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09/07/2023 02:10 PM

Gene Bishop, a Guilford Treasure, Leads Guilford Fair Parade

As someone who has given much back to his community in his 90 years, Gene Bishop, a Guilford treasure, is honored to lead the Guilford Fair Parade as the 2023 Grand Marshal. Photo courtesy of Nancy Bishop

As someone who has given much back to his community in his 90 years, Gene Bishop, a Guilford treasure, is honored to lead the Guilford Fair Parade as the 2023 Grand Marshal.

The parade steps off in downtown Guilford on Saturday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m. This year, marchers, marching units, floats, and others have been encouraged to connect with the parade theme “Guilford Treasures Old & New.” Organized entirely by citizen volunteers, the parade will feature an honor guard, elected officials, veterans groups, school floats, school bands, community organizations, Guilford Fire Department, Guilford Police Department, youth sports groups, scout troops, tractors, musical groups, and many others.

In fact, several of the organizations represented at the parade are those that Bishop has been involved with or continues to be involved with over the years.

“I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done,” says Bishop. “I’ve worked with some wonderful people.”

The Guilford native, a fourth-generation steward of Bishop’s Orchards, first became a full-time employee of Bishop’s in 1952. In 1954, he married his high school sweetheart, Jane Ellen DuPaul. The couple raised their two children, Jonathan and Kimberly, in Guilford.

Gene served as Bishop’s vice president and orchard manager from 1957 to 1981 and became its president in 1981. Gene’s full days of work with Bishop’s continued through 2000, when he “retired,” stepping down to part-time work through 2020.

Speaking of treasures, Bishop’s is certainly one of Guilford’s treasures as both a legacy farming enterprise and a continuing example of a family engaged in civic-minded involvement.

“My grandfather, B.W. Bishop, was a first selectman back in 1920. Everybody in every generation in my family has been very much community-oriented,” says Gene.

Gene’s grandfather, Burton Walton Bishop, is namesake of B.W. Bishop & Sons Inc. Burton’s father, Walter Goodrich Bishop, established the general farm in 1871 in Guilford, producing dairy, vegetables, and ice.

Bishop’s has grown and evolved with each generation, Gene notes. Following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, Gene and his cousin, Albert, came into the business.

“That’s when I-95 came through, and they took 11 acres right out of the middle of our farm,” says Bishop. “To make up for it, we bought 150 acres on New England Road, where most of our orchard is now. We spent many years picking up rocks, clearing land, planting trees, and trying new crops. We got into peaches in a big way, and after a while, we found out how to actually do it! There’s a lot of trial and error.”

This time of year, harvest time, is always among the busiest, Bishop says.

“It’s always been a hectic time of year. We used to work 70, 80 hours a week, from dawn ‘til dark, trying to get all the apples in and everything else we had to do.”

Together, Gene and Albert helped Bishop’s expand its acreage and wholesale business, and in 1971, they transitioned the farm market from seasonal to year-round.

“And then it was the next generation, John and [Albert’s son] Keith, that really expanded the retail,” says Gene. “They added the winery. And now, the sixth generation is taking over, and they’re getting into entertainment. So every generation gets a lot of credit for everything they’ve done.”

As a young adult, one of Bishop’s earliest community volunteer experiences was as a volunteer fireman, from 1954 to 1966, with Guilford’s Eagle Hose Co. 2. He also served as its corresponding secretary for four years.

Bishop went on to become involved in several town boards and commissions. Among them, he’s especially proud to have helped build the legacy of the Guilford Conservation Commission as an appointed member.

“When I first started on the Conservation Commission, the people that I worked with were fantastic. I was just a young person; I wasn’t a driving force—I just went along with it,” says Bishop. “We started the Guilford Land Conservation Trust by getting people involved, and then [the Trust] took over. We’ve probably got the best land conservation trust anywhere.”

Bishop served on the commission for 12 years, including four years as chairman. Additionally, he was elected to serve on the Board of Selectmen for 10 years, including two years as first selectman. He is a member of the Guilford Republican Town Committee.

“When I was on the Board of Selectmen, we acquired quite a bit of land for the town, also. Those are the kinds of things I really feel were achievements—not that I can take all the credit for it. The only credit I can take is that I was there,” says Bishop.

Bishop also served on Guilford’s Public Works Commission (2009-2021), including six years as chairman. He served 19 years on the Zoning Board of Appeals, including eight years as chairman.

Bishop is also a past president of the Guilford Rotary Club, of which he is a 40-year member. He served Rotary as the assistant district governor for one year and as the district governor’s area representative for three years. Bishop was also coordinator of the International Group Study exchange for eight years.

“I got very involved in it. I made sure almost all of them got to Guilford during their stays,” says Bishop of the international guests.

Additionally, Bishop co-chaired Guilford Rotary’s Lobsterfest for 12 years. Rotary has honored Bishop as a Paul Harris Fellow (with five sapphires) and Donald A. Adams Award recipient.

Bishop is a 57-year member of St. Alban’s Masonic Lodge #38, as a trustee, past master, temple association president of six years, and treasurer of 20 years. As a 70-year member of Guilford’s Christ Episcopal Church, Bishop has served on the vestry and as junior and senior warden.

As a corporator and trustee of Guilford Savings Bank for 18 years, Bishop became involved with Guilford Youth Mentoring early in its development. He went on to support the program by serving as a mentor for 12 years, assisting five different Guilford Public School mentees.

Together with Jane, Gene also joined the Guilford chapter of the American Field Service (AFS), serving as a host family for three international students over several years. He also served as chapter treasurer for four years.

In addition, Bishop was honorary chairman of the Guilford Community Fund for two years.

Bishop’s agricultural experience, expertise, and involvement included serving as vice chair of the Connecticut Apple Marketing Board. He also served with the New Haven County Committee U.S. Soil and Water Conservation Service (1955 to 1965, with four years as chairman) and, since 1952, on various committees of the New Haven County Farm Bureau as well as on the Connecticut Pomological Society ( CT Fruit Growers) for which he served as president for two years.

As a Guilford Agricultural Society (GAS) member of many years, Bishop served on the Fruit Committee and ran the Guilford Fair’s apple exhibits. The Guilford Fair has been organized and operated by GAS since 1859.

“The Guilford Fair has always been something that no matter how long ago somebody lived in Guilford, they always look forward to getting back to go to the fair,” says Bishop.

Each year, the return of the fair has been celebrated with the annual parade. Through the years, the parade has been managed by various community volunteers and organizations to keep it going. For the past few years, the parade has been facilitated by a small group of citizen volunteers who plan, raise funds, and organize the event.

While Bishop is honored to have been selected by these wonderful volunteers as parade grand marshal, it certainly won’t be his first time marching in this community treasure of an event.

“I marched in the parade when we were school kids with our school floats, and with Bishop’s, for many years,” says Bishop. “We used to drive our wagon and pass out apples, and Kneuer’s Orchards would do the same thing. We would try to see who could ‘get rid of’ the most apples as we went around the green!”

A few years ago, Gene and Jane moved from their Guilford home to live nearby at Evergreen Woods in North Branford.

“We picked this place because it is so close to Guilford,” says Gene. “I didn’t want to go two or three towns away, where we’d lose our connection.”

As for his years of volunteer, elective, and civic involvement toward the betterment of Guilford, Bishop says every effort to support his community has been well worthwhile.

“In everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to stay close to town, because I’m very fond of the town of Guilford,” says Bishop.