Historical Perspectives in New Canaan / Ed Chrostowski
Political heat amidst season's deep freeze
In the throes of winter, with temperatures falling into single digits and snow intermittently blanketing the town, New Canaan's political pot was boiling hot during this week back in 1962.
Both sides of the political aisle were beginning to feel the heat as Connecticut headed into the campaigns and toward election of a governor and a United States senator.
Mounting a challenge to the popular Democratic incumbent governor, John N. Dempsey, Republicans considered several potential candidates and unity continued to elude the party faithful even in New Canaan. It was a sort of harbinger of things to come, a preview of what's happening this year.
While the Republican Town Committee, headed by Bob Bliss, pressed for the nomination of John Alsop of Avon, the Young Republican Club endorsed State Sen. John M. Lupton because, its president, John Langhorne, said, "he's against liberalism." Ultimately, neither was nominated. The convention nod went to Ed May, who was the party's state chairman at the time.
The squabble in the Democratic ranks centered on the U.S. Senate seat held then by Republican Prescott Bush (grandfather of the recent president). State Chairman John M. Bailey favored bringing a former Connecticut governor, Abe Ribicoff, back from Washington, D.C., where he was serving as secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in John F. Kennedy's cabinet.
The fracas in New Canaan began when Al Lutringer, chairman of the local party, invited Congressman-at-Large Frank Kowalski here to speak. Kowalski was known to be against the Bailey move. But Ribicoff was nominated at the convention and went on to win the election.
Back home, parishioners of St. Aloysius R.C. Church also came under new leadership. Bishop Harold Curtis announced the appointment of the Rev. Francis X. McGuire of Fairfield as pastor in New Canaan. Father McGuire (later a monsignor) succeeded the Rev. Msgr. William J. Fox, who had been pastor here for 32 years and then died shortly after retiring. He was 92.
At the same time, Bishop Curtis announced the transfer of the Rev. Edmund Hussey, popular curate at St. Aloysius, to St. Mary's in Bridgeport. Father Hussey had been an active leader of parish youth and sports groups and St. Aloysius had been the only parish he had served in all of his 16 years in the priesthood.
Meanwhile, more than 160 men gathered at the Country Club of New Canaan to roast and toast Leslie B. Young at the Gridiron Club's second annual Groundhog Day dinner. Young, a long-time member of the Board of Finance, was called "Mr. Moderator" because he usually presided at town meetings. The inimitable Paul Killiam, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in the show, took his cue from that. In his opening monologue, Killiam noted, "Les took over about 20 years ago and he decided he was going to give the taxpayers a run for their money. Fortunately, they caught up with him at the airport." Nevertheless, Edwin Hoyt of Gridiron presented a "Scroll of Appreciation" to Young on behalf of the people of New Canaan.
Gridiron skits and songs lampooning a civic leader became a New Canaan tradition and Laszlo Papp, chairman of the Town Planning and Zoning Commission, will be the "fall guy" at the 49th annual dinner this April.
Even the Connecticut Light and Power Company seemed determined to cast a little light on town affairs. Company engineers urged the Board of Selectmen to authorize installation of 75 additional street lights in town, mostly along South Avenue, Forest Street and White Oak Shade Road.
The town already was being carefully watched, the selectmen were assured by the commanding officer of the Auxiliary Police Force, Dr. Harold Wilser. He reported to Civil Defense Director Charlie Morton and Police Chief "Red" Keller that 20 men had completed a total of 800 hours of service and training in the past six months and were ready to support and assist the regular police force.
Coincidentally, it was National Crime Prevention Week and the Exchange Club observed it by inviting all members of the Police Department to dinner at the Silvermine Tavern. The 11 officers who were not on duty attended and Ed Rabe, Exchange president, presented the department with a "Certificate of Appreciation."
Meanwhile, a group of teen-agers, led by Leslie Havard, Herb Smith and David Weldy, brought hot coffee to police officers staffing an all-night roadblock at the New York-Connecticut border, set up to watch for young drivers returning from bars in Vista. Police reported that 161 drivers had been stopped on Friday and Saturday nights, but only two summonses were issued, both for defective equipment.
This week 48 years ago also was marked by an experience that was unusual for New Canaan. A charity fund drive in January, the March of Dimes, had fallen far short of the mark. The drive netted $5,800; the goal was $11,000. Chairman Julius Dapice said a supplementary campaign was being organized.
On the school scene, Food Services Director Irene Ponti announced that in observance of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, the menu on February 12 would include Rail-Splitter Chops, Abraham Potatoes, Lincoln Penny Carrots and Kentucky Shortcake. The price was 40 cents in all schools.
There was commercial activity in town as well. Architect Eliot Noyes acquired the former Silliman Department Store building at the corner of Main Street and East Avenue and announced that his firm would move in when $50,000 worth of renovations were completed.
John Cretella received a permit to build a $40,000 house on Cross Ridge Road to replace one destroyed by fire just as it was nearing completion in November, 1961. And the South Avenue Corporation, headed by Joseph A. Libner of Norwalk, revealed plans to build a $70,000 office building at the corner of Main and East Maple streets.
Elsewhere, Wooster Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows held its annual meeting in the Masonic Temple and elected Malcolm Flanagan "noble grand." Among other officers were Roswell Bryant, Charles Tuttle, Carl Ruscoe, Kurt Kristhan and Bill Iliff. Kristhan in his heavy German accent protested that he and his friends in the lodge weren't really odd fellows.
And that's the kind of a week it was in New Canaan 48 years ago.
Ed Chrostowski can be reached at email@example.com.