Helen Lewis, 76, librarian and library leader
Helen K. Lewis of 62 High Ridge, who loved libraries and had been both a Ridgefield school librarian and president of the Ridgefield Library board, died Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Danbury Hospital. She was 76 years old and the wife of Stanley R. Lewis.
When Mrs. Lewis moved here 45 years ago, she had little experience with libraries, other than in using them. However, after volunteering at the Veterans Park School library when her children were pupils, she decided to return to graduate school to earn a master of library science degree at Southern Conn. State College. She became the staff librarian at Scotland School for 20 years.
“It’s catching,” she said in 1976 interview when she was elected president of the Board of Directors of the Ridgefield Library.
A native of Evansville, Ind., Mrs. Lewis was born on May 5, 1924, a daughter of Posey T. and Marguerite Bollenbacher Kime. Her father was a judge in the Indiana Appellate Court and her mother a teacher. She grew up in Indiana and graduated from Penn State University with a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts.
Mrs. Lewis moved to New York where she worked for Glamour magazine. She had met Stanley Lewis. at Penn State and they were married in 1951.
Four years later, the Lewises moved to Ridgefield, living first on Huckleberry Lane and moving to High Ridge in the 1960s.
Long active in gardening and conservation efforts, Mrs. Lewis was appointed one of the original members of the Conservation Commission when it was created in 1962. She was a member of both the Ridgefield and the Caudatowa Garden Clubs.
Mrs. Lewis was also active in the Keeler Tavern, and in the Ridgefield Archives Committee.
But it was libraries that were dearest to her heart, and she was serving on the board of the Ridgefield Library by the mid-1960s. She was Scotland’s School’s first librarian, starting work when the school opened in 1968. She retired in 1988.
“A library should always be the cultural center of the community,” Mrs. Lewis said in 1976. However, when she took over leadership of the Ridgefield Library board, the facility had “fallen by the wayside,” as she put it.
The library had only 31,000 books, less than half what a town of Ridgefield’s size should have had, and the building could hold only 40,000 volumes if it had them. The library was also in financial troubles, and had just asked the town for $20,000 to keep basic operations going.
With the then-new library director, Anita Daubenspeck, Mrs. Lewis began efforts to increase town government support and involvement in what was in 1976 still a privately held and operated library. The library began expanding services, opening Sundays, acquiring more books, and offering evening programs.
“We want to be the information center of the town to help people keep up with the overwhelming flood of information,” Mrs. Lewis said at the time.
Although she was no longer on the library board, Mrs. Lewis kept active in the work of the library as a volunteer with the Friends of the Library.
As might be surmised, Mrs. Lewis was an avid reader and, according to her daughter, Kim Ellen Lewis of New York City, she particularly liked mysteries. “She would have been a very good detective herself,” Ms. Lewis said. “She was very sharp, very logical, very detail-oriented.”
Mrs. Lewis was also outgoing and known by countless Ridgefielders. “At one point, when Ridgefield was much smaller, she probably knew everyone in town,” her daughter said.
Besides her husband and daughter, Mrs. Lewis is survived by a son, Thornton D. Lewis of New York City, and by four grandchildren, Emily, Cora, Marguerite, and Nicholas.
Services were private. Burial was in Ridgebury Cemetery.
A Celebration of Helen’s Life will take place at a time and place to be announced.
Contributions in her memory may be made to the Ridgefield Library, 472 Main Street, Ridgefield CT 06877.
The Kane Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.
Gerald Lewis, 85, documentary filmmaker, March 11
Gerald "Jerry" H. Lewis of Wilton, who had been a documentary filmmaker who shot anti-Communist movies in Vietnam before America went to war there and later operated a local limousine service, died Thursday, March 11, at Norwalk Hospital. A former Ridgefielder, he was 85 years old and the husband of Margaret Byron Lewis.
A former NBC cameraman, Mr. Lewis had worked for the U.S government in Vietnam in the late 1950s, producing propaganda films. When he moved to Ridgefield in the early 1960s, he spent two years hand-building his own log house on Harvey Road, living most of the time with his family in a trailer alongside the house.
"I promised my wife that when we were ready to settle down and build a house, I’d build her exactly what she wanted," he said in a 1964 interview. "But I certainly had no idea it would lead to this!"
A native of Norwalk, Mr. Lewis was born on Oct. 14, 1914, the son of the Rev. Chapman S. and Eleanor Hall Lewis. His father had been the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Norwalk.
Mr. Lewis spent much of his life as a freelance photographer and movie producer. During the 1940s and early 1950s, he worked for NBC as a cameraman.
From 1957 to 1959, he was the motion picture officer of the American Embassy in Saigon. His job included making anti-Communist movies to be shown in South Vietnamese theaters. In the process he became closely acquainted with South Vietnam President Ngo Dinh Diem. "The president was a bug on films," Mr. Lewis said later.
When he returned to the United States, Mr. Lewis selected a site on Harvey Road and began building a log and stucco house that had walls up to three feet thick. Construction was one almost entirely by hand – the only electric tool he owned was a small drill.
"It took us ten days just to raise the four main beams," Mr. Lewis said. Each log was 28 feet long, 20 inches in diameter, and weighed close to 800 pounds. Strengths had to be calculated. While modern manual lacked information on breaking strength of wood beams, the Ridgefield Library provided a book that had a mathematical formula for determining breaking strengths. It was published in 1775.
While living here, Mr. Lewis operated the One Man Lab, a color photography print laboratory. In the 1970s he established the Urban Driver Service, which he operated for 25 years.
He moved to Wilton in 1981.
Besides his wife, Margaret Bryon Lewis, he is survived by a son, Chapman Lewis of Florida; two daughters, Shari Gropper of California and Darline Sugarman of Medford, Mass.; a brother, Lawrence Lewis of Rowayton; and two grandchildren.
Memorial services and burial in Riverside Cemetery, Wilton, will be private.
The Nicholas F. Cognetta Funeral Home in Stamford is in charge of arrangements.
Frederick Leary, 75, grew up here
Frederick Joseph Leary of Murrells Inlet, S.C., who grew up in Ridgefield and participated in D-Day, died Friday, July 7, at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in South Carolina. He was 75 years old and the husband of Florence C. Fleming Leary.
A native of New York City, Mr. Leary was born on Aug. 19, 1924, a son of the late Frederick J. and Elizabeth Connolly Leary. He grew up on North Salem Road and entered the Army while in high school. He participated in the Normandy invasion on D-Day when he was only 19 years old.
After the war, Mr. Leary worked as a mechanic for the state police on East Ridge. He and his wife were married April 23, 1949, in New York City and for many years they lived in Danbury where Mr. Leary was a mechanic. They moved to South Carolina about 12 years ago.
Mr. Leary was a member of the American Legion, the LST Association, and of St. Michael's Catholic Church in Murrells Inlet.
Besides his wife, he is survived by four sons, Richard Joseph Leary of Mendham, N.J., Thomas Frederick Leary of Long Beach, Calif., Matthew John Leary of New Milford, and Michael Sean Leary of Norwalk; a daughter, Margaret Mary Leary Hoskins of Fenton, Mo.; two sisters, Elizabeth Murphy of Venice, Fla., and Winifred Beers of Danbury; a brother, Robert Leary of Florida; and four grandchildren. His brother, John P. "Jack" Leary, died last year.
Memorial services will take place today, Thursday, July 13, at 2 p.m. in St. Michael's Catholic Church.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the American Diabetes Association, 1332 Gibson Avenue, Myrtle Beach, SC 29575.
The Goldfinch Funeral Home, Beach Chapel, in Murrells Inlet is in charge of arrangements.
Sister Genevieve McMahon, Notre Dame congregation educator
Sister Genevieve M. McMahon, CND, a teacher, principal and provincial leader, died at Danbury Hospital Jan. 2 at the age of 92.
She was born in New York City on May 28, 1908, daughter of the late Philip and Genevieve Donavan McMahon.
Sister Genevieve was first professed in the Congregation of Notre Dame in August 1929 and her final profession was in August 1935. From 1929 to 1960 she taught Latin, American history and religion at Villa Maria Academy in the Bronx, N.Y., Notre Dame Academy in Staten Island, and St. Mary of the Visitation Academy in Providence, R.I.
In 1960 she became principal of Notre Dame High School in Schenectady, N.Y., where she served for four years. In 1964 she became provincial superior of the Congregation of Notre Dame until 1970. In that same year she was elected assistant to the superior general in Montreal.
After competing several years of leadership in the congregation, Sister Genevieve returned to teaching at Notre dame Academy in Staten Island. She also conducted conferences with novices as well as doing parish ministry in Stamford.
In 1986 Sister Genevieve retired and lived at Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island until 1991 when she came to the congregation’s provincial house on West Mountain Road.
Sister Genevieve is survived by her niece Philippa McMahon of Queens, N.Y.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday at 4:30 at the Congregation of Notre Dame, 223 West Mountain road. Burial will be in St. Peter Cemetery in Danbury on Saturday at 9 a.m.
Friends may call the congregation on Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30. Prayer service will be at 6:30 p.m.
James McManus, builder, town officer
James J. McManus, a builder, lifelong Ridgefielder, and the town’s building inspector for 20 years, died on Sunday, Dec. 3, at Danbury Hospital. He was 83, the husband of Patricia (Potter) McManus, the father of six children, and had lived for decades on Fairview Avenue.
“He was quite a guy. He was the most honorable person I’ve met,” said Sheenah Mische of Ridgefield, one of his daughters. “He had a great life, and he loved his family and I guess that’s the best you can say about anybody.”
She added, “He lived here his whole life. He was a Ridgefielder through and through.”
Mr. McManus was born in Ridgefield, March 27, 1917, a son of the late Peter A. and Mary E. (Connelly) McManus. He attended Ridgefield schools, St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, and graduated from the former Ridgefield Boys School.
He was a builder by trade, first being associated with his family in Peter A. McManus & Sons Building Contractors. In later years he owned and operated the James J. McManus Building Contractor Company of Ridgefield.
“He was a builder all of his life,” Ms. Mische said. “He built so many of the houses and structures in Ridgefield. He put the cross on top of St. Mary’s when they renovated it back in the 1930’s.”
Other notable projects that Mr. McManus was involved in building include Veterans Park School, the Yanity Gymnasium at the old high school, the conversion of a former mansion on Tackora Trail into the Jesuits’ Manresa Retreat House (today the building is the traditionalist Catholic St. Ignatius Retreat House), and the Girl Scout Facility of Ridgefield on West Mountain.
Mr. McManus started working as the town’s assistant building official in 1960, and in 1970 he became the building inspector for the Town of Ridgefield, a position he held until his retirement in 1990.
Mr. McManus was widely respected for his expertise in the building trades and developed many friends and followers by his ability to help homeowners and builders achieve what the State of Connecticut Building Code required.
Over the years, Mr. McManus received certificates of achievement in the building and inspection areas from various professional and educational organizations, the New England Association of Fire Marshals, the Building Officials Code Administrators International, the University of Connecticut Institute of Public Service, the State of Connecticut Continuing Education Program, the Connecticut Building Officials Association and the National Academy of Code Administrators.
A World War II U.S. Navy veteran, Mr. McManus served with the Seabees.
He served the Town of Ridgefield as a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Tax Review. He was a member of the Marquette Council Knights of Columbus of Ridgefield as well as St. Mary’s Church.
He enjoyed golf, playing at various courses in the area, and had been an accomplished baseball player in his youth, playing for the Ridgefield Boys School.
“That was another love of his, when he was young, baseball,” said Eileen Dempsy, another daughter. “When we were growing up on Fairview Avenue he used to organize neighborhood baseball games. He’d organize games between Fairview Avenue and Greenfield Street. We had some good times.”
She said he was a “quiet, reserved, unassuming man” — which she said reflected his upbringing by a mother and father who had immigrated from Scotland.
“He loved his family and he did things with his family. He liked to putter around,” she said. He used his skills to build things for his family, including an in-ground pool at the house on Fairview Avenue.
“Over the years he made rocking horses for children and then grandchildren. He made doll houses, doll furniture, bookends,” Ms. Dempsey said.
In addition to his spouse of 59 years, he is survived by four daughters and their husbands, Michele and John Masi of Danbury, Eileen and Edward Dempsey of Avon, Maureen and Richard Gawlik of Andover, Mass., and Sheenah and Philip Mische of Ridgefield; two sons and their wives, Peter and Angela McManus of Danbury, and Mark and Elizabeth McManus of Ridgefield; a sister, Monica Ustie of Danbury; and a brother, Frederick McManus of Whitestone, Va.; as well as 20 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A sister, Jeanette Jones, and two bothers, Richard McManus and Joseph McManus, died before he did.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday, Dec. 8, at 10:30 a.m. in St. Mary’s Church, Ridgefield. Burial will follow in St. Mary’s Cemetery with military honors.
Friends will be received in the Kane Funeral Home, 41 Catoonah Street, on Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m.
Contributions in Mr. McManus’s memory may be made to the Visiting Nurse Association of Ridgefield, 90 East Ridge, or to the Ridgefield Fire Department Ambulance Fund, 6 Catoonah Street.
Antoinette Michel, bowler, golfer
Antoinette “Nettie” Michel of Prospect Street, wife of the late Humbert J. Martoccio and the late Eugene Michel, died on Friday, Oct. 27, at Hancock Hall in Danbury. She was 96.
Mrs. Michel was born in New York City on Feb. 19, 1904, a daughter of the late Richard and Louise DePalma Virgilio. She attended New York schools.
As a young girl, she worked in dressmaking in the garment district of New York. In later years, she was a sales representative for Lord & Taylor of Westchester, N.Y., in its glove, handbag and accessories department. She retired at the age of 86.
An avid bowler and golfer, she was a member of the Leewood Golf Club as well as the Lake Isle Golf Club, both of Eastchester.
She was a resident of Ridgefield for the past 10 years, coming from Westchester County, N.Y.
She is survived by three daughters, Corrine DeRosa of East Meadow, N.Y., Norma Wenderoth of Malibu, Calif., and Carol Villamana of Ridgefield; two sisters, Mary Napoletano of Kingston, N.Y. and Anna Maranghi of the Bronx, N.Y.; a brother Joseph Virgilio of Tuckahoe, N.Y.; six grandchildren, Robert Mario, Louise Casella, Thomas Paulantonio, Carol Carpenter, Edward Villamana and James Villamana; and nine great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated in the Chapel of the Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven, Hawthorne, N.Y. on Oct. 31 with burial following.
Arrangements were handled by Kane Funeral Home, 41 Catoonah Street.
Contributions in Mrs. Michel’s memory may be made to Regional Hospice of Western Connecticut, 30 West Street, Danbury, 06810 or to the Hancock Hall Resident’s Recreational Fund, 33 Staples Street, Danbury, 06810.