Darien teacher creates program to put veterans’ names on street signs
Within the coming months and years, those who are walking or driving around Darien may notice names of people printed on street signs.
The names will be of veterans who live or have lived in town. Each name will be placed on the sign of the street that the veteran lives or lived on.
The purpose of this ongoing project is to honor Darien veterans.
One new name will be put on an existing street sign every Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Fourth of July. No street addresses will change.
“Our goal is to unveil the first street sign recognition in time for Memorial Day,” said Lucy Berry. Berry teaches eighth grade history at Middlesex Middle School in town and is the brainchild of the veteran recognition program.
“We will have a curbside ceremony where the street sign is unveiled,” Berry said, adding that town officials will be invited to the event.
Town residents will get the chance to nominate veterans. Veterans should be those with whom residents have a personal connection.
Over the next few months, the Monuments and Ceremonies Commission in town will provide specific guidelines on how to nominate veterans.
Some information that will be required, according to Berry, is the years they served, the awards they won, and proof of residency.
It will be at the commission's discretion as to which veteran’s name is chosen for the street sign. The names that aren’t selected will be returned to the pool to be reconsidered in the future.
Berry came up with the idea for the project after attending a teacher conference in Washington DC last summer. The conference was hosted by an organization called The Friends of the National World War II Memorial.
“The five-day conference featured presentations by experts of World War II history, a panel discussion with World War II veterans, tours of sites of World War II significance, and a remembrance ceremony at the World War II Memorial,” said Berry, 56, who grew up in Darien and now lives in Wilton.
Everyone who participated in the conference was encouraged to return home and start a program that raises community awareness about the sacrifices and service of veterans, according to Berry.
She presented her idea to the Monuments and Ceremonies Commission in October. “It was unanimously approved and we formed an exploratory committee,” she said.
Berry also received approval for the project from the Darien Police Department and Department of Public Works.
The program was approved by the Board of Selectmen in November.
Once the commission selects a veteran for a street sign, the Board of Selectmen will give final approval for that veteran.
“We are hoping we will have a pool of applications,” Berry said.
Berry said she envisions the application process as a way of gathering information about Darien’s “hometown heroes.”
“Kids can learn about our town’s own veterans,” Berry said. “History is so much more relevant to children when it’s real people they’re learning about as opposed to someone from a textbook who doesn't have any ties to their lives.”
A local printing company will put the veterans’ names on the signs. The entire project will be funded by private donations, according to Berry. The town is currently looking for donators.
The project is very “meaningful” for Berry, she said, because she was raised in Darien and has been teaching American history at Middlesex Middle School for 20 years.
“Each year at Middlesex, we put together a program to honor veterans on Veterans Day, and this takes our recognition of their service to a new level,” Berry said. “Recognition should transcend a single day.”
Berry personally knows of a Darien veteran herself. Her late great uncle Richard L. Berry, who lived on Bumpalong Road, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He died in 2016 at age 91.
The program will serve to “increase pride in the Darien community as we celebrate fellow citizens,” she said. “Also, it will increase community awareness of acts of bravery and examples of service above self.”
In addition, as veterans’ names become visible around town, they will “provide opportunities for talking points for Darien residents” and “content for school lessons,” according to Berry.
“A greater awareness of Darien history, including the Fitch Home for Soldiers (the country’s first home for veterans) will occur,” Berry said.
Love of history
Berry was in the eighth grade at Mather Junior High School — which is now where Town Hall is — during the country’s bicentennial celebration.
“That is when my love for American history was really born — when I learned about the the role that Darien had during the Revolutionary War,” Berry said.
In 2020, the town will once again be celebrating a bicentennial — this time, its own. Town leaders are currently at work planning a large celebration to bring in Darien’s 200th year.
Details of the project’s nomination process will be published in The Darien Times as it becomes available.
“The Board of Selectmen is pleased to support the proposed Veteran Street Sign program as yet another way to honor Darien veterans,” said First Selectman Jayme Stevenson.
Stevenson said the new program “will foster engagement by all in our community including our school children to learn about those who sacrificed so much so we can enjoy the freedoms we do. We are grateful to Ms. Berry for bringing the idea to our town and look forward to the roll out through the Monuments and Ceremonies Commission who will manage the program. We hope to see our first honoree street sign dedicated in 2019.”
Berry said she loves to get young people enthusiastic about service. She hopes to empower them with a “heightened sense of community, civic engagement, and personal responsibility,” she said.
“Recognition of our own hometown veterans is a good place to start.”