A Canterbury Story
By Sheila Mason Gale
Since 1900 there have been 37 First Selectmen elected to office: George Greene, George Bradford, Fred Richmond, Aaron Moore, Charles Hyde, Marshall Frink, Elmer Bennett, William Barker, Marshall Frink, Levi Clark, E. Fitch Johnson, Edward Baker, Herbert Tracy, Christian Kerr, Arthur Bennett, Theodore Dean, Frederick Willoughby, Curtis Kinne, Fred Cone, George Blood, Theodore Dean, Hans Hansen, Norman Kerr, Robert Laws, Edward Waskiewicz, Andrew Schrader, Lewis Gray, David Ginnetti, Robert Manship, Raymond Guillet, Diane Tripp, Charles Savarese, Sr., Raymond Guillet, Neil Dupont, Sr., Paul Santoro, Neil Dupont, Sr. and Brian Sear. Only one First Selectman has served as First Selectman for ten years– Neil Dupont, Sr.
Neil is used to small town living since he grew up in Voluntown. He moved to Canterbury because of his wife, Adele’s, sheep business. He and a buddy went to a wood chopping contest in Lake Dunsmore, Vermont. This is where he met Adele. They talked on the phone and he drove up to Vermont to visit her many times and six months later they were married. “And I’m glad I did” Neil said. They had two boys, Neil Jr. and John and today they have three grandchildren: Ryan, Riley and Della.
In 1973 they bought a farm on Barstow Road in Canterbury so Adele could have her own sheep and continue to build her sheep business which was to show and breed sheep. She showed her sheep all over the country. When she sold her business in 1989, she had the 3rd best Oxford sheep flock in the United States. When they moved to Canterbury some of their neighbors were Randy Hexter, Charles Eastland, Joe Shiman and Arthur and Helen LeBeau on Graff Rd.
While Adele worked her business, Neil was a driver for the Cooper Jarett Trucking Company. He drove all over the United States. He also became the company’s shop steward. In this position he learned to be a negotiator between the drivers and management. This gave him experience dealing with people that would later serve him well when he became First Selectman.
Cooper Jarrett decided to move out of Connecticut to Rhode Island and it would be a 50 mile one-way trip for Neil to go to work. He already had a small animal feed business since there were many sheep and other farm animals on his farm, he decided to quit his driving job and in December of 1979, he opened his own business (Arrowhead Farm Supply) out of a large building on his property. He said it turned out to be very interesting because of the people he met through the years. He believed in running the business with a relaxed atmosphere. The door to his grain store was never locked. If he had to leave and run an errand he left a note telling customers to take what they needed and leave the money on the cash register.
The family didn’t take vacations, but they traveled to a lot of sheep shows and fairs. Between shows Adele would keep her hands busy making toys from sheepskins. She expanded that business to include her famous slippers and many other items which she makes by hand. Today, Neil and Adele travel the country selling her items. She has been selling her handmade crafts at the Big E since 1978.
Neil is a gun enthusiast and he started skeet and trap shooting at 25 years old at the Sprague Rod and Gun Club. His teacher started taking him to competitions all over New England, New York and New Jersey. Neil says he always was the type of person to put in enough work to win competitions. Skeet shooting (clay bird) is when two machines shoot two objects in the air across each other and the shooter has shoot both of them for a good score. In trap shooting, the objects are shot away from the shooter in 5 different directions. He loved doing that. In 1967 and 1968 he won the Winchester Clay Bird Tournament in Rhode Island. The prize was a pair of specially made Winchester shot guns. One of his proudest moments was in 1968 when he beat his teacher in a competition. He was very happy about that.
Neil joined the Republican Town Committee and in May of 1994 was appointed as a Selectmen to the Board of Selectmen with Raymond Guillet and Charles Savarese. During his second term, he had a heart attack due to a clogged artery. He told me that before the heart attack he would have a dozen eggs and a couple pieces of toast for a snack and 2-3 pounds of bacon while watching television at night. After the attack he stopped smoking and even today follows a very strict diet. He does cheat sometimes though (don’t tell Adele). He says the heart attack has made him appreciate life much more.
In 1995 he thought he could contribute to the betterment of Canterbury so he decided to run for First Selectman and was elected. He knew he could do a good job especially with his experience in business and negotiations with people. He could make decisions and stay cool-headed. Also, former Assessor and First Selectman, Charles Savarese, told Neil “I know if you become First Selectmen you will finally get a new town hall built for Canterbury” and he and the Town Hall Building Committee saw the completion of the Municipal building in 1995.
Neil was First Selectman 1995-2003 and 2005-2007. Other than the new town municipal building, here are some of his other accomplishments while in office: When he took office, the newest truck in the Public Works fleet was 20 years old, so he improved the Capital Improvement Plan to replace vehicles/buses more often. Raymond Guillet initiated the transfer station idea and Neil continued the idea into a working transfer station. He added more money to the budget and improved the Canterbury road system. Having been a shop steward, he realized Canterbury employees were underpaid and began a program to get their wages up with other towns. He moved the War Memorial from the school to municipal building and the War Memorial Committee expanded it. In June of 2003, Neil and about 12 dedicated citizens created, in only three weeks, a 4th of July parade/town activity and made the event a success. That year a profit of about $8,000 was made and donated to the War Memorial. He supported emergency generators in the school and municipal building, so if an emergency arose in Canterbury, we would be able to meet citizen’s needs. He was a member of the Fire Department and he also served Canterbury by becoming an EMT and going on ambulance calls. In 2001 he was the top responder.
Even though, as First Selectman, there could be controversy, he could separate personal feelings from politics. Neil was known for “telling it like it is”. He enjoyed being First Selectman because he liked talking with all kinds of people and listening to people’s stories, thoughts and ideas.
Neil thinks the biggest change in town since moving to Canterbury in the 1970’s is that some people are moving in to town from larger cities and they want to change Canterbury to be like a big town. “When you do that, you loose the closeness of the people in town. We need to keep that small town closeness in our community”.