Friday, September 24, 2010

A Class Above Itself

East Hampton has been a special place to reside and its citizens, in most cases, exemplify integrity, moral character and convictions, reverence, patriotism, tolerance and respect of others. These traits have been nurtured from a number of role models – parents, pastors, teachers and community leaders. The 1947 Senior Class at EHHS faced head on their resolve of character and moral conviction. Like so many others, the class had planned its senior trip to tour our Nation’s Capitol. After hotel accommodations had been arranged, the Principal, Everett A. McDonald, Jr. received a call from hotel staff inquiring if any attending were “colored” because if so, separate accommodations would have to be made. As a matter of fact there was a member “of color” – Class President Charles “Sonny” O’Neil. Not only was he Class President, he had been elected by his class President all four years of high school.

An accomplished athlete, leader and future businessman, he represented the finest of this community. Mr. O’Neil’s family had actually resided here long before there was a “here!” Among his ancestors were the Wangunk Indians. But to the issue! The Class members rebelled at the indignity and racism, unanimously voting to cancel the Washington trip. A hastily scheduled new senior trip to visit a neighboring city to the north, Montreal, was arranged.

There all were welcomed as EH’s finest matured to young adults and lifelong friends. It took many years for segregation laws to change and many of us remember the tumultuous 1960s. There is no doubt we still encounter racism and intolerance today. But at a time when it was uncommon to stand up against such practices, 26 “adults” (the total Senior class) stood tall in solidarity and just said NOT US!

The Beginnings of EH Police Department

The recent uproar over the elimination of the position of Police Chief have prompted several people to asked how a small town like East Hampton got a police department in the first place.

With a change in administrations in October, 1961, the newly elected Board of Selectmen composed of Helge Palm (D) and Forrest Thatcher (D), and William Hughes, Jr. (R) began discussions, research and hearings about the Town’s police coverage. Up until that time, East Hampton police consisted of part time, unpaid, elected constables and on various occasions Railroad Detectives and US Postal Inspectors.

The Selectmen’s analysis presented three options for permanent police coverage: (1) a Resident State Trooper; (2) a full time Constable using his own vehicle and paid for mileage; or (3) a full time Constable with a town owned vehicle. Inquires were made with the Commissioner of the State Police as to the application process to obtain a Resident State Trooper. After due discussion, option (3) was selected and on December 13, 1961, George Fowler was appointed Sergeant at a salary of $4,500 and a cruiser was purchased from Partyka Chevrolet for $2,153. Our town at that time had a population of about 4,500 people. On October 15, 1963, a Town Meeting created a Police Commission electing Marion Fargo, Leon Voisin, John Wall, Charles Nichols and Russell Clark as founding members.

On October 21st, as the first act of the Police Commission, George Fowler was sworn in as the Town’s first Chief of Police. The Police Commission, elected positions, oversaw the Police Department until 1989 when, by revision of Town Charter by referendum in November 3, 1897, it was abolished, at which time the Town Manager was empowered to “appoint, based upon merit and fitness alone, all other department heads and employees, except employees of the board of education.”

An Artist?

For the record. I have painted with water colors and been an avid photographer for a number of years, but no one has ever studied with me, nor have I studied with any other artist. I suspect the reference was to Dean Waite, a very renowned local artist.