Over the years, many townspeople have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Lester Smith, Town Historian, curator of the King House, supporter of Boy Scouts and valuable asset for The Suffield Observer. He has been recognized for years by his train cap, his camera, which is never far away and his red car (with the license plate LWS). Lester is a fountain of knowledge about Suffield and has a continuing desire to learn about what goes on around him. At 96, he is still a valuable historical and personal asset to our town. His many personal stories and insights into Suffield are a treasure, and this article will attempt to touch on a few.
Lester grew up in New Haven, Conn., graduated from New Haven High School, enlisting in the Navy as WWII was ending. After his discharge from the Navy, he started school at MIT, graduating in 1950 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
Lester had hoped to get a job on the Connecticut shoreline where he had spent many of his summers as a child, but a good position at Hamilton Standard came up, so he located in East Hartford. One of the jobs he had at Hamilton Standard was to record data on flight tests in new airplanes, and he has quite a few stories about some the more harrowing flights. His job also provided many opportunities to travel around the country.
He met his wife Sally at an engagement party, and they married in 1953. Moving to Suffield in 1954, their first house was on Paper Street. There, they threw a “house-burning” party. A derelict house next door was to be used as a fire suppression exercise by the fire department, so the Smiths invited friends to come over and watch the action. What a way to entertain! In 1960, they moved to Marbern Drive with their three children.
Living in Suffield, Lester became interested in the town’s history. He was designated Curator of the King House in 1987, designing the Holidayfest exhibits for many years. He became Town Historian in 1997 and has been a vital link to town history ever since.
In 1999, one of Lester’s areas of interest became the new Suffield Observer.
History hasn’t been his sole interest, however. The Boy Scouts became a big part of his life, and he served on Suffield’s Troop 260 Committee for over 45 years. He remembers that one of his proudest accomplishments was when a new scoutmaster was needed, he found Dick Drake, who became the troop’s wonderful scoutmaster from 1973-1991. He has many stories about camping at Camp Workomen in Barkhamsted and trips on the Allagash River in Maine – too many to tell here.
Lester was also a valued member of the Friends of the Library for decades. He worked for years on the day-to-day business of the annual book sale, and at Christmas time he delighted children of all ages as the Polar Express conductor at the library.
In 1999, one of Lester’s areas of interest became the new Suffield Observer. When Sam Fuller, the Observer’s originator, asked Lester to write about the history of the town, he was eager to be a part. Early on, his Moment in Time photo and 100 Years Ago column became Observer staples.
Later, Lester’s role in the paper expanded, and his photos and investigative reporting became important parts of the monthly news. Lester figured he took some shots over time that might have gotten him into a little hot water. One of those stories was about the year-long project of widening the power lines across Suffield. Looking to get a shot of the helicopter that was running the power line between towers, he trekked behind the Magliozzis’ house in West Suffield onto the right-of-way for the project. Apparently, the helicopter pilot gave Lester the stink eye for being there. Lester figures they didn’t appreciate him taking pictures!
Lester has covered many different subjects in his years as one of the paper’s most prolific writers. Articles ranged from high school and middle school musicals, Boy Scouts, town and multiple building projects to controversies concerning close elections, the police department and the Veteran’s Memorial.
He’s always been exacting in his writing of Observer stories and headlines. One story Lester told was about Sam Fuller inviting a sports writer from the Springfield papers to join the Observer crew. Lester had written a story about the giant Spencer Oak in Suffield that had suffered damage in a storm and had titled it “Suffield Giant Falls.” The sports writer had changed the headline to “Suffield Giant Takes A Fall” which changed, in Lester’s opinion, the tenor of the story’s idea. He argued with Sam about the change, but he lost that argument. Up until very recently, Lester has been a vocal and determined photo caption writer. He believes that these captions should provide the reader with more information than just the basics, and he always went out of his way to glean extra information for our readers.
Lester has always strived for as much perfection in the paper as possible and has always been one of our biggest supporters and critics. His exceptional attention to detail, his desire for a neutral voice when reporting a big story and his interest in the multitude of subjects related to Suffield have benefited the paper and its readers for 25 years. We have great respect for his ability, humor, persistence and innate desire to “get the story.”
He is an indelible part of the town and Observer stories. It seemed only right as part of our 25th celebration year to celebrate Lester!