Police Station Woes Echoes Yesteryear  
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Harvey Bienvenue of Dudley, retired Worcester Telegram & Gazette pressman, snapped his fingers when he noticed my approach to a town coffee counter. “I’ve got something for you,” he declared, going to his automobile and returning with a 50-year-old Webster Annual Report in hand.

This was some time ago, allowing for weeks the book sat unopened, buried in the junk mail that accumulated on my desk. “Some of this stuff gets interesting with time,” Harvey declared, probably in September. “Read about the police station.”

This almost seemed current, given the emphasis on Webster Police Station shortcomings, and talk of a new headquarters building. The 1959 report, issued in 1960 because town reports are always for the previous year, featured then Police Chief Anthony W. Szamocki’s take on the first town station. That’s the long-gone facility that sat between School and High streets, behind Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s now a public parking lot.

“Our … station is in such a deplorable condition that I expect to find a padlock on the door some morning,” wrote the late Chief Szamocki. “Time and again it has been declared unfit by the state Department of Public Health. The floors are warped, the ceilings cracked and the windows no longer keep out the wind and cold air … they just filter it. The boiler is old and decides to take a rest usually at 2 a.m. on the coldest days of the year, making it necessary for the desk officer to don his overcoat and give extra blankets to the prisoners. On one occasion it was suggested by one of our ‘unfortunate visitors’ that we dismantle our jail and sell it to the Old Sturbridge Village.”

Subsequent reports suggest the 1959 piece ignited an effort to build a new station for the fire and police departments. The existing headquarters on Thompson Road, built after 1960, is in much better condition, but not that much better as a station and holding facility, according to a recent study. Retired Detective-Sgt. Roger E. Smith summed up the case for another jail house not too long ago: The existing station was too small the day police moved in.

The problem is with priorities. School requirements continue, the library feels its time has come for a new facility, police needs are real, and money remains short.

Once, when the late Delphis Nadeau was the police chief (before Mr. Szamocki), the state’s list of jail deficiencies said there were no facilities for female prisoners.

The town lockup keeper, Louis Haggerty, solved the problem. He painted one of the cells pink, and hung a lace curtain in its small window. It was symbolic because town officers had few reasons to arrest women all those years ago.

People attending the Thanksgiving morning service at St. Louis Church in Webster carried bags of groceries for the town’s Food Share program, and left with small loaves of freshly baked bread.

Harry Tucker of Webster, known for his love of peanut butter sandwiches, stood behind a couple of boys in the bread line. He suggested, “Take those home, have them cut up and toasted, and eat them with peanut butter.” Said Harry, “They just gave me a look like I was trying to ruin their Thanksgiving.”

English muffins with peanut butter were Mr. Tucker’s Saturday morning order in the old Main Lunch for many years. One of his North Village buddies, Charlie Guenther, was the dayside manager, so the spread was always generous. The counter-and-stools place was to the far end of the Vito Block, one of the now-condemned properties across from Webster Town Hall.

Webster Lions Club is selling Christmas trees again this year. Operations are from a construction trailer at a lot on South Main Street, where a couple of old Slater & Co. tenement houses were torn down some years ago.

Ironically, the 2010 sales lot is just down the street from the Lions’ first sales place at North and South Main streets, probably in 1956. Lions member Edward S. “Kiki” Kunkel was trying to redevelop the former South Village Mills at the time, and the local club took advantage of his generosity, setting up Christmas tree sales from the mill office. They used the facility for several years, going across the street to Johnny Geotis’ used car lot after the Webster Credit Union bought the mill offices. History says it was originally a Slater Mills Co. store.

I don’t remember that the Lions missed any annual Christmas tree offerings, so this is probably their 54th annual sale. As always, proceeds go to Webster Lions Club charities.
-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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