Kitty Rosa, 92, preserved history

Kathryn Venus Rosa, 92, a Ridgefield native deeply involved in historic preservation and an active supporter of arts organizations, died Wednesday, May 14, in California, where she had a home in Newport Beach near her daughter. A founder of the Keeler Tavern Museum and longtime chairman of the Historic District Commission, she was the widow of Paul Rosa, who had served on many Ridgefield boards and commissions, including as a selectman.

“I have a fierce sense of protection for our historic past,” Mrs. Rosa, known as “Kitty,” said in a 1996 Press interview. “I’d like to be remembered as someone who committed herself to the preservation of our past for future generations, someone who felt it was a privilege to live in a town as beautiful as Ridgefield.”

As a child, she loved walking along the Main Street and she especially enjoyed going to antiques auctions with her mother, Marion Travis Venus. Her dad, Jack, was one of nine children born to Mary and Charles Venus and he owned Venus Oil Company and Limestone Service Station on Danbury Road.

She graduated from Ridgefield High School on East Ridge and was voted “best socializer” in her class. She graduated from Merrill Business School and started working in finance. Her love of business and antiques were soon to merge when she started the Village Trader in a 3,000-square-foot building on Prospect Street, across from the movie theater. Her husband, Paul, attended auctions on weekends to ensure the shop had a wide variety of antiques and collectibles.

Kitty Rosa became a leading voice for the cause of historic preservation. In 1965, when the private home once known as the Keeler Tavern came on the market, Mrs. Rosa helped form a small group that eventually included her two mentors, Francis Martin and Preston Bassett, with the goal of purchasing the home for $85,000, then a considerable sum. The result is the Keeler Tavern Museum, for which Mrs. Rosa worked tirelessly, serving many years as president.

“Kitty’s love of history was in full bloom at this incredible pre-Revolutionary home and she donned her period costume regularly as a tour guide for visitors who shared her enthusiasm for its history,” said her daughter, Elizabeth Beresford.

In 1970 she was appointed to the Historic District Commission, the agency that oversees the preservation of properties on southern Main Street, eastern West Lane, and southern High Ridge. She spent 40 years guarding the historic integrity of properties and neighborhoods. She was the commission’s chairwoman from 1973 to 1999.

She and her husband Paul, who lived in a 1740 house on Olmstead Lane, were honored as the Kiwanis Club’s Citizens of the Year in 1997. In 2000, Mrs. Rosa received the Harlan H. Griswold Award for Historic Preservation, the state’s highest award for historic preservation.

There was still more work to be done. Mrs. Rosa joined a group of Ridgefielders in saving the Scott House on Catoonah Street by raising over half a million dollars to dismantle the historic building board by board and reconstruct it on Sunset Lane. It  opened there in 2002 as the Ridgefield Historical Society.

“Through many conversations with Kitty, her love of Ridgefield, and the work she did to preserve its history and beauty, was always foremost in her mind,” said Town Historian Kay Ables. “Kitty gave so much of herself in every job she undertook.

“In the early days of the Historical Society, when money was being raised to reconstruct the building, Kitty worked tirelessly with Jeanne Timpanelli and Dave Scott to choose the furniture, select the proper lighting, the paint, which has become Kitty’s green, and so many other details. Kitty was on our original board, and remained a member even after her move to California,” Ms. Ables said. “The town has lost a most wonderful lady.”

Mrs. Rosa’s passion for the arts next engaged her in the ambitious project to launch Ridgefield’s performing arts center, The Ridgefield Playhouse, to host concerts, plays, dance recitals and movies.

“Kitty was extremely proud of this living legacy, the culmination of all her efforts to make Ridgefield one of the finest communities in the land,” her daughter said.

Playhouse executive director Allison Stockel said, “She was instrumental in preserving so many things in this town — including the Ridgefield Playhouse. Kitty was a force and she loved this town.

“Everything she did, she did with the feeling that it would help preserve the feeling of the town that she, as well as generations before her, grew up in. And she did just that. I believe that one of the reasons that Ridgefield has been able to retain its quaint New England feel, and in many ways hasn’t changed that much since throughout the years, is because of Kitty Rosa. We will miss her.”

In 2010, Mrs. Rosa expressed her feelings in a resignation letter to the Historic District Commission.

“Over the last 40 years, it has indeed been a great privilege to work with so many outstanding men and women who have given generously of their time and talent to help preserve Ridgefield, one of the most historic towns in our state,” she wrote.

“I am deeply gratified to know that this effort will continue with the same energy and dedication that has been the hallmark of this Commission. Please know that I will always regard these four decades as one of the most rewarding parts of my life.”

Mrs. Rosa was predeceased by her devoted husband, Paul; her two sisters, Marion V. Andersen and Marguerite V. Moore; her niece, Christine Moore, and her nephew, John Moore.

She is survived by her daughter, Elizabeth (Betsy) Beresford (Ted), her granddaughter, Amanda, and many nieces, nephews, cousins, and dear friends.

A wake will be held on Wednesday, May 28, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Kane Funeral Home, 25 Catoonah Street.

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Thursday, May 29, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Ridgefield, with burial in St. Mary Cemetery.

A luncheon will follow at the Ridgefield Community Center at 316 Main Street, in celebration of her life.

Donations in her memory may be made to Keeler Tavern Museum, Endowment Fund, 132 Main St. Ridgefield, CT 06877.

—by the staff