NAUGATUCK — After all the pomp and circumstance of the annual Memorial Day parade, a solemn ceremony honoring deceased veterans is held on Division Street.
So it may be fitting, now that the borough’s most prominent veteran has died, borough officials are naming the street after that very veteran, the same one who organized the parade and its closing ceremony for more than three decades.
The borough will now refer to Division Street, the small road along the Green across from Town Hall that connects commuters from Church Street to Meadow Street, as Franklin Johnson Way.
The Board of Mayor and Burgesses voted unanimously to place a sign underneath the Division Street sign that says “Also Known As Franklin Johnson Way.” The borough would have changed the name completely but officials said the “also known as” option was the fastest and least complicated way to honor Johnson. He was a D-Day veteran of the Army who stormed the beach at Normandy on June 6, 1944, during World War II. The borough wants the sign put up before Memorial Day.
Deputy Mayor Tamath K. Rossi said the street name is a fitting way to honor her longtime friend, Johnson, whom she has referred to as one of the most influential people in Naugatuck history. Johnson died in January, at age 85.
Mayor Bob Mezzo said Division Street has only one street address, the Naugatuck Congregational Church, where Johnson was a parishioner.
“The parade wouldn’t be what it is today without Mr. Johnson,” Mezzo said. “That street is where we end the parade, and it’s home to his church, which meant a great deal to him.”
The idea to name the road after Johnson came from another local prominent veteran, Bob Genovese, who is one of two Naugatuck residents, along with Johnson, in the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame, an elite group hand-picked by the governor.
In a letter he wrote to Mezzo, Genovese referred to Johnson as the borough’s most prominent veteran. He said Johnson’s efforts have made the annual Memorial Day Parade one of the largest in New England.
“I could go on and on regarding his contributions to our town, but I’m sure you are aware of most of them,” Genovese stated in his letter.
The street name is not the only way Johnson is honored in the community. In 2001, he was given the borough’s first Citizenship Award by former Mayor Joan B. Taf, who made the award annual and named it the Franklin Johnson, Sr. Citizenship Award.
A plaque with an engraving of Johnson’s face is also on display in the main entrance to Naugatuck High School, where Johnson taught history and later served as a guidance counselor until his retirement in the 1990s.
Genovese stated he believes nobody would disagree with honoring Johnson.
“I truly believe that all those in Naugatuck whose lives Franklin touched would welcome this gesture to pay tribute to his name and legacy,” Genovese said.