Year In Review: Myriad Moments From The Past 12 Months
The past remains vital to our present lives, as proven by multiple stories in The Newtown Bee this past year.
The Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers introduced new events in the historic building’s theater. With the addition of a digital projector and brand-new screen, the theater hosted free events including the first Sunday Night Football game of the season in September
Newtown United Methodist Church’s monthly Pasta Project/Saturday Spaghetti Suppers celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2015. The silver anniversary was noted during the March 7 dinner, and then event founder Martha Millet was also honored during the June dinner. Ms Millet retired from the project on June 6, and then a new team — Ellie Lewis, and Barbara and Dennis Bloom — launched the 2015-16 season in September, following the traditional summer break.
The Garden Club of Newtown welcomed 128 guests to its 60th Anniversary celebration Wednesday, April 1, held at Rock Ridge Country Club. The club was founded May 8, 1955, and became a member of the Federated Garden Clubs the following year. Charter member Carolyn Stokes, now in her 90s and living in Hilton Head, S.C., is the only living member of the first Garden Club founders.
The full house at the April 1 event consisted not only of local club members, but also Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra, board members from the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut, and members of various other state garden clubs and their guests. Member Holly Kocet acknowledged the past presidents of the Garden Club of Newtown, particularly three who were able to attend the anniversary celebration: Judy Benson (1994-1997), Nancy Rowe (1998-2002), and Chris Degen (2002-2003).
Keynote speaker at the celebration was Marta McDowell, gardener, lecturer, garden consultant, instructor at the New York Botanical Garden, and author of Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life.
Between Saturday, July 11, when the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library opened the doors at Reed Intermediate School for the 40th Annual Book Sale, and Wednesday, July 15, the final day of the event, close to 3,000 booklovers passed through the cafetorium, lobby, gymnasium, and three staff rooms to select from more than 120,000 books, DVDs, CDs, and LPs. It is a far cry from the Labor Day Monday in 1975 when library patron Joanne Zang set up a card table in front of the library, piled it with library discards, and sold them for 25 cents each. Ms Zang got the idea for a book sale from library staff member Maureen Armstrong, who sometimes sold well-loved books in the lobby for five and ten cents.
“I thought I could raise more than five or ten cents for books,” she said, “so I gathered a table of the discards and outdated books together out front of the library and sold them before and during the Labor Day Parade,” Ms Zang recalled. Antique book expert John Renjilian, a relative newcomer to the town, as was Ms Zang at the time, happened upon the sale, and talked to her about working at the sale the next year.
Ms Zang was initially skeptical of his knowledge and his ideas that used books could be sold for far more than she was asking, but Mr Renjilian has been the book sale rare and antiques expert since. The success of the sale is apparent in the final tally. The 2015 Book Sale grossed $100,000, with just under $90,000 net, allowing for improved services at the town’s public library.
This past May, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, three veterans of that war shared their stories with Bee readers.
Ken Stroud’s memories of the end of the war in Europe are quite different from other World War II veterans. The St Rose deacon emeritus and former Royal Air Force soldier had been a Japanese prisoner of war for more than three years on May 7, 1945, when General Alfred Jodl, chief of staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the Allies.
“People laugh at me for being too patriotic, but it’s very important to me,” said Dr Irving Freedman, whose patriotism stems from his experiences in the Second World War. A member of the six-man US Army 19th Ordinance Bomb Disposal Squad, he was not yet out of his teens when they became involved in the monthlong Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, in December of 1944. The Germans’ final offensive drive to win the war would result in the deaths of 19,000 American troops.
Margaret Brokaw may not be able to remember a recent telephone number, she told The Bee, but there is one thing the 95-year-old former Army nurse does remember: her Army serial number.
“I was told to memorize it. They handed it to me on a slip of paper, and I looked at it and stuck it in my pocket. The woman asked me my number and when I went to get the paper, she yelled, ‘I told you to memorize it!’ Boy, I’ve never forgotten that number,” Mrs Brokaw recalled. She was 23 years old when she enlisted in the Army on December 2, 1943. Before her discharge in March 1946, she would travel to England, Italy, and North Africa, providing care to the injured.
As they have for the past 12 years, Howard and Jeannette Lasher welcomed the public, first responders, military personnel, and state and local town officials on September 11 to a solemn ceremony marking the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. Held on their Dodgingtown Road property marked by six maples painted to represent the American flag, the 9/11 memorial service commemorated not only the ten American Stock Exchange friends and colleagues of the Lashers, but all who were lost that day, as well as military troops affected since then.
The tenth anniversary of the release of the film Serenity was celebrated in September, after Laurie and Michael Wright organized an event called “Can’t Stop The Serenity: A Global Charity Screening Event for Equality Now.” The Sandy Hook residents joined a growing number of people across the country who hosted events with a screening of the 2005 American space western film starring Nathan Lane, et al, that picks up right where the cult television show Firefly ended. On September 6, fans and costumed attendees of all ages attended the event at Edmond Town Hall, where they participated in raffles, enjoyed live music by Sean Faust, as well as the screening of the film along with “Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.”
Town Players of Newtown presented an 80th anniversary season that included productions of Fifth of July, Bus Stop, and Design For Murder, among others. On October 17, the local theater company formally celebrated its oak anniversary at Newtown Country Club, with a party that included music from the 1930s, when Town Players first began entertaining the community.
In renovating the building at the corner of West and Main Streets, as well as the small building to the rear of the property, the history of those properties has been a priority for developers Chris Wilson and Chris Hottois of Flint Ridge Development, LLC, in Monroe. Commonly known as “The Chase Building,” the partners purchased and began restoration of the building two years ago. Mr Hottois did a fair amount of research on the Chase building.
Time spent poring over archived Newtown Historical Society photographs at the library, and extensive reading of articles by Town Historian Dan Cruson, was time well spent, he said.
“A lot of what we’ve done here is try to bring back a lot of the structural elements,” Mr Hottois said. Downstairs, Oberg Insurance remains a tenant in the newly refurbished northern side of the building, while Dere Street Café will occupy the side closest to West Street. Andrea’s Hair Studio, Nasar’s Hair Salon, and Electrology of Newtown, located in the lower level of the Chase building, are also enjoying upgrades.
A new patio, stone wall, and a lamp post are attractive additions to the parking lot-level businesses. The original store section was removed during renovations made in 1872, to the rear of the property. In recent history, the little building was a floral shop. With current restoration, it will serve as Dere Street Bakery. It is undoubtedly the oldest commercial property in town, according to Mr Cruson.
When renovating the living room of their 1933 Colonial home a few years back, Liia Raamot and husband Rich Mowery found shredded newspapers had been used as insulation, beneath the wall board. That was nothing, though, said Ms Raamot, compared to the treasure trove unearthed during construction work on their attached garage this November. With the entire base of the garage being disrupted, they decided to renovate the whole garage, taking the interior down to the rafters.
“Rich and I started cleaning up, and we found this old ad for a movie at Edmond Town Hall beneath the old wall. It was ripped in three, but I brought it up to Tom Mahoney [manager] at the theater, and he was so excited. He told us it was from a 1935 movie there,” Ms Raamot said. That was a pretty interesting discovery, she said, but until Joe Pavia and his crew from Evolve Building Group really got underway with work, Ms Raamot and Mr Mowery had no idea just how much Edmond Town Hall history was buried in the walls.
“Joe and his guys discovered the walls were lined with what turned out to be movie posters,” she said. Some had been nailed in place, others merely tucked in between the interior and exterior walls. How they came to line the walls of this garage, though, is a mystery.
“I assume they were put there for some kind of insulation,” said Mr Mahoney. Town Historian Dan Cruson was also consulted after the discovery, and noted the posters’ significance from a historic standpoint. “They are part of our town’s entertainment history,” he said.
Movies were an escape for people during the Depression, with many movies depicting happy times, “and lots of dancing and singing. 1935 was the golden age of Edmond Town Hall Theatre,” said Mr Cruson. Ms Raamot and Mr Mowery hope to inventory the many posters, and display them at Edmond Town Hall in the future.
Whether you believe The Old Farmer’s Almanac prediction for the coming winter of heavy snow and very cold temperatures, or that of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that predicts the Northeast will experience a winter with above normal temperatures and precipitation, storms of one kind or another will be in the forecast. Storms have made the news for centuries, though.
In stories shared by several of Newtown’s senior citizens during the past year, it was noted that storms have a different feel to them. Fierce winds and blinding rainstorms in summer, and snow that tends to fall in feet, not inches, at a time are trends that seem unfamiliar to some. Others suggested that today’s severe storms may be more a matter of perception, and a population that is not in a constant state of preparation.
We prepare for the future by respecting the past. Newtown is a town filled with history, and many more tales to come.