Mother’s Keepsakes Bring Daughter A Flood Of Fond Memories
“In case you couldn’t tell, I still have a very special place in my heart for Newtown,” said Janet Seligmann Weiss. Now living in New Jersey, Ms Weiss and her family once lived in town. A recent look at some of her late mother’s keepsakes — newspaper clippings that Rose Seligmann had kept from the 1960s — brought her back to the years when her father, Sidney Seligmann, was a selectman.
Among the clippings, she said, “I found an old photograph of C.H. Booth Library and the Newtown High School — which is now the Newtown Middle School,” which brought some insight into why her mother had kept the clippings close. “It was as if she wanted to have these photographs,” Ms Weiss said, “so she would never forget. It was if she wanted to carry them with her, so she would never forget.”
“Wild,” she added.
In bits and pieces through both e-mail and phone conversations recently, Ms Weiss shared the flood of memories prompted by her mother’s things.
Telling “the brief story” in a quick e-mail to The Newtown Bee, Ms Weiss on October 29, 2018, wrote “My mom started saving these articles,” printed in The Newtown Bee. “These were all so meaningful to my mom, of events she was proud of, whether pertaining to her or my dad, so there was no way I could not have kept them,” she said.
She said her father died on September 1, 1972, “at the early age of 62.” Mrs Seligmann remained in the family home on Cross Brook Road in Dodgingtown for many years until moving to Heritage Village in Southbury and eventually to New Jersey to be near her daughter. “She lived in Teaneck until she passed away on October 24, 2001, at the age of 89,” Ms Weiss wrote.
Continuing her e-mail, she wrote, “When my mom sold our house to downsize, on May 11, 1992, she moved to Heritage Village in Southbury, and the folder of articles/docs went with her, with other items she treasured. She rented there for almost five years.”
Mrs Seligmann and her papers moved again on April 5, 1997. Ms Weiss wrote, “I moved her to Teaneck, N.J., to be closer to me and my husband, Lew… she rented in a lovely senior assisted living residence, and again… she took her prized possessions, including these articles/docs.”
Mrs Seligmann’s treasured papers moved one more time. Ms Weiss had relocated her mother’s things to her home in Mahwah, N.J., and recently “rediscovered the folder of the articles/docs in 2018 in a box of her things that I, too, had decided to save.”
Reflecting On Newtown
During a phone call on January 3, Ms Weiss continued her narrative. “I obviously knew the papers were there, but maybe you don’t appreciate it until you’re older. So I contacted The Bee in the fall and thought that I had to do something with these; they can’t just be in a carton in the basement,” she said.
She recalled her time in town when her father was on the Board of Selectmen. “Thinking back, I was a teenager when he was elected. Newtown was a very lovely, safe — I emphasize safe — place. It was innocent,” she said.
Her memories are “kind of funny; I remember some of the platforms he ran on. It had to do with a lot of things that Newtown and every town still deals with now — the environment, affordable housing for elderly. I remember that well.”
She said, “Also, the funny thing, in all the years we lived in town since the mid-50s, when our home on Cross Brook Road was being built, we stayed in Stony Brook Inn in Bethel and at the Hawley Manor, then we rented a big, wonderful, creaky home.”
She thinks the big old house was on the corner where the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire Station now stands on Riverside Road, near the entrance to Sandy Hook School.
“I think it was on the property where the firehouse is,” Ms Weiss recalled, “and I remember walking to school with a young man from across the street, and I had such a crush on him, and he carried my books.”
Recalling 12/14, Ms Weiss said, “I remember going there after the shooting, and I could not believe that I lived on this ground…”
On Saturday, January 5, Ms Weiss sent along additional thoughts, again via e-mail: “After the shooting, I felt I had to do something,” she wrote. She told her husband, Lew, “in the middle of the night that I was going to Newtown in the morning, to which he replied, ‘I knew you would.’”
She drove to town “with a huge bag of Beanie Babies that I was saving for my two young granddaughters... after the shooting, I decided that the Beanie Babies were needed more in Newtown for the children than my granddaughters. I found out where the crisis center was, brought them all there for the children who survived and for any families/children there in the crisis center.”
A Treasure Trove Of Clippings
Refocusing on her childhood, she said, “After we moved to town, my mom was always involved in town; dad was involved with Lions Club, [among other things], and it was Mom who was always involved in politics until she and others convinced Dad to run for selectman.”
The experience was “amazing,” that on his first run, “he succeeded, not as first selectman, but as a third selectman, and I was so proud of him, and I thought it was amazing,” she said. “After Dad died in 1972, Mom stayed in the house for as long as she could. The house had such great memories for her, and the papers moved with her [eventually] to New Jersey.”
Looking through the old clippings conjured “wonderful memories, and my parents at the time were lay leaders in the community. Many people knew them because they were very civic-minded,” she noted, long before her father ran for selectman.
“They were very giving and lovely people,” Ms Weiss said. Her father “went back to school in his 50s and became a teacher at then Post College in Waterbury, and after he died, they set up a scholarship fund for students.” The scholarship was awarded to students “that exemplified qualities that my dad had. I never heard anybody say a bad word about my dad.”
Taking another look through her mother’s things, Ms Weiss again called The Newtown Bee, realizing she “did not go through with the detail I thought I did. I found some of my dad’s material he used when he was running — all his priorities.”
One clipping from the April 30, 1971 Newtown Bee is headed “Sidney Seligmann Lists Priories,” and the article states that he was concerned with “people problems.” He worried about young people and also the senior citizens. The article states that he mentioned also housing, recreation, taxes, and more services for the tax dollar. He said that environmental improvement is an all-year program, not a one-week project.
One week later, a Newtown Bee clipping from May 7, 1971, includes an article with the opening paragraph: “Republican First Selectman Timothy Treadwell was reelected for a second term by a narrow margin of 364 votes over his Democratic opponent Sidney Seligmann. However, Mr Seligmann tallied enough votes to unseat incumbent Democratic Third Selectman Kenneth Casey.”
Other papers included “printed materials my dad used during his campaign,” Ms Weiss said, which mentioned a drug problem, and “He said we need to treat addicts as persons who need help, not punishment, and I found myself thinking that we had problems then that we have now.” Mr Seligmann had talked about “taxes being too high and protecting the environment. And another important point was youth,” said his daughter. He felt the 18-20-year-olds “need to be involved in government.” Ms Weiss said, “I find it amazing that a lot that he talked about, we still talk about today, 47 years later.”
She said, “Remember when I said I was so proud? In his first run, he unseated incumbent Democrat Ken Casey, who had served for ten years.”
Mr Seligmann “ran [his campaign] with Casey and held meet and greets. They had an election trailer at Archie’s Corner, little shop across from Hawley School. There was a candy store and newspaper store there. Everyone knew where it was…” she said. Ms Weiss still has old bumper stickers and buttons from the Casey, Seligmann campaign.
An old Newtown Bee photo caption from April 15, 1971, reads “It was a beautiful sunny day for the official opening of Democratic headquarters on Saturday, April 3, and candidates and supporters were on hand for the event. Shown from left are Jack Rosenthal, Democratic Town Committee Chairman; Sidney Seligmann, Democratic candidate for first selectman; and Herbert Cramer. The headquarters trailer is located at Archie’s Corner.”
Also in her mother’s trove, “I found a photo and article from November 8, 1963 — my mom was chairing a fundraising drive for retarded children with the Newtown Association for Retarded Children, and her goal was to raise $3,000. As part of the campaign, I found an undated letter signed by my mom as campaign chairman and Mrs Roy Walker was the association president.”
The letter begins, “Dear Neighbor, The penny? —No! We cannot afford to send you a penny. However, we have received a donation of enough pennies to attach one to each letter being sent to every family in Newtown… We would like each and every family to become a part of the Newtown Association of Retarded Children Fund Drive… if you return the penny… we urge you to add 99 cents to this penny and send it in the enclosed envelope…”
Ms Weiss also has “a lot of original letters signed by various state politicians thanking either my mom or dad for their efforts… I even have something signed by Richard Nixon — this is just wild; I forgot I had these… I found all kinds of awards my father won… I could go on and on.”
Mrs Seligmann continued with civic service after her husband died, Ms Weiss said.
The Seligmanns passed on their inclination for civic outreach to their daughter. “People always asked me — all those years as a professional, and I was always philanthropic,” Ms Weiss said, “and giving back, and people asked how I did it all.”
She said, “I guess I got it from my parents, and now I really get it after seeing all the information on my parents. The apple does not fall far from the tree. I am doing my best to follow in their footsteps.”
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