Dora Cassavechia, 80, longtime town clerk
Dora J. Cassavechia, a retired town clerk who had spent more than 40 years in Ridgefield government service, died on Wednesday, May 14, at her home in the village. She was 80 years old and the widow of Quinto Cassavechia.
A Ridgefield native, Mrs. Cassavechia was born on Sept. 2, 1922 a daughter of the late Joseph and Iride Feduzi Conti. As a child growing up on West Lane, she enjoyed the outdoors and thought nothing of walking into town and out to the Outpost Pond, at today’s Fox Hill condominiums, to go ice skating in winter. She attended Ridgefield schools and graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1941.
Mrs. Cassavechia’s first job was as a clerk for the Keeler and Durant Insurance Agency on Main Street. But when the war broke out, she joined the defense effort, working at the General Electric plant in Bridgeport, producing the searchlights used as beacons and to detect enemy aircraft at night. She began by doing assembly work and by war’s end had become a group leader in her department.
In 1945, when the war ended, she went to work in town hall as an assistant to First Selectman Winthrop Rockwell. She worked under Mr. Rockwell, a Republican, and later under First Selectman Harry E. Hull, a Democrat. She herself was an active Republican.
In 1947, she married Quinto Cassavechia, a local contractor, and she eventually took a break from government service to raise a family.
In 1963, Town Clerk Ruth M. Hurzeler asked her if she’d like to come to work in her office. Mrs. Cassavechia became an assistant town clerk under Miss Hurzeler and then under Terry Leary, the first Democrat elected to that job. When Mrs. Leary retired in 1979, Mrs. Cassavechia ran for the job and won the election.
The town clerk’s office records and indexes dozens of kinds of documents, from deeds and liens to birth, marriage and death certificates, and even dog licenses. Over the years, Mrs. Cassavechia oversaw improvements in the systems of keeping information, including the first use of computers in the office. She was noted for maintaining a well-run operation.
“She was a real stickler for accuracy,” said Barbara Serfilippi, the current town clerk, who worked under Mrs. Cassavechia for many years. She wasn’t afraid to criticize a lawyer who turned in sloppy or incomplete documents for recording. “If she didn’t like the way their work looked, she’d tell them,” the current town clerk said.
“She was a good teacher,” Mrs. Serfilippi added. “She taught me everything. She was tough — you worked — but she was very fair.”
One day in the mid-1980s when her office was short-handed and the Board of Selectmen would not provide more help, Mrs. Cassavechia confronted First Selectman Elizabeth Leonard in the hallway outside her office. Shaking her finger at Mrs. Leonard, the town clerk rattled off a litany of reasons why her office needed help. “She said things that you always wanted to say,” recalled Town Treasurer Mary Hart Foyt, one of the witnesses to the confrontation. “She was not about to let the first selectman push her over. We were in awe.”
Mrs. Leonard, also known for her strong will, argued back with equal volume and force. “But you know what?” said Mrs. Serfilippi. “We got the help.”
Mrs. Cassavechia undertook modern preservation techniques for many of the town’s oldest records, which date to 1708 and were beginning to deteriorate. Many volumes of hand-written records were rebound, and specially treated.
One day in 1989, inspecting a pile of old papers that some predecessor had stored in a cellar vault, she uncovered several ancient documents. Among them was the 1715 deed in which Tackora, a local American Indian, sold the first settlers much of the land that is now Ridgebury. “At the bottom of a pile of what you’d call junk, I came across these,” she told a reporter. “I couldn’t believe it.”
The deed was subsequently preserved.
Mrs. Cassavechia retired in 1996, but continued to help out in town government. She worked at the polls during elections and referendums, and each June would assist Mrs. Serfilippi with processing dog license renewals. In fact, just two days before she died, Mrs. Cassavechia had agreed to come in this June to help with licenses.
Mrs. Cassavechia’s husband died in 1969 when he was struck by a tree limb while clearing a lot on Thunder Hill Lane. “She never complained, never ever,” said Mrs. Serfilippi. “She just went ahead. She never felt sorry for herself.”
Mrs. Cassavechia was a member of the Board of Incorporators of the Ridgefield Bank, a board member of the Ridgefield Chapter of AARP, the OWLS, and belonged to the Connecticut and Fairfield County Town Clerk’s Association and of St. Mary’s Church.
For relaxation, “she loved cooking for family and friends,” said Jean Siomkos, her daughter, adding that Mrs. Cassavechia also enjoyed playing cards with friends.
She also loved to travel, especially with the local AARP chapter, and her most recent long trip was to Iceland last year, Mrs. Siomkos said. She had also regularly visited family in Florida.
“She has touched so many lives with her unquestioned loyalty and generosity to her family and friends,” said David Diehl, her son-in-law.
She is survived by two daughters, Jean Siomkos and her husband Paul of Danbury, and Judy Diehl and her husband David of Bradenton, Fla.; two grandchildren, Kelly Diehl and Dana Siomkos, and several nieces and nephews.
A sister, Mary Marcheggiani, died before her.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Saturday in St. Mary’s Church. Burial was in St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Contributions in her memory may be made to the Visiting Nurse Association, 90 East Ridge, or to the Ridgefield Fire Department Ambulance Fund, 6 Catoonah Street, both of Ridgefield 06877.
The Kane Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.
Charles Cassels, 93, planning assistant
Charles Trillia Cassels, a native of Argentina who was a retired municipal planning assistant, died Tuesday, Oct. 8, in Danbury. He was 93 years old.
Mr. Cassels was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Jan. 13, 1909. He came to the United States in 1951 and became a naturalized citizen shortly thereafter.
He spent most of his later years in Rockland County, N.Y., where he was the administrative assistant to the town planner of Clarkstown.
In the mid-80s Mr. Cassels moved to Ridgefield to retire closer to his family. Mr. Cassels spent the last few years at Hancock Hall in Danbury where he died peacefully.
Mr. Cassels was an ardent traveler. He was fluent in several languages and enjoyed traveling to unusual places such as Ushuaia, the Galapagos Islands and to the Chilean Andes to photograph Halley’s Comet.
“Known for his storytelling, he is perhaps best remembered for espousing the seven T’s,” said his son, Dr. Christopher Cassels of Ridgefield. “Take the time to think things through.”
He loved playing the piano and listening to organ and chamber music. “Most of all, he loved people,” Dr. Cassels added.
Besides his son, who is an orthopaedic surgeon, Mr. Cassels is survived by his former wife and friend, Barbara Cassels of Ridgefield; a daughter, Lynne Bowes of Harrisburg, Pa.; a sister, Elvina Thomson of Spain; a daughter-in-law, Anne Marie Cassels; and three grandchildren, Sean and Kirk Cassels and Erika Bowes.
A memorial service is planned soon at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church. (Call the church office, 438-0606, for information.)
Mr. Cassels was involved in a study carried out by the Aging and Dementia Research Center at the New York University Hospital and was an avid supporter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association of Southern Connecticut, 911 Dixwell Avenue, Hamden, CT 06518.
John Chelednik, Air Force veteran
John Chelednik of Ridgefield, a veteran of the Air Force, died Monday, June 9, at Danbury Hospital. He was 70 years old.
Mr. Chelednik was born in Clymer, Pa., Oct. 26, 1932, son of the late Joseph and Catherine Gaul Chelednik.
He was a U.S. Air Force Korean War veteran.
He is survived by his sisters, Helen Bertalovitz of Ridgefield; Margie Schoonmaker of New Milford; his brothers, Joseph of Lake Worth, Fla.; Edward, Frank, George, Robert and James, all of Danbury, and Rudy, of Ridgefield; and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brother, Richard, in 1992.
Services will be held at the Green Funeral Home, 57 Main Street, Danbury, on Friday, at 11 a.m. Burial will follow in St. Peter Cemetery.
Friends will be received at the Green Funeral Home on Thursday, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Hanahoe Memorial Children’s Clinic, 205 Main Street, Danbury, CT 06810.
Hal Childs, editor, writer, merchant
Harold L. “Hal” Childs of Tucson, Ariz., a former Ridgefielder who had been a journalist, writer and village businessman, died Tuesday, Jan. 28, in Tucson. He was 81 years old and the husband of Verna Childs.
Mr. Childs was born on May 13, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pa., and graduated from Temple University. During World War II, he served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged in 1946.
His first job was as a reporter with the Atlantic City Journal where he later became editor. His next pursuit was as the director of public relations for the March of Dimes in New York.
Mr. Childs then started his own public relations firm, specializing in providing services for various medical related companies. He wrote many articles for the Journal of the New England Institute for Medical Research, which was located in Ridgefield during the 1960s and early 1970s.
In 1975, after years in public relations, he and his wife purchased “The Yardage Shop” on Main Street where they sold fine fabrics and sewing machines. They also serviced sewing machines.
“He was very good with his hands in so far as building things and repairing items,” his family said. “He was an electronics buff who enjoyed his cameras, video equipment and countless TVs. He loved to watch all sports on television and followed them thoroughly.”
Mr. Childs came to Ridgefield around 1959 and had lived on Country Club Road. He was active in the Ridgefield Lions Club for many years.
He and his wife retired in March 1993 and moved to Tucson.
Besides his wife of 42 years, Mr. Childs is survived by three sons, Kevin Childs of Portland, Ore., Craig Childs of Elk Grove, Calif., and Scott Childs of Eastford; two daughters, Jody Gagne of Lucas, Texas, and Tracy Childs of Ridgefield; two sisters, Helen Fein and Sylvia Novak, both of Pennsylvania; a former daughter-in-law, Kathy Childs of Las Vegas, Nev.; six grandchildren, Jennifer, Dwight, Cameron, Kali, Brody and Hailey; and by several nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the National Kidney Foundation 30 East 33rd St., Suite 1100, New York, NY 10016 or American Heart Association of Southwestern Connecticut, 5 Brookside Drive Wallingford, CT, 06492.
Neil Coppola, World War II veteran
Neil S. Coppola Sr. of Christopher Road, a veteran and longtime Ridgefielder, died on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 at Hancock Hall, Danbury. He was 82 years old and the husband of the late Audrey Waeber Coppola,
Mr. Coppola was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., July 14, 1920, a son of the late Salvatore and Molly Coppola. He attended New York schools and graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in aeronautical aerospace engineering.
He was a World War II U.S. naval veteran and a semi-retired electromechanical engineer.
A resident of Ridgefield since 1962, Mr. Coppola was a member of the Ramapoo Pistol and Rifle Club and the Mamanasco Lake Park Association.
He is survived by two sons, Rick and his wife Debbie of Watertown, and Neil Jr. and his wife Roseanne of Brookfield; a daughter, Carol Mazza and her husband Jerry of Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.; a sister, Gloria Chiarello of Hampton, N.Y.; three grandchildren and a great-grandson.
Memorials may be made to a charity of your choice.
The Kane Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.
Frank E. Donegan, 83, baseball star
Frank E. Donegan of 17 Halpin Lane, a former baseball star who once operated a bookstore in the village, died on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 21, at Mediplex of Danbury. He was 83 years old and husband of Claire Faulkner Donegan.
Mr. Donegan was born in New York City on Sept. 29, 1919, a son of John and Augusta Mae Donegan. Living in Rosedale, Queens, he attended New York schools and excelled in sports, especially baseball. A contemporary of Mr. Donegan was Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto. The two grew up in the same neighborhood in Queens, and played together on some teams and against each other on others.
In later years, Mr. Donegan attended St. John’s University and was a shortstop for its baseball team. He was signed along with Phil Rizzuto by the New York Yankees. He played on their Kansas City minor league franchise before enlisting in the U.S. Army at the outbreak of World War II
During the war, Mr. Donegan served as a lieutenant in North Africa where he was wounded in combat.
For many years, Mr. Donegan worked for the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, later known as Exxon.
In 1965 he moved from Long Island to Ridgefield and had operated Bell, Book & Candle, a book and greeting card shop in the Donnelly Shopping Center during the 1960’s and 70’s.
He was active in Little League in the late 1960s and 1970s and was a member of St. Mary’s Church.
Besides his wife of 56 years, Mr. Donegan is survived by two daughters, Priscilla of Danbury and Nancy of Niwot, Colo.; two sons, Robert of New York, N.Y., and Frank of Middleburgh, N.Y.; and six grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Monday, Jan. 27, at 10:30 a.m. in St. Mary’s Church.
Burial will take place in St. Mary’s Cemetery.
Friends will be received in the Kane Funeral Home, 41 Catoonah Street, on Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m.
Contributions in his memory may be made to the Visiting Nurse Association, 90 East Ridge, Ridgefield, CT 06877.
Loretta Fairbanks, shop owner, volunteer
Loretta Wirth Fairbanks of 15 Blackman Road, a retired retailer who had been an active youth volunteer here, died on Wednesday, May 7, at the Waveny Care Center in New Canaan. She was 85 years old and wife of the late Russell Fairbanks.
Mrs. Fairbanks was born in Chicago, Ill., on Aug. 9, 1917, a daughter of Joseph and Bernice Grzybowski Przyborowski. She grew up in Chicago and had attended college before entering the Army Officer Candidate School during World War II. She served in Europe and North Africa from 1943 to 1946, attaining the rank of captain and earning several commendations, including the European-American-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the Army of Occupation Service Medal, and the American Campaign Medal.
While stationed in Germany, she met her husband-to-be, also in the Army. The two were married in 1947 and opened the Fairbanks Photo Shop on the Post Road in Darien. Mr. Fairbanks died in 1969 and Mrs. Fairbanks continued to run the store until her retirement in 1985. The shop is now operated by her son-in-law, George McKnight of South Salem, N.Y.
Mr. and Mrs. Fairbanks moved from Darien to Ridgefield in 1958. Mrs. Fairbanks was for many years active in Girl Scouting, serving as Brownie leader at Farmingville School, a troop leader at East Ridge Junior High School, a counselor at Camp Catoonah, and a chairman of the annual Girl Scout Fund Drive here. She was active in the Farmingville PTA and also taught literacy as a volunteer in the Ridgefield schools.
Mrs. Fairbanks had been a member of the OWLS senior citizens group, the Ridgefield AARP chapter, and of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.
After her retirement, she enjoyed traveling.
Mrs. Fairbanks is survived by her daughter Lauren McKnight and son-in-law George of South Salem; two granddaughters, Kelly McKnight and Alison McKnight; five sisters, Clare Cogan, Marcella Ward, Irene Hertl, Dolores Cavanaugh, and Jean Costabile, all of Chicago; and several nieces and nephews.
A son, William G. Fairbanks, and a brother, Edward Priz, died before her.
A memorial service will take place on Saturday, May 17, at 2 in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 351 Main Street.
The family will receive friends in North Hall of St. Stephen’s Church immediately after the service.
Private burial services will take place in Spring Grove Cemetery, Darien.
Contributions in her memory may be made to the Visiting Nurse Association, 90 East Ridge, or Meals on Wheels, 25 Gilbert Street, both of Ridgefield 06877.
The Kane Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.