William I. Allen, 67, town watchdog, founded party
William I. “Bill” Allen of 20 Fairview Avenue, a government watchdog who founded the only third party ever to elect officials here, died Saturday, Jan. 27, at his home. He was 67 years old and the husband of Pamela Keeler Allen.
A vocal critic of what he considered government excesses, Mr. Allen was an observer and speaker at countless town hall meetings during the 1980s and 90s. His disenchantment with established political parties led him to found the Independent Party, three of whose candidates have since been elected to office.
“Bill never lost faith, or hope, that the actions of one citizen could affect the public honesty, quality and performance of elected and appointed officials,” said John P. Cooke, one of those elected Independents, in a tribute this week. “He believed that true citizenship required informed participation in the political process. He was troubled that so many citizens were merely complacent residents.”
William Irwin Allen was an “Army brat,” as he put it. He was born Oct. 26, 1933, at a military base on the Philippine island of Corregidor, the son of Col. William I. and Florence Laird Allen. He grew up on Army bases there, in Panama and at West Point where his father became an instructor of chemistry and math. Although Col. Allen survived being shot down in aircraft over Africa during the war, he died soon after the war in a train accident.
Mr. Allen studied at Storm King Prep School in Cornwall, N.Y., and had planned to go to West Point — automatic for the son of a former faculty member. But, he said in a 1998 interview, he overheard a general, after a couple of drinks at a party, “espousing that the U.S. should obliterate Russia right then... It scared the pants off me. Here was a very responsible man in the services of the United States, contemplating suicide for the population.”
So he turned away from a military career and instead graduated from the State University of New York at Middletown with a degree in English.
As a young man, he held a wide variety of jobs, including a radio announcer, a railroad gandy dancer, a road surveyor, a debt collector, an African violet specialist, and a photo technician. Being a debt collector “was a terrible job,” he once said. “You were trying to get blood from a stone.” The only worse work he had was “unloading cement from a railroad car in August.”
He came to Ridgefield in 1953, and worked for Ridgefield Photo Shop where he met Pam Keeler, whose ancestors were among the founders of the town. In 1958, he established the William I. Allen Insurance Agency, which long had its office on Catoonah Street. A year later, he and Pam were married.
Mr. Allen was active in the community for more than 40 years. He was president of both the Rotary Club and the old Jaycees, and had been a national director of the U.S. Jaycees, a former district vice president of the Connecticut Jaycees, and a Jaycee International senator. He was the first adult adviser to the Teenage Canteen, the town’s first teen center.
He served on the town’s 1968 Charter Revision Commission and on the Sewer Commission.
For a quarter century, Mr. Allen was active in the Fifth Connecticut Regiment, an organization that studies and re-enacts Revolutionary history. He marched in many parades and performed in many re-enactments in the Northeast. In 1977, he was chairman of the 200th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Ridgefield, which, he later reported, drew 40,000 spectators, involved serving 8,000 meals to participants, and needed permits from 33 government agencies.
He enjoyed doing things that were a bit different. During the nation’s bicentennial, a fleet of tall ships from around the world paid a visit to New York harbor. Mr. Allen and Dave Hebert, then Parks and Recreation superintendent, and two friends donned their Fifth Connecticut uniforms and drove to the Hudson River where they picked up his motorboat and headed to the city. There, wearing colonial garb and with a small cannon mounted in the bow of their boat, they navigated around the big ships, saluting the crews as the amazed sailors cheered and saluted back. Afterward, the four celebrated at Fraunces Tavern. A week later, a picture of their boat appeared in Newsweek magazine.
He was the town’s civil preparedness director for five years — and also owned several DUKWs (pronounced “ducks”), large amphibious landing vehicles he hoped to use here and in the area in emergencies such as floods. He drove one of the vehicles across the country to get it here.
Well known as a town watchdog, Mr. Allen attended and spoke at countless town government meetings, and penned scores of letters to newspapers, usually criticizing spending or what he considered poor planning. In 1993 he founded the Independent Party, three of whose candidates have been elected — the first was Mr. Cooke, who is still on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Mr. Allen himself ran unsuccessfully for first selectman in 1993.
“He was the kind of guy who was very, very devoted to watching the taxpayers’ dollars,” said Dom D’Addario, chairman of the Independent Party. “He did an awful lot of research.”
Mr. D’Addario recalled one night in 1993 when Mr. Allen drove up to his house. “I had never seen the guy before in my life, but in 20 minutes, he had me running for the Police Commission as an Independent — and I was a Republican, too. He was a very convincing speaker.”
In 1997, suffering from cancer, Mr. Allen retired from active life, though he still occasionally wrote on local issues. “Every person who has ever had cancer is constantly looking over his shoulder,” he said in the 1998 interview. “It changes your entire perspective on life. The things that were important before are no longer so important... You realize you are not impregnable, that you are part of the passing parade and that life is not forever.”
He had hoped to move to a 44-foot trawler and tour the Eastern Seaboard, but the disease prevented that.
“The kids and I have sat around this week and we’ve told stories and we realized that we had a pretty fantastic life because of him,” Pam Allen said of her husband. “I was always amazed: His mind just never, never stopped. His wheels were always whizzing.”
Besides his wife of 41 years, Mr. Allen is survived by two sons, Laird W. Allen and W. Todd Allen, both of Ridgefield; a daughter, Robin R. Allen of Tucson, Ariz.; a sister, Elizabeth Sternburg of Norwalk; two brothers-in-law, Roy Keeler of St. Augustine, Fla., and Russell Keeler of Lakeview, N.C.; a nephew, Mark Sternburg of Brookfield; and a niece, Sally Yarrish of Ridgefield.
A memorial service will take place Friday, Feb. 2, at 2 p.m. in the First Congregational Church.
Burial will take place at the convenience of the family.
Friends may call at the Kane Funeral Home, 41 Catoonah Street, on Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Ridgefield Conservation Commission Open Space Fund, Town Hall, 400 Main Street, Ridgefield, or to the Ridgefield Volunteer Fire Department, 6 Catoonah Street, Ridgefield.
“Or,” the family added, “in lieu of a contribution, vote Independent!” —J.F.S.
Eugene Barraro, 87, active Democrat
Word has been received that Eugene J. Barraro, a retired postal worker and former active Democrat in Ridgefield, died Jan. 21 at Delray Medical Center in Delray, Fla. He was 87 years old and the husband of Adele Barraro.
A native of Orange, N.J., Mr. Barraro was born on Oct. 12, 1913, and had attended New York University. He had worked for the U.S. Postal Service, retiring in 1969, the year he moved to Olmstead Lane in Ridgefield.
While here Mr. Barraro was active in the Democratic Party. “Those who knew Gene will agree that he was the consummate Democrat,” said Mrs. Barraro.
For many years he was a party worker, but in 1987, he was elected a member of the Democratic Town Committee. At the meeting at which he was interviewed for the job, committee members recalled his exceptional talent at selling tickets for party fund-raising events.
“If I got a little over-exuberant,” he replied with a smile, “it’s because I thought we needed the money.”
Mr. Barraro had also been active in Scouting and had been a member of the Ridgefield Lions Club.
Since 1990, the Barraros had wintered in Boynton Beach, Fla. In 1997 they moved from Ridgefield to Centerville, Mass.
Besides his wife, Mr. Barraro is survived by a son, Eugene Barraro Jr. of Atco, N.J, and a daughter, Corinne Gaye Mirer of Boca Raton, Fla.; two grandsons, Christopher Barraro of Merchantsville, N.J., and Zachary Mirer of Boca Raton; a brother, Russell Barraro of Boynton Beach; two sisters, Vivian Curto of West Orange, N.J., and Joan Messira of Bloomfield, N.J., as well as several nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by his first wife, Irma.
Eleanor Hilton Bergstraser, teacher
Eleanor L. Hilton Bergstraser of Springville, Pa., a former teacher who was known here as Eleanor Hilton, died Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Wayside Hospice, Wayland, Mass. She was 68 years old.
She was the wife of Roy Bergstraser. Her first husband, J. Richard Hilton died here April 23, 1982.
Born in Reading, Pa., she was the daughter of the late Carroll S. Dick and H. Lynnette Rhoads Dick. She was a 1950 graduate of Reading High School, and a 1954 graduate of Albright College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education.
Mrs. Bergstraser had been an English teacher at Trinity Pawling School in Pawling, N.Y., for nine years, retiring in 1999. She had lived in Charter Oak Court for about 10 years in the late 1970s and the 1980s.
Surviving are her husband, Roy Bergstraser; a daughter Robin Hilton Balin of Stowe, Mass.; two sons, J. Timothy Hilton of Springvale, Maine, and Thomas C. Hilton of Pylesville, Md.; a sister, Carolyn Dick Jimski, of Pennside, Pa.; a stepson, James L. Bergstraser of Wingdale, N.Y.; a stepdaughter, Kathryn Bergstraser Setta, of Lago Vista, Texas, and two grandchildren.
Memorial services were Friday at Merner-Pfeiffer-Klein Memorial Chapel, Albright College, Reading, Pa.
Sharon Brizendine, 42, former model and nurse
Sharon Kay Brizendine of 25 Encampment Place, a former model and nurse, died on Monday, April 16, at Danbury Hospital. She was 42 years old and the wife of Gary L. Brizendine.
Mrs. Brizendine was born in Dayton, Ohio, on Dec. 6, 1958, a daughter of the late Fred and Darlene Reese Haussman. She grew up in Vandalia, Ohio, and attended schools there. She also attended Wright State University in Dayton.
Mrs. Brizendine was a former model in New York City and Dayton. She was also a former emergency room nurse at Norwalk Hospital.
A Ridgefield resident since 1997, Mrs. Brizendine had previously lived in Lake Tahoe, Nev. During the early 1980’s she had lived in Norwalk.
Mrs. Brizendine was an avid photographer and enjoyed interior decorating.
Besides her husband, survivors include two sons: Sean M. Brizendine of Ridgefield and Adam Brizendine of Reno, Nev.; four daughters: Erica Golding of Ridgefield, Angela Norman, Pamela Brizendine and Faith Driver, all of Portland, Tenn.; four brothers: Fred Haussman of Sydney, Ohio, John Haussman and Steve Haussman, both of Phoenix, Ariz., and Scott Gardner of Floral City, Fla.; two sisters: Lora Stratman of Dayton, Ohio, and Victoria McQueen of Madison Heights, Mich.; and six grandchildren.
Services will be conducted Friday at 4 p.m. at Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, 207 Main Street. Burial will be at the convenience of the family.
Friends will be received on Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Kane Funeral Home, 41 Catoonah Street.
Friends are kindly asked to omit flowers. Contributions in Mrs. Brizendine’s memory may be made to the Danbury Hospital Development Fund, 24 Hospital Avenue, Danbury, CT 06810 or to the Jesse Lee Memorial United Methodist Church, 207 Main Street, Ridgefield, CT 06877.
Bruce Jeannont, broadcaster, teacher
Bruce K. Jeannont of 215 Mamanasco Road, a former teacher and radio broadcaster, died at his home, Jan. 30, after a lengthy illness. He was 53 years old.
Mr. Jeannont was born in Rockville Centre, N.Y., on Sept. 24, 1947, a son of the late Herbert and Helen (Menkes) Jeannont. When he was still a baby, his family moved to Wilton Road West and later lived on Branchville Road. He attended St. Mary’s Catholic School, Fairfield College Preparatory School and graduated in 1969 from Fairfield University.
While at both Fairfield Prep and the university, Mr. Jeannont was involved in broadcasting. He was a founder and general manager of WVOF, the university FM radio station, and in 1966 was named one of the 10 best collegiate disk jockeys in America by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
After graduation, he taught English drama in the Manchester (N.H.) School System for three years and was also a journalist and newscaster for WGIR radio in Manchester.
>From 1972 to 1987, Mr. Jeannont worked for the United States Department of Labor and the Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C. as a senior contract administrator. From 1987 to 1992, he lived in Ireland where he was executive producer of Erin Production in Nenagh, County Tipperary.
Mr. Jeannont also held an associate degree in communications from the University of Bridgeport and had recently completed studies at the National Academy of Paralegal Studies in Manchester.
Two and a half years ago, Mr. Jeannont returned to his hometown and worked as a contract and freelance paralegal in the Danbury area as well as in the office of Laurelwood Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, where his specialty was working with computers.
“He was very close to many of the patients there,” said his daughter, Deborah J. Gwamanda of Manchester, N.H. “He would lend them a helping hand whenever he could.”
Mr. Jeannont was also a poet. “He wrote unbelievable poetry when he was younger,” his daughter said. He had received offers to publish his work, but he declined, she said. “He felt it was too personal.”
Besides his daughter, Deborah, he is survived by a son, Scott Jeannont of Cheektowaga, N.Y.; two other daughters, Laura J. Montminy and Robin Jeannont, both of Manchester, N.H.; a brother, Donald Jeannont of Edmond, Okla.; three grandchildren; and his former wife, Lois Kustra Jeannont of Manchester.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Friday at 10:30 a.m. in St. Mary’s Church on Catoonah Street.
Interment will take place at the convenience of the family. There will be no calling hours.
Contributions in his memory may be made to a charity of one’s choice.
The Kane Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Joan C. Wentzel, former Ridgefielder
Joan C. Wentzel of Bristol, a former Ridgefielder, died Thursday, April 12, at New Britain General Hospital. She was 69.
Born Feb. 3, 1932, in Brooklyn, N.Y., she was a daughter of the late Henry and Lucy Corsi.
A homemaker, she and her family moved in 1962 and lived on Rolling Ridge Road. Her husband, Dale H. Wentzel Sr., was a Ridgefield teacher and one-time president of the Ridgefield Teachers Association.
The family moved to Bristol in 1971. There, Mrs. Wentzel was a member of the Bristol Garden Club and Bristol Hospital Auxiliary and a charter member of the Bristol Lioness Club.
She was a parishioner of St. Gregory Church in Bristol, where she recently taught religious education.
Besides her husband, she is survived by two sons, Dale H. Wentzel Jr. of Bristol and Mark R. Wentzel of Willimantic; a daughter, Wendy B. Wentzel-Greenberg of Bristol; a brother, Henry Corsi of Tampa, Fla.; two sisters, Ann Cartsunis of New Port Richey, Fla., and Carol Hodges of Tampa; extended family members Wanijada “Noi” Sriwanbhen and Jonathan Vasnarungruengkul, and six grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated today, Thursday, April 19, at 10 a.m. at St. Gregory Church in Bristol.
Memorial donations may be made to the cancer programs at New Britain General Hospital, 100 Grand Street, New Britain, CT 06050; Bristol Hospital, Brewster Road, Bristol, CT 06010; or the Hospice of Central Connecticut, 40 East Street, Plainville, CT 06062.
Elizabeth Squire, 74, reporter and novelist
Elizabeth Daniels Squire of Maney Branch Road, Weaverville, N.C., a former reporter for this paper who became a popular mystery novelist, died unexpectedly Sunday morning, Feb. 25, in Santa Rosa, Calif., where she had stopped on her return from a business trip to Alaska. She was 74 years old and the wife of C.B. “Chick” Squire.
Mrs. Squire was the author of eight mysteries and was at work on a ninth at the time of her death. She had been attending a mystery writing convention in Anchorage and had conducted workshops in Skagway, Alaska with creative writing groups in the junior and senior high schools there.
A native of Raleigh and a graduate of Ashley Hall School in Charleston, S.C., and of Vassar College, Mrs. Squire was the daughter of Jonathan Daniels, former press secretary to President Truman, and a granddaughter of Josephus Daniels, editor of The News & Observer in Raleigh and ambassador to Mexico during the Roosevelt administration.
She spent most of her life writing for newspapers, and a newspaper publisher was the victim in her first mystery, Kill the Messenger, published in 1990.
Since then, Mrs. Squire published seven mysteries in the Peaches Dann series, dealing with an absent-minded detective who lives, likes Mrs. Squire did, in western North Carolina. All are in print and several have been published in large-print editions. She also authored a number of short stories, one of which won the coveted Agatha award.
She had also written books on phrenology and palmistry, and was considered an expert on palm reading.
Mrs. Squire had served as chairman of the board of trustees of the Weaverville Library and as a director of the News & Observer Publishing Co. in Raleigh.
From 1966 until she moved to North Carolina in 1979, Mrs. Squire was a staff reporter for The Redding Pilot, and also wrote features for The Ridgefield Press and The Wilton Bulletin where her husband, Chick Squire, was editor more than 50 years ago. Mrs. Squire also wrote the cooking column that appeared in all of the Acorn Press newspapers for many years.
Mrs. Squire, who never lost her North Carolina lilt in her years living in the North, was a thorough and careful reporter who overcame dyslexia by developing strategies that would later be sprinkled throughout her Peaches Dann mysteries. “Liz,” as she was known to all, delighted in developing memory aids, from the simple note taped to the office doorway that said “Coffeepot” (as in, Remember to turn off...) to much more elaborate schemes. In recent years, she embraced technology, using an electronic organizer to keep track of her busy schedule.
The Squires had had homes in Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield over the years. They had been active supporters of the Mark Twain Library during their years in Redding,
She was a member of the North Caroliniana Society, Sisters in Crime, and was a past chairman of the Southeastern Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.
Besides her husband, Mrs. Squire is survived by three sons, Jonathan Hart Squire of Weaverville, Mark M. Squire of Sebastopol, Calif., whom she was visiting at the time of her death, and Worth P. Squire of College Grove, Tenn., as well as seven grandchildren. Her sisters, Adelaide Daniels Key of Asheville, Dr. Lucy Daniels of Raleigh and Cleves Daniels Weber of Maui, Hawaii, also survive.
A memorial service for Mrs. Squire took place at Grace Episcopal Church in Asheville on Tuesday afternoon.
Contributions in her memory may be sent to the Asheville-Buncombe Community Christian Ministries at 30 Cumberland Ave., Asheville, NC 28801.