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April  2024 Issue

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Searching for Neptune: One Man’s Journey to Freedom

By Donna Dufresne

In 1799, the ship Neptune returned to New Haven Harbor after a three-year circumnavigation of the globe to China and back. Her cargo was worth millions of dollars and created great wealth for her owners and investors. The story of the Neptune and her lucrative voyage spread across the globe. Among mariners, Neptune became a symbol of good fortune.

Not long before the Neptune arrived in New Haven, a young man from Abington, Connecticut, embarked upon his own voyage, seeking fortune and a foothold in trade. Oliver Ingalls was the son of Zebadiah Ingalls. Although his father captained the Abington Militia and the 11th Regiment in the Lexington call, Oliver, born in 1770, would have been too young to earn his stripes in the military.

Items on his probate inventory in 1815 indicate that Oliver had been a sea captain: “1 spyglass, old sea charts and gauging rod, sea writing desk, and a marine case with bottles.” The study included “2 practical navigators, table of the poles, American Clerks Magazine, 1 French Grammar, Franklin’s Life, Dwight’s Geography, and a book of Spanish Grammar,” further indicating a life at sea. The grammar books imply that Captain Ingalls was engaged in the West Indies trade.

My investigation into Oliver Ingalls began with the discovery of Neptune Ingalls in Pomfret Vital Records. Neptune Ingalls was born in Africa in 1790 and died in Pomfret in 1868. I hypothesized that he must have been brought to Pomfret by one of the local Ingallses. It did not take long to discover a sea captain among the Abington clan. Fortunately, both men left a trail of documents which helped to guide the construction of Neptune’s story.

So, how did Neptune end up in Pomfret? He was likely picked up in the West Indies as a young child. According to an exhibit in the John Brown House in Providence, it was widespread practice to reward the captains of a voyage with up to five enslaved captives to sell or keep. For example, according to Brown University’s Slavery and Justice report(2004), Captain Esek Hopkins “was promised 50 pounds per month, plus a ‘privilege’—a commission—of ten barrels of rum and ten enslaved Africans to sell on his own account.”1

Neptune may have been captured as a young boy and brought to the West Indies with his mother. He may have been orphaned by the time the slave ship arrived in the Caribbean, or deliberately separated from his mother when she was auctioned. The sugar plantations were brutal, and enslaved people were literally worked to death. Underfed, overworked, and medically untreated, the life expectancy for adults was only five years after captivity. It was cheaper to buy new African captives than to ensure the health and well-being of the labor force. There was no use for children and elders on the islands. They became part of the return cargo, collateral perks to be sold in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Rhode Island.

The mystery of Neptune’s trauma-laden journey to Connecticut may never be solved unless I unearth some of Captain Ingalls’s account books and diaries. Census records list only heads of household until 1850; everyone else is represented by a hashmark indicating age, sex, and race. From his birth in Africa in 1790, we next encounter Neptune on the 1810 census as the “other than white free person” living with Ingalls, his wife, and four children. By disaggregating the census data and investigating land records, I was able to determine that in 1810 Ingalls owned what we know as the Brayton Grist Millon Mashamoquet Brook in Pomfret. Neptune remained whitewashed out of history until he shows up in church and land records, and later data indicates that he was working in the carding shop and fulling mill owned by Ingalls and later in the Pomfret Fulling Mill. Ingalls’s story may help to fill in the gaps.


In 1803 Oliver Ingalls married Betsy Abbott, whose father was a merchant and owned a store in North Providence. Apparently Oliver gave up his stint as a sea captain and settled back in Pomfret with Betsy, where their first son, Gerard, was born in 1804. In the Ingalls genealogy, Oliver is listed as a farmer in Pomfret with 30 acres, about the same amount of acreage he bought in 1810 from Jonathan and Rufus Brayton. The land included Mashamoquet Brook, the grist mill, a linseed-oil mill (fulling mill), and a carding mill. Three more children, Esther, William, and Zebadiah, were born before 1815.

An analysis of Oliver’s probate inventory in 1815 shows that he was more than a farmer. His contacts with merchants in North Providence and his property on the busy Providence Turnpike enabled him to build a thriving business. His personal inventory included more than 40 articles of clothing, including expensive suits and imported fabric. His blacksmith shop was producing more than horseshoes; it imported steel from England and Russia, and numerous shovels, grub hoes, scythes, and plow irons were in mass production—the kind of tools that were exported to the West Indies.

While business boomed, tragedy struck the family in 1812 when eight-year-old Gerard drowned in the millpond. Still, Oliver continued to build the Pomfret Woolen factory, designed to include carding, spinning, and weaving under one roof, downstream from the grist mill on his 30 acres of land. By 1815 he had established a board of directors, and the factory was running with several seasonal laborers, including Neptune. 

Unfortunately, Oliver drowned in the millpond in 1815, after returning late at night from Dresser’s Store at Abington Four Corners. He missed the road and fell into the millpond. His Newfoundland dog, another remnant from a life at sea, barked, but Betsy saw nothing amiss from the window. They found Captain Oliver in the morning. He is buried with his son, Gerard, in the Old Abington Burial Ground with a stone carved by Nathaniel Hodgkins. His older brother, Lemuel Ingalls, Esq., became executor of the estate and legal guardian of Oliver’s children. It took several years to settle debts, sell property, and sort out investments in the mills. The blacksmith shop and mills were sold to Orin Marcy, whose family owned the mill complex for several generations. Betsy and the children moved to Providence, while Lemuel managed their inheritance. His sons, William and Zebadiah, became renowned merchants in New York City.


Meanwhile, Neptune continued to live and work in the mills. He met his first wife, Lucinda Malbone (descendant of the Malbone slaves), in the Pomfret Fulling Mill, where they worked seasonally for 26 years. They married in 1816 in the Abington Congregational Church and continued to live in Abington, working in the Ingallses’ wool factory until it was destroyed in a flood in 1819. They attended the Abington Congregational Church, where records show their marriage and the deaths of their three children.

In 1832, Neptune bought 12 acres of land, including buildings, from Joel Baker in Baker Hollow. He was listed on the 1850 census as a farm laborer living with Joel and Joseph Baker. There were mortgages and a road dispute, but in the end, Neptune Ingalls appears to have led a decent and industrious life as a farm laborer and skilled millworker. After Lucinda died in 1859, he married Roseanna Robinson, age 65. On the 1860 census, her daughter, Nancy Hinckley, and grandson, George, age six, were living with them. By then, a little neighborhood of Black farm laborers and their families had grown in nearby Jericho. Edward Malbone, Ichabod Fagan, George Malbone, Evan Malbone, and Henry Jackson all lived nearby with their families. There was work to be had. The large farm of Horace Sharpe on Sharpe Hill needed farm workers; the Fay/Elliot saw and shingle mills were booming, and the Red Top Quarry on Carter Road continued to be active during the building of the railroad.

Neptune Ingalls’s life was snuffed out just before the first puff of a steam engine rolled into Elliot Station. The railroad changed everything. It disrupted the landscape and the community. The Pomfret Fulling Mill on Abington Brook was dismantled and replaced by the Abington Mail Drop and Big Y Grain Station. Farms began to use steam engines and required less labor. Foundries and blacksmiths switched to anthracite coal from Pennsylvania rather than the locally burned charcoal. Work in the quarries would soon be replaced by steam shovels. The community of Blacks that surrounded Neptune began to move on. The Civil War pensioners who fought in the 29th Connecticut Colored Infantry Regiment, the descendants of the enslaved Malbones, and Nipmuc stoneworkers in Jericho migrated toward the cities, where they found work on the railroad as brakemen, porters, and track maintenance workers. No one was left to visit the grave of Neptune Ingalls or to stop the steamroller of progress that paved over his remains. Only a few hints in the town archives remain to tell the story of Neptune Ingalls and his incredible journey from Africa to Pomfret.

In the book Full Circle: A Directory of Native and African Americans, Windham County, Connecticut, 1650–1900 (2002),Marcella Houle Pasay notes that Neptune Ingalls is buried beneath the road at the Four Corners in Abington. His probate estate provided for a casket, the digging of the grave, and a small house on 13 acres of land for his widow. I am not sure why Neptune is buried beneath the road, and it makes me wonder if there are others by his side. Perhaps it was more cost-effective to build the road on top of Neptune Ingalls than to move him to a different site. As at many African-American burial grounds, the people who were dispensable in life were dispensable in death. In the 1940s when the road was reconfigured, there were no advocates for preserving an uncomfortable past. Instead, Neptune’s bones rattle beneath the rumble of semi rigs and the roar of motorcycles on a busy road.

1 James T. Campbell, “Slavery and Justice at Brown—A Personal Reflection,” Brown University’s Slavery and Justice Report. https://slaveryandjusticereport.brown.edu/sections/slavery-the-slave-trade-and-brown/

A Comfortable Space at the Bottom of the Sky

By Bob Grindle

There is a certain beauty to the grey, damp, chill and almost claustral organic richness of an early spring rainfall in our small New England corner of the planet, and the mesmeric patter of raindrops falling a few thousand feet creates a magical, rhythmic, almost musical backdrop to even the most basic of our human efforts…the sky plays with one’s senses and a simple walk becomes an adventure as the shapeshifting landscape droops and sheds and drips and pools, as if the very air around us has been torn open and this spill of atmospheric plasma that brings and sustains life as surely as it brings flooding simply will not be staved…the same sky that just a few days ago treated us to an achingly beautiful, crisp blue canvas filled with towering cumulus proof that water is truly Nature’s most gifted architect…the same sky that surrendered its Sun-fueled day-lit clarity to a crescent Moonscape gem of a night with brilliant Jupiter just a whisper away from the Moon, that sky now rains down with a drenching persistence born of seasonal changes that span the epochs of Earth’s tortuous relationship with life. A small wet rabbit darts across the path in front and I recall reading that after only three weeks wild bunnies leave the nest to strike out on their own. A rabbit’s tortuous relationship with life!

While my comfort with a rainy day unwinds back more than 6 decades to memories of playing around and exploring the lakes, streams, rivers, woodlands and even the alleyways and empty lots of my youth, I can’t recall when I realized that even during the darkest, gloomiest and rainiest of mid-days the Sun, and with it a clear sky, were somewhere up there, just above the clouds. Some years later, as an airborne technician in the US Air Force, after studying the science of meteorology, it seemed obvious and easy to understand. But there are still times when it is easy to get lost in our limited tropospheric world at the bottom of the sky and feel the need to take a walk in the rain and rinse away the complications of, as William Wordsworth noted more than 200 years ago, a world that is too much with us.

In about a week one of the Cosmos’ more poetic events will unfold, whether there are clouds overhead or not, but if the sky is clear as the Moon slides slowly, soundlessly between the Earth and the Sun and this mid-day eclipse unfolds in the early afternoon of Monday, April 8th, bunnies will pause, bees will be momentarily stranded, Venus will shine in the early afternoon and many millions of human beings will mind the endless cautionary reminders not to look directly at the Sun. Imagine, for a moment that we were part of an ancient culture with no sense of the scientific explanation for why the Sun slowly disappears, or perhaps even more alarming on a cloudy afternoon the sky suddenly grows dim then black as night.

Throughout history eclipses have been wrongly accused of being a disruption of the natural order and most ancient societies developed spiritual explanations to help them understand the inexplicable. Chinese records going back more than 4000 years suggest that a celestial dragon devoured the Sun from time to time and only loud and raucous celebrations with lots of drum beating and people yelling would scare away the dragon and save the Sun. Since the loud ruckus always worked and the Sun returned, the legend stood the test of time. Though cultures varied and their geographic locations spanned the globe, the legends all bore resemblance to one another…Indian, Central Asian, West African, Native American, Pacific Islander, Egyptian, Greek, Incan, it made no difference…something was eating or stealing or hiding the Sun and only a society-wide festival effort of noise and music and sometimes sacrifice could save us all. According to Native American Choctaw legend, a mischievous black squirrel gnawing on the Sun is the cause of eclipses. Like the Chinese dragon, the squirrel must be frightened away by the clamor and yells of the event›s human witnesses. Ojibwa and Cree peoples have a story that a boy named Tcikabis sought revenge on the Sun for burning him, and despite the protestations of his sister, he caught the Sun in a snare trap, causing an eclipse. Various animals tried to release the Sun from the trap, but only the lowly mouse could chew through the ropes and set the Sun back on its path. 

Interestingly, from the Native American Navajo, perspective, eclipses are thought to be a time of renewal and a manifestation of the cyclical relationship between the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth. The old traditional knowledge of the Navajo people recognizes that it is dangerous to look directly at the Sun. Navajo elders strongly instruct their community to go inside the hogan (their traditional dwelling) during an eclipse to ensure people don’t look up at the Sun. Traditional Navajo people sit quietly and in reverence, a practice that is grounded on their deeply held respect for the cosmic order. Obviously, this was a culture that felt comfortable in their corner of the world…so much has been lost.

Hopefully, good weather will prevail on April 8th, between 2 pm and about 4 pm and we will all get the chance to enjoy one of our Solar system’s more audacious moments. Be well, seek comfort in your surroundings and enjoy the delightful colors and amazing smells that arrive on April’s wings.

Gardening with Hügelkultur in the Quiet Corner

Spring Tutorial

By Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Garden planning is well done in winter, time to reflect, re-evaluate…

Perhaps revaluate an embedded attitude. Winter dormancy and rejuvenation drew me to a landscape career forty years ago, mostly working with clients’ well-manicured desires. Five years in Chaplin has evolved my appreciation of weeds. They feed the Web of Life, and I like ornamental aspects of Pokeberry Phytolacca and many clump grasses. 

Weeding is an expression of human ego which can be morally justified, excused because many do it, but no excuse. Coexistence is an expression of landscape ethics, the right thing, and less work. Part of the Web of Life, not apart.

Winter in the Northeast is horticulturally dormant. Some go south for the winter, but the coldest season makes spring so sweet. I love our wee woods, thickets and gardens all year long. Winter is time to observe the quiet landscape of buds and birds on bare branches. To recognize the ornamental grace of dead herbaceous growth above ground like Chinese Silver Grass / Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ and many weeds. Seeking signs of health and rebirth, dormant buds swelling in late winter that is finally early spring,. 

SPRING!  Leaves and flowers appear, and we want to plant! If ad hoc, plant a native Serviceberry / Amelanchier tree here, birds love ‘em, a fragrant Roseshell Azalea / Rhododendron there, and herbaceous flowers wherever easily seen. Plant Daffodils (blooming now in stores) where you have full sun; a tree canopy may shade later, but daffs go dormant. They’ll likely come back next year. In fall, bury bulbs nearby, and you have a large drift of Narcissus next spring.

Style is yours and yours alone. My naturalistic style has ornamental edges blending to wild, whimsical and whatever Betsey wants. Coexistence requires an appreciation or at least a tolerance of some weeds. Whatever the style, all agree on the importance of plant health. Observe plants All Year Long. Writing mid-March, red buds are swelling on my towering Red Maple / Acer, common in climax woodlands of New England, and part of the diverse Eastern Deciduous Forest extending west to the Mississippi River.

Not so common is Bull Bay. Buds are healthy and some leaves are still a lustrous green on my Southern Magnolia / Magnoliagrandiflora from a Connecticut College plant sale two years ago, Planted as a small whip, it’s still only 24” high, but surviving winter. Native north to USDA cold-hardiness zone 6, Virginia and Maryland. The internet says Chaplin’s zone is 6b (minus 5°F to 0°F) in 2023, but it hasn’t been that cold recently in this crease between coastal lowland and highland Connecticut. Flowers are heavenly.

TUTORIAL  After five years, clients and friends were invited to my first spring tutorial at Chapel of the Birchnear the Natchaug River in Chaplin, Connecticut. I am the Chaplain, coo coo ka choo. I am he as you are he as you are me. And we are all together.” – John Lennon, I Am the Walrus

All is Good, gardening in Coexistence. 

On Sunday, March 17th, we pruned dead wood and crossing branches to improve air circulation because climate change has increased humidity, thus pests and disease. We staked multi-stems of clump trees. Restored compost saucers plus a kelp tonic. Used wood debris in Hügelkultur and leaves in garden beds with a topdressing of compost. I showed some container gardening with Lily / Lilium bulbs and bareroot Strawberry / Fragaria. We had fun! 

The chilly weather was biblical, early rain and the clouds parted. Amy and Carl Love came from Wayland, Mass. Sulo Salmela from Northbridge MA, Corleen Law of Putnam, and Liz Zimmer of Woodstock (great sister RE team who sold the house) pruned the Redtwig Dogwood (Benthamidia formerly Cornus) shrubs; removing 3 to 5 oldest canes promotes new red branching. 

We celebrated with a Saint Patrick’s Day Bonfire, marshmallows and a food run to Willimantic for gourmet pizza from Trigo which was closed on the holiday! C’mon. Tony’s Pizza (117 Main Street) was great off the bench as were the Celtics beating the Wizards 130-104 without starters. Maybe a Summer Solstice Bonfire with a tutorial on herbaceous perennials?

CLEAN UP  Some manicure their landscapes, some don’t. Your choice. I enjoy mowing my flowing pattern of lawn, leaving some unmown as a mini-meadow. I leave ground-hugging old growth of herbaceous perennials past the danger of a hard freeze. Old shelters new. If exposed, fresh growth emerges too early, vulnerable to frost. New England springs are unpredictable with climate change. Last year, a hard freeze in the middle of May killed buds on my native Redbud / Cercis and Japanese Maple / AcerJapanese Painted Fern / Athyrium died to the ground. 

All recovered.

I fertilize with compost saucers and granular BioTone. My first tonic offered customers as a landscape designer for Weston Nurseries (Hopkinton MA) was a topdressing of compost; forming a “saucer” to hold water is better. But first is the example of our woods: the value of leaves. Compost leaves for nutrient-rich leaf mulch. Next is the value of wood debris.

HÜGELKULTUR (pronounced hyoo-gul-kulture)   German word for mound or hill culture in which a planting bed is filled with wood and organic materials, topped with soil, better with compost. German gardeners and other Europeans have practiced it for centuries.

This horticultural technique mounds decaying wood debris and other compostable biomass materials as a raised bed. Small logs can be stacked below grade; above grade, cutting debris into small pieces increases wood surface and hastens decomposition. Decomposing wood ties up nitrogen that fuels plant growth; compensate with high-nitrogen materials like grass clippings or manure. As with composting, alternate layers of green and brown material.

Embraced by Permaculture for growing harvest plants, hügelkulturing is not for most trees because the mound sinks with decomposition. (My whitebark birch are planted in an 18” mound of compost, no wood debris.) Use for some woody shrubs, herbaceous perennials and annuals.

MANTRA  When nursery plants are available, Suit the Site’s cold hardiness and sun exposure. Soil nutrient and moisture is often amended; Water Makes Things Grow! Then Fit the Space using mature size to guide location. (Mind you, the nursery industry wants you to update and replace more than necessary.) Third, Seek Beauty.

Photos by the author.

Brian Karlsson-Barnes, Master gardener / designer, Boston, Massachusetts & Chaplin, Connecticut

Email:  briankarlssonbarnes@gmail.com     Text: 617.957.6611 (preferred)

KB garden design, 12 Cross Road, Chaplin CT 06235

Mother Nature Bolt

By Loretta Wrobel    

It happens every spring. Sometime in March I am outside, and “bam,” the sense that spring is happening overtakes and overwhelms me. I am instantly washed over with a flood of excitement and anticipation. Usually, the sky has some welcoming blue and the sun is out or flickering between clouds. This year it occurred a few weeks ago, while I was outside hanging clothes.  (Yes, I hang my clothes outside, as I never got into the habit of using a dryer, because I absolutely love the fresh air smell of outdoor-dried clothes!) I stop and breathe deeply, and my whole being feels the thrill of another spring slowly coming on. Often it is the sound of birds, the feel of the air, and the sense of the impending unfolding as my dear sweet mother earth stretches and begins to wake up.

In Connecticut it is a back-and-forth event. Often the following day, it appears that spring vanished and winter has returned in full force. However, I know this is just a tantalizing trick that nature plays. Spring does not approach rapidly, but with slow forward-looking steps and lots of backsteps into winter chills and snow. Not that I would want to do away with the essence of winter. Without the intensity of winter and the time for resting and rejuvenating for our plants, the magic and power of bursting forth would disappear. Plus, how could the skiers, ice skaters and snowperson builders manage without winter!

As I gaze around my yard, I begin to visualize what will appear first. Where will the first crocus rise up with its exciting vivid color? When will the snow drops display their dazzling white teardrops in my yard? I love the first glimpses of spring, as each day I can run outside to search for what has popped out overnight. As spring progresses, it becomes impossible to keep track of every sprouting green, as the plants swing into full gear and my mere brain can’t keep up with the rapid growth that mother nature orchestrates.

My focus switches to a deep appreciation for our precious earth, that she keeps us full of wonder and awe. Such a multitude of growth—green is everywhere, along with flowers, blossoms, buds and leaves that surround us with beauty and gratefulness for the continuing persistence of mother nature. My head shakes in profound honor as nature manages to keep up the grand act of resurgence. Each spring it occurs, regardless of what damage we cause by not staying mindful of the uniqueness of our fragile planet. 

As the days lengthen, and the temperatures moderate, it is the perfect time for quiet corner residents to walk around peering at skunk cabbage with its exotic purplish sprouts mysteriously erupting from the marshes. This low-growing plant starts slowly and then rapidly becomes widespread. The name is indicative of the smell emitting from the leaves. However, as my eyes delight in the curious shape, I view the abundant array of waste that has accumulated along our roadways and trails during the winter months. The unsightly mess we humans create is horrifyingly disrespectful of the magnificent display that mother nature is presenting to us.  Why are we continuing to throw trash, litter, and our ubiquitous nips out of our car windows, as we whiz past all this marvelous growth, oblivious to the five-star show all around us?  

Empty Bowls in Willimantic

By Delia Berlin

According to emptybowls.com, “Empty Bowls is a grassroots movement by artists and crafts people in cities and towns around the world to raise money for food-related charities to care for and feed the hungry in their communities. Empty Bowls supports food-related charitable organizations around the world, and has raised millions of dollars to help end hunger.”

Willimantic’s first Empty Bowls event will be held at the Windham Senior Center on Wednesday, April 24, from 5 to 7 p.m. Guests will be able to purchase locally made ceramic bowls, priced between $5 and $20, and use them to enjoy unlimited soup and bread donated by local restaurants. There will also be raffles and a silent auction. At the end of the event, 100% of the proceeds will go to benefit the Covenant Soup Kitchen.

But there is much more than fundraising to an Empty Bowls project. The first such event in Willimantic is the brainchild of Daniela de Sousa, owner of Spiral Arts. This ceramics studio and gallery offers classes, workshops, membership, and locally hand-crafted ceramics. In addition to operating Spiral Arts and being a prolific artist, Daniela is also the kiln master, main teacher, and mentor at the studio. 

If I could use only one word to describe Daniela, “synergetic” would work best. In everything she does, she applies her whole person, interconnecting her creativity, interests, resources, and skills to improve outcomes, maximize opportunities, and build community. 

Take, for example, the many hundreds of bowls that Daniela has set out to make for this event. She started planning production a year ahead. To fund the supplies to make the bowls, the studio held fundraising sales last summer, during 3rd Thursday Street Fests. By that time, Daniela had also started collaborating with local restaurants and other organizations to secure a venue and all the resources needed to hold a successful event.

Soon, local potters started converging on the studio, hand-building and throwing bowls of all sizes and styles. After their first firing, many bowls were taken to Windham High School and Eastern Connecticut State University for glazing, becoming welcome teaching materials for local students, who also benefited from the opportunity to contribute to the project. 

At the time of this writing, there is still a growing list of participating restaurants and organizations ready to make Willimantic Empty Bowls a resounding success. All that is clear is that on April 24, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., at the Windham Senior Center, there will be ceramic bowls for every taste, to be filled with delicious soups and bread provided by local eateries. Please join in celebration of all that is good in Willimantic.

Unsung Heroes of Soul: King Floyd

By Dean Farrell

As host of “The Soul Express,” I play the biggest names in 1960s and ‘70s-era soul music. I also mix in the many great soul artists who did not necessarily become household names but were no less talented. This month’s column is about King Floyd, whose “Groove Me” propelled him into temporary stardom in the early ‘70s.

King Floyd III was born in New Orleans on February 13, 1945, and grew up in the suburb of Kenner. At age 12, he started hanging out at the One Stop Record Shop on Rampart Street, where he met local music luminaries like Willie Tee and Earl King. It was one such act, a Mr. Google Eyes, who gave Floyd his first break, letting him sing with the house band at the Sho Bar on Bourbon Street.

After a stint in the Army, Floyd moved to New York City. He hung out with Don Covay (“Mercy, Mercy,” 1964) and J.J. Jackson (“But It’s Alright,” 1966), who encouraged him to write his own material. After a year in the Big Apple, Floyd tried his luck in Los Angeles, where he met several transplanted New Orleanians. Among them was Harold Battiste, who was producing Sonny & Cher at the time. Through Battiste, Floyd met Buddy Keleen and Jimmy Holiday, who arranged his first single on Original Sound Records. “When Did She Leave Me?” made some noise locally and landed Floyd gigs at area record hops. 

He also met Mac Rebennack (A/K/A Dr. John), who wrote material for Floyd’s debut LP, A Man in Love. Produced by Battiste for the Pulsar label, the album was not commercially successful. Floyd became disenchanted with the West Coast and returned to New Orleans in 1969. With a wife and daughter to support, he got a job at the Post Office.

Floyd recalled, “I was in town about a month when I ran into [musical arranger] Wardell Quezergue. He said he couldn’t do anything with me at the time, but he’d ask around. Then I talked to Elijah Walker [a New Orleans music promoter], and he was gonna record C.P. Love and Tommy and Sammy Ridgley. C.P. suggested he record me in his place. This impressed Walker, so he asked Wardell if I had any material. Wardell said, ‘Yeah, he’s got some good tunes.’ So one Sunday, we all drove up to Malaco’s studio in Jackson [Mississippi].”

Floyd nearly missed the session as his car broke down. By the time he arrived in Jackson, there was minimal studio time left. Floyd recorded “What Our Love Needs” in three takes, and “Groove Me” in just one. Everyone involved agreed that “What Our Love Needs” would be the A side of the single. Malaco attempted to lease it to Stax and Atlantic, but neither label was interested. So Malaco put it out themselves on the Chimneyville subsidiary.

Floyd gave a copy of the record to Hank Sample of Buffalo, New York’s powerhouse soul station, WBLK. He rode “What Our Love Needs” for about a month. Then George Vinnet of WYLD in New Orleans bumped into Floyd one day and told him, “King, I got your record in the mail today. I’m going to take it to my niece’s party tonight and give it a listen.” Vinnet called Floyd the next morning and said, “You got a hit record, baby! I’m going to play it on the air right now.” When Floyd turned on his radio, he was dismayed to hear “Groove Me.” So he called the station and told Vinnet, “You’re playing the wrong side.” But Vinnet assured him that “Groove Me” was the only song his niece and her friends wanted to hear at their party the night before.

Soon, radio stations all over New Orleans were playing “Groove Me.” Vinnet called Atlantic with the news, which prompted the label to finally offer Malaco a distribution deal. By January 1971, “Groove Me” was spending its first of four weeks at #1 on the Billboard Soul chart. It also peaked at #6 in the pop market and was certified gold.

Floyd’s follow-up was the similar-sounding “Baby Let Me Kiss You.” The public was clearly hungry for more as the song hit #5 R&B and #29 pop in the spring of 1971. That marked the end of King Floyd’s pop stardom, but the soul audience stayed receptive for about six more years.

In 1974, Floyd toured Europe, billed as “The Soulful Highness.” He also toured the Caribbean, where he met Bob Marley and was introduced to some new rhythms. In 1982, he toured South Africa. Floyd moved back and forth between the West Coast and New Orleans, but was unable to find the big break that would get him back in the studio. 

In 1995, Floyd received a credit for “Boombastic,” the massive hit by Shaggy. In 1997, the Wu-Tang Clan sampled his 26-year-old recording of “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” on their song, “For Heaven’s Sake,” from Wu-Tang Forever.In 2000, Floyd reunited with Malaco for the Old Skool Funk album, but it failed to catch on.

King Floyd, 61, died on March 6, 2006, of complications from diabetes and a stroke.

Charted singles:

“Groove Me” (1970-71) R&B #1 (4 weeks), Pop #6

“Baby Let Me Kiss You” (1971) R&B #5, Pop #29

“Got to Have Your Lovin’” (1971) R&B #35, Pop #101

“Woman Don’t Go Astray” (1972) R&B #3, Pop #53

“Think About It” (1973) R&B #49

“So Much Confusion” (1974) R&B #95

“I Feel Like Dynamite” (1974) R&B #35

“Don’t Cry No More” (1974) R&B #96

“We Can Love” (duet with Dorothy Moore, 1975) R&B #76

“Body English” (1976-77) R&B #25

Please check out the Unsung Heroes of Soul blog at https://60459fe07898a.site123.me/

Dean Farrell hosts “The Soul Express” Fridays from 7:00-10:00 p.m. on WECS, 90.1-FM (www.wecsfm.com). He plays vintage soul music of the 1960s and ‘70s, everything from #1 hits to long-lost obscurities. Dean’s e-mail address is soulexpress@gmail.com.

From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut

“My green thumb came only as a result of the mistakes I made while learning to see things from the plant’s point of view.” — H. Fred Dale.

By C. Dennis Pierce

You know what mystifies me each Spring? Daffodils. Prior to purchasing my house in Mansfield Center many years ago, the prior owner had planted many bulbs throughout the yard. It was an added bonus when spring arrived, when I found bright yellow flowers scattered throughout the property. Only later, I realized that in order to maintain them I needed to separate them when they died out.  I began to take photos of their locations so when they completed their life cycle, I would be able to dig them up. Interestingly enough, when I finally took on that project I found some of the bulbs were no longer there and to my surprise the next year these yellow harbingers of spring would be popping up in new locations throughout the yard.  Maybe it was Mother Nature’s way of playing a game of “wack a mole” or just the mischievous ways of the local squirrels digging them up and relocating them to another area. I know the squirrels were not eating them since daffodil bulbs are poisonous  to squirrels, voles, mice, and other rodents.  Who would have thought the squirrels, besides robbing all of the sunflower seeds from my birdfeeders, these chatty little buggers were also exterior decorators. I can hear them now, “Let’s see next spring we need more color in this part of the yard, or maybe over there…”

Willimantic’s, Know Your Farmers Fair, hosted a wide variety of farms, vendors, and information booths this year, probably the largest yet. I always stop by to collect farm contacts so I may feature the farms in upcoming columns. One of farms that drew my attention was Westview Farm from Woodstock, CT. Woodstock has always intrigued me, tucked into the upper corner of the Quiet Corner with it’s winding back roads and rural farmlands. From what I could find from the Woodstock Conservation Commission’s site from the internet, Woodstock has  somewhere between 39 and 46 active farms. This includes 13 operating dairy farms (down from 16 two years ago, but still more than any other town in Connecticut.) Forest-based industries include tree farms, sawmills, and maple sugaring. So, this week, to prepare for this month’s column I set off to visit Megan Harmon (in photo at right) from Westview Farm, who I met at the Know Your Farmer’s Fair. My directional app took me the long way to reach east Woodstock, but it also showed me how beautiful the area is despite it being a windy and gray day. Because of recent rains the brooks and stream were more than gurgling, they overflowed their banks racing to the larger rivers that they eventually poured into. Upon reaching the farm propped on top of a hill I knew I was in the right place with the towering, majestic barn, rows of outbuildings and an amazing scenic view.  Originally, Westview Farm was founded in the 1800s by the Wetherell Family as a dairy farm that provided glass bottled milk to the community. In the mid -1970s the Harmon Family purchased Westview Farm and successfully maintained the dairy until 1996.After the dairy herd was dissolved, a small herd of Hereford cattle was added to the farm. This was the start of the current beef herd.

Megan, a graduate of the University of Connecticut, greeted me in the small shop that is attached to the main house  It was filled with an array of products that the farm offers including their well sought after dry aged beef selections. She shared the history of the farm and environmental philosophy that makes this agricultural undertaking a rare and unique entity.   The farm is situated on a windswept hill and has an amazing view of the farm’s pastureland and the farm’s 135 acres. Megan’s parents moved from Middletown to the farm in 1976. The farm currently has a herd of about 50 to 60 head of cattle.  Unique to this farm the herd is grass feed but also is grass finished. That is to say all of the grasses and legumes that are fed to the cattle comes from the farm. The cattle are a mix of Hereford, Angus, and Simental.   Their cattle are raised with a heritage diet according to Megan. Through using regenerative methods, they are able to practice carbon sequestration, reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Additionally, on the farm  they never use herbicides or pesticides on any production on the Farm, thus eliminating any chemical impact and promoting clean farming. Megan felt strongly about her life working on the family farm. “ Farming progressively makes an impact on the food that is produced and also an impact on the environment.” 

In addition to beef the farm offers hay, fresh chicken, chicken / duck eggs and beef tallow skin care products. Also produce and flowers in season.  There are many options to purchase from the farm which is located at 209 Prospect street in East Woodstock.  The small shop is currently open every Fridays from 2:00pm to 6:00pm. From June to October the roadside stand is open from 10:00 am to 6:00pm offering in season vegetables and other items. The farm offers a variety of CSA options and a flower subscription plan. I would suggest that you check out their web site at westviewfarmct.com since it is done very well, has options for ordering, and has some great photos.  The farm’s contact information is: 860.928.7491, email is westview.farm@outlook.com 

As my forsythia  arrives in full bloom and the daffodils dance at their feet, I know that rhubarb is waiting in the wings. Rhubarb is a plant (vegetable) that is defiantly persistent with a mind of its own. It sort of takes on the role of an embarrassed celery with a green stalk on top, red on the bottom and a big leaf dancing in the sun while it also protects the garden mice from the rain. Rhubarb is unique. You either like it or not. Surprisingly sometimes rhubarb pies will show up at the local church bake sale but if you arrive late, you will never find one since they are the first to go. Oh, for the taste of rhubarb and the childhood memories it provides. I could not resist this month and provided two recipes. I hope you enjoy.

Rhubarb Coffee Cake

Pre- heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 8” baking pan



½ cup of butter

¾ cup of sugar

1 egg

1/3 cup of milk

2 cups of flour

1 tablespoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of salt

¼ cup sliced almonds


2 cups of sliced (1 inch) rhubarb

½ cup of sugar

4 tablespoons of water – divided

1 ½ tablespoon of cornstarch


1/2 cup of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of flour

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 tablespoon of butter


Prepare filling –

Combine rhubarb, sugar and 2 tablespoons of water and gently cook in a medium saucepan until rhubarb is softened but not mushy.

Combine remaining 2 tablespoons of water and cornstarch. Add to rhubarb and cook until thickened. Set aside.

Prepare cake:

Cream butter and sugar. (mix together)

Blend in egg and milk

Mix flour with baking powder and salt and blend into creamed mixture

Spread half of the batter in a greased 8 inch square baking pan.

Cover with rhubarb filling and top with almonds

Top with remaining batter. 

Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over batter.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes until firm

……and another recipe….

Rhubarb Relish


1 quart. of rhubarb, diced

1 qt. of onions finely cut

4 cups of brown sugar

1 tablespoon of salt

1 teaspoon of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of all spice

1 teaspoon of cloves

1 teaspoon of ginger

½ teaspoon pepper

2 cups of white vinegar


Combine all ingredients and heat slowly to boiling

Simmer 45 to 50 minutes until thick.

Place mixture into sterilized glass contains such as those use for canning, jelly, or jam.

Serve with meat or with a charcuterie platter.

In my last month’s column, I suggested that you save the lint from your dryer trap and place it in a suet feeder so that the birds arriving this spring will have some nesting material. I need to retract that suggestion. While at the Fair a reader shared that this is harmful to nesting birds. Upon arriving home, I found that in fact it is not a good idea. It appears dryer lint dust can be hazardous to baby bird’s lungs, and the concentrated chemicals from perfumed and dyed detergents are toxic to both baby birds as well as brooding adults. Furthermore, lint with a strong odor can attract predators, bringing them right to a vulnerable nest.

As I mentioned last month, I am incorporating some tips I have picked up along the way from farmers, markets, and local gardening associations. One tip is for better success, soak your seeds before planting. In a bowl, cover your seed with warm water and leave to soak for 6 to 24 hours. Smaller seeds and those with thinner coats need the shorter time, and larger seeds with thicker coats need the longer period. Some seeds will naturally float, and some will stay below the surface. The UConn Home Garden Center suggests that if you are working with older seeds check for viability by placing 10 seeds on a damp paper towel and keep moist until germination. Six to10 germinated seeds are a good sign.

If you are in search of compost for your garden, you might try to see if there is any still available at UConn. The dates for pick up are Friday April19, 2024 from 1 to 4 and April 20,2024 from 10 to 3. You must purchase online prior to arriving. However, it may be too late since there is always a rush to purchase and there is a limited supply. I believe this is the link to make your purchase. If it does not work contact Jaren Smith for the correct link – Jaren.Smith@UConn.edu. Purchase link: https://secure.touchnet.com/C21646_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=1702

If you find that you enjoy reading this column every month or if you have some gardening hacks you would like to share with others? Please drop me a line and let me know  at Codfish53@Yahoo.com.  Peas be with you. Come celebrate with me and remember, every day is a holiday, and every meal is a banquet.  I’ll save you a seat at the table! 

From the Ground Up – Buying Local in Connecticut

Common Sense Car Care

By Rick Ostien

This month’s article is about the notorious check engine light (ECM). The parts store that offers free scanning of the check engine light is hoping to sell the consumer a part to remedy the problem. However, this may or may not cure the issccue. Let us look at the way the ECM light comes on to start with.

The ECM computer is programmed to monitor the different sensors; engine, transmission, and emissions. The sensors are designed with a voltage range that is input to the ECM. If a sensor does not stay in its programmed voltage range or stays in one voltage reading too long then the ECM light comes on. The early 1980’s theory was if there was an oxygen sensor code (O2) then the sensor must need replacing. The Oxygen sensor monitors exhaust flow and changes voltage input as quick as you can click your fingers. The idea is to keep the engine from running too rich (excessive fuel) or too lean (not enough fuel). Mice love to build a nest in the air filter box. This can cause an air flow restriction which causes a rich run condition. A broken vacuum hose can cause an engine to run too lean. Both things can cause an O2 sensor to go out of range. So, you see the ECM light tells you what sensor input is having a problem, but it may not necessarily need to be replaced.

The ECM light that comes on because of an emission problem is usually the EVAP system. The system was designed to reburn fuel vapors from the fuel tank. The system is checked by the ECM to make sure there are no leaks in the system. A loose gas cap, missing gas cap, or the new capless filler neck can cause an EVAP system not to seal. Rusted parts, fuel tank, filler neck, sending unit, just about any related component under the hood can cause an EVAP problem.

The ECM light can stay on because of a problem that has not gone away (hard code). The ECM light that goes out after so many key starts is an intermittent code. The ECM will store in its memory either problem if it does not lose voltage under 9 volts or if someone clears the code. So, you can see that fixing a check engine light takes a knowledgeable technician and the equipment to do the repair correctly. We have had some customers complain about diagnostic charges. The changing of parts without correctly diagnosing the problem can cost you money and time. Many people start the conversation with we scanned the check engine light or we googled the problem and this is what I want done. This makes me recall a customer that owned a Mercedes. This vehicle had multiple codes and they wanted each part replaced that the computer coded out. I explained that we were talking about $2000 plus dollars to do this repair the way they wanted it done. We got signed permission to diagnose the problem to double check the codes that the other repair shop found. The codes we found all related to a lean running engine. Inspecting the engine showed no obvious problem. A lean running engine means that one or more cylinder is getting less fuel than the others. The most common problem causing this is a vacuum leak. We have a diagnostic tool that induces smoke into the intake manifold to look for this leak. We found a crack in the intake manifold. The diagnosis took a little more than 2 hours. The diagnostic price per hour depends on the repair facility. The average price of $100 to $180 is well spent though. In this case the total repair was around $1200. The customer saved a lot of money on parts that did not need to be replaced. It is important to note that google is a wonderful tool, but it is not the end all be all and it can end up costing you money if taken as gospel.

I hope this gives you a little insight into the ECM light. It really is important to have a trained technician diagnose and repair your vehicle. It can save you time and money. Most customers are happier saving money and having their car or truck run properly. Today’s vehicles are more complicated than ever and they really require an expert to fix them. Until next month…

Rick Ostien is the owner of Franc Motors in Willington.

From Ideas to Art:  An Exploration

Like art, revolutions come from combining what exists 

into what has never existed before.                                                        

                  -Gloria Steinem

By Phoebe C. Godfrey

Writing for Neighbor’s paper, I often meet people who read my work and appreciate what I have to say (I just met a reader at Ledgecrest Greenhouse).  To those people I would like to extend an invitation to my upcoming art show at the Kerri Gallery in Willimantic.  Many may not know that I also paint / create art and that I see my art as a way of exploring similar ideas that I do in writing but doing so from a more ‘right brained’ approach.  A fascinating TED Talk that I share with many of my classes is called My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolt Taylor (she also went onto to write a book of the same title), wherein Taylor describes her experience having a stroke on the left side of her brain.  She lost the ability to speak (temporarily) but instead found herself feeling like the “life force of the universe” by having her right side of her brain dominate (the sides / hemispheres are not separate but are linked by the corpus coliseum, but they do have different areas of specialization).  At the end of her talk (and I assume, also her book) she proposes that as a culture we need to spend more time experiencing life from our right hemisphere and less time organizing, separating and compartmentalizing everything as we do use our left hemisphere.  I agree and in fact this was what led me to learning to paint over 20 years ago. 

I began painting in graduate school while studying sociology as I found the emphasis at the time on my ‘left brain’, endless reading writing and critical analysis, called for a way to balance myself by using my ‘right brain’.  I was at the time inspired by something Gloria Steinem said in her book Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (1992) and so I began painting (I was also dating a painter at the time who also encouraged me).  In her book, as with her quote linking art to being like a revolution, she further recognizes the role that art can play in advancing our self-esteem.  In my own case, I had always wanted to paint but felt if I did it would change me in ways I was not ready to experience.  But eventually I picked up a brush, signed up for classes at the Art Students League (ASL) in New York City and have continued ever since.  Consequently, the ‘revolution from within’ did happen, which in my case involved leaving my then male artist boyfriend for my first female girlfriend–something else that I have also continued pursuing ever since (as in having women partners). 

After 5 years at the ASL and a completed Ph.D., I left New York for my first tenure track job in Laredo, Texas.  Since I no longer had access to models, I started making copies of paintings from past masters, while taking liberties to reinterpret the paintings in order to say something about me as well as the artists that was both original and provocative. As a sociologist and an artist, I have sought to weave together the past and the present, inviting viewers to see their own lives through a more temporally expansive lens and to contemplate how their lives might be interpreted by others in the future.  My recent series on revisioning the Book of Genisis comes out of my teaching on climate change and environmental destruction and aims to invite viewers to question in deep ways how our cultural stories are contributing to our self-destructive behavior.  I think the arts are essential to helping cultures reexamine their values and to do so in ways that invite people to explore new ideas–their inner revolutions–in ways that can be more transformative than with merely left brain rational ‘facts’. 

The title of this show From Ideas to Art:  An Exploration comes from my process that, as a sociologist, begins with an insight into or a question about (and usually both) our society that I then seek to translate into an artistic image or creation. 

My show will be on display from April 2nd to May 31st, with the opening reception on April 4th from 5-7p.m.  I will be there then and welcome talking to viewers, as well as hearing any kind feedback via email.  

Finally, we will be giving out buttons at the reception that say: “Turn Ideas Into ART” – may it be so!

Good Health Care is Essential in Our Pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness

Stonewall – delay or block (a request, process, or person) by refusing to answer questions or 

by giving evasive replies, especially in politics.                                            

-Oxford Languages 

By Bill Powers

Recent stonewalling by employees and officials from Hartford Healthcare (HHC), Windham Hospital (WCMH), the State Office of Health Strategy (OHS), the Governor’s Office, and even Trinity College about the recent decision to “Terminate Inpatient Obstetric Services” at WCMH has regrettably been my experience while attempting to research this story. It’s as if they would like to bury the story in hopes it will simply go away and protect their interests.   

Access to affordable quality health care is essential for all of us in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. However, our current so called health care system is inequitable for far too many. Widespread racial, wealth and income disparities and where you may live – rule the day. What is evident is the growing number of maternity deserts as part of the closure of core healthcare services and entire hospitals in some urban and many rural areas of America. There exists an inability for many people to afford needed pharmaceuticals. There is an ever- increasing inability to provide adequate numbers of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals, as our population ages. These in addition to other critical factors (such as health care monopolies, lack of effective government initiatives and private insurance profiteering) threaten the ability of many Americans to be afforded their inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The persistent gaps in health care for people of color, women, and the economically disadvantaged often are affected by prejudice and therefore may constitute a violation of civil rights.

Leah Ralls, the President of the local Windham/Willimantic Branch of the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP, believes “that the actions of Hartford Health Care/ Windham Hospital and Connecticut State Office of Heath Strategy’s joint final decision on December 1, 2023 to permanently close our WCMH Maternity Unit violates the civil rights for many of our neighbors who are entitled to adequate health care.” Her organization works to assure equity and justice for all. 

STONEWALLED at Trinity College –   You might be wondering how Trinity could be involved with the HHC/WCMH closing of an inpatient maternity unit. Trinity College’s President, Dr. Joanne Berger – Sweeney, is also the Chairman of HHC’s Board of Directors.  Exactly fifty years ago, I received a Master’s degree at Trinity. Any expectation that it might provide me an opportunity for at least five minutes to speak with the president turned out to be only a pipedream. Answers to a few simple questions is what was being sought: 1) How much information about the concerns of our local elected and appointed officials and residents concerning the very unpopular termination of obstetric services at WCMH was provided to the HHC Board? 2) Were they apprised of the issues and concerns raised by the people’s voices – the voices of our neighbors? 3) Did they consider allowing community input for their decision?  4) Was the HHC board decision approved before or after the abrupt closure of the maternity unit and the earlier closing of the ICU? My attempts by phone last December to schedule an interview with Berger-Sweeney were finally answered by Kristen Cole on January 2nd (who has a long title: Senior Director of Strategic Content and Media Relations). She answered in an email that: “Unfortunately, she (Berger-Sweeny) can’t pursue this opportunity.” So much for helping out a writer doing research for a story who is also an alumnus and the recipient of four national literary awards. Not yet discouraged, I contacted Jason Rojas who works as the President’s Chief of Staff and Associate Director for External Affairs (an even longer title). If his name is familiar to you, it may be because of his PART-TIME job; he is a member of the General Assembly and the Majority Leader. He said he would look into it and get back to me. After several weeks, when I had not heard back, I contacted him again, since my deadline for submission of my story for the March issue of Neighbors was approaching. When he asked for more specific information about the purpose for speaking with the president, I told him. Clearly agitated, he replied that “Being the president of Trinity and the Chairman of Hartford Health Care’s Board are not at all connected!” Somewhat insulted, and desperately working to hold back a laugh, I replied: “Do you honestly believe that if she was not Trinity’s president, she would be the chairman of the HHC Board? The connection seems pretty clear to me!”  But he would considerate it – I never heard back!


The East Region of Hartford Healthcare includes both Backus Hospital in Norwich and WCMH in Willimantic. It has its own board of directors, separate from the HHC board. After being refused an interview with the East Region’s president, I began to contact members of their board of directors. The first person I reached was the board’s chairman, a bank president, whose bank has 12 branches headquartered in Norwich. I told him I was writing a story and would like to interview him. As soon as he learned the story was about the terminated inpatient obstetric service at WCMH, he apologized and said that he was “not supposed to discuss that” and referred me to a HHC public relations contact in Hartford. None of the following members returned my calls. (I never heard back!): A wound care surgeon who according to his office works for HHC and only practices at Bachus Hospital; A retired long term human resources director for the City of Norwich; A medical internist, possibly retired; A Hartford attorney; A college professor at Quinnipiac University; and, an HHC physician working at Natchaug Hospital. Eventually, I was able to briefly penetrate the protective shell to have a conversation with a board member who resides in a Connecticut coastal community and previously taught in my graduate clinical/community psychology program. For many years, he had been an administrator with HHC and he is very positive about “the many things HHC had done to improve healthcare provided by WCMH.” He told me that “the board met three or four times a year and generally discussed issues centered around safety.” As far as learning about the “details” for who, what, when, where, and why the decision was made to terminate the inpatient maternity unit at WCMH, he referred me to the HCC East Region president. That is where I started!  So, it was back to square one and I had gone full-circle. However, I decided to take still another whack at it, because it seemed as though there definitely could be an interesting “other side” of this story to tell. In my email of January 26, 2024 to Donna Handley, senior vice president of HCC and president of the East Region, I told her that a board member referred me to her and I included 8 questions (which I had also shared with Rebecca Stewart, HHC Vice President of Media Strategy and the East Region Board Chairman). I assured president Handley: “My intention has been to gather factual information to include in my writings for a fair and balanced presentation.” I never heard back! It seems that she has placed the last stone in a barrier to provide facts from the East Region organization. It is striking that the East Region Board of HHC seems to be filled with present and former HHC employees and with others connected to Norwich, while appearing to lack adequate representation from the Windham area. 



To me, the December 1, 2023, OHS press release about the final decision to terminate obstetric services at WCMH and negotiated by OHS with WCMH/HHC continues to be incomprehensible. It purports to replace a maternity unit with a birthing center, if, after commissioning a study, WCMH/HHC still wants to do it. The unit had suddenly been closed three-and-a- half years earlier. The delays and blocking of attempts to obtain facts about the why, who, when, and where that decision was made can only be characterized as stonewalling. Most of my questions addressed to OHS are unanswered. Some have received evasive replies. For instance, “What are the names and titles of the persons who were involved in the negotiations?” –  the answer – “Attorneys and staff members.” After consulting with the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, an FOI request was made on December 14, 2023 for records of the OHS and WCMH/HHC negotiations.  Eventually, I received an answer from OHS on February 26,2024 stating: “the records requested are exempt from disclosure under FOIA for the following reasons… 1. Preliminary drafts or notes provided the public agency has determined that the public interest in withholding such documents clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. 2. ‘Trade secrets’ or ‘Commercial or financial information given in confidence, not required by statute.’ 3. ‘Communications privileged by the attorney-client relationship’.” This has been followed-up by a chain of verbal and written communications with the FOI Commission and Daniel Csuka, OHS staff attorney and hearing officer, about challenging this decision by way of an appeal. (On March 26, 2024, as I was proofing this story for submission to NEIGHBORS, Mr. Csuka agreed to a meeting during the first week of April to discuss in more detail the reasons OHS denied my complaint.) My questions include: how the interests of our abandoned local moms and newborns were represented in the process; what evidence was presented at hearings in defense of the patients who would suffer limitations and possible irreversible harm from the OSH decision; and, were violations of civil rights considered? Can’t OHS redact “trade secrets” and unrelated “financial information”? Whose attorney-client privileged communications are being addressed – those of HHC or OHS? Were the issues expressed by our local government officials who intensely voiced their concerns against the injustice, lack of transparency and absence of community involvement by HHC taken into consideration as evidence?    


I have previously written in Neighbors that local elected officials have discussed their concerns over the termination of obstetrical services at WCMH directly with the governor and lieutenant governor. The final decision to do so, after it was abruptly closed years earlier, was made by “OHS Executive Director Deidre S. Gifford. She retained ultimate decision-making authority” (OHS communication). On February 6, 2024, Julia Bergman, Communications Director for the Office of the Governor, wrote me that: “Dr. Gifford in her role as Executive Director of OHS, serves also as the Senior Advisor for Health and Human Services to Governor Lamont. She reports to Governor Lamont. Governor Lamont is strongly supportive of Dr. Gifford’s work to increase health care access and reduce healthcare costs for Connecticut residents.” Bergman was responding to my January 18, 2024, email requesting the organizational relationship between Gifford and Lamont (after OHS failed to respond) and who assesses Gifford’s performance, and a description of the process. You’ll notice that Bergman only addressed the first part. When I requested the missing information, she replied on February 6th: “I will get you info about the evaluation process. I would not make any assumptions. I am not positive that there is a formal evaluation process for the commissioners but I want to confirm that.” On March 15th I requested the information again and asked for her source when she provides it. I never heard back! 


The stonewalling I have experienced by so many is remarkable. So many have declined to talk about the details of how and why Windham Community Memorial Hospital was allowed to terminate its inpatient obstetric services. It is questionable that such a strange final decision was negotiated by the OHS executive director, Deidre S. Gifford. Fortunately,  It has been refreshing to talk with the dedicated members from Windham United to Save Our Health Care (WUSH) as well as local elected and appointed officials from our area towns who continue to be advocates for quality health care for all of our neighbors, while thankfully providing useful and factual information.

My interviews with six state representatives and our state senator from this area were informative explanatory and actually revitalizing. I had gone in with a certain mind set – As our representatives, how could they stand by and allow WCMH/HCC to get away with this? They were all aware of the situation at WCMH and all, regardless of political party, voiced concern. It was a relief that they all spoke freely about their perceptions of how it came to be. They spoke of the difficulties related to being only part-time legislators contrasted to the full-time presence of the executive branch and its comparatively more and extensive capacity. Many spoke of the extraordinary clout of the health care lobby in the state, often mentioning the Connecticut Hospital Association.  It was stated that Hartford Health Care, in particular, has been able through its cadre of attorneys to purposely complicate and delay action by the state. All but one voiced the opinion that further legislative action will be necessary to neutralize the influence of certain health care organizations in the public’s interest. Some suggested that federal funding will most likely be necessary in order to preserve and continue the operation of smaller rural healthcare providers. All seemed to agree that good and accessible healthcare is essential for everyone.

Bill Powers is a retired teacher, healthcare provider and administrator.