Town Treasurer, Fire Chief and Publisher
V. Donald Hersam, Jr., a proud New Canaan resident who devoted his life to family, faith and public service, died at Norwalk Hospital August 31, 2023, surrounded by his loving children and grandchildren. He was 92 years old.
Mr. Hersam, better known as “Don” or “Chief” was the former owner and publisher of the New Canaan Advertiser, founded by his grandfather in 1908. He was elected New Canaan Town Treasurer in 1965 and held that position for 48 years until stepping down in 2013. He was a proud member of New Canaan Fire Company No. 1 since 1950, serving as chief from 1967-69.
Born November 27, 1930 to Don Hersam, Sr. and Agnes Cryan Hersam, he was a third-generation New Canaan resident. While growing up in the “Next Station to Heaven,” Don was the 1947 Connecticut Junior Skeet shooting champion as well as excelling as a right tackle for the New Canaan Rams. At 6 feet, 135 pounds, he was voted first-string right tackle in the then “Little Three League” that included New Canaan, Darien and Westport High Schools.
After graduating New Canaan High School in 1948, he attended the University of Connecticut before enlisting in the US Navy in 1951. He served at Quonset Point Naval Air Station, R.I. before being transferred to the U.S.S. Hornet (CVA 12) in January, 1954, a deployment that took him around the world as part of the Seventh Fleet took until his discharge on March 16, 1955.
While in the Navy he was introduced to the love of his life, Jeanne Marie O’Rourke. Upon his discharge from the Navy he married Jeanne and moved back to New Canaan where they raised their four children, Mary Anne, John, Andrew and Martin.
Don returned to the family business of newspapering with the New Canaan Advertiser — then located at 105 Elm Street (where Sole’ Restaurant is located today) — the building he continued to own up until his passing.
He took over the business in 1966, following his father’s death, becoming an industry leader and innovator. He led the Advertiser’s technological evolution from antiquated “hot lead” process to offset and computerization throughout the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s.
He was fiercely dedicated to his hometown and the Advertiser’s role and responsibility to the community’s health and vibrancy. He championed the local newspaper as “a mirror” of the community. He believed in tirelessly and accurately reporting on everything — from local births, deaths, politics, business and sports — giving readers the freedom to form their own opinions.
His championing of a free press went well beyond his hometown as he served on the board of the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government. “The more transparent a government is, the freer its citizens are,” he would say. He served on countless other industry boards including New England Press Association, Suburban Newspapers of America as well as nine years on the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) where he represented weekly newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.
In addition to following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps through service to the Fire Company, Don took on many volunteer and service roles. This includes serving on the board of the New Canaan Savings Bank, the Chamber of Commerce as well as the board of the Historical Society. He marched in countless Memorial Day parades. In later years, as his knees no longer allowed him to walk the parade route from St. Marks Church to Lakeview Cemetery, Captain Mike Socci and other firefighters would make sure Don could ride in ladder truck #3. It was a day he always treasured.
In 1991, he was the Memorial Day keynote speaker at Lakeview Cemetary and spoke on Veterans Day, 2014 at the Wayside Cross on God’s Acre. In 2022 he was also the Grand Marshal of the Memorial Day Parade.
He was inducted into the New Canaan High School Hall of Fame in 2014. It was a proud moment for a lifelong New Canaan Ram and fan of the Rams. He bled New Canaan red and black.
He and Jeanne were devoted members of St. Aloysius RC Church in town. Don served as a eucharistic minister, on the board of Catholic Family Charities as well as Education for Parish Service.
Don was a member of Shorehaven Golf Club for 58 years, joining in 1965. He and “his sweetheart,” Jeanne loved playing together and traveled widely, hitting the links from Hawaii to Ireland. Don was also a proud member of the “Maude Fricket Invitational” — a legendary, rag-tag collection of local golfers who would gather for 3 days each summer in Manchester, Vermont and compete for fun and bragging rights. Each August, he would publish a story in the New Canaan Advertiser, detailing the tournament, the hijinks and the larger than life personalities that made the golfing pilgrimage.
He also enjoyed time with Jeanne, family and friends at their summer home on Square Pond in Shapleigh, ME. He was a master at cooking large pots of fresh lobsters for gatherings on the deck overlooking the lake. He enjoyed quiet, early mornings at the end of the dock casting a line for a fish that might rise.
Don obtained his pilot’s license in 1984 so he, Jeanne and family could beat the traffic flying from Danbury to Maine on the weekends in his beloved Piper Archer (tail number 82953).
Of all he accomplished in his life he credited all his good fortune to Jeanne and their shared faith in God. Not a day went by that he did not express his gratitude in simple measures during conversations with his children and grandchildren always saying, “I love you.”
He leaves behind a quiet, but powerful legacy of love and service for his family to build on.
He is predeceased by his wife of 65 years, Jeanne, November 6, 2021.
He is survived by his four children, Mary Anne and her husband Richard Vasko, John, Andrew, Martin and his wife Kathryn, and devoted daughters-in-law Beth Hersam and Megan McDermott. He also leaves his beloved grandchildren Mary Kathrine Potter (Chris), Abigail (Fiance’ Gareth Henry), Eleanor, Merrill, Maren, Maggie, Tucker and Annie Hersam. Additionally he is survived by three step-great-grandchildren and former daughter-in-law Peggy Wilson.
A wake is planned for Wednesday, September 6, 4-8 p.m. at Hoyt Funeral Home in New Canaan. A Mass of Christian burial will take place Thursday, September 7 at 9 a.m. at St. Aloysius RC, Church, New Canaan. A graveside service at Lakeview Cemetery to follow immediately after. The family invites everyone to a reception after at Shorehaven Golf Club, 14 Canfield Avenue, East Norwalk, CT.
New Canaan Fire Company No. 1 donation information below. Please note in all donations that it is made “In memory of Vincent Donald Hersam” PayPal directly at: http://paypal.me/newcanaanfire Or checks can be made out to “New Canaan Fire Company” and mailed to: New Canaan Fire Company No. 1 P.O. Box 963 New Canaan, CT 06840