GUILFORD — “He was everybody’s grandfather,” said Guilford Fire Chief, Charles Herrschaft, Jr.
“He was a rational, reasoned, natural leader, a facilitator who brought people together,” reflected Matthew T. Hoey III, Guilford’s First Selectman.
With quiet grief, they spoke of Carl A. Balestracci, Jr. who passed away on Monday, June 3, 2019, after a brief illness. He was 78.
Balestracci served the town of Guilford over his lifetime in many roles: educator, political leader, fife and drum musician, volunteer board member of many local service organizations, and most recently, the author of the story of the Stony Creek quarry where both his grandfathers had toiled as Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Local history was his deepest commitment, especially the history of the quarries. Italian immigrants in his ancestral family carved away the rare pink granite from the Stony Creek Quarry by hand. This unique granite, formed by ancient glaciers, was used as the foundation pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. Carved into the Stony Creek granite are the words from the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … .” Stony Creek pink granite was also laid down for the walkways and entry steps to the Statue of Liberty Museum which opened on May 16, 2019, on Liberty Island.
In 2016, Balestracci published a book with the story of the quarry whose fame is shared by both Guilford and Branford. Titled “John Beattie and His Quarrymen: Building America Stone by Stone,” it includes maps and historic photos of the men and the rock. John Beattie owned the quarry for about 50 years and brought in immigrants from Europe and Scandinavia to work it with hand tools, long before machines made the work far easier.
Balestracci dedicated the book to his two grandfathers: Aldo Balestracci (1888-1970) and Anthony Perna (1887-1932). In the Introduction, Carl Balestracci, Jr. writes: “I have discovered the exact site from which most of the granite for the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty was quarried. It is pristine and undisturbed one hundred thirty years after the event. We hope to have it placed on the Register of Historic Sites.” (The book is available from the Guilford Keeping Society website and Breakwater Books in Guilford.)
During his life in Guilford, Balestracci gave many talks on local history at the Guilford Free Library. In its collection is a DVD with its transcript, “Memoirs of Guilford” by Balestracci with Stanley Barnes, a principal of Leetes Elementary School, and the late Edith Nettleton, the first and longtime librarian of Guilford Free Library. Reminiscing about about the early years in Guilford, Balestracci reveals, “We used to go skinny-dipping in a lot of different places in Guilford.”
Still, many longtime Guilford residents remember Balestracci first as an educator. As word spread of his passing, an outpouring of compliments, memories, and sorrow at the loss filled conversations around town and on social media sites. Many of his former students, including state representative Sean Scanlon and Guilford Police Chief Jeff Hutchinson, portrayed him as the firm but caring teacher who made history fun and alive. Even adults such as Veronica Wallace, who served with him on the town Board of Selectmen but had never been a student in his classroom, said she learned from him in everyday life.
After nine years teaching in New Haven, Balestracci began teaching social studies at Adams Middle School in 1976. In 1982, he became a house master at Guilford High School, then co-principal from 1987-1991. For three years, he was principal of Baldwin Middle School, then in 1994 became principal of Adams Middle School until retirement in 1999.
Balestracci founded the Guilford High School Fencing Program in 1976 and led teams as head coach until 1987. In March 2019, both boys and girls fencing teams brought home the state titles.
Following his retirement from Guilford Public Schools in 1999, he began his political career, becoming first selectman of Guilford in 2001, serving three non-consecutive terms, his last ending in 2009. Dedicated to the town of Guilford, when he wasn’t first selectman he continued as a member of the Board of Selectmen from 2009-17. And for 19 years, he also served on the Guilford Police Commission. Expanding his political activities, through his lifetime he joined the campaign staffs of Gov. Ella Grasso, Congressman Emilio Daddario, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Christopher Dodd.
Balestracci contributed to his passion for Guilford history with service on the Guilford Keeping Society. Among his hobbies was drumming, and he was past Commodore in the Ancient Mariners Fife and Drum Corps. He enjoyed woodcarving and winemaking.
Carl A. Balestracci, Jr., was born in New Haven on Aug. 6, 1940. His parents were the late Carlo Balestracci who came to America at 1 years old, and Edith Perna Balestracci. He grew up in Guilford and was class president for all four years for the Guilford High School class of 1958.
After one year at the University of Connecticut where he was class president and Outstanding Air Force R.O.T.C. Cadet, in 1959, Balestracci enlisted in the United States Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1964 as Airman First Class.
He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees plus a sixth-year certificate in administration from Southern Connecticut State University.
His survivors include his wife, Linda Lascola Balestracci, his son Christopher and wife Katie of Guilford and grandchildren Michael and Brendan; his son Andrew and wife Linda of California; his stepson David Colle and wife Jennifer of New York and their children Jericho and Sienna; his stepson Kevin Colle of Guilford; his cousin Judy Secki of Guilford and other relatives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
On Saturday, June 8, a Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. George Catholic Church, 33 Whitfield St., Guilford. The family will observe a private burial. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to The Carl A. Balestracci, Jr., Humanitarian Fund at the Guilford Foundation, P.O. Box 35, 44 Boston Street, Guilford, Connecticut, 06437.