A Canterbury Story
By Sheila Mason Gale
The Canterbury Volunteer Fire Department was incorporated in 1947 and had many charter members. A charter member is a person who formed the first Fire Department. In the entire history of the Fire Department, the first non-chartered Canterbury Volunteer Fire Department member to serve for fifty years is Kalervo (Kavi) Ruuskanen.
Kavi’s parents, Otto and Helmi came were looking for a place to start a chicken farm. A woman from Helmi’s hometown in Finland lived on Kerr Road in Canterbury and told them there was a farm available in Canterbury. Otto hopped a bus from Waterbury and got off at the Brooklyn Town hall and trudged all the way in the snow to North Canterbury Road (near Wauregan Road) to see the farm and he decided to buy it in March of 1943. He built all the coops and although they are gone now, the farm house still stands. Otto had the distinction of being named to the 1928 Olympic cross-country ski team, but unfortunately he was denied the position because he was not a U.S. Citizen. He tried out again in 1952 and came in 11th place.
The family sold eggs commercially and out of the family house. When he was a child, his parents would sort the eggs by size using a single egg scale. When Kavi started school he did not speak English. He had to learn it as he went along. Kavi remembers a neighbor, Christian Kerr, taking him, his younger sister, Hilkka (which means Little Red Riding Hood in Finnish), and the neighborhood children to the Congregational church. He also remembers a neighbor, O. Arnold Kerr and his wife Dorothy Ester Smith Kerr had a vanity license plate using all their initials “OAK DESK”. Maybe some of you remember Mrs. Kerr as a teacher at Dr. Helen Baldwin School. Kavi was very active in 4-H and after he turned 17 he was involved in a 4-H service club of Windham county and the group put on the 4-H fair in Woodstock. They did everything from making the flyers, setting up for events and cleaning the grounds when the fair was over.
Kavi remembers how rural Canterbury used to be. He and his mother would pick blueberries along Route 169 and Wauregan Road.
As a young man Kavi became a member of the Finnish American Heritage Society. When he was a boy there were weddings, musicals and plays at the Finnish Hall on North Canterbury Road. He went to Griswold High School. Some of his school mates were David Veit, Julius Vapper, Mary Bingham, Karen Pellinen and Barbara Lindell. Kavi also went to UCONN for two years and received a certificate in poultry farming and continued to work on the family farm.
In the 1960’s if you had a fire you called the Brooklyn jail. The jail would call Lillian Waskiewicz at Ed's Garage and Lillian would call a third of the Town firefighters on her list to come to the fire. One day Kavi was at Ed’s Garage when a call came in and firefighter, David Veit, asked Kavi to come and help. Back then they had a portable water pump that weighed a couple hundred pounds that had to be dragged to the nearest water source and he helped do that as well used brooms, rakes, etc. to put out brush fires. After that first experience he decided to join the Volunteer Fire Department. One of the difficult things the Volunteer Fire Department members he had to do when hurricane Gloria came through town, was to help cut the fallen trees so the power Company could get through and restore power.
Kavi was also one of the original six EMT’s when the Canterbury ambulance was put into service in 1975/76. The others were David Veit, Glen Veit, Luther Thurlow, Ted Berbrick and Alfred Coderre.
In 1965 Kavi joined the Connecticut State Police as an Auxiliary Trooper. Because he had this training, Alfred Utz asked him to become a Canterbury Constable. He ran for the position in 1971, was elected and has served as a Canterbury Constable for nearly forty years.
Kavi was also involved in the Canterbury paper drives. As a volunteer, he would go house-to-house and collect newspapers and other paper products and bring it back to a big trailer truck and the paper was hauled away to be sold. He reminded me that he came to my father’s farm on North Society Road to pick up paper feed bags.
Hearing the many years Kavi has volunteered reminds me of a quote by Marjorie Moore: “Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” Kavi has certainly made Canterbury a better place to live.