Three senior Ridgefielders recall then and now
Bob Tulipani strolls down Main Street.
Photos by Scott mullin
Three Ridgefielders with a combined residency of 200 years have plenty of stories to tell.
At 86, Bob Tulipani shows little sign of slowing down. Born in 1928, Bob Tulipani initially lived on High Ridge Road, where his father was the caretaker for the B.O. Chisolm estate. After graduating from Ridgefield High School in 1946, he spent two years at N.Y. College of Agriculture and two years in the U.S. Army, being honorable discharged as a sergeant. Returning to Ridgefield, he met his wife, Georgine, and had three daughters. His time in the army and his emulation of his father led to a lifetime of service to his community. Ridgefield “has been good to me,” he says. “So my father always told me, you have to give back to the town.”
His continued involvement in Ridgefield reads like a laundry list of good citizenship. Most notably, he was on the board of directors of the Boys Club and served for 18 years as commander of American Legion Post 78. With the Legion, he was responsible for Flag Day, Veterans Day, and the Memorial Day parade, of which he was the grand marshal in 2014. He also taught fourth grade at Veteran’s Park for 25 years, becoming known as the teacher who gave homework and stressed the importance of handwriting and spelling, and also for building sets for the school plays. “I’m the last of the second wave of Tulipanis,” he says.
A lot of his relatives have passed on but he stays in Ridgefield because, he says, “I wouldn’t leave. My roots are here.”
Yolanda “Yolie” Torcellini was also born in Ridgefield in 1920. Although she grew up in South Salem, she returned to Ridgefield after marrying her husband, Donald, whom she met literally by accident, in front of Brunetti and Gasperini’s General Store on Prospect Street, when “he kind of bumped my car.” They bought a house on North Salem Road that originally housed a gas station. They have two daughters, Carol, who now lives in Bethel, and Barbara, who is Ridgefield’s town clerk. Yolie did all the bookkeeping for her husband’s business. “Numbers are my game,” she says.
She still balances her checkbook to the penny every month. She remembers when times were tough, “We weren’t rich or anything, but we always managed.”
She recalls that the Depression didn’t hit too hard because “we did our own canning and preserving, but we had to get rations stamps for things like gasoline and sugar.”
The Italian community in Ridgefield was very strong back then. Yolie belonged to the Ladies Auxillary at the Italian American Club, which her father and husband helped build. Although she doesn’t drive anymore, she loves to take a ride down Main Street to look at the houses and recall stores that used to be there, such as The Fashion Shop, Bedient’s, and Martin Jewelers, which later became Craig’s, and a bowling alley. She remains in Ridgefield because of “the sense of community here. People look out for one another.” Reflecting on whether Ridgefield would be a place to settle down today, she says, “I think you’d find everything. You don’t have to go out of town to do anything.”
Born in Illinois and raised in Massachusetts, Dirk Bollenback, 84, came to Ridgefield in 1958 after attending Wesleyan College and Johns Hopkins University, as well as serving in the army as research analyst and instructor. He and his late wife Beverly first rented an apartment near Tode’s Inn (now Bernard’s) on the Bissell property. Later they bought their “starter house that became their finisher house,” and had two children. He now lives at Ridgefield Crossings with wife Jean.
He remembers the soda fountains at Bissell’s and Squash’s as part of the Main Street charm. Hired by RHS as a history teacher, he became the first chairman of the department. He recalls that as Ridgefield grew, there was “a strong desire to see a really first-rate school system.” He was instrumental in making that happen, establishing one of the first college-level classes. His focus during his 38 years of teaching was about the students and the advancement of their education.
“I feel so proud to have been here to see the improvement over the years of the Ridgefield school system to become one of the top in the state.” He has noticed the buildup of Ridgefield, neighborhoods like Twixt Hills for example, but says, “I just love the town. I couldn’t have picked a nicer place to live for the rest of my life.”