Joe Saviano died last weekend in New Milford Hospital. He was 65.
The first baby born in Norwalk Hospital in 1955 (January 2), he grew up in Westport. He was a champion pole vaulter at Staples High School, where he graduated from Staples High School in 1973.
Joe retired from the Westport Parks and Recreation Department, where he worked for most of his career. He was an avid fisherman, nature enthusiast and photographer. RTM member Andrew Colabella offers this remembrance.
Have you been to a game at an athletic field in town, and noticed the perfectly groomed grass? How about the perfectly edged gardens in town parks? Have you thought about the guy in the tractor who grooms the beach, leaving oddly satisfying smooth lines?
This is a dedication to just one of those talented former Parks & Rec maintanance employees.
At 5 a.m. — bright and early before sunrise, Joe Saviano inspects his tractor and beach rake. Sporting a town polo, a hat he obtained from a garden place or distributor/wholesaler, and a bandanna, he makes his way to Compo Beach.
Joe starts on South Beach by the barbecue grills. He slowly raises the benches with the bucket to move them out of the way, then rakes up the charcoal, ash and trash left by washed up waves and last night beach goers.
As the sun peeks over the horizon, it’s time for coffee at Elvira’s. If he’s lucky (which is every day), one of the usual beach walkers, runners or visitors brings him one.
His fans, friends, runners taking a break, even curious dogs, all stop to watch him ride by. If they’re lucky (which is always), Joe stops to say hi, ask how they are, gives the dog a pet, and offers a cigarette to the runners (as a joke).
It’s now past 7 a.m. Time to make a pass on east beach, as the town garbage truck makes its rounds picking up trash cans. Racing from can to can to beat the dust blowing off the beach rake, Joe stops to tell a corny dad joke. That turns into more jokes, and stories of when he was a champion pole vaulter.
Joe closes the cab door, raises the throttle, engages the beach rake, then makes his way to the jetty to loop back to the cannons until every inch of beach is raked — all before the swimmers and sun worshipers lay their towels, chairs and umbrellas out on the sand.
Next up are Old Mill and Burying Hill Beaches. Easy little strips, but a chance for Joe to practice and critique his operating skills, as he removes all the pebbles from the sand, and seaweed that washed up past the high tide line. Spotting a low spot in the beach, Joe shifts the high sand away from the wall to smooth out (all in one shot).
When the beaches are all groomed, Joe rides shotgun in truck 100, with Joey Arciola driving. The two Joes ride from job to job, working together. Joe Saviano chats away; Joe Arciola listens.
On the job site though, barely any words are spoken. The two work in silence and sync. If something is broken they just happen to have the right part, or a way to jerry-rig it. Most of the time, their innovative, makeshift part never needs replacing.
That was a normal Monday, Wednesday and Friday for Joe.
For over 30 years Joe Saviano maintained town parks, beaches and field. He applied his natural green thumb, immunity to poison ivy and carpentry skills to building bleachers and split rail fences, and growing the greenest grass and most mesmerizing flower beds and gardens anywhere.
Joe was wise when it came to finances too. He always found the craziest deals. Joe’s truck was over 15 years old, but had little mileage. He never paid for a single repair on it!
Joe also never purchased cigarettes. He thought they were overpriced and filled with cancer. So he grew and rolled his own cigarettes, from tobacco he grew or purchased. It never made sense to me, just like his theories about extraterrestrial life, what was beyond our galaxy, and the purpose of some of the jobs we had to do at work.
Joe never sugarcoated anything. He was always straightforward and honest, and spoke his mind. Even if you didn’t agree, you respected his honesty and creative thinking.
When Joe wasn’t at work he could be found at Jr’s Hot Dog Stand, in the first chair. Congregating around him were big town names, high-ranking employees, retirees — all close friends shooting the breeze.
He cold also be found at his mother’s home, tending the garden and taking care of her. Or New Milford, where he settled down to raise his son Joseph Danial. And his vacation spot, his cabin in upstate New York — off-grid, where he fished and perfected his photography skills.
Joe left behind a legacy of talent, hard work, dedication, multiple friends and relationships. He also left his mark on the town, one that will be forever imitated but never duplicated.
Most importantly, Joe left behind his print on this earth.
So the next time you visit a town park, athletic or recreational field, or a beach, Joe’s mark can be found everywhere. Take time to notice the work of the bleachers he put together for you to sit on, the perfectly manicured pesticide-free cut grass with water-based stripes applied by careful eye, the boardwalk you walk on, the wooden guardrails you lean on waiting for your ride, or the barbecue grills you cook on to serve friends and family to as the sun sets.
Hardworking, talented people maintain those areas every day.
Joe was one of those people.
Joe, we’ll miss you!