A Chat in Hamden

September 22, 2005

Vin Lavorgna shows off the goat he brought into the world.

Vin Lavorgna, 46, Brooksvale Park ranger, father of two

By Sharon Bass

Lots of people work from home. Vin Lavorgna does. Only his home is huge. It's the size of Brooksvale Park. In fact, it is Brooksvale Park.

Lavorgna has been the ranger there for over six years. He's employed by Hamden Parks and Recreation. Not only does his family live on the grounds and earn their bread and butter there, but that's also where his kids get their education. Last year his wife, Janet, a teacher, starting home-schooling their offspring, Tessa, 8, and Jeremy, 6. The park is their science labs.

Sounds idyllic, and Lavorgna, a Hamden native, says it basically is. (His story of personally delivering a pygmy goat is wild.) But there are drawbacks, such as how to mark that division between home and work when both are in your back yard. He recently spoke to the Hamden Daily News about it. While Lavorgna doesn't talk like a park ranger -- more like a character out of the movie "Goodfellas" -- he nonetheless is every bit ranger at heart and in deed.

Hamden Daily News: Why a ranger?
Vin Lavorgna: Hearing the roosters in the morning instead of cars and traffic is a calming feeling for me. The fresh air. The lack of manmade objects is refreshing to me. The beauty of the place is a source of energy for me.
HDN: Did you go to school for it?
VL: I attended West Virginia University in their forestry program. I graduated from there, had no job. I moved back home to sponge off of my parents. And I got a job spraying poisons and pesticides for $4.25. One of my biggest breaks was getting a position with the city of New Haven Parks & Recreation Department at the West Rock Nature Center. Then I worked my way up in New Haven. Learned a lot. Grew up. My last 10 years (in New Haven) I was at Edgewood Park. That was where I made the connection between a community and a park and how valuable a resource a park can be.
HDN: What is it like for you to live at work?
VL: Really, between work and home it's going on at Brooksvale Park for me. I don't want to say Brooksvale Park is my life; I think I'd be shortchanging myself -- a little. (laughs)
HDN: Can you be more specific?
VL: Whatever you're seeing can be construed as work-related. Even if I'm on a day off and I'm looking at something in the park, I may say, 'Oh, I forgot to do something here.'
HDN: What do you do as park ranger?
VL: I do a lot of things that probably would not be considered a usual park ranger description. I'm in charge of running this park basically. I supervise the staffing. We're open 365 days a year. We are a licensed exhibitor of animals with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
HDN: You get up in the morning and you … ?
VL: I get up in the morning and I check the phone messages to see what's immediately urgent.
HDN: What could that be?
VL: It could be 'I was at the park yesterday and a goat had its head stuck in the fence.' (laughs) That's an urgent one. Or 'I want to let you know that there's a tree down on the green trail.' I started this answering machine bit here in an effort to be more responsive and more informed.
HDN: Then what?
VL: Then I'll go out and meet with the staff and discuss the day's work ahead of us. There may be school groups visiting us. We do general nature walks or signs of spring walks or animal-tracking programs. And adult programs. We make our own maple syrup here. Every Hamden public school fourth-grade class comes up here for that program. Currently right now I'm making five to 10 phone calls a day specifically on the fall festival. The other big thing taking a lot of my energy is renovating the park facilities.
HDN: Tell me about VJ, the pigmy goat you delivered last March.
VL: Well, VJ was probably the first large animal born here in quite a few years. Both of the pygmy goats (pauses, searching for the right word) does -- I'm a city guy, too, believe me -- were pregnant. So we were in touch with our vet who was advising us. I copied information off the Internet on birthing of goats. I put together a birthing kit of antiseptics and paper towels, dental floss to tie the umbilical cord, if needed. And lubricants and towels, and all that stuff.
HND: Were you nervous?
VL: I was nervous, yes. The mother was in labor. There was some stuff hanging out back there. I called my wife and kids. This was about 8 o'clock at night on a Friday. It was pretty cold. The mother was unable to deliver the baby. What you want to see -- you look in there with a flashlight -- is a stout and two hooves, like they're in the diving position. Well, she was trying, trying, trying. I said I have to investigate here. And I felt and found the snout and the hoof, but there was only one hoof. So through my research I knew what I had to do. And my kids and wife were sitting in the straw watching this happen. And my wife says, 'You can do it! You can do it!' I said, 'I have to go in!'
HDN: Like a doctor.
VL: So I went in with antiseptics and lubricant. Please edit this.
HDN: No, this is great.
VL: OK. And I had to reach inside until I found the goat's shoulder and pulled up its upper arm to the elbow and then felt down to the hoof and pulled that up to position. Got out of there and two minutes later, she delivered the male goat VJ. I didn't think I could do it. My wife encouraged me. The kids were yelling, 'You can do it, dad! You can do it!' And I said, 'I don't know if I can do it!'
HDN: And after the birth?
VL: I started getting emotional.
HDN: Does VJ feel like a son to you?
VL: (laughs) We're very close. That's a line, huh? That was a great experience. My kids didn't stop talking about it for a long time. My daughter wrote a story about it. That was a great education for the kids. Five days later the other pygmy goat (pauses again) doe delivered two babies.
HDN: Any parting words?
VL: Yeah. One of the things I do with every class that comes up here from kindergarten on up is I'll cross my arms and put on a little scowl and I say, 'Who do you think this park belongs to?' And the kids get a little scared and they raise their hands and they say, 'You! You!' Then I might say, 'Yeah, well what if your teacher said she wanted to bring a class to my park and I said NO! Do you think I could do that?' And the kids say, 'No.' So I say, 'Who else does this park belong to besides me?' And you might get, 'God. Or the animals.' And I say, 'This park definitely belongs to them.' And I say, 'Look around. See these things growing? The trees? This park definitely belongs to them.' And I go, 'And guess who else it belongs to?' And one of the kids will go, 'Us.' Then I will say, 'If something belongs to you don't you think you should learn more about it? That's why your teacher brought you here today.' And towards the end I might say, 'And if something belongs to you, shouldn't you help take care of it?'
HDN: Very, very nice, Vin. Thanks.

September 2, 2005

Warren Kimbro at his office where he helps other ex-cons.

Warren Kimbro, 71, former Black Panther, Harvard grad, community activist, Hamden resident

By Sharon Bass

In the late 1960s, Warren Kimbro joined the Black Panthers in his native New Haven because he said he was drawn to the militant group's social and political philosophies. About seven months later, he would wind up behind bars for killing fellow Panther Alex Rackley.

Kimbro's transformation from Panther to murderer to Harvard graduate student to advocate for and mentor to other ex-cons reads like a fairy tale. Once a man who sported an Afro and was, in his own words, a big, bad, tough guy, Kimbro is now a gentle, slender man who wears Calvin Klein socks and Nike polo shirts. He owns such books as "Winning," a corporate management book by Jack Welch; "Gentlemen's Guide to Grooming and Style," by Bernhard Roetzel; and "The Official Rule For Golfers" (Kimbro just took up the game), by Paul Dickson.

Kimbro moved to Hamden in 1989 and heads Project More in New Haven, a private, nonprofit agency that helps those in the criminal justice system turn their lives around.

Hamden Daily News: I'm looking at you and I can't picture you as a Black Panther.
Warren Kimbro: That's what my mother says.
HDN: Tell me how you got involved with the Panthers.
WK: It happened more by accident than design. A couple of them came to New Haven. They spoke at the neighborhood high school. We started talking about philosophies and different things and getting more and more together. The philosophy that we talked about back then wasn't about killing people, but taking control of neighborhoods.
HDN: What were you doing at the time?
WK: I was working for Community Progress, the anti-poverty agency. (New Haven's) Community Action Agency is the remnants of it. When I first started talking to the Black Panthers in '68-'69, it was about community control. And I said, 'Community control makes sense.' Neighborhoods know what they need and I think neighborhoods should have control. You gotta have the residents involved.
HDN: What led up to the murder?
WK: Most people who went into the Black Panther Party went in for good reasons: to stop police brutality, breakfast for school kids, health facilities in the community. The Panthers were just starting (in New Haven) when I got involved. And I wasn't in there long -- six, seven months -- before we got arrested.
HDN: What happened?
WK: Well, we got involved in an interrogation process with a Panther from New York. And this Panther who was in charge from California took over control, and spiraled out of control and we executed what I consider an innocent individual (Alex Rackley).
HDN: And you pulled the trigger?
WK: Yeah, yeah. That was my fatal mistake.
HDN: Why you?
WK: You know, you have to be careful how you do this, Sharon, because I'm not trying to look for excuses and say they made me do it, you know? It was my fault. I shouldn't have been involved. Once you start marching in the parade and you get in step with all the people in the parade, you just keep marching all along. And the rhetoric that you're spouting -- you soon become a victim of your own rhetoric.
HDN: Why were you told to shoot Rackley?
WK: They claimed he had been an informant on the Black Panther Party in New York. They claimed the Black Panther Party in New York had planned to blow up the Statue of Liberty, Macy's, the Botanical Gardens and all that stuff. It was supposed to happen on a Good Friday. Well, years later I found out that was a plan contrived by the New York police and the folks down there. New Haven was sort of a set up. We were set up by ourselves and we were set up by police. Now, that doesn't excuse me. I made my amends with the most high supreme god.
HDN: You were sentenced to life, but were pardoned and spent four and a half years in prison. And you underwent a serious transformation.
WK: I went in angry and bitter and confused. I was just as angry with myself as I was with others.
HDN: And you came out a different man.
WK: No, my mother said I came out the man I really was.
HDN: Nice.
WK: My mother is a devout Catholic, a very devout Catholic -- and a Republican. OK? I don't think my father was. My mother wasn't allowed to visit me in the beginning. The only people who were allowed to visit me for a long, long time was my wife then, and my sister Betty. And my sister Betty never missed a Saturday visiting me.
HDN: When did you get to see your mother?
WK: They must have had somebody in there watching my behavioral changes and they allowed my mother to come up to visit me. Well, my mother was very to the point. She said, 'I don't condone what you done. What you done was wrong. But you're still my baby and I'll pray for you.' So I'm going back from the visit and she's talking to the guard. It's a Saturday. I don't pay it any mind. So I go up to my cell. Sunday morning all the guys empty that cellblock and went to church. I laid up in the cellblock, still a big, bad revolutionary, big Afro and everything like that. Old Sgt. Eddie Burns opened my cell electronically and said, 'Kimbro!' I don't pay him no mind. 'Kimbro!' I don't pay him any mind. I say well maybe it's my lawyer's visit, and I start following him. We go down, and he goes in one door and points to another door for me to go in. I go in the door and Father O'Brien then begins to say the mass. So I'm stuck. I stayed in there. And after that, I didn't get immersed in the Catholic religion again, but I found God again.
HDN: And that was it? You were a changed man, or rather the man you really were?
WK: People always say to me what's the worst thing I ever done in my life. And they always expect me to say shooting Alex Rackley. That wasn't the worse thing I ever done. The worst thing I ever done in my life was to get up in a rally and say there is no God.
HDN: What happened after prison?
WK: I was going to Eastern Connecticut State College when I was in prison, because we designed an educational release program. I got out (of prison) Jan. 18, 1974, and I (immediately) enrolled in Harvard and got a master's degree in education.
HDN: That must have been a huge culture shock for you.
WK: It was a big shock. But I was on a mission to show people that I could do it.
HDN: And you apparently did.
WK: You know, I used to have a sign up here (points to wall over his desk): 'At birth, all men are born good.' Because we seem to think there is a bad seed. We are influenced by our environment and our social conditions and the policies of the time. And we make the choices.

Warren Kimbro's life experiences will be featured in a book by Paul Bass (brother of Hamden Daily News founding editor Sharon Bass) and Yale professor Douglas Rae, to be published next year. It delves into the 1969 murder of Black Panther Alex Rackley, who was wrongly suspected of being a government informer.

August 22, 2005

Jalowiec stands in his Central Avenue kitchen ready to take on the fight.

James Jalowiec, 29, Independent, 4th District council candidate

By Sharon Bass

He's a low-keyed, unassuming man. He lives on Central Avenue, works for the Motor Vehicle Department and is a poli sci major at Southern Connecticut State University. James Jalowiec has got a wife, Stephanie, a baby and a really nice house. And he's embarking on his maiden voyage into politics this November as he challenges Democratic incumbent Ed Beaudette and Republican Chris Pappas for the legislative council's 4th District.

Jalowiec is a registered Green, but said he has never been involved with that party and soon plans to drop the affiliation. He so registered because he believes in third parties in a big way. And he used to adore Ralph Nader. Used to.

Jalowiec may not have his political schtick down pat, but he sounds like a straight-shooter.

Hamden Daily News: This is your first run for political office. Why now?
James Jalowiec: Well, there are a couple of things you can do when you don't like how things are going politically in your town. You can pay your tax bill and not be happy. Or you can go to one of your council meetings and complain about it. Or you can say, 'I'm going to try my best to get this mil rate down.'
HDN: And you started your own party?
JJ: I chose to form my own Independent political party, the Spring Glen Party, because now it seems there's too much party-jumping at the local level. Most currently is Mayor Amento considering, maybe not considering, taking the Green Party's nomination.
HDN: What's been the neighborhood reaction to the Spring Glen Party?
JJ: I went around and collected as many signatures as I had to, about 25. The response was overwhelming. No one said no.
HDN: Who belongs to the Spring Glen Party?
JJ: Right now it's me and my wife. I can't get into any fundraising yet. You need a treasurer. You need to start a bank account.
HDN: In a nutshell, what are your political positions?
JJ: Well, you'd have to give me the issues specifically.
HDN: OK, abortion.
JJ: I believe that abortion should exist.
HDN: The Iraq war.
JJ: I was against it from the beginning. Now that we're in it, it has to get finished.
HDN: The Bush Administration's love affair with corporate America.
JJ: Businesses should be given certain breaks so that they can help the economy expand. I think what's going on now with businesses is fine. I'd like to see more of them in the U.S.
HDN: What about Ralph Nader inspired you to register as a Green?
JJ: I liked some of his views. I did like his view on the war in Iraq.
HDN: Are you concerned with environmental issues as the Greens are?
JJ: I love the national park system. I think [the parks] are fabulous. So when I see that [Bush] wants to take some of this land and sell it -- to who I don't know, but I'm sure it's his corporate buddies -- that's upsetting. I feel that we own it.
HDN: So what are your goals if elected to the council?
JJ: The first one is fiscal. The town has to catch up with its fiscal debt. So I would vote against any new spending. A second is to secure as much funding for District 4 as possible. And the third is to bring back some accountability to local politics.
HDN: How unaccountable do you think it is?
JJ: I think in Hamden it is very big. There's so many arguments about different issues where 'it's not my fault; it's because of the previous administration that we're in debt.' If I mess up, I'm mature enough to say, 'OK, this was my fault.'
HDN: You moved to Hamden in 1998. Are you here for the long haul?
JJ: If you look at the demographics, the rich are actually moving out of Hamden. And with the mil rate going up, you can see why. If taxes keep going up, I don't think I can [stay in Hamden]. When I went around door to door asking people about the mil rate, they said they actually wouldn't mind paying higher taxes as long as they were getting services for it.
HDN: What's the most important thing people should know about you?
JJ: That I am really not a politician. I'm a concerned neighbor who's willing to fight for them, to stop the escalating taxes.
HDN: Do you think you have a good shot at winning a council seat?
JJ: I'm going to give 100 percent. I am going to go to every door I can and hope for the best. So far, everyone that I've talked to is patting me on the back, saying, 'Way to go.'

August 13, 2005


Sy Hatkin during his college days.

Sy Hatkin, 75, SCSU Class of '04

By Sharon Bass

I initially wanted to interview Sy Hatkin, of Cardo Road, because I'd heard he got a bachelor's degree last year at the age of 74. I wanted to know what it was like to sit in a classroom filled with grandchildren. Why he wanted the degree. What he planned to do with it.

But then I met Hatkin one morning last month at Starbucks on Dixwell Avenue, and I quickly learned that getting a college degree as a septuagenarian was not his story. He led me instead inside a much more passionate part of his being: his love of politics.

The recent Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) grad didn't bring his college diploma or report cards to the interview. Instead he came with a spiral notebook filled with newspaper clips of his unsuccessful run for the legislative council in 1980, accompanied by letters of support or thanks from politicians, namely now state Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) and former Hamden Mayor Lillian Clayman.

Hatkin grew up in the Bronx and is a retired salesman.

Hamden Daily News: When did you start college?
Sy Hatkin: 1951. I went to the Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences. It was a two-year school in Brooklyn. I dropped out. In those days, I thought there was a lot of political red tape. Can you imagine how I feel now?
HDN: It must feel like a bloodbath.
SH: I always liked education. I wanted to learn. And I wanted to get a degree. My son has a degree; my wife has a degree. [So I went to] SCSU starting in 1993 until 2004 -- bachelor's of science degree in political science. I like politics. I would have liked to have gotten a job in politics.
HDN: What was it like going to college as an older person?
SH: As an older person? [laughs] I don't consider it that way. People are very stereotyped today. It's a shame. The kids ignored me. The best instructor I had was Republican.
HDN: What are you?
SH: I'm Democrat. I'll never vote anything but Democrat now. The president has gone too far to the right. I ran for councilman in 1980 in Hamden, for 6th district. My company was annoyed that I was going into politics.
HDN: Was that the end of politics for you?
SH: No. Then in 1990, I did it again. I ran against someone which I lost by a lot. The second time around I found that the party wasn't with me. There was a lot of infighting. It's just like [with] Amento; it's like a civil war. I'd like to get on the state Democratic committee.
HDN: Wanna give me your take on some of Hamden's mayors?
SH: Lillian Clayman, she was good. Barbara DiNicola, I didn't think she was good. I thought she meant well, but she wasn't [capable]. I thought they all tried. I think Carl Amento is my favorite mayor.
HDN: What do you think of his Democratic opponent, Craig Henrici?
SH: Oh, he's good. I have a picture of Henrici when he ran at-large. I ran against him. I always forget about him.
HDN: So what about this Bush Administration?
SH: I think Bush is the most dictatorial person I ever met. I dislike him immensely. He's the worst president ever. He's going to put back the country 100 years. He's as bogged down with religion as the Muslim fanatics are. Same level. Same mentality.
HDN: And your message to the prez?
SH: Resign.

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