After recently celebrating his 98th birthday, longtime East Haven resident Ernie Votto shared memories of his life and the town, including his years with scouts and living near “The Pit” baseball field.
Born in New Haven, Ernie says he lived in the same house until he was 22 years old and was drafted into the service. He served in the 3rd Air Force as a sergeant major of an auxiliary field.
“I was an aviation cadet, but got returned to regular duty since the number of cadets were in excess of required numbers, and the war was coming to an end,” Ernie says, “So I’m a graduate of the Sarasota flying school.”
After getting out of the service, Ernie began working at Dun & Bradstreet, which he says was one of the foremost credit rating agencies not only in the country, but the world.
“I worked for them as an investigator, a manager, and an editor, and I enjoyed all of them,” says Ernie.
Living in East Haven since 1952, Ernie says he thinks he was either the fourth or fifth resident when the area he lives in was being built.
“We had sandy streets and walked down the end of the block for the mail,” says Ernie.
One thing that Ernie was very involved in was Boy Scouts. He got involved when Troop 408 was formed in 1962, and says the troop used to meet for scouting at Our Lady of Pompeii Church for several years.
“We had several scout masters, and I was appointed chairman, which involved raising money, keeping the staff well-trained, and following-up to make sure that we did scouting the way it should have been done,” Ernie says.
He says he saw a lot of scouts get promoted during his time with the troop, and says that several troop members, including himself, received awards such as the Bronze Pelican Medal, St. George Emblem, and The Silver Beaver Award. Ernie says if someone gets the Silver Beaver, an award given to those who have made impact on the lives of youths, “you know you’ve been in scouting.”
He was also a member of the Quinnipiac Council Committee for the scouts, which Ernie says provided religious training and awards for scouts. He says his troop was particularly active in “mountain man” training for adult scouts, and his favorite memories from his time in scouts was camping at Camp Sequassen and going on 25 mile hikes.
“We used to go from here [in East Haven] to Deer Lake” in Killingworth, Ernie says.
He also talked about some of the people he’s met through scouts, including scoutmasters Henry Chapin, Joe Federation, and George Firth, among others. He has a wood sculpture that Firth made, and says he “wouldn’t part with this thing for $10,000.”
“I met some extremely, extremely fine people in the scouting program,” Ernie says, adding that scouting should be one of the first things parents should think of getting their children into when they’re of age because the program instills leadership values.
Ernie also remembers the early days of Kennedy Field, more commonly known to residents as “The Pit.” He remembers ice skating in the winter in an area of the field; holding kite flying contests there; and contests for flying model airplanes and model rockets being held by scouts and upper level grade level students..
He says “The Pit” is one of the best and most-used parks in East Haven.
“We have a huge number of young boys, older boys, girls, and sometimes we get the high school playing down there,” Ernie says, “The staff should be applauded many times for their hard work and dedication of that famous field.”
An interesting fact about Ernie is that he went back to school at age 64 to fulfill a desire to get a degree. He attended Southern Connecticut State University, where he took courses in political science, journalism, social sciences, and history.
“I had a good size load, but I enjoyed it,” Ernie says, “It was great.”
He attended school for four semesters, but he didn’t finish because he took a job at a sports shop. One of his journalism instructors—previously an editor at the New Orleans Times-Picayune—helped him publish an article that he wrote, however.
In his retirement, Ernie says he’s enjoyed gardening and spending time with his neighbors, although he says he’s been limited the past two years because of a back injury. However, he says he’s “the luckiest guy in the world.”
He and his wife Fran have been married for 68 years. He says he has great neighbors, and he is also proud of his three grandchildren. He has a grandson who is a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays, a granddaughter who is a director in the legal department of Fordham University, and his other grandson is entering Oregon State University.
“I have wonderful children, I have a wife that keeps me honest; she tells me I’ve got to change my shoes, does this shirt match my pants, and all of that,” Ernie says.