Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Kristen Pace (and Family)

Peter Ogilvie first noticed the activity at Canoe Hill Cemetery in the months after the COVID-19 pandemic set in last year, in driving by it on Laurel Road each day. Perched on a hill off of the east side of Laurel not far from the intersection of Canoe Hill Road, the final resting place of 200-plus New Canaanites—including the town’s (and possibly Connecticut’s) last living slave, Onesimus Comstock—had fallen into disrepair. With little dedicated parking and difficult to access even by foot, given a steep hill and crumbling stone staircase, the .69-acre burial ground was largely covered in weeds and fallen branches, with broken and illegible gravestones scattered about. One day, Ogilvie pulled over to see what was happening in the cemetery, and there met Kristen Pace and her daughters, busy at work. “She took on this project all by herself and in the middle of the pandemic, in the middle of quarantining, and with her daughters out there, did the physical work of cutting down weeds and cleaning up just unbelievable truckloads of crap,” Ogilvie said.

Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Lally Jurcik

In walking her dog in the area of Frogtown Road and the Noroton River, Robin Bates-Mason has gotten a firsthand look at how quickly trash can build up along the roadside and in the waterway itself. People driving along Frogtown, a heavily used east-west connection between Ponus Ridge and Weed Street, often don’t realize how much garbage there is because they’re moving too fast. “And of course, when summer comes in and the vegetation comes in, you don’t see it as well, but when you’re a dog walker and you see it, Frogtown just awful, it’s really bad,” Bates-Mason said. “Unfortunately  it’s not the safest route to clean up.”

Even so, as she did a few years ago, Llewellyn Drive resident Lally Jurcik took the lead last week in organizing a neighborhood campaign to get families out and cleaning up, said Bates-Mason, one of several residents of the area who received an email with details. Armed with garbage bags and loaned “grabbers” supplied by New Canaan Inlands Wetlands Director Kathleen Holland—an advocate fo the town’s annual “Clean Your Mile” campaign, more below—Jurcik helped organize more than one dozen volunteers who picked up everything from coffee cups, plastic bottles and plastic bags to discarded dog poop bags and beer cans.

Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Weezie Reid

Patricia Spugani, a town resident who volunteers to support the New Canaan Farmers Market, has seen hundreds of masks in checking shoppers in at the Saturday event under a new walk-thru model. So it’s unusual for one to stand out as the one New Canaan’s Weezie Reid was wearing a few weeks ago. It had a pattern of strawberries, with little green stems on a white background and red edge trim with white dots. “I said I love it and she told me that she had made it,” Spugani recalled. “We kept talking and I mentioned that my mom is a resident at The Inn and if she was looking to make more—because she said she’d been looking to make more—that I would be happy to buy some for my mom and friends at The Inn.

Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Hunter Van Veghel

The food drive that New Canaan-based nonprofit organization Filling In The Blanks ran that day had already been a huge success. 

Held May 21 at New Canaan Library, it saw about 100 vehicles come through and raised some 5,200 individual food items for the organization, according to co-founders and co-Presidents Tina Kramer and Shawnee Knight. Launched in 2013, the organization provides thousands of area children in need with weekend meals. The generous donations at the food drive organized with the library are especially important at a time of wide food scarcity, Kramer said. ”We are having difficulty purchasing the food we need, because the sources we usually use are not able to get us the items we are used to, so we have to buy retail,” she said. At about 5 p.m. that Thursday, members of the Filling In The Blanks team were unloading a truck of food at the organization’s Norwalk warehouse when the driver, 2012 New Canaan High School graduate Hunter Van Veghel, spotted a few young kids playing basketball at a shuttered school nearby.

Quiet Heroes of New Canaan: Thomas Shullman 

New Canaan’s Jeannette Chen, herself an accomplished chef, learned about 11-year-old Thomas Shullman’s latest creation during a social-distance walk around Hoyt Farms on a recent afternoon. Meeting former neighbor Nancy Shullman there, Chen discovered that Shullman’s youngest son had just finished making an Italian pastry stuffed with Nutella and was eager to share it. “It was so sweet, because I know a lot of hard work went into that,” Chen said of the two bombolone she brought back home. “They are a very generous family to begin with, and it [the bomoboloni] was amazing. We have five people here and it’s unbelievable that this kid is cooking up a storm during the quarantine.