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August 3, 2008

Family Sundays of the Past

My parents at their Hamden church, about a half-century ago. Courtesy photos

By Joanne Iacobellis

(Editor’s note: Iacobellis takes a departure from her usual column fare to bring readers a Sunday message.)

I recently received an e-mail from a friend which started me thinking of Sundays past. She wrote:

I could describe her entire tasteful attire for you; including her lovely summer white hat. I thought of a time gone by when Sunday was sacred and everyone dressed, and good taste was everywhere. I had to say something to her …I did. Her eyes were friendly and big, and her smile was warm …She said, "thank you, you made my day.”  I said, "thank you, you made me smile.”

This took me back to the late ’50s and early ’60s when I was growing up here in Hamden. We would go to church on Sunday morning. Dad dressed in a suit and tie, a brightly colored handkerchief showing from his left pocket. He led the congregation singing hymns and had to look “good” standing up on the altar. We would follow -- mom, my younger brother and me. Mom always dressed in a suit or matching coat and hat. A close second to her idol Jackie Kennedy. She always made sure we were dressed appropriately. This was an era before jeans and sweat suits became the rage.

Then it was home to prepare Sunday dinner. This was family day. On some Sundays, especially during the summer months, my cousin and her parents would join us.          

As we opened the back door, the smell of sauce simmering on the stove would send our taste buds quivering. Mom would be making meatballs. Pasta was a Sunday tradition for many Italian families. I would quickly slice the ends off a loaf of Italian bread, one for my brother and one for me. We would line up with our plates to sample those meatballs before they went into the sauce. So good!

Dad grilling some tasty chicken after Sunday church.

Once summer arrived, Dad took over Sunday dinner. This was grilling time, and mom was given a rest. Of course, she still had the clean up to do, and salad and vegetables to prepare. On Sunday mornings after church, Dad would fire up the grill. Soon his chickens, which had marinated all night in his special sauce, would be turning slowly over the fire. The aroma would penetrate the neighborhood. Our next door neighbor would come outside.

He and dad would have a glass of wine while comparing recipes over the backyard fence.

We ate outdoors, the table set under the shade of the big sun umbrella. It was a time for family sharing.

But that time is long past. I too am in the grocery store on Sunday afternoon, remembering those Sundays. They were the best.

Joanne Iacobellis is a lifelong Hamden resident whose professional career was in nursing management. She is currently the president of the Kenwood Valley Neighborhood Association and co-president of Concerned Citizens For Hamden Neighborhoods.  She can be reached at JoJo3030@comcast.net.

July 20, 2008

You Did a Good Job, Baranskis
"Charlie" was performed on stage at Mt. Carmel Congregational Church. Photo/Joanne Iacobellis

By Joanne Iacobellis

The Blue Hills Summer Theater presented its musical interpretation of “You’re a good Man,Charlie Brown.” It was the product of a four-week summer workshop that combines acting, vocal production and movement. The theater group is in its second year and under the leadership of Karen and Steve Baranski. Karen is director, choreographer and costume designer. Steve is producer and musical director. (Click here for a recent profile of the Baranskis.)

As Karen once told me:” I love working with kids. This gives me an opportunity to combine my creative side with teaching.”

The cast of 11 included Gavin Mc Nicholl asCharlie Brown,Brett Wright as Franklin, Adrienne Whiting as Frieda,Jake Schevling as Linus, Leah Kesselman as Lucy, Hannah Finch as Marcie, Renee Collett as Peppermint Patty,Emma Baranski as Sally Brown, Callum Wright as Schroeder, Scott Redmond as Snoopyand Grace Pasquale as Woodstock.

The play depicts a day in the life of Charlie Brown drawn from different episodes in the character’s life. It shows the problems of everyday life that we all face. Haven’t we all been asindecisive as Charlie or as crabby as Lucy?

From the Valentine’s Day scene to the baseball scene to Snoopy as the Red Baron, little vignettes in song and dance are portrayed by members of this cast with humor and affection.

The newly refurbished Mount Carmel Congregational Church was the scene for this stage production. Although the night was warm, the cast was lively and entertaining. Congratulations on a nice performance.

Joanne Iacobellis is a lifelong Hamden resident whose professional career was in nursing management. She is currently the president of the Kenwood Valley Neighborhood Association and co-president of Concerned Citizens For Hamden Neighborhoods.  She can be reached at JoJo3030@comcast.net.

June 30, 2008

Meet Karen and Steve Baranski

Founders of the Blue Hills Summer Theater

By Joanne Iacobellis

I met Karen and Steve Baranski some 15 years ago when I first moved into the Kenwood neighborhood. They lived in the house next door at the time, and we soon became friends. On warm summer nights, I could hear Steve playing the piano and Karen singing. I thought, “Probably rehearsing for another show.”

Steve, a music teacher in the Westport school system, and Karen, the Christian education director at Mount Carmel Congregational Church, have been involved in stage shows in Connecticut and New York City. And together they formed the Blue Hills Summer Theater, now in its second year of production.

I recently met with Karen to learn more about their summer theater. She said it’s a working summer stock program for kids 9-14. “After having our own production in Westport [Bedford Summer Theater], Steve and I thought it was time to try it here,” she said.

“It is different from other programs in that it is not a camp. It is an intensive program to stage Broadway musicals complete with costumes, set, lights, etc. The students truly have a summer stock experience,” said Karen.

I asked about the historical reference in the name of their theater troupe.

“The Mount Carmel Congregational Church has been very supportive of this project. We have adopted the ‘Blue Hills’ as a historical reference to the hills of the Sleeping Giant,” she said. “We rehearse in the church parish hall and stage the musical in the almost 200-year-old church building. It has proved to be an incredibly charming venue for children.”

Husband Steve is the musical director and producer. “I take care of the creative side -- set, design, director and choreographer,” said Karen. And a small staff of high school students helps during production week.

Safe & Creative

Children participate in acting workshops, choreography and staging, vocal production as well as assist with costumes and set design.

“Are there lessons to be learned from this experience?” I asked.

Yes, said Karen. “The first value discussed in the summer is a ‘safe’ in which each child can work. By ‘safe’ we mean in the physical sense, but also safe from peer pressure, family pressure and feel free to express themselves.

“Another important part of the experience is that they learn to work as an ensemble. There are no ‘stars’ or leading roles. They are taught that every participant is important and creates the whole. Without this, the production will fall short artistically,” Karen continued. “They are coached, critiqued and directed, in a positive environment, to become an ensemble. As a result, children from elementary school, middle school and high school seem to bond over the summer. Even with their perspective degrees of maturity, it turns out to be a very supportive and safe venue to express their creativity.”

This year Steve and Karen Baranski are producing “Charlie Brown,”a show t they have done before. It will play at the Mount Carmel Congregational Church on July 17. Tickets can be obtained at the door. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.

See you all there!

Joanne Iacobellis is a lifelong Hamden resident whose professional career was in nursing management. She is currently the president of the Kenwood Valley Neighborhood Association and co-president of Concerned Citizens For Hamden Neighborhoods.  She can be reached at JoJo3030@comcast.net.

June 17, 2008

Meet Johanna Becker

Retired psychologist and environmentalist

Column and photos by Joanne Iacobellis

I first met Johanna Becker a few years ago when I became a member of the Hamden Democratic Town Committee. We are both members of the 1st District.

Johanna has lived in this neighborhood for almost 30 years; her home nestled in the woods close to Sleeping Giant State Park. I asked her about the changes in the neighborhood over the years.

"There actually was a ‘neighborhood’ at one time held together by the Mount Carmel Neighborhood Association, which is now dormant,” she said. “We had meetings to deal with some of the events and doings that concerned us. Here we actually got to know one another, which had been pretty difficult before since we were all fairly spread out.

“However, as neighbors became disgruntled with noise and traffic issues many moved out,” Johanna continued. “The neighborhood, as it was, is now depleted -- except for a few holdouts -- replaced by either empty homes or student housing.”

We talked about the widening of Mount Carmel and Whitney avenues and the impact it will have on the neighborhood. She said, “I fear that cars will be flying even faster down Mount Carmel Avenue and it will be very dangerous for pedestrians or cyclists to cross. I do look forward to the sidewalk and a better crossing of Whitney Avenue to the bus stop.”

Johanna Becker at the Kenwood cul de sac dedication chatting with Mayor Craig Henrici, state Rep. Brendan Sharkey (D-88th Assembly District) and Councilman Matt Fitch.

A board member of the Sleeping Giant Park Association (SGPA), Johanna is the merchandising manager for the association’s Trading Post. Giant enthusiasts can purchase T-shirts, hats, stickers, posters and maps, just to name few items in Johanna’s inventory. In addition, she works with the Trails Committee to keep up the blazes on the trees so hikers don't get lost. Her particular responsibility is the cross country ski trail. Every two years, she paints images of crossed skis and poles on a black background on selected trees. Since she likes to paint, this kind of "plein air" artwork is rather fun for her.

Born and raised in Queens, N.Y., Johanna attended Bard College and New York University receiving a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

"When I was young, my other New York borough friends thought of Queens as the countryside. Now, of course, all that has changed and the Long Island Expressway whizzes through what was my back yard," she said.

After completing a post-doctoral fellowship at Austen Riggs Center, Johanna has worked at Harvard, Elmcrest Psychiatric Institute and the Manson Youth Institute, a prison for boys in Cheshire.

A member of the Rails to Trails Commission, Johanna took an active part in the completion of Phase III of the Canal Line. The homes on Kenwood Avenue (this author’s home included) now sit where the original canal line was some 25 years ago.

Now retired, Johanna has more time for her Gourmet Group, part of the Yale University Women Organization. The group meets once a month for an elegant, home-cooked lunch, often at one of the Yale master's houses, or at a member's home. There are planners and cookers. She was once a planner for a menu with a lemon theme. “All the courses had some lemon them -- the appetizer, main course, dessert and beverage,” she said.

This summer, Johanna is involved in the Community Supported Agricultural Program, or CSA. This allows the members (for a fee) to share in the harvest of crops from a large farm. Members usually work a required number of hours to help maintain the farm. Johanna has been assigned to wash the vegetables that are harvested.

With prices rising, this is a good thing.

Joanne Iacobellis is a lifelong Hamden resident whose professional career was in nursing management. She is currently the president of the Kenwood Valley Neighborhood Association and co-president of Concerned Citizens For Hamden Neighborhoods.  She can be reached at JoJo3030@comcast.net.

May 29, 2008

At Long Last, Our Cul De Sac

Neighbors and town officials pose by the cul-de-sac-in-progress. Courtesy photos

By Joanne Iacobellis

Ground has just been broken on the Kenwood cul-de-sac. No longer will vehicles race to get to Whitney Avenue. No longer will trucks toting heavy equipment cut through on their way to the more industrialized Sherman Avenue. No longer will a police roadblock be necessary to close off Kenwood Avenue when a game at Quinnipiac University’s sports complex lets out.

It was apparent to many of us that Kenwood was becoming a cut-through street to either avoid the light at the corner of Whitney and Evergreen avenues, or take a shortcut to Dunkin’ Donuts.

The idea for a cul-de-sac first came to be in 2003, but didn’t take hold until Craig Henrici began mayor in 2005. Traffic studies done in the winter of 2005 and the fall of 2006 both indicated an increase in traffic along Kenwood.

But the dream was far from a reality. Approval was needed from various town departments as well as Planning & Zoning and the town council. Once approvals were secured, funds needed to be appropriated. QU then offered to assume financial responsibility for the project.

The construction site. Sleeping Giant rests in the background.

Yesterday neighbors, along with Mayor Henrici, Councilman Matt Fitch and state Rep. Brendan Sharkey, gathered to view the site. Construction for the project began a week ago and completion is expected toward the end of June.

Already, people are noticing an improvement during the construction phase.

“There is no traffic,” said one resident. “Just like when we first moved here.”

“It is so nice for the kids to be out playing or riding their bikes and not worry about cars speeding by,” said a grandmother.

Lifetime resident Virginia Dowd said, “It’s a pleasure to have our old neighborhood back again. Kudos to Craig and Matt and all those who made it possible.”

Rev. Doug House of the Mount Carmel Congregational Church said the cul de sac would limit the number of cars going through the church’s parking area, to avoid the Whitney and Sherman intersection.

“Over the years there have been many occasions when cars have speeded through our parking area, not being concerned as who may be walking through the area,” he said. “We have children as well as adults who make regular use of our facilities, and our hope is that, because of the new traffic flow, that safety for all has been improved.”

The Kenwood cul-de-sac will restore the quiet charm that I had discovered some years ago upon moving here. It certainly will change the footprint of this northern Hamden community.

Joanne Iacobellis is a lifelong Hamden resident whose professional career was in nursing management. She is currently the president of the Kenwood Valley Neighborhood Association and co-president of Concerned Citizens For Hamden Neighborhoods.  She can be reached at JoJo3030@comcast.net.


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