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Listen to Storytellers, Learn About the West End of the Past, Present & Future

Andy Hart

October 07, 2010

The West End has many residents who have lived here for decades – in some cases, they were born here and have never left the neighborhood. It also has residents who are active in community programs, initiatives and education. And it has institutions that play key roles in serving the West End and promoting its diversity and its vitality.

As part of the Jane’s Walk in Hartford’s West End, we present a collection of storytellers to offer their special stories about this special neighborhood.

They live in different parts of the West End, and they have different histories. But they share a deep knowledge of the West End and a readiness to share that knowledge with you. The storytellers will be at their homes – some on their front porches or in their backyards. All you need to do is stop by and talk with them. They are waiting to greet you. Refreshments will be served. Here are the storytellers, and the time slots that they will be at home.

Noon to 1:30 p.m.

John Gale and Janie Ferrell at 6 Cone Street

John Gale: I was born and raised in Hartford and have lived in the West End since 1959. I graduated from the Noah Webster Elementary School and Hartford Public High School. I still live on the street on which I was raised (Cone Street), but in a different house. A husband, father, lawyer, dog owner, do-it-yourself-er, musician and amateur Hartford historian, I have traveled extensively throughout the United States and the world, always returning to the West End. With apologies to Henry David Thoreau, who is reputed to have seen the world from Walden Pond, I am fond of saying that I have “seen the world from Cone Street.”

Janie Ferrell: I moved to the West End on September 4, 1967. At that time I was raising five children of my own, and six of my sister’s. I am retired now and still living in the West End.

Rosemary Cardwell at 227 Oxford Street

I am a Hartford native and long time resident of the West End. I attended Noah Webster School and graduated from Saint Joseph College and did graduate work at Boston University. Professionally, I worked as a public health nurse and have been a long time advocate for children, as well as an author. “Healthy, well-educated children are the hope for human-kind’s future.” I helped create My Sister’s Place and was the first president of its Board of Directors. I ran for Mayor of Hartford in 1989 and in 2007 received the distinguished alumna award from St. Joseph’s College. “Rosemary’s generous spirit is reflected in her involvement in issues that relate to our environment, poverty, helping those in need and growing healthy food,” says colleague Val Bryan.

Jill Barrett at 257 Oxford Street

I’ve lived in the West End for 32 years. With my husband David I raised three sons who attended city schools and played baseball, basketball and soccer in the neighborhood. With games and practices at Elizabeth Park, the lawn of UCONN Law School and Noah Webster School, all activities were within three blocks from home. I have a community garden in the neighborhood, take daily walks and am active in the revitalization of Farmington Avenue.

12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.

Tom Ritter and Phil Will at 227 Girard Avenue

Tom Ritter: I moved to Oxford Street from North Hartford—I was one! — in 1953 and have lived in the West End ever since. I went to Noah Webster School and UConn Law School. I served as a sector representative to WECA and as co-chair of its public safety committee in the 70s. I represented the West End in the legislature from 1981-1999. Currently, my family and I host an annual golf fundraiser for the Noah Webster School for scholarships and whatever else the school needs.

Phil Will: I was married at Hartford College for Women in 1966 where my wife’s mother worked. I then worked as an architect and urban planner in Washington and Philadelphia. I started commuting to Hartford from Philadelphia in 1977 to work on the development on what became in 1980 Clemens Place – the largest historic housing rehabilitation ever undertaken in New England. I moved to Hartford and the West End with my wife, Karen, and children in 1978. My children, Kayden, Bryn, and Colleen, attended Noah Webster. I was one of the founders of the Farmington Avenue Business District and worked on WECA’s Colonial Theater Committee and Farmington Avenue Committee. I later served on the boards of the Colonial Theater Renaissance Corporation, an outgrowth of the Theater Committee, and the Farmington Avenue Alliance, an outgrowth of the Farmington Avenue Committee. These were responsible for the redevelopment of the theater building and adjacent properties and the creation of the Farmington Avenue streetscape plan. I continue to serve on the FAA, FABD, and the Hartford Chamber boards and on the board of Intown Development Corporation which owns and manages Clemens Place.

Rand Cooper at 79 Girard Avenue

I’m a writer – fiction, travel and essay writing, reviews, whatever – and have lived in the West End since 1997 with my wife, Molly, bulldog Bert, and (since 2006) our daughter, Larkin. I’ve written frequently for the Hartford Courant — or did anyway, for Northeast Magazine, including a rapturous essay on living in the West End. We lived on Whitney Street and have moved to a beautifully restored home on Girard. Our daughter is in pre-school at Noah Webster. I’m co-chair of the Education Committee for WECA. Larkin likes planting trees in the neighborhood and going to Elizabeth Park on Wednesday nights in summer to listen to music and do “crazy dancing.”

Nanette and Brian Morelli at 55 Lorraine Street

We started as renters on the south side of Farmington Avenue. Both of us had no desire to live in the suburbs and we liked the vintage feel of the West End, which offered an appealing community environment. The first place we lived in was an apartment full of nice detail. With a son and daughter we eventually outgrew the two-bedroom apartment and sought to buy a house. The proximity to the highway for the job commute, and Farmington Avenue’s mass transit alternative were pluses too. We looked at two properties owned by a landlord that designated them ‘rent with the option to buy’ and fell in love with an interesting home that was in serious disrepair but with more than its share of charm. We bought it ‘as is’, and for thirty-two years have taken on the task of bringing it back to its turn-of-the-century appearance, ridding it of concrete stoops, replacing stolen leaded glass cabinet doors, installing wainscot in places, and adding some modernity to the kitchen. The bonus of the house, as it must have been a century ago, was the large porch, where we dine, relax, read, listen to the concerts of birds and insects, wave at passers by or engage in light conversation with those who are just on their way somewhere. There is regular foot traffic from students walking to Hartford Seminary or UConn School of Law, joggers and bikers, local or corporate, and neighborhood kids on their way to Elizabeth Park. The demographics and diversity in the West End reward us with meeting or knowing a variety of residents who share our pride in the area. We have enjoyed easy commutes in many directions to savor Wadsworth exhibitions, Hartford Symphony performances, Civic Center guests Pavarotti, Domingo, and Billy Joel, and the Whalers. For balance we make our trips in another direction, to My Sister’s Place or Main Street shelters to make donations or help neighbors in need. We occasionally hand a lost and found baseball to kids on their way to play an informal game of catch. If it weren’t for our porch, we would miss this opportunity to enjoy the smiles we get from so many sources.

1 to 2:30 p.m.

Rev. Bryan Travis Hooper at the United Methodist Church of Hartford, 571 Farmington Avenue

I’ve served as the pastor of United Methodist Church of Hartford since 2005. A native of Texas, I have served urban congregations in the Northeast since graduating from Drew Theological School in 2000. The church enjoys a strong relationship with the West End community serving as a meeting location for the West End Civic Association, hosting the West End Farmers’ Market and meeting basic needs through the West End Food Pantry.

Deborah Garner at the Hartford Community Center, 461 Farmington Avenue

I am the Executive Director of the Hartford Community Center. During the 1990’s I served as Executive Assistant and Elections Program Manager for the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s Office. I then served as Vice President of the African American Alliance in Hartford where I advocated for changes in education, housing and the hiring of more minority chief officials and judicial legislative appointments. I have worked with all of Hartford’s neighborhoods, developing community outreach and education programs and services. I graduated from Hartford College for Women and earned a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of New Haven. I am currently pursuing doctoral studies. I was ordained as a minister in 2006 and am the president and founder of Higher Ground International Ministries in Hartford. I am honored to be the mother of four children, Lovetta, 21; Robert, 18; Taahir, 10; and Hachilah, 6. Robert is a 2010 graduate of the University High School of Science and Engineering, with honors, and has recently been accepted into the United States Marine Corps to study aviation engineering.

Norma “Miss Mimi” Burton at the Community Garden, corner of Evergreen and Fales

I have lived in the beautiful West End for at least eighteen years. I am active in many community organizations that benefit West End and Hartford residents. I serve as President of the West End Seniors, coordinator for the Evergreen community garden, Chairperson for the West End Food Pantry, coordinator of the mobile food truck, and I work on food prep for Loaves and Fishes and help serve meals with Hands On Hartford. I also serve on the Advisory Board for Foodshare in Bloomfield, CT. I am a member of the United Methodist Church and am often seen with my great grand-daughter who supports me with my many programs.

2:30 to 4 p.m.

Rafie Podolsky at 104 Beacon Street

I’ve lived in the West End since 1979 — same house all that time. My daughter went to Noah Webster and Quirk Middle School. I’m a lawyer and legislative advocate for legal aid programs (employer: Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut) and lobby at the State Capitol on behalf of tenants and consumers. I’m a former member of the WECA board, organized and for a number of years chaired WECA’s Southwest Sector committee, and co-organized the effort to get historic plaques on houses in the Southwest Sector and to fill in gaps in the streetscape with trees. I co-authored the application which put the West Boulevard Historic District on the National Register. I was a co-founder and, until recently, a board member of the Hartford Preservation Alliance.

Gabriella Smith at 30 Oxford Street

I have lived with my husband Chris at 30 Oxford Street since 2000. The house had previously belonged to dear friends, who were moving next door. We chose to move here because the homes are each individually beautiful, and a great real estate value. We have chosen to stay here because the people who live here are as varied and lovely as the homes. Our kids attend two local schools, Noah Webster and Classical Magnet. We hope to be here in the West End for many years to come, because we love the quiet evenings, the real sense of community, and the proximity to work and social life.

Elvia Strom at 22 Rodney Street

For the last forty six years I have lived on Rodney Street in the West End of Hartford. When my six children were situated in school I began working as a paraprofessional at Quirk Middle School. While there I began attending CCSU where I earned my BS Degree in Education. In the early years of my life I sang and danced professionally and later performed in community theater. Singing and dancing is still my passion but interacting with my seventeen grandchildren and watching them grow is my real delight. I volunteer at Our Lady of Sorrows Church where I belong to the Parish Council and the Liturgy Committee. I also spend time there decorating the altar. Since WECA began I have been a member of the organization and have attended many of its activities. This has given me a chance to meet and interact with my neighbors. We have many kind, sincere, and friendly people in our neighborhood that makes living here worthwhile.

Reprinted with permission of the The Hartford News.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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