Historical Perspectives / Ed Chrostowski
Political debates echo some familiar themes
Within a single week in New Canaan 48 years ago, there was ample evidence of how the substance of great arguments is resonates repeatedly throughout political history.
A Republican gathering at the Country Club of New Canaan laced into President John F. Kennedy's call for medical care for the aged and a Democratic meeting in the Veterans Club said the government is obligated to undertake such measures for the "common good."
Speaking at the Republican Women's Club luncheon, Abner W. Sibal of Norwalk, a candidate for reelection to Congress from the Fourth District, accused President Kennedy of "government by illusion" and said federal sponsorship or support of medical care for the elderly would be a "big step toward socialized medicine."
Local and regional party leaders at the Country Club luncheon applauded his remarks and added endorsements of Sibal for Congress, John Alsop for governor, John Lodge for U.S. Senator and Bob Bliss, local GOP chairman, for the State Senate.
The Republican leaders also prepared for a convention battle over the nominations. Ed May of Hartford was challenging Alsop for the gubernatorial nomination and Marjorie Farmer of Darien indicated she would not yield the State Senate seat to Bliss. Lodge appeared to have clear sailing to the nomination for the Senate seat being vacated by Prescott Bush.
Meanwhile, at the Veterans Club on Main Street, the principal speaker was Abe Ribicoff, former governor, current secretary of health, education and welfare in the JFK cabinet and a candidate for the U.S. Senate. Ribicoff declared that presidential authority to insist on medical care for the elderly dates back to the Mayflower Compact in which colonists demanded legislation for the common good.
The week also was highlighted by New Canaan's 94th annual Memorial Day observance. William Makepeace, local attorney resplendent in the dress uniform of a retired Army colonel, led the parade as grand marshal, escorted by George Volland and Bill Bloomer of the VFW and Lawrence "Lonnie" Wood and Robert "Hez" Wood of the American Legion.
John Sturges, local attorney and World War II veteran, was the keynote speaker during ceremonies at Lakeview Cemetery and cited President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as the "proper motivation" for Memorial Day observances, saying it embodied the true spirit of the day.
Elsewhere, Dr. Charlotte Brown, public health director, assured the community that local physicians had an adequate supply of Sabin oral polio virus vaccine and she urged all adults and children to get their dosages before the "polio season" starts in late June.
In another safety campaign, Police Sgt. Chet Lewis reported that more than 3,000 cars and trucks had passed through check lanes set up on local streets on several days for voluntary inspection of 10 mechanical points on each vehicle. He said that more than 400 vehicles had failed on one or more points, but more than half of those returned after repairs had been made to qualify for their windshield stickers.
Over in Carter Street, a large crowd of Little Red Schoolhouse alumni attended a rededication program in which the Town of New Canaan officially turned the building over to a neighborhood group. The key to the building was presented to Mary Kelley by her cousin, First Selectman Charles F. Kelley. Miss Kelley, who once was a student at the grades one-four schoolhouse, taught there for 57 years until the school was discontinued in 1958.
Also on the school scene that week, seventh-grader Lynn Aubrey and eighth-grader Tom Dapice won an oratory contest arranged by the English faculty at Saxe Junior High. Among the judges were State Rep. Richard L. Brinckerhoff and Judge Julius Groher of the Board of Selectmen.
Ingrid Girard, 18-year-old New Canaan High School senior, was crowned "Miss New Canaan of 1962" in a beauty pageant in which she qualified for the "Miss Connecticut" prelude to a "Miss America" selection. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ray Girard of East Maple Street.
Posthumous tribute was paid during that May week in 1962 to the late Mrs. T. Ferdinand Wilcox, former president of the New Canaan Garden Club and honorary chairman of the local Shakespeare Guild. A New Canaan delegation planted a memorial pink dogwood tree on the grounds of the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre and then almost 300 Saxe Junior High School eighth graders and parents stayed on for a performance of "Henry IV."
The week also brought the official demise of the New Canaan Community Center Foundation after 12 years of arranging youth programs and adult activities. With a YMCA building due in town soon, the foundation felt it had served its interim purpose. Its remaining treasury, about $500, was turned over to George Johnson, president of the YMCA board, by Dr. W. Harry Siemon, local dentist who had founded the Center Foundation in 1950 and was its president.
It was a week in which some of the roots of Medicare and this year's health-care reform bill were bared in New Canaan and it was a week of transition from a patchwork Community Center Foundation to a full-scale YMCA.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com.