Thrills and Spills in a Lifetime of Photography
Ray Gawlak
Professional Photographer
Dec. 11, 2018

“To take a really good picture, it has to move you from within.” So stated professional photographer Ray Gawlak on Dec. 11 as he presented to 60 Y’s Men of Meriden a narrated slide show of his 128 favorite images, selected from a lifetime of photography.

Gawlak’s interest began in seventh grade and he soon found himself using borrowed cameras to practice the art. During the past 50 years of his career, he adjusted to the transition from manual to digital photography and has especially enjoyed utilizing digital software that allows a photo to be reimaged as a painting. His pursuit of intriguing subjects has carried him to numerous foreign countries, as well as throughout America.

Images included vineyards in Italy, along with rustic scenes and portraits of the hardy local folk in Iceland. Travel to Poland permitted stunning portraits of the native people, including a woman weaving at a multicolored loom and weather-worn faces of farmers. A humorous shot displayed his car stuck in the sand; shortly thereafter, a Polish Army truck fortuitously came along and stopped, with soldiers piling out and simply lifting his car back onto the highway. A sojourn to New Zealand resulted in dramatic photos of flowers, sunsets, seashores, mountains, glaciers, rainbows, an action image of a windsurfer with a billowing sail, and a Maori tribesman with striking facial tattoos.

Woman in Poland

Beggar with his dogs in Arles, France

High-quality telephoto lenses allowed close-up action photos of sports events including football played by both local Meriden and professional teams as well as motorcycle racing. And another series of photos provided imagery from France, including striking views of Normandy and impressionist Claude Monet’s home, plus an eye-catching image of a beggar with his two loyal dogs.  A 2017 trip to Ecuador resulted in images of street musicians, artists, colorful graffiti, street vendors, imposing Andes peaks, and a charming shot a young boy chasing pigeons in a town square.

Chasing pigeons in Ecuador 

Earlier this year, Gawlak made himself available to provide free portraits of veterans (and spouses) and the Y’s Men viewed several of these, including two of their own members. And as he noted, “for portraits, the most important feature is the eyes.”

A Taste of Thompson Chocolate
Kevin Scarpati
Sales & Marketing Manager
Dec. 4, 2018

It was a bit of “sweet talk”, actually coming from two million pounds of sweetness every year.  Kevin Scarpati, Sales & Marketing Manager since January for Meriden-based Thompson Chocolate (and also Meriden’s Mayor) provided 68 Y’s Men of Meriden on Dec. 4 with an overview of this remarkable 139-year-old company.

An enterprising 17-year-old teenager named William H. Thompson made his way to Philadelphia in 1871, determined to learn the confectionery business, soon working with Stephen Whitman (Whitman’s Chocolates) and befriending Milton Hershey. In 1879, Thompson opened his first Meriden store at 75 West Main St. (currently the site of Liberty Lagana), manufacturing chocolate and ice cream; indeed, he would harvest ice from a frozen Hanover Pond and shortly deliver ice cream to homes by wagon. Subsequent new sites for his factory included 21 Colony St. (1900), Church St. (1919), 122 Charles St. (1929) and eventually to its current location at 80 So. Vine St. (1973).

Ice Cream Delivery

Over the years, ownership passed from father to son (Charles) to grandson (George) and in 1967 went outside the family to Knowlton White and later to his sons Jeffrey and Alan, eventually being sold to the current owner James Lewis in 1995. Today, Thompson Chocolate does not manufacture its own chocolate, but rather contracts with a Pennsylvania chocolate manufacturer which is held to strict standards including all-natural ingredients. Thompson Chocolate then receives this product in 10 lb. blocks, breaks them up with mallets, melts them and then pours into molds. Items such as their famous 4-foot rabbits are hand crafted by repeatedly pouring the liquid into a plastic mold and draining it out, thereby building up additional layers but leaving a hollow core.

Hand foiling an Easter Bunny

A special feature is that wrapping with foil and attaching a ribbon to these items are still done by hand. The company is blessed with a talented group of about 90 employees working in two shifts, many of whom have worked there for decades. Production for holidays gets ramped up months in advance, not a problem for the consumer since this chocolate has a two-year shelf life. The majority of today’s sales are to private label companies, with those companies’ logos on the wrapper. And the use of e-commerce for online sales is expanding, as well as national exposure through TV programming such as QVC.

Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky: His Life, Careers and Legacy
Vaughan Askue
Nov. 27, 2018

A large crowd of 74 Y’s Men of Meriden was treated on Nov. 27 to a thorough review of the life of Igor Sikorsky, a legendary aeronautical engineer and aircraft designer born in Kiev, Ukraine (Russian Empire) in 1889. The presentation was made by Vaughan Askue, an engineer who worked in sales and marketing for over 42 years at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. (Stratford, CT) and currently is active in the Igor Sikorsky Historical Archives and the Connecticut Air and Space Center.

The first of three parts of Sikorsky’s professional life occurred in Kiev at a time when conventional wisdom believed that “man will never fly”. But following a childhood fascination with Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne, and amazed by the Wright Brothers first flight, he traveled as a young adult to Paris, the world’s center for aviation experimentation, and returned with spare parts allowing him to build two helicopters, both failures. Turning to fixed-wing aircraft design, he created a series of aircraft (S1-S44) prior to 1919. One of these models, a four-engine craft able to seat 16 people, was used as a bomber during WW I.

The second part played out in America, following Sikorsky’s immigration in 1919, fleeing danger in Kiev following the Bolshevik Revolution. Unable to obtain employment for three years in his field due to a lack of demand following war’s end and his heavy accent, he was eventually able to create the Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., subsequently aided by a $5000 gift from the noted pianist Sergei Rachmaninoff that kept the company afloat. During this 20-year span, the company manufactured a series of amphibious aircraft (including the famed Pan American Airways’ ocean conquering flying boats).

Igor Sikorsky Built His First Helicopter Before the Wrights Flew

Beginning the third part of his professional life in 1939, Sikorsky returned to helicopter development including the VS-300 which required two years of trials rife with crashes and reconfigurations. But today, the company is famed for numerous models including the Black Hawk and Sea Hawk helicopters.

A Special Morning with Ethel Merman, George Burns & Gracie Allen
Joined by Bing Crosby
Phil Callan
Retired Radio Broadcaster
Nov. 20, 2018

Sixty-four Y’s Men of Meriden were treated to a bit of nostalgia on Nov. 20, as club member Phil Callan, former radio broadcaster, displayed black-and-white videoclips featuring Bing Crosby and other Hollywood stars from the 1930s. Callan bolstered the program with his knowledgeable commentary on the lives of these performers.

Starting with routines from “College Humor”, Crosby’s first full-length movie released in 1933, he portrays a singing drama teacher who competes with the school’s top football star for the attention of a beautiful coed, landing them both in trouble. Based at the fictional Mid West University, the film also co-stars a youthful George Burns and Gracie Allen in a lively dance scene, and includes a comical dispute at a dance by the caterer who is not getting paid.

In the movie “We’re Not Dressing” (1934), a beautiful yacht owner (Carole Lombard) becomes stranded on an island with her socialite friends, including a research team (George Burns and Gracie Allen) and a singing sailor (Bing Crosby), supported by Ethel Merman, Ray Milland and “Rubber-legs” Leon Errol. In one scene, an attempt to make a special cocktail goes awry when the breeze from a near-by fan keeps flipping the recipe pages, resulting in way too much alcohol in the mix.

In a third movie, Crosby, Joan Caulfield and Barry Fitzgerald team up in “Welcome Stranger” (1947), taking place in Fallbridge, Maine. Crosby, a singing doctor, forces his way into calling a square dance, annoying the locals. He then brings further wrath upon himself by wooing Caulfield in a lively dance scene. The town residents want him to leave, that is until someone suddenly needs an emergency appendectomy!

Bowing to the demands of the Y’s Men audience, Callan agreed to show one more clip, this one from the Bing Crosby movie “Mississippi” filmed in 1936, which included a hilarious slapstick routine by W. C. Fields.