2023 Francis Mellen Community Preservation Award to be presented on October 22nd at Union Cemetery.

Please Note that due to Saturday’s Forecast for more rain, this event has been rescheduled for Sunday morning. October 22nd, beginning at 10:00 AM. There will now be a single expanded session. All tickets sold for Saturday will be honored on Sunday, and those who cannot attend on Sunday are offered a full refund.

It will be fifty-five years ago this week when the charter meeting of the newly formed Historical Society of Easton was held, and the first officers of the organization were elected. Among those positions filled was that of the Society’s official historian, Mr. Francis P. Mellen. Part of Mr. Mellen’s first written history of Easton was first published by the League of Women Voters in its inaugural Directory of Easton in 1953. And it was Mr. Mellen who collaborated with Helen Partridge to author the 1972 book, Easton- It’s History.

The Society was formed to save and preserve the c.1850 Adams Schoolhouse, and Francis Mellen’s efforts were an integral part of the eventual solution with the relocation of the building to its present location on Westport Road.

As a result of Mr. Mellen’s lifelong passion and efforts to preserve and share Easton’s history, the Historical Society of Easton is proud to have created an award in his honor that recognizes the efforts of current men and women who continue to follow in his footsteps. This year, the Society is happy to announce that cousins Robert and Bruce Laskay will be the recipients of the Francis Mellen Community Preservation Award for their outstanding work at preserving and maintaining Union Cemetery.

This award will be presented on Saturday, October 21, 2023, at 10:00 AM at Union Cemetery when the Historical Society sponsors a preservation workshop conducted and led by Michael Carroll and his team from Rediscovering History, Inc.

When we first met with Bob Laskay in the spring of 2022, we were impressed with his passionate plans to resurrect a very sadly neglected Union Cemetery. At that time, the cemetery grounds were in shambles. Weeds were choking out the grass, bramble bushes, poison ivy, and yucca plants were obscuring many of the headstones. Multiple events of vandalism had either toppled or destroyed dozens of monuments and headstones. What had once been a proud and historical burial ground was by then being reclaimed by nature at a furious pace. To turn things around would take a great deal of hard work and even a greater amount of determination.

It began with a collaboration. The Historical Society had the ability to promote the effort by presenting a series of written articles here in the Courier, and the Laskays were up to the task to directing a team of volunteers to form work parties that would begin the step-by-step process of clearing out the bushes and mowing the overgrown weeds.

Volunteers brought their own equipment on that initial Saturday morning in May. The task that day was to cut some of the foot-high grass and begin trimming and removing some of the overgrown bushes. More than a dozen people showed up, rolled up their sleeves and went to work. Tools were shared and people pointed to headstones of their ancestors as they methodically worked to make that first small dent in what seemed to be a monumental task.

In just four hours, it became evident that the vision Bob Laskay had presented to us just a few weeks before could be accomplished. It would take the better part of that first summer, but it could and would happen if enough volunteers returned and worked as hard as they did that first day.

What no one foresaw though was Bob and Bruce returning multiple days each week to work on what the rest of us were doing for a few hours a couple of times a month. Their dedication was beyond incredible. They supplied their own power equipment and purchased their own fuel. Day after day, two septuagenarians toiling in the hot sun, cutting the grass, trimming the weeds, and removing years of tangled vines and bushes as some of the cemetery’s oldest headstones began to reappear from the underbrush.

The transformation was remarkable and came much faster than any of us could have hoped for. The cemetery association’s coffers had been depleted for several years. Multiple articles in the Courier have continued to bring attention to the rebirth that has been occurring at Union, with some of that attention also attracting donations. Bob Laskay’s longtime connection to the Easton Volunteer Fire Company helped raise awareness of just how many of the Company’s former members were interred at Union.

After learning that at least forty-four former Easton firefighters were buried there, the Easton Volunteer Fire Company made a sizeable donation to Union Cemetery in late October of 2022 for its future upkeep.

The $4,800 donated to Union cemetery comes from a fire department fund in honor of the late Russell Neary, a former Easton Volunteer Fire Department Lieutenant who died in the line of duty on Oct. 29, 2012, during Hurricane Sandy.

This year has seen the money in the associations grow large enough to hire Sabia Landscaping, a local community minded firm to mow the cemetery on a regular basis. While some of the routine maintenance is now being done by others, the Laskay boys have been able to shift some of their attention to restoration projects.

A large section of land at the corner of Sport Hill and Stepney Roads has been cleared and covered with woodchips. This makes for a much-improved view of that corner of the cemetery grounds, adding greatly to the natural beauty of the landscape.

In addition, many of the easier headstones to right and reset have been worked on. At his own expense, Bob Laskay has purchased a small backhoe to make the work go faster and the lifting easier. But there is still much to be done and some of it is beyond the capabilities of the current group of volunteers. To help with that, on Saturday, October 21, 2023, beginning at 10 AM, the Historical Society of Easton will be sponsoring a workshop where we will donate funds and personnel to help Michael Carroll and his team from Rediscovering History, Inc. reset at least one good sized monument along with a couple of fallen headstones. In addition, the volunteers from Rediscovering History will conduct two separate sessions where local participants can learn how to properly clean headstones without damaging them. This is a “hands-on” experience for those who wish to participate, so please dress accordingly. Additional details can be found on our website: Preservation Workshop at Union Cemetery – Historical Society of Easton Connecticut (historicalsocietyofeastonct.org)

We will be providing cleaning kits – which participants are welcome to keep; refreshments – apples, cider, water, and donuts to celebrate the season; and will have at least two of our inhouse historians available to answer questions about Easton’s most famous and supposedly most haunted cemetery. Please join us to honor both Bob and Bruce Laskay and their continuing efforts to preserve and maintain Union Cemetery.

Any and all proceeds that exceed the cost of running this event will go directly towards the future maintenance of Union Cemetery. In addition, we ask anyone willing to help preserve one of our most historically important burial grounds to contact the Laskays via email at unioncemeteryofeaston@gmail.com or by telephone at one of the numbers listed below. Bruce Laskay can be reached by phone at 203 264-9408, and Bob at 203 362-9864. With both men, please leave a message. To send a donation, the mailing address for the cemetery association is Union Cemetery of Easton. PO Box 452, Easton, CT 06612. Checks should be made out to the Union Cemetery Association of Easton CT.

Since space is limited and planning essential, we ask anyone planning to attend to pre-register to insure we have enough cleaning kits for those who wish to participate. Tickets for this event are available at: Union Cemetery Workshop Historical Society of Easton CT (yapsody.com)

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