Anita Marie Gelston Ballek (1930-2023) deeply loved her hometown and the farm she grew up on, land that has been in her family since 1662.
After earning a UConn degree in Dairy Husbandry with a minor in Chemistry and Genetics in 1951, she planned to build the "best Holstein herd on the planet" on her ancestral farmland. When economic and lifestyle changes devastated family dairy farms, she adeptly pivoted, selling her herd and starting Ballek’s Garden Center in 1969, eventually involving seven of her children and grandchildren as partners.
Anita was a passionate advocate for "clean soil, fresh air and pure water," sharing her expertise and perspectives through countless presentations for the land trust, the historical society, and area schools, among others. She practiced what she preached, using sustainable agriculture and protecting her beloved land in perpetuity through CT Farmland Trust.
George Comer was born in Quebec in 1858. His father was lost at sea and his mother couldn’t support the children, so George was adopted by an East Haddam family as a young boy. He lived in town for the rest of his life.
When he was 17, Comer walked from East Haddam to New London and joined a whaling expedition. That was the beginning of a 44-year span during which he spent time at sea.
Comer specialized in Arctic whaling and sailed as captain or master of a ship for the first time in 1895. Over his many trips to the Arctic, he became friends with the Inuit and an authority on their culture and environment.
He researched and collected for leading natural history museums and was the last of the many whaling captains who sailed out of New London. After retirement, Comer was elected to the Connecticut Legislature.
Life partners Jim Wynn and Amos Shepard moved to town in 1960 and soon became well-known through their popular Goodspeed Plaza gift and coffee shop as well as their enthusiastic participation in numerous town organizations, including the newly established East Haddam Historical Society.
Despite their many local connections, however, their heroic WWII combat experiences remained hidden, perhaps due to their lifestyle and certainly due to their reticence. To the teenagers who worked for them, they didn't look at all like what they imagined wartime heroes to be, owing to cultural stereotypes and teenage prejudices.
Perhaps more than any other residents, Wynn and Shepard brought East Haddam history to the forefront. Accordingly, we are pleased to set the record straight with the wartime history of these two heroic members of "The Greatest Generation."
William Gillette was born in Hartford in 1853 to a prominent and deep-rooted Connecticut family. When he was 20, he began an acting and producing career, which met with great success through his on-stage portrayals of the fictional British detective Sherlock Holmes. Gillette became a worldwide celebrity, touring the U.S. and internationally for some 30 years.
He designed a unique 24-room castle and built a personal railroad on three miles of track he laid around the 184-acre site.. Gillette moved into his castle in 1919, where he remained until his death in 1937.
Three Honors for Longtime Town Historian
Dr. Karl Stofko is recognized for his years of service to the town
The December 7, 2022, museum event, "Mysteries of East Haddam," by Town Historian Karl Stofko was the 30th year that Dr. Stofko presented intriguing stories of the town's colorful past based on stories he had uncovered, researched, and wrote for each year's event.
After the 2022 presentation, Dr. Stofko received three well-deserved honors: a town proclamation, a state citation, and the dedication of a new research room at the museum in his name.
Selectwomen Theresa Govert and Irene Haines presented two of the three honors given to local historian Karl Stofko.
Photo of Gillette Castle by Carl Buschmann