Looking Back: ‘A working guy’ for employee of the year, sewer expansion

Paul Van Wagner made history in the Jan. 7, 1993, edition of The Ridgefield Press.

The public works employee was featured as Ridgefield’s Employee of the Year for 1992 — the first non-white collar or non-management town employee to receive the honor.

“I thought someone like Paul should get it, a working guy,” explained mechanic Jeff Estes on why he nominated Van Wagner for the award.

Van Wagner, who had worked for the town for 25 years, posed in a picture next to the public works department’s backhoe.

He didn’t give much of a smile.

“I was tricked into it,” Van Wagner told The Press that week.

He wasn’t going to attend the town Christmas party, where the award is presented, until someone asked him to serve food. He agreed, and was presented with a plaque naming him to the honor.

“If I had any idea what I was there for, I don’t know if I would have shown up,” he said. “I don’t want to be noticed that much. I was a little embarrassed about it.”

Van Wagner began his career in Ridgefield when J. Mortimer “Woody” Woodcock was its top official.

The former first selectman died Wednesday, Jan. 6, 1993 in Newtown. He was 88 years old.

The Press noted that Woodcock “calmly led the town through some of the worst of its growing pains … a period of unprecedented school construction resulting from record growth.”

During his administration, the town purchased the former Holy Ghost Novitate on Prospect Ridge that became the location of the school board offices and several playing fields, as well as local headquarters for the Guild of Artists and the Marine Corps.

Perhaps Woodcock’s least expensive acquisition is the one for which he will be remembered the longest, The Press rightfully observed.

“During his administration, the state was buying up huge tracts for the Norwalk River Flood Control Project,” the paper reported. “One section contained more than 140 acres and a house. Despite the fact that all but a small portion of this land was in Wilton, Mr. Woodcock arranged to have the Town of Ridgefield lease it at $1 a year from the state to establish a nature center.”

50 years ago

On this day five decades ago, the buzz around Ridgefield was all about a proposed sewer change that could cost millions of dollars — sound familiar?

The Press’s lead story in that week’s paper read, “Firm Proposes Sewerage Change and Expansion to Cost $5 million.” The three-part plan, prepared by Boston-based engineering firm Whitman & Howard, was submitted to the Board of Selectmen with the recommendation that the town construct alterations to its existing sewer treatment plan.

“Inspect, clean and repair the existing system; and add about 2.5 miles of pipes to the system; and then add approximately 19 miles of sewers with seven pumping stations,” The Press said, synthesizing the key points from Whitman & Howard’s proposal.

Under the expansion plan, seven new districts would gain sewer lines — mostly north and south of the area now serviced by village sewers, the newspaper reported.

Those areas included Barry Avenue, Kellogg Street, North Street, Ivy Hill Road, Cranberry Lane, St. John’s Road, and Golf Lane.

“Each section will have a pumping station,” The Press said.

Sewers weren’t the only news item in the Jan. 4, 1968, Press that were relatable today.

The other major headline that week: cold weather and snow.

Four snowstorms in a seven-day period had police officers, road crews, and CL&P workers wondering when it would ever stop.

“The storm on Dec. 28 left about six inches on Ridgefield, followed by snow, ice and freezing rain on New Year’s Eve. … Added to this was Tuesday’s cold wave which sent temperatures in town down to minus three degrees.”