Report by Paula Antolini, November 1, 2022, 12:52PM EDT
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Changes to the Bethel Advocate: Letter from the Editor
I am always telling our daughter, who is now age 22, that life comes in “slices of time.” If you are lucky enough to experience the good slices, then you are fortunate, because experiences are fleeting and nothing lasts forever, as they say. This is the case with our 18 years living in Bethel.
Our introduction to Bethel was when we took a walk into the center of town the day we moved here, and while crossing the street, we experienced cars actually stopping to let us cross. Coming from New York, we thought we died and went to heaven.
Our awesome feeling continued when we experienced the Christmas celebration in P.T. Barnum Square each year. It was special and unique. We felt so safe. People were friendly and loving, of all nationalities and religions. It looked like a Norman Rockwell scene with children and parents having fun, roasting marshmallows by the fire, and riding the horse drawn wagon while hot soup was being served by Boy Scouts and church members in the square. Then as evening fell, choirs sang Christmas carols and Santa arrived on a fire truck. The Christmas tree and the Nativity display were lit on a countdown by Santa, then he sat in his rocking chair as children scurried to tell him their wishes. The smiles and wide-eyed faces were fun to watch. The laughter was delightful. Everything was simply perfect.
The Bethel Memorial Day Parade stands out as a wonderful repeated memory too. Everyone was there, it seemed. Our young ROTC members stopped during the parade march, and recited their pledge, proudly saluting while carrying flags. Veterans, police and firefighters and their vehicles participated, including antique vehicles. School children and other private groups happily marched and danced and music played. There was even a dogs’ group! Notable were the sidewalks lined with thousands of residents. Once again, a Norman Rockwell scene.
Then there were the lazy hazy days of summer where people would bring lawn chairs and watch outdoor movies on the municipal lawn, or sit under the shade of the beautiful trees lining School Street, or attend an annual amusement rides fair, a craft fair and sidewalk sale, a BeerFest and Food Trucks Friday, all very popular events. One year Bethel celebrated P.T. Barnum’s 200th birthday and decorated the main street posts with elephants designed by residents for a contest that offered prizes. Meandering around town you could find many restaurants (some serving outdoors) and shops.
The Halloween “Trick or Treat Street” is wild and brings a large crowd. It is so amusing seeing how creative the costumes are for children and adults alike. I love the costume that won first prize this year in the children’s category, a ten-year-old girl on stilts dressed as a raven. A beautiful costume that looks like a piece of art, and she walked on stilts the entire event!
Ah, then there were town meetings, some very lively and entertaining, others not so much, but always interesting, and you could voice your opinion too, and get to know your neighbors while catching up on town topics.
I will miss the pumpkin patch and apple orchard at Blue Jay Orchards, and those apple cider donuts! And the tractor pull and Christmas tree hunt at Hollandia Nurseries, what great activities. Who doesn’t like walking through their property in Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall with all the gorgeous flowers and plants or Christmas trees?
I met the nicest elderly woman sitting on a bench on the back porch of Dr. Mike’s Ice Cream store one summer. I believe elderly people hold wisdom and great stories and I always enjoy a chat.
I still miss O’Neil’s restaurant, who had to close during COVID, and his great sandwiches and oh that squash soup!
And who can forget the Sycamore’s “Cruise Nights” on Saturdays with all the cool vintage cars? And the vintage decor and old fashioned meals in the restaurant?
We are fortunate to be on the route of the “CT United Ride” each September 11th, when thousands of motorcycles, many bearing U.S. flags, pass through Bethel via Route 58, to honor the fallen.
I leave some good friends here too, that I will forever remember. In no special order:
Who cannot mention the famous Billy Michael, who is truly Mr. P. T. Barnum reincarnated (only without trying to make you leave via the egress). His musical talent is superb, his kindness and perseverance in fights for lower taxes will never be forgotten. He is a true gentleman and friend to many. He always kept it light but got his point across at meetings and protests, maybe it was the cowboy hat that made the magic. Other times, like on Columbus Day, he wore his top hat and strummed his guitar while riding In a boat with Columbus and Queen Isabella on Greenwood Ave. He certainly is all that is Bethel. We love you Billy!
The late John Holbrook of Holbrook Farm will always hold a special place in my heart. An upstanding individual who I watched fight for his rights to have a healthy farm, during the crematorium issue, a farm that he had built up for many years, I am just sad I did not witness the farm for more years in its heyday. But John took the time to give me some gardening pointers too. I remember how he referred to the special soil he developed, as “gold.” I am glad there are people now who are continuing the farm.
A person from Wilton, but who represented Bethel for many years, former CT State Senator Toni Boucher taught me much about never giving up, surviving no matter what, and being strong. She is also a killer cook. Sadly she lost her husband recently. Life sure is not fair. We love you Toni and all you have done for us as Senator and friend. We sure do miss you! Good luck in the next election.
I will always have fond memories of the late Mr. Thomas Rombilus, who left us in 2019 at age 67, a music teacher in Bethel for 40 years, who dedicated his life to teaching children the power of music. A sweet charming gentleman who created excitement with his Chopin piano competitions, inspiring students to take on the challenge, which offered so much more in hindsight. He inspired thousands of students with his love of music and was awarded “teacher of the year” in 2015. Kind, compassionate and full of corny jokes, he lived for his students. One of the last teachers with old fashioned methods that taught more than music, in life lessons that would be remembered forever, as one past student stated, who is now a teacher himself.
I could always count on others for a good chat on almost anything. I cannot forget Sycamore’s breakfast chats with friends like A.J. Bernard, who always gives good advice. His wisdom is appreciated, what a smart man. Let him sell your home. Will Duff’s history goes back to the stone ages, ask him anything about politics in this town. A man who has endured great physical struggles but has come out of it the Energizer Bunny every time. May he Iive a long life. We love chats with Mr. Duff senior too. And Selectman Richard Straiton, for always speaking from the heart, and being there to raise the Italian flag, and for all your kindness through the years. Laura Volpintesta is a talent beyond talent, amazing fashion designer, author, singer, single Mom of three, and a lot more. What a kind soul who showed me a whole other mellow way of thinking. Diane Sehringer Ryan, your connection to the earth and spirituality is inspiring, I am so glad we met. I hope your community garden is restored. Bill Ochs is a sweetheart of a man, he has a big heart and is an amazing dad and wants only good things for Bethel. Suneetha Malkani is one brilliant woman, get to know her, you will be amazed. Elisabeth Levy, thanks for your talent for photographically seeing the beauty that others miss. You are blessed. Michelle and Jon Greenfield you are hilarious, thanks for the laughs. Gloria Whaley and Shima Slate, your opinions are always right on, I like that. Victoria Boies Mavis, keep it going, to the win. Matt Paulsen, fastest wit ever. Diane Mastracchio and family, your spirituality and kindness is beautiful and appreciated. Rocco and Louis Selmanti, keep on keeping on, we love what you do. Portofino’s is the best Italian restaurant around. Tim Gartner, the truthsayer, keep it going. Jim Meehan keep the pipes piping. Your likes are appreciated. Lisa Scails, you continue to be an amazing leader. Vaesna Roeun, lead us on your path to glory. Todd Ingersoll, your generosity brings me to tears, you are amazingly creative and talented. The car giveaway day was incredible! Bruce Cornwell thanks for the pick-me-up that time I tripped! A true firefighter hero. In fact, thanks to all our first responders, police and fire fighters, for keeping us safe, and our Knights of Columbus who help the needy. A special memory of the late Rob Fish, photographer and fire fighter extraordinaire.
And my friends from afar, Dr. Donna Cobelli, who created an organization to protect and rescue animals in CT, and trained a large team of CTSART members to do so. Your classes are valuable and fun and I value your friendship. Rose Rogol you will never be forgotten, a true Italian. Michael Kacer you are always a winner, remember that. Your story continues, and bravery too, and love of family. Curtis and Mary Margaret Miller, you shine brighter than your diamonds, inside and out, and your spiritual inspiration and support is appreciated. Your prayers are as beautiful as your heart. Robin and Tom Caruso, love you for all that you are. And to all my cousins and the Cahills, thank you for being there, a special bond like no other.
And my best friend, the late Teresa Fogel, a sweet wonderful friend, my partner in Relay For Life and CERT (Community Emergency Response team) and CTSART (Connecticut State Animal Response Team). She volunteered for many other groups too, and was an animal lover galore. I still remember the story I covered when she helped save some kittens that someone dumped off near Greenwood Avenue. (all kittens were eventually located). She was a pal who was always there to help in any way. She passed suddenly in December 2019 after being diagnosed a month earlier with the very disease for which she fought to find a cure. I sure do miss her every day. This happened right before COVID started. Hopefully we are now near the end of COVID. COVID took much from us.
I also lost my beloved Labrador Retriever during this period, he was age 12 1/2. You never want to say goodbye to these angelic souls who are our guides, but we had to make that tough choice. Very sad. If you haven’t noticed I never hesitated to add a dog story. In fact, health and safety issues and rights of citizens, have always been my passion too, along with school issues and feature stories of slices of life.
We have such good memories of the town that our daughter grew up in, but it is time for this “slice of life” to end. See I told you, nothing lasts forever and we experienced the best parts, well except the COVID. But COVID made us appreciate all that matters, more.
I leave Bethel preferring to remember the fond memories and special people I met. I hope Bethel finds a way to stay the same, not everything is better with big change, sometimes you should not fix what isn’t broken.
Being a photojournalist here makes remembering Bethel easy, through photos and videos of stories I’ve shot. I’ve met hundreds of interesting people, covered challenging and heartfelt stories, witnessed breaking news, covered fires including historical buildings, covered business openings and ribbon cuttings, heated town meeting discussions, awards ceremonies, memorials and tributes, parades, protests, fundraising events, dog events, military balls and other dances, politics and lectures or Q&A, campaign events and politicians, art gallery showings, school sports and assemblies, music and plays performances, extra curricular community service activities, ROTC and veterans, moving up ceremonies or dances, college selection ceremonies, graduations, and even a secret swimming pond.
Memorable stories were when I covered the Joe Biden visit at UConn where he talked about gun control, and the Hillary Clinton visit where she promoted her books at Costco, and the Dalai Lama visit at UConn, which was a spiritual highlight. He wore a baseball cap and was very humorous, but also of course enlightened us to what is important in life.
I think I have experienced Bethel well. My advice is to focus on all the positive and strive to make Bethel even better. Love one another. Help one another. Bethel is so wonderfully unique, strive with all your might to keep it that way. Our magical little town is like no other.
I hope I have succeeded In providing readers with helpful information and visuals through the years. So many great happenings in our quaint little Town of Bethel. We will miss you.
I created Bethel Advocate to ensure Bethel residents were getting the proper information about local and breaking news, schools, health and safety, citizens’ rights, town meeting information, along with interesting feature stories. It was my pleasure to provide readers with photographic images and videos for you to enjoy.
As of November 1, 2022 Bethel Advocate will now become a blog to give us the freedom to take a better stand on issues and give you a place to discuss topics freely too. We will close our news media company but still keep our website and the Facebook page open as a blog and maybe add a thought or two as things transpire.
So for now, Happy Holidays!