We Often Forget Our Veterans

We Often Forget Our Veterans

Once upon a time, I remember a speaker at Chelsea Parade memorializing the dead veterans.

He said, “We will never forget your sacrifice.” Looking back, I have heard so many speakers on Memorial Day, and at various veterans’ affairs, claim that “We will never forget,” and, the truth is, we rarely remember.

Life in the military is hard, and it is impossible to imagine the suffering the men of the American Revolution, the Civil War, the War of 1812, World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq have endured.

Most veterans, I think, served this nation as I did, as a regular Marine with no combat. But my service did enable the fighting forces to do their job. I understand that it takes seven men, or as many women, to keep one person in combat, yet, everybody’s service is considered equal in the simple term “veteran.”

Monday we celebrate Memorial Day, and there will be speeches from coast to coast and border to border. The orator will shout “We will never forget,” but that simply isn’t true. We do forget, and we remember the sacrifices made on our behalf far too infrequently.

As a boy growing up in Norwich, I remember Memorial Day was taken more personally, and the graves of everyone, not only veterans, were decorated.

Memorial Day started years ago in the South and was known as Decoration Day. Many of the southern women would decorate the graves of fallen Rebel soldiers. The name was changed to Memorial Day, and it was Lyndon Johnson who declared that the idea was born in upstate New York, which I fear is not true, despite the celebrated recognition.

In days gone by, when people had to decorate graves at Maplewood Cemetery, it would require a trolley ride to the East Great Plain four corners and then a walk for more than a mile to the cemetery. Of course, the veterans would place an American flag on the graves of all veterans, especially those who served in the Civil War.

There have been some great sacrifices made by the men of Norwich who served our nation proud. There is a monument in the Little Plains Park, down Broadway a bit from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which celebrates the courage and valor of the 26th Connecticut Regiment. It will be 146 years ago Wednesday that proved to be one of the most tragic days in the history of southeastern Connecticut.

There was a battle fought on the banks of the Mississippi River in the town of Port Hudson. Union forces had blockaded Savannah and Charleston, and the southern armies were moving supplies up and down the Mississippi and over land from Port Hudson.

May 27,1863, was probably the most tragic day of all times for Norwich and New London as 142 were wounded and 52 were killed. Yet, except for a few, we have forgotten that sacrifice. Those going to Mass at St. Patrick’s walk by that monument, and how few know what suffering it represents.

Also from the Civil War, there is a flag that flies day and night in the Yantic Cemetery representing a shameful prison camp known as Andersonville, where 30 Norwich men were held prisoners. Of the 30, 15 died of starvation, or illness or brutality. Those bodies that could be identified were reinterred in Yantic Cemetery, buried in a circle with a cannon in the center and a flag that flies day and night. How few of us know of that shameful tragedy.

No, the truth is we don’t remember. Maybe for the moment, but then they are forgotten for another year when again their sacrifice is mentioned. Let us vow this Memorial Day that we will remember the suffering of the American Revolution and the Civil War, where there was no anesthesia to comfort the men, badly wounded… where the surgery was such that it was usually fatal.

In Iraq today, we have field hospitals that perform miracles every day. While many thousands come from home Iraq wounded, the men do walk and live, when in past wars they would have been casualties.

America has had more than its share of wars, and though many are critical of the wars we fought, the world would be quite a different place without America. Hitler would have overrun Europe, but for the millions of Americans who put on the uniform and fought the Nazis. The Pacific would be quite different today if the Navy and Marine Corps hadn’t stopped the Imperial Japanese Army. Driving Iraq  out of Kuwait and toppling Saddam in Iraq will have value that only future historians will be able to appreciate fully.

Though we make mistakes, our purpose is always noble, and so many good men and women die for the good of others around the world.

Monday, we remember the veterans and their sacrifices. Say a prayer, shed a tear or decorate a grave, but do remember, for too many fought the cost of the freedom we all enjoy.

Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence and Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, all branches of the Dime Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers & Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331

Read more: Once upon a time: We often forget our veterans – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

Streets Were Once Safe Playgrounds

Streets were once safe playgroundsOnce upon a time, about this time of year, the children were looking forward to that long, wonderful summer vacation. It was a different world. In those days, we had neighborhood schools, and I still think that was the best system we ever had.

I lived on Cliff Place and went to Hobart Avenue School. There were four grades, and then, in the fifth grade, we went to Broadway. There were major schools that took the children from fifth and sixth through the eighth grade, but the neighborhood schools took care of the children through kindergarten, first, second, third and fourth.

It was a time when there was not one single school bus in the City of Norwich. The young children walked to the neighborhood schools, and then, when they got to the fifth grade, they walked a little further. In my case, I walked to Broadway School. I would walk home to have lunch and walk back to school after lunch. Everybody went home for lunch from all the big schools and little schools.

There was a two-room schoolhouse in East Great Plain where they now park cars for the volunteer firemen. The children from East Great Plain would later have to walk to Elizabeth Street School which, like Broadway, was a big school. Other big schools were Greeneville and Samuel Huntington.

There were a few intermediate schools. Laurel Hill and Broad Street were pretty good-sized schools, but then June rolled around, the schools would close for the summer. All of the children were active all summer long.

As I look back, there were so few automobiles, we were able to play in the streets. The boys played stickball. The girls would play jump rope and hopscotch.

It was rare that an automobile would interrupt our play. In fact, at Christmastime, when we would have snow, you could slide down all the big hills without fear of any automobile traffic.

Looking back, the thing that changed the lifestyle of this country and the world most was the automobile. Before World War II, maybe one family in 10 had a car, and people would all live downtown in the neighborhoods of Broadway, Washington Street, Franklin Street and Boswell Avenue, not to forget the East Side, West Side and Laurel Hill. You knew all your neighbors, and as you would walk downtown, there would usually be someone on the porch for you to talk to.

At the end of Park Street, across from the Elks, was one of Norwich’s first supermarkets, the A& P. It was built where once stood a most beautiful mansion that served as the office for Connecticut Light.

It was a big beautiful house with a wall and wrought iron fence. That fence, in the summer would have more roses than any I have ever known in Norwich.

In those days, an ice cream cone was a nickel, and while we didn’t have one everyday, there was a group of us boys who would make our way down to George Wallen’s bus terminal, next to the post office, for an ice cream.

Off to the Park

During the day, it was not unusual for many of the boys to walk to Mohegan Park to go swimming. I can’t imagine any children today walking the three or four miles that we would often in the summer.

It is hard to believe, but I recall when many of the little dead end streets in Norwich were unpaved. They were actually dirt paths, and it wasn’t until after World War II that Cliff Place was tarred. Before that, the four houses on Cliff Place had a road of clam shells, and those unpaved streets were never plowed in the winter. But why would they plow them? There were no cars to speak of.

I remember, during those summers of the 1930s, when the world was suffering that horrible Depression, that there were wagons, horsedrawn, that would visit the neighborhoods almost weekly— some several times a week.

The farmers would bring vegetable wagons to the neighborhoods, and women could buy lettuce, tomatoes, and all the wonderful vegetables that were grown in Norwich, Preston and Franklin.

In East Great Plain, where today it is still a fast-growing housing area, there were once big farms — Malerbas and Deutches. The O’Neill farm was where today’s McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts and the Backus Hospital Branch is.

There were the Blackers, and the Zachae brothers, Paul and Ernest, had a big potato farm where today Nordon Village sits. During World War II, I dug potatoes for one day and for a full day’s work was paid $1.50. I only did it one day, because it was very hard work in the hot sun, and I just wasn’t cut out for it.

Busy Downtown

Back in the ‘30s and through most of the 1940s, all of the grocery stores were downtown. There was Ferry Brothers, the Mohican Beit Brothers, A&P and First National Stores. People would walk downtown almost daily, and in my case, my mother would take me with her to help her carry the bags home. You shopped everyday because there was no refrigeration. For that matter, no air conditioning, no television, no computers.

We would listen to the radio, and then, of course, on weekends everybody would go to the theaters for a children’ matinee. There were three active theaters in those days— the Palace, the Strand (affectionately known as the “Scratch House”) and the Broadway Theater across from City Hall. I believe that movies were 10 cents and 25 cents at night.

For the most part, they were simple movies where good was rewarded and bad was punished, and where the script had absolutely no profanity. You couldn’t as much as say “damn” or “hell” in those days, but there were a bunch of continuing short subjects that all children looked forward to seeing — “The Lone Ranger,” “Zorro” and “Tarzan.”

Less Healthy Now

We all would go home when the street lights went on, and I think our activity all summer and all winter was healthier.

Today’s children play video games, and I don’t think they get enough exercise.

When we went back to school, it was always an adventure, and the teachers were so caring. I suffered dyslexia. I couldn’t read and I still can’t, but in those days they knew nothing about that. I was thought to be slow, lazy or more correctly, stupid. When I joined the Marine Corps, some years later, and had trouble with the rifle, the Marines discovered that I suffered from dyslexia.

I can’t help thinking that our whole society would be better today if there were no cars, if we knew our neighbors, our shopping was done downtown, and the suburbs were farms instead of shopping centers and housing developments.

Very often I guess old guys like me think of what once was and feel sorry for the children today because they will never know the pleasures of growing up in Norwich so many years ago.

Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence 7 Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, all branches of Dime Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers & Gift shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit by calling 1-800-950-0331      .

Read more: Once upon a time: Streets were once safe playgrounds – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

Norwich Celebration Promising

Norwich celebration promising

Bill Stanley Photo In 1959, on Chelsea Court, local residents, in colonial dress, threw gold flake on hot tar and created America's first Street of Gold.

Once upon a time, 100 years ago, Norwich had its greatest anniversary celebration. It was a time in Norwich history when there were more millionaires in Norwich than any other town in all New England, including Boston. We were an industrial hub, a transportation hub and, for that matter, a population hub.

In the parade held for the 250th anniversary, the cadets from West Point and Annapolis marched. The president of the United States, William Howard Taft, spent two days in Norwich with his friend Winslow Williams at his mansion in Yantic.

The first flying ship performed an air show at the old fairgrounds in East Great Plain, and it flew for several minutes. Every building downtown was decorated with red, white and blue buntings, and it was said to be, by those who lived there, the most spectacular celebration in Norwich history.

Yesterday was the start of the 350th anniversary, and how different times are. The harbor that used to be so vital is not the hub of commercial shipping as it was in 1909 when Norwich was the harbor for Worcester. Both people and cargo would come to Norwich by boat and then take the Norwich Worcester Railroad. It was actually two days shorter than going around Cape Cod to Boston and then Worcester.

Worcester was then, and still is today, the second largest city in New England. That explains why Norwich Harbor was second only to Boston.

Fifty years ago, Norwich, by today’s standards, was a boom town. Downtown Norwich was alive and vital. There weren’t as many cars as there are today, and the suburbs had not yet developed. There seemed to be a closer knit among the people of Norwich, the merchants and the industrialists.

For the 200th anniversary, the men wore beards and Abe Lincoln stove-pipe hats. The women, for the 10 days we celebrated the anniversary, wore Colonial garb — long skirts with aprons and bonnets.

The ball was the high point of the affair. It was so formal and well attended. Every man wore a tuxedo, and the women wore gowns. That doesn’t happen anymore. In fact, after the 300th anniversary, which was known as the tercentenary, Norwich’s Bill O’Neil spearheaded a drive to mimic the anniversary with what he called The Rose Arts Festival.

The Rose Arts Festival was such a success, at least for a few years, and then, little by little, the events were poorly attended. The annual ball found men coming in T-shirts and dungarees, and then The Rose Arts Festival died a slow, painful death.

Paved with Gold

This morning’s picture is one I have run before, but, oh, how I remember that event. It was my brother’s idea. Jimmy was a great ideaman. He said, “Why don’t we have a street of gold in Norwich?”

He got the Whittaker brothers, who ran a roofing company, to provide barrels of hot tar. He convinced a linoleum manufacturer to give us six or eight barrels of gold flake. One hot summer night, the men and women, in their period dress, assembled at Chelsea Parade, and the little street that connects Broadway to Williams Street was to be Norwich’s street of gold.

During the years of immigration, many of the Italian, Iris, Polish, Jewish and Greek migrants were told our streets were paved in gold. Yet, we could find no evidence any street was paved in gold, and so Norwich was the first street of gold in America. People came from everywhere to take pictures of the street, which was paved over with asphalt on the final day of celebration.

Wrote To President

We had trouble getting publicity. Phillip Johnson was chairman. Ed Leonard of WICH, Jimmy Pedace of The Norwich Bulletin, and for some reason, myself, made up the publicity committee. In a desperate move to get attention, we wrote a letter, tongue-in-cheek, to Dwight Eisenhower, who was president.

In it we said, “With your military background, general, we request that you reopen the court martial of Benedict Arnold with an eye toward exoneration.” It was a joke. We only meant to bring attention to Norwich. And did we ever! The next several days, Norwich was on the front page of “The London Times,” “The New York Times,” “Time” magazine, and the nation’s most popular commentator, John Cameron Swayze, brought the “Camel Caravan” to Norwich, the hometown of Benedict Arnold. It was all done in fun, and it did get Norwich more recognition internationally and nationally than any other event.

In those days, neighborhoods were close to downtown because that’s where most people worked, and they walked to work. Today, planning the events must be harder because Norwich is so spread out, but the committee seems to have done and outstanding job, as the list of activities is overwhelming.

When our celebration is over, the Forgotten Founders, on July 12, will present the annual presidential wreath at the tomb of Samuel Huntington, a Norwich resident who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a president of the Continental Congress.

We became a nation in 1781. Under the Articles of Confederation, it stated whoever is president of the Continental Congress shall serve as president of the United States in Congress Assembled. That is to say, as long as Congress was in session, the president of the Congress was president of the United States. All during the Revolutionary War, Congress never adjourned.

On the day that we became a nation for the first time, with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, Huntington was president of the Congress and automatically became first president of the United States under our first form of government. Of course, the world knows George Washington was the first elected president under the Constitution.

But for some reason, that I still haven’t figured out, this wonderful, historic town of Norwich — birthplace of Benedict Arnold, home of Samuel Huntington, burial place of the Great Sachem Uncas — does little to promote tourism, nor do we celebrate the giants who were born and lived here and actually played a major part in the birth of this nation.

My congratulations to the committee that has arranged all the events that started yesterday and will end with a great big parade July 6, which will be the official holiday for the Fourth, as July 4, this year, falls on a Saturday. We are today but a shadow of what we once were, but we do have so much to celebrate and so much to be grateful for.

So, this next month, let us all participate and make the celebration of our 350th anniversary an overwhelming success.

Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “ The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, all branches of the Dime Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers & Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331

Read more: Once upon a time: Norwich celebration promising – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

Mom Took Unforgettable Stroll

During the past 18 years, I have written almost 1,000 columns for the Sunday Bulletin. Of all of those stories, there is one everyone seems to enjoy most . Everywhere I go, strangers will say, “The story I like most is the one that you wrote about Christmas during World War II.” So, every Christmas, we run the same story because so many like it, and it goes like this:

A solitary Christmas tree graces Franklin Square on Christmas Eve during World War II.

A solitary Christmas tree graces Franklin Square on Christmas Eve during World War II. Bill Stanley Photo

Once upon a time, downtown Norwich on any Christmas Eve was, in spirit and in fact, much like Bedford Falls from the Frank Capra classic movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart.

Years ago, everyone seemed to know each other and “Merry Christmas “ greetings rang out across crowded streets and busy Franklin Square. Policemen, mailmen, shopkeepers, and bus and taxi drivers operating on the square all seemed to promote the season with a spirit of goodwill and friendship.

All the shops at street level on Main, Franklin and Water streets, as well as Broadway, were occupied and actively doing business. Upstairs, over the shops, were the offices of doctors, lawyers, accountants, real estate and insurance companies. Specialty shops as well as Reid & Hughes, F. W. Woolworth’s Five and Ten and the food markets, Beit Brothers, Mohican Markets and First National, were in the square, as were so many thriving restaurants, diners, ice cream parlors and coffee shops.

The city always was beautifully decorated and in the 1930s and ‘40s, Christmas lights were so magnificently planned and installed by our city’s firemen, that we were voted the Christmas City of Connecticut, year after year.

Contagious Spirit

I am not romancing the past, but reporting what used to be when downtown Norwich was alive with activity. Norwich, for decades, was the shopping and transportation center of Eastern Connecticut. The hustle and bustle, the tempo of all the Christmas activity was upbeat and the spirit of it all was contagious.

One Christmas Eve , when I was working as an apprentice photographer at The Bulletin, I was one of only a few who worked that night, and I headed home about 1 a.m. It was snowing as I walked through Franklin Square. We were still fighting World War II, and because of the required wartime brownout, the only lighted decoration allowed was the Christmas tree in today’s picture.

The square, usually so alive, was on this night still, silent and beautiful. I went back to The Bulletin to get my camera and capture the moment on film. When I returned, the snow was a little deeper.

Setting my camera on a tripod in front of the Mohican Market, and pointing my camera down Main Street toward Shannon Corner, I was interrupted. Walking into the picture to my right was a solitary woman. Before taking the photo, I waited for her to pass.

A Walk in the Snow

As she came closer, I could see she was enjoying a walk in the snow, in no hurry, and holding a single red rose, which she lifted to her nose to enjoy the fragrance. As she drew closer, I was totally surprised. Walking in the snow, smelling a rose and enjoying her thoughts and solitude on Christmas Eve , was Myrtle Stanley, my mother.

Her presents were wrapped and her family was home. She wanted a moment to be alone. Loving to walk in the snow, she bundled up warmly, and took a rose from a Christmas bouquet and walked from Cliff Street to Norwich Free Academy; and on her way home met up with me at 1:30 a.m. on Franklin Square. It was a most unlikely event, but one I’ll never forget.

Although it was late, we walked home the long way together that night and talked, reflecting on our blessings and how good life was at that moment for the family.

She was my greatest teacher and cheerleader.

Who would ever have imagined that as I took today’s picture, while the city of 38,000 slept, that my mother, of all people, would have walked into this wonderful moment.

Perhaps I’ve been too personal today, but one of the lessons of Christmas is about motherhood. Today’s picture is very special to me because of the memory of that beautiful night and that beautiful woman.

Once upon a time, Christmas Eve in downtown Norwich was a scene from Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Thinking back on that night and my mother, now gone, I know if she were here, she would insist I use this Sunday column as the most wonderful opportunity to wish everyone, everywhere a very merry Christmas.

Read more: Bill Stanley: Mom took unforgettable stroll – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

Norwich Fortunate To Have Backus

Norwich fortunate to have Backus

The Edward and Mary Lord Emergency Care and Trama Center entrance at the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.

Once upon a time, The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich was to me the image of medical care for others and not much more. During these past 80-some years, Backus Hospital has played a major part in my life and, to a lesser degree, I have played some small part in the history of Backus Hospital. I was born to Mr. and Mrs. James Stanley in July 1929. A few years later, in 1932, another Stanley was born; my wonderful brother, Jim.

As a boy, I had allergies, and they took me to Backus Hospital and stuck pins in my arm. If the spot turned red, I was allergic, and, as I remember, I was allergic to everything from lettuce and tomatoes to things I hadn’t even eaten yet.

Then it was determined I had to have my tonsils out. It would have been nice to go to Backus Hospital, but it was during the Depression, and there was no insurance and no money. My aunt, Doris Dugas, was a nurse, so why couldn’t the tonsils be removed in the kitchen on a flat ironing board? That’s exactly what happened at 21 Winchester St.

They held a cloth over my nose, added ether, and Dr. Mahoney, assisted by my Aunt Doris, removed my tonsils in the kitchen. Then they moved me into my grandmother’s room, and for two days I suffered throat fires after surgery.

The next time Backus came into my life, it was because of my dad. He was only 47 and had suffered pulmonary illnesses all his life. After his death, Dr. Martin said, “I always thought your dad had tuberculosis.”

I stayed with him at Backus Hospital every night for about a week. He was delirious all of the time and made no sense, but as the sun came up in the morning, he spoke in a very clear voice. He said, “Bill, I’m going now. Make me two promises. Promise me to take care of your mother, and promise me you will never drink.”

I did make those promises and did, to the best of my ability, keep both. My mother is now gone, and I do not drink to this day.

Then Backus Hospital came into our lives years later. It was about being born again. Our son, Bill, was delivered at the height of Hurricane Carol on Aug. 31, 1954. Dr. John Martin was a general practitioner and also the obstetrician of the day.

Bill was born with some crippling birth defects, which were later corrected. They said the windows blew out in the delivery room, and the power went off at the hospital. I had to wonder what Peggy and I were giving birth to.

But Bill has proved to be the most wonderful son that any man could have, and my youngest, Mary, during this ordeal has been my Florence Nightingale. He’s done more with his life in his short years, though today he has two sons—Jimmy in college, and the youngest, Billy, who will graduate from New London High School this year. Life goes on.

After Billy, Backus Hospital gave us our daughter, Carol, and a second daughter, Mary — delivered by my aunt, Doris Dugas, who is today a legend in the maternity ward of Backus Hospital.

Last Monday, as I took a step up from the family room into the kitchen, I lost my balance and fell on my spine, my elbow, and my head. It was a solid AAA oak floor. I called 911 and spent several days at Backus Hospital.

Through the years, I have had nine major operations and a bunch of little ones. Many of them were done at Backus Hospital, though I will say they took my lung out at Dempsey and gave me a new aorta and quadruple heart bypass at Hartford Hospital.

Time To Think

Last week, as I lay in my hospital bed at Backus, I thought how fortunate we, as a community, are to have such a wonderful hospital. Tom Pipicelli has been chief executive officer from the time I served on the board. He is stepping down in favor of another wonderful man, who I know will do a great job, David Whitehead.

David is well organized. He has a heart, but the mind of a corporate manager. He is exactly the right replacement for Tom Pipicelli. Of course, standing in the wings is the Chief Financial Officer Dan Lohr, who will give the facility its continued steadiness.

But last week, I was struck by the many times I was asked my date of birth. I am now Bill Stanley plus my date of birth. I know that is to keep me safe so they do not mix me up with another Bill Stanley, but it was asked sometimes by one nurse right after the other. As one was giving me a shot, another was taking my blood pressure, but every nurse, on every shift, was just wonderful.

There were certain shifts when the procedures were a bit more painful, or at least less comfortable, but those nurses couldn’t have been better. As I say, I thought quite frequently how lucky we are to have such a wonderful hospital — for that matter, a lot of wonderful things at Backus Hospital and in Norwich.

Quick Response

When I made the call to 911, American Ambulance and East Great Plain both responded. I got to smile at Pat Coleman before he helped them put me into Ron Aliano’s American Ambulance. The X-rays proved I had a couple of bad bumps, but nothing broken; a small dent in the floor and nothing more.

So now, a week later, I am sitting here with Fran Rondeau doing the column and thinking of the week just past and how comforting it was to call 911 and have them take me to our wonderful Backus Hospital. I even found pride and happiness as the ambulance backed into the new emergency room that is dedicated to Ed and Mary Lord. As you lay in the ambulance and they back up, you see Ed and Mary Lord’s name on the building before you enter the emergency room, and I thought of what wonderful, generous sponsors they are.

It is fair to say I am alive today because I have good doctors who have prescribed good medicine and procedures. Dr. Paul Deutsch is my No. 1 man, and has saved me during many medical crises. Locally, I have had surgery performed by Dr. Tony Tramontozzi, Dr. Larry Coletti and Dr. Sully Ahamed. Another No. 1 man is Dr. Frank Friedman. I hesitate to ever go into surgery without Frank being present.

Being laid up for a week at Backus Hospital gave me so much time to think, and I did think how lucky I am as a person, and Norwich is as a community, to have such a great hospital. But then, too, I think of the volunteers who answered the ambulance call and American Ambulance, which has taken me to the hospital approximately eight times. This old town of Norwich, and its agencies seem to work so well that we often forget how lucky we are.

Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, newest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, Magazines & More, all branches of the Dime Savings Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers and Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331

Read more: Once upon a time: Norwich fortunate to have Backus – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

It’s Time To Tell Dad You Love Him

It’s time to tell dad you love him

Once upon a time, I had a most wonderful father. To be sure, he was sick most of his life, but he had such outstanding qualities. He was honest, sincere, he liked helping other people, and he certainly loved his family.

I think it is true that whenever your mother or your father dies, you somehow feel you never did enough for them while they were alive. But, if you search your memory, you will come up with things where what you did made dad very proud, very happy, and well rewarded for being your father.

I grew up during the Depression and then during the war years. My dad loved Winston Churchill.

He was a voice from England who had predicted the evil of Adolph Hitler. Churchill warned Europe to be prepared, but as so many voices, most people paid no attention to him. In fact, the prime minister of England, a fellow named Chamberlain, said Hitler was a good man.

It was 1948, and at the Norwich Summer Theater, Winston Churchill’s daughter, Sarah, was in a play at the Masonic Temple co-starring with Jeffrey Lynn, a popular star of the day.

I was the press photographer for the Summer Theater, and I overheard Sarah Churchill say she had to get to the post office to pick up her mail. Stars who traveled all summer with summer theater groups would always have their mail forwarded to general delivery at the next town they were performing in.

My dad was superintendent of mail, and I asked Sarah Churchill to please request that my father get her mail. I told her how my dad respected her father, and she was very good about it. She said, “Why don’t I tell your dad that my father, Winston, told me if I were ever in Norwich, Connecticut, I should look up Jim Stanley?”

So, that night, when my dad came home from supper, he was a different man. He couldn’t wait to tell us all what had happened. He said Winston Churchill’s daughter had stopped at the post office and brought him greetings from her father in England.

On another occasion, when dad was virtually dying, I took my girlfriend to New York to a Yankees’ game. In 1948, I worked for The New York Herald Tribune and had covered a lot of games at Yankee Stadium. I got to know Mel Allen, who was the voice of the New York Yankees, and asked him if he would say hello to my dad, who would be listening to the game alone in his bedroom.

Allen said he couldn’t do it. “I can’t talk to individual people,” he said, “or there would be no end to it.” But to my surprise, in the seventh inning, as everybody stood to stretch, what came over the radio was more than I could have hoped for as Mel Allen said, “Tonight I want to talk to a great Yankee fan in Norwich, Conn. His name is Jim Stanley, and Jim is having a bit of bad health. But I want to make a commitment to you, Jim. You get better, and if the Yankees win the pennant, next year I want you in the broadcast booth with me for the World Series.”

My mother said dad cried like a baby. Of course, he was dead in a few weeks. It was a promise Mel Allen knew he would never have to keep.

When it came time to die, dad was taken to Backus Hospital. He was delirious and virtually in a coma. For seven nights, I stayed with him all night. On the final night, early in the morning, in a very clear voice, my dad said, “Bill, I am going to go now, and I want you to go home.” But then he said, “Please make me two promises. Please take care of your mother, and please don’t ever drink.”

My mother is gone now, but I did my best to care for her, and to this day, I am a teetotaler. I don’t drink at all because my dad asked me not to.

There were time I broke his heart, I know, but I am not going to share those moments with you. But on this Father’s Day, I will think of my dad and wish that I could have done more for him.

Let me speak to all of you whose fathers are still alive and tell you, this day, do what you may never have done before. I know you girls tell your dad you love him all the time, but you men and boys out there, when was the last time you told your dad you loved him? Has he ever heard those words from you mouth? If ever there was a day to say it, it is today.

So, mark my words, the day will come when you will have wished you did the right thing when it is too late and you can only have regrets of what you could have done and didn’t do.

Being a father is a very special obligation…to set good examples…to instruct your children, by example, how to live life…how to respect tradition…how to love family and be grateful for all of your blessings.

Father’s Day is never as sentimental as Mother’s Day. That may be all the more reason why on this Father’s Day, if dad is alive, you should find an opportunity to tell him how much he means to you, how grateful you are for all he had done, and you can say all of that best by simply saying, “Dad, I love you.” Three little words that will mean so much more to the old man on this day, once per year.

Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, Magazines & More, all branches of the Dime Savings Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers and Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331

Read more: Once upon a time: It’s time to tell dad you love him – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

We Seem A Little Less Civil These Days

Dino Malogrides

Dino Malogrides, one of Norwich's most popular bands, was in demand for New Year's Eve parties like this one at the Norwich Inn in the 1950's. 1227 Bill Stanley

Once upon a time, looking back, things were so primitive. It is hard for an old man to realize we have come so far.

I was born in 1929, the year of the stock market crash. Two years before I was born, Al Jolson starred in a movie called “The Jazz Singer.” It was a film about a 1925 Broadway play. It was historic because it was the first talking movie.

In the early 1920s, all movies had subtitles and there would be a piano player or, in the better theaters, an organist who would improvise music to go with what was on the screen and the printed dialogue.

I was born when Herbert Hoover was president and was 3 years old when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected. As I grew older, I remember Roosevelt’s “Fireside Chats.” Everybody had a big radio in the living room and, hard as it may be to believe, we all sat around and listened many programs — but especially the president, FDR.

There was “Fibber McGree and Molly,” Jack Benny with his sidekick comedian, Rochester, and Edgar Bergen with his puppet, Charlie McCarthy. Late afternoons, everyday, there were special programs for the children: “Little Orphan Annie,” “Captain Midnight” and “The Lone Ranger,” who was on early evenings for both adults and children.

It was a different time, and the world was simpler. The morality was so much stronger. You couldn’t say “hell” or “damn” on the radio or in motion pictures. Would you believe, even the word “pregnant” was considered off limits? You could say a woman was expecting, or the stork was coming, but pregnant was unacceptable.

Then, during the war years, America had a 16-million man army, and everybody who could walk was in the service. One of the popular songs of the day was, “They Are Either Too Young or Too Old.” The music was all positive, and the lyrics of a song all told a story.

Many of the songs that were sung in England would be broadcast to America. Vera Lynn sang, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square.” She also sang “Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart.” The radio signal from England was often hard to receive, but the songs were melancholy and most of our men were either in England or in the Pacific.

To be sure, there were other songs that tried to cheer up wartime America — “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer” and, of course, the Andrews Sisters with “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” After Pearl Harbor, the most popular song was “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.” There was  comical band known as Spike Jones, whose popular hit was “Der Fuhrer’s Face.” How often the music reflects the period in our history.

Traveling Show

Les Brown was the band that traveled with Bob Hope and the USO overseas. His hits were “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night in the Week,” and his theme song during the war years was “Sentimental Journey.”

During the war, the most popular band was The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Miller actually died in a plane crash in Europe. But his music, such as “Moonlight Serenade” and “In the Mood,” is so haunting to those of us who lived through the war years.

The vocalists of the time were Vaughn Monroe, who made famous a wartime song, “The Last Time I Saw Paris,” and Bing Crosby introduced “White Christmas” for the first time. Those years, looking back, were so sad, but America won the war in Europe and the war in the Pacific in less time than it took to defeat Iraq.

Amazing as it was, a German scientist escaped Nazi Germany, worked in America and developed and delivered the first atomic bomb in less than four years.

The 1950s were different. The men were all home. They were building homes and having babies, and America’s economy was booming. It was in the 1950s that commercial air transport developed. The biggest airline in the world was Pan American.

As I look back on New Year’s Eve, I remember how many neighborhood parties there would be, and it seemed every house had a stand-up piano. My dad was a great piano player. He played by ear, and he was the hit of every party because he could play any song that was requested.
Sunday afternoons, in the winter, I remember him sitting in a darkened living room playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Second Piano Concerto,” but on New Year’s Eve, he would play, “The Gang’s All Here.”

Group Celebrations

Not so long ago, New Year’s Eve was more about different fraternal organizations that would often have public celebrations of the New Year. There were the Masons and the Knights of Columbus. There were the animal and bird clubs: the Moose, the Elk, the Lions, the Eagles.

The most popular local bands in those years were Dino Malogrides, Brennan/Quinn, et al. On the national scene, at midnight, as the old year slipped away and the New Year was ushered in, I remember the music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians who played “Auld Lang Syne.” Today, I long for those New Year’s Eves. They were so much simpler and spoke with a higher degree of morality.

This year, on television, the kids will be scantily dressed, singing songs that, to me, have no meaning. It will be drums and guitars, when years ago, it was a full orchestra and songs that were romantic and sentimental. But at least they had meaning. The lyrics of the songs years ago were, in themselves, a piece of art, and every song carried a message that you could clearly understand.

I guess it is fair to say that the only thing wrong with today’s generation is I am not part of it. I am sure if I were younger I would enjoy and understand how to celebrate New Year’s Eve in today’s 21st century. But for this old timer, and many of my readers who do remember the war and the good years after World War II, we also enjoy the memories of holidays past when, if you will forgive me for the term, I think we were more civilized.

Looking at the world today, with all of its problems, and America, with its debt, unemployment and deteriorating morals, I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

I will close by saying, I think I was born at the right time, and the way the world is going, it seems to me I will be leaving this world at the right time.

Happy 2010 everybody.

Penny Postcards Give Glimpse Of Past

Penny postcards give glimpse of past

Norwich City Hall photograph on page 33 in Postcard History Series: Norwich. Book by William Shannon, David Oat, Eric Beit, Leslie Furrey, and Dale Plummer

Once upon a time, you could send a postcard for a penny. Many of us still refer to postcards as penny postcards.

It was a different era. Photography was relatively new, and people were traveling more than they had in years gone by. But in those days, if Aunt Sarah took the bus to Hartford, she would send all of her friends a penny postcard … pictures of the Travelers Building, or the state Capitol, or even the bus terminal. It would simply be addressed on the front and Aunt Sarah would sign the card on the back. It cost a penny to mail it.

But, believe it or not, in Norwich, where the main post office was, there was a mail delivery twice a day. One in the morning; one in the afternoon. People were writing back and forth to each other. It was not unusual to give your mailman a letter for a friend on the other side of town in the morning, and that letter would be delivered in the afternoon. That doesn’t work any more.

I have a letter that is mailed to me from New London once per week. It is mailed on Friday, and I either get it on that Saturday morning, or it comes a week from Saturday. It is the same letter every week, and one week it takes a day; the next week it takes eight days.

But, let’s get back to the postcards. Those penny postcards have turned out to be classics. They had pictures of Norwich — every part of it. The Falls, Mohegan Park, Franklin Square, the harbor, City Hall and Norwich Free Academy. In time, those black and white postcards became collectors’ items.

I think George Strouse may have the most complete collection of penny postcards in town. But Bill Shannon and Dave Oat have wonderful collections.

There is a brand new book out that I think is simply marvelous. It is my kind of book, and if you like my column, it may well be your kind of book. It is published by Bill Shannon, Dave Oat, Eric Beit, Leslie Furrey and Dale Plummer. It features some of the most wonderful views of Norwich, many of them historic.

What’s Inside

For example, on Page 10 there is a picture of the old City Hall that used to be on Court Street, just above Church Street on Jail Hill. It burned, and so they replaced it with this magnificent City Hall we have today on Union Square.

There are pictures of Norwich’s old mills, the cemeteries, Indian Leap (The Falls), and The William W. Backus Hospital when it was so beautiful. They even have Benedict Arnold’s home where he was born and raised. Those cards are rare as the house was torn down in 1853.

There are cards of the First Congregational Church and Samuel Huntington’s home, the Colonial Cemetery in Norwichtown and Lowthrope Meadows. Oh, the pictures go on and on, one more reminiscent of the past than the last. There are pictures of the old Shannon Building before the fire, pictures of the fire, and the new Shannon Building that was rebuilt.

The book shows the troops marching off to war during World War I and the advent of the trolley in Franklin Square. There are pictures of the 1938 flood and our wonderful railroad station that was such a vital part of Norwich years ago, and photos of the white horses that pulled the fire equipment to the fires.

A Gift For City

What a proud city we were with the Broadway Theatre and national stars that entertained there. All of these are in this wonderful book. They are all picture postcards from the past. It is something that I think everyone in Norwich would enjoy.

It shows skating on the Thames River in 1904, and The Falls covered with ice from many of those cold winters we used to have. There are some beautiful pictures, though a bit romantic, of Mohegan Park, NFA and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Broadway and Broad Street schools are part of the book.

I just thought this morning I would write about something most people have forgotten about or never knew about in the first place — old postcards.

I remember my mother had shoe boxes filled with postcards, and when I was sick home from school, I would love to look through those shoe boxes and see penny postcards from Hartford or New Haven. Even Providence was an event worth recording.

Messages on penny postcards came much later. First the card was about the image on the front, and they were beautiful. It was a worthwhile effort. Many of those postcards today remind us of what we once were, and Norwich was such a beautiful town. There were so many events that lent themselves to postcards — band concerts and parades — so much. Not anymore

Uplifting Memories

Today in the news we are always reading about the State Hospital, and this wonderful, little book titled “Norwich” has the first pictures of the State Hospital. What a facility it was. It was the finest in the state, and we were all so proud of it.

I must confess, I think the book is a bit pricey. It sells for $22, but I would be willing to pay much more than that because I think it is that valuable. I think it is a classic book — one that will give joy to every generation. It will remind old people, like me, what it was like when we were young, and it will illustrate to younger people what Norwich was like before they were born.

Now, let me tell you where you can get this wonderful book that does such credit to Norwich: Ace Home Center, Backus Hospital Gift Shop, Uncas Pharmacy, Greeneville Pharmacy, Walgreens Drug Store (Main Street location), Bank Square Books, Borders, Waldenbooks and Barnes and Noble.

Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, all branches of Dime Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers & Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331

Read more: Bill Stanley: Penny postcards give glimpse of past – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

Fourth Has Lost A Little Magic

Fourth has lost a little magic

Once upon a time, there was such a magic to the Fourth of July.

As children, we loved Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter, but the Fourth of July was the most wonderful day of the year. In those days, you could shoot firecrackers, and everybody had them.

Then, at night, we had the sky rockets, Roman candles and pinwheels.

As I recall, sky rockets cost 15 cents apiece, and you would put one in a milk bottle, light the fuse and it would go straight up in the air. We had fountains, which you would light, and they would create a fountain 4 or 5 feet high of bright powder and heavy smoke.

There was a quality about the Fourth of July, different from other holidays. There was an aroma.

All of the fireworks had a smell to them. All day, into the late night, and then lingering the next morning, was the smell of the Fourth of July.

The Fourth of July, of course, is Independence Day because it was on July 4, 1776, that members of the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. After its adoption, the Declaration was read to the public in various American cities. Wherever they heard it, patriots erupted in cheers and celebration.

There was a man from Massachusetts, the second president of the United States, John Adams, who said he believed the Fourth of July would be celebrated by succeeding generations as a great anniversary festival. He wrote to his wife, Abigail, “It ought to be celebrated with pomp and parades, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illumination from one end of the continent to the other.”

There was a different patriotism in the 1930s and 1940s. The 1930s, of course, we suffered the Great Depression … where nobody had a job, or so it seemed … where many families went to bed at night hungry … where the children wore hand-me-downs. We were taught in school what a wonderful country we were.

That Depression lasted for 10 years, and it was terrible. The Stanleys were very poor, but it didn’t matter, because everybody was poor. Boys had their corduroy knickers. All little girls worse dresses in those days. But, if there was one day during the summer vacation that everybody celebrated, it was the Fourth of July.

You could buy 2-inch salutes — 100 of them for 50 cents. There were Chinese firecrackers that we all strung together. Once you lit the fuse, they went off like a machine gun.

As I recall, there were no public displays of fireworks except at the fairgrounds out in East Great Plain where, for years, it was the county fair. Then the Elks bought the fairgrounds, and it was the Elks’ fair.

In those days, the trolley cars went as far as the East Great Plain four corners, and so everyone would take the trolley to the fairgrounds. When the fireworks were over, everybody would run, and those trolleys would be lined up — the trolley for Taftville, Baltic, Boswell Avenue, Laurel Hill and Central City. Everyone would sit on those straw seats with the windows open, and the electric trolleys would take us home on the Fourth of July.

Fireworks were sold in all the hardware stores, and special stores would open in abandoned store fronts. Though we were in a Depression, the city was still quite vital. What little business there was existed downtown. After all, nobody had a car, and most people worked downtown.

They were clerks or bankers. Even doctors, lawyers and accountants had their offices downtown.

In those days, The Bulletin had two editors, the morning “Bulletin” and the afternoon “Record.”

We had no radio station until 1946, so one might say the Oats and Noyeses, who owned the paper, owned the town.

Organizations were much more a part of community life. There were the Elks, the Knights of Columbus, Lions, Eagles and the Moose — all the bird and animal clubs. Few of them now exist.

The Holy Name Society in the Catholic churches were so big, they often would have parades in downtown Norwich. Each Catholic church had its own division — Taftville and Greeneville, St. Patrick’s, Sacred Heart in Norwichtown and Sts. Peter and Paul. The Holy Name Society marched on Sunday, before Communion breakfasts in each of the churches.

Getting back to the Fourth of July, we all knew what it was about, and the day would start early in the morning, as young boys would get up and fire their first firecracker at 6 or 6:30 a.m. The only critters that didn’t like the Fourth of July were the dogs. Their sensitive ears picked up the sound of the loud firecrackers, and the dogs would hide under the beds. Our dog actually hid in the coal bin.

In those days, there was no oil, a limited amount of gas, but everybody burned coal. Coal was delivered by truck and taken from coal trucks and wagons and poured into the shoots that carried coal into the coal bins, which were right across from the furnace in the basements.
On those cold, winter nights, the man of the house would fire up the furnace, and if there were boys in the family, in the morning they would shovel the ashes into the ash can before they walked off to school.

As there was a magic about the Fourth of July, there was magic about those summers during the 1930s and then, of course during the war years that followed the Depression.

Looking back, those of us in our 80s had a very tough childhood. We did without during the Depression, and then, when the war started, butter, sugar, chocolate, rubber tires and gasoline were rationed. It wasn’t until the American troops defeated the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese that the world settled down, that the men came home and somehow we all realized what a great country we were. We had saved the world.

The cost had been terrible, but the Depression was over, the war was over, and then, little by little, today’s society took the Fourth of July away from us. There are no firecrackers, no Roman candles, no sky rockets. There are public displays, people have cookouts, and I wonder if half the children who celebrate the Fourth have any idea what this most wonderful day is all about … that 13 little colonies defeated the greatest power on Earth and established an experiment that created the greatest country in the history of the world — America.

This is the Fourth of July weekend. Let us pray for our country, and salute her majesty and goodness. Old-timers wish we could get up early on the Fourth and go out and shoot firecrackers to celebrate America.

Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-Mile Square,” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, Magazines & More, all branches of the Dime Savings Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers and Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam, or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331

Read more: Once Upon a Time: Fourth has lost a little magic – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin

Dugas Was Taftville’s Renaissance Man

This column originally ran in The Bulletin Nov. 5, 2007. Rene Dugas died Dec. 27 at the age of 100.

Rene Dugas, Sr.

Rene Dugas, Sr. shows his camera set up he used to use during the opening of his show at Three River Community College Tuesday night. Aaron Flaum/ Norwich Bulletin (03-06-07)

Once upon a time, a baby was born in Taftville. It was 1909, and, for the next 96 years, that baby, Rene Dugas, has lived one of the most interesting lives of anyone I know.

He graduated from Sacred Heart Grammar School in Taftville, and while he attended only one year at Norwich Free Academy, he went back 10 years later and completed his high school education.

We all know Rene Dugas as the historian of the village of Taftville and author of two wonderful books that assure his legacy in this community. Rene wrote in his first book about “The French Canadians in New England,” of which he and his family are part. Then, in a second hard-cover book, he wrote about “Taftville, Connecticut and the Industrial Revolution.”

Several weeks ago, Rene Dugas received another prestigious award, one of many in his long life of public service.

The American-French Genealogical Society of Woonsocket, R.I., which is one of the finest genealogical organizations in the country, honored Taftville’s Rene Dugas. He was inducted into the American-French Genealogical Society French-Canadian Hall of Fame. It was an event I was invited to but, because of my health and just plain old age, could not attend.

Rene Dugas has done so much with his life and today, at 96, continues to have more energy than many people much younger — myself, for example. This morning, I thought I might tell you some of the things you don’t know about Rene Dugas.

For example, Rene is an accomplished piano player. When he graduated from Norwich Free Academy in 1936, he was a soloist and played “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6” for piano by Franz Liszt. No easy assignment. He performed in so many concerts and recitals, and he later was the organist at Taftville’s Sacred Church, and I’ll bet you didn’t know that.

Back in the 1930s, during the Depression, Rene organized the Sacred Heart Glee Club.
When the war came, he attended Hamilton Propellor School of Engineering and he worked in the defense industry throughout those war years.

We all know Rene Dugas and his father before him as very accomplished photographers. Rene is so proud of his photo collection, which has some 3,000 pictures that go back more than 100 years.

Rene got his formal education in photography from the Winona School of Professional Photography. While he is a great photographer, he is also a painter and has produced a number of oil paintings.

In 1985, when most his age would be basking in retirement, Rene went back to school and got an associate’s degree in science at Three Rivers Community College.

It is fair to say that Rene and his father before him are considered Taftville’s local historians. When his dad became incapacitated, Rene took over the Dugas Studio and became an active and award-winning photographer.

We know he was a pianist, painter, photographer, author and publisher, and I also knew him as a politician. When Dwight Eisenhower was running for president and Dick Nixon was his vice president, Rene Dugas was successful in being elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives. He was the highest vote-getter on the ticket.

He was also a revolutionary of sorts and led a group who wanted to form a new town. They would have called it Wequonnoc and proposed that Taftville and Occum secede from Norwich and become one town unto themselves. That move obviously failed.

Back to Hartford

In 1957, Rene was re-elected as state representative. After his service in Hartford, he became a justice of the peace. Now, he not only photographed weddings, he also performed many marriages.

This man from Taftville has boundless energy and through the years has been a vital part of many civic organizations.

Old-timers will remember the Better Government Association and the Taftville/Occum Lions Club. More recently, he was the chairman of his class reunion on two occasions.  A life member of the Knights of Columbus, he was a frequent guest on WICH and has been the subject of many articles in the Norwich Bulletin.

Years ago, when WICH, during the Lenten Season, would recite the rosary, there were several from Taftville — all legends — who were always there with Bishop Flanagan.

I recall Rene is a distant relative of mine. My mother’s sister married Lefty Dugas, and Lefty and Rene are cousins. So, I guess Rene is part of my family, as well as the entire family of Taftville.
There is a character about Rene Dugas that you have to love and respect. He has done so much with his gifts and talents, and he is what every town should have at least one of — a man who not only knows the history of the village and respects the genealogy of his ancestors, but promotes that knowledge and understanding in a way that very few have the ability to do.

At 96, he has more energy than I do, and he’s 20 years my senior. But, I guess the one thing you can say about Rene Dugas, beyond his longevity and incredibly good health, is that he is a very good person.

He has touched so many lives and done so much for his church, his community and his fellow man that I thought this Sunday we might congratulate Rene for the high honor he has received from a society he so respects and loves.

I can think of no honor that he would more cherish than the French-Canadian Hall of Fame. On behalf of all the people of Taftville and Norwich, I would like to thank Rene Dugas for all he has done and for all I know he will continue to do in the future.

In spite of his 96 years on this earth, he still seems to have many miles left on his speedometer, and his boundless energy will continue to serve for years to come.

Read more: Dugas was Taftville’s renaissance man – Norwich, CT – The Bulletin