Vets Park of­fers chance to set names in stone

Stamford Advocate - - Front Page - By An­gela Carella

STAM­FORD — At cer­tain times in city his­tory, Vet­er­ans Park has been about vet­er­ans.

In the 1940s, when nearly ev­ery fam­ily was tied to the bat­tle­fields of World War II, the park at At­lantic and Bank streets had a tri­an­gu­lar ser­vice wall made of wood.

“Ev­ery time some­one from Stam­ford went into the ser­vice, their name was hand-painted on a wooden slat and put on the wall,” said Tony Pavia, au­thor of “An Amer­i­can Town Goes to War,” a book about city res­i­dents who served in that war. “If some­one was killed, a gold star was put be­side their name.”

The park be­came a ven­er­ated place. When the wall was ded­i­cated in 1943, half­way through the war, there were 5,000 names on it, Pavia said.

By the end of the war, the num­ber had dou­bled, and 233 were marked with stars.

But the mon­u­ment could not with­stand the el­e­ments, or ur­ban re­newal, and in the 1960s it was torn down. Af­ter a time, the park lan­guished.

Then, in 1977, the city in­vested $500,000 in the

park to make it about vet­er­ans again. Four gran­ite mono­liths went up, each en­graved with the names of all known Stam­ford res­i­dents who died in the na­tion’s wars.

Even­tu­ally a bronze de­pict­ing a World War I “dough­boy” was added, along with a sculp­ture of a seated Abra­ham Lin­coln, who said those who “gave their lives that (the) na­tion might live” should al­ways be hon­ored. A statue of Homer Lee Wise, Stam­ford’s Medal of Honor win­ner from World War II, was in­stalled.

But when Pa­tri­cia Parry vis­ited in the win­ter of 2011, shortly af­ter her son, Navy SEAL Brian Bill, was killed in Afghanistan, the park was un­kempt.

“It was a de­press­ing place,” Parry said.

“It was in a sad state,” said Pa­trick Sasser, her son’s life­long friend.

“It was in to­tal dis­re­pair,” said Sandy Gold­stein, pres­i­dent of the Down­town Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict. “It ex­hib­ited, truth­fully, a feel­ing of dis­re­spect.”

Parry and Sasser wanted a fit­ting place to honor the mem­ory of Bill and all vet­er­ans of the global war on ter­ror. They be­gan to work with the DSSD and Rick Red­niss, head of a Stam­ford land-use con­sult­ing firm, Red­niss & Mead, and a long­time com­mu­nity ad­vo­cate.

Now, six years later, the park is in the mid­dle of a ren­o­va­tion that will cre­ate a plaza sur­rounded by an am­phithe­ater, with path­ways lined in trees, lamp­posts and benches that lead to the mono­liths, which have been repo­si­tioned on a hill.

When it opens next Novem­ber, the park will be a place for quiet re­flec­tion and pub­lic events, ac­cord­ing to the Vet­er­ans Park Part­ner­ship, led by Red­niss.

And, as hap­pened dur­ing World War II, Stam­ford res­i­dents will have a chance to make it their own.

The part­ner­ship is sell­ing the red pavers that will form the plaza, which will be set with five stars rep­re­sent­ing the branches of the mil­i­tary, to raise money to main­tain the park and or­ga­nize events there. Res­i­dents may have the pavers en­graved with the name of a vet­eran or a trib­ute to a loved one.

The part­ner­ship al­ready has raised about $6 mil­lion for the ren­o­va­tion from city and state grants and cor­po­rate con­tri­bu­tions. Now the group is raising revenue from the sale of pavers as well as donor plaques on flag­poles, benches, trees and lamp­posts.

“In the past the park lacked main­te­nance and su­per­vi­sion. It was un­for­tu­nate, but that is why we’ve taken our time to build a coali­tion and se­cure ad­e­quate fund­ing to do things to­ward the long term,” Red­niss said.

This week the In­ter­nal Revenue Ser­vice rec­og­nized the part­ner­ship as a 501c3 non­profit, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the group’s web­site, donors to date have pur­chased five flag­poles that will fly the ban­ners of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, at $15,000 apiece. An elm tree will be planted be­side each flag­pole. So far some­one has pur­chased a tree for the Marines, also $15,000.

Donors have pur­chased three of the benches, at $2,500 apiece, and plaques for nearly three dozen lamp­posts are avail­able at $1,000 each.

Peo­ple are most in­ter­ested in the pavers, said Michael Mol­gano, manag- er of sales for the group. At this point, there is room for about 250 8-inch­square con­crete pavers at $200 apiece, and about 300 12-inch-square pavers at $500.

Pavers made of gran­ite – 12 inches by 18 inches, and the larger 18 inches by 30 inches – are $1,500 and $2,500. They can be or­dered at www.vprstam­ford.org.

“Any­one who would like their paver to be in­stalled be­fore the park is ded­i­cated on Vet­er­ans Day next year has to get their or­der in by Dec. 21,” Mol­gano said. “You can still or­der af­ter that, but they won’t be en­graved un­til af­ter the ded­i­ca­tion.”

The DSSD is get­ting calls from peo­ple seek­ing to honor their vet­eran fa­thers, Gold­stein said.

“I’m get­ting goose­bumps from all the peo­ple say­ing, ‘I want a paver for my fa­ther,’” she said. “It’s such a beau­ti­ful thing.”

But a paver can com­mem­o­rate any­thing im­por­tant to you, Gold­stein said. “I got one that says how much I love Stam­ford,” she said.

Sasser said he will or­der one for his fa­ther, Duffy Sasser II, who served in Viet­nam.

“So many peo­ple in Stam­ford don’t even know we have a Vet­er­ans Park, be­cause it’s been tucked away and ne­glected,” Sasser said. “It’s amaz­ing how far it’s come.”

Parry said such places are mean­ing­ful to Gold Star par­ents.

“There’s a say­ing that a man dies twice — once when he stops breath­ing, and again when his name is spo­ken for the last time,” Parry said. “Ev­ery­one who gave of them­selves, gave to their coun­try, should be re­mem­bered.”

Matthew Brown / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Ren­o­va­tions are un­der­way on Aug. 9 at Stam­ford’s Vet­er­ans Park af­ter the state bond­ing com­mis­sion gave the pro­ject the $2 mil­lion it needed to fin­ish the job.

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