Remembering Darlene Flagg, a 9/11 victim who helped build Ridgefield's iconic bandstand

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Darlene Flagg was a former member of the Ridgefield Woman’s Club.

RIDGEFIELD — Most residents would consider the bandstand in Ballard Park as a Main Street mainstay, but how likely is it that they know how it came to be? It was the efforts of one group, and one member in particular, that brought the iconic landmark into fruition.

Darlene Flagg was a former member of the Ridgefield Woman’s Club, which was instrumental in erecting the bandstand. Years after it was constructed, her name was etched into a memorial stone on the brick walkway near the structure following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.

Flagg was one of the 58 passengers aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when it crashed into the Pentagon that fateful morning. She was traveling with her husband, retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Wilson Flagg, and their friend Barbara Edwards.

Humble beginnings

The couple met as teenagers at Corona High School in California. They moved to Ridgefield in 1968, shortly after Wilson left active duty. In five years he logged over 3,200 flight hours in the F-8 Crusader jet — more than any other pilot — and earned two admiral stars during his Naval career.

Flagg was an active member of the Ridgefield community. In addition to the Woman’s Club, she also served as vice president of the Newcomers Club and operated Keeler Tavern Museum’s gift shop for several years.

Resident Elise Haas started volunteering there in 1978 and recalled visiting many local museums with Flagg, whom she always called her “Dee.”

“I remember one meeting we went (to) the Stamford Museum and we drove home in the snow,” Haas said. “I was very nervous while driving, but the whole time she was talking to me, (which) made me relax a bit.”

Building the bandstand

Flagg was a member of the Woman’s Club when the bandstand was built in 1974. But its conception first came up in the early ‘70s, around the same time the town purchased the remainder of the Ballard property.

In 1971, resident John E. Dowling wrote to former First Selectman Joseph McLinden in favor of the project: “In making a gift, the donor can decide who will be the beneficiary. … Since this gift is to benefit the public in general, I see no reason why the Board of Selectmen cannot accept such a gift.”

A Ridgefield Press clipping from 1972 depicts a sketch of the would-be bandstand by local architect James M. Hancock. The Woman’s Club envisioned it as a place to hold concerts in the park and eventually raised most of the money to build it.

Flagg was directly involved in the design, fundraising and construction of the bandstand and establishing the brick walkway that now bears her name.

The News-Times reported on the structure’s groundbreaking in November 1974. It was completed that winter, costing the club $7,500, according to town documents.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi said it was Flagg’s doggedness that ultimately got the job done.

“When you look up the word volunteer you probably see her face next to it,” he said. “She was a woman of action, and that’s an example for everyone to live by.”

A legacy of altruism

The Flaggs raised two sons, Marc and Michael, in Ridgefield, where they lived for more than 25 years. As the community prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, residents can sit in the bandstand and think of “Dee.”

“We were all shocked when we found out she was gone,” Haas said of her friend, “but remember(ing) her and her family on this anniversary is a very worthwhile endeavor. She should be remembered, as should all the others.”

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com