Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Dr. Peter Yanity:
Making Things Happen
Few people have been more involved in Ridgefield’s public life than Dr. Peter Yanity, who was a community leader for a half century. Today, the gym at the old high school — used both for athletics and as a voting place — recalls his name and symbolizes his immense involvement in youth sports and local government.
“We named Yanity Gym after him because of all the efforts and work that heʼs done with kids over the years,” said Parks and Recreation Director Paul Roche. “Pop Warner, Boys & Girls Club, Parks and Recreation, baseball, basketball. He really had the kids in mind throughout his whole life, and really was committed to making things happen for them.”
Peter Vincent Yanity was born in 1927 in Homer City, Pa., and grew up there and in Athens, Ohio. He entered Ohio University, but — still a teenager — dropped out in 1945 to join the Army Air Corps. He hoped to become a pilot, but the training program was full and the war was winding down. So instead, he volunteered to go overseas with the Manhattan Project, to work with the atomic bomb testing on Bikini Atoll. However, his athletic skills won him a different assignment: traveling throughout the Pacific Islands and Japan, playing baseball and football on Army teams.
“He was an outfielder and a pretty good hitter,” said daughter Kathleen Yanity Duffy. “In football he was a lineman.”
Yanity was good enough that he was invited by the Cleveland Indians to try out for their farm team, but he opted instead for an education, returning to Ohio University, where he played varsity baseball and graduated in 1949.
While at Georgetown School of Dentistry, he met Elizabeth Scileppi from Long Island, a recent graduate of Trinity College in Washington. They were married 10 days after he finished dental school. After a year of his working for the U.S. Public Health Service, they came to Ridgefield in 1955, living at first on New Street.
Richard E. Venus was one of five milk dealers in town back then.
“We followed the moving vans so that we could be first to their door to get their business,” said Venus recalled. “Little did I know he would turn out to be such a great milk customer.” Beth and Peter Yanity were to have seven children.
In 1960, Yanity moved to a Main Street house just north of Gilbert Street and set up his practice there. “He was a hard worker,” Ms. Duffy said. “Heʼd get in there at 8 in the morning and usually finish at 6. He worked half days on Saturdays for many years.”
There he and Beth raised their six girls and one boy. “He was strong and opinionated and preached that we all do the right thing, but he was also very kind and gentle,” Duffy said. “He was a sweet, gentle guy.
“He was probably the perfect father to be raising women in the 60s and 70s, when there was all the societal tumult and the roles of women were changing. Where some people from his generation might have resisted some of the opportunities that were opening up for women, he just always encouraged us to pursue careers.”
From his first years in town until his last, Yanity participated in countless community programs, an involvement his obituary called “legendary.”
He served 18 years on the Board of Selectmen, followed by 16 years on the Parks and Recreation Commission — 10 as its chairman.
He was a past president of the Lions Club, a director and past president of the Boys and Girls Club, a director of the Chamber of Commerce, an incorporator and past president of the Community Center, and a pillar of the Republican Party. He belonged to the Friends of the Library, Keeler Tavern, and the Italian-American Mutual Aid Society — his grandfather came from a little town near Salerno, Italy.
He was also an active member of St. Maryʼs Church for 53 years, serving on its parish council and many committees. He and Beth received the 1993 Fairfield Foundation Award for volunteerism to church and community, presented by Bishop Edward M. Egan on behalf of the Diocese of Bridgeport.
He received many other honors, including the Old Timers Club Civic Award in 1998 — Beth was so honored previously. He and Beth were also the only husband and wife ever independently named Rotary Citizen of the Year — he in 1988, she in 2000. He was the Chamber of Commerce’s Volunteer of the Year in 2006.
“He always instilled in us a great sense of civic responsibility and community service,” daughter Kathleen said. “You gave back to your community because it offered us a great place to live, and the only way a community was successful was when its citizens were engaged and involved — not just in the political arena but in serving the town.”
Of all his many interests, sports may have been closest to his heart.
In the late 1950s, Yanity was a founder of the Pop Warner Football program — the first one in Connecticut — which he then coached many years. He was also Connecticut’s representative to the national Pop Warner organization.
“I grew up with Doc Yanity as my coach,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi. The Ridgefield team on which Marconi played under Yanity was so good, it went to Florida in 1958 to play in the Orange Bowl.
Decades later, Yanity and Marconi would serve together on the Board of Selectmen.
For many years he was an alumni recruiter for Ohio University, attending high school games throughout the state to look for talent. Legendary North Carolina Coach Dean Smith was interested in a couple of players that Yanity landed for Ohio University over the years, and Yanity long suspected that this had led Coach Smithʼs lobbying for an NCAA rule change excluding alumni recruiters.
While his allegiance was to Ohio University, Yanity was also focused on helping young players in general. “If he found a kid who maybe wasnʼt, talent-wise, able to play Division I basketball, he had friends from his high school days or Ohio contacts who were coaches at other schools,” Kathleen Duffy said. “There are several Connecticut schoolboy players who went out on full
Yanity was also an accomplished golfer and a founding member of the Salem Golf Club in North Salem, N.Y.
He retired from his dental practice in 2005 and from service in town government a year later, but continued to be active in the Chamber of Commerce, the Boys and Girls Club (he was a member of its board for more than 40 years), and the Lions Club.
He died in 2008 at the age of 81.
If there was one activity Yanity may have loved as much as sports, it was dancing.
Longtime friend Maureen Kiernan, former town treasurer, said some of her fondest memories of Peter Yanity were of watching him dance with Beth.
“They were such a great couple,” she said. “I loved to see them dance. Oh, Lord, did they love to dance together — never got off the dance floor,” she said.
“He was just such a dear man,” she added. “He was such a gentleman in everything he did.”
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