Joan Downing Connor is West Haven’s Irishwoman of the Year. Connor, 86, a first-generation Irish-American, will receive the “Irish Person of the Year” honor during the 28th annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration at noon March 15 on the Campbell Avenue side of City Hall. (Contributed Photo)
Joan D. Connor named city’s Irishwoman of the Year
WEST HAVEN, March 4, 2019 — Joan Downing Connor, a founding member of the West Haven Irish-American Club who epitomizes the qualities of an Irish Westie, will receive the city’s Irishwoman of the Year award on the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day at the 28th annual St. Patrick’s Day Celebration.
The West Haven St. Patrick’s Day Committee will fete Connor, the daughter of immigrant parents from County Kerry, Ireland, by hanging a green street sign designating City Hall’s Campbell Avenue entrance “Joan D. Connor Square” for a year.
Last year’s recipient, Coleman W. Walsh Jr., will take home his sign at the start of the ceremony.
The “Irish Person of the Year” honor is bestowed annually on an Irish resident, or couple, who personifies service in the city’s rich Irish-American community.
“It means the world to me to be thought of like this and to remember everyone who started the Irish-American Club,” said Connor, who will toast her Irish heritage with scores of her closest friends and loved ones, along with an array of shamrock-clad dignitaries and descendants of folks from Erin. “It brings back such fond memories.”
Accompanied by Celtic music played by bagpipers and drummers, members of the West Haven Police Color Guard will escort Connor to the Campbell Avenue side of City Hall at noon March 15 for her special recognition.
A corned beef and cabbage lunch will follow in the First Congregational Church of West Haven’s Fellowship Hall, at 1 Church St. opposite City Hall on the Green.
The St. Patrick’s Day Committee, led by Chairwoman Beth A. Sabo, the city’s commissioner of human resources, includes the lifeblood of West Haven’s Irish-American society, such as members of the Irish club and former honorees, as well as former and current city, fire and police officials.
“The committee made a wonderful choice,” Mayor Nancy R. Rossi said. “Mrs. Connor is the epitome of a first-generation American. She is proud of her heritage and cherishes her home community of West Haven.”
Connor, 86, hails from an ancestry whose legacy is stitched into the tapestry of the American fabric.
From celestial green shores, millions of indomitable Irish sons and daughters set out across the Atlantic Ocean seeking a brighter day in the United States. Alongside a melting pot of other immigrants, the Irish people helped build strong communities like West Haven and forge America’s future.
In 1911, at the ages of 24 and 21, respectively, Connor’s parents, John Downing and the former Nellie Reilly, left their homeland in search of the American promise, eventually meeting in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood and marrying there in 1922.
Her father worked as a waiter and bartender, and her mother toiled as a maid and homemaker who raised the couple’s four daughters.
“I was brought up with pride to be Irish and to be an American,” Connor said. “I am very proud to say that I am first generation here. My parents were very proud to be American citizens, and my mother always said we were American Catholics of Irish descent. So keeping my heritage alive is very important to me.”
She added, “Being Irish means family, friends, love, laughter — taking care of each other, and having a laugh and a good time while you do it.”
Connor, born in the Elm City in 1932, grew up in a two-family home at 109 Lilac St. in Newhallville.
She graduated from Wilbur Cross High School in 1950. Two years later, she married James J. Connor and had three children, Joanne Connor, James P. Connor, who died in 1980, and Patricia Connor Thompson.
The Connors moved to West Haven in 1957 to raise their family and “build a better life for themselves.”
The couple were instrumental in founding the Irish-American Club in 1962 with John and Mary Reynolds, Jim and Rita Artes, Jack and Bea Neylan, Dick and Kate Jones. They were joined by the Gallagher, Hudson and McDonough clans.
According to Connor, they asked one another at the time, “New Haven has an Irish club, why not West Haven?”
After more than a half-century of continuous operation, the Irish club is still going strong. And Connor is still a hands-on member.
Rossi lauded the civic-minded Connor for her dedication to the Irish-American community, saying, “Mrs. Connor has touched the lives of many Westies and has made an indelible mark on the Irish-American community here.”
The mayor will present her with an Irish flag and a proclamation citing her commitment to “carrying on the spirited traditions of Ireland and the spiritual teachings of St. Patrick.”
Connor will also receive a jacket embroidered with her new title: Irishwoman of the Year.
The Irish-American community in West Haven takes great pride in the St. Patrick’s Day traditions that have been handed down from each generation. The wearin’ of the green holiday remains a day of fun in the minds of the many who celebrate it, but there is also a deeply religious significance for the Irish Catholic community.
Every March 17, those of Irish birth or lineage honor the memory of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland who brought the message of Christ to the Irish people nearly 1,600 years ago. Teaching the word of God, St. Patrick used the three-leaf shamrock, with each leaf representing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The need to preserve their Celtic identity led the Irish, fleeing famine and poverty on the Emerald Isle to the shores of America in the 1800s, to form the Hibernian Society, which held the first St. Patrick’s Day parades, and local organizations, such as the West Haven Irish-American Club.
Members of the New Haven County Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes & Drums, including bagpiper Greg McGovern, will lead the opening procession, followed by remarks from master of ceremonies David Coyle.
The Rev. Mark R. Jette, former pastor of St. Lawrence and St. Paul churches in West Haven who now serves Sacred Heart Church in Suffield, will offer an Irish blessing. Fiona Stewart, queen of the 2013 Greater New Haven St. Patrick’s Day Parade, will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and the Irish national anthem, “Soldier’s Song,” followed by a greeting from Rossi.
Joined by her daughter Joanne, Connor will then pull off a shroud revealing the rectangular sign.
Connor and her husband, who died in 2003, wore many hats in the Irish club. They helped plan the open house party after the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the spring Easter egg hunt, the summer picnic in Painter Park, and the “Christmas in Ireland” dinner dance.
She ran the Feis, the club’s Irish dance competition, and made traditional Irish dance costumes for her children, who took lessons from Kathleen Mulkerin Jones.
In the 1995 parade, Connor led the club as marshal. She received the club’s Appreciation Award in 2000.
A woman of faith and family, Connor, who lives on Jones Hill Road in West Shore, is a longtime parishioner and volunteer at the nearby Our Lady of Victory Church. She is also a Eucharistic minister who gives the sacrament of Holy Communion to the sick and homebound.
Connor’s love of all things Irish and passion for community service has been passed on to her children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, many of whom have followed in their mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps as active members of the Irish club, the Irish community and charitable organizations.
Both her daughter Joanne and granddaughter Cathleen Steinau Buckheit, the 2003 parade queen, are former club presidents. Granddaughter Katie Thompson was the parade’s honor attendant in 2012 and 2013.
In addition to participating in the Irish club, Connor is perhaps best known for having worked as a security officer for the Board of Education at West Haven High School for years.
Long before the advent of school resource officers, it was Connor and her dear friend, Mary Reynolds, who monitored the halls keeping teens in class and out of trouble.
Connor was affectionately known as the “Blue Lady” and Reynolds the “Pink Lady.”
“Mary was already known for her pink smock, so when my mother took the position, she asked that her color be blue in honor of the Virgin Mary and her strong Irish Catholic faith,” Joanne Connor said.
Although Joan Connor retired from the school board in 1996 after a 31-year career, she is still recognized by former students, her daughter said.
The high school legend, who served as the first female president of the custodial, maintenance and clerical union, “was loved and feared by many as she walked those halls in her blue Nikes,” Joanne Connor said.
Black Balloon Day to honor casualties of opioid addiction on Wednesday
WEST HAVEN, March 4, 2019 — Mayor Nancy R. Rossi is calling on all residents who have been affected by the opioid epidemic to hang a black balloon in front of their homes in observance of Black Balloon Day on Wednesday.
For the second year, Rossi has pledged West Haven’s commitment to recognizing the special day after its co-founder, Diane Hurley, of Peabody, Massachusetts, reached out to the mayor seeking the city’s participation. Hurley’s daughter, Lauren Hurley, is the other co-founder.
Lauren Hurley’s mission began March 6, 2016, after her brother-in-law, Greg Tremblay, a father of four, died of a drug overdose a year earlier.
Hurley’s brother, Sean Hurley, was also a drug addict but has been clean for more than a year.
In the wake of the family’s tragedy, she and her mother have joined forces in the war on drugs.
On Wednesday, the Hurleys are encouraging all West Haveners who have been impacted by drug addiction, including pain-reducing opioid medications, to hang a black balloon outside their homes.
At the request of Diane Hurley, city officials will also hang a black balloon on the steps of City Hall for each resident who has died of opioids. A prayer service will take place there at 10 a.m.
At least 24 residents died of opioids last year, said city Health Director Maureen B. Lillis, referencing a November 2018 report by the state Department of Public Health’s Office of Injury Prevention.
Hurley is encouraging the city’s police and fire departments to participate by hanging black balloons as well.
Rossi said West Haven’s participation is aimed at “shining a light on how the national public health crisis of opioid addiction affects us locally.”
Rossi announces 2018 surplus of more than $3 million
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — The City of West Haven has produced its first budget surplus in many years and has a positive fund balance for the first time in well over a decade, Mayor Nancy R. Rossi announced.
Rossi has released the audit report covering fiscal year 2018, which closed June 30, 2018. The report showed a surplus in the general fund of $3,144,027, resulting in a positive fund balance of $2,181,149. The audit also reported surpluses in the City of West Haven Fire Department Allingtown and sewer funds of $539,409 and $1,833,451, respectfully. The audit was conducted by PKF O’Connor Davies LLP of Wethersfield.
“This is an important benchmark for West Haven, and this shows that we are willing to make the tough decisions to live within our means,” Rossi said after releasing the audit. “West Haven has not had a positive fund balance in a long, long time. This will show the state, our business partners, and our residents and taxpayers that we are serious about a healthier and better fiscal future.”
The City of West Haven was facing an estimated $2 million deficit in December 2017 when Rossi took office.
“When my administration took office, we faced another potential multimillion-dollar deficit, even with an anticipated $8 million restructuring grant from the state Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB),” Rossi said. “There was a shortfall left from the deficit bonding prior to me taking office and another operating deficit in 2017, as well as health care and retirement costs that were out of control and over budget.”
Rossi added: “My first decisions in office were unpleasant and difficult. They included eliminating programs and positions, furloughing city employees, and reducing employee hours to part time to save money and reduce our growing health care costs. We also instituted a spending and overtime freeze for nonessential tasks and canceled popular community events — and not because we wanted to but because we had to.”
The fund balance in the 2017 audit was a negative $18 million — $18,138,674 to be exact. Former Mayor Ed O’Brien’s deficit bonding generated proceeds of $17,175,796 on his way out of office after running four consecutive deficits totaling more than $10 million. The deficit bonding, by state statute, also triggered state oversight by the MARB.
The audit also showed significant improvement in two other governmental funds that had a history of running deficits and carrying negative fund balances. The Allingtown Fire Department entered fiscal 2018 with a cumulative deficit of $658,268. The current audit shows a surplus for 2018 of $539,409, which reduces the cumulative deficit to $118,859.
“The Allingtown taxpayers have seen many years of tax increases and have sacrificed,” Rossi said. “We have worked hard on the Allingtown Fire Department budget, and the good news is that we expect to eliminate the longtime cumulative deficit completely this fiscal year. We have instituted budget and spending policies that require extensive monitoring. We want the taxpayers to have confidence that their hard-earned tax money is being spent properly, and of course we need to stabilize the tax rate.”
The Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA), which manages the sewer fund, also experienced a surplus for the fiscal year in the amount of $1,833,451. The surplus will completely eliminate the on-going sewer fund deficit and provide a healthy fund balance of $1,757,460.
“We instituted fiscal policy and budget monitoring early in my administration for the sewer fund,” Rossi said. “The WPCA administrator and his staff have done a great job operating the plant, offering suggestions for efficiency — and all within budget. I believe our plant is one of the best run in the state, and I want to thank them for their efforts.”
“The City of West Haven is much better positioned for the future with the operating and budget changes introduced, resulting in a more efficient and effective government and a budget surplus,” Rossi said. “The surplus and positive fund balance will allow for a budget reserve (rainy day fund) and help us improve the city’s bond rating, which is one of the worst in the state. Our goal is to grow the fund balance (rainy day fund) to 5 percent of the general fund budget, or approximately $8 million, over the next five years.”
Rossi added: “I know some of the decisions that were made were unpopular and required sacrifices by our city employees, our Board of Education staff, and our residents and taxpayers; but I believe that because of those sacrifices, we have set the path to success and set future expectations. I want to thank the city and Board of Education staff for their many past and continued concessions to help get the city back on track.”
“This audit will demonstrate to our prospective and current business owners and our residents and taxpayers that we have heard their concerns loud and clear, and that we are serious about the future and growing our community,” Rossi concluded.
Flapjack fundraiser at Applebee’s to benefit children with special needs
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — The West Haven Interagency Network for Children will hold a flapjack fundraiser from 8-10 a.m. April 27 at Applebee’s restaurant, 526 Boston Post Road, Orange.
The cost is $6 and includes pancakes, bacon and a drink. Proceeds will support activities for children with special needs.
Tickets are available at West Haven Youth and Family Services on the second floor of City Hall, 355 Main St. The agency’s goal is to sell at least 200 tickets.
For information or to buy tickets, contact WHINC Director Robert S. Morton at 203-937-3633 or email@example.com.
The emerald ash borer. (Contributed Photo)
Tree warden Leo Kelly advises residents about emerald ash borer
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — As the tree warden of West Haven, I would like to advise the public about the presence of emerald ash borer and its effect on our ash tree population.
The ash tree is a native hardwood deciduous tree found throughout Connecticut. The most common and abundant species are green ash and white ash.
The ash tree was popular to plant and maintain along streets or parks because of its useful and adaptable urban tolerances and resistance to numerous environmental stressors. Ash tree wood makes for great firewood, baseball bats and furniture and has been in Yankee life for decades as a commonly available and useful timber tree.
West Haven’s ash tree cover citywide constitutes about 2 to 3 percent of all trees in our entire forest, slightly less on city roads and parks.
The emerald ash borer, or EAB, is a non-native beetle that made its way from China to Michigan. First discovered in Detroit in 2002, EAB has since spread east to Connecticut and New England and is now fully verified in 35 states and five Canadian provinces.
By most accounts, the introduction of EAB occurred through shipping containers in green pallet wood from China. Recent campaigns by the U.S. Forest Service have instructed people to minimize the movement of firewood, which has become a large contribution to EAB’s spread.
EAB will destroy an ash tree in three to five years and continue to infest and re-infest an ash tree until it collapses and dies while moving on to new hosts as the lifecycle continues.
Details at https://www.dontmovefirewood.org.
A fond farewell
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — Mayor Nancy R. Rossi congratulates Director William P. “Bill” Slater on his retirement from the Department of Parks and Recreation during a reception attended by dozens of co-workers Thursday at City Hall.
Rossi presented a citation to Slater for “41 years of dedicated service” to the city, including the last 25 years as Park-Rec’s director.
He was also cited by the mayor for providing “dynamic and engaging programs to meet the recreational needs of our community, enhancing the quality of life for thousands of Westies.”
Slater was hired Feb. 21, 1978, under the administration of Democratic Mayor Robert A. Johnson.
(City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
From left, retiring Parks and Recreation Director Bill Slater and Mayor Nancy R. Rossi pause with Slater’s longtime supervisor, Human Resources Commissioner Beth A. Sabo, and his longtime employees, program coordinator Tom Conroy, administrative assistant Kerri Ruocco, program coordinator Diane Dietman, and pool and waterfront coordinator Margaret Ruggiero. (City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Anthem Blue Cross speaker set for March 12 at senior center
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — A representative from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield will discuss the company’s Medicare plans at 12:30 p.m. March 12 at the Allingtown/West Haven Senior Center, 201 Noble St.
The representative will also answer questions about Medicare and explain various options. No insurance will be sold.
Anthem will provide light refreshments and a raffle.
To attend, call the senior center at 203-937-3507.
Yoga program for older adults
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — The Department of Elderly Services is offering a 12-week yoga program that focuses on postures, breathing and meditation.
Instructed by Debby Kahan, classes meet 9-10 a.m. Tuesdays, starting March 19, at the Allingtown/West Haven Senior Center, 201 Noble St.
Kahan has years of experience teaching yoga and working with older adults.
A free trial class is available for those wishing to try it first.
The fee for the program, subsidized in part by the department, is $50, payable to West Haven Elderly Services.
To register, call the senior center at 203-937-3507.
City’s first ramen restaurant opens on Capt. Thomas Blvd.
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, center, cuts the ribbon Feb. 25 with Iishin Ramen Bar chef and co-owner Johnny Chen, second from left, and co-owner Penny Gao, third from left, to mark the ceremonial opening of the city’s first ramen restaurant at 291 Captain Thomas Blvd., formerly Savin Rock Roasting Co.
Joining the celebration are, from left, state Rep. Charles J. Ferraro, R-West Haven; Rossi’s executive assistant, Lou Esposito; Iishin waiter Andy Xu; Gao’s mother, Cindy Gao; state Rep. Michael A. DiMassa, D-West Haven; Gao’s father, Jackie Gao; and Fred A. Messore, city commissioner of planning and development.
The remodeled restaurant’s bar mixes a clever concoction of cocktails, such as a Soho lychee martini and a sake cosmopolitan, with a creative menu of mouthwatering appetizers and heaping bowls of ramen noodle soup, a dish popular in Japan composed of wheat noodles and broth.
Located near the beach, many of Iishin’s ingredients are made from scratch, including house-made dumplings, tofu and soy sauce.
Its appetizers include edamame, pan-fried Japanese peppers with yuzu salt and Brussels sprouts tempura, as well as a spinach, avocado and seaweed salad.
Four rice bowls are offered — marinated chicken and egg, marinated sliced beef, braised pork belly and barbecue eel — and seven varieties of ramen soup. Signature Iishin Ramen is served with straight noodles in a pork bone broth boiled for more than 24 hours and topped with marinated pork belly, wood ear mushrooms, seasoned bamboo shoots, scallions, dried seaweed and marinated boiled egg.
Iishin is open Sunday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, noon-11 p.m.
(City Photo/Michael P. Walsh)
Marchers sought for Memorial Day parade; applications due April 8
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — The city is seeking veterans, civic groups, fraternal organizations, service clubs and marching bands to participate in the annual Memorial Day parade, which steps off at 10:30 a.m. May 27. There is no rain date.
Participants must register and list required special accommodations.
Transportation is provided for veterans who are unable to walk the 1 ½-mile parade course, which follows Campbell Avenue from Captain Thomas Boulevard to Center Street. To make arrangements, call the mayor’s office at 203-937-3510.
The parade grand marshal is West Haven Vietnam Veterans member William Benson, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War.
Download a Participation Form.
Forms are also available in the mayor’s office at City Hall, 355 Main St., where they are due April 8. Forms can also be emailed to parade organizer Kristen Teshoney at firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 203-937-3705.
City issues snow rules for parking
WEST HAVEN, March 1, 2019 — To help crews expedite snow removal, Public Works Commissioner Tom McCarthy is reminding residents and businesses to observe parking regulations during and after storms.
Per the “Severe Weather” parking ordinance under Chapter 188 of the West Haven Code, police will tag and tow vehicles violating the ordinance at the owner’s expense. Violators will receive a $100 fine.
Once snow begins to fall, a parking ban is in effect on the even-numbered side of most roads, unless one is posted with a “No Parking” sign on the odd side.
The ban is in effect for 36 hours after a storm. Residents are urged to park in driveways or designated private lots.
However, during an official snow emergency declared by Mayor Nancy R. Rossi, a parking ban will run from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. on both sides of Campbell and Savin avenues, Morgan Lane, Elm Street, Meloy Road, Second Avenue from Elm to Beach streets, and Main Street from Savin to Washington avenues.
McCarthy is also reminding residents and businesses to shovel their sidewalks within 24 hours after a storm or face a $25 fine “for each day that the violation persists.”
According to the “Removal of Snow and Ice” ordinance under Chapter 195 of the West Haven Code, people are given 24 hours to remove snow from sidewalks on and bordering their properties. Violators are subject to the $25-per-day fine, which is enforced by the Police Department, the ordinance states.
To report a complaint, call the department’s nonemergency line at 203-937-3900. Complaints are kept confidential.
McCarthy also pointed out that plowing or blowing snow into city streets is prohibited and violators are subject to a $60 fine for each offense, per the ordinance.
Also, residents and businesses with mailboxes damaged by snow thrown from a plow are the responsibility of the property owner. The city will only repair mailboxes damaged by the striking of a plow blade if there is visible evidence, such as paint or tire tracks.
Snow removal around mailboxes is the property owner’s responsibility.
Residents are also urged to help firefighters keep hydrants clear of snow.
For more information, call the Department of Public Works at 203-937-3585 or visit Public Works.
For the latest news and information, subscribe to the city’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CityofWestHaven.