Fathers, Sons, and Baseball

SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – April 30 was Opening Day for the 50th year of the Lewisboro Baseball Association (LBA), and it was one for the ages. Like 27 up and 27 down, it was perfect.

It truly was as if we were all dipped in magical waters, for a couple of majestic hours, the trials and travails of the last two years were as if they never happened. The division and acrimony we’ve seen over that time surrendered to unity, friendship, and neighborly love and gratitude. The first Opening Day since 2019 once again brought together the community in a shared love of the game and our town. The past had been erased and all that existed was this moment in time and ball games to be played.

The restored field along with new dugouts, improved batting cages, and sound system, once again drew people to the seats in stands along the third baseline. Kids that once played on this field were back now as parents to watch their children play a game that has no end and with lines that reach to eternity.

Robert Frost wrote he never felt more at home in America than when watching baseball in a park or sandlot. Well, you can come home again and so did the Vouté family, which now resides in Rhode Island.

“I decided this morning to say a prayer as my dad used to every morning,” said Kate Vouté Wright. “While I was praying, I heard the incessant voice of my Uncle Billy interrupting, saying that he and Babe Ruth will be attending the opening ceremony and dedication today at the ballpark.”

Her uncle is buried at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, where Babe Ruth lies. Her father, Arthur J. Vouté, was a deeply religious man.

She was here with the rest of her family, her mom Rosanne, sister Aimée, brother Chip, and nephew Hudson. The Vouté Family, which had lived in South Salem for over 50 years, was back, to honor their late patriarch, and see the new field which had been improved through their $100,000 donation in his name.

The rotted wooden dugouts torn down and concrete erected in their place. The batting cage turf replaced, new mounds, and other improvements. Like baseball itself, the Lewisboro Town Park field is a part of our town’s past, but more importantly our future. It reminds us all of what is good and pure.

A bronze plaque is ground into the back of each dugout with a picture of Arthur J. Vouté, with the following inscription, “Arthur’s generous spirit is commemorated in these dugouts by his family, to share the joy and legacy of his life with the children and families of the town of Lewisboro.”

The beautiful plaques were made by the same company that makes the plaques for Monument Park at Yankee stadium.

It was clear standing with Art’s son, Chip, who was overcome with emotion staring at the bronze plaques, that the memories he had here with his father were so thick, nothing could brush them away from his face.

“My dad pitched to me for hours on this field. He had pinpoint precision in his pitches.” Arthur J. Vouté (pronounced Voo-tay) was a minor league pitcher who tried out for the New York Yankees. Akin to Moonlight Graham who never got to hit in the majors, Arthur never got to pitch in the majors. Many people’s lives would have been affected if that try out went differently. One wonders if Mr. Vouté would say that, “If I only got to be an attorney for a day, now that would be a tragedy.”

“These bronze plaques are also a connection to our family’s past in France,” said Aimée Vouté Lord, Art’s daughter. The Vouté family traces their ancestry back to France, and the family actually worked on the Statue of Liberty, which is bronze, and was given to the United States by France in 1884.

“The dugouts and the field look amazing. When I was a kid, there were no stands, no concession stand, not much around the field. My parents would sit on the grass hill and watch my games, though my dad would be off walking our dogs at Ward Pound Ridge,” Chip said. Maybe watching from the sidelines, longing to be back on the mound was just too much.

“Lewisboro is a special place. It isn’t known by a lot of people. Our family had a great time growing up here. It’s a real diamond in the rough,” said Arthur’s son.

The color guard presented by Vista Troop 101 Scouts Ty Graygor, Max Wasserman, and Jackson Wiles, and by Lewisboro Troop 1 Scout Spencer Hadlock officially kicked off the day. The parade of teams marched through the split guard like World Series Champions through the Canyon of Heroes. There were wide smiles across the faces of young players and grizzled coaches on a picture-perfect day with a sky so blue it almost hurt.

The invocation could have only been given by one reverend in town, South Salem Presbyterian’s Mark Salmon, maybe the greatest Yankee fan in town, but undoubtedly a huge fan of the game. He drove in with his car painted in Yankees and parked it at the entrance of the field. One would imagine that this was when the Babe, and Billy and Arthur Vouté made their entrance as the minister said these words:

“OUR CREATOR, we ask Your blessing on the games that will be played on these fields. Give each one the courage to play these games in a manner which by words and actions will be pleasing to You and each of us. Let us enter into competition in a spirit of sportsmanship and with a respect for the members of the opposing teams. We ask your blessing and protection on the player, coaches, umpires, parents, and the Lewisboro community for their support. Amen.”

They were once again back in the ballpark, experiencing the sights and sounds of the game. The Babe must have loved the car, and the plaques that look just like the one in Yankee stadium with his face and name on it.

Next was the national anthem performed by John Jay High School freshman Melissa Falcone on an electric guitar that would have made Jimi Hendrix proud, followed by recognition and awarding of plaques to Carmen Ciccone and Adam Giardina for years of service and dedication to the LBA, and to Dana Mayclim for hers to the town as superintendent of Parks and Recreation. Our new town supervisor, Tony Gonçalves, and Town Board members Andrea Rendo, Rich Sklarin, and Mary Shah were on hand for the festivities, and there was burgers and hot dogs provided and grilled up by Sue Vales of the Horse and Hound.

Arthur’s handball buddy for 30 years and Vouté family friend, 25-year South Salem resident Vern Hayden, read the dedication over the new speakers. The Vouté family is in a league of their own, almost too humble to come on to the field, but came reluctantly to be honored and thanked for their tremendous contribution that will help ensure another 50 years of baseball in Lewisboro.

It was only natural that Arthur’s grandson, Hudson, would throw out the first pitch to his son, Chip, who spent many hours playing catcher on LBA teams growing up. One can only believe that the spirit of Mr. Vouté was right there with his grandson when he threw the ball over the plate and the crowd cheered.

He must have departed with his fellow apparitions after the closing benediction: “OH GOD, we pray again for all those who made this day possible…especially the youth who will play here…enable them to soar like eagles throughout their lives…bless these dugouts and fields and those who will be cheering from the stands. Amen.”

There was some force that pulled me to the ballpark for weeks to work on the place. Myself, my son, and other dads and coaches spent hours weeding, planting, painting, cleaning, fixing, and overseeing the resurrection of our Lewisboro Town Park ball field. On Palm Sunday, LBA President Jim Moreo and I reseeded the wall grass and covered it with straw. We rebuilt it, and people came.

We don’t have cornfields stretching for miles in Lewisboro and certainly not beyond the confines of center field, but beyond the fence stands a sign dedicated to a Favorite Son, a devoted husband and father, a former minor league pitcher, a renowned local attorney, and a South Salem man we can all be proud of, Arthur J. Vouté.

Walking to the outfield grass with the family and to the sign that now hangs below the scoreboard, Arthur J. Vouté Dugouts, there was a feeling of Angels in Outfield.

Is this heaven? No, it’s Lewisboro. I could have sworn it was heaven.

Published May 18, 2022, in the Katonah-Lewisboro Times.

Caretakers of Lewisboro History: Carol and Bruce Cernak

SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – “What is a lighthouse doing in the middle of South Salem?” is a question often asked when passing by Farvue Farm, which stands atop of South Spring Street and Route 35. It turns out it’s one of the most beautiful water towers you’ll likely ever see.

The 120-acre farm is home to perhaps the most prestigious family our town has ever known, the Wallace-Douglas Family. Henry Wallace moved there with his family in 1946 after serving as the 33rd vice president of the United States during World War II and President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941-45 administration.

At the 1944 Democratic National Convention, conservative party leaders rallied to defeat his bid for renomination, instead placing Harry S. Truman on the Democratic ticket. There has been much written prognosticating how the course of history may have been different had Wallace been vice president when Roosevelt died and became president rather than Truman.

Mr. Wallace started out as a Republican, then became a Democrat, and in 1948 became the Progressive Party nominee as a third-party candidate for United States President. It was big news when he came out to vote with his wife, Ilo, at the South Salem Library.

Part of the platform he espoused was a conciliatory policy towards the Soviet Union (now Russia). He took criticism for this and in 1952 published “Where I Was Wrong,” in which he declared the Soviet Union evil. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same.

Farvue was the name of one of his relative’s farms in Iowa, so he used it as well, which aptly describes the property, when at the top one does have a far view of the center of Lewisboro. About half of the property is in production for its agriculture exemption. They have a hay, composting, topsoil operation, and they also sell firewood and a bit of milled lumber.

“It’s nice to have a light shed on the farm. They are fighting to keep it agricultural and in the family,” says Carol Cernak, who with her husband, Bruce, have been caretakers of the farm since 1990, when they moved into the original building that was built in 1750.

Mrs. Cernak oversees the contractors, buildings, and bookkeeping, while Bruce handles sales of items, and the farming, equipment, and property maintenance.

“We’re a blip in the stewardship and caretakers over the whole history, and it’s an honor,” she said when she recently gave me a tour of the private grounds.

There is an atomic bomb shelter on the property where Wallace would start seeds under grow lights in the winter. He was one of the original people who did hydroponic gardening and machinery and other tools from the time are still stored down there.

The house is not on the historic registry as the family would like to keep it private.

“It’s a big responsibility to keep it agricultural and costs the family quite a bit of money to do so,” says Mr. Cernak, who grew up in South Salem and has been here since 1959.

They routinely turn down offers from movie productions and companies looking to make commercials on the property.

Henry Wallace was also the author of 13 books, the editor of the New Republic, as well as the Wallace’s Farmer, a family agricultural newspaper.

He founded Pioneer Hi-Bred and developed hybrid corn, which helped feed the world. He also produced hybrid chickens under another company and at one point was supplying them to Campbells for their soup.

“He was a man before his time and an idealist really. Maybe some of his wisdom would serve us well today,” espoused Mrs. Cernak.

During the dustbowl of the 1940s, he came up with contour planting with trees to block the wind from blowing the topsoil away.

“He thought every man should wake up and put their hands in the soil and get their hands dirty, realizing the importance of the land,” said Mrs. Cernak.

Henry Wallace was a fascinating man who served his country and was a part of our national and Lewisboro history. If you’d like to learn more about his life, check out the 2000 biography, “American Dreamer: A Life of Henry A. Wallace,” by John Culver and John Hyde.

It’s also worth a trip up to the Franklin Roosevelt Home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park, where you will be greeted at the Wallace Visitor Center opened in 2003. All have been supported through the generous support of the Wallace-Douglas Family.

Henry Wallace passed away in 1965 and his wife in 1980, but the family still lives at Farvue Farm and hosts several generations of Wallace-Douglas children. Hopefully, the Wallace-Douglas family will be our neighbors and living history of our town for generations to come.

Published March 23, 2022, in the Katonah-Lewisboro Times.

Copia Home and Garden — The Grass Is Greener in Lewisboro

I guess you can say gardening was always in Jenn and Peter Cipriano’s blood. She always gravitated toward plants and people, working in a garden center in Milford, Conn., at 15. She wanted to go to Cornell University and study horticulture, which she did, graduating in 1998. One summer while in college, she interned at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. It was while she was at Cornell that she met her future husband, Peter Cipriano, who was also studying horticulture. He came to a lecture she was giving on her internship their junior year.

“Peter was always one step ahead of the professors in school. Our classmates were like, ‘Who is this guy? He knows so much about plants,” she recalls.

As a kid, Peter was always looking through gardening magazines and catalogs. At 8, he was helping his mother sell plants. At 11, he was calling nurseries around Long Island and ordering roses to sell. At 13, he was arranging meetings with sales reps.

“They would show up and be stunned they were dealing with me,” remembers Peter. He and his 17-year-old brother, Giovanni, were running the family gardening center in East Meadow, Long Island. Peter would answer customer questions and focus on planets and Gio did design.

“I was always focused on plants and horticulture. Some teachers actually called me stupid for it in high school. One teacher said I was too smart for that.”

Peter also knew he wanted to study horticulture in college. He went to North Carolina State initially to study under renowned Horticulturalist and Professor J.C. Raulston, who passed away his sophomore year. So, Peter transferred to Cornell University his junior year.

“Cornell wanted me to stay and get a masters and a doctorate and teach. I said, ‘That’s not why I am here, I want to continue helping my family’s business.’” His parents were immigrants who came here with nothing, but worked hard and paid for his school.

He won the Frederick Dreer Award from Cornell, which allowed him to go to Europe for a year to do volunteer work restoring gardens. When Jenn graduated, she went to work for the family garden center.

He proposed to her in England when she visited. They spent 10 days touring gardens. They got married at Waveny Park in New Canaan and stayed at the Roger Sherman Inn for their honeymoon.

They had driven around Lewisboro while on college breaks and loved the area.

“We saw this as a place to practice our craft, where people would appreciate our knowledge and saw potential,” recounts Jenn. “We were told we would have a hard time making it here.”

Peter initially started the business, living in the attic of Copia, which is at the corner of East Street and Route 123. Jenn was still living on Long Island and working for a doctor to support the family. She and their two children, Bella and Peter – 9 and 7 at the time, respectively – would come up on weekends.

April 8, 2011 was their opening day. “I remember the first person to welcome us was Timi Parsons (wife of then Lewisboro Town Supervisor Peter Parsons), who came by with a pie and then we met Judy Dunn, the children’s author who lives down the street, and I said to Pete that we’ve found the right place,” Jenn reminisces.

“The second Mother’s Day we were open, there was a line out the door. There was tremendous support from families we met at Meadow Pond and from the whole community,” said a thankful Jenn. “I think that’s why we donate to the town and local organizations. To give back.”

Copia has donated plants to Lewisboro Town Park baseball fields, to the Lewisboro Garden Club, and the John Jay Trail, and put money towards a composting toilet for Vista Memorial Park.

For the first year in business, they did not take a salary. They had a two-year lease with an option to buy. They got an SBA loan for a mortgage on the property through Westchester Bank so that got them on their way. The rent was not affordable or sustainable, which is why the previous three garden centers there had failed.

“April 2020 made us rethink what might happen if this pandemic really shut us down. We were 70 percent down in April and worried that we were not going to keep up with our mortgages and expenses,” Jenn said. The Westchester Bank and the federal government helped and the local housing market boom, which was a blessing for the gardening industry.

Bella is studying immunology at Cornell and Peter will join her there this fall to study animal science.

Hopefully, Copia Home and Garden will be here a long time and even perhaps run by the next generation of Ciprianos.

Published February 18, 2022, in the Katonah-Lewisboro Times

110th anniversary of the Founding of The Boy Scouts of America in 1910 and 90th Anniversary of Cub Scouts

February 8th marks the 110th anniversary of the Founding of The Boy Scouts of America in 1910. A date that scouts and scouters know well. What many scouts, leaders and the public don’t know is the history of the organization and its immeasurable importance to the United States and around the world. Since that time, more than 100 million hours of community service and more than 5 million lives have been saved by scouts and leaders. Literally around the country and world everyday lives are saved and community service projects are building local communities and changing lives for the better thanks to scout volunteers and scouts.

From the very start of The Boy Scouts of America, boys of different races, religions, economic status and abilities were welcomed into the program. This was certainly a forward thinking idea that took the rest of the country decades to embrace. Meritocracy was the bedrock of the program and remains so today. Any boy could join and if a scout fulfilled the requirements, he earned the merit badge.

In 1930, the Cub Scout Program was launched, so this year marks the 90th anniversary. In the 1970s, the organization welcomed girls into its Explorer and Venturing programs foreshadowing its most recent history of welcoming girls into the Cub Scout and Boy Scout program. Scouts with disabilities do not have any time limit for completing their requirements to earn Eagle Scout rank. Girls joining the organization February of 2018 have extra time to work through the merit badges to achieve scouting’s highest rank of Eagle. The Scout Oath and Scout Law remain a cornerstone of the program.

Few people know the history of the organization and its immeasurable contribution to the country. During World War I, scouts planted 12,000 victory gardens to feed soldiers. Scouts collected 100 railroad cars worth of nut hulls and peach pits used to make charcoal filters for gas masks. They identified and charted the location of 21 million broad feet of black walnut trees for use as gunstocks and airplane propellers and distributed 30 million pieces of government literature to citizens. Scouts raised an incredible $23 million for the war effort by selling Liberty Bonds.

During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt made 69 formal requests of The Boy Scouts of America for aid in the war effort. These included the collection of rubber as spare tires and other consumer products. A two week drive alone netted 30 million pounds of rubber. Another 20,000 victory gardens were planted to feed soldiers. Other efforts were distribution of pledge cards for war bonds and war saving stamps, collection of aluminum, and paper. Scouts even served as fire watchers, emergency medical personnel, messengers and dispatch bearers according to the book, Four Percent, The Extraordinary Story of Exceptional American Youth.

Closer to home we see the positive affects of our local scouts everywhere we look, be it planting gardens at Onatru Farm, clearing hiking trails, building structures, or just “doing a good turn daily” helping neighbors and others in our communities. The uniform they wear is one of a “Messenger of Peace.” Last year several of our local scouts represented our local community at the World Scout Jamboree Held at Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia. The event is held every four years in a different country and brings together thousands of scouts from around the world. It hadn’t been held in the U.S. in forty years. The amount of good will and understanding shared by our scouts with others around the world that are so different from themselves, yet share so much through scouting, is priceless.

I would suggest we would do well to replicate the Boy Scouts of America practice of meritocracy above any differences and above all else to make some determination of the character of a person on their each individual merits alone.

If the next 110 years is anything like the last 110 years, one of our greatest hopes for mankind lies with the world wide scouting movements that are alive and well around the world with 30 million members. Proof lies in the fact that Afghanistan just this year has again launched their scouting program in the country.

Scouting in Westchester has a long and distinguished history. Service hours performed by scouts in the Westchester-Putnam Council average about 45,000 a year according to their website.

I would urge everyone to read at least a little bit of scout history to really begin to understand what a tremendous impact scouting has had not only in building America and defending it, but locally as well. The Vista-Lewisboro Cub Scouts alone have a 55 year history in the community. Better yet, get your sons and daughters interested in scouting and join a local pack or troop.

The author is Cubmaster for The Vista-Lewisboro Cub Scouts and a Boy Scouts of America merit badge counselor for Scouting Heritage. He has achieved the highest training in the organization, having completed Wood Badge in the Fall of 2020 and all subsequent training prerequisites.

Published on February 7, 2020, in the Record Review.