Vietnam War, he confessed he was glad his son did not serve. “I hate our senseless wars and the politicians who get us into them,” he said. “If I had my way, politicians would be against the law.”
Elizabeth Leonard (q.v.) wasn't the only Ridgefield journalist to switch from covering to running a town. But in the case of John Alden Thayer, warmer climes beckoned before he began his political career. Mr. Thayer was owner and editor of The Ridgefield Press from 1932 until 1937, when the Nash brothers took over (see Karl S. Nash). When he took over The Press, the newspaper reported many years later, "he went into his new business with considerable vigor. He bought new equipment, including a printing press, and dressed up the Press office in the Masonic Building so it looked very much more modern than previously. He added to his staff and put out a bigger paper." Born in New York City in 1895, Mr. Thayer attended Dartmouth and was a second lieutenant in the field artillery in World War I. He lived in New Canaan for many years, had also worked as a salesman, and, in 1940, moved to Delray Beach, Fla. He was eventually elected mayor of Delray -- and thus became known as "Mayor Thayer." He died in 1964 at the age of 69.
Harry Thomas was a taste of the past in modern Ridgefield. As late as 1970, he could be seen at the forge behind his Catoonah Street house, fashioning things of iron. For Mr. Thomas was the last of a profession that was once common and essential to any community: the blacksmith. Harry Marvin Thomas was born here in 1884, a fifth generation descendant of Benjamin Stebbins, who built a house on Main Street in 1714 that became a hospital in the Battle of Ridgefield and stood where Casagmo is now. At 16, he began his apprenticeship, and became probably the town’s leading blacksmith through the end of the age of the horse. In a pinch he could shoe and harness a horse in seven minutes. Harry Thomas was a man of strength, not just in his arms, but legs – he thought nothing of walking to Norwalk or to Brewster and back, and did it often. In 1927, he built the house still standing between the firehouse and post office, and his blacksmith shop out back, also still standing. When the automobile took over from the horse, he went to work for Gilbert and Bennett in Georgetown, but on retirement, fired up the forge again for fun and for special projects that still required a blacksmith. In a 1962 interview, Mr. Thomas bemoaned the fact so many of his old friends had died. “They understood me, they knew what I meant,” he said. “People don’t understand each other now. They’re always fighting.”
A conservative, Republican town like Ridgefield hardly seems the place where one of the 20th Century's leading liberals would live. But Norman Thomas, six-time candidate for president of the United States on the Socialist ticket, owned two summer places here. In 1911, Mr. Thomas and his wife, Frances Violet, bought a place on Limestone Road, which they called "Old Farm" and used weekends and summers. By 1914, they moved to a house on West Mountain Road, but continued to own the Limestone farm until 1923, by which time they were no longer summering here. Years later, Irma Benjamin recalled Mr. Thomas wearing "a farmer's hat, overalls and a big smile." A native of Ohio who once delivered papers for Warren G. Harding's Marion Daily Star, Mr. Thomas was, like his father and grandfather, a Princeton graduate who became a minister. In East Harlem, he devoted himself to helping struggling immigrants, and soon left the Presbyterian ministry to spend his life promoting the welfare of the poor and Socialist ideals -- many of which were adopted by Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration. He ran for president every election from 1928 to 1948, winning his greatest vote -- 885,000 or 2.2% of the total -- in 1932. "Thomas had superb oratorical skills and passionate convictions," The Press reported in 1982. "They combined with a limitless energy to make him a strong spokesman for Socialist principles throughout his long life. During his few years in Ridgefield he soaked up his East Harlem experiences and distilled it into a coherent mission that he led until his death in 1968."
It's not many people who can invent a phrase that becomes part of the language. Alvin Toffler did. Future Shock, the title of his 1970 book, is now in every dictionary, defined as the inability to cope with the many, fast-paced changes of modern society. Mr. Toffler is probably the nation's leading "futurist," a person who studies where we're going. Future Shock, published when he lived on Deer Hill Drive, discussed what happens “when too much change hits too fast for people to absorb.” In his 1980 best seller, The Third Wave, he predicted that a worldwide technological revolution, like the agricultural and industrial revolutions before it, would change the way in which the world lives and works. Dr. Toffler has been joined by his wife, fellow futurist Heidi Toffler, in writing all his books, including Powershift (1990), the final volume in their trilogy, and War and Anti-War (1995). They lived here from 1967 to 1974 and are now in southern California.
Jane Trahey's accomplishments read like those of a half dozen people put together. She was a leading fashion copywriter, the first adwoman to earn more than a million dollars in a year, and among the first to establish their own New York City agency (with such clients as Calvin Klein and Elizabeth Arden). She wrote a half dozen books of humor, including Pecked to Death by Goslings (a novel about living in the small town of Old Gosling -- i.e., Ridgefield) and The Trouble with Angels, which was made into a Hollywood movie (starring Rosalind Russell and directed by Ida Lupino). She was a playwright, the author of Life with Mother Superior and Ring Around the Bathtub, both of which were on Broadway. She had also written screenplays, cookbook parodies, and regular columns for Advertising Age, The Chicago Tribune, and Working Women. She was been a leader in the National Organization for Women, has written and lectured about women and power, and was a founder of the First Women's Bank of New York. She won more than 200 awards for advertising, writing and public service. Born in Chicago in 1923, Ms. Trahey began her career in the 1940s writing advertising copy for men's underwear. She lived on New Road from 1961 until the early 1970s with her companion for more than 40 years, TV producer Jacqueline Babbin, author of Bloody Soaps. Ms. Trahey died in April 2000 in Kent at the age of 76.
From the 1920s until 1962, one of the leading -- and most beautiful -- places to dine or spend a weekend in southwestern Connecticut was the Outpost Inn on Danbury Road. Guests seeking an escape in the country included Marilyn Monroe and her then current husband, Arthur Miller; Walt Disney and his family; and Broadway star Ethel Merman. The inn's last owner was Albert D. Tramer, a Swiss-born and -trained chef who had held positions in some of New York City's top restaurants. Born in 1906, he came to the United States in 1924. By the late 1930s, he owned and operated La Petite Swiss, The Swiss Chalet, and the Tramer Restaurant in the city, taking time out during World War II to serve as a Navy chief petty officer in the Pacific. In 1953, he bought the Hearthstone Outpost Inn, commuted between it and his New York restaurants for a few years, then settled full-time in Ridgefield with his wife, Gloria, and three daughters. Outpost attracted not only celebrities, but many organizations, such as Rotary and the Jaycees, who would meet there. Top magazines used its elegant setting and gardens for photo shoots. And townspeople loved Outpost Pond in winter. "The pond along Route 35 was always open to the townspeople for ice skating during the winter and was hugely popular," said his daughter Diane Wilush. "Often Albert would serve hot chocolate to the skaters." In 1962, Mr. Tramer retired, and sold the place to Carl Shapley, son of Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley, who operated a prep school that got into financial troubles and closed in 1967. Soon after, David Paul bought the place and developed Fox Hill condominiums. Plans were to turn the main inn building, dating from 1812, into a community center, but the building burned in 1968 and was razed. Mr. Tramer died in 1994 in Florida; Mrs. Tramer lives in Georgia.
No village merchant was more recognized and more enjoyed during most of the 20th Century than Aldo Travaglini. Known to many thousands of customers as "Squash," Mr. Travaglini was a center of the Main Street scene from the 1920s until the 1990s -- and has even appeared as a character in a novel (see Susanna McShea). His news store was as much a part of the village as the town hall -- and often busier and newsier. Decades of commuters in the morning or evening "would stop by Squash's to pick up the paper and check out the local talk," The Press said in April 2000 when Squash was Lions Club Citizen of the Year. "It was here that you'd find out how the high school football team was doing, what was going on in local politics, and all the other gossip." Aldo Travaglini was born in Ridgefield in 1914, the sixth of seven children and the first to be born in America. In 1928, when he was only 14, he went to work for Bissell's Pharmacy, running the long famous soda fountain (he was nicknamed "Squash" after an older brother, who had worked at Bissell's years before him). He remained at Bissell's until 1953 when he bought the United Cigar Store from David Moore and his wife, Alice, who was daughter of Harold Finch (q.v.), the store's founder. He renamed it Ridgefield News Store, selling newspapers, magazines, cards, and stationery -- and, until around 1970, maintaining a popular soda fountain. Over the years, he employed hundreds of Ridgefield High School students -- kids loved working there for two reasons, said Scott Mason, once one of them. "Everybody came in. Your friends came in, and all the girls came in that you could meet." Mr. Travaglini was famous as a first boss, and many former employees, returning to town, would always stop by. In 1989, he sold the business to his son Mark, who in turn sold in 1994 to the current owners, who have changed the emphasis from publications to stationery. Mr. Travaglini continued to work there until the mid-1990s. Then, after stints at a couple of local businesses, he retired to his longtime home in Goldens Bridge, N.Y. "Squash is definitely at the top of (the) list of men that had a very, very positive effect on the kids who grew up here, and we thank him for it," said attorney Tom Belote, a Ridgefield native, at the Lions tribute.
Few individuals have affected the shape of the town like Jerry Tuccio, a butcher turned builder who put up more houses in Ridgefield than anyone else. Mr. Tuccio came to Ridgefield in the late 1940s and worked at Gristedes Market on Main Street. But by the late 1950s, he had seen many of the large, early 20th Century estates become white elephants, with the owners unable to support all their land, and often their houses. He started a homebuilding company that over 20 years built more than 400 houses, naming many of his subdivisions after the estates they had been such as Mimosa, Westmoreland, Twixt Hills, and Eleven Levels. Some of his subdivisions -- Pleasant View Estates, Stonehenge Estates, and Ridgebury Estates -- had been farms and he also did some small, pocket subdivisions. Houses in his developments were usually limited to three or four designs, allowing quicker construction and keeping costs down. For their era, they were sizable, with four or five bedrooms, and they often attracted large families. Between 1960 and 1970, the town more than doubled in size, from around 8,000 to 18,000 people, and many of the newcomers lived in Jerry Tuccio houses. In the early 1980s, Mr. Tuccio retired and moved to Florida, but his son Robert continued the business for a while and brother Arthur was building houses at Eleven Levels and elsewhere well into the 1990s. Before he left Ridgefield, Mr. Tuccio donated for a scout camping ground land that he had once considered developing on Pine Mountain Road.
One of the happy stories of World War II was that of the five Tulipani brothers, all of whom went off to the war and all of whom returned safe and sound to live long lives in their native town. Joseph, Aldo Albert, Alfred, and John Tulipani, the sons of Vincenzo and Evelina Branchini Tulipani, grew up on a Nod Hill Road farm. Joseph went into the Army and served in Australia, New Guinea and the Philippines. He was well known to the local Philippine guerillas with whom he worked. One day a guerilla, pistol drawn, came upon Joseph's brother, Aldo, also an Army man, who had recently arrived. The Filipino might have shot the stranger except that, Joseph said later, "they recognized him as me," and let him go. After the war Joseph became the superintendent of Ward Acres. Aldo, who fought in the Philippines, was later transferred to a special entertainment unit. Back home, he became a longtime letter carrier for the post office and an accordion teacher. Albert, a Navy man, served first in the Atlantic making relief runs to Murmansk, and then in the Pacific at such battles as Wake Island and Guadalcanal. He was a guitar teacher who also worked many years at Brunetti's Market. Alfred, stationed in Canada with an anti-aircraft unit of the Texas Rangers, became Casagmo estate caretaker and a landscaper. John was in a Navy SeaBee construction battalion, working on many central Pacific islands and in the Philippines. He has operated a Ridgefield plumbing business for many years. All five brothers were musicians, and in the post-war era, performed at countless square dances as the Sagebush Serenaders. All have been active members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which, in 1982, honored them, noting that they were the only five brothers who were all World War II veterans and who were still active in the VFW. In 1991, Ridgefield filmmaker John Lydecker produced a 30-minute video, featuring the Tulipani brothers' recollections of the war and called "Ridgefield's Five Star Family." As the century ended, four of the brothers were living in Ridgefield. Albert died in 1994.
In reporting the death of Julius Tulipani, who died on New Year’s Day 1983, The Press observed that “he had come to the United States from his native Italy as a boy of 16, achieving thereafter positions of trust and importance in his adopted community.” Mr. Tulipani arrived in Ridgefield in 1906, and went to work almost immediately building roads for the Port of Missing Men resort on West Mountain (now Eight Lakes Estates). Four years later, he began a career of working on local estates, starting out as a coachman, winding up as a superintendent, and not retiring until he was 82. His longest post, beginning in 1927, was as superintendent of B. Ogden Chisholm’s Wickopee Farm on Peaceable Street, which he held until Chisholm’s death in 1944. Mr. Chisholm was so pleased with his service that he gave his superintendent the portion of the farm that fronted High Ridge, where he lived until his death. He later worked for other estates, including Jack B. Ward’s (q.v.) Ward Acres. For most of his life here, he was active in the community. He was president of the Italian-American Club for more than 25 years -- longer than anyone before or since. A veteran of World War I, he was commander of the American Legion three times, and was one of the last members of the Last Man’s Club. He served as a director and incorporator of the Boys Club and an incorporator of the Community Center. He was elected to the Board of Selectmen three times from 1947 to 1953, and had long been a member of the Republican Town Committee. In 1980, at a 90th birthday party for Mr. Tulipani, attended by more than 500 people, Judge Romeo G. Petroni described his achievements as symbolizing “the ideas of America, freedom and opportunity for all men. His story is the American dream fulfilled.”
“Fighting for the peace of the world and for the love of two countries, Paul Ullman was killed in action on Aug. 21 in France.” Thus began an all-too-brief story on the front page of the Nov. 2, 1944 Press, reporting the death of a painter-turned-underground fighter. Mr. Ullman, a native of France, had lived on Main Street with his artist father, Eugene-Paul Ullman, and was an artist of international reputation. At the outbreak of the war in 1939, he enlisted in the American Field Service and served at the headquarters in his native Paris. After the German army invaded France, he escaped to the United States. But his love of his native land prompted him to volunteer for “special service” – he joined the French Underground. He was killed near Savoy while on a secret mission. Born in Paris in 1906, he came to America in 1914 when war in Europe broke out. He returned to France after the war for his college studies and then was back in his country with his father and his mother, writer Alice Wood, in the big Main Street house opposite the fountain. “He was one of the outstanding young painters of France, belonging to an important group of exhibitors in Paris,” The Press said. In this country his work was shown at the Carnegie Institute and the Whitney Museum, and is today exhibited and respected in both countries.
Erland Van Lidth de Jeude was one of the most colorful, talented and fascinating people to grow up in town. A giant of a man who stood six foot six and weighed at times more than 400 pounds, the one-time Ridgefield High School student was a champion shot-putter here. He turned down a football scholarship to Harvard to go to MIT where he took up Greco-Roman wrestling – “I found it more fun to throw people; they came back,” he joked in a 1978 Press interview. By that year he was ranked third in his class in the world, based on his performance during the World Cup competition in Teheran, Iran (the year before the Islamic Revolution there). While still an undergraduate at MIT, he was a teaching assistant, a very rare honor. After college, he became a systems and computer analyst for Citibank, but also studied opera and sang with companies in three states (siblings, Philip, a tenor, and Philine, a soprano, are still opera singers today; Philip performs mostly in Europe and Philine in New York City). In 1978 Warner Brothers cast Mr. Van Lidth de Jeude as "Terror," a member of the Fordham Baldies street gang, in The Wanderers. Using the name Erland Van Lidth, he went on to play a prisoner in the 1980 film, Stir Crazy, with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, and appeared in several other movies, including Alone in the Dark, which has become a sort of cult film. Mr. Van Lidth de Jeude's last film was Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger, completed shortly before his death in 1987 when he was only about 34 years old.
Not many Hollywood stars could be properly addressed as "Dr." But Robert Vaughn, the actor, is also a political activist and scholar whose Ph.D. thesis was so good, it was turned into a book. Nearly 30 years later, Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting is still in print and regularly assigned to law students. To most people, of course, Mr. Vaughn is Napoleon Solo of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., or the cowardly fop in The Magnificent Seven or the heavy drinking friend in The Young Philadelphians. Over his long career, he has appeared in more than 100 movies, starred in several TV series, appeared as a guest star hundreds of times in countless programs, and performed on the stage. As late as the 1990s, he has also done stints as a radio talk show host with a keen ability at debating politics. His political interests are deep-seated. A liberal Democrat, he campaigned for John F. Kennedy (who was assassinated on Vaughn's 31st birthday). He became a friend of Robert Kennedy and his family, and seriously considered running for office himself until Bobby Kennedy was also killed. "I lost heart for the battle," he said later. But he didn't lose heart when it came to activism, and Mr. Vaughn, a one-time Army infantry drill sergeant, was the first major member of the film industry to speak out against the Vietnam War and before he was finished, had delivered more than 1,000 anti-war speeches. Though already famous as an actor (he was Photoplay's Actor of the Year in 1965), he took the role of journalist in covering the 1972 Democratic National Convention for radio KABC in Los Angeles. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mr. Vaughn won an Emmy in 1977 for his portrayal of a shifty H.R. Haldeman-type character in Washington: Behind Closed Doors, a fictionalized mini-series of the Nixon administration. Born in New York in 1932, Mr. Vaughn was the son of a radio-actor father and a stage-actress mother. He majored in journalism at the University of Minnesota where, in 1951, he won an acting contest, decided to move to Los Angeles and pursue that career. His first starring role was in Roger Corman's Teenage Caveman in 1958. But it was his Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for The Young Philadephians that really launched his career. He and his wife, Linda, a former actress who has been an activist against child abuse, moved to the historic Sunset Hall mansion on Old West Mountain Road in 1982. In the mid-1990s, they sold the place and moved to a new home in Ridgebury where the multifaceted actor is working on his autobiography.
Every era has its grand storyteller, and for the last third of the 20th Century, Ridgefield's has surely been Richard E. Venus, historian, postmaster, town official, dairyman, and raconteur extraordinaire. He has come to epitomize the way Ridgefield was during most of its nearly 300 years -- a small town of kind and gentle people who participated in all aspects of their community, who enjoyed their fellow townspeople, and who loved a good story and knew how to tell it. Born in 1915 on northern Main Street, he grew up listening to the many stories of adults, tales told in an era before radio or TV and tales he never forgot. He became a master storyteller, enchanting countless people with his recollections of the days when Ridgefield was dotted with the summer estates of wealthy New Yorkers and of the many fascinating people who worked as their servants, gardeners, and chauffeurs. Many of those anecdotes are recorded in his monumental series, Dick's Dispatch, 366 columns published in The Press between March 1982 and November 1988 (collected, bound and indexed at the Ridgefield Library). As a boy, he had a large newspaper route that included The Press. In 1928, only 13, he went to work on Conklin's Dairy Farm before and after school, and later worked fulltime. "I always loved horses and drove a team, plowing fields and mowing hay," he recalled. When tractors took over from horses, he transferred to the retail part of the milk business. Later, he became superintendent for many years at Dr. Royal C. Van Etten's 87-acre Hillscroft Farm on St. John's Road. In the 1950s, he operated Dic-Rie Dairy (named for Dick and his wife, Marie), delivering milk to many households. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named him postmaster of Ridgefield, a job he held for 21 years, longer than any person before or since. A lifelong Democrat, Mr. Venus served three terms as a selectman and ran twice unsuccessfully for first selectman against the popular -- and Republican -- Leo F. Carroll (q.v.). He's served on the Historic District Commission, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and has been a leader in or member of a dozen community organizations, including Kiwanis, Boys Club, and Knights of Columbus. Since the mid-1980s, Mr. Venus has been Ridgefield's town historian, so appointed by the governor, and has been active in the Ridgefield Archives Committee. And if that wasn't enough, he played in the Ridgefield Boys Band in the 1920s and was drummer for his own Mayflower Swing Band, organized in 1934, which played throughout the area for many years. Dick Venus saw the town change a lot from his childhood, but he has never stopped loving it and its people. "It's grown too fast," he said in 2000. "We weren't prepared for it ... There are a lot of nice people who have moved into Ridgefield, and there are others -- it'll take them a little time to get acclimated. My mother always taught me to tip my hat and smile at people. With some, if you do that, they'll glare at you like you're crazy, but they'll get along. They'll get the swing of things before they're through. Most everybody who comes through Ridgefield stays, if they can. Ridgefield is a great town."
Treachery killed Lt. George O. Vetter Jr. less than three months before World War II ended. The 1941 Ridgefield High School graduate had joined the Army Air Corps in 1943 and became a navigator in the Pacific Theatre, flying B-24 bombers. While bombing Japanese shipping in May 1945, Lt. Vetter’s plane was shot down. All 11 crewmembers bailed out and Lt. Vetter and four others made it to Tojian Island where friendly natives aided them and helped them prepare to raft to a second island to be rescued. But one native betrayed them, and as the five departed, Japanese machine-gunners ambushed them. All were killed. The friendly natives buried them in a mass grave. No one knew how Lt. Vetter died until a Catholic missionary in Celebes, contacted by the Vetter family after the war, discovered the details. Six others from the plane, who had landed on the second island, were eventually rescued.
Ridgefield’s first superintendent of schools was a woman, the only woman ever to hold that post. The Copake, N.Y., native grew up in Danbury and came to Ridgefield in 1916 to be principal of the new East Ridge School. Three years later, she was named the first superintendent of schools, but resigned in 1921 during a protracted and bitter dispute about the modernization of the town’s school system (see Richard Osborn). She then taught English at the high school in Mount Vernon, N.Y., until her retirement in 1937. For a while, Miss Wakeman continued to live on Main Street here, commuting to Mount Vernon. Although she held no academic degree, she had studied at Columbia, Yale, Dartmouth, and New York University, and was a founder of the American Woman’s Association, a once active suffragist organization. She died in 1969 at the age of 91. One of the few Ridgefielders alive at the turn of the 21st Century to remember Miss Wakeman here is Mary Creagh (q.v.), who recalls her as her school’s principal in 1918. “I remember I thought she was very tall and imposing, like a ship in full sail,” said Miss Creagh. “When I met her years later, she didn’t seem that tall at all.”
One of the leading world figures of the last quarter of the 20th Century stayed quietly in Ridgefield during the height of his power. While he was secretary-general of the United Nations between 1972 and 1981, Kurt Waldheim often stayed at the estate of a friend in the southern part of town when he could retreat from his duties in New York. To help protect his security, his presence here was kept quiet, but Mr. Waldheim could be seen from time to time in the village. They were tumultuous years -- his biography of them was called The Storm -- and included the Vietnam War, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the Middle East War of 1973. After he left the UN, Mr. Waldheim taught at Georgetown, but in 1986 was elected president of Austria, amid allegations that he had been a German army officer in the Balkans, involved in rounding up Jews and killing thousands of Yugoslavian resistance fighters. The U.S. eventually put him on a list of undesirable characters. After he left office in Austria in 1992, he went into seclusion.
Music was Charles Wade Walker’s first love, but this many-faceted Ridgefielder was also a businessman, constable, prosecutor, and firefighter. The Albany, N.Y., native came here in 1910 after having been an organist in several New York City churches. Over the years he was music supervisor for the schools, a tenor in the Ridgefield Male Quartet, organist and choirmaster at the Methodist church, a piano tuner, conductor of the St. Cecile Choral Society, and a trumpet player in the Ridgefield Band. For many years he operated Walker’s Happy Shop on Main Street, a popular newspaper and novelty store with a soda fountain. Mr. Walker was also a justice of the peace, a prosecutor in the town Justice Court, village traffic officer from 1938 to 1951, a constable, and a volunteer fireman. And if that wasn’t enough, he belonged to the Masons, Odd Fellows, Lions, and Grange. He continued to live in Ridgefield until about a year before his death in a Hartford nursing home in 1961on the eve of his 81st birthday.
When Gordon L. Walsh Sr. came to Ridgefield in 1949, he didn't know much about real estate. He had, after all, spent 23 years in selling food products. By his death in 1985, Mr. Walsh had become one of Connecticut's leading Realtors, a champion of professionalism and education for real estate agents. And the real estate business he and his wife, Eleanor, founded still thrives today. Mr. Walsh was born in 1904 in Dorchester, Mass., and was educated in Boston. After his career with Batchelder and Snyder, an affiliate of General Foods, he opened a real estate and insurance office in his home, but soon moved to Main Street; for many years, the Walsh Agency office has been in the Masonic building next to town hall. Active in the Danbury Board of Realtors early on, he was its president in 1958, but two years later helped found the Ridgefield Board of Realtors, of which he was also later president. Mr. Walsh helped convince legislators of the need for a Connecticut Real Estate Commission to oversee the profession, and when the commission was created in 1967, Governor John Dempsey appointed him as one of the first members; in 1971 and again in 1977, he was elected its chairman. He was also a director of the National Association of Real Estate Boards. Over the years he strived to improve education, bringing University of Connecticut courses to the Danbury area, and establishing the Graduate Realtors Institute (GRI) in Connecticut. In 1960 he was named Connecticut Realtor of the Year. Mr. Walsh was active in many local organizations, including Rotary, the Masons, Eastern Star, Boy Scouts, and St. Stephen's Church, where he was a vestryman for many years. Gordon and Eleanor Walsh retired from the business in 1982, turning it over to their son, Gordon Jr. They moved to Florida where Mrs. Walsh died in 1984 and her husband, a year later. In 1987, the Walshes' grandson, Kevin, joined the firm. In 2000, a half century after its founding, the Walsh Agency joined with A.J. Carnall, an even older Ridgefield company; the real estate business remains as Walsh, led by Gordon Jr., while the insurance business was absorbed by Carnall, where Kevin now works.
“Writing mysteries takes a thief’s mind,” Thomas F.M. Walsh told The Press in a 1962 interview. But writing is “a frightening business. You sit down there with a blank piece of paper and you have to fill it. A doctor or lawyer or insurance man gets out and talks to people but a writer just sits by himself and writes.” Mr. Walsh’s credits included several novels such as Nightmare in Manhattan, which won a 1950 Edgar and was made into the film, Union Station, starring William Holden – one of two movies made from his books. A native of New York City, Mr. Walsh was a Columbia graduate and former Baltimore Sun reporter, who wrote more than 50 stories for Saturday Evening Post. He won the first Inner Sanctum Mystery Award for The Eye of the Needle, and his books included The Night Watch, The Dark Window, and Dangerous Passage. He and his family lived on Casey Lane from 1949 to 1965. He died in Enfield in 1984 at the age of 76.
The front-page headline in the Aug. 6, 1998, told the story: “Jack B. Ward, dead at 82, used fortune to aid others.” An heir to the Ward Baking Company family, Mr. Ward gave away millions to Danbury Hospital, the Visiting Nurse Association, the Ridgefield Fire Department, Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, and many other organizations and individuals. Most of his 40 years here were spent at Ward Acres Farm on Peaceable Street and Golf Lane, where he and his partner, Olaf Olsen (q.v.), raised hunters and hackneys and maintained a museum of antique carriages that eventually included more than 50 vehicles. Up to 45 horses were stabled at Ward Acres in its heyday, and many were prize-winners – one sold for $4.5 million. Born in 1916 in New Rochelle, N.Y., Jack Ward was a flight instructor during World War II and came to Ridgefield in 1957, buying a spread that was once the Ridgefield Golf Club. He was particularly generous to health agencies, donating an intensive care unit and a cobalt unit to Danbury Hospital, and with Mr. Olsen two ambulances to the fire department. But many of his contributions to people and organizations were private and unpublicized. “He was a good citizen,” said former First Selectman Sue Manning at his death. “He was a caring citizen.”
When she was leaving town in 1987, The Press carried a front-page profile titled: “Barbara Wardenburg, Troublemaker.” She was amused by the headline, but noted that troublemaking was never her goal. Starting with the first “Boys Club case” in 1974, Ms. Wardenburg was a party to three lawsuits against the town – all successful, all on matters of principle, none for money. In challenging gifts to private organizations that sexually discriminated or were religiously based, the ardent feminist made herself one of the most unpopular people in town for a while. However, she raised public awareness of important issues, and the Boys Club of yesterday is the Boys and Girls Club of today. “It’s not like I went out looking for any of these issues,” she said. “But these things arise and at some point, you can’t avoid them any longer. You’ve got to take a stand.” Ms. Wardenburg, who went to law school and became an attorney while living here, was active in many areas: She catalogued the entire collection of Joseph Hartmann photographic negatives, helped with historic preservation, served on the Republican Town Committee, was active in the League of Women Voters and the Women's Political Caucus, and served on the regional mental health board. She now lives in Los Altos Hills in California, the state she grew up in.
In a community that has always been almost solely white, the Rev. William H. Webb stood out not only as a black leader in the town, but also in the whole state. The New York City native came here in the late Depression years to work on a poultry farm. By 1950, he and a group of Ridgefielders both black and white founded the Ridgefield Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In a 1973 Press interview, he recalled that one of the NAACP’s first efforts here was to seek an end to local minstrel shows in which whites comically portrayed blacks. Advertising posters for the events, done by local school children, were very offensive to the black community. “They depicted blacks with all the exaggerated and stereotypical black features,” Mr. Webb said. “Black women would avoid the center of town during this time of year because of the embarrassment.” Mr. Webb soon became active in the state NAACP and was elected its president in 1972. In 1969, Mr. Webb was ordained a minister, and over the years served African Methodist Episcopal congregations in Danbury, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Branford, but still living on Knollwood Road. In Ridgefield he was active in the community, leading efforts to bring affordable housing to town, serving in the Ridgefield Clergy Association and on the board of directors of Danbury Hospital, and belonging to the American Legion and VFW posts. He died in 1991 at the age of 75.
November 1944 was a nightmarish month for Mr. and Mrs. Richard Webster of West Lane. On Nov. 8, they received news that their son, Sgt. George Webster, had been wounded in France. A few days later, word came that another son, Harvey, had been blown up in an amphibious tank that was involved in the invasion of Peleliu in the Pacific. Private Harvey J. Webster was only 19 years old. A third son, Charles, was in training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. George and Charles survived the war.
A few days after he accepted the job of superintendent of schools here in 1967, David E. Weingast was offered a college presidency. “I have often wondered what would have happened if I had accepted that instead,” said Dr. Weingast in a 1977 interview. But, he added, running a college was “no bed of roses” then, and “I have no regrets. Ridgefield has been a tough superintendency, but you have to remember that I became superintendent at a time when the academic world was a very tough place to be.” Dr. Weingast, the second longest-serving of 15 superintendents, had indeed worked through tough times, a decade of turmoil with one crisis seeming to come on the heels of another: school building debates, problems with overcrowding, battles over books and budgets, an unhappy teachers’ union, and many lesser issues. But, he said, it was also a period of accomplishment: the creation of a modern, balanced program of studies, the introduction of greater emphasis on writing, the expansion of fine arts offerings, the increasing use of community resources, the hiring of capable staff, rewriting the whole curriculum from kindergarten through 12th grade using teams of teachers, and the improved management of money. “I think we’ve achieved a good balance between teaching the basics and promoting student creativity,” Dr. Weingast said. The most scholarly of Ridgefield’s superintendents and the only one to settle permanently in town, Dr. Weingast was born in 1912 in Newark, N.J., and began teaching elementary school there in 1931 at $1,300 a year. He received his master’s from Columbia in 1936 and moved to teaching history at Newark’s prestigious Weequahic High School. He got a Columbia doctorate in 1948, was made department chairman, and in 1961, became assistant superintendent for secondary schools in Newark, responsible for nine high schools and six junior highs. Meanwhile, he was writing four books: Walter Lippman: A Study in Personal Journalism (1949), Franklin D. Roosevelt: Man of Destiny (1952), This Is Communism (1959), and We Elect A President (1962). The last two have appeared in several editions, and the Roosevelt book was once chosen one of the New York Times best books for young people. Before coming to Ridgefield, he received a Ford Foundation grant for study in Europe, concentrating on political systems and the rising tide of communism in Italy. He retired here when he reached 65, and became a consultant on education, working out of his Main Street home. Asked at the time if he might ever run for a seat on the not-always-cordial school board under which he worked, he laughed. “Never! I couldn’t be dragooned or seduced or bought!” In recent years he's been researching and writing a new book, The President's Choice: The Story of the Presidential Cabinet.
Thanks to J. Alden Weir, the world has many beautiful paintings and Connecticut has its only national park site. A native of West Point, N.Y., where his father was a drawing instructor at the U.S. Military Academy, Mr. Weir was born in 1852. He studied for five years at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he was exposed to the French impressionists, whose work he didn't particularly like. He then taught portraiture and still life in New York. In 1882, he paid $560 for an old farm at the corner of Nod Hill Road and Pelham Lane as a summer place, began painting outdoor scenes there, moved toward the Impressionist style he'd first seen in Paris, and become a leading practitioner in this country. He was president of the National Academy of Design, the Society of American Artists, and the Association of American Painters. He founded the Ten American Painters, consisting of the leading Impressionists of the era, including Childe Hassam, Frank Weston Benson, Edmund Tarbell, and John H. Twachtman, many of whom visited and painted at Weir's farm. Julian Alden Weir died in 1919, a fact that The Press noted in an editorial but not a story, and his daughter, Dorothy Weir, also an artist, took over the farm, by then 238 acres. She married sculptor Mahonri Young (q.v.). After his death in 1957, artist Sperry Andrews (q.v.) bought the farm and still lives there, though he has sold the property for the Weir Farm National Historic Site, created in 1990. Today, much of Weir's original farm is preserved as the only national park site in the state.
Among the books in John Neville Wheeler’s library was a copy of For Whom the Bells Tolls, inscribed “To Jack Wheeler, who gave me the chance to go to war.” The book was signed by Ernest Hemingway, whom Mr. Wheeler had hired as a correspondent to cover the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway was just one of the noted writers Mr. Wheeler worked with. A graduate of Columbia, he fought as a lieutenant in France during World War I and began his newspapering career at The New York Herald. He founded several press syndicates, the largest of which was the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA). He hired and assigned many of the leading talents of the first third of the last century, including Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, Joseph Alsop, Dorothy Thompson, Pauline Frederick, Sheilah Graham, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though he sold NANA in 1965, he remained active as a writer and adviser to leaders. “Eisenhower asked me what I’d do” about the growing conflict in Vietnam, he said in 1967, “and I said I’d get the hell out of there. We never should have been there.” He and his wife, Tea, moved to Spring Valley Road in 1936; Wheeler Road, which ran alongside their property, calls them. At his death in 1973 at the age of 87, The Press said John Neville Wheeler “never quit newspapering, permanently, until his death.”
Ridgefield has been home to many heroes who gave their lives or health for their country, or who risked both to save others, but only one winner of the nation's highest military decoration has lived here. General Wilber E. Wilder received the Congressional Medal of Honor after an 1882 battle with the Apaches in Horseshoe Canyon, New Mexico. General Wilder, then a lieutenant, carried a wounded comrade down the side of a mountain amid a hail of Apache bullets. Four years later, in another display of courage, Lt. Wilder rode alone into the camp of Chief Geronimo and arranged for his surrender. Both feats were described by Richard E. Venus (q.v.) in his Dick's Dispatch. In 1895, General Wilder became an adjutant at West Point, then fought in the Spanish-American War, was with Pershing in Mexico in 1916, and became a brigadier general in France a year later. He retired in 1927 and came to live quietly for many years at The Elms on Main Street. "He was a very modest man and did not talk about his exploits," Mr. Venus said. A Michigan native, General Wilder died in 1952 and is buried in Ridgefield's Fairlawn Cemetery, where a special stone marks him as a Medal of Honor recipient.
“My mind is a repository of memories, of cameos and anecdotes,” Max Wilk said in 1997. “Nightly, I entertain a cast of thousands. Usually, at about 4 a.m., they arrive.” Then 77, Mr. Wilk was still doing what he had done for years – writing books about the entertainment world, and doing it with a sense of humor. The son of a literary agent and Warner Brothers story editor, Mr. Wilk grew up in Minnesota, studied drama at Yale, and served in the Army in World War II. During the war, he was a cast member of Irving Berlin’s, This Is the Army, and was then in the Air Force’s Hollywood movie unit, where he wrote training films starring the likes of Alan Ladd, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart. After the war, he worked on Broadway and, in 1948, became a pioneer in television, writing skits for comedians like Ed Wynn, Victor Borge, Art Carney, and Jonathan Winters. He and his family moved to Ridgefield in 1951 and here he wrote his first book, Don’t Raise the Bridge, Lower the River, published in 1960 and turned into a movie starring Jerry Lewis. “While the locale of this book is Connecticut, it has nothing of importance to say about Suburbia, Exurbia, or the stifling wave of Middle Class Conformity which, it is augured, will soon engulf the whole of Fairfield County,” the jacket says. Nonetheless, readers could see many lighthearted slices of 1950s Ridgefield life in his portrait of Green Haven and an innkeeper there. He went on to write more than two dozen books on such subjects as The Golden Age of Television: Notes from Survivors and They’re Playing Our Song: Conversations with America’s Classic Songwriters. His novel, Help, Help, Help, also contains anecdotes based on living in Ridgefield. He’s also written many TV shows and his CBS special, The Fabulous Fifties, won an Emmy, a Peabody and a Writers Guild Award. Mr. Wilk and his wife, Barbara, an artist who exhibits nationally and who has received the President’s Volunteer Action Award for community service, have lived in Westport since 1966.
Many people consider themselves environmentalists, but few have worked as hard at it or in as many ways as Lillian Willis has. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native and Vassar graduate moved here in 1975 and only two years later was serving on the Conservation Commission, a position she’s held more than 20 years – with many terms as chairman -- and is an author of the Conservation Commission’s popular Ridgefield Walk Book. She is a founding member of the Discovery Center, where she ran many programs. She fought to get Weir Farm named a National Park Service Historic Site, organized the restoration of Weir's gardens with the Ridgefield Garden Club, was program chairman, and set up nature walks and classes there. Mrs. Willis is a founding board member of the Norwalk River Watershed Association, and co-wrote The River Book, used for river environment studies by many schools in the river’s watershed and beyond. She has also used her writing skills at Devil’s Den, the Nature Conservancy preserve on the Weston/Redding border where she is program coordinator and publicist, and has written guides for visitors as well as countless news releases. Mrs. Willis is also active in the Ridgefield Garden Club, and its conservation and beautification efforts. She also advises many Boy Scouts on environmental endeavors, from merit badges to Eagle Scout projects. When she was named Rotary Club Citizen of the Year in 1996, a club official said “she has made our town a better place through her commitment.” “Lillian is a ‘doer,’ ” added a longtime friend.
Although Ruth E. Wills was only about five feet tall, the Ridgefield High School Latin teacher was legendary as a disciplinarian. "When Ruth let you have both barrels, it didn't matter if you were a 245-pound tackle on the football team, you quaked," recalled a former colleague, Dirk Bollenback (q.v.). Miss Wills was a highly respected teacher of languages whose advanced Latin students often scored tops in the state on achievement tests. A Massachusetts native and Colby graduate, she started teaching at Hamilton High School on Bailey Avenue in 1920 and retired 45 years later. Among her first students was Isabel O'Shea (q.v.), later a principal here. She was a person of many interests, including sports -- she followed hockey, basketball and baseball. And many an ex-student was surprised to spot her at the old Danbury Racearena -- she was an avid fan of midget class auto racing. She died Feb. 13, 2000, the same day as her longtime colleague Linda Davies (q.v.)
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When Chris Winnes took the ice for the Boston Bruins during the 1991 National Hockey League playoffs, he also stepped into Ridgefield sports history. With that appearance, he became the only Ridgefield High grad to play an official game in one of the four major sports. Unlike many top players, he chose not to attend (or leave for) prep school hockey, spending all four years at RHS. A playmaking center with good skating ability, he helped the Tigers win their first FCIAC title in 1984. After graduating two years later he spent a year at a post-graduate program before signing with the University of New Hampshire. In his four years at UNH, he scored 53 goals and had 68 assists for 121 points. After his final season (1990-91) he joined the Bruins’ minor-league affiliate in Maine and then made his debut for Boston in the playoffs. The Bruins had chosen him with their ninth pick in the 1987 NHL entry draft, making him the 161st overall selection. Converted to right wing, he played 24 games with the Bruins in the 1991-92 season, scoring one goal and getting three assists, and he had one assist in five games the following year. He then signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers, appearing in four games and getting two assists during the 1993-94 season. Since then Mr. Winnes has played with many minor league teams in several different leagues. He also played professionally in Italy. The New York Rangers signed him as a free agent in 1998 and assigned him to their minor league affiliate in Hartford. Mr. Winnes spent most of the 1999-2000 season with the Springfield Falcons in the American Hockey League. He had six goals and 17 assists for 23 points in 38 games.—T.M.
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From the day of his birth, Dr. Stephen Winter has been a man of the world. But more than a mere traveler, Dr. Winter has flown to many faraway places to aid those in need. Born in an Army hospital in Germany, Dr. Winter first studied industrial engineering before entering medical school at Cornell University. Since 1989 he has been associated with Norwalk Hospital which described him as being "in the forefront of … hospital developments in patient care and outreach programs in the community." He has also lent his skills to relief work in Thailand, Haiti, Rwanda, North Korea, Iraq, Albania, Kosovo, and Ethiopia, helping victims of both war and natural disasters. He was also a critical care team leader for the American Red Cross during Operation Desert Storm. His expeditions, often with AmeriCares, have been both painful and rewarding. "It was heart-wrenching to see that graves of children stretched as far as you could possibly see," he said after a 2000 trip to drought-devastated Ethiopia. "Contrast this with children in the same country in refugee camps who are happy and playing, dressed in rags but who have obviously profited from the relief efforts. That was gratifying." When it presented him with a philanthropy award in 1999, Norwalk Hospital said "he has consistently set an example for his peers in personal and professional commitment to people in our community and around the world."
In 1932, William Lawrence Winthrop came to Ridgefield and within 10 minutes of seeing the Fox Hill Lakes, he placed a deposit on the development which he renamed "Ridgefield Lakes." He then spent the rest of his life developing the region, building more than 400 houses. Most were constructed as summer cottages, but virtually all have become year-round homes. A native of Minneapolis and a World War I Marine veteran, the cigar-smoking Willie Winthrop maintained running battles with the town for nearly 40 years. He fought zoning and planning officials, complaining that their rules were keeping the little people out of Ridgefield and making it more difficult for the poor to find homes. He doggedly opposed most of the town’s school building projects, calling them extravagant. Mr. Winthrop was more liberal in his views on national and international affairs and, though he was a Republican, was an admirer of Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy. He died in 1971 at the age of 75.
James Waterman Wise was an author, art dealer and lecturer who lived on Pumping Station Road in the 1950s. Born in 1902, he was a son of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, the famous reformer who fought sweatshops and unsafe factories, and who was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A graduate of Columbia, Mr. Wise covered the Spanish Civil War for the New York Times and wrote nearly a dozen books including Swastika: The Nazi Terror (1933), Very Truly Ours (1943), Thomas Jefferson: Then and Now 1743-1943 (1943), The Springfield Plan (1945), The Jew in American Life (1946), Meet Henry Wallace (1948), and several volumes on his parents. Blacklisted harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler (q.v.) lived for a while with Mr. Wise at his Pumping Station Road home. Many other leaders in the arts and letters spent weekends there, including Broadway composer Harold Rome. He died in Nice, France, in 1983 at the age of 81.
“I didn’t invent the title ‘sob sister,’ but I’m the first gal reporter who ever used it,” Mildred Gilman Wohlforth told an interviewer in the 1980s. The term described Roaring 20s reporters who specialized in heart-rending stories of personal tragedies, and Mildred Gilman was one of the originals and one of the highest paid in New York. Her subjects ranged from sordid crimes to White House society, interviewing murderers and heads of state with equal expertise. She also wrote eight novels, one of them Sob Sisters, as well as countless articles for most major magazines. The Chicago native wrote her first story when she was 12 and began selling them when she was at the University of Wisconsin. After graduation she got a job as secretary to noted New York World columnist Heywood Broun, and frequented parties with the likes of Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wollcott, Robert Benchley, Harpo Marx, Bennett Cerf, Sinclair Lewis, Paul Robeson, and Harold Ross (she wrote one of the first profiles, on Robeson, for Ross’s new New Yorker). While working for Hearst’s New York Evening Journal, she met Robert Wohlforth (q.v.), a reporter for the competing Morning Telegraph. They were married in 1930, and bought a 1730 home on Rockwell Road. She continued to write throughout her life and among the many celebrities she interviewed were Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Shirley Temple, Amelia Earhart, Gene Kelly, and Jimmy Durante. She was also supposed to interview Hitler in 1933, but the Gestapo, distressed at probing questions she had already asked Hermann Goering, threw her out of Germany. In Ridgefield, she was the first chairman of the Historic District Commission, promoted planning and zoning, and penned scores of letters to The Press. Well into her 90s, she rode her bicycle three miles a day. She died in 1994 at the age of 97.
Robert Wohlforth, novelist and publishing executive, was both a government investigator and a man investigated by government. A native of New Jersey, he was born in 1904, went to Princeton, but quit to become a West Point cadet, graduating in 1927. While he loved The Point, his 1934 novel, Tin Soldiers, criticized aspects of cadet life, and some policies and traditions were changed as a result. As a reporter for the New York Daily Telegraph, he wrote articles critical of military waste – one in 1934 described the Army’s spending $2 million annually to feed mules and only $495,000 for armored vehicles. In 1934, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate committee staff investigating the munitions industry and later joined the La Follette Committee, probing labor spying, strike breaking and other anti-union activities. While in Washington, he wrote a regular front-page column for The Press on happenings in the capital. By 1939, President Roosevelt named him to the Anti-Trust Division of the Department of Justice and during World War II, he investigated Nazi economic connections worldwide. However, in 1952, he was forced out of government employment by the McCarthy probes when, based on social acquaintance with some "left-wingers," the Department of Justice found him a security risk. He then helped found the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux, of which he was longtime treasurer. A Ridgefielder since 1930, Mr. Wohlforth called himself in later life “Ridgefield’s Oldest Living Continuous Vertical Commuter.” In 1946, he helped write the town’s zoning ordinance and served on the Zoning Commission many years. He also helped establish the Main Street historic district, served as chairman of the library board, and as a director of the Nature Conservancy. In 1977, for the re-enactment of the Battle of Ridgefield, he played General Benedict Arnold, riding a white horse in colonial garb. His wife was journalist and novelist Mildred Gilman (q.v.). He died in 1997 at the age 93. Three years later, his Rockwell Road home was declared the town's first historic house under a new ordinance protecting the integrity of notable houses outside historic districts. Only then did his family sell it.
"Bari Wood thinks bad thoughts," The Press once reported. "She imagines horrific ways to kill people, like covering them in blood-sucking ticks or venomous bees so that they die agonizing deaths. In her mind she scratches out their eyeballs and pulls their arms out of sockets." And when she's done, she puts her thoughts on paper and turns them into successful novels -- seven so far. From The Killing Gift, her first book published in 1976 through The Basement (1995), Ms. Wood specializes in page-turning tales, not for the faint of heart. Two have been turned into movies: Twins (1977) became Dead Ringers, starring Jeremy Irons, and Doll's Eyes (1994) was produced as In Dreams, with Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr. A native of Illinois, Ms. Wood grew up in and around Chicago and graduated from Northwestern with a degree in English. She moved to New York in 1957, edited magazines in the medical field, and began writing novels. Although she knew it was tough to get fiction published, "I thought, well, somebody's writing these things and getting paid. It might as well be me." In New York, she also fell in love with her strongest supporter, Dr. G. Congdon Wood, a biologist for the American Cancer Society. In 1981 the two bought a Ridgefield farmhouse, where Ms. Wood continues to work on new ideas. Although her books have macabre plots, they also feature what the Press described as "strong yet sensitive, insightful men who value their relationships. They also have a great deal of respect for women." The novels have also given the author a chance to exact vicarious revenge. A yappy dog that once lived in her neighborhood was very distracting as she worked, and "I imagined what could be done to the dog to make it stop barking all day," she said with a laugh. Both the dog and its owner wound up torture victims in The Basement.
When Lee B. Wood was a student at Amherst College, Talcott Williams, head of the Columbia School of Journalism, told him he'd never make a newspaperman. Williams may have been a good journalist, but he was a poor judge of talent; Lee Wood went on to become an editor of a New York City's daily when he was only 33 years old. His first job in 1916 was as a reporter for a newspaper in Cleveland where he made a point of attending the same Baptist church as John D. Rockefeller Sr. Each Sunday, he'd ask Mr. Rockefeller for a comment on current news and each time, he'd get an answer and a dime. Some of those answers turned into big stories and the dimes always helped the $12-a-week reporter to eat. Years later, sitting next to Nelson Rockefeller at a dinner, he described his experiences with the vice president's grandfather. "Did you save your dimes?" Mr. Rockefeller asked. He hadn't. "Well, I saved mine and if you like, I'll send you one." Rockefeller did and Wood saved it. Born in 1894 in Cory, Pa., Lee Wood spent 64 years in newspapering, working in Cleveland, Paris, and Oklahoma City before coming to New York in 1927 as an editor at The New York Telegram, a Scripps-Howard newspaper (see Robert P. Scripps). He eventually became both editor and president of The New York World-Telegram and Sun, which won four Pulitzer Prizes while he was an executive. He retired in 1965 to become president of the Scripps-Howard Investment Company, which owned newspapers, and the Scripps-Howard Foundation, which awards journalism scholarships. Mr. Wood and his wife Mildred came to Ridgefield in 1934, buying a Ridgebury farm. When they were older, they bought a smaller house nearby. In 1979 the Woods moved to Ohio and he died there two years later. Before he left town, Mr. Wood gave more than 1,000 books to the Mark Twain Library in Redding, founded by Twain himself, for its famous annual summer book sale. "Mark Twain was quite a newspaperman," he said at the time. "And it seems quite fitting to give a newspaperman's library to a library named after him."
J. Mortimer Woodcock was one of the leading citizens of the last half of the century and one of the few whose name will live long after him. While first selectman (1967-71), Mr. Woodcock convinced the state to lease Ridgefield more than 100 acres of woodland and lake – most of which was in Wilton – for what’s now known as the Woodcock Nature Center. A Syracuse forestry graduate from western New York, Mr. Woodcock came here in 1933 to work for Colonel Louis D. Conley’s (q.v.) Outpost Nurseries and eventually bought the business. During the war, he ran Outpost’s huge sawmill that turned out timbers for the American fleet – Mr. Woodcock got some from President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Hyde Park. Besides two terms as first selectman, he was on the Board of Finance, Parks Commission, and chaired the Republican Town Committee. He was a director of the Boys Club, Ridgefield Bank, and many other organizations. In 1989, then 85, he visited the nature center and, during his last interview, was holding his legendary cigar. “I haven’t lit one in years,” he said with his equally legendary smile. “I just need something to play with.” He died in 1992.
Every town had its “country doctor,” the kindly, beloved fellow who had a gentle voice and would come to your home at any time of the day or night to cool fevers and soothe pain. Ridgefield’s was Dr. Francis B. Woodford, about whom someone once said: “All I have to do is call him to feel better.” Born in New Haven in 1897, Dr. Woodford graduated from Yale Medical School, was a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in World War I, and came to Ridgefield in 1926. His first home-and-office was at New and Gilbert Streets and a year later, he moved to a house on Main Street across from the Community Center. For most of his career, no one needed an appointment and office hours ended when the last patient was cared for. Obstetrics was a part of a general practitioner’s job then, and Dr. Woodford delivered as many as 35 babies a year – often in homes. During the Blizzard of 1934, he skied to at least one home for a delivery. From 1940 till 1970, he was the town health officer, but also served many years as the school doctor and as the medical consultant to the Selective Service Board in Danbury. He loved nature, fishing, and reading – even out loud. “I read aloud and my wife likes to listen,” he said in a 1970 interview. His wife, Julia (see below), was his secretary throughout his career. He died in 1977 on the day before his 80th birthday.
When First Selectman Leo F. Carroll appointed the first Conservation Commission in 1962, he named seven women to the board and figured they’d spend their time picking up litter and beautifying highways. Julia Smith Woodford, the first chairman of the commission, soon showed that this was a misconception. “The commission quickly busied itself with programs for land acquisition, for saving Great Swamp, for educating children and adults in the importance of conservation, and numerous other projects,” recalled fellow commissioner Edith Meffley. Mrs. Woodford, a Wellesley graduate with a degree in chemistry, came here in 1926, the wife of and office manager for Dr. Francis B. Woodford (above). She quickly became active in the community, belonging to the District Nursing Association, Caudatowa and Ridgefield Garden Clubs, and Republican Town Committee. She served on the Ration Board during World War II and was the first chairman of the committee that operated the Thrift Shop when it opened in 1937. She died in 1989 at the age of 89.
Police and fire stories got especially good coverage early in the 20th Century: David W. Workman, one of the longest-serving editors of The Ridgefield Press, was also a cop and a fire official. Born in 1875, the year of The Press's founding, Mr. Workman joined the newspaper in 1900, running the printing plant under editor Livingston Russell. In 1904, he became editor, a job he held until 1932 when the paper was sold to John A. Thayer (q.v.), who became its editor. When Mr. Workman started, a large part of The Press was prepared in New York City, with national stories and even serial novels in its "news" columns. The front page and a small space inside were devoted to local stories. Mr. Workman eventually did away with all of this "boilerplate," and made The Press entirely local. Meanwhile, he became active in the community, serving in the 1930s as a village constable -- a pistol-packing policeman who patrolled the center of town to supplement state police services. He was also this district's state forest fire warden for 20 years, retiring in 1937 when a new state law forbade a state employee (the $10-a-year warden was a state job) from holding a political office (constables were considered political posts). His son, Kenneth, took over as warden. Mr. Workman died a year later. His widow, Edna, lived until 1968.
Journalist Peter Wyden wrote 15 books examining such touchstone events and issues of the 20th Century as the atomic bomb, the Holocaust, Berlin Wall, Bay of Pigs invasion, Spanish Civil War, and mental illness. A native of Berlin, he was born in 1923 but fled with his Jewish parents to New York in 1937. He was a writer for the Army during the war, then became a reporter for such papers as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and later an editor for Newsweek, Saturday Evening Post, and McCall’s, and an executive editor at Ladies Home Journal. Among his books was Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story, for which he had a six-hour interview with Fidel Castro. “He was very proud, for good reason,” Mr. Wyden said in a 1979 Press interview. “How many island countries have licked the United States of America? Nobody. Look at it objectively, no ideology attached. He won. It was the most spectacular defeat of the United States this century.” Other Wyden books include Stella: One Woman's True Tale of Evil, Betrayal, and Survival in Hitler's Germany (1992), Wall: The Inside Story of Divided Berlin (1989), Day One: Before Hiroshima and After (1984), and The Passionate War: The Narrative History of the Spanish Civil War (1983). His last, most difficult – and among his most praised – book was Conquering Schizophrenia: A Father, His Son and A Medical Breakthrough (1997), which dealt with his 25 years of trying to help his schizophrenic son, Jeff. His other son is U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who once told a reporter, "My dad probably was the one who showed me life can be silly sometimes, and you better accept it." A 24-year Ridgefielder, Mr. Wyden died in 1998 at the age of 74.
The roll call of organizations that Beth Yanity has worked for in her more than 45 years in Ridgefield reads like a directory of civic and civil service. A dedicated environmentalist, she helped establish Ridgefield's Rid Litter Day, the annual spring cleanup she still spearheads to this day. She started Ridgefield's Adopt A Street program. She's belonged to the Conservation Commission, has been conservation chairman and president of the Caudatowa Garden Club, was a member of the Recycling Task Force, and is a member of the Norwalk River Watershed Association committee. She's held almost every office connected with the Community Center, including president. If that's not enough, she's been active in the League of Women Voters, Visiting Nurse Association, Keeler Tavern, Graveyard Committee, Girl Scouts, Red Raider cheerleaders, Boys and Girls Club, and Family and Children's Services. She's taught religious education at St. Mary's for 15 years. She's been a member of the Republican Town Committee, worked for many candidates, both local and state, and has also twice made herself available as a GOP candidate for state representative. Born in 1930 and a graduate of Trinity College in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Yanity has done post-graduate studies and been involved in environmental symposiums on such subjects as vernal pools, recycling and solid waste disposal. "She's a leader, a worker, an organizer, and a doer. Her energy is unending," said Rotary President Sue Manning when Mrs. Yanity was named Citizen of the Year in June 2000. Oh, yes, Beth Yanity and her husband Peter (below) also raised seven children and are grandparents of, at last count, 19.
When Peter and Beth Yanity moved to Ridgefield in 1955, Richard E. Venus was one of five milk dealers in town. "We followed the moving vans so that we could be first to their door to get their business," Mr. Venus recalled when Dr. Yanity, eventually the father of six daughters and a son, was named Rotary Citizen of the Year in 1988. "Little did I know he would turn out to be such a great milk customer." Dr. Yanity opened his dental practice that year, and has been an integral part of the town ever since. Born in Pennsylvania in 1927, he grew up in Ohio, served in the Army Air Corps, graduated from Ohio University and got his dental degree from Georgetown in 1953. Dr. Yanity has been a selectman since 1989, and before that, spent 16 years on the Parks and Recreation Commission -- most of the time as chairman. The town recognized his extraordinary service to parks and recreation in 1988 by naming the old high school gym after him. Thirty years earlier, he was a founder of the Pop Warner Football program, which he then coached many years. He's a past president of the Lions Club, a director and past president of the Boys Club, a director of the Chamber of Commerce, an incorporator and past president of the Community Center, a pillar of the Republican Party, and an active St. Mary's parishioner. He's also received many honors, including the Old Timers Club Civic Award in 1998 (Beth [above], had earlier been honored by the Old Timers). He and Beth are the only husband and wife ever independently named Rotary Citizen of the Year. Jointly, though, they received the Fairfield Foundation 1993 Award for volunteerism to church and community, presented by Bishop Edward M. Egan on behalf of the Diocese of Bridgeport.
Mahonri Young, one of the leading American sculptors of the 20th Century, lived off and on at the Nod Road home of his father-in-law, painter J. Alden Weir, from early in the century until 1957. Like his Ridgefield friend, Frederic Remington (q.v.), Mr. Young was famous for his sculptures of cowboys, Indians, horses, and other aspects of Western life. He was born in Salt Lake City in 1877, the same year his grandfather, Mormon leader Brigham Young, died. He had visited Mr. Weir in Ridgefield early in the last century, and in 1931, married his daughter, Dorothy, who lived on the Weir farm. Mr. Young considered his greatest accomplishment to be the famous monument, “This Is the Place,” erected just outside Salt Lake City to commemorate the centennial of the Mormons’ entry into Utah; 75,000 people attended its dedication in 1947. The 60-foot-high monument was completed on the Weir farm in a studio Mr. Young built for the purpose. From 1931 to his death in 1957 at the age of 80, he created hundreds of drawings of Weir farm, including scenes depicting animals, crops and farm laborers. Many are in the Weir Farm Historic Site's collection.
To Stephen Zemo, Ridgefield’s beauty is not just in its stone walls and open spaces. As a real estate developer and town official, Mr. Zemo has been interested in beauty in and about the center of town, the places where people live and eat and shop. Since coming here in 1978, he has created Copps Hill Common, the attractive Danbury Road shopping center. He has developed offices and apartments on Danbury Road, converted the old Bennett house on Main Streeet to condominiums, revamped houses-turned-apartments on Grove and Prospect Streets, and renovated the Big Shop area. “We like to see things that fit with a Ridgefield vernacular of architecture,” he said in a 1990 interview. In 1988, when he received the selectmen’s first Commercial Property Beautification Award, First Selectman Sue Manning told him: “You set a very high standard for everyone in this town, and we hope there will be others who look at you and say, ‘Maybe I should do something for the town.’ ” His interests extend beyond his own developments. He has served on the Economic Development Committee, chaired a school site selection committee, headed the new Playhouse building committee, and helped find a site for the skate park. He’s advocated – and built – affordable housing, and served on a task force studying the problem. He has served as a selectman from 1995 to 1997 and from 1999 till the present. Mr. Zemo, who was born in 1946 in Port Chester, N.Y., is a Boston College graduate with a master’s degree in economic development. He’s been vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, an incorporator of the Community Center, founder of the Lounsbury Lunch program for seniors, and is establishing a volunteer coordinating organization. “I think it’s important not just to talk about the problems of the world,” he said in 1990. “You should give something back to areas you can contribute to.”
Joseph Aloysius Zwierlein believed in community service, and served Ridgefield in several capacities for six decades. At his death in 1972 at the age of 79, he was the oldest, active member of the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department, having served more than 60 years; he was also the first to have served 50 years. When he started with the department in 1912, horses or mules pulled the hose wagon. He lived for many years right across from the firehouse – “I never missed a fire then,” he said at a 1962 dinner honoring his 50 years as a fireman. A native of Bridgeport, Mr. Zwierlein came here as a young man. He was a house painter, but also served as the town’s dog warden for 30 years. He was on the Police Commission for 10 years, the fire commission, and was active in the Knights of Columbus.
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