Community pride cannot always be seen. It comes from within the ranks of those residents who live in the city or town; those who lead the charge to preserve; donate to retain the good things and those who verbally promote their community.
Musically in the 1960s, Bristol got a brief bump in notoriety when the song “Bristol Stomp” was released. It took awhile for teenagers to later realize the song referred to Bristol, Tennessee.
Yet, Bristol is that kind of city where pride is alive. When others think of Bristol they usually will note the positives like ESPN, the Carousel Museum, the Mum Festival, Muzzy Field, outstanding high school athletes, Lake Compounce and Memorial Boulevard. Those who target Bristol in the negative will undoubtedly pick Route 6 as a traffic mess, or the absence of a downtown business district or the repeated mayoral debating during election time.
The truth is Bristol is really on its way back as one of the state’s productive cities. A good example was at the 34th annual Humanitarian dinner honoring community leaders who have made the Bristol Boys & Girls Club on West Street one of the best in the state, and perhaps New England.
Professed to have benefited over 40,000 young people since its inception, the Boys & Girls Club showcased its finest and generous donors and friends recently at the DoubleTree Hotel. As an out-of-towner that evening, I felt the enormous pride in Bristol of those who came to honor people like Wallace Barnes, whose generosity has helped Bristol economically, the Boys & Girls Club and certainly, over the years, gave his city prominence when serving in high state political offices.
Among those honored were Kathy and Dana Rickard, founders and owners of CompuMail, an award winning direct mail and marketing company in Southington. Dana is a Bristol native and has been an annual inspiration in raising funds in helping the Hartford Rescue Mission as well as a consistent fan of the Bristol club along with his family.
Quite obvious was the sponsorship of ESPN, a savior that landed on the border of Bristol-Southington in 1978. The sports network gave prominence to the city and made it nearly a household name among sports enthusiasts who are attached to ESPN sports. ESPN, with 3,500 employees, and other business leaders have donated thousands of dollars to maintain the club when needed and to inspire a staff who do more than watch kids exercise or play basketball.
Over the years Bristol has benefited from numerous individual leaders, both in the political arena and those from non-profit organizations. Candidates for mayor in Bristol are intense campaigners but are certainly dedicated and often revered after their terms end.
From the outside looking in, it does appear the city is long overdue to ease traffic on Route 6 (Bristol’s reflection of Queen Street), and of course revitalizing downtown which virtually disappeared since the days of Leone’s Restaurant, Fanny Farmer chocolates, O’Neil’s Pharmacy, Hollywood bar and Cercone’s corner store and Redman’s cozy eatery squashed near the bridge.
Not too many outsiders credit Bristol as a manufacturing city as proclaimed in the early 1800s. However, a quick glance at what sits in the city is quite impressive. Take Otis Elevator for example where testing starts and ends with each worldwide elevator; Associated Spring, Bristol Hospital, Covanta, Eastern Plastics and others.
Another peek at Bristol’s Sports Hall of Fame shows an impressive list of standouts like Tom Shopay, a major league baseball player, and others who have gone on to be college coaches. Muzzy Field has been the city’s athletic landmark since the days of the former WBIS radio station.
The dinner provided guests with an inside perspective to a city of just over 65,000 residents with its history and continuing spirit coming from past leaders and motivated leaders of a youth organization spearheaded by generous donations and devoted volunteers.
In conclusion, Bristol is on its way back and the Boys & Girls Club reflects the city’s commitment to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to create dreams and to develop the skills to achieve those dreams. For over 100 years, the club has been a gem and has allowed Bristol to take a bow and plenty of applause.
I’m cheering right now.