Letter: Gouveia is a real Earth angel

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To the editor,

The flash of white light stretched across the winter night sky. Eleven hardy onlookers gasped, as the brilliant band of light grew larger and larger. In what seemed a forever moment in time, the meteor, or part of an old satellite, disappeared into the western horizon.

This wow moment happened at Naugatuck’s Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve on March 5, 2012. Taking advantage of the relatively low light clutter there, an excited group of star gazing aficionados strolled without flashlights under the glow of a waxing gibbous moon. It was a spectacular night combined with one of those once in a lifetime happenings. It may never have happened if it was not for a courageous teenage woman.

The evening of Sept.26, 1995 resulted in a very important day in Naugatuck’s recent history. That evening a young girl scout walked into the community room at Stop & Shop followed by her den mothers, Maria Folsom as well as Casey Knittel and other members of scout Troop 4043. The young woman and those scouts became the core of the Committee For A Cultural/Environmental Center — Gunntown Road. That young woman was Vaneza Gouveia. She, more than anyone else, was responsible for saving the land that became the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve.

Vaneza Gouveia, and the passive open space movement she helped inaugurate, came to realize that Naugatuck’s town-owned land on the border of Middlebury and close to Oxford’s, was a special place. Vaneza, as chairwoman of the Committee For A Cultural/Environmental Center — Gunntown Road for many years, emphasized two very important points in Naugatuck’s history. One emanated from our deep natural history and one from our colonial past.

Some 15,000 years ago and in the ensuing millennia, the last great glacial retreat sculpted the land. Our mountains were ground down and our river valleys formed. It particularly left its mark on the Gunntown land with Long Meadow Brook cruising through lowlands that were probably once a good sized pond or lake. Sand there embedded below the soil tells part of the natural history storybook. The hardwood swamp, shrub swamp, marsh area and wet meadows complete the reading of the land.

The second point also occurred in March but some 227 years ago and with a more typical New England winter.

The snowy, frigid night of March 15, 1780 was a fateful day in Connecticut history. Having looted a home in Bethany, a band of Tory thugs made their way to Gunntown. Along the way they kidnapped a young boy. Why? Because he recognized some of the Tories from the Gunntown neighborhood and the fact that his family, the Judds, supported the revolution. What commenced then was a wild chase by rebel trackers through the Naugatuck Valley, the eventual capture of the Tory marauders and freedom for young Chauncey Judd.

It was Edward Coelho who proposed that the work of our fledgling committee combine both the environment and culture. Vaneza fully embraced this concept. When a grant was won to do The Stolen Boy play on the Gunntown land, Vaneza, then a student at Saint Joseph’s College in West Hartford, said she wanted to be a part of the action. True to her word as always, she became costume director. Vaneza also was one of the actors to play the role of Mrs. Wooster who, very fittingly, helped save the life of young Chauncey.

Vaneza did it all very aware that the history and culture of the colonial period was not only another good reason to preserve this land but also integral to saving it.

The town recently started a Gunntown Stewards program, through the Recreation Department, to help observe the condition of the passive park and give guidance to visitors. Boy scouts are presently updating the original work of Vaneza’s and the girl scouts on the trails there. It is all an extension of Vaneza’s consist message that we need to speak for nature and wildlife, as they cannot speak for themselves.

Fittingly, the Naugatuck Cultural Council has declared Vaneza Gouveia (Clarke) Earth Day Mayor of the Day. On Friday, April 20, festivities will start at Town Hall and continue at the Gunntown Passive Park and Nature Preserve at 11:30 a.m. The latter segment will feature a “Telling Our Stories” program where people will tell of their ancestry, recent history, and cultural upbringing. Bring your stories as we honor the work and effort of Vaneza Gouveia that made all this possible.

Len Yannielli

Community Outreach Director

Committee For A Cultural/Environmental Center – Gunntown Road

Naugatuck