Fundraiser Seeks To Maintain Flagpole
Four Newtown residents have taken on a tall task of forming a Flagpole Preservation Committee, through which they have launched a fundraiser.
“Let’s rally around our flagpole,” member and former First Selectman Pat Llodra said.
At 100 feet tall, “the flagpole is a community icon and belongs to all of us,” Mrs Llodra added. With her on Thursday, January 9, seated around a table in a small Newtown Municipal Center conference room, were fellow committee members Chris Gardner, Steve Bennett, and Bruce Walczak.
The group, which started talking early last summer, met formally in November, and has recently identified goals, which include raising funds to scrape, sand, and paint the historic Main Street landmark.
A flyer circulating around the table last Thursday stated, “The committee hopes to raise an additional $6,000 from the community so the work can be completed in 2020.” Checks can be made payable to the Town of Newtown, with Flagpole Preservation Fund in the memo line. Mail to 3 Primrose Street, Newtown CT 06470.
The committee hopes the fundraising will also cover prior upgrades to LED lighting in the fall. The fundraiser concludes on March 15.
“Every dime matters,” committee members agreed.
Mr Walczak hopes residents support “a symbol” of the community.
“We feel it’s an obligation of government and people to be its caretakers,” he said.
“It’s about the whole town,” Mrs Llodra said. “The flagpole belongs to all of us. We benefit from its beauty.” She said, “We all have a responsibility to it.”
Mr Gardner said, “I love the flagpole, it’s as simple as that. It’s a town treasure and I look forward to driving by it every day. It’s important that we maintain its appearance, and this committee will provide the oversight needed to keep it looking good.”
Mr Gardner, who has served as the Keeper of the Flagpole since 2015, also said he feels “honored and actually somewhat humbled being involved with this project.
"My kids joke that I’m the only person in town who notices when the flagpole gets nicked, but I know that’s not true. I keep a stash of paint at home and usually get out there on a Sunday morning right when the sun comes up and before traffic gets too heavy to give it a fresh coat of paint if it gets scuffed.”
The annual expenses vary “depending on what work needs to be performed,” said Mr Gardner. Two flags fly annually — a 20- by 30-foot summer flag, and an 18- by 24-foot winter flag.
Newtown Lions Club pays for the summer flag and Newtown Hardware funds two winter flags, he said. The winter flag requires replacement due to weather and wear and tear.
Changing the flags takes place with the help of Newtown Hook & Ladder, which “doesn’t charge us to come out and raise and lower the flag, which is an incredibly generous donation of time and equipment — they use their ladder truck.” Mr Gardner said. “I pay for the paint to touch up the base of the flagpole when it gets sideswiped.”
He said, “We have had to pay for light repairs which can be very expensive — anywhere from $500 to $1,000 every time the electrician is called out.”
Costs prompted the committee recently to change the old stadium-style lights to LED in the fall. “We anticipate those repair costs will be very minimal going forward,” he said.
Maintenance and repair funds have come from donations and a flagpole account that the town maintains as a special revenue fund. However, scraping and repainting the flag is going to require the help of a steeplejack.
As discussed at their recent meeting, the committee is in touch with someone in Torrington who will prep, sand, and paint the flagpole from top to bottom.
Mr Gardner envisions a permanent Flagpole Preservation Committee.
“We would not meet often, and certainly would not need to do a large fundraising campaign like this every year, but we would like to do an annual sweepstakes for the summer flag and continue to collect donations for the flagpole’s upkeep.”
Mrs Llodra is interested in the committee’s work because she does not want to “leave preservation to chance.” She prefers the organized effort, potentially “creating a reserve of resources,” so others can continue the committee’s work, she said. A reserve of funds will be helpful, so when more repairs are needed, funds are available.
Summer Flag Sweepstakes
Anyone can enter their name into a sweepstakes to receive the summer flag when it comes down in exchange for the winter flag. “Take a Free Chance to Win the 2019 Summer Flag That Flew on the Newtown Flagpole,” states a coupon. The committee is holding a free sweepstakes open to anyone for a chance to win the 20-by-30-foot 2019 summer flag that flew on the Newtown Flagpole.
Mail entries to The Newtown Lions Club, P.O. Box 218, Newtown, CT 06470. Entries must be received by May 1. Entries should include name, address, and phone number. Residents can also make donations with their entries, but it is not required.
The coupon is printed in this issue of The Newtown Bee and will be available at The Newtown Bee office, 5 Church Hill Road, during business hours, Monday through Friday, between 8 am and 5 pm.
An essay, “A Brief History Of Newtown: The Newtown Flagpole” written by Town Historian Dan Cruson and posted on the Newtown Historical Society website, states there "is no more precious landmark in Newtown that its flagpole. Anyone who doubts this only has to review the furor which surrounded the recent attempt of the Department of Transportation to remove it from the intersection where it has stood for over 130 years. This pole has become a symbol of Newtown.”
Aside from detailing the flagpole’s history, Mr Cruson makes one critical note in his story regarding the flagpole: “This last threat was disarmed in 1981 by state legislation introduced by then Representative Mae Schmidle, which prohibited the removal of the landmark. It is stronger than it has ever been and is now protected by state legislation.”
Based on Mr Cruson’s writing, “the first of the modern sequence of poles was erected in 1876. That was the year of the nation’s centennial celebration,” when residents met to determine how to celebrate the event.
“A liberty (flagpole) was decided upon,” the essay states. A subscription was circulated which drew 43 contributors. Those 43 people were the original “patrons of the pole,” Mr Cruson wrote.
An article published in The Newtown Bee October 2012 stated that the flagpole ball was “AWOL.” A truck had hit the pole, knocking the ball from the top of the pole, after which it was never found.
Witnesses had seen the 16-inch diameter ball fly toward Trinity Church, according to long-time flagpole keeper David Lydem. A retired Newtown Police Department lieutenant, he appointed himself unofficial caretaker of the flagpole in 1983. Most repair funds came from his efforts.
The flagpole’s location, dead center on Main Street in front of Newtown Meeting House, opposite the westernmost intersection with Church Hill Road, has often been to blame for the many drivers who hit it, sideswipe it, or have accidents right near it. The 2012 article stated, “It is hardly the first time a driver has hit the flagpole, but one of the rare occasions where the impact led to such damage."
It was the first "since 1993 or so that someone hit the flagpole and actually knocked the ball off," Mr Lydem told the newspaper that autumn.
During the recent Flagpole Preservation Committee meeting, Mrs Llodra also mentioned Mr Lydem, who was the pole’s caretaker for many years until retiring in 2015.
She also spoke of past residents Frank and Alida Knotts, “who had a passion for the flagpole,” she said. They are responsible for the town’s special revenue fund for the flagpole.
“There has been a small amount of money in the town account for years,” Mrs Llodra said. “It has been used from time to time for preservation work.”