Monday, October 31, 2016

Westbrook Pegler: 
Caustic Columnist
Westbrook Pegler, the caustic columnist who spent years attacking “Reds,” was one of a half dozen Ridgefielders whose writings have won a Pulitzer Prize. His award-winning words weren’t about communists, however, but about labor union racketeering.
Pegler lived here from 1941 to 1948 during which time he seemed better known locally for his attack on Ridgefield’s plumbing code and his efforts to collect bumpers than as a national newspaper columnist. Both these efforts occurred during World War II. 
While expanding his home on Old Stagecoach Road, Pegler wanted to use cheaper, unlicensed plumbers but the town code, modeled after the state’s and supported by unions, required the use of licensed plumbers. Pegler called it discriminatory and tried to get the Town Meeting to abandon the code. He failed. 
He was more successful in his campaign to get people to turn in their steel automobile bumpers to help the war effort – Life magazine featured a full-page picture of him removing his own bumper in front of the Ridgefield town hall. 
Francis James Westbrook Pegler was born in 1894 in Minneapolis, Minn., a son of a newspaper editor. By his early 20s, he was working for United Press and became the youngest American correspondent covering World War I. 
After the war he worked as a sports columnist for a while but, at the Chicago Tribune, soon turned to covering politics, labor, government, and other hard-news topics in a column he called “Mister Pegler.”  By the late 1930s, the column, handled by the Scripps Howard syndicate, was carried in more than 115 newspapers and had an estimated six million readers. He was making $65,000 a year — that’s about $1.1 million in today’s dollars.
Time magazine called him “the great dissenter for the common man,” adding that “Mister Pegler is invariably irritated, inexhaustibly scornful...Pegler applies himself to presidents and peanut vendors with equal zeal and skill. Dissension is his philosophy.”
Famous for his conservative, anti-Communist writings, he “used his typewriter like a meat ax,” said one critic. He criticized virtually every president, and took special aim at Franklin
Roosevelt, whom he called “Moosejaw.” (He called Eleanor  “La boca grande” — or “the big mouth.”)
“He depicted a world where a conspiracy of criminals, corrupt union officials, Communists, and their political allies in the New Deal threatened the economic freedom of working Americans,” wrote historian David Witwe in the Journal of Social History in 2003.
Pegler probably reached his peak of popularity and power in the early 1940s when he helped expose a New York City racketeer named George Scalise, a union boss who happened to own a home in Ridgefield — what is now the St. Ignatius retreat house on Tackora Trail. An associate of mobster Dutch Schultz, Scalise was arrested in 1940 by the crusading district attorney Thomas E. Dewey, later governor of New York and almost-president, and was charged with extorting $100,000 ($1.7 million today) from hotels and contracting firms. But the arrest came only after Pegler had exposed Scalise in a series of anti-racketeering columns that won him the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1941. It was the same year he came in third in the voting for Time magazine’s Man of the Year, behind two of his most hated targets, President Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.
In a 1940 piece, Pegler described how Scalise had used union funds to acquire the 27-room mansion on Tackora Trail. (He also noted that just across North Salem Road was the town poor house.)
His research on Scalise probably introduced him to Ridgefield, and in 1941, he bought the 100-acre farm on Old Stagecoach Road.   
He eventually soured on the town, however. In a 1950 column, two years after he moved to Arizona, he described Ridgefield as “an old aristocratic town of moldering white mansions on a white main street” that “has quietly become infested with wealthy Sixth Columnists” (supporters of communism).
When he was in his glory years, three books of Pegler’s columns were published: “T’ain’t Right” in 1936; “The Dissenting Opinions of Mister Westbrook Pegler” in 1938; and “George Spelvin, American, and Fireside Chats” in 1942.
By the mid-1950s Pegler fell out of favor, and his columns appeared only in the magazine of the ultra-conservative John Birch Society. 
He died in 1969 in Arizona at the age of 74. 


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Alec Wyton: 
Minister of Music
Alec Wyton was a musician, composer and professor whose 40-year career included two decades as organist and choirmaster at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Wyton composed more than 100 works, oversaw the rewriting of the Episcopal hymnal, and earned national recognition in the field of sacred music. 
He spent his last years with St. Stephen’s Church in Ridgefield.
Born in London, England, in 1921, Alec Wyton (pronounced WYE-ton) was raised by an aunt after his parents separated. She encourage his early musical training, which included learning the piano and organ, and performing as a boy chorister. He got his first job as an organist at the age of 11.
He earned a bachelor's degree from Exeter College, Oxford, in 1946 and a master's in 1949.  
After assignments as an organist and choirmaster in England, he came to the United States in 1950 to create a boys choir at what is now St. Mark's School in Dallas, Texas.
In 1954 Wyton was appointed organist and master of the choristers at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a position he held for 20 years. Several months after his appointment, he took on the additional responsibility of headmaster of the Cathedral Choir School, holding that position until 1962.
Wyton tried to incorporate a variety of musical traditions into the music of the church. He provided a performing platform for emerging artists as well as collaborated with such performers as Eubie Blake, Duke Ellington, Leopold Stokowski, and the cast of “Hair.”
Wyton founded the Church Music Department at the Manhattan School of Music in 1984, serving as chairman until 1990. He had also been adjunct professor of sacred music at Union Theological Seminary from 1956 to 1973. 
Wyton left the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1974 to become organist-choirmaster of St. James' Church in New York City. At that time he also became coordinator of the Standing Commission on Church Music that produced The Hymnal 1982 for the Episcopal Church. Complementing a new prayer book that had come out in 1979, it replaced a 1940 hymnal and has been used by Episcopalian churches across the U.S. ever since.
Wyton left New York City in 1987 to become minister of music at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Ridgefield, retiring in 1997 at age 75. He also made his home here. Besides playing the organ and leading the choir at St. Stephen’s, he organized concerts with many guest artists and enriched the musical life of the community.
Dirk Bollenback, who sang in St. Stephen’s Choir under Wyton, said he believed it was during Wyton's years at St. John the Divine that he first got to know Ridgefield, bringing the boys in the cathedral's choir out to sing at St. Stephen’s.
“The boys in the choir at St. John would sing at one of services on a summer Sunday and then spend the day here, out of the city,”  Bollenback said.
“He was our choirmaster for around 10 years,"  Bollenback said. "He was such a wonderful person to work for.” He recalled especially “the stories that he could tell about the various pieces of music that we sang...When we played a hymn that Martin Luther wrote, you somehow felt he knew Martin Luther when he was a boy.”
Though he was “a brilliant man," Mr. Bollenback said, he was also “one of those people who never paraded himself. He was a very quiet and unassuming fellow whose accomplishments were incredible.”
“Those of us that knew him appreciated him for all his knowledge, but also for the kindness and sweetness that was his disposition,”  Bollenback added. “He always left us feeling very good about what we were doing, even if we didn't do it terribly well.” 

Wyton died in 2007 at the age of 85. His survivors include a son, Richard Wyton, an internationally known flutist and expert on historical keyboard instruments.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

William W. Allen: 
Sports grows up
When Bill Allen arrived at Ridgefield High School in 1947, there were 36 students in the senior class, three varsity sports,  and one coach:  Allen himself. When he retired as athletic director 32 years later, there were more than 420 students in each class and 24 different sports being played. 
“Much of the growth was in girls sports programs, which Allen was instrumental in incorporating at the high school,” said Tim Murphy, longtime Ridgefield Press sports editor.
William Walker Allen was born in 1919 in Rockland County, N.Y., graduated from Arnold College, and earned master’s from New York University. He served in the Navy during World War II and, for several summers, pitched in semi-pro baseball on Cape Cod. 
When he joined Ridgefield High School’s physical education department in 1947 (he also taught science), the only interscholastic athletics were football, basketball and baseball — and the football was six-man. “I had to teach Bill how to play six-man football,” former student Fabio “Fibber” Biagiotti said at Allen’s retirement dinner in 1979. “He only knew 11-man.”
As a coach, Allen was  very successful, especially at baseball. During the 1950s his baseball teams won five straight Fairfield County Class B League titles, with Allen using a platoon system to make sure everyone played. The 1966 baseball team went undefeated, winning 15 straight games.
While he was better known for his high school coaching, Allen was also working with younger players. He was one of the founders of Ridgefield Little League, and served as its first president.
“Baseball was his forte, absolutely,” said Bob Mark, who succeeded him as director of physical education at the high school. “He won about seven championships when we were in the WCC He was a great sportsman, great guy. An outstanding person.”
As a proponent of female sports,  such programs as girls volleyball, girls track and girls tennis were established at the high school. 
Allen gave up coaching football and basketball in the early 1960s to focus on the increasing administrative duties of the athletic director’s job. He did continue coaching baseball until 1972. “Coach Allen’s greatest contribution was in overseeing and cultivating the growth of the Ridgefield High athletic program,” Murphy said.  “During his years, RHS sports went from the minors to the majors, as the number of players and teams skyrocketed.”
Ridgefield, which had become a power in the Western Connecticut Conference, joined the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference in the early 1970s. 
“In Coach Allen’s 30-plus years, Ridgefield High sports grew up,” Murphy said.
After he retired in 1979, Allen moved to Rhode Island, living there until shortly before his death in 1993 at the age of 74. 

An avid fly fisherman, Allen also owned property in Canada where he regularly fished with some of the best anglers in the region. His skill with a fly rod was enough to get him featured on the cover of Field and Stream magazine more than once. One of his fishing buddies was another old baseball player, named Ted Williams. 

Friday, October 28, 2016


The Perrys: 
Three Generations of Physicians
  For more than a century, the name Perry stood for health in Ridgefield as three generations of physicians bearing that name treated countless ailing residents.
The founder of the clan was Dr. David Perry. Born in 1747, he graduated from Yale in 1772, and came to Ridgefield soon after to practice medicine. He almost immediately became active in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which was struggling to rebuild after the Revolution when the Episcopal church in town had suspended operations. 
Perry became so involved that he became a deacon in 1789 and took over leadership of the parish. A year later, he was ordained a minister. While rector here, he also served churches in North Salem and Ridgebury as their minister.
However, it wasn’t long before Perry began irritating the church fathers. “The relationship between the parish and Dr. Perry was beset from the start by frictions,” said Robert Haight in his history of St. Stephen’s. “His medical practice caused him to neglect his duties to the church and the annual convention of the clergy. He also made unreasonable financial demands.”
For instance, he wanted the parish to purchase for him a quarter interest in a local grist mill as compensation for providing half-time service as their minister for four years. A fourth share of a major grist mill was a lot more than the 30 pounds a year the parish could pay.
By 1795 the church and Perry reached the point where both sides decided to end his service as rector. Perry continued to belong to the church until 1809 when he decided to become a Baptist. He probably practiced medicine until his death in 1822.
Among his six children, two became physicians. Dr. Samuel Perry moved to the South where he died in 1821, aged 38. Dr. Nehemiah Perry, however, took over his father’s practice
Aside from being a physician, Nehemiah was said to be a skilled chemist and spent much time experimenting with compound medicines, dyes, and spices, all of which were produced at his Glenburg Mills and Chemicals Works in Georgetown. (Glenburg was an early name for Georgetown; Perry wanted the village to bear that name instead of Georgetown.)
“Certainly many of the doctor’s wares brought happiness to the housewife and efficacious remedy,” wrote historian George L. Rockwell. 
Bottles that held Dr. Perry’s patent medicines and embossed with his name are still occasionally being dug up from old dumps around town. One of the most famous of his concoctions was “Demulcent Compound for Coughs and Colds.”
Wilbur F. Thompson, a Georgetown historian, said, “The famous remedies so well known in the late 1800's were made here — composition powders for colds; magnesia powders for indigestion; the No. 9, a pain killer; demulcent compounds for coughs; and many others. Spices were ground and all kinds of extracts were made and sold. The country stores all kept the Perry remedies, spices and extracts.”
Dr. Perry died in 1866 and was succeeded in practice by son Nehemiah Jr. while another son, Samuel, operated the mill.
Dr. David Perry, the father,  may have lived in a house that stood across from St. Stephen’s in front of today’s Community Center. It is certain that his son, Nehemiah Sr., was living and practicing there by 1850, and that grandson, Nehemiah Jr., was living there.
However, after Nehemiah Sr. died in 1866, Nehemiah Jr. decided he could not live in a house that held so many memories of family, and he moved south on Main Street and practiced from a house just north of Rockwell Road. The property extended eastward to where Perry Lane, later named for him, has its northern terminus.
When Nehemiah Perry Jr. retired in 1893, it brought to an end 121 years of medical service to Ridgefield by three generations of one family! He died in 1908.
The old Perry homestead that was in front of the Community Center was acquired by Gov.
Phineas Lounsbury, who did quite a bit of gussying up, turning what had probably been a plain colonial into an ornate Empire-style Victorian. In his 1878 book, “The History of Ridgefield, Conn.,” the Rev. Daniel W. Teller observes, “Mr. P.C. Lounsbury, having purchased the property best known as the ‘Dr. Perry Place,’ has made many marked and modern improvements about the house and grounds — improvements which are still going on and which, when completed, will make his residence second to none in the town.” Teller was so impressed with the house that an engraving of it was prominently placed near the beginning of his book.
Gov. Lounsbury lived there till the 1890s when he decided to build a bigger, more majestic home — today’s Community Center or Lounsbury House — and moved his old house to Governor Street where it became a boarding house, called The House of Friends, for many years.
Judge Joseph H. Donnelly (1906-1992) eventually acquired the building. The business district in the 1950s was expanding and Donnelly — who owned the adjacent land that’s now a shopping center belonging to his family — decided to convert the place to offices. 
Over the years, most of the “many marked and modern improvements” that made the place “second to none in the town” were lost as the building was reworked several times to accommodate the needs of commercial offices and modern building and fire codes. So despite its long life of housing leading people in Ridgefield’s history, little fuss was made about its being torn down in 2015 to make way for a new Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association headquarters.



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Peter McManus: 
Judge and Legislator
In 1945, during the second of his six terms as representative from Ridgefield in the General Assembly, Peter McManus helped draft the State Labor Relations Act. The Republican’s post that year as chairman of the House labor committee was rated the “toughest assignment” of the session by a Hartford newspaper columnist. 
The act established a three-member Board of Labor Relations, aimed at protecting the rights of citizens to join unions and bargain collectively. 
When Governor Raymond E. Baldwin was ready to sign the bill, he called  McManus and other sponsors to the ceremony. It was April 12, 1945. Just then the phone rang with news of Franklin Roosevelt's death, and the signing was postponed.  McManus often observed in later years that he had an edge of Democrats who didn’t remember the exact date on which President Roosevelt died.
Once the bill became law, the governor named McManus to the board, a post the Republican held through Democratic and Republican administrations until his retirement in 1967. 
A native of Scotland, Peter A. McManus was born in 1889 and was trained as a builder and architect. He came to Ridgefield as a young man, at first working for “Big Jim” Kennedy, the town’s major builder.  One of his first significant jobs was construction of the sunken gardens at Casagmo in 1911-12. (After Miss Mary Olcott died in 1962, McManus proposed that the town purchase the Casagmo estate and use the mansion as a town hall, a proposal that did not gain much support.)
McManus eventually started his own construction company, and many men who were to become top carpenters in town got their training under him, including Dan Tobin, Terry Knoche, Gus Venus, and John P. Leary.
When the town had a Trial Justice Court, he was a judge for many years. The court handled  smaller offenses such as  breaches of the peace, domestic disputes, bootlegging, and traffic violations. It was the last that took up most of the court’s time, and one of the most frequent offenses back in the 1920s was driving without a license. One day, McManus heard 16 cases of people caught without a license — he gave the opinion afterwards that half of Ridgefielders on the road had no license. “Some of these people reasoned that because a license was not needed to drive old Dobbin,” said historian Dick Venus, “they should not have to get one to drive the family car.”
McManus served six terms  in the Connecticut legislature from 1941 until 1953, and was also on the Board of Assessors. He was active for more than half a century in the Knights of Columbus.
Two of his three sons also became active in the community — James, as the town’s building inspector in the 1970s and 80s, and Joseph, as a sheriff and volunteer fireman.

He died in 1970 at the age of 80.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jerry Marcus: 
A White House Favorite
In 1960, Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane flight was shot down over Russia. Thinking the pilot had been killed and the plane destroyed, American officials tried to cover up. Premier Nikita Khrushchev produced the live pilot, pictures Powers had taken of Russian military bases, and then promptly cancelled a big Paris summit meeting. Soon after, a rather embarrassed President Dwight Eisenhower had to make a speech in Portugal.  He began by saying, “Have any of you seen that recent cartoon that said: ‘The next speaker needs all the introduction he can get’?” 
The cartoon was by Jerry Marcus, and soon it was hanging in the White House, the first of two to be so honored. 
In the last half of the 20th Century, Marcus’s gag cartoons appeared in every major magazine, from The New Yorker to the Paris Match, and for many years, he was ranked among the top 10 magazine cartoonists in the country.
While most successful cartoonists stick to either magazine gags or newspaper strips,  Marcus was successful at both. His King Features daily and Sunday strip, Trudy, appeared in more than 200 newspapers since it began in 1963, and focused on the life of a suburban homemaker — modeled, he said, a bit after his strong-willed mother who, as a young widow, had to raise four children in a cold-water flat in New York City.
Marcus was born in 1924 in Brooklyn of immigrants from Austria-Hungary. His father died when he was three, and his mother, who had crippling arthritis, depended on welfare to help support her family.
Marcus would recall how one welfare department caseworker would periodically burst into
their room without knocking, and walk around looking for any signs that the welfare money had been improperly spent. One time, he said, the caseworker opened the icebox door, and found a half pint of ice cream that his mother had bought to celebrate one of the children’s birthdays. The woman scolded her for squandering taxpayer money on such a luxury.
As a young boy, he knew he wanted to be a cartoonist. When he was still in grammar school, he sold his first cartoon for $2.50 to the School Bank News, a periodical published by a local bank for distribution to school children.
When World War II broke out, he tried to join the Navy, but lacked the weight. Instead, he served in the Merchant Marine aboard aviation fuel tankers in the North Atlantic until he had built up enough weight to be accepted by the Navy. After a stint with the Seabees in the Philippines, he was discharged in 1946.
After the war, he studied at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in New York City. Almost immediately after his graduation in 1947, his cartoons began appearing in national magazines, including The New Yorker, Look, Saturday Evening Post, McCall's, and Ladies' Home Journal.
Department store Santas were among Marcus’s favorite topics. Financier Bernard Baruch was so tickled by one of his panels featuring a little boy sitting on Santa Claus’ lap that he asked for and received the original. The cartoon’s caption said, “I’ll tell you want I want... I want to go to the bathroom.”
Marcus would often spend more than 40 hours a week at his drawing board, but many more hours were devoted to coming up with gags. Sometimes that inspiration came in the middle of the night. “Believe it or not, there have been times when I’ve dreamed of a gag and drawn it when I woke up,” he told an interviewer. “It’s really not so unusual. I know any number of people who keep a pad near their bed to jot down ideas that come to them when they’re dozing. In my case, I’m a cartoonist, so I keep a piece of drawing paper handy.”
More than a dozen books containing his work, including many Trudy collections, have been published. Hundreds of his cartoons have also appeared in his hometown newspaper, The Ridgefield Press, especially during the 1960s and 1970s when his work ran weekly.
Marcus came to Ridgefield in 1956 and lived there more than 40 years before moving to Danbury and then to Waterbury. For many years he would often be seen walking along Main Street in the village with his friends, especially fellow cartoonist Orlando Busino of Ridgefield.
“Jerry Marcus was truly one of America's funniest cartoonists,”  Busino said after Marcus died. “He had a genuine sense of humor, and his drawings and captions were superb.” 
Throughout his career,  Marcus also did work with advertising agencies, and his series of cartoons for American Airlines was considered a classic. 
He often appeared with fellow cartoonists in programs at schools and libraries in the area, and at VA hospitals. He made several trips to Europe and the Far East with other cartoonists, visiting veterans hospitals where they would draw caricatures of the hospitalized veterans and entertain them with comic routines.
Cartooning wasn’t his only “career.”  Marcus, who’d acted in high school, was proud of the fact that he had a bit part in “Exodus,” the 1960 Otto Preminger movie, as well as in other movies including “Loving” with George Segal and Eva Marie Saint. He also starred in a number of commercials, such as for Timex, Burger King and Kodak, and he had been a member of the Screen Actors Guild since 1970 when he did his first commercial.
“I think, had my life taken a different direction, I would have liked to get into movies,” he said in 1983. “And I think I would have done OK.”
Marcus died in July 2005. His former wife, WMNR radio broadcaster Delphine Marcus, had died just two months earlier.
The second Marcus cartoon to hang in the White House appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1961, just after the Kennedys had moved in and not long after “John-John” Kennedy was born. It showed two guards outside an otherwise darkened White House, with a single brightly lit window.
“It’s probably the 2 o’clock feeding,” one guard says.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Harry Anderson: 
Golden Age Artist
After Harry Anderson died in 1996 at the age of 90, one observer called him “the last of a generation of illustrators from the Golden Age of magazine illustration.” For more than 60 years,  Anderson's work embellished scores of magazines, including Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies’ Home Journal. 
Magazine picture were only part of his huge artistic output, however. After a religious awakening in the early 1940s,  Anderson devoted part of his painting talent to religious art, and became noted for his depictions of modern-day scenes in which one of the characters is Jesus Christ. 
Born in Chicago in 1906,  Anderson started out as a mathematics major at the University of Chicago. As an escape from his math studies, he took an art course and discovered his talent for drawing. He transferred to the Syracuse School of Art, graduating in 1930, and headed for New York. 
Within a year, Anderson had begun selling work to magazines, and by 1937, was much in demand by both magazines and advertising agencies — he worked on many ad campaigns, such as the Coca-Cola Santas and the Exxon (then Esso) “Great Moments in American History.” 
For a children’s book in 1945, he painted “What Happened to Your Hand?”, a contemporary scene with a child sitting on Christ’s lap pointing to the crucifixion wound on his hand. The picture touched
so many people that he did scores of other paintings that showed Christ in the present-day settings.
Although he was a Seventh-Day Adventist, he produced many paintings for the Mormons, including several large murals for the Temple in Salt Lake City. 
Over the years he earned many awards for his work, and was inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame. He was the subject of the biography, “Harry Anderson: The Man Behind the Paintings,” published in 1976.
Anderson was also a skilled craftsman and his hobbies included carving birds, making furniture,  building model ships, and even hooking rugs. 
He and his wife, Ruth, moved to Old Branchville Road in the 1950s, and he lived here the rest of his life. 
“He was a very modest man,” said Ridgefield-born artist Bob Crofut, who studied under  Anderson. “He wasn't for touting himself. But he was one of the best American artists — I'd put him right up with Remington.”
Jim Pinkoski, an avid fan of Anderson, has created a website, HarryAndersonArt.com, which contains hundreds of examples of Anderson’s magazine, advertising, and religious work.



Monday, October 24, 2016

Henry R. Luce: 
The Man of Time
Ridgefield has been a home to many leaders but few could match Henry Luce for power and influence. Luce founded and built Time Inc. into a top corporation, producing some of the most popular magazines of their era.
Born in China in 1897, a son of missionary parents, Henry R. Luce was a graduate of Yale who studied at Oxford. Like so many others in the field, he began his career as a newspaper reporter, working on papers in Chicago and Baltimore. In 1923, seeing a need for a magazine that covered the week’s news with relative brevity, he co-founded Time magazine with Briton Hadden. When Hadden died a few years later,  Luce was in sole control. 
He later started Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated, which became highly successful periodicals, and he was long considered the most influential magazine publisher and among the most influential people in the United States. Luce served as  editor-in-chief of all of his magazines until 1964. He died three years later at the age of 68.
In 1936, he established the Henry Luce Foundation which, by the end of the century, had $900 million in assets used to help higher education, scholarship in American art, opportunities for women in science, and other causes. 
In 1946 the Luces bought the former Wadsworth R. Lewis estate, consisting of a 22-room Georgian brick house on 100 acres between Limestone and Great Hill Roads. It had been created a few years earlier by Wadsworth R. Lewis.
In Ridgefield Luce did little except rest and vote, though his wife, Clare Boothe Luce (also profiled here), was more active locally. He was a conservative and because he and Time supported the Vietnam War, the Luce estate became the target of protesters back in the 1960s. In November 1965, three young men opposed to the war were arrested for breach of the peace for putting up threatening signs on the Luce property. The signs said, “Kill Luce,” “We’re Going to Get Him,” and “Our Country Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong.” The charges against two 17-year-old twins from Tennessee and a 22-year-old student from Canada were later nolled (not prosecuted) in court after the three wrote a letter of apology to Luce. (The signs had been discovered by the son and daughter of Victor Ribeiro, the longtime superintendent of the estate.) 
By 1961, the Luces were living mostly in New York City — possibly because Clare was considering running for the U.S. Senate from New York (she had been a Connecticut congresswoman in the early 1940s; she wound up not running). That year, they were taken off the voting list in Ridgefield — at Henry Luce’s request.
Luce did socialize occasionally in town, and was not one to mince words. At a local dinner party in the 1950s, a woman, knowing Mrs. Luce was a devout Catholic, asked him if he’d ever considered converting to Catholicism.
“My parents were once Presbyterian missionaries in China,” he replied. “Certainly not.” 
Luce is one of several Ridgefielders to have been pictured on a U.S. postage stamp, a 32-cent issue in the Great Americans series that came out in 1998.
In 1989, Time Inc. became part of the Time Warner conglomerate. In 2014, Time Warner, focusing on more “modern” forms of media, spun off its magazines to a separate company, called like the original, Time Inc. It publishes Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, People, Entertainment Weekly, and many other periodicals here and abroad. Time magazine’s circulation in 2016 is more than 3 million in the U.S., making it the top news magazine — a position it held during Luce’s long reign.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Rev. William Webb:  
Fighting Racists and Racism
The Rev. William Webb’s first realization that American society had different things in store for white men than it did for black men came when he was in high school in New York, where he was born in 1916.
“My cousin and I were sitting around the kitchen table talking about what we wanted to be when we got out of high school,” Webb told The Ridgefield Press in 1972. “My cousin said that he wanted to be a rural postman. I said I wanted to be an accountant.
“My father, who had heard us talking, said, ‘Where have you ever seen a black accountant?’”
That incident led him to become more aware of the condition of African-Americans  around him. Frustrated at the inequities in society, he decided to end his education after graduating from high school, and look for a job.
It was 1934, the height of  the Depression, and jobs weren’t easy to find. Webb wound up working on a poultry farm in Ridgefield, a black man in a community that has always been almost solely white.
“Most of the blacks then either worked in the service field or for the town,” Webb said. “There was no real middle class here. Nobody then would think of renting to black people. All were quartered in private homes.”
In the 1940s, one family — the Louis Browns, who had rented a house on southern Main Street for years — managed to buy that house from S.S. Denton; they were believed to be the first black homeowners in Ridgefield. (Webb and his wife, Delita, were said to be the third black, home-owning family when they bought their home on Knollwood Drive in 1966, just 50 years ago.)
Webb said Denton also owned Bailey Avenue properties that he rented to black families, giving them a chance to live here. “It was independence in a sense; the rents were within reach of the people.” 
However, racism was evident in many other cases. “One light-skinned Negro woman moved into a vacant apartment on Main Street,” Webb recalled. “Several days later, the landlord found out she wasn’t white and asked her to move out, which she did.”
There were cases of blacks’ answering ads for rents, showing up and being told the place was already rented when it wasn’t.
“It is these kinds of barriers and handicaps that can become crippling over a period of years, not to mention disheartening,” Webb said.
In 1951 those barriers and attitudes sparked Webb and a group of Ridgefielders, both black and white,  to found the Ridgefield Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization that remained active for many years — with Webb often serving as president.
One of the NAACP’s first efforts was to seek an end to local minstrel shows in which whites comically portrayed blacks. Advertising posters for the events, done by local school children, were very offensive to the black community. 
“They depicted blacks with all the exaggerated and stereotypical black features,”  Webb said. 
It was so bad that “black women would avoid the center of town during this time of year because of the embarrassment.” 
Over the years the NAACP and Webb quietly handled cases of discrimination and abuse provoked by race. One of the saddest cases he cited involved a black man who was indirectly accused of making immoral advances to a white girl at a popular village store called Bongo’s. The charge was not made by the girl, but by a racist-minded employee of the store who saw the two laughing and conversing, Webb said. The employee filed a complaint with the police who arrested and fingerprinted the man. 
Later the black man was subjected to cursing and intimidation as he’d walked to work — all for a fictitious crime, Webb said. 
The case was thrown out of court.
One racial incident Webb addressed gained national attention. On Christmas Eve in 1978, a cross was burned on the front lawn of an interracial couple who lived on Old Sib Road. Webb and the local and state NAACP pressed police for action, and three weeks later, five young men, aged 15 to 20, were charged with third degree criminal mischief and disorderly conduct. Webb spoke at the Ridgefield police press conference and while he praised the arrests, he felt the misdemeanor charges — determined by the court prosecutor, not the police — were “rather light” for a deed so vile. (The ringleader of the group was later convicted in both state and federal court cases, and spent time in jail.)
Webb eventually became active in the state NAACP and served for a while as its president.
In 1969, he was ordained a minister, and over the years served African Methodist Episcopal congregations in Danbury, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Branford, all while still living on Knollwood Road. 
In Ridgefield he was also active in leading efforts to bring affordable housing to town;  he often spoke at meetings to promote the need for lower-cost apartments. He served in the Ridgefield Clergy Association and on the board of directors of Danbury Hospital. A World War II veteran, he belonged to the American Legion and VFW posts. 
What’s more, according to the testimony of people who knew him, Webb may have been one of the finest barbecue chefs in Ridgefield in the 20th Century.
He died in 1991 at the age of 75.

In all his handling of racial cases, Webb said he tried to deal directly with people and not through other agents or agencies. “It’s my way of life,” he said. “I try to understand a person’s character. If I know someone’s character, then I know how to handle the matter.”

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Henry B. Anderson: 
A Man of Land and Utility
An 1895 fire destroyed most of Ridgefield’s business district. One of the big problems when the blaze broke out at corner of Main and Bailey was lack of water to fight it. 
That prompted villagers to create a water system that began operation in 1900. Spring fed and financially unstable, the system proved inadequate until Henry B. Anderson took over.
With his help, Ridgefield entered the 20th Century with both village water and electricity.
Henry Burrall Anderson was born in New York City in 1863. He graduated from Yale in 1885, went to Harvard Law, and wound up a top industrial attorney in Manhattan, with such clients as the New York Central Railway. He had many interests, including serving as president of the Automobile Club of America (succeeding Elbert Gary, the steel magnate for whom the Indiana city is named) and working with the Charity Organization Society, which tried to break the “cycle of poverty.”
In the late 1800s Anderson built a summer home off West Lane in Ridgefield, using it a few years before selling it to Frederic E. Lewis, who enlarged it into a castle-like structure he called Upagenstit; the estate is now the Ridgefield Manor subdivision.
Anderson built a second mansion on West Mountain, just across the line in Lewisboro, N.Y., overlooking Lakes Waccabuc, Oscaleta and Rippowam. Here he lived with his wife, the former Marie Larocque. However, when his wife died in 1903, he abandoned the house, which eventually fell into disrepair and was razed.
Meanwhile, over his years here Anderson had been acquiring land on West Mountain and Titicus Mountain, winding up with some 3,000 acres; at least 600 acres were in Ridgefield and the rest in North Salem and Lewisboro. 
Anderson hired Eldridge N. Bailey, later a first selectman, to supervise building a network of roads through his property, with the expectation someday of selling sites for fancy summer homes and woodland retreats. His partner in this enterprise was Ogden Mills, secretary of the treasury under President Hoover. 
He also established the Port of Missing Men, a resort/restaurant on Titicus Mountain in North Salem with a spectacular view of the countryside. 
Many Ridgefielders, especially Italian-Americans, were involved in building the roads and operating the Port of Missing Men.
With homes and so much land here, Anderson took more than a passing interest in the Ridgefield community and its welfare.
A small water company had been established, laid pipe, and started operating in 1900, but almost immediately began having difficulties supplying water. “It was not financially stable and had not the capital to prosper and give the town an adequate system,” The Ridgefield Press reported.
Two years later, when he saw the problems the town was having with getting decent water service, Anderson bought the Ridgefield Water Supply Company  and immediately set about improving it, primarily by buying Round Pond on West Mountain to use as its main water source and building a standpipe on Peaceable Ridge to maintain pressure.
The water supply needed electrical pumps so Anderson established the Ridgefield Electric Company to serve not only pumps, but also villagers’ homes and street lights.
Anderson sold his controlling interest in the water company in 1928, and through several subsequent sales, it is now part of the giant Aquarion corporation. The electrical company continued for some years under different ownership until it was absorbed by a regional power company.
During World War I, Anderson offered his yacht, Taniwha, to the Navy. It was commissioned the USS Taniwha and was a Naval vessel from from 1917 to 1919. Anderson was at first placed in command and assigned to patrol the New York Harbor area, but he later worked in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington until the war ended. 
In his later years, Anderson spent little time in Ridgefield, though he still owned much land here. He had homes on Park Avenue in New York and at Sands Point, Long Island, when he died in 1938 at the age of 75.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Louise Davidson: 
Artist of Many Interests
Louise Davidson was the epitome of a free-spirited woman in early 20th Century, an artist of many talents and a friend of many artistic people in New York and Paris. Her varied career touched on music, acting, writing, painting, cartooning, and jewelry design. But in Ridgefield, her home for her last 34 years, she was better known for her work on the home front during and after World War II.
Called  “Lulu” by her friends, Louise Elizabeth Davidson was born in 1887 in Jacksonville, Fla. Her great grandfather, a native of Hartford, opened a store in Jacksonville in the mid-19th Century when the new settlement had a population of only 450. Her father died of yellow fever when she was a baby, and she grew up in a household of women that included her mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and great-great grandmother.
Her stepsister, author and scholar Lillian Gilkes (also profiled here), once recalled how Davidson  exhibited her free spirit from an early age. Many unusual characters would visit their Jacksonville home and one day, young Louise — still in a high chair — took a dislike to a woman guest and began deliberately misbehaving.
“Louise,” said her great-great grandmother, “Mrs. Niles is accustomed to being among ladies.”
“Well, what did she come here for?” Louise reportedly replied.
She attended private schools in Jacksonville, graduated from Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, and studied singing and dancing in New York City. At a recital she gave, she met Geraldine Farrar, the opera star from Ridgefield, and they became lifelong friends.
Her voice wasn’t strong enough for opera, but Davidson got a role in the Edwardian musical comedy, The Better ’Ole, which toured the country in 1919. 
Professional acting roles were hard to come by, so she worked as publicity director with the International Concert Bureau, creating advertising and brochures for musicians. Soon, she effectively became the agent for several, even touring with them. She went on to become a publicist for Brunswick Records, a major label in that era, and managed several stars, including Georgette LeBlanc, a French soprano for whom Claude Debussy wrote an opera. The two were to become longtime friends in Paris.
In the early 1920s, Davidson was drawing a comic strip, The Dubb Sisters, distributed by Cosmos Syndicate, about two girls living in Manhattan. Around 1925, she worked with Anne Morgan, daughter of financier J.P. Morgan, and Mrs. W.K. Vanderbilt in raising money to build the 24-story “clubhouse” for the American Woman’s Association (a building that later became the Henry Hudson Hotel).
In 1930, on a vacation, she fell in love with Paris. She spent the next nine years living in a hotel on the West Bank, painting, writing, buying and selling antiques, and designing jewelry for Neiman Marcus. She became active in the Gurdjieff Group, a coterie of artists and philosophers that included Margaret Anderson, founder of The Little Review, who helped introduce writers like T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and James Joyce; Dorothy Caruso, widow of Enrico Caruso, the singer; Katherine Hulne, author of The Nun’s Story; Janet Flanner, whose column under the byline Genet appeared in The New Yorker for many years; and Miss LeBlanc, the singer whom she managed.
Through Flanner, The New Yorker in 1936 published a childhood memoir by Davidson, called The Alley.
While in Paris, Davidson resumed her childhood interest in unusual pets, and allowed a garter snake to roam freely in her room, much to the distress of the hotel staff. The snake was a beautiful creature, she once told an interviewer, but she had to “get green tree toads to feed him once a month. I liked frogs, so I had to give up the snake.”
She also had a praying mantis that she would feed milk and bits of meat, as well as a large yellow snail. “He was quite tame and might have been here today, but I closed a door on him,” she said of the snail. “It’s strange how you can have an affection for a creature like that. But,” she added, “you can be in touch with everything on this planet.
Later, at her home on Olmstead Lane, she would periodically harbor ailing creatures and once nursed an injured robin back to health, allowing it to fly around the objets d’art and antiques in her house — her maid of many years threatened to quit on account of it.
As war threatened Europe, Davidson returned to the United States, settling in Ridgefield — probably because her friend Geraldine Farrar lived just around the bend on West Lane. With Farrar, she became active in the Red Cross and the American Women’s Volunteer Service, which, among other things sponsored the motor corps that provided essential transportation on the home front during the war years.
She helped organize several Bastille Day celebrations aimed at raising money to help war-torn France. For one, Main Street was closed off and there were dances in the streets, sidewalk cafes, and exhibits.
During the war, she operated a small book shop near where Ridgefield Hardware is today, and in 1946, began running an antiques shop at the then-new Stonehenge Inn. She also volunteered as publicist for the Ridgefield Summer Theater. 
Though then in her 60s, Davidson studied acting in the early 1950s with Eva LeGalliene at the White Barn Theater in Westport. 
Although she had studied many of the arts, she never took formal lessons in a musical instrument. However, she did learn the harmonica in the 1920s from her friend, Borah Minevich, a noted harmonica player.
Late in life, frail health confined her to her home that she had shared with her stepsister,  Lillian Gilkes. Unable to go outside, she became a great fan of baseball broadcasts and the New York Mets in particular — she knew every player and a wealth of statistics about them.

She died in 1976 at the age of 89. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Glenna Welsh: 
Immersed in History
Among Ridgefield’s fairly sizable collection of historians is one who is often forgotten, despite the fact that she owned and lived in two of the town’s most famous historic houses, and wrote a book of Ridgefield history. 
However, Glenna Welsh would probably not be surprised at that — she was never one to seek publicity about herself. Even when she died, there was no obituary.
Welsh spent a decade digging into town hall records, old genealogies, and historical papers of every sort to produce “The Proprietors,” a 200-page book about the founders of Ridgefield and their descendants. The book traces the origins and destinations of the 25 people who purchased land from the Indians, founded the settlement, and then saw to it that Ridgefield survived, and even prospered.
“I wrote it really for the people of Ridgefield,” she said in 1976. “I hope the people of Ridgefield enjoy it.”
Welsh literally lived in history. She and her husband, Vernon, owned the town’s two most significant 18th Century houses: The Keeler Tavern and the Hauley House.
The couple became acquainted with antique houses when they bought an early 19th century home in Pound Ridge just after World War II. They lived there 14 years until 1956 when they bought the “Cannonball House,” as the Keeler Tavern was called then. They restored portions of the building and lived there until the early 1960s when they purchased the Thomas Hauley House, built for
Ridgefield’s first minister around 1713, at the corner of Main Street and Branchville Road. They sold the Cannonball House to the Keeler Tavern Preservation Society.
Her first research was sparked by her first house.
“I started out doing research more or less for the fun of it and to find out the correct date for   Cannonball,” she said. Until her study, the Keeler Tavern had been variously estimated to have been built in 1733 or 1748, but Welsh determined that the building was even older than suspected, revealing in her book that it was built by Benjamin Hoyt around 1717 as his home.
Glenna M. Welsh was born in 1913 in New Hampshire, and had lived in New York City before moving to Pound Ridge and then Ridgefield. Her husband was an executive with General Dynamics and after Glenna died in 1978, he moved to another antique house in Old Lyme, where he became active in the Historic District Commission and the local library.

Glenna Welsh’s “Proprietors of Ridgefield,” which a Press reviewer called “at once a scholarly and a very readable and entertaining narrative,” is still available for sale at the Ridgefield Historical Society.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Ralph B. Crouchley: 
Mentor of Boys
Ralph Crouchley was a man who worked in international commerce but came back to his hometown and, as one man influenced by him as a boy said, “He was a father figure for many kids. As a result of the respect kids had for him, a number of boys turned out well — where they might have had teenage problems.” 
Crouchley was the director of the Ridgefield Boys Club during a period when it went from a small operation in an old house to a modern, well-equipped building on Governor Street, before it became the Boys and Girls Club.
Born here in 1904, the son of a selectman and grandson of a first selectman, Ralph Bishop   Crouchley graduated from the private Ridgefield Boys School and Colgate University, and studied at Harvard Business School before joining the Corn Products Refining Company. 
In 1930, with no knowledge of Spanish, he was sent to Mexico to open and operate a factory. He learned the language and succeeded at establishing and running the factory, but by 1936, travel was taking a toll on his family life and he decided to return with his wife and children to his hometown to run his father’s paint and auto store on Main Street. 
In 1942, the Boys Club had been closed for several months because of personal and financial problems. Francis D. Martin approached Crouchley and asked him if he’d be interested in reopening the club. He was. 
Crouchley began as the part-time director, but the job soon became full time. 
The club back then was located in the old rooming house about where the Fairfield County Bank drive-in is now on Governor Street. However, interest in the club under Crouchley’s leadership soon increased enough that money was raised to build a modern clubhouse farther east on Governor Street, site of the present building.
His influence on two generations of young men of the community was almost legendary, and he won much praise and many awards for his work. 
He retired in 1969, but continued many other community interests. Over the years he was a president of the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department, member of the Board of Assessors, served on the Ration Board in World War II and was disaster chairman for the Red Cross, became the town’s first zoning enforcement officer, was a charter member of the Kiwanis Club, and was named an incorporator of the Ridgefield Savings Bank. 
He died in 1981 at the age of 76.
Crouchley’s name  lives today in the fond memories of many ex-boys for whom he was a mentor. It’s also recalled each year in the Ralph B. Crouchley Boys and Girls Club scholarship,  awarded at Ridgefield High School.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Gordon Carroll: 
Editor and FDR Critic
Gordon Carroll was an editor and publisher of magazines that were famous in their day. Today, however, more people would probably recognize the work of his son than the covers of his magazines.
In the 1920s and 30s, The American Mercury was a leading magazine of contemporary literature and thought. Its founders included the book publisher Alfred Knopf and the journalist H.L. Mencken — Mencken edited and wrote for the magazine for many years. The American Mercury published such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill, Carl Sandburg, Thomas Wolfe, Ford Madox Ford, W.E.B. Du Bois, and William Saroyan. 
In 1936, Ridgefielder Carroll became managing editor of The American Mercury — and even published it for a while from offices on Main Street.
Gordon Carroll was born in Baltimore in 1903, graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1920, and studied from 1921 to 1923 at the University of Maryland. He began his career as a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and went on to work for The Washington Post, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and The New York Sun.
It was while he was working for The Sun that a bit of turmoil struck The American Mercury. The magazine had just hired Lombard C. Jones as managing editor, but Jones soon became involved in a dispute with the owners over a strike of seven magazine office workers. He sided with the workers, who had been picketing the offices. Jones quit and Carroll was hired as managing editor, telling the owners: “Please inform the strikers that I am coming to work for you at 9 o’clock Monday morning. I am in full agreement with the principles you are fighting for — that an employer has the right to hire and fire his personnel as he chooses.”
Carroll was a conservative who spent four years at The American Mercury, often criticizing President Franklin Roosevelt, whom he sometimes called the “Fuhrer,” and also often attacking “Stalinists.” 
“President Roosevelt no longer desires recovery under the present Capitalist system,” he wrote in a 1938 editorial. Earlier, he had accused the president of duping the public with propaganda. Roosevelt, he said, “set out to show the world how a real propaganda machine, geared to soaring political ambition and the modern collectivist tempo, should regulate the lives and votes of [millions of] gullible persons.”
At the time, Carroll was living on Barry Avenue and for a while ran the magazine in the “Keeler and Durant Building” that still stands on the south corner of Main and Governor Street, just north of the Community Center.
He left American Mercury and became a senior editor at Reader’s Digest from 1938 to 1941.  During the war, he was a publications editor with the Office Civilian Defense,  and an editor Time, Inc., from 1943 to 1945. There he produced a compendium of World War II reporting from correspondents of Time, Life and Fortune magazines — it was the first book published by Time Inc.
In 1946, he became editor-in-chief of Coronet,  a popular magazine published by Esquire, eventually becoming publisher and remaining until 1952. 
In 1961 Carroll joined Random House editor Bennett Cerf and Famous Artists School co-founder Albert Dorne in establishing the Famous Writers School in Westport. However, after a 1972 expose by Jessica Mitford of the school’s misleading advertising and poor business practices, the school slowly went out of business.
For a while Carroll also ran the Limited Editions Club, which had been producing fine-quality, limited edition books since the 1920s.
After Ridgefield, Carroll lived in Wilton and finally Weston, where he died in 1978 at the age of 76.

Today his son may be better remembered than he is. Gordon Carroll III (1928-2005) was the Hollywood producer of such classic movies as “Cool Hand Luke” and “Alien.”

Monday, October 17, 2016

Glidden Doman: 
On the Cutting Edge of Blades
Blades that go round and round were a lifelong fascination for Glid Doman. He started out designing, and then manufacturing, pioneering helicopters and after that business closed,  he moved on to another then-new field — air-driven turbines for generating electricity. As tireless as the blades he designed, Doman was still working well into his 90s.
Glidden Sweet Doman was born in New York, in 1921. He came from a family of innovators: His father and uncle set up the first electrical system for their small town, and his brother designed engines for Franklin automobiles and the first Sikorski helicopters. In his teens, Doman built motorized go-carts and an aerodynamically streamlined Soapbox Derby racer, winning a regional race in Syracuse when he was 15. He even built an airplane, but could never get an engine for it.
Soon after Doman graduated from the University of Michigan, his brother invited him to attend a Society of Automotive Engineers meeting at which Igor Sikorsky was speaking. That sparked an interest in helicopters — still a very new invention — and their rotor blades, which back then suffered quickly from fatigue. 
In 1943, Doman went to work for Sikorsky in Bridgeport, specializing in making blades strong, long-lasting, yet light and flexible. He participating in intensive experimentation and flight testing, and making major improvements in helicopter blade life. It was during World War II, and his contributions were so vital that Igor Sikorsky himself appealed to the draft board to keep him on the test program.
In 1945, he left Sikorski and founded Doman Helicopters Inc., which produced small helicopters and was headquartered for many years at Danbury Airport. At Doman Helicopters, he developed innovations years earlier than larger competitors; some of them are now standard in today's helicopter technology.
“The driving force behind Doman engineering was sharp focus on understanding what the helicopter and especially its blades and rotor hub were doing,” said Susan Orred in a 2013 profile of Doman.  “The resulting insights produced the firm’s hallmark trait – aeronautic design with elegant simplicity.”
In the 1950s, the company produced three LZ-5 helicopters, which employed Glidden Doman’s rotor designs and other innovations. They could carry six passengers plus a pilot and copilot, and received both military and commercial certification. 
The company hoped to gain military contracts, and two LZ-5s were sold to the Army. However, military never bought any more. The lack of military contracts eventually spelled Doman’s doom. The company, which moved to Pennsylvania in 1965 and closed in 1969, had as many as 130 employees.  The only remaining LZ-5 is at the New England Air Museum at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, which also has a smaller Doman R-6 helicopter.
After his company closed, Doman spent the next few years with Boeing, designing rotors for its Vertol XCH-62 heavy-lift helicopter and performing other rotor research. 
He then turned to a new career, becoming chief systems engineer of the wind energy program at Hamilton Standard, developing very large wind turbines, which have some common blade technology with helicopters.
In 2003, he formed a new company, Gamma Ventures Inc., to market production rights for the Gamma turbines he helped design in Italy.
Doman had lived in Ridgefield from 1958 to 1967 — his wife, Joan, who died in 2003, was a teacher at Ridgefield High School.

Doman spent  his last 35 years in Granby and remained active well into his 90s. Until he died in 2016 at the age of 95, he was the last founder of one of the original half-dozen companies in the U.S. helicopter industry still living.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Francis H. McGlynn: 
Theologian and Leader
Ridgefield in the 20th Century was home to several novitiates, schools operated by religious congregations that trained future priests, sisters or brothers. The largest and longest-lived novitiate belonged to the Congregation of the Holy Ghost,  then commonly called the Holy Ghost Fathers. Now officially known as the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, or the Spiritans, the missionary order bought the former Cheesman estate on Prospect Ridge and trained novices there from 1922 to 1971.
Not surprisingly, the operation of a novitiate in the center of town attracted a number of young Ridgefield Catholic men. One of them was Francis McGlynn, who wanted to become a missionary in Africa. He wound up, however, spending most of his career within 20 miles of his birthplace, not as a parish priest but as a leader and scholar of national reputation, a theologian and professor of theology who taught decades of future missionaries.
Francis Hennelly McGlynn was born in Ridgefield in 1897, attended grammar schools here and graduated from Danbury High School (in the days before Ridgefield had its own high school). In 1918, he entered the Holy Ghost Novitiate on Prospect Ridge, studied at the congregation’s major seminary at Ferndale in Norwalk and at St. Thomas Seminary in Hartford. He was ordained in 1924 and celebrated his first mass at his old parish church of St. Mary.
Within three years, he was named master of novices at Prospect Ridge and a professor of sacred scriptures. Clearly seen as a rising talent in the order, McGlynn in 1929 was sent to the Gregorian University at Rome to earn a doctorate of sacred theology.
For the next 20 years he was a professor of moral theology at Ferndale, serving also a head of a retreat program for lay Catholics.
Not only his scholarship but his leadership skills were recognized by the congregation, which named him superior — the head — of the seminary in 1947 and two years later, the provincial — the head — of the congregation’s entire United States province. During his eight years as provincial, he led more than 100 of the congregation’s operations in the United States, Puerto Rico, and East Africa from the headquarters in Washington, D.C.
But it was teaching that Father McGlynn liked best and after his term in Washington ended, he returned to Ferndale, where he taught and worked on retreats. 
He died in 1965 at the age of 68 and is buried in the cemetery at Ferndale.
The Holy Ghost Novitiate, purchased by the town in 1971, became the Board of Education offices until the late 1980s, and was converted to the town’s congregate housing for the elderly, which opened in 1991. Ferndale was sold in 1979 and is now a 66-acre hotel and conference center called Dolce. 

Incidentally, although it has closed and consolidated many of its past facilities, the congregation still operates Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, considered one of the nation’s top Catholic colleges.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Ferdinand Bedini: 
A Silent Servant
There are community volunteers who are often in the news and there are others who work quietly behind the scenes, eschewing publicity. Among the busiest civic-minded Ridgefielders in last half of the 20th Century was Ferdinand Bedini, a volunteer extraordinaire. If, for instance, you had given blood any time from 1960 onward, chances were that Bedini was at the Bloodmobile with you, either running it or helping out — and being a high donor as well! 
He put in countless hours for the community through the Kiwanis Club, which honored him with at least three service awards. He served his church, St. Mary’s, through the Knights of Columbus for more than 60 years. In 2000, the Knights honored him as “Knight of the Century.”
Born in Italy in 1913, Ferdinand B. Bedini was brought over to Ridgefield when he was three months old, grew up on North Salem Road, graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1931, and from Connecticut State Trade School four years later. He went to work for his father Vincent's contracting firm, taking over the business in 1947. 
During World War II,  Ferd Bedini headed an Army Air Force crew that maintained and serviced the gunsights on B-17 and B-24 bombers. 
Over the years he was a member of the 4-H Garden Club, the Ridgefield Boys Band, boating groups at Lake Candlewood, the board of the Community Center, American Legion, Ridgefield Men's Club, Italian-American Club, Boy Scouts, and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). He also served on the Board of Advisors of the Connecticut National Bank’s Ridgefield branch for 22 years.
In the 1990s, he became one of the area's busiest chair caners, and he estimated he'd done more than 3,000 chairs since between 1993 and 2000 alone. 
He and his wife, the former Angela Antonetti, marked their 50th wedding anniversary in 1996. Mrs. Bedini died a year later.
Also in 1996, the Ridgefield Old Timers Association gave him its annual Civic Award. 
That same year, he was named grand marshal of the Memorial Day Parade. Said parade organizer Rene Franks, “He’s been a guy looked up to for what he's done not only for his country, but also for the town.”
He died in 2002 at the age of 89.
“He was always someone to look up to,” said his younger brother, Smithsonian historian Silvio Bedini. “He was also the most honest man I’ve ever known — I’ve never known him to tell a lie.”


Friday, October 14, 2016

George B. Leeman Sr.: 
Music for Kids and Stars
When George B. Leeman was only two years old, he astonished family members by picking out tunes on a piano. “By the time his fourth birthday rolled around,” The Ridgefield Press reported in 1962, “he was ready for a recital.” 
Born in 1907, the Oklahoma native studied music at the University of Oklahoma and went from there to RKO studios in Hollywood where he worked on RKO’s “Hollywood on the Air” radio show. 
However, he soon wound up in New York, working CBS radio and later television as a composer and arranger for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Dick Haymes, Paul Whiteman, Andre Kostelanetz, Archie Bleyer, and, for 12 years, with Arthur Godfrey. 
For Godfrey, Leeman prepared music for the daily show, as well as Godfrey’s weekly Talent Scout program. He served on the audition committee for the latter, and was involved in the auditions of many future stars, including Eddie Fisher, Wally Cox, and the McGuire Sisters.
A Ridgefielder since 1942, Leeman was instrumental in the founding of the Ridgefield Symphonette in 1964, and aided its growth into the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, one of the top small orchestras in the country. (His son, George Jr., has also been a leader in the orchestra, and wrote the program notes for many years.)  When it gave its first concert in April 1965, the symphonette consisted of 24 musicians, 13 of them residents and only seven of them professionals.
“The reason for our existence is to provide the best possible entertainment for the people of Ridgefield who enjoy music of this calibre,” Leeman said in a 1972 letter to The Press.
After his retirement from CBS in 1959, Leeman gave private piano lessons to Ridgefield youngsters.  He also composed and arranged many songs and musical programs that were performed by children in the Ridgefield elementary schools, where his wife, Evelyn, taught for many years.
“Music,” he said, “is a therapy. Most children find something in music that relaxes them.” 

Leeman died in 1978 at the age of 70. Two weeks after his death, the Board of Education named the auditorium at Scotland School “the Leeman Room” in his honor.