Maria Campos Harlow
Executive Director, United Way of Meriden & Wallingford
Powering Meriden’s Workforce
May 17, 2022

It all changed with COVID. Maria Campos Harlow, Executive Director of the United Way of Meriden & Wallingford (UWMW), previously Director of the Spanish Community of Wallingford, addressed 33 Y’s Men of Meriden (4 by Zoom) on May 17, outlining a new thrust for the agency brought on by the pandemic.

The epidemic has struck many local citizens financially and unemployment today has become commonplace. And yet, many companies are struggling both with employment and retention of workers. UWMW, along with its community partners, has been developing programs to get folks upskilled for placement into better jobs and income to better provide for themselves and their families.

When ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds became available, the UWMW applied in Meriden and received a three-year grant of $664,526 to assist with this mission. This facilitated the employment of a Workforce Navigator, delegated to match motivated unemployed individuals with job opportunities at local companies. The current caseload is 40 unemployed in Meriden and 20 in Wallingford (ARPA funding for Wallingford has yet to be determined).

Harlow responded to multiple questions from the Y’s Men audience including how to get employment for homeless citizens (answer: referral to the proper agencies, while acknowledging that some people are resistant to being helped). She also noted that the UWMW does not train for employment, but rather acts as a conduit for linking motivated unemployed folks with potential long-term jobs. And she also commented that some of today’s younger generation appear to have different work priorities.

 Jerry Augustine
Greater Middletown Military Museum
Vietnam Beyond

May 10, 2022

“All gave some, some gave all”. This saying set the tone for a presentation to 38 Y’s Men of Meriden (4 by Zoom) on May 10 by Jerry Augustine, Vice-chairman of the Greater Middletown Military Museum, as he used a DVD to present his wartime experiences during 1965-1967, the height of the Vietnam War.

Drafted into the U.S. Army, Middletown resident Augustine began a 22-month hitch with the military, including one year of active duty in Vietnam. Prior to going overseas, his wife insisted that he take his camera, a Brownie Hawkeye box model. Within a week of arrival in Vietnam in August 1966, he was deployed as part of the 110-man B Company in Tay Nam Province near the Cambodian border, with a mission to protect Saigon.

Augustine illustrated his tour of duty, backed by dynamic music, with numerous slides made from his photos plus multiple videos. His Company first built a base camp in 30 days (“we built a city”). Images then documented squad patrols, a Viet Cong bunker, and wading in chin-deep water through rice paddies with rifles held high. Conditions were often frightful, with temperatures soaring up to 130 degrees with high humidity and swarms of mosquitoes. Many images displayed helicopter assaults, setting up mortar positions, and comrades being assigned as “tunnel rats” (armed with a .45 pistol and a grenade, searching through tunnels for the enemy).

Augustine noted four personal incidents that stood out for him: falling into a trap with pointed bamboo sticks (left over from prior French military action), a fall into a well, a friendly-fire 155 mm howitzer shell exploding and blowing him off his mount at 1:00 am while on guard duty, and once being struck by a rifle grenade (which failed to explode) while chopping through the jungle with a machete while on point with a machine gun. Also portrayed were images of numerous search and destroy missions and helicopter assaults. Other images included fellow troops washing their feet and socks in a rice paddy, swimming in a bomb crater during monsoon season, and a resupply by parachute.

Brownie Camera

Jerry Augustine book

Speaker with CT Governor Ned Lamont

But this video journal also included many scenes of non-combatants: farmers (with women doing most of the hard work), donation of tons of captured rice to those in need, planting rice paddies, kids in villages and provision of American medical care. This program ended with a poignant tribute to fellow servicemen from Company B who were KIA. Augustine has documented his experiences in his 2021 book “Vietnam Beyond”.

Cathryn J. Prince
Author, Journalist
Death in the Baltic
The WW2 Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff

May 3, 2022

It’s the biggest maritime disaster in the history of the world, yet few people have heard of it. Speaking to 43 Y’s Men of Meriden (5 by Zoom) on May 3, Cathryn J. Prince, author and journalist, used a PowerPoint presentation to depict the World War II sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff on Jan. 30, 1945, during the waning months of the war.

Named after the assassinated 41-year-old head of the Swiss Nazi Party and a friend of Adolf Hitler, the Wilhelm Gustloff was launched on May 5, 1937 (the day before the Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst NJ) as a cruise ship that plied the Mediterranean, used as a propaganda tool for the KDF (Kraft durch Freude: “Strength Through Joy“) movement to promote the advantages of Nazism to the German people and internationally. Shortly thereafter, it was converted to a hospital ship and then to a U-Boat training vessel.

By January of 1945, the outcome of World War II had been determined. The Third Reich was in free fall as the Allies advanced from the west and the Russians closed in from the east. Berlin arranged an eleventh-hour exodus for thousands of German civilians trapped in East Prussia in the Red Army's way. Approximately 10,500 women, children, sick, and elderly (along with some military personnel) were packed aboard the Gustloff (designed to carry 1500 passengers). Boarding was chaotic; priority was given to women with infants, so some babies were passed down the gangplank to other women attempting to board.

With sighs of relief, the ship departed from Gotenhafen on Jan. 30 at nighttime on a planned 12-hour voyage to Kiel, Germany; however, Soviet submarine S-13 successfully fired three torpedoes, resulting in the Gustloff sinking in about an hour in the frigid Baltic Sea. Many passengers died on board from the explosions and from drowning, while others died in the icy sea. Of these who originally boarded, approximately 1000 survived; about 9,500 perished (six times the death toll of the Titanic).

Author's Book

Wilhelm Gustloff

Prince’s research especially reached out to a number of survivors, including Helga Reuter Knickerbocker (whose family-owned Reuter Furniture Factory was taken over by the Nazis), Ellen and Irene Tschinkur, Inge Roedecker, and Horst Woit (age 10 at the time of the sinking). More information is available in her book “Death in the Baltic: the World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff”.

Betty Johnson
Bigelow Tea Company
The History of Tea and How it is Processed

April 26, 2022

Speaking to 44 Y’s Men of Meriden (7 by Zoom) on April 26, Betty Johnson, company consultant, spoke about the Bigelow Tea Co., including the history of tea and how it is processed. Bigelow Tea with about 400 employees has been headquartered in Fairfield CT since its founding, but is currently moving manufacturing operations to Orange CT.

Tea as a beverage has a history dating back some 5000 years. It was “discovered” in China by a man sitting by a tree when a wild tea leaf fell into his drink, adding to its flavor. It migrated into Japan (eventually home to the Japanese Tea Ceremony), and by 1600 A.D to the West where it was quickly adopted, especially by the English who added milk and sugar; it was so expensive that it was kept under lock and key, available only to the wealthy. “High Tea”, which included a full meal, was originated by the English working class; in the American Colonies, the “British Tea Party” later reflected anger over the high British tax on imported tea. The tea bag itself was later invented in New York City, with original silk pouches soon replaced by paper bags; later, adding ice was first tried during a very hot day at the World’s Fair in 1904, and iced tea then surged in popularity.

In 1945 at age 59, interior designer Ruth Bigelow began experimenting with traditional black tea by adding orange rind and spices. She had her friends sample it and found there were “constant comments” about its unique taste. Today, the Constant Comment flavor remains the most popular of Bigelow’s 150 blends of flavored tea. Marketing was a challenge, as grocers did not want to stock it; however, after a gentleman noted the great aroma of the tea, “whiffing jars” were successfully added to grocers’ displays, soon resulting in sales.

A cup of tea

Ruth Bigelow

Gift to each attending Y's Men member

Control of this family-owned business passed from Ruth and her husband to son David and later to granddaughter Cindi, President and CEO since 2005. Raw tea remains grown in Sri Lanka and China, cultivated in warm muggy soil at high altitudes, where only the top two leaves are harvested by women and girls. Bigelow currently produces about two billion teabags annually; in addition to its flavoring, the tea is marketed in special packages which will retain the full flavor for at least three years (and which will completely survive an accidental cycle through a washing machine).

Johnson then described the makeup of different teas (black, green, oolong and white) and their important ingredients (caffeine, tannins and essential oils which have medicinal properties). After weathering a full 20 minutes of questions, she then presented each attendee with a decorative Bigelow bag loaded with a selection of teabags.