See part 2 here.
Mother set the telephone gently back into the cradle. She stared at the wall for a moment, and then turned to father. “Sy Swan died last night.”
“They said that he was out to dinner with friends and he just collapsed. They took him to Saint Raphael’s by ambulance, but by the time they got there, he was already gone.”
The Boy was listening from the other room, and like Mother and Father, he was stunned. He had always stopped at Sy’s popular restaurant with his grandmother while they waited for the bus to New Haven. And hadn’t he just seen Sy and his family in church on Sunday? How could this happen so quickly? He knew that old people died, but wasn’t Sy too young for that? No, there was something wrong with this. What would his kids do without their father?
Sy Swan was born in New Haven in 1912, the child of Lebanese immigrants. Upon their arrival in the States, the family lived in New York, New Haven, Waterbury and Pittsfield, Massachusetts before settling in West Haven in 1923. Young Sy attended Washington Avenue School and graduated from West Haven High School. After a few years working in the insurance industry, Sy Swan served with the U.S. Navy during WWII. Following the war, he opened Sy’s Center Spa on Campbell Avenue, and later moved to the location directly behind the Altschuler Building at the intersection of Campbell Avenue and Main Street.
Sy’s was “the” place for high school students to congregate after school for soda pop, fatherly counsel and sometimes a much-needed loan. Sy was sort of a father figure to them, and they were his delight. In 1953, over one hundred West Haven High School students gathered to give him a Christmas party. In addition, he was once commended by Superintendent of Schools Seth Haley, for his work with children.
Around town, it was well known that once Sy Swan had come across a group of children from the County Home (orphanage, then at the present site of the University of New Haven) gathered on the Green to sing Christmas Carols. It was a bitter cold day, so he invited them into Sy’s, treated everyone to hot chocolate while the group sang Christmas Carols.
Eventually, Sy Swan and his wife Virginia settled on Graham Manor Road, in a house that he built himself. He was active in the community, serving on various civic organizations as well as his church, and well-liked wherever he went. The Swans were happily raising three young children when tragedy struck.
His funeral was widely attended by young and old, the high and the humble; and later, the community gathered to create a scholarship in his honor. But after the funeral was over, Virginia Swan was left with the troubling question: how to care for a young family with her husband gone? She had to find an answer.
To be continued-