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A Newtown Love Story: The Dahlstroms On Working At Fairfield Hills & 50 Years of Marriage



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Meeting at Fairfield State Hospital and eventually marrying at Newtown Congregational Church 53 years ago, Ed and Beverly Dahlstrom seemed to have a quintessential Newtown love story.

“We met in Cochran House,” said Beverly, referencing a building at Fairfield Hills. “In fact, we drove by there on our anniversary last year, and parked where he proposed to me 52 years ago.”

Ed explained the pair were psychiatric aides, and functioned like physician’s assistants of today when they met in 1969 before the position was changed to “patient aide” in the mid-1980s. Throughout their employment, Ed and Beverly worked on the wards with patients primarily in Cochran House, where new patients were evaluated.

Beverly said aides were there to feed patients, attend to their hygiene, make sure they were dressed and had their medicine, and then “just be with them” when the work was done.

“When I got divorced, it was the perfect job,” said Beverly, speaking of her first husband. “It was the same pay as a man, good insurance for my kids and me, and I loved working there.”

Ed said he enjoyed the job too, making it his career and remaining on staff at Fairfield State Hospital for a total of 30 years.

Beverly explained there were hard days in her seven years of employment, but it was fun to take patients out on walks or to the stores on the grounds. Plymouth Hall had a movie theater and a bowling alley. Some patients even took cooking classes, and there was a barbershop.

Something Ed enjoyed was playing clarinet for patients during the Christmas season. While the couple worked different shifts in different wards, the opportunity to make music meant they got to see each other.

Patient & Staff Interactions

While Ed and Beverly talked about their strengths and joys as aides, the couple also described mistreatment by staff members. Beverly said some nurses could be “really cruel” to patients.

“And some of the patients shouldn’t have been there,” added Ed. “Some of the relatives should’ve been there in their place,” he added — referring to the relatives responsible for committing his patients to the facility.

With this, Beverly reflected with sadness on a day she brought a patient to the facility’s clothing store to help her prepare for an ice cream date with her visiting parents. Afterwards, she watched the patient receive a harsh rejection.

“She had been locked up for years. Her mother saw her and said, ‘I’m not taking her anywhere,’” Beverly said of the patient, who sadly regressed after the interaction.

According to Beverly, some staff members would provoke patients. When patients reacted, the staff tied them up on a bed or in a seclusion room for behavior she expressed “wasn’t their fault.”

“If you’re treated terribly, you’re going to fight back, it’s just natural,” she said.

Taking the opposite tack, the couple seemed intent on leaving a positive impression on their patients. They avoided demeaning them like some staff members or family members in favor of “treating them like human beings,” as Ed put it.

Beverly reflected on her brief time working in Bridgewater House, saying if she had to keep working there, she would have left. Some patients were naked, urinating on the floor, and “slopping the food.” Beverly said the excuse she was given for the conditions was that the patients were “so far gone, they don’t know the difference.”

Standout Experiences

In the darkness that seemed to permeate the culture of Fairfield State Hospital, Ed and Beverly took opportunities to be kind and treat patients as individuals.

For Ed, this practice started during the orientation period of his position and during his first experience with a patient. The patient was an elderly man from Litchfield, who Ed noticed looked “so dejected and depressed.”

Ed inquired about which ward the man was staying in so he could initiate a friendly conversation.

He remembered the man saying, “‘Well, I guess they don’t want me at the farm anymore, I’m too old to carry the load.”

The next day, Ed asked the patient for help with a job — moving the chairs from one end of the cafeteria so the floor can be buffed and swept, and moving them back.

“I think it was to tell him he was worth something,” Ed said. “So, I did that for a few days, and then one day I went back, and he wasn’t there anymore. I came to find out he was discharged.”

“No other psychological training — common sense. That’s how I got started,” Ed said. In another story, Ed remembered a patient who confessed he lost his male lover.

“We sat on the floor of the bathroom, and we had a nice discussion about that,” said Ed. “I guess that calmed his nerves a little bit, because he didn’t seem to be needing any more attention.”

The couple seemed to employ empathy through tougher cases, too. Beverly talked about a patient named Billie who was a fashion designer in France, and lost her family in a plane crash and became unstable.

Working through her pregnancy, Beverly took care of her and said she treated Billie well. One day, Billie tried to punch Beverly in the stomach, which caused other staff members to cast judgment on the patient.

Acquainted with Billie, Beverly empathized and told her coworkers the patient just didn’t want her to go on leave after she had her baby.

In a similar vein, Ed recalled a young man who acted violently but never acted out when he was present. Through their stories, it became more and more clear that certain patients seemed to trust the couple.

“The thing is, you’ve got to treat people the way you want to be treated,” said Beverly.

The couple agreed their empathy is what helped them stand out to each other as their relationship as a couple began to flower.

“We’re on the same page,” said Ed, reflecting on their relationship

A Love Story

Beverly claims she noticed Ed first.

A friend who worked with her at the state hospital encouraged her to pursue him, and gave her a book one night with “Divorced Women” prominently in the title to catch Ed’s eye. So Beverly gave it a try, strategically locating herself with the book in hand while he was walking through the hall.

“You’re divorced?” he asked, seeming surprised.

Later, (or “finally,” as Beverly put it,) Ed asked Beverly on a date. She said “no,” because it would be late at night and not “decent.”

A patient of hers got her to see it differently, advising Beverly to “get in that office, get on the phone, and call him.” Beverly followed the directions, and asked Ed if she could change her mind.

The rest is history.

That night, the pair realized they had been parking next to each other for many months; and they drove two very similar Chevys. According to Ed, “it was the cars that did it.”

One year later, Ed popped the question on Friday the 13th, in the rain. Another “no” from Beverly halted Ed’s intentions, but not for long.

“I said no, Why would I marry you? I have two kids,” said Beverly.

Despite this specific hang-up, she credited her daughter, Jenny, for their eventual marriage.

“I asked Jenny what she wanted for Christmas. She said ‘I want you as my daddy,’” said Ed. Beverly’s aunt advised her if her kids liked him, to go for it, “because kids know.”

The wedding was another rainy day that was still recalled with great affection by the couple. Ed called it “wonderful,” while Beverly described the wedding day as “interesting.”

The couple reminisced about Beverly’s young son’s fussiness that day.

In alignment with her daughter’s persuasive wish, Ed adopted Beverly’s children Jennifer and that young son, Scott. Once married, the couple raised a son together themselves, named Keith.

During their 50th anniversary, the couple restated their vows in a small, pandemic-aware ceremony.

And it rained again.

“Rain is a part of our life,” said Beverly.

Today, the couple spends a lot of time together, and enjoys going to the gym. Ed said they do not really visit the Fairfield Hills Campus, though he misses it because he experienced “more good than bad” working there. He took pictures in 1999 and 2000 to curate “a little history” for himself, and to remember the buildings.

When asked about what the couple’s future had in store, Ed replied “another ten years, anyway.”

Hopefully all their milestones and memories to come will be rain free — or perhaps it’s just meant to be.


Reporter Noelle Veillette can be reached at noelle@thebee.com.

Beverly and Ed Dahlstrom on their Newtown property. —Bee Photo, Veillette
Newlyweds Beverly and Ed leave Newtown Congregational Church (now Newtown Meeting House) in 1970 with family. —photos courtesy Beverly and Ed Dahlstrom
In 1999 and 2000, Ed Dahlstrom spent some time chronicling the Fairfield Hospital — also known locally as Fairfield Hills Hospital — where he and his then wife to be Beverly met while working together years earlier. His images include Shelton House, before the parade ground style lawn was replaced with parking and a narrower greenway; Stone House, which housed an incinerator under its still-standing chimney adjacent to Reed Intermediate School; and a picture of the infamous tunnels under Cochran House, which facilitated travel among the many buildings on campus regardless of the weather above. —Ed Dahlstrom photo
—Ed Dahlstrom photo
—Ed Dahlstrom photo
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