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From Florida, a check to help the Depot


NORTH CANAAN — The check donated toward the rebuilding of Canaan Union Station was not large, in light of the millions of dollars needed. But the community spirit behind it couldn’t have been any greater.

The $184 contribution was the result of a prize drawing held at the annual Northwest Corner Picnic in Nokomis, Fla. A large contingent of residents from around here relocate to the west coast of the sunshine state for the winter, or year ’round. They have been gathering annually for about 20 years.

"About 25 people came to the first picnic," said current organizer Tilly Bergenty, from North Canaan. "At the next one, there were about 100. They used to call it the Great North Picnic. Most of us grew up in the Northwest Corner and graduated from Housatonic together. We’ve known each other a long time, or this is a chance to get to know each other again."

Barbara "Babs" O’Connell, from Sharon, also helps plans the event.

In recent years, the potluck picnic, held in mid-February at the beach, has attracted anywhere from 40 to 80 people. One can imagine among the activities there is a lot of chatting about the lack of picnic weather up north.

"It’s a wonderful way to renew friendships. I always find someone I haven’t seen in a long time," said former North Canaan resident Caroline Smedick.

It was Smedick who added the Canaan Union Station benefit drawing this year. Her late husband, Earle Smedick, was a very active member of the Connecticut Railroad Historical Association, which now owns the depot and is resurrecting it from a 2001 fire that destroyed one of two wings and part of the signal tower.

"I had a chest of silver flatware from my husband’s sister, who had passed away," Smedick said. "I really had no need for it. I offered it for a drawing. We also had old picture postcards of the depot. One was taken by Tom Zetterstrom [a North Canaan resident and professional photographer]."

It was Bergenty who won the photograph. The silver went to lucky ticket holder Lee Hoag, who used to live in North Canaan.

"She was a classmate of my oldest daughter. They graduated from Housatonic in 1952," Smedick said.

Though they are thinking of us up here, the folks in Florida are a close-knit bunch who are there for one another daily. In an attempt to reach Smedick, phone calls placed from Connecticut to homes of numerous transplanted Canaanites failed to go through for more than a week. Differing communications networks were blamed by one service provider. Finally, Bob Gandolfo was reached. As it happened, he had left a message earlier that day and was waiting to hear back from the Smedick household. He gladly passed along the message to call The Journal.

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