Joseph Church Sweet Jr.
Published 6:25 pm, Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Joseph Church Sweet Jr., known in New Canaan for many years as the town historian and as "Mr. Music," died Wednesday, April 6, in Springfield, Va.
Mr. Sweet, a retired IBM attorney and an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, was 92 years old.
"With all else that he was, Joe Sweet will always be remembered as a good friend with a hearty laugh and a lively sense of humor, just a fine guy who was a pleasure to be with," Ed Chrostowski, former New Canaan News columnist, said. "He was an inexhaustible source of local lore and town history, a meticulous researcher and a hard-working, dedicated leader in many community programs and organizations."
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Mr. Sweet was born Aug. 27, 1918, in Winsted, son of Joseph C. Sweet and Grace Garland Grey Sweet. His father was in the printing business by day and ran theatres showing silent movies in Winsted and small towns nearby during the evenings. He was a direct descendant of John Sweet, who migrated from England in 1631 and settled in what became known as "Sweet's Cove" in Salem, Mass.
After graduation from the Gilbert School in Winsted, Mr. Sweet went on to Yale University, where he was a member of Tau Beta Pi and received a degree in engineering in 1940. In 1943, he graduated from Yale Law School and was admitted to the Connecticut Bar.
While still an undergraduate at Yale, he was an assistant in the University's Electrical Engineering Laboratory and worked as a repairman for several New Haven area radio stores. During the summers, he was a licensed boat pilot and lifeguard for The Island Club in Rowayton.
Shortly after receiving his degree at Yale, he became an instructor in economics at the Elm City Tutoring School in New Haven and he then worked for two years as the electrical cost engineer for the United Illuminating Company in New Haven and Bridgeport.
After law school, he was accepted for training as a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, but instead enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was sent to the Midshipmen's School at Columbia University, where he was commissioned an ensign and became an instructor in electrical engineering.
His next Navy assignments were at Harvard, where he studied advanced electrical technology, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to learn radar and sonar operations, then still top secrets.
As a lawyer, he then was named assistant to the officer in charge of the U.S. Navy Patent Section at MIT.
When the war ended, Mr. Sweet was associated with the New York City law firm of Kenyon and Kenyon until 1951 when he joined IBM at its corporate headquarters, first in New York City and then in Armonk, N.Y., remaining there until he retired in 1984.
From 1956 to 1964, he also was a special deputy attorney general of New York State, assigned to the Election Frauds Bureau.
As an attorney, he was a member of the New York State, Connecticut, Litchfield County and American Bar Association and he was admitted to practice before federal circuit courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.
In New Canaan, where he lived for more than 50 years, he is known mostly for his music and his deep knowledge of town history.
He began developing his musical talents early. When he was six years old, he was a violinist, but switched to a bugle and then a nickel-plated cornet from Sears Roebuck. Years later, he joked that he made the change because his younger sister broke his violin when she sat on it and he always wondered if it really was accidental.
He later played a number of different instruments in school, college, community, military orchestras and dance bands and when he moved to this area, he joined the Community Band in Darien and the Town Band in New Canaan. In 1971, he became director of New Canaan's Town Band and during his 30 years in that post led Family Fourth of July concerts in Waveny Park, Christmas Eve carol sings on God's Acre, Memorial Day marches and an outdoor series on the New Canaan Historical Society lawn.
The latter gave him an opportunity to blend his interests in music and history. In introducing each number on the program, he would brief the audience on the life of the composer and the circumstances behind that particular tune.
For many years, Mr. Sweet also played the piano for residents during the regular "happy hour"at Waveny Care Center and the New Canaan Inn. In addition, he presented workshops, demonstrations and concerts for organ dealers and societies in New England, New York State and Pennsylvania. He also wrote a monthly column for "Keyboard World," an international magazine for organists.
During his more than four decades as vice president of the New Canaan Historical Society and as town historian, he wrote many newspaper articles on local history and he was a major contributor to the book, "New Canaan: Texture of a Community."
He was without peer as a meticulous researcher and prolific writer on local history, according to Janet Lindstrom, executive director of the New Canaan Historical Society. In addition, she said, his guidance on legal mattes was of "great value" to the Society during his 21 years as a member of its board of governors and 19 years as vice president. In grateful recognition of his "distinguished service," he was named a life-time honorary member of the society's board.
Mr. Sweet also was active in a number of other local organizations and was a founder and past president of The New Canaan Fund, which annually finances the Fourth of July celebration in Waveny Park. He also served many years as secretary-treasurer of the Poinsettia Club, a dining and debating organization of local civic leaders, and he was a long-time member of the Gridiron Club, which honored him as the "fall guy" of its "roast and toast" dinner and show in 1996.
He was also a member of the Yale Engineering Association, Tau Beta Pi, the English Speaking Union, the American Theatre Organ Society, the Yale Club of New Canaan/Wilton, the Association of Concert Bands, St. Mark's Episcopal Church and the Republican Club.
He had served on the boards of the Anchor and Saber Club of New York (of which he was a past president) and the Senior Men's Club of New Canaan. In addition, he was on the advisory board of the Institute for the Crippled and Disabled and on the community board of Waveny Care Center. He also belonged to the Country Club of New Canaan and was a former member of the New Canaan Field Club. His professional memberships included the Connecticut, New York State and Litchfield County Bar Associations, the New York Patent Law Association and the Yale Engineering Association.
Mr. Sweet is listed in "Who's Who in America," "Who's Who in American Law" and "Who's Who in Commerce and Industry."
In 1958, he married Jane Goodman Sweet, an accomplished pianist who performed with the DCA Duo-Piano Group and was a percussionist in the town band directed by her husband.
Mr. Sweet is survived by his wife, two daughters, Grace Elizabeth Sweet Bitter and her husband, Kenneth Bitter of Princeton Junction, N.J., and Pamela Jane Sweet Blau and her husband, Bennett Blau of Beverly, Mass., and five grandchildren.
In addition to his parents, Mr. Sweet was predeceased by a sister, Joanne G. Sweet.
A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 16, at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Oenoke Ridge.
Contributions in memory of Mr. Sweet may be made to the New Canaan Historical Society, 13 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan, CT 06840.