Standing at what is perhaps the least-traversed edge of Mead Pond on a recent morning, town native Jim Bach, a 1947 New Canaan High School graduate who served as a U.S. Army sergeant from 1952 to 1954, picks lichen from the branch of an apple tree whose trunk is twisted in prickly weeds.
“I don’t know what this stuff is, and you see how the vines have grown up?” Bach said on this cool, clear December day. “That shouldn’t be. That is the lack of maintenance, and a lot of those lower branches should be taken off and also, you know, it has gotten spindly too. That’s the attention that these types of trees need.”
Dedicated at the close of World War II to the 38 New Canaan men who lost their lives while serving during the war, the area dubbed “Gold Star Walk” starts just inside the gate at Mead Park’s entrance and runs along the eastern and northern edges of the pond. One tree had been planted for each honored man, and the Gold Star Walk was rededicated—its trees replanted—with funds raised privately from survivors and local veterans, in 2003.
The thought at the time, Bach said, was that after the rededication and new plantings, the town itself would take over its maintenance.
“In fairness to all, we assumed when it was done and all approved [by the Park & Recreation Commission, Board of Selectmen and Town Council], that the taking care of the trees would evolve to the town—that really hasn’t happened,” Bach said.
Led by Bach, efforts now are underway to ensure that the Gold Star Walk is maintained and traversable and that a second footbridge that had been part of the memorial’s original vision is installed.
Called an important if largely forgotten piece of New Canaan’s heritage by advocates for the effort, the Gold Star walk includes a footbridge with a steel girder base whose surface needs replacement, 38 flowering trees that appear to be suffering from neglect and a plaque affixed to a boulder that lists the New Canaan killed during World War II.
The trees, plaque, footbridge and two of the benches had been paid for out of a privately raised Gold Star Walk Fund that had stood at more than $30,000, Bach said, and now has about $10,000 in it for tree replacement and to install a second footbridge at the northwestern end of the walk, over the major stream feeding Mead Pond—a phase of the project that had been put on hold for the pond’s 2008 dredging.
Arriving as some others urge New Canaan to keep up Mead Park to the same degree that it maintains Waveny or Irwin, Bach has broached the need for maintenance of the Gold Star Walk with a Park & Recreation subcommittee and others.
Asked about plans for Gold Star Walk, Tiger Mann, assistant director of the Department of Public Works, said, “We are working to address that and we are looking at building a secondary bridge over the other inflow.”
According to Bach, the first selectman at the time of the rededication, Dick Bond, specified that the Gold Star Walk should not include a clearly delineated pathway—say, a gravel walkway—but rather should be left as grass.
Park & Recreation Commissioner Francesca Segalas said that however the town proceeds, Gold Star Walk itself should become a more prominent and recognizable part of Mead Park.
“It’s sort of a town secret, which it shouldn’t be—they are town heroes,” Segalas said.
Those heroes include many multi-generational New Canaan names that will be familiar to townies. They include (a full list can be seen in the photo at right, and each man’s name is written in full at the end of this article) Benko, Conner, Gravereaux, Kelley, Lapolla, Ready, Scott and Urban.
Many of their stories are known to Bach, who used to swim and ice skate at Mead Park as a kid, and remembers the community gardens that once stood roughly where the tennis courts do now, during the Depression and World War II, and the wading pool whose only remnant now is the colonnade that had been built to enclose it.
The “original” 38 trees each had a brass band that named one of the 38 men lost during the war, Bach said, but they were lost or stolen over time.
Reviewing the names on the plaque, Bach said that Bill Emery’s family had owned Emery Air Freight, “the very first people to have a company moving stuff by air.” Emery himself had been on board the USS Indianapolis, Bach said, the ship chosen to deliver the atom bomb at Saipan and which “got torpedoed, and nobody knew about it, and he [Emery] and others were in shark-infested waters and he died.”
Another fallen veteran, Erle Edward Offen, was killed in an accident right here in New Canaan during the war while he was on leave, and was honorably discharged, Bach said.
It isn’t clear today just which trees remain from those original 38, though several of those further back from the pond’s bank appear to be in good condition.
Bach said that during the 2008 major dredge of Mead Pond—the biannual dredges now are for maintenance and are less involved—the pond itself lost some of its bank, which may affect the health of the trees that find themselves suddenly closer to the water’s edge.
According to local landscape architect Keith Simpson, who had helped advise on the replanted trees 11 years ago, plans had been developed to improve the northern end of Mead Park and connect it to Grove Street, but they required the demolition of the brick structure there. (Slated for demolition, the “Mead Park Carriage Barn” as local preservationists had named it, later was found to contain asbestos, raising prohibitively the price tag for its razing.)
Those in favor of improving the Gold Star Walk likely could start by approaching Park & Rec within the next few months, Simpson said, and one priority will be to restore the first footbridge whose surface as “deteriorated so that it is now almost unsafe.”
For Bach, Mead Park occupies a singular and important position in New Canaan as the town’s longstanding public park, and has earned more attention than it gets.
“I was down in this park every day,” Bach said. “This is New Canaan’s park. I don’t care about Waveny and Irwin in that regard. This was the park that the town had for the town park before there was anything else, and all of this has reached a degree of disuse.”
Here are the names of the New Canaan men who lost their lives during World War II while serving with the U.S. Armed Forces. The plaque reads: “Gold Star Walk—In memory of the New Canaan Servicemen who gave their lives in World War II for Peace and our Freedom”:
- William Bertram Becker
- Lewis Gordon Benko
- Charles Gilbert Benko
- Harry Joseph Brown
- Wm. Francis Browning
- Kenneth John Burdick
- Wm. Saunders Buttfield
- William Rodney Conner
- Charles Alfred Corson
- Louis Czako
- Thomas Henry Dubay
- Frederick Wm. Eaton II
- William Friend Emery
- Arthur Laurence Fladd
- Malcolm Ford
- Claude Gravereaux
- Henry Holt III
- Ellery C. Huntington III
- James Daniel Kelley
- Karl W. Kirchwey, Jr.
- Albert Conrad Klett
- Louis Rocco Lapolla
- Raymond Harold Lussier
- Ralph Lewis Moreno
- Donald Francis Mulstay
- Erle Edward Offen
- Carl Joseph Pavia
- Louis Eugene Rayner
- John Patrick Ready
- David Westman Rohr
- Samuel Arthur Russo
- Norman Edwin Scott
- Frank Setti, Jr.
- Paul S. Smilancsky, Jr.
- Ernest William Urban
- Francis Vishnosky
- Erwin Edwin Wood