Former New Canaan Advertiser editor named Memorial Day Grand Marshal

NEW CANAAN — Navy veteran, firefighter, longtime city treasurer and former announcer editor, Donald Hersam Jr. will soon be receiving another title — grand marshal for the Memorial Day Parade.

He will lead the parade, which is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 111 Oenoke Road, and walk with the cortege down Main Street to Lakeview Cemetery for the traditional memorial ceremony.

Hersam grew up on Crystal Street with the press in his blood. His father was the publisher of the New Canaan Advertiser, a newspaper founded by his grandfather John E. Hersam in 1908. When his father died in 1966, he assumed the role of publisher before the newspaper was sold at Hearst Connecticut Media in 2018. .

The 2022 Memorial Day Grand Marshal is also a veteran, having served in the Navy for nearly four years beginning in July 1951. Hersam served on the USS Hornet, a Navy aircraft carrier stationed at Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

While on leave, he recalls encountering “a skinny redhead” while driving a Navy buddy back to High Bridge, NJ. The woman, Jeanne O’Rourke, was his friend’s cousin and would become his future wife.

“I wrote to him from all over the world,” he recalls.

While serving, he became Petty Officer Third Class A/C. The future longtime local editor also worked for a naval newspaper, among other responsibilities such as getting up early each morning to serve in the mess hall and helping track incoming and outgoing flights.

He remembers crossing Formosa, or Taiwan Straight, as “a show of force” in 1954 when the Chinese government threatened to bring conflict to the region. As a result, Chinese air forces got close enough to create wakes in the water and dive under the bow, he said.

Later that year, on the way to Pearl Harbor for a 13-year remembrance of the tragic incidents of World War II, the ship encountered 60-foot waves at the edge of a typhoon with winds blowing so strong that he threw the ship aside for three years. four days, said Hersam. Her platoon arrived at Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1954, and the next day the USS Hornet sailed past the remains of the USS Arizona, the battleship that was sunk in World War II.

Shortly after Hersam’s release on March 18, 1955, he asked O’Rourke to “stay steady with him”, to which he recalls her replying “it’s high school stuff, why can’t we get married? He proposed at Mead Memorial Park in May 1955 on an “absolutely beautiful day”, he recalled. They married on January 21, 1956 and had four children, Maryann, John, Andy and Marty. After 65 years of marriage, she died on November 6, 2021 at Norwalk Hospital.

In addition to his military service, Hersam served as city treasurer for 48 years, beginning in 1963. The first check he signed, he noted, was for $85,000 for two weeks pay. of the Board of Education. He also signed two checks totaling $1.5 million in 1967 for the 300 acres that now constitute Waveny Park.

He was a member of the New Canaan Fire Department for 72 years, now inactive but having once served as Chief of Company No. 1 from 1967 to 1969. Previously he was Deputy Chief and Ladder Captain. Hersam’s grandfather, the advertiser’s founder, was also a firefighter and volunteer for the city’s emergency medical services.

Although fulfilling other embedded roles in the city beyond editor was a tradition in his family, the young Hersam raised more than a few eyebrows when he spoke to other media professionals during a meeting of the New England Press Association years ago of his duties and his ties to his city. “I was told, ‘you can’t do that, it’s a conflict of interest,'” he said. “I didn’t let one impact the other. Editors and reporters were given the opportunity to write whatever they wanted.

During the 1988 presidential election, he recalls that one of the editors wrote an editorial in favor of the Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, while he himself wrote one in favor of the Republican candidate George H Bush. The newspaper published them both.

By the late 1990s, Hersam had passed the paper on to the next generation, but said he was still reading proofs when the paper was purchased by Hearst just four years ago.