Kathy Hermes
Publisher and Executive Director of Connecticut Explored magazine
The Wangunks of Middlesex County
May 14, 2024

The history of the Wangunk, an indigenous people from what is now central Connecticut (Middletown area), was presented to 45 Y’s Men of Meriden on May 14 by Kathy Hermes, Publisher and Executive Director of Connecticut Explored magazine. Using a PowerPoint slideshow, Hermes first determined by a show of hands that only about two in the audience had ever heard of these people.

Settlements of the Wangunk, also called the “River People”, were widely dispersed, and their homelands ranged from Saukiog (Hartford) to Haddam and beyond. They were the first to invite English colonists into Connecticut during the 1600s, and indeed remained friendly to the colonists during subsequent years (despite frequent mistreatment). Wangunk government for generations relied on sachems (chiefs) and saunk squaws (elder women) in their many villages along the Connecticut River. Wangunk history is replete with names like Sequassen, Sowheage, Peetoosh, Turramuggus and Sarah Onepenny the Elder.

Wangunk diet initially relied heavily on squash soup, with water as the beverage. But the colonists preferred cider and alcohol, both of which became ingrained into Wangunk culture. Sale of alcohol to the Wangunk was banned by law in Connecticut in 1669 (a law that was mostly ignored). Having never experienced alcohol effects, its use spread like wildfire (as did smallpox). Multiple “treaties” transferred ownership of Wangunk land into English hands, paid with food, drink and dry goods (but rarely with cash). The Wangunk eventually became restricted to a small reservation (in what is today Portland) which itself disappeared by 1775.

At Harbor Park in Middletown lies a large stone sculpture of a stylized man’s head,
perhaps representing Sowheage, the grandsachem of the Wangunk

Led by medical leaders Doctor Robin and Sarah Dictress, the Wangunk remained leaders in medical care, dispensing black walnut for pain relief, chestnut for inflammation, club moss for bronchial inflammation, and even a love potion. And of interest, English trials of Wangunk murder suspects required that half of jury members be selected from the Wangunk people.

Jay Kaplan M.D.
Medical Doctor in Internal Medicine Practice and member of Y's Men of Meriden
Healthcare in the United States and the Developed World: A Comparison
May 7
, 2024

So perhaps you thought that America has the very best medical care in the world. Not so fast; so stated club member Jay Kaplan M.D., as he addressed 41 attending Y’s Men of Meriden on May 7. Kaplan provided a sobering comparison of healthcare in America compared with that in other developed nations.

Life expectancy in this country had been rising for many years, but now has turned into a decline during the past 20 years, unlike that in other developed nations. We have the lead in infant mortality and in suicide deaths. And on a happiness scale, America ranks No. 15 globally (with Finland at the top position with all other Scandinavian countries also rated highly).

And another factor: drug addiction, which ranks highest in the United States. Portugal ranks first in opioid treatment, with America near dead last. Also, the high cost of prescription medications in America makes much of healthcare unaffordable; much lower costs prevail next door in Canada. One bright note is that smoking remains on the decline, but unfortunately obesity, with its effects on diabetes and cardiovascular disease, is moving in the opposite direction.

America spends vast amounts on healthcare, but an excessive amount goes for administrative costs, resulting in a poor “return on investment”. And data systems are fragmented, using thousands of healthcare corporations and hundreds of different IT platforms, often unable to communicate with each other and therefore unable to share patients’ medical data from office to office. One exception is the VA system which has made strides in data sharing between medical providers.

Life Expectancies in Developed Countries

“Universal Health Care”, an expression shunned by politicians in this country, is the norm in other developed nations and utilizes a single computer system, permitting easy access to a patient’s previous medical  history. As a result, life-saving testing such as mammography is properly scheduled. And vaccination for communicable diseases is far more accepted, unlike America where it may even be politicized; one result was a higher death rate from the COVID epidemic here related to a lower inoculation rate.

Jim Nemeth
US Navy Veteran
So Just What Happened during the Battle of Midway?

April 30
, 2024

On April 30, a large crowd of 50 Y’s Men of Meriden turned out to hear US Navy veteran Jim Nemeth present a program on the Battle of Midway, a pivotal turning point in the Battle for the Pacific during WWII. In addition to numerous images and videos from the conflict, Nemeth displayed a detailed knowledge about this event which took place in 1942.

Located halfway between the United States and Japan and occurring during June 4-7, just six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (a defeat for America) and one month after the Battle of the Coral Sea (basically a draw between the two Pacific naval powers), the attack on Midway, a tiny atoll in the Pacific then occupied by US forces, was orchestrated by Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Yamamoto expected to “spring a trap” to surprise the American commanders with this attack, but events don’t always go the way you wish.

Firstly, no American aircraft carriers were damaged during Pearl Harbor, as they were away on assignments. Secondly, the Americans broke the Japanese naval code shortly before the Midway battle, allowing them to know where the Japanese warships were located. And thirdly, the Japanese may have underestimated American resolve to win this war, which strengthened, not weakened, after Pearl Harbor.

Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy

Smoke pours from Yorktown after being hit in the boilers by Japanese dive bombers at Midway

U.S. Navy Douglas SBD-3 "Dauntless" dive bombers from the USS Hornet  during the Battle of Midway

Nemeth displayed images of the naval commanders of the American and Japanese naval forces at Midway, and then ran two videos about the battle. At Midway, the Japanese lost all four of their carriers (Kaga, Akagi, Soryu and Hiryu), vs. one (the Yorktown) by the Americans. He also ran short videos of Norman “Dusty” Kleiss, an SBD Dauntless pilot from the carrier Yorktown, who helped sink the Japanese carriers Kaga and Hiryu. And a final video of Aviation Machinist Bruno Gaido, standing aboard the Enterprise, who singlehandedly sprung into the cockpit of a parked Dauntless fighter to fire at and disable an attacking Japanese bomber.

Dick Boynton
Scientist – Founder of Space Electronics, Inc. in 1959
Stories about my “Special Needs” daughter

April 23
, 2024

Delivering his 36th presentation (including the very first one) to 41 attending Y’s Men of Meriden on April 23, Dick Boynton described the remarkably rich life of his daughter Polly, born with Down’s Syndrome with an IQ under 45. Born in 1967, Polly’s parents noted she was not crying like the other infants, and two days later, the hospital staff provided the diagnosis and suggested she be placed indefinitely in a long-term care facility.

Declining this advice, her parents noted that by two years of age, she was unable to  walk and could say only a few words. At this point, her father had wearied of her insensitivity toward others and set out to teach her good manners and compassion; these lessons stuck and remained a core of her sweet personality throughout her life. She loved dolls, and indeed assigned each a profession while forming them into “families”. And during her teens, she worked for two years at a Methodist nursery school, where weeping children would almost immediately stop crying when she held them.

At age 22, she was relocated into a group home (where she resides to this day) in order to receive the ongoing care she requires. But she has always been everybody’s friend. On an Easter occasion at a local restaurant, folks were keeping their distance from a solo gentleman who had a skeletal look to him, but Polly on her own went to him and kissed him, reducing the man to tears. On another occasion, she was enrolled in a summer camp with half of attendees having intellectual challenges, the other half orthopedic disabilities; within days, she had befriended a boy in a wheelchair, helping him with meals and wheeling him around, and creating a friendship that lasted for years.

Polly naturally wanted to attend her graduation ceremony at Meriden’s Platt High School, but at 4 feet 9 inches, none of the graduation gowns would fit. However, the cheerleading squad, which had previously  “adopted” her, banded together to create a gown that would fit, allowing her to receive her diploma onstage. And at age 45, after being told that Santa Claus did not really exist, she angrily pointed to all the presents on Christmas morning as proof that this information was dead wrong.

Polly and her brother

Winning second place in the MTV Dance Contest for the State of Connecticut

Polly at Walt Disney World

A special talent was dancing. On one occasion, Polly and her parents came upon a CT MTV dance contest being held at the Meriden Square and she immediately asked if she could participate. Management said no, but after one contestant dropped out due to “stage fright”, they said yes. Wearing a newly-purchased gown, she went on-stage and then immediately into the audience, engaging men along the aisles in dancing to thunderous applause from the attendees! Two weeks later, a package arrived announcing she had won the second-place trophy for the state organization.