Monday, March 27, 2017
Dr. Russell Lowe:
A Physician and A Power
Russell Lowe was no ordinary local doctor. The physician practiced more than a half century in Ridgefield but was involved in many aspects of community life, including government. Although he never held an elective office, Lowe was among the handful of leading citizens who were always looked to for advice on running the town.
Russell Walter Lowe (pronounced to rhyme with “cow”) was born 1866 in Oneida, N.Y., where he grew up and attended local schools. He graduated from New York University medical school in 1889 at the age of 21, the youngest in his class. By 1893, he had arrived in Ridgefield where he practiced for 53 years. The only break was for service in the Army in World War I. As a captain in the Medical Corps, he treated soldiers at several camps in the South and was then assigned to the Surgeon General’s Office in Washington D.C.
Dr. Lowe was named the town health officer in 1893 and kept that job most of his career. “He has been very diligent in his duties, ever striving to maintain the high standard of health for which the town of Ridgefield is famed,” wrote George L. Rockwell in his 1927 “History of Ridgefield.”
For most of his years here, he was also the medical examiner and the school physician — he was largely responsible for instituting medical examinations for school children. In 1897 he was named “special physician” to the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department.
For his first 25 years, he had his practice in the building at the north corner of Main and Governor Streets, but for the rest of his career, his office was at his home on Main Street just north of Gilbert Street — the house later owned for many years by Dr. Peter and Beth Yanity.
A longtime member of the Republican Town Committee, he was “one of the party’s most influential leaders,” his obituary in a 1944 Press said.
Historian Dick Venus touched on that influence in a 1984 Ridgefield Press column about Harvey P. Bissell, the drug store owner who was also comptroller of the state of Connecticut. “Bissell and his close friends, Dr. Russell W. Lowe and the Rev. Richard E. Shortell, made up a triumvirate that pretty much controlled the political action in Ridgefield,” Venus wrote. “The Rev. Hugh Shields, pastor of the First Congregational Church, told a story that pretty much sums up the power that these men had in the political arena.
Shields “told of how during the late 20s it became necessary to find a new representative to the General Assembly in Hartford. According to Mr. Shields, a meeting took place in the back room of Bissell's store, with all three of the leaders present. Mr. Bissell and Dr. Lowe argued at some length as to who the replacement would be. Father Shortell stood quietly by, listening to the other two, extolling the virtues of their candidates. When, after some time they were still at loggerheads, they turned to him and asked who his preference was. Father Shortell brought up a name that had not been mentioned and said, ‘The best qualified man is the Rev. Hugh Shields.’” And Shields soon became Ridgefield’s state representative. [Shields, Bissell and Shortell — the longtime St. Mary pastor — are all profiled in Who Was Who on the Old Ridgefield group.]
Dr. Lowe was active in the Branchville Fresh Air Association, which brought many city kids to spend part of the summer in Ridgefield. He was a supporter of Chautauqua, a sort of traveling educational school that included lectures, musicians and entertainers early in the 20th century.
He was a major fund-raiser for Danbury Hospital — a waiting room was named in his honor in the 1940s — and was president of the Danbury Medical Society for more than 25 years.
Dr. Lowe was also among the first Ridgefielders to own a car, which he used primarily to make house calls. His first car, purchased around 1904, was a Stanley Steamer, and it was said that he bought a new car almost every year, apparently wearing them out quickly on Ridgefield’s rough roads.
When he died in 1944 at the age of 76, The New York Times ran his obituary under a headline that called him the “Dean of Ridgefield Physicians.”
“To have known Dr. Lowe was an inspiration — a perfect gentleman, a wonderful diagnostician, and a man who gave everything to the public and his profession,” said a testimonial in The Ridgefield Press. “In his practice, he was extremely conscientious — rich and poor were treated alike.”
Saturday, March 25, 2017
Boosting Sports for Women
In 1965, the senior class at Ridgefield High School dedicated its yearbook to Margaret O’Sullivan who, by then, was a guidance counselor at the school. Few students at the time knew of the role “Miss O” played in helping young women be a part of interscholastic athletics.
“Before girls sports at Ridgefield High School received an equality boost from Title IX legislation in the early 1970s, they got a formative hand from Margaret O’Sullivan some 30 years earlier,” said longtime Ridgefield Press sports editor Tim Murphy.
Margaret Claire O’Sullivan was born in 1911 in South Boston, Mass., and graduated from Boston University with a degree in physical education. She later earned a master’s degree at the University of Bridgeport.
When she joined the high school faculty as a physical education teacher in 1943, there were no interscholastic girls sports teams at RHS. Not one.
O’Sullivan quickly changed that, organizing varsity and junior varsity girls teams for one sport each season: field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter, and softball in the spring. She later started a club team for girls tennis.
While turnout for the programs was good, conditions were not. The girls had limited equipment and shared fields with boys’ sports teams — mostly, they practiced and played when the boys were at away games. But O’Sullivan always fought for more time and attention to girls’ athletics and well-being.
She served as head of the girls physical education department at the high school until 1962, when she became a guidance counselor.
“All of us have seen the kind of person she is,” said the staff of the 1965 yearbook. “Loyal, sincere, self-sacrificing, dedicated — these are part of Miss O’s personality. Friendly, helpful, generous, devoted — these, too, describe Miss O. This list is endless. She is the manifestation of many of our ideals.”
O’Sullivan retired in 1973 and moved to Shrewsbury, Mass., to live with a sister. When she died in 1993 at the age of 81, she had been all but forgotten locally. The Ridgefield Press had only a brief, three-paragraph obituary, provided by the sister (but did run a picture of her, smiling).
Seven years later, the Ridgefield Old Timers Association remembered O’Sullivan, giving her a Posthumous Award for her work with girls at Ridgefield High School. ROTA said she had died “with much deserved praise left unsaid.”
Thursday, March 23, 2017
A Hero’s Unlucky Number
“It seems that the number 13 was always unlucky for my brother Armando,” said Pauline Frulla Moylan. “He injured himself on barbed wire on the 13th, and he received a serious head injury sleigh-riding on the 13th.”
And on Jan. 13, 1945, on a battlefield in Belgium, Private First Class Armando Frulla lost his life.
“My mother would cry all day whenever she had a premonition that something bad was going to happen,” said Pauline’s sister, Augusta Frulla Brusca. “On Jan. 13, 1945, mother started crying early in the morning. That day, on the way to work, I turned over the car and injured my shoulder slightly. When I returned home that night, I said to mother, that was the reason she had cried. Little did we expect the news we would receive in a few days.”
A Ridgefield native, Armando J. Frulla was born in 1922, attended Ridgefield schools, and graduated from Danbury State Trade School, now Henry Abbott Tech. He was a carpenter and worked for the Town Farm — the old “poorhouse” — on North Salem Road.
He enlisted in the Army in September 1941 and was assigned to duty in the medical corps in Texas.
“He could have had a deferment, but was determined to do his part for his country,” said Ridgefield historian Dick Venus.
According to Aldo Biagiotti in his book, “Impact: The Historical Account of the Italian Immigrants of Ridgefield, Connecticut,” “While he was waiting in California for shipment to the Pacific, he became bored and transferred to the paratroopers.”
“There was a high priority for paratroopers at the time, and Armando was accepted and sent to Fort Bragg for training,” said Augusta Brusca.
Frulla wound up in the same unit with two hometown friends, Dominic Bedini and Lester Hunt. In March 1944, while home on furlough, he became engaged to Gertrude Smith of Brewster, N.Y. The next month, Frulla, Bedini and Hunt were shipped to England.
All three landed in France on D-Day. Bedini and Hunt were both wounded and evacuated to England while Frulla escaped injury and was able to fight the Germans. (Hunt later was captured by the Germans and became a prisoner of war; Bedini is also profiled in Who Was Who.)
In December, after spending some time in a rest camp in France, Frulla and his unit were trucked to Belgium where they became involved in fighting around Bastone. “In the fight, the Germans surrounded the Americans and killed many,” said Brusca. “Armando was one of them.”
He was 22 years old.
“He was awarded the Purple Heart, a good conduct medal, but most important, the silver star for bravery,” said Betty Buzzi, a niece of Frulla.
“He was awarded the Purple Heart, a good conduct medal, but most important, the silver star for bravery,” said Betty Buzzi, a niece of Frulla.
Two years after the war ended, his parents, Alessandro “Andrew” and Rosa Frulla, had his remains transferred from the American cemetery at Grand-Failly, France, to St. Mary’s Cemetery.
“Armando’s death crushed my father, and he was never the same again,” said Pauline Moylan.
“The Army send back some of Armando’s belongings. There were pictures, coins that he had collected from the various countries he had been in, and a paratrooper ring.
“Mother wore that paratrooper ring, whose insignia finally wore away, until the day she died.” —by Jack Sanders
Teaching the ABCs
Hundreds of teachers in Ridgefield have been remembered in dozens of ways, but few have got quite the strange notoriety of a woman named Delight Benedict — or, as Samuel G. Goodrich called her, “Aunt Delight Benedict.”
Delight Benedict taught at the West Lane Schoolhouse, which is today a historical museum at the intersection of Route 35, West Lane, and South Salem Road (it’s open the last Sunday of the month in warm months).
Benedict gained a good degree of posthumous fame in the 19th Century when Goodrich, who wrote more than 100 books under the name of Peter Parley, described her in his 1856 autobiography, "Recollections of A Lifetime":
“I was about six years old when I first went to school,” Goodrich wrote. “My teacher was Aunt Delight, that is, Delight Benedict, a maiden lady of 50, short and bent, of sallow complexion and solemn aspect.
“I remember the first day with perfect distinctness. I went alone — for I was familiar with the road, it being that which passed by our old house. I carried a little basket, with bread and butter within, for my dinner, the same being covered over with a white cloth. ...
“I think we had 17 scholars — boys and girls — mostly of my own age...
“The school being organized, we were all seated upon benches, made of what were called slabs — that is, boards having the exterior or rounded part of the log on one side: As they were useless for other purposes, these were converted into school-benches, the rounded part down. They had each four supports, consisting of straddling wooden legs, set into auger-holes. Our own legs swayed in the air, for they were too short to touch the floor.
“Oh, what an awe fell over men, when we were all seated and silence reigned around!
“The children were called up, one by one, to Aunt Delight, who sat on a low chair, and required each, as a preliminary, to make his manners, consisting of a small sudden nod or jerk of the head. She then placed the spelling-book — which was Dilworth's — before the pupil, and with a buckhandled penknife pointed, one by one, to the letters of the alphabet, saying, ‘What's that?’
“If the child knew his letters, the ‘what's that?’ very soon ran on thus:
" 'What's that?'
" 'E.'" &c.
"I looked upon these operations with intense curiosity and no small respect, until my own turn came. I went up to the school-mistress with some emotion, and when she said, rather spitefully, as I
“Having waited a second, gazing at me with indignation, she laid her hand on the top of my head, and gave it a jerk which made my teeth clash.
“I believe I bit my tongue a little; at all events, my sense of dignity was offended, and when she pointed to A, and asked what it was, it swam before me dim and hazy, and as big as a full moon. She repeated the question, but I was doggedly silent. Again, a third time, she said, ‘What's that?’
“I replied. ‘Why don’t you tell what it is? I didn’t come here to learn you your letters!’”
Goodrich said he himself had no recollection of his confrontation with his teacher, but he said that “Aunt Delight affirmed it to be a fact.”
That same night Benedict paid a visit to the home of Goodrich’s parents. She “recounted to their astonished ears this, my awful contempt of authority. My father, after hearing the story, got up and went away; but my mother, who was a careful disciplinarian, told me not to do so again!
“I always had a suspicion that both of them smiled on one side of their faces, even while they seemed to sympathize with the old petticoat and pen-knife pedagogue, on the other; still I do not affirm it; for I am bound to say, of both my parents, that I never knew them, even in trifles, say one thing while they meant another.”
Goodrich’s father was the Rev. S. G. Goodrich, minister of the First Congregational Church, and his mother, Elizabeth Ely Goodrich, was a member of a prominent family in Connecticut.
Delight Benedict was born in Ridgefield in 1759, only a few years after the first West Lane schoolhouse was built. She was one of six children of John and Esther Stebbins Benedict. John
Delight Benedict was one of the very few teachers that Goodrich mentions in his 1,100-page, two-volume “Recollections of A Lifetime,” and he always paints a cold, unflattering picture of the woman. “She, not being a beauty, was never married, and hence, having no children of her own, she combed and crammed the heads of other people’s children,” he writes at one point. “In this way she was eminently useful in her day and generation.”
Delight Benedict’s five siblings all lived longer lives than she did. Even both of her parents survived her when she died in 1812 at the age of 51.
Goodrich was not a fan of the system that provided his earliest education — he may have learned more from his sophisticated parents than he did at West Lane schoolhouse — and he credited much of his best education to reading. What’s more, it was probably to counteract the kind of cold, boring schoolhouse instruction often provided in the 18th and 19th Centuries that prompted him to produce more than 100 books, most of them aimed at children and many of them designed to be textbooks. Instead of dispensing cold, hard facts, the pages of Peter Parley books talked directly to the children in a friendly fashion, and featured many illustrations to arouse their interest and explain their subjects.
Perhaps it was Aunt Delight’s uninspiring ways that helped inspire Goodrich to make learning fun.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Rev. Dr. David Short:
From the single, available picture of him, the Rev. David Short appears to bear out a student’s description of him as “strict disciplinarian.” Dr. Short must have been doing something right: During the dozen years he ran his little school on Main Street, he turned out two graduates who became Connecticut governors and one who was a U.S. Army general.
David Hawkins Short, D.D., was born in 1806, some say in the Southport section of Fairfield and others, in Derby. In 1833, he graduated from Washington College in Hartford, now known as Trinity College. He must have been well-respected there; in the late 1850s, he was named a member of the Board of Fellows of the school. The board, which still exists today, was created “as the college's examining body, ensuring that our high aspirations for academic accomplishment were realized,” the school says today. Around the same time, he was also awarded honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa.
After Trinity, he headed to New York City where he received a doctor of divinity degree from the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church. He was ordained a deacon in 1836 and a priest a year later.
By 1838, he was serving as rector of both St. Paul’s Episcopal parish in Brookfield and St. James Church in Danbury; he remained at both until 1842, and then spent two years with North Salem and Somers, N.Y., parishes. Over the years he did stints as rector of St. Mark’s in New Canaan, St. Matthew’s in Wilton, Christ Church in Redding, St. James in Winsted, and Grace Episcopal in East Windsor. From 1866 to 1872, he was “supplying different parishes,” according to an old church record, and his last assignment as a rector was from 1872 to 1876 in the Northford section of Branford.
Dr. Short was also rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Ridgefield, but lasted a mere five months in 1845-46.
“The resignations and short terms of many of the rectors in Ridgefield and elsewhere in the
Perhaps it was to help support a growing family and seek a new direction in life that David Short decided to open a private school here. Short had been through a lot of sadness before he came to Ridgefield. In 1837, he married Mary Emeline Gregory and a year later, tragedy struck. Records vary, but she apparently gave birth to at least one, possibly two, and maybe three children in August 1838. One or two of the babies died the same day. And Mary herself died four weeks later; she was only 22.
In 1840, Short married Mary Elizabeth Purdy. They soon had a son, Isaac, who died as a child, and a son William, who became an Episcopal rector in Missouri and who died in 1905.
Around 1844, the Shorts acquired a house on Main Street at the corner of King Lane where David decided to try teaching as a more reliable source of income. He established a private school for both boys and girls — co-ed schools were somewhat unusual for the era — and apparently met with some success. The school operated from at least 1844 to 1857.
Among its more illustrious graduates was Phineas C. Lounsbury, who was to become the 53rd governor of Connecticut.
“At twelve years of age, I began a four years’ course of study at a private school then kept by the Rev. David H. Short, an Episcopal clergyman, dean of Trinity College, a most competent instructor and a strict disciplinarian,” Lounsbury recalled in a 1908 speech. “Few graduated from that school without being prepared to enter any college in the land, or fitted, as far as schools can prepare the scholar, for life’s work. It was a blessing to the boys and girls of Ridgefield and the surrounding towns in more ways than one. A strict disciplinarian he was, but I doubt whether he was aware of all the little attentions going on outside, which I will not mention today as I see many of the young ladies here who attended school with me there.”
One can only imagine what those “little attentions” were.
No evidence has been found that Short was ever a “dean” at Trinity, and perhaps Lounsbury meant to say a “fellow.”
Historian George L. Rockwell never met Short, but did know many graduates of his school. While Lounsbury’s description of the school made the place seem harsh, Rockwell offered a warmer view. “Dr. David H. Short, rector of St. Stephen’s Church, maintained a school of a very high character at his residence on the corner of King Lane and Main Street. Dr. Short, after resigning as rector, continued the school for many years. The steam-engine at the candle-stick factory just north was a great novelty, and Dr. Short’s students made daily trips to see it in operation.”
Among the graduates were not only Phineas Lounsbury, but also his brother George — also a governor — Army General David Perry, and D. Smith Gage, who became one of the town’s wealthiest businessmen in the 19th Century (all three are profiled in Who Was Who).
By 1859, Short had left Ridgefield and was serving as a rector in Winsted, a community Litchfield County. His second wife, Mary, had died in 1853 and in 1859, he married Cornelia Sherwood. She was 30, he 52. Perhaps their marriage had something to do with his giving up teaching and returning to church work. A year later, they had a son, but he died at the age of 1. In 1870, the census says he was living in Fairfield, the town where some records say he died in 1877 at the age of 70.
In his last will and testament, Short left his furniture to his wife and daughter, Mary, and two black walnut bookcases full of books and writings to his minister son, William. He had no other property.
David Short is buried in a Fairfield cemetery beneath a stone that says, “Rested from his labors.”
Friday, March 17, 2017
Phineas C. Lounsbury:
The Dry Governor
Although he was governor of Connecticut – the first of two Ridgefield brothers to run the state, Phineas Lounsbury is better remembered today as the man who built what’s now the Community Center, a building of several names. Officially titled the Veterans Memorial Community Center, the place is also today called the Lounsbury Mansion. The governor himself, however, called the place Grovelawn.
Born in 1841 on the family farm, The Hickories, in Farmingville, Phineas Chapman Lounsbury attended the Farmingville Schoolhouse and later the Florida Schoolhouse as a boy.
His parents were devout Methodists. Every Sunday, “we trudged over the three miles from the old homestead to the preaching service at half past ten in the Methodist church [on Main Street], Sunday school at noon, preaching service again at 1:30 in the afternoon, after which we walked back and spent the balance of the day with father in reading, meditation and prayer.”
Lounsbury got his equivalent of a high school education from the Rev. David H. Short’s private school at the corner of Main Street and King Lane and went on to graduate from Wesleyan University.
As a young man he worked as a clerk in a New York City shoe store, learning the shoe
Lounsbury returned to Ridgefield where he joined his brother, George, in a shoe manufacturing company under the name of Lounsbury Brothers — their father, Nathan, had been both a farmer and a shoemaker, as had a sizable number of Ridgefielders of the mid-19th Century. The factory was at first located in New Haven, but later more conveniently in Norwalk.
“Phineas built ties with the New York banking society and sealed them by marrying Jenny Wright, daughter of Neziah Wright, a founder and treasurer of the American Bank Note Co.,” said Main. “Phineas joined the board of the Merchants Exchange Bank in New York and became its president in 1885.”
Over the years he also served as chairman of the board of Atlantic National Bank and on the boards of many other businesses, including Ridgefield’s First National Bank.
He began his political career in 1874 when he was elected a state representative from Ridgefield. His knowledge of financial matters and his oratory skills led him to become a Republican party leader and, in 1887, he was elected governor of the state.
Main said that Lounsbury’s single term in office, from 1887 to 1889, “apparently was a quiet one, distinguished by the passage of ‘The Incorrigible Criminals Act.’ Much like contemporary ‘three strikes’ laws, his law mandated a 25-year sentence for those who committed for the third time a felony that carried a two-year sentence. Lounsbury made clear his harsh view of criminals by saying the prison would serve its purpose by ‘shutting up forever within its walls and behind its bolts and bars, the entire criminal class of the state.’ ”
Lounsbury may not have fought any battles in the Civil War and few in the state capital, but
In Sept. 3, 1872, a Town Meeting voted 104 to 49 to ban the sale of intoxicating liquors in Ridgefield. However, by April 1873, some Ridgefielders were getting thirsty. Twenty-five men turned in a petition to rescind the ‘‘no license’’ vote.
On April 26, 1873, at probably one of the most ‘‘spirited’’ town meetings in Ridgefield history, voters were asked to rescind the ban on liquor sales. Phineas’s brother, George Lounsbury, later also a governor of Connecticut, moved that the selectmen be allowed to license the sale of ‘‘spirituous and intoxicating liquors, ale and lager beer.’’
Up stood Phineas Lounsbury. Unlike George, Phineas was a leader in the temperance efforts. He moved that the vote be taken by paper ballot and that the voting box be kept open for two hours, presumably to allow him to run up and down the village street to gather supporters. When the ballots were counted, 104 favored alcohol sales, and 111 opposed. Ridgefield remained dry.
Battles over prohibition continued for years, with Phineas Lounsbury always among the leaders of the teetotalers. Late in life, Lounsbury owned The Ridgefield Press and told its small staff never to run advertisements for alcohol. One day, he picked up the paper, saw a liquor ad and was so angry, he immediately sold the paper.
Despite their different views on alcohol, the brothers remained close. Speaking at Ridgefield’s Bicentennial celebration in 1908, Phineas called George “one of the best brothers that ever lived — one of God’s noblemen.” George had died four years earlier.
Lounsbury made contributions to the community, including donating in 1882 the land for and part of the building cost of the Center School on Bailey Avenue — he would probably be a bit disappointed that his gift to education is now a municipal parking lot.
He also donated a fire engine, worth $1,000 (about $30,000 today), to the new fire department formed after the great fire of 1895 that destroyed much of the village (his house was only a few doors from the southern limit of that blaze, and he no doubt was especially sensitive to the need for fire protection).
“He was a generous, if somewhat ostentatious, donor to the Methodist Church,” reported Jeremy Main. “When the plate came around, he held up a $5 note so people could see how much he was giving.” (It was equivalent to more than $140 today).
After the war, Lounsbury bought an old Main Street house, possibly dating from the 1700s, that had held three generations of physicians named Perry (profiled in Who Was Who). He renovated
Grovelawn was completed in 1896. It had a staff of 14 people indoors, and 12 for the grounds, which included almost all of today’s Veterans Park block, plus where the Boys and Girls Club is now. He also had places in upper New York State and in Florida where he’d spend parts of the summer and winter.
Lounsbury died at Grovelawn in 1925 at the age of 81. In his obituary, The Press said: “His career was notable and brilliant. … By his masterly insight into public questions and oratorical powers [he] became a recognized power.”
Lounsbury had no children, and his estate was left to a niece who had little interest in living at Grovelawn. The house sat unused for almost 30 years. As World War II came to an end in 1945, the town voted to buy the property as a memorial to veterans, and created the Ridgefield Veterans Memorial Park. However, it wasn’t until 1953 that the mansion was leased to the Veterans Memorial Community Association, a private non-profit group that would run the building as a place for meetings, classes, social events, youth camps, a rifle range, a nursery school, and even a teen center.
One of the more unusual features of the property is a bell mounted on pedestal. Cast in 1845 in Ohio, the bell had been gathered, perhaps from a schoolhouse, during a Confederate Army scrap drive, to be turned into weaponry. The scap collection was captured by a Connecticut unit led by Colonel Alexander Warner. Painted on the bell were the words: “This bell is to be melted into a cannon — may it kill a thousand Yankees.” Warner bought the bell from the Army, kept it for a number of years and eventually gave it to Governor Lounsbury.
The bell was rung to mark the signing of the armistice at the end of World War I and again, in September 1945 to mark the end of fighting in World War II.
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Youth and the Chief
For Richard Ligi, working for the Ridgefield Police was virtually a lifetime affair. He joined the department in 1967 as a clerk, too young even to carry a gun. He wound up being its fourth chief.
A Ridgefield native, Richard Joseph Ligi was born in 1947, attended the town’s schools, and was a 1965 graduate of Ridgefield High School. Although his father, Navio, was a well-known baseball player in his day and he himself became a popular youth baseball coach, Ligi did not play baseball in high school and instead worked after school at Wayside Market to earn money to go to college.
He went to Post College in Waterbury, majoring in business, and in 1967, got a job as the civilian clerk for the Ridgefield Police Department, then housed in the basement of the town hall. “That piqued my interest in police work,” he said in a 1999 interview.
While working at the department, he continued his college studies, juggling that with service in the Connecticut National Guard. He became an auxiliary policeman — able to do traffic details — in 1968. But it wasn’t until 1969, after he had turned 21 and was able to carry a gun, that he was sworn in as a full-time police officer. One of the few on the department to hold a college degree at the time, he had also graduated first in his class of 30 at the Connecticut Police Academy.
From there promotions came steadily: to sergeant in 1977, lieutenant in 1980, captain in 1990, and major in 1996. When Chief Thomas Rotunda retired in 1999, the Police Commission unanimously chose Major Ligi as the town’s fourth police chief, the second one to be a native son, and the only one whose entire working career was spent in the department.
Chief Ligi was especially noted and praised for his involvement with youth. He coached sports
He knew first-hand the tragedy that can come from drinking and driving. His son, Rick, a student at the University of Rhode Island, was one of two young men killed when the car in which they were passengers crashed on North Street in 1995. The 19-year-old driver had drunk six cans of beer before the accident; he spent two and a half years in prison.
Rick Ligi had been a star pitcher at URI which, for many years, has presented the Rick Ligi MVP Award to its top players. His baseball number 8 at URI was retired after his death. In Ridgefield, Chief Ligi and his wife, Dale Tulipani Ligi, established the Rick Ligi Memorial Scholarship, presented annually to a Ridgefield High School senior baseball player going to college.
Ligi also worked to improve how youth viewed the police. He expanded the involvement of the youth officer in the schools and their students, and proposed the “school resource officer” who could work with kids at the high school daily.
“Relationships create better rapport, and that rapport may help kids better understand what we’re doing,” Ligi said.
Ligi’s work with young people began in the 1980s when he coached Little League teams. He went on to coach Babe Ruth baseball, Nutmeg Games teams, and the Nighthawks, a summer baseball league team for high school and college kids. His Nutmeg Games teams were 18-0 over the years and won three gold medals; the Nighthawks teams won the regionals and got to the sectionals twice.
“He just had a lot of respect for the kids,” said Tony Pisano, who helped coach the Nighthawks. “He made sure everybody played and he knew all of the kids and what were their strengths. That's what made the team successful. He was all about everybody; it was the whole team all the time. I'm sure he did the same thing with the police department.”
Ligi died of a stroke in 2008. He was only 60 years old. His funeral at St. Mary’s was so crowded that more than 100 people had to listen to the service outdoors.
“We can call him ‘the just man’,” Msgr. Laurence Bronkiewicz said, referring to one of the readings during the funeral Mass. “His whole life was devoted to justice.”
"His dedication to his work was phenomenal," said John Roche, who succeeded Ligi as chief. "He just loved to come to work.
"He was proud of his men, that's what he was proudest of — to see them do a good job and contribute to the community."
Longtime friends like Chip Landon admired Ligi's quick wit, often served up with a grin, though sometimes he preferred the deadpan approach. “He was thinking all the time,” Landon told The Ridgefield Press, “whether to help you out with a problem or to give you a zinger.”
Sunday, March 12, 2017
One day in the 1950s, Fred Jones’s telephone rang. He picked up the receiver and a very angry woman’s voice began demanding that he do something about the two peacocks fighting in her yard.
“Madam,” he replied patiently, “I am not the peacock warden. I am the dog warden.”
Though born in Canada in 1908, Fred B. Jones spent most of his life in Ridgefield. He was one of the town’s last old-time farmers, caretaker of the working farm at the Brewster family estate, The Hickories, on Lounsbury Road for nearly 60 years.
But he was also Ridgefield’s dog warden in the 1950s and 60s, and an expert lapidary.
In 1960, The New York World Telegram and Sun called Jones “the best darned dog warden in Connecticut” and described how he tracked down the owners of a lost collie by contacting authorities in Long Island, Michigan and Florida, and mailing more than two dozen letters.
The paper also told how one day, a Ridgebury recluse died while walking home from Danbury and his two dogs refused to let police or the medical examiner approach the body. Jones talked to the snarling dogs, then walked into the dead man’s cabin. The dogs followed him and he locked them inside, telling authorities he had just employed some simple dog psychology. (Jones and veterinarian Dr. Jordan Dann tried for six weeks to tame the dead man’s pets, but were unsuccessful and the dogs had to be put down.)
Perhaps it was more of that psychology — or just a good knowledge of the breed — that Jones employed when a wealthy guest at the Stonehenge Inn reported his two valuable beagles had run off. “Solving this case was child’s play for Fred Jones,” the New York newspaper said. “He knew beagles, so he went off into the Farmingville swamp and found the two dogs chasing rabbits.”
He also found a famous dog. Morgan, a basset hound that had wandered away from its
Roaming and usually unlicensed dogs were a serious problem in the mid-20th Century, when there were still farms with livestock that could be attacked. Jones was tough about licensing dogs, so much so in 1954 that he conducted door-to-door surveys of the town to make sure dogs were licensed.
In 1959, when roaming packs of dogs were attacking livestock and wildlife, he pointed out, under state law, that the town has to pay for chickens, sheep and rabbits that had been killed by stray dogs.
In 1961, the town was having problems with dog packs killing deer, which back then were relatively few in number to start with. Jones warned the public in February of that year that he had the right under law to shoot and kill dogs that were attacking deer.
Under Jones’s guidance in 1954, the town built its first dog pound to hold strays the warden had captured. It had six runs. First Selectman Leo F. Carroll said in 1959, when many of the state’s pounds were being criticized as cruel canine prisons, Ridgefield’s pound has “heat, light, meals, and each guest has his own private runway where he takes his exercise at his leisure.”
Sometimes even high-class impoundment did not sit well with locals, however. In 1957, Police Chief John F. Haight reported that some local children broke into the pound and “liberated” a beagle that had escaped from its Danbury owners. Chief Haight said the children felt sad for the dog being locked up, but warned that “sometimes vicious dogs are kept at the pound, and any child gaining entrance to the building via a window might run the risk of being badly mauled or bitten.”
By the early 1960s, the pound was overcrowded and was housing two dogs per run. It wasn’t until 1973 that the town tore down the 1954 shelter and built a new 14-run building. By then Jones had retired.
Especially later in his life, Jones became well known an expert lapidary, a person who cuts and polishes gemstones. And to get the gemstones, he had rocks. Lots of them. “The quantity of rocks in and around the Lounsbury Road home of Mr. and Mrs. Fred B. Jones might lead one to believe that the couple was planning to build a house of stone,” said a 1974 Ridgefield Press interview with Jones. “Not so. These are not ordinary rocks, they’re semi-precious stones in the rough.”
“A rock hound, Mr. Jones is hooked on the beauty which can be wrought from rough stones.”
By the 1970s, he and his late wife, Ruth, were traveling 25,000 miles a year, acquiring and selling rocks in a business called as Fred’s Gem Den.
Fred Jones died in 1999 at the age of 91.
Over his years in office as dog warden, Jones put in some long hours and was on call 24/7. Once he told a woman whose dog had run off to be sure to let him know if it returned. Two days later, his phone rang. “I wanted you to know that Rover just came home,” the woman reported.
It was 2:30 in the morning.
Friday, March 10, 2017
As a young man, Joe Knapp had two strikes against him: poverty and a severe war injury. He overcame both to become a successful local businessman and a nationally recognized antique car collector.
Joseph Lewis Knapp was born in 1929, the sixth of 10 children, and grew up during the Depression. His family was poor and, to earn money to help with their support, he dropped out of Ridgefield High School in the 10th grade. Only 16 years old, he lied about his age and enlisted in the Merchant Marine for some guaranteed pay and “so he could be assured of three meals a day,” son Darin said. When his age was discovered, he was sent home.
He then worked as a caretaker on large estates and also as a janitor at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Prospect Street; he had to walk three miles each way to that job. In 1974, he was a founder and member of Board of Directors of Village Bank and Trust Company, located in the old Playhouse building whose floors he used to sweep. When the Village Bank board decided to sell to Webster Bank in 1998, Knapp was opposed. He wanted it to remain a hometown bank. (In 2012, the old Playhouse/bank building was demolished to make way for the Prospector, a theater imitating the old Playhouse’s design.)
When the Korean War broke out, Knapp joined the Army. He won two Bronze Stars as a combat engineer. He was severely injured when a large Army truck crashed into his tent, running over his legs and killing a fellow soldier while they were sleeping. Although the doctor treating him thought he might never walk again, Knapp overcame the injuries and wound up being able to walk with only a slight limp.
After the war, he and his brother, Bob, started a lawn care, landscaping and tree care business, which grew into one of the region’s largest tree companies. In 1954, they had one tree crew. By 1980, Knapp Bros. Inc. tree surgeons had two dozen crews working throughout southwestern Connecticut, often on jobs for CL&P or SNET.
Both his business success and some smart investments — such as turning $3,000 invested in commodities into $100,000 in 1971 — allowed Knapp to pursue his favorite hobby: Antique automobiles. By the 1990s, he had four garages filled with old cars. A specialty was Stanley Steamers and he owned a 1908 Stanley Steamer Model M, which was one of only two now in existence. He also restored a 1914 Model 606 Roadster.
The Stanleys were capable of traveling more than 60 mph and Knapp would take his onto I-84 for rides — much to the amazement and sometimes concern of other motorists who thought his very old car was on fire. “These people don’t realize what a steam car does,” he said. “It’s a very tricky ordeal to get it going, but it rolls along so nicely with just a ‘puff puff.’ It’s so effortless.
Other favorites in his collection were a 1936 Buick Special convertible, and a 1957 Thunderbird, which he would drive to Florida. “It can do 130 mph,” he told an interviewer in 1990. “It has a 312 dressed up engine and is weighted, balanced and blueprinted. I use it all the time and have a picture of it in front of Disneyworld.”
He loved old cars. “What I see when I look at a car is the preservation of our heritage,” he said. “If collectors didn’t feel this way, these cars would be pieces of junk under the earth.”
Knapp was active in the Lions Club — which for years sponsored an antique car show in town — and other community organizations.
During his life, Knapp battled not only his war injuries, but cancer. At 60, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. He also used homeopathic medicines. “He was an advocate of natural medicine and believed in the power of mind over body,” said a profile of him in 2000, the year he died. At 66, he was found to have prostate cancer, but “he did not die of cancer,” said his son, Darin. “He died of a heart attack.” He was 71 years old.
Joe Knapp and his wife, June, had six children, all with five-letter names beginning with D: David, Daryl, Darin, Dayle, Darcy and Dawne. “My mother just wanted it that way, and she was great with names,” Darin said.