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Working out of a converted attic workshop that also doubles as a dance studio, Ron Mangano has been busily sewing protective masks during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Ron Mangano )
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With limited entertainment options in these days of shelter-in-place, many people are spending evenings watching reruns of everything from old baseball games to long-departed cable series. Ron Mangano is not. Every evening, he sews, making face masks in his attic workroom. His wife Denise, who is still at her job during the day, joins him.
The project started when an Ivoryton neighbor, a nurse, told Ron her unit at Middlesex Hospital needed masks. He went to work, using the material the hospital provided and the specifications they set. Then his daughter Erica Briggs, who also lives in Ivoryton, told Ron that a neighbor of hers, also Middlesex Hospital nurse, said her unit needed masks, too. More sewing for Ron.
Then came neighbors, friend, relatives, other businesses. They all got masks. Ron bought material and strapping for the masks, which have nylon webbing and a snap buckle, making them both comfortable to wear and easily adjustable.
Ron also wants to give credit for materials use to his Ivoryton neighbors, Brian and Lauren Weinstein, owners of Chapco Inc. in Chester. They have made more than 100,00 bendable nose bridges, which they have given to mask makers free of charge. Nose bridges, Ron points out, are very important to insure a good fitting mask and to prevent excessive fogging of eyeglasses.
Ron started sewing 10 years ago when he taught himself how to upholster furniture.
“I just didn’t want to pay for reupholstery,” he admits.
He even started his own upholstery business but arthritis in his fingers convinced him to give it up. Aches and pains, however, are not keeping Ron and Denise from completing 150 masks a week.
“We are not the only people doing this. There are lots of people doing the same thing who deserve credit, too,” he says.
Ron has an interest in sewing beyond the masks. He also has a business selling the parts for old sewing machines, none made after 1960. He has 500 machines, some in a storage facility in Old Saybrook, some in his barn. He gets them at tag sales, second hand shops, and sometimes just dropped off on his lawn. He takes the machines apart and cleans them and then advertises them for sale through eBay and through his own website.
The parts for these machines, according to Ron, are no longer made by the original companies so repairing them depends of finding the necessary elements in other ways.
Ron has a worldwide clientele, selling sewing machine parts not only in the United States but in countries from Canada to Norway and Greece. Sometimes he has to use Google Translate to understand the correspondence he gets. He calls his business Rusty Dragon Sales, named not after an old sewing machine, but his dog.
The current pandemic has increased demand for parts.
“All of a sudden everyone wants to get grandma’s old sewing machine working again,” he says.
Ron himself sews on two vintage machines, both Singers, one from 1939 and the other from 1950.
His interest in old equipment goes beyond sewing machines. Ron owns a 1930 Model A Ford pickup truck that he drives in local parades.
In addition to the sewing machines, Ron, by training an architectural woodworker, has a business doing technical drawings for architects and builders.
For the last three years, Ron and Denise have been avid ballroom dancers, performing in local contests, and doing demonstrations at facilities like nursing homes. They also dance at local restaurants for their own pleasure. Some have dance floors, others, among them the Griswold Inn, have enough room to dance between the tables
“We’re very respectful of people’ space,” Ron says.
Ron had always wanted to take ballroom dancing lessons but couldn’t get Denise to agree. Then, the company where she works asked her to represent them in a Dancing with the Stars competition sponsored by the Shoreline Chamber of Commerce. Her partner, however, was not to be Ron, but a male employee from another business. The couple got a free dance lesson at a local studio.
The pair did well and the following year Denise wanted to participate again. Ron had only one thing to say. “This time I am going to be your partner,” he recalls.
What a partnership it was! They were the oldest couple in the competition and they won it.
Since that time Ron and Denise not only takes a weekly ballroom dance lesson at studio in Branford, they have also remodeled their attic to include a dance studio.
“It came at a good time; we are empty nesters,” Ron says.
The couple has two grown daughters and an adult son, and now their first grandchild.
Ron says there is a particular pleasure for a man in being a dancer.
“This is a time in a man’s life when he gets to be the leader,” he says. “My wife is strong willed, but she’s acquiesced. The man has to lead.”
Ron doesn’t charge for the masks he makes, but often people make donations to the project. If people want to reach him, he suggests going through his Facebook page, under his name.
“I don’t want to see anybody going without a mask,” he says.
He adds that the lifting of some constraints on business operations, will likely not affect the demand for masks, which people are still being urged to wear even in less restrictive circumstances.
“The demand is not going to go away. It’s going to be a way of life,” he says. “And it shows respect for other people when you wear a mask.
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