Today Magazine • July 2021

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TODAY Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley

FROM VIETNAM TO SNOW PATROL

Air Force Vet Endures War Ordeal Before Capping Career in Alaska

JULY 2021

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Okwandu relishes recollection of UConn title By Nishant Gopalachar Special to Today Magazine

THIS YEAR is the 10th anniversary of a major UConn basketball milestone — when the clock hit zeroes on April 4, 2011, an overwhelming feeling burst through senior center Charles Okwandu as UConn beat Butler to clinch the 2011 NCAA men’s championship. For the first 17 years of his life, Okwandu had never even played in a competitive basketball game, and he emphasizes that this title is “something that connects all of us for the rest of our lives as teammates and brothers.” Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, soccer was an enjoyable pastime for Okwandu, but basketball set him apart from the rest. Standing at 7 feet tall, Okwandu was one of the top 10 at the 50 Best Big Men camp held in Nigeria in 2007. He played junior-college ball at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, PA. After a year there with coach Drew Kelly, who brought Okwandu to the States, he moved onto the big stage, where he played under legendary UConn coach Jim Calhoun. In the 2011 championship game, Okwandu led the winning Huskies in offensive rebounds, tallying four. Winning the title, he says, “was one of those moments that you see happen in movies and never really imagine it happening to you.” As a senior in 2010-11, Okwandu played in all 41 UConn games, starting 19. He now works full-time as a paraeducator at Avon High School — his first year was the 2019-20 school year — and is an assistant coach for the boys varsity basketball team. This past season (202021) was his first time in that coaching role. “He’s funny and knows the game well,” says 2020-21 senior captain Jack Hall, “so

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Coach brings big-stage chops to Avon High he can both make you laugh and help you improve your game on the court.” Okwandu came to Avon after coaching at Granby Memorial High School and East Hartford’s Two Rivers Magnet Middle School — and he made an instant impact. “Coach Charles is just a good person,” says Avon head coach Kris Pedra. “He brings a calming presence to our basketball program. The passion he has for basketball is only surpassed by the love he has for his family and students. I’ve

enjoyed getting to know Charles on and off the basketball court and am proud to call him my friend.” Many Avon players have expressed their appreciation for Okwandu, describing him as “a great mentor” and “a great person” and “the guy who always dunks on someone in practice.” In an exclusive interview, Okwandu spoke with Today Magazine: How did the experience of playing with some of the best basketball players in the country help shape you as both a player and a person? Playing with some of the best basketball players in the country was an amazing experience. In practice we would compete against each other and that would push me to be better and work harder. Playing with Hasheem Thabeet helped me develop blocking shots and getting rebounds more efficiently

and consistently. Kemba Walker gave me a model for how to be a leader on and off the court. His ability to unite and push the team in practice was amazing. This later helped me when I started my coaching career. What went through your head when you won the national championship in 2011? What was your reaction? I was excited and shocked. It was completely overwhelming. Coming from Lagos, Nigeria and winning the national championship was a huge source of pride for me. It was one of those moments that you see happen in movies and never really imagine it happening to you. After this I met President Barack Obama, and to be an immigrant from Nigeria and meet the first black American president was indescribable. The whole moment, all the work that we as a team put into making that moment a reality, was just overwhelming and will be something that connects all of us for the rest of our lives as teammates and brothers. At what age did you begin to realize you could take your talents to the next level? To be honest, I began playing basketball at 17 years old. I was always athletically inclined and obviously my height was very evident at a young age. I really started to understand that my talents could really take me someplace when I was part of a camp called the 50 Best Big Men Camp in Nigeria and I was selected as one of the top 10. That was a really eye-opening experience for me … it really hit me that basketball could take me somewhere and if I worked hard the skies were the limit. Speaking of which, you spent some time in the D-League and in the CBL (Canadian Basketball League): How was your experience playing pro basketball? How much did it differ from playing in college?

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LEADING OFF

Book Boost COVER STORY

Air Force veteran Bruce Headle recalls life-and-death Vietnam War ordeals — and how his unit played a key part in the history of the U.S. space program HISTORY HIGHLIGHTS

An Avon soldier serving in the Civil War wrote home on July 4, 1863 — directly from the Battle of Gettysburg SCHOOL SCOOP

Tunxis Community College has marked a momentous milestone, celebrating its 50th commencement VALLEY INTEL

A scientist’s research reveals surprising details about eastern coyotes at McLean Game Refuge QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“We’d be on the ground less than three minutes … and that was too long — it was hazardous” — Airplane navigator Bruce Headle BY THE NUMBERS

Vietnam airfields he used — 63

THE COMMENT is common enough — someone hears part of someone else’s life story, becomes intrigued and remarks: “You should write a book.” The subject of our July cover story says people have encouraged him along these lines after they learn some of his true-life tale, but he’s skeptical — would anyone be interested? We’ll let you decide. No spoilers here, but since I’m featuring him this month, you can surmise my opinion. In one word: riveting. Bruce Headle (rhymes with needle) grew up here in the Farmington Valley, and then his Air Force career took him to Texas and Colorado and Ohio and Vietnam … and finally Alaska, where he has lived for nearly 50 years. On page 12, he shares a first-person account of his early years, including World War II drama in tranquil Simsbury. Meanwhile, his compelling cover story (on page 4) coincides with our nation’s Fourth of July celebration — BWD Today Magazine • Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley Bruce William Deckert — Publisher + Editor-in-Chief 860-988-1910 • Bruce.Deckert@TodayPublishing.net www.TodayPublishing.net > Digital Editions • Award-Winning Today Magazine Online — www.TodayPublishing.net/blog Follow Today Magazine CT on social media: Advertising — Contact the Publisher Editorial Associate — Kayla Tyson Contributing Photographer — Wendy Rosenberg Five Towns, One Aim — Exceptional Community Journalism Farmington • Avon • Canton • Simsbury • Granby – CT, USA • Two other Valley magazines: print circulation — less than 19,000 • Today Magazine: print circulation — 42,000+ • Ad Rates — about the same

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COVER STORY KUDOS Today Magazine’s June cover story featured the return of the Hartford Symphony to SMPAC — www.TodayPublishing.net/digital-editions CONGRATULATIONS on a wonderful June edition! The cover is beautiful of the Simsbury Meadows Performing Arts Center (SMPAC). Nice way to ease back in from the pandemic! Boom — the world is returning! Terri Wilson • President, Avon Historical Society THANK YOU for publishing the article about Avon’s first public health nurse, Anna Miskey. The writer, college student Grace Englehart of Avon, did a wonderful job finding original sources and piecing together her story. I’m very proud of Grace’s excellent work, an important contribution to Avon’s rich history. Nora O. Howard • Avon Town Historian

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FROM SAIGON TO SNOW PATROL

COVER STORY VETERAN VOICES

Air Force Vet Endures Vietnam War, Caps Career in Alaska By Bruce Deckert Today Magazine Editor-in-Chief

TO MARK this month’s Fourth of July celebration, we offer the story of a lifelong American citizen and Air Force veteran whose career highlights feature plenty of metaphorical fireworks — including: • Boosting the U.S. space program in NASA’s early days • Serving an eventful tour of duty during the Vietnam War • Flying perilous Arctic missions as a C-130 airplane navigator “Some people say I’ve done a lot of interesting things in my life and I should write a book — but nobody would read it,” quips Bruce Headle. After reading this story, you can be the judge of his self-effacing sentiment. Born on August 7, 1936, Headle was raised in Simsbury and graduated from Simsbury High in 1954, when the high school was located in the stone building that is now home to the town offices on Hopmeadow Street. In 1958, after graduating from Trinity College in Hartford and completing his ROTC training, he was commissioned as an Air Force officer. He served for two-plus decades, retiring in 1979 as a major. Headle and his wife Mary-Michele (aka “Mike”) live in Chugiak, Alaska, a small town about 20 miles from Anchorage near Alaska’s southern coast. She grew up in Harlingen, Texas — they met when he was stationed at Harlingen Air Force Base and married in October 1960. “It’s worked for 60 years,” he says. Their three daughters and three sons-in-law live in Alaska, along with three granddaughters and three grandsons. Headle and his family have lived in Alaska since 1972, when he was transferred to Elmendorf Air 4

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PHOTO ABOVE Based in Anchorage, Alaska, Bruce Headle served as navigator for this C-130 transport PHOTO RIGHT In five decades in Alaska, Headle has enjoyed the sport of dog mushing

“Would-be astronauts went into the chamber to see what they could endure — we’d be taking bets about how many g-forces they could take before they started throwing up” — Bruce Headle

Page 8 — Headle Reflects on Simsbury in ’40s + ’50s ———————————————————— Force Base in Anchorage until his military retirement in ’79. These days, Headle and his wife own three Siberian Huskies. “My wife likes dog shows, so I like dog shows — you know how that works,” he observes. “I’d rather hook them up to a sled, but sometimes we go to shows as far as Fairbanks, 300 miles north of us.” For the uninitiated who are puzzled by his hookthem-up-to-a-sled comment, he is referring of course to dog mushing — Alaska’s official state sport, with its signature Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. “We’ll take our Siberian Huskies to dog shows,” Headle says, “but I prefer mushing dogs for fun and recreation … I keep doing things I’m not supposed to do at 80-something — like taking a dog through an agility course.”

BOOSTING NASA Headle’s military career was distinguished by significant assignments that dovetailed with key developments in American history. In 1962 he became part of an Air Force initiative that tested high-altitude attire — both full-pressure suits and partial-pressure suits. A crucial goal was to fashion better spacesuits for NASA’s fledgling astronauts. Project Mercury was America’s first human-inspace program, making six manned flights from 1961-63. Astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in February 1962, in a Mercury spacesuit that was essentially a modified pressure suit. Headle’s work, at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, included physiological research to investigate the effects of high altitude on the human body. He


supervised a decompression (aka altitude) chamber for air crews so they could learn how to deal with the symptoms of hypoxia (aka oxygen deficiency) by experiencing them. When the body doesn’t receive enough oxygen — say, if equipment malfunctions at high altitude on an Air Force mission — hypoxia will occur. Given the indispensable nature of oxygen for human life to exist, this is undeniably a dangerous condition. Hypoxia symptoms can vary from person to person, according to WebMD.com, but the most common are: faster and/or slower heart rate, shortness of breath and/or rapid breathing, confusion, coughing, sweating, wheezing, and changes in skin color (from blue to cherry red). WebMD.com further advises: “If you have symptoms of hypoxia, call 911.” A serious condition, indeed. “Decompression chambers held 10 guys and two instructors,” Headle says. “At 43,000 feet in the chamber, they took their oxygen masks off and experienced hypoxia — so they would recognize if it happened in flight.” From sea level to 10,000 feet, most people have enough oxygen to breathe, he explains, “unless you smoke a lot.” Above 10,000 feet, human beings — including Air Force crews — progressively need extra oxygen. Earth’s atmosphere under normal

circumstances is about 21% oxygen, most scientists agree, but above 40,000 feet even 100% oxygen from an oxygen tank isn’t enough, Headle says, and that’s what a pressure suit is for — “the suit gets tighter and tighter to help the crew member forcibly exhale.” This is known as “pressure breathing” — “one breath at a time, inhaling and then forcibly exhaling,” with help from the suit, he says. But air crews need to avoid “panic breathing” — this leads

to hyperventilating, which can lead to fainting. It’s safe to say that pilots and other Air Force crew members cannot afford to faint … at any altitude. “People at high altitudes have to be careful they don’t hyperventilate,” Headle notes. “When you panic, that’s the tendency.” Today, it isn’t as necessary for air personnel to practice “pressure breathing” because full-pressure suits and partialpressure suits have been upgraded, thanks to better technology. “Modern spacesuits don’t have to deal with that,” Headle says. “They’re totally enclosed, like being in a capsule.” In the 1960s and ’70s, however, hypoxia posed a greater danger — “so everyone had to get a refresher.”

Air Force pilots went above 50,000 simulated feet in pressure suits under Headle’s supervision. A typical commercial airliner cruises at an altitude of 30,000 to 40,000 feet. He also worked with astronauts-in-training. Headle didn’t go into space, but he did go up to 80,000 simulated feet — 15 miles high — in a pressure chamber. “There’s a photo of me in a fullpressure suit,” he says. “It looks like I’m 15 years old, but I was 24.” • In case you hadn’t noticed, Headle enjoys a good quip — and if you’re keeping score at home, he’s a solid 3-for-3, with a leadoff triple (“but nobody would read it”) and now a single (“it looks like I’m 15”) and an earlier double (“you know how that works” … a double given the two-become-one marriage context) Back to our regularly scheduled program: “Would-be astronauts went into the chamber to see what they could endure,” Headle says. “We’d be taking bets about how many g-forces they could take before they started throwing up.” • Going, going, gone — a g-force home run! Headle is now 4-for-4 in quipworthy quotes and has hit for the baseball cycle, to boot … OK, we won’t go from the sublime to the baseball diamond anymore during this broadcast Back to our program for good:

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The Air Force, Federal Aviation Administration and NASA typically identify 50 miles high as the boundary where space begins, and the Air Force designates flyers who soar higher than that as astronauts — but “no one really knows where ‘airspace’ ends and ‘outer space’ begins,” according to a National Geographic article published in December 2018. In reality, astronautic scientists and officials don’t agree about the altitude where Earth’s atmosphere (or airspace) ceases and space starts. Yet this distinction — and the definition of “outer space” — is pivotal because international laws governing outer space and a nation’s sovereign airspace are mutually incompatible. For example: U.S. satellites soaring 55 miles above China are legal and acceptable if outer space begins 50 miles high, but if the space boundary is defined as 60 miles high, those satellites become a potential military threat … and vice versa, of course. In the embryonic days of space exploration, NASA tested pressure suits by sending chimpanzees into space, and Headle’s Air Force unit was instrumental in this research. “We made neoprene molds for their funny-shaped little faces, and from those molds we formed oxygen masks that would fit the chimp’s face,” he recalls. “When I think back, that was historic.” The endgame: custom-designed, formfitting masks for the early astronauts — and Headle’s unit achieved that goal as well. Headle trained as a plane’s navigator when he first entered active duty in 1958. After his tenure in Denver, he returned to those roots upon his transfer in 1966 to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. In small single-person planes in those days, one person was both the pilot and the navigator — but on larger planes, the pilot and the navigator were separate crew members with distinct roles. The pilot flew the airplane, controlling where it went and making command decisions. The navigator directed the course of the plane, guiding the pilot via maps, charts, on-board radar and related instruments, plus other time-tested methods — this was long before GPS technology. Trust was at the core of this essential old-school aviation relationship. Indeed, trust was a life-and-death necessity for pilots and navigators, and remains so for air crews in the 21st century. 6

——————————————————————— Reflecting on Classic C-130 Air Force and Vietnam veteran Bruce Headle contemplates the legendary C-130 transport plane • “The C-130 is a big four-engine, four-propeller plane with turbojets — it’s been around for more than 50 years, and almost every country in the world has them” • “In a crisis, C-130s can go in and land on shorter runways and dirt runways with a big load, in the jungle or in the Arctic — we had 30,000 pounds in a C-130 … that’s why they’re used so much everywhere” • “The C-130 is also a Hurricane Hunter” Hurricane Hunters are aircraft that fly directly into hurricanes and are otherwise used for weather reconnaissance missions ———————————————————————

get-go. The C-130 Hercules took its first flight in August 1954 and entered U.S. service in December 1956, joining the Air Force’s inventory. “I was in Vietnam for 13 months,” Headle says. “We carried everything that needed to be moved, generally seven or eight trips a day: troops, ammo, supplies, KIAs (killed in action). Very sobering — also loads of prisoners.” The C-130 is known for its ability to utilize austere and remote airfields, as Headle notes: “I counted 63 different ‘airfields’ that we landed at in Vietnam — some very marginal airstrips, some dirt runways, some just a piece of a road.” For nighttime landings, he says, “sometimes the only lights were a burn barrel on either end of the runway … big barrels, like the ones people burn trash in.”

Today, airplanes utilize ultra-reliable GPS for navigation, so the role of a navigator has essentially been phased out. For commercial airliners, this has resulted in a new crew configuration. “Each commercial aircraft has a PIC/ SIC crew,” says Simsbury resident Phillip Smith, owner of Learn 2 Fly CT. “The PIC is the Pilot in Command and is the person responsible for the safety of the flight. Generally, they are also the person flying the plane. The Second in Command (SIC) is the pilot sitting in the right seat, and they generally complete all of the checklists and work the radios.” Further, a pilot today flies a plane for only the first few hundred feet and then turns on the autopilot, says Smith, who became a professional pilot in 2014 and established Learn 2 Fly CT in June 2018. “Same thing goes for the landing,” he says, “The aircraft will land itself with the pilots monitoring the systems.” In 1967-68, during the Vietnam War, Headle served as the navigator for a C-130, the legendary transport plane that executes the tactical part of an airlift mission by airdropping soldiers and equipment into hostile territory. The C-130 Hercules is an aeronautics rock star, widely considered one of the most vital aircraft in aviation history. “The super-versatile workhorse … flies Navy SEAL missions, delivers supplies to Antarctica and fights wildfires,” among other capabilities, according to Business Insider. To date, more than 2,500 C-130s — in 70-plus variations — have been used by more than 60 nations, per Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer that has produced the celebrated plane from the

“Our most dangerous landing was at Khe Sanh,” he observes. “I arrived in Vietnam just in time for the Tet Offensive of 1968.” The Battle of Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest fights of the Vietnam War, was connected to the notorious Tet Offensive. Headle’s C-130 was one of countless transport planes that supplied the beleaguered U.S. Marine base at Khe Sanh (pronounced CASE-ON) during a 77-day siege. Headle described the intense operation in his first-person article for the Anchorage Daily News: “The Khe Sanh runway was a straight shot down a valley and over a ridge to land on the runway, which was sloped slightly upward. There was a good chance that each plane would be a target for mortar fire. So the object was to land, offload and get out as quickly as possible. Total time was approximately three minutes for landing, taxiing through the small ramp at the top of the runway, releasing all five pallets of cargo while still rolling, turning right onto the upper end of the runway and taking off downhill. Then back to Da Nang for another load.” In Headle’s exclusive interview with Today Magazine, he offers a caveat regarding the time frame that perhaps only a war veteran can truly understand: “We’d be on the ground less than three minutes from touchdown to takeoff — and that was too long. It was hazardous. It was not a fun time.” The besieged Marines at the Khe Sanh combat base, only 5500 in number, were initially surrounded by 20,000 North Vietnamese troops, per The Atlantic magazine. The isolated base, nestled in the

JULY 2021 – www.TodayPublishing.net – TODAY MAGAZINE


TRANSFORMATION

Bruce Headle in a partial pressure suit, circa 1961 — “The tubes and capstans running up and down the arms and legs got tighter and tighter so they could stuff more oxygen into the lungs,” he says ———————————————————————— northwest corner of then-South Vietnam, could be reinforced and resupplied only by air. “The Marines were totally surrounded by the bad guys — they were bombarded,” Headle says. “One plane at a time would land, then the next plane would come in.” However, the U.S. transport aircraft were vulnerable because the Khe Sanh base was in a valley encircled by hills and 4000-foot-high mountains, giving North Vietnamese artillery a potential fish-in-abarrel target. “As the navigator of a C-130 in Vietnam, besides avoiding enemy fire, the

main thing was to not hit any mountains,” he explains. “We lost airplanes. I saw one get blown up — we couldn’t go in then. We had to wait till they cleaned it up, since only one airplane could go in at a time.” He notes that while his camouflaged Air Force C-130 was hit by flak just once at Khe Sanh, other aircraft were far less fortunate, such as that silver Marine C-130 that was destroyed right in front of his eyes. Headle’s C-130 and other waiting planes were forced to circle the airfield — leaving them exposed to enemy artillery and adding danger to an already lifethreatening mission — as a military ground crew worked feverishly to clear the debris from the runway after the plane’s explosion. “After we watched that big silver C-130 touch down at Khe Sanh and get blown up right away, I wondered if anyone could have survived,” he says. “I thought it was impossible.” Thirty years later in Alaska, at a dog show in Fairbanks, Headle met a fellow military veteran who was showing his Irish setters. “This is one of those small-world stories,” Headle says. “He was in an elite unit. As we talked, we realized we both served in Vietnam — and we were both at the Battle of Khe Sanh.” Readers and all other passengers, please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for an unbelievable plot twist. “He was on the C-130 that I saw get blown up,” Headle says. “He was totally blown out of that airplane still strapped in his seat and he lived to tell about it. … His name is Glenn. He lives about 30 miles from us here.” At this juncture, what do you think of Headle’s self-assessment regarding a book about his life — would anyone want to read it? If Today Magazine branches out into book publishing someday, we’d surely be interested in a discussion. So far we’ve covered just two of the three aspects of his career mentioned at the outset of this article — boosting the U.S. space program and serving in Vietnam — but not the third: Flying perilous Arctic missions as a C-130 navigator. On the cover of this edition is a photo of an Air Force C-130 that Headle navigated on Arctic flights when he was based in Alaska. For that chapter of Headle’s story, stay tuned for an upcoming edition of Today Magazine. + Today Magazine editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert is an award-winning journalist

Continued on page 13

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Photos by Wendy Rosenberg


HISTORY HIGHLIGHTS

AVON TODAY

Civil War soldier wrote home from Gettysburg July 4 letter to Mom gives riveting detail

Avon resident Clinton Hadsell took this photo in 1914 — his brother Frank’s general store is at left and Frank’s home is at right

By Nora O. Howard Avon Town Historian

ON JULY 4, 1863, Pvt. Eugene F. Hawley (1842-1920), exhausted, was “all right” in Gettysburg, PA. He was in the 5th Regiment of Company G, of the CT Volunteers, and wrote to his mother in Avon that very day: “Dear Mother, I am all right once more after going through the greatest battle of the War. Nothing in this war has surpassed it. Our regiment was in the fights of [July] 1st, 2nd and 3rd. ... “We did not lose many men as we were behind breastworks. The Reb are now in full retreat for the Potomac and we are chasing them up. This fight has been the fiercest and bloodiest of the War, nearly all the fighting being hand to hand. “Our corps and the 5th formed the right flank and most of the time it was ‘nip

Photo Courtesy of Avon Free Public Library

Fourth of July celebrations have resounded in town and tug’ right smart fighting. I must close now as the work of the past three days has just tired me out, but thanks be to God I am not hurt at all. This is 4th of July and we are chasing the ‘Johny Rebs’ out of the State.” Forty-five years later, on July 4, 1908, the Farmington Valley Herald said the young men of West Avon played “a game of ball against married men at the farm of Frank S. Hart. There were between 20 or 30 spectators [and] the young people had a picnic.” On July 4, 1918, the summer before the end of World War I, the Herald reported that 100 Fresh Air Fund children from

New York City had a picnic at Joseph and Corinne Alsop’s Wood Ford Farm on Nod Road. That same day, Oliver Hart drove his family to Elizabeth Park in Hartford and saw “one of the aeroplanes that passed over the city in the afternoon.” Frank Hadsell stopped selling fireworks that year. His general store — the vacant barbershop on East Main Street in Avon today near Route 10 — and his home were side by side. The U.S. government had asked that the sale of fireworks be suspended in 1918, and he complied: “This year I did not continued on page 14

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CCHF gives $30,000 in grants, scholarships Special to Today Magazine

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CANTON COMMUNITY Health Fund has announced the distribution of over $30,000 in grants and scholarships. The grants have been given to nonprofits that benefit the health and well-being of Canton citizens, and the scholarships are for residents pursuing careers in a health-related field. “During the height of the COVID pandemic,” says CCHF chairperson Ann Bryan, “our award recipients used their talents and devotion to the Canton community to positively impact the lives of our neighbors, friends and family.” CCHF is a private foundation that accepts gifts and bequests for the benefit of town residents. “As these individuals and organizations move forward in the coming year,” says Bryan, “we are proud to fund their endeavors as they, and we all, move into the future with purpose, determination and promise.” Five residents have each received $1,000 Dr. Diters Memorial Scholarships to pursue careers in health-related fields: EMT/firefighter Alexandra Benoff of the Canton Volunteer Fire & EMS Department and 2021 Canton High School graduates Andrew Cavanaugh, Kathryn Gallagher, Lang Le and Sophie Thomas. Meanwhile, grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 have been awarded to a diverse group of nonprofit organizations that are making a significant constructive impact on Canton’s residents. Each nonprofit is listed here, along with the purpose of the grant: Canton Food Bank — groceries to supplement donated food

Canton Emergency Fuel Bank — payment for heating and electric expenses Canton High School — substance-free graduation party Focus on Canton — temporary assistance for paying utilities, rent, medical bills Arc of Farmington Valley aka Favarh — two high-efficiency laundry units for Favarh store Gifts of Love — groceries for food pantry and food for weekend backpack program for Canton residents Special Olympics — 20 softball helmets and help with transportation to events for Canton residents SpiritHorse Therapeutic Riding Center — riding lessons for individuals with disabilities “We congratulate all the grant and scholarship winners and thank them for their ongoing efforts to enhance the health, safety and well-being of our community,” says Bryan. An all-volunteer board manages investment of the Canton Community Health Fund as well as programming, distribution of grants, and the Dr. Diters Memorial Scholarship. All are invited to support CCHF’s mission through gifts of time and/or donations. Inquiries from potential volunteers are always welcome. For more information, contact treasurer Kathy Wood at kathleengwood@comcast.net for available opportunities to contribute to our community. + www.CantonCommunityHealthFund.org

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SCHOOL SCOOP

FARMINGTON TODAY

Tunxis celebrates 50th commencement Special to Today Magazine

TUNXIS Community College has marked a historic milestone, celebrating its 50th commencement with speeches delivered online, followed the next day by an inperson and on-campus degree ceremony with caps and gowns for the classes of 2020 and 2021. About 590 graduates, spanning ages 18 to 61, received degrees and certificates. Located in Farmington, Tunxis enrolls an average of about 6,000 students each semester in credit and continuingeducation programs. “As we look to the future, I am confident that your education will serve you well as you move forward in your academic pursuits and professional careers,” said Tunxis CEO Darryl Reome during the May 26-27 ceremony. Valedictorian Emma James Burke noted that community colleges are transformative institutions seeking to bridge equity gaps and offer more life chances. “We’ve all accomplished so much under circumstances unprecedented in our lifetimes,” said Burke, who completed

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the bulk of her studies online during the pandemic. Salutatorian Michael Anthony Lonergan, one of several generations in his family to attend Tunxis, also gave a brief speech. The online speeches and more are on Tunxis’ commencement website: tunxis.edu/classof2021 Tunxis offers over 70 associate degrees and certificates, equipping students with critical thinking and problem-solving skills and preparing graduates for bachelor’s degree programs and/or employment in key industries.

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Reome reminded graduates that “during your time at Tunxis you’ve gained the knowledge and critical skills necessary to lead, inspire and positively impact your respective communities.” Tunxis was chartered by the state of Connecticut in 1969 — to serve the Bristol-New Britain and Farmington Valley areas — and opened for classes in October 1970 with 494 students. Since the first graduation in 1972, more than 24,300 credit and noncredit graduates have received degrees and certificates. + Source: Tunxis CC — www.tunxis.edu


GRANBY TODAY

COYOTES CALLING Eastern coyote research captures imagination By Samantha Lewis Special to Today Magazine

A red fox (top) and an eastern coyote use the same path across a frozen pond in McLean Game Refuge, one day apart — photos taken by a motionsensor camera

BORN AND RAISED in the Farmington River Valley, surrounded by wildlife, I was always eager to explore the natural world. In the summer of 2018, the Trustees of the McLean Game Refuge offered me a place in their summer Forest Ranger internship. During that time, I learned about native plants, bird breeding and migration, stream dynamics, forest ecology, mammals, herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) and countless other topics. What really captivated me were the eastern coyotes. To see and hear these beautiful wolf-like creatures was thrilling, and I was determined to learn more about them. In the fall of 2020, I enrolled at UConn — in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment — to dedicate myself to a master’s degree researching eastern coyotes at the McLean Game Refuge. Under the guidance of professor Morty Ortega and McLean director Connor Hogan, I deployed 35 motion-sensor cameras around the game refuge, and I have been regularly monitoring the footage in 2021. Grueling as it has been, hiking miles in snow and mud, into ravines and through swamps, the results have been amazing. Our

cameras have captured an abundance of wildlife within the game refuge, including deer, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, opossums, wild turkeys, owls, hawks, squirrels and a variety of other animals. Working with Dr. Ortega at the McLean Game Refuge is especially exciting because it is an incredible and wild landscape that has been largely unstudied until recently. Our work focusing on eastern coyotes is the first research of its kind here, and we are beginning to bring into new focus the predator dynamics playing out in this 4,415-acre sanctuary. We are finding that competitors of the eastern coyote, like bobcats and red foxes, are actually coexisting with them in the same habitats. This was surprising because research elsewhere suggests that eastern coyotes will push out competition. We have also observed eastern coyotes moving in groups of four. Normally, eastern coyote offspring must leave their parents during the first year to search for their own mate and territory when resources are limited. What we believe we are witnessing here is evidence of great prey abundance at the Game Refuge and continued on page 14

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SIMSBURY TODAY

Air Force vet recalls growing up in town In Alaska, Headle has missed music of crickets — but doesn’t miss WWII blackout drills By Bruce Headle Special to Today Magazine

GRAD REDUX WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

YES, I GREW UP in Simsbury. Born in August 1936, graduated in 1954 from the old Simsbury High School — now it’s the building that holds the town offices on Hopmeadow Street. Trinity College graduate, 1958. Commissioned in the Air Force for 21 years, 1958-79. I never got to meet my maternal grandfather, James M. Stocking — a very handsome guy from pictures, descended from a long line of Stockings, going back to George Stocking, who was one of Thomas Hooker’s group. Hooker was the colonial British-American clergyman known as “the father of Connecticut” — he and his group founded Hartford in the early 1600s. The names are engraved in a large monument in the cemetery behind First Church in Hartford. James Stocking was hit by a train in West Simsbury around 1930. The tracks were gone when I was growing up, but the trestle was the long straight road into the town pool. Not sure if it’s still there. I lived in three places on Bushy Hill Road. My grandmother’s place, built in the late 1600s. Two lots to the north, we built a large Dutch colonial house at the end of World War II. Then next door, we converted a barn into a handsome home. My dad’s food processing business was in the back. Ultimately, we built a 9-hole public golf course on 50 acres behind the barn: Massaco Golf Course. The back half of the barn

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became the pro shop for the golf course. The address of the barn/ house was 215 Bushy Hill. I was ages 5-9 when the U.S. fought in World War II. We had frequent blackout drills in Simsbury, fearing invasion from Germany — homes had blackout shades and were required to be totally dark. My dad was one of those who patrolled at night to make sure the town was dark. Schoolchildren were sent home with sheets that had silhouettes of enemy planes. People were posted outside to watch for enemy aircraft and would call in to a central number to report any suspicious sightings. In the summers after the war, I always slept on the screenedin porch and delighted in the sounds of the night. Mainly cowbells from cows in the meadow, crickets and katydids. They sang me to sleep. My wife and I and all our kids and grandkids now live in Alaska. But five years ago we all ventured 100 miles out on Long Island — almost its full length — for my niece’s wedding. We rented a house for a week near Montauk Point. It was late September and all the city folks had returned to NYC. The first thing I heard upon our arrival was the sound of the crickets, a sound we hadn’t heard for 50 years in Alaska. For a week I slept outside on the grass with a blanket and pillow, listening to the sounds I hadn’t heard since I grew up in Simsbury. One other thing that sticks in my mind is when we converted from telephone operators to direct distance dialing, all at one fell swoop. The kids were trained at school and were sent home with instructions to train their parents, which definitely was not easy. + Bruce Headle served in the Air Force for two-plus decades, retiring as a major — see the cover story on page 4 for details about his Vietnam tour of duty and more


Continued from page 7 — The monarch butterfly’s scientific name is Danaus plexippus — Greek for “sleepy transformation”

OKWANDU — continued from page 2 In college you are a student-athlete. You represent the school and are looked at as a unit. … We were the UConn men’s basketball team and we each had a role, with a huge amount of support from coaches and trainers behind you. When you play for any professional league, it is more individualized. You are part of a team and represent a brand, but you also represent you. There is a lot more pressure. There is no more time to learn as you go. You have to always be on and perform your best. Having one off game can be your ticket home. So even though you are part of a team, your place on that team is riding completely on you and how well you do and if there is someone who can do it better. So you came to the U.S. from Nigeria: What were some of the cultural differences that you

Photo by Wendy Rosenberg

noticed right away when you came to the U.S.? The weather hit me first. I was used to warm weather all the time and the first place I landed was Idaho in the middle of winter — nothing in my life prepared me for that! Also the food. Nigerian food and American food are completely different. The first food I had here that I enjoyed was hamburgers and fries. I am pretty sure for an entire year that was all I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Also how much Americans love basketball. Back home our big sport is soccer. It wasn’t a huge deal that I played basketball — it was much cooler to play soccer. How did you end up coaching at Avon High School? So I have been coaching for a while. I coached at Two Rivers Magnet School and Granby High School. My wife used to work at Avon High and loved it there and was

always trying to get me to apply. We were looking at moving and buying a place in the Farmington Valley area and that really pushed me to apply — to not only work closer to where I lived but also work within a school district and community that was known for just being amazing. Everything my wife said about Avon High was true … don’t tell her I said she was right about something, I will never hear the end of it! The coaches, student-athletes and athletic department have welcomed me with open arms and it has been such a positive experience coaching here. I understand that your wife is a teacher — where does she teach and what subject does she teach? Currently my wife is a developmental therapist and service coordinator for a birth-to-3 program that primarily supports children and families with children who have developmental delays

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or special needs. It is kind of difficult to explain, but she is basically a teacher and support for children ages 0-3 who may need extra support.

While mostly nocturnal, coyotes at McLean are also active during the day — photos taken by motion-sensor camera

Please tell us about your family: children, parents, siblings? My mother and father live back home in Lagos, Nigeria. They have been married for about 40 years. I have four brothers, two of whom passed away — one when I was about 9 and the other passed when I was 27. My other two brothers live in Lagos as well. I have a 7-year-old daughter named Summer. She is amazing. She is starting to get into basketball, which is really cool. This summer we have her signed up for two basketball camps, and whenever I can I try to teach her some basics. She is really the light of my life. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful daughter. My wife and I have been married for almost nine years. We met at UConn but didn’t start dating until after we both graduated. She is amazing and is really the backbone of the family. She is my support and is always there when I need help. She is my PR person. She helps me with any speeches I have and reaches out to people for me when I need it. I don’t know where I would be without her. What’s the best thing about being 7 feet tall? What’s the most challenging thing about being 7 feet tall? The best thing about being over 7 feet tall is I can see over a crowd easily. … If I want to find someone I can easily spot them, and if anyone is looking for me it is easy to find me as well. The worst part about being over 7 feet tall is finding clothes, shoes and traveling. I always have to shop at special stores to find clothes that fit me. I can’t just go to any store and find a pair of pants or shoes that work. Also traveling is always difficult. When I fly on a plane I can never fit comfortably in the seat and usually can’t sit with my family due to me needing extra leg room. Even cars are hard to fit into. My knees always hit the dashboard. We are still looking for a car with enough legroom for me to drive! Currently I am looking to get my driver’s license, and my wife and I have been searching for a driving school that has a car with enough legroom for me to learn to drive in. + A soon-to-be senior at Avon High, Nishant Gopalachar plays on the varsity basketball team — with a title-winning UConn grad as one of his coaches 14

COYOTES — continued from page 11 a surprising density of predators. As we continue our eastern coyote research into 2022, we hope to expand our scope of study to include population dynamics, home range size, den locations and diet. This data will help describe the role that eastern coyotes play across the game refuge and the surrounding suburban landscape. For those concerned about safety, please know that it is very unlikely an eastern coyote will attack a human. When walking in remote areas, what I generally tell people is to keep your distance, leash dogs at all times, hold small dogs in your arms if you come across an eastern coyote, and carry bear spray — just in case. At home, don’t leave pets outside unattended, don’t leave food out, and secure trash-can lids. For more information on coyote safety, visit the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website — https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/ Nuisance-Wildlife/Living-with-Coyotes — and you can stay tuned as we learn more about this fascinating species: • www.McleanGameRefuge.org • Instagram — @mclean_game_refuge • My Instagram — @forestrangersam + Samantha Lewis grew up in Granby and now lives in Simsbury — most of McLean Game Refuge is in Granby, with smaller parts in Canton and Simsbury

FOURTH — continued from page 8 sell fireworks anymore, nor ever again. The sale of them was frowned upon as not being patriotic at this time, and this gave me the excuse I had been seeking, to stop handling them. … Mother had been annoyed by the noisy crowd of boys who gathered in front of the store on the night of July 3rd so I took advantage of the psychological moment and quit.” Nearly a decade later, fireworks were back. The Herald said that July 4, 1926, was “the noisiest one that [Avon] has experienced in several years and the general appearance of the centre of town would carry the proof.” The Avon Congregational Church bell rang “practically all night” and Ceasar Tarchini’s daughter was burned when her clothing caught fire from firecrackers. Bill Goralski wrote in Growing Up in Old Avon Center that on July 4, 1940 “we would go to Sperry Park and wait for people from all over town to arrive [at the] community fireworks show where [people] wanted to share their fireworks with others. The main attraction for the kids

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was … Bill Gordon from the drugstore. “He would arrive about nine o’clock with the leftover fireworks. … He couldn’t return the unsold fireworks, couldn’t sell them the following week, that was the law, and couldn’t store them in a warehouse. This served as a goodwill promotion for the people in Avon.” In 1949, the Avon Volunteer Fire Department had its annual fourday carnival, with a parade of 19 fire departments, 20 trucks, and marching bands from Avon, Farmington, Simsbury, Tariffville, Newington and Warehouse Point. Also in 1949, there was a $2,000 fireworks display at Cherry Park in Avon to benefit Avon’s Gildo T. Consolini VFW Post, Times Farm and Camp Courant. The Herald said that spectators were promised “no duds, even if it rains.” There was a simulated battle scene, a flaming Niagara Falls in aluminum fire, a galaxy of comic displays, floral and patriotic scenes, and a “finale of explosions from a huge string of cannon salutes set off amidst a sky-lightning background of colored fire.” +


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