NEWINGTON - The Skehan family recently celebrated the 100th birthday of their patriarch.
Edward “Ed” Skehan was joined by family, friends and state officials in a number far in excess of his age at The U.S.S. Chowder Pot IV in Hartford. The party was March 18, just two days after he became a centenarian.
A retired Hartford firefighter, World War II veteran, father of eight and grandfather of 30-plus, Skehan was surrounded by a lot of love that day and every day.
“They’re all excellent,” he says of his large family, who are always in and out of his Newington home.
His wife of 74 years, Margaret “Peg” Skehan, passed away two years ago this July.
“She’s the best,” Ed says, shrugging his shoulders to emphasize the statement’s certainty. “Top shelf.”
The pair met at G. Fox, where he was a window dresser and she a model. It was his first job out of high school.
They were married in 1942, shortly before Ed was drafted into the Army and left for Europe. There he served with the 280th Combat Engineer Battalion as a radio operator, or as he put it, a “the dot and dash man.” He fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“It took us four days to cross the Rhine and that was the end of the war,” Ed remembers.
He returned home in 1946 and the family of three settled in Hartford’s southwest end, where Ed resumed his job with the Hartford Fire Department.
“It was like going on vacation,” he says of returning to firefighting, which he retired from in 1968.
But not before the Skehans would welcome seven more children, totaling four boys and four girls. Even later in life, the pair always had a special bond.
“When mom was recovering from surgery at Jefferson House, he wanted to see her,” daughter Gwynne Skehan points out. “We all gave him rides but when nobody was there for one moment, he called a taxi.”
Firefighting took him across the city in Engine Co. 2’s Truck Number 3. He fought the infamous fires at St. Patrick’s Church and St. Joseph’s Cathedral and later the 1961 fire at Hartford Hospital, where 16 people perished.
Ed’s picture joined others on the wall inside the hospital, which became an example for others after the event.
“It led to many safety changes across the U.S.,” his daughter Patty Niederhauser explains.
At the recent party, Hartford fire officials showed up in a firetruck from Company 2 to honor the retiree.
“They wanted me back but I said I wasn’t going,” says Ed, who was also an avid baseball player in the Greater Hartford Twilight Baseball League.
He can recall pretty much his entire life, which began in the Hartford neighborhood “behind the rock” - also known as Rocky Ridge.
“It was bleak; we didn’t have much of anything,” he remembers.
In those days the fire department was not only an emergency rescue service, but also a distributor of basic necessities.
“People would line up at the back of the building and they would hand out things,” Ed adds.
His family members take great pleasure in testing their loved one’s memory, which is often sharper than theirs.
“He’s a super brain,” Niederhauser says. “He remembers everything and keeps up with everything going on.”
That includes politics, which are often on the television in the Skehan home. He’s also a fan of “Antiques Roadshow.”
People are always coming over to see him, especially when soda and cookies are in the kitchen.
“The grandkids come visit every day,” says his daughter-in-law Anja Skehan, who lives next door with her sons Jonathan, 11, and Ryan, 9.
Ed also regularly attends meetings of the Police Benevolent Association and the Retired Police and Fire Association.
“I keep occupied,” he says.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097, @schmittnbh or firstname.lastname@example.org.