Registrations Were No Holds Barred  
Friday, January 20, 2012

WEBSTER — The Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa held my attention earlier this month because the process was reminiscent of party events, both Democratic and Republican, held in Webster and Dudley decades ago.

Town preliminaries started with a precaucus registration, with candidates signing for a particular office. It was a no-holds-barred procedure, open to voters enrolled with the town and one of the parties. Incumbents had an edge going into a caucus, held for anywhere from one to three hours, usually on a midweek evening a month or more before an annual election. This meant early in the year when town elections were held during the first part of March.

It would be naïve to suggest that the caucus system promoted full slates in Webster and Dudley, but the battles were with the preliminary registrations because cross-filings were possible. The town committees did its best to avoid double endorsements, meaning a registered Republican might gain Democratic backing, or the other way around, getting elected without opposition. Shutouts weren't truly possible because any resident could run on nomination papers, which has become the only way to run for a municipal office.

Webster and Dudley were both Democratic strongholds, but Republicans occasionally won elected jobs that few people wanted, maybe because they didn't pay anything.

Town Committees held closed-door meetings to accept precaucus registrants. This is where candidates from the other party, even Independents, were sometimes dumped, replaced by a hand-picked party member.

There's a story about a college senior who accompanied his father, a town water commissioner, to a precaucus registration.

The father, the late Leon “Casey” Kujawski, was subsequently reelected to the water board, and his son, Paul Kujawski, barely old enough to vote at the time, was endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee for a School Committee opening. It was this or the Republican cross-registrant. The action added a race to the ballot.

Young Mr. Kujawski served many years as a member and chairman of the town school board, proving himself and gaining the municipal support necessary to serve a long stint as a state representative.

Both Webster and Dudley subsequently approved town meeting articles to petition the state Legislature for authority to eliminate the caucus system. There are still some old-time pols about who claim that town politics lost their appeal when the party caucuses went out of business.

There's one of those fold-back and stand-up signs in the Honey Dew Donuts shop on East Main Street in Webster.

It says the business is owned and managed by Terese Frias. Customers sometimes notice that a regular hides his coffee container behind the sign, and retrieves it on return from a smoke.

Leaving a coffee in plain view, protected by the eyes of other java lovers, is no longer sufficient. There's this lady that throws partially filled coffee containers in a waste bin.

The little V-shaped store on Main at Davis Street in Webster, a smoke shop and newspapers stand for 70 years or longer, but with several operators, is available, according to Ronald J. Zmetra, a manager of the property. The late Chester Nalewajk ran the business longer than anyone, both in hours and years.

Chet's Smoke Shop opened around 5 a.m., to serve morning newspaper readers, and remained open to 9 p.m. or later to provide late racing results for the sporting crowd. All of the Boston dailies, some from New York, places in Connecticut, even morning and afternoon editions, were piled along a side of the store, and even in a front window on Sundays.

Mr. Nalewajk was owner of the smokes shop probably 35 years.

Mr. Zmetra knows of at least three others who ran the news and smoke store, including a couple that were cousins, but there was another who preceded the Nalewajk years. Research identifies the late Harold Dwyer as a one-time operator of the little store, built over an open stairwell to a basement bowling alley; as disclosed by old and older photographs.

Mr. Dwyer had a nickel slot machine in a crunch to the back of the store. Mr. Nalewajk was a reserve police officer in Dudley, and gambling would have been uncharacteristic of him.

Mr. Zmetra thinks the small store would lend itself to use as a hot dog and/or sandwich shop. His wife, Patricia Nalewajk-Zmetra, remembers when a taxi-stand operated from the corner at Davis Street, says Mr. Zmetra. Some of the taxi drivers, such as Joe Peters, Leo Chagnon and Charlie Tanca, kept limousines to serve funeral services. The telephone was in an outside booth fixed against the building.

Mrs. Zmetra also recalls that a peanuts-and-popcorn stand was on the opposite side of the block, on Main Street, across from High Street, her husband says. Dick Tycz kept a circular popping machine going most evenings.

The little side-of-the-block stops were like nubs to the high three-story building that provided headquarters for Webster Lodge of Masons, the Webster Bridge Club and a couple of business offices at one time.

-Courtesy Of
Telegram & Gazette

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