By James O'Connor
How Wethersfield Has Changed, As Experienced By A Former Resident
Wethersfield has seen a considerable amount of change in the last few decades. Before it
became the busy setting for multitudes of stores, corporations, and restaurants, it was a relatively quiet suburb, full of farmland, a few local businesses, and rich with historical relevance which its citizens revered. The difference the evolution has made on the town is especially noticeable to those who return to it as adults. One such individual is Mrs, Cheryl Ryba, who spent most of her childhood here, and now works as a teacher in the english department of the town high school.The change in Wethersfield’s atmosphere is quite apparent to her.
Originally from California, the Simoni family moved to Canton, CT when Cheryl was
three. They moved to Wethersfield not long after, in time for Cheryl to start kindergarten at
Hanmer elementary school. In the 6th grade, she took up running, the town’s flat and, at that time, open landscape providing easy travel and large swaths of terrain to explore. Particularly enamoring were the great meadows, which even today remain some of the few open plots of farmland in the town still untouched by industrialism. Biking was another typical method of transportation through the streets, as most places were fairly close and easily accessible. Cheryl herself never felt she needed a car until after she had graduated college. She continued the rest of her education in the town school system. She moved up to the Silas Deane Middle School, or “Junior High” as it was then referred to, and a label she still loyally maintains when mentioning it, and then to the High School. Following her passion, she took track and cross country, and took part in a number of races in many different parts of the country.
When the avid athlete wasn’t out exercising, she would hang out with friends at some of
the old shops and restaurants that were around then. The plaza that used to be the old apartment complex building on Main Street once incorporated an ice cream shop called “Sweet Gatherings”, which Mrs. Ryba had a particular liking of, as it was initiated by two teachers she knew. A soda shop was further up the road. There was a fruit market in the building that is now Village Pizza. On Wolcott Hill Road was the Bliss Market grocery store. There was a Carvel on the Silas Deane Highway, as well as a Friendly’s, which were amongst the few businesses operating on the otherwise barren stretch of road at the time.
Her first job was at the gift shop of the Comstock and Ferre seed company, where she
remembers making holiday-themed ornaments and supplies like wreaths and bows, for which the company was a major source of before the onset in popularity of dollar stores. She made so much fudge, she recalled, that to this day she will no longer eat it.
The Memorial Day Parade was still a central town event, and in this time it was followed
with a fair at the Hanmer grounds. Before the Corn fest, there was the Old Brick Church Fair, where people would make and sell produce and crops, and rides would be set up. Among such things sold were cheese and apple butter, which would be made in a large pot and stirred in a way that amused Cheryl as resembling a Witch’s cauldron.
The most impactful aspect of Wethersfield on her life, though, were the people. Cheryl
embraced the acquaintanceship prevalent from living in a smaller community, having good relationships with her classmates, teachers, and neighbors. Getting to know the town and its people had an indelibly positive effect on her, and she has remained grateful for the opportunity ever since. “Some of the best people I met were from here,” she stated fondly, “I made sure they knew it. They inspired me.”
After graduating in 1984, Cheryl attended the Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY,
where she double majored in English and history, and double minored in psychology and
religion. After college, she returned to Wethersfield for another couple of years before moving to Cape Cod, where she stayed out the rest of the nineties. She began looking for teaching jobs around the turn of the century. The deaths of both of her parents in 2001 prompted a return to the town. The reintroduction to the sense of community in such a desolate state developed into an obligation to re-contribute to the town, and she decided to make an attempt at a position in her old high school.
Although there were still many parts of the town familiar to her, Wethersfield had
undergone many additions and changes since she had last resided there. The Silas Deane
Highway, once host of a sporadic series of local businesses, had since earned the description of ‘highway’, now sporting leagues of buildings across either side, attracting traffic in levels previously unimaginable. Chain businesses particularly had increased their presence immensely.
Drug stores had begun springing up every few blocks, and the number of restaurants had
escalated to such a point where one began to wonder if families ever sat down to eat a meal at home together anymore. “That, to me, shows a big change in time,” Mrs. Ryba noted as she recalled her initial reactions. Having grown up in a time where families customarily met at the dining room table just about every night, the growing practice among people to eat out is quite a deviance from what she used to expect.
The Silas Deane was not the only area of renovation. Mirroring the population rise, almost the entirety of the western side of town, formerly plentiful with vacant farmland, had taken on residential expansion and was now largely housing. The same was true to an extent for Old Wethersfield. Although being a historic district has prevented the wing of the town from losing its characteristic timelessness, many of the sites she knew had changed hands or closed altogether. The Main Street Creamery was now the mascot ice cream shop, the fruit market was now a popular pizza place. While the town had certainly evolved considerably since her childhood, it was evident that it still maintained its core trait as the home of a social community, even if vast multiplication of the population had made it harder to know your neighbors as well as before.
After being hired as an English Teacher, she was also tasked with taking over the
Wethersfield Studies class. Seeking to reinvent the course from what was a simple overview of the town’s history with a few movies and field trips for reference, she “Took things to the nth degree”, encouraging kids to become active in the community by having them write pieces to submit to the town newspaper, and emphasising the importance of understanding and connecting with the town’s history. The field trips to many of the significant places in the town such as the Meadows,as well as the Green and the Cove, seemed to really draw students’ attention to its history, as well as make them aware of the fact that they themselves would become a chapter in Wethersfield’s timeline.
The course proved to have its challenges, however. A mixed-level class, more prestigious
students would be grouped with others whose interest in the subject at hand could not always be relied upon. This caused a rift in the productivity of the students. In theory, a mixed-level course, by exposing lower-level students to those at a higher level, should inspire the lower-level to increase their academic application. In contrast, Mrs. Ryba noticed that adverse behaviour from the less committed students often detracted from the ability of upper-level kids to concentrate and advance. Although she managed to juggle this issue throughout her tenure of teaching the course, there were occasions where some students’ behaviour had negative effects on the
This friction became even more prevalent into recent years, as disinterested students
began to turn their lack of enthusiasm into obstructive behaviour. The misguided notion of the faultlessness of youth prominent nowadays led to teachers becoming scapegoats for student underperformance. As a result of this, Mrs. Ryba started to struggle with how to properly reprimand unruly kids as it became clear that not all parents are ready to accept that a child can be responsible for their own flaws and mistakes. She surely spoke for many of her profession when she lamented how too often immaturity guides even seniors to make poor decisions that bring negative consequences to seemingly all but the perpetrators.
In a pinnacle of this unfortunate pattern, the Wethersfield Studies field trips, a highlight of the course and an effective and primary instrument to educate in a firsthand manner, were canceled indefinitely after a class had been purposely misusing and mistreating town-owned equipment, and refused to take responsibility. Mrs. Ryba has since decided to move away from the course after this semester, and hand the reins to someone else. Though disappointed at the circumstances that led to her leaving the course she’d been teaching for so long, she is excited for a new challenge. There is a new course being proposed called “Myths and Legends” that she is looking forward to. A freshman-level class, she anticipates that teaching ninth-graders will be less of a stacked battle, as to her freshman tend to be easier to work with because they are less domineering, a detracting trait that exhibits itself often in seniors.
The town still retains many of its reputable qualities despite the elongation of acceptance
toward youthful immaturity. There are still several fields, parks, and reservations of land that still allow for the experience of knowing the raw, natural state of the environment, especially the Great Meadows. The Broad Street Green is still a popular frequent for residents of all ages, its spacious and levelled surface lets it serve as a large playing field or walking grounds, and its circular layout is sought out by runners and bikers as ideal for laps. It attracts many for having been the stage for various historical scenes, and is sure to continue as a hallmark feature of the town. The Cove is also an enduring remnant of the town’s past that has survived because it bestows an undisturbed connection with Wethersfield’s roots that even newer generations admire. The accompanying park is also an adequate site for sports, and the chosen location for high school graduation, fittingly acknowledging the legacy of the town as the next portion of its future is begun, and ensuring the significant and meaningful relationship people have with the town lives on.
Although she now lives in Berlin, Mrs. Ryba continues to be an important member of the
Wethersfield community, her eagerness to promote and instill worthwhile values to her students and introduce them to the benefits of learning set up incoming kids with a promising path to understanding literature, history, and community. She works closely with them so that she gets to know them on an individual basis, which allows her to find how best to encourage a student to achieve their full potential. As she affirmed,“I like to find a person’s strengths and see what they can do.”
While the culture will continue to shift, and with it the dependability of student’s
attitudes, Mrs. Ryba is assured that Wethersfield has already experienced more changes than it will see in the future. She does expect the town will keep growing, as it boasts an inviting, sociably auspicious population and geographically pleasing situation, even if the housing is getting more expensive. She thinks it very fortunate that the historical district preserves all of the markers of the town’s story so that they will remain sacred to future generations as well. A “Quintessential New England Town”, Wethersfield can be expected to have as much of an impact on its people in the future as it did for Mrs. Ryba.