Shermanites debate Happy Acres' cross
Published 4:43 pm, Tuesday, December 23, 2014
For years, the cross at Happy Acres Farm along Route 39 North in Sherman has shined atop the main silo in weeks leading up to Christmas.
This year, however, with the farm under town auspices, town officials have decided the cross will not shine atop the silo.
Longtime farm owner Tony Hapanowich, a former longtime first selectman, erected the cross and lit it annually through the Christmas season.
Since Hapanowich's death in 2013, the town officially took ownership of the property.
However, some residents think otherwise.
Crosses have been erected on many homes throughout the town in response to the selectmen's decision and likely will remain lit through the Christmas holiday.
"People all over town have started putting up their own crosses," said Gary Albert. "I'll bet at this time there must be upwards of 25 to 30 (crosses), including one at my house."
Albert questioned how town officials can put up a Christmas tree and decorations at Mallory Town Hall and have candles lit in windows at the Happy Acres farmhouse while not allowing the silo's cross to be displayed.
Selectwoman Andrea O'Connor said Dec. 18's Board of Selectmen meeting was attended by a large number of concerned residents.
"We felt that, given the advice of our town attorney, we couldn't put the cross up," O'Connor said. "It's unfortunate but I think it's a short-term issue.
"It has to do with the separation of church and state at this point, but when the new tenant farmers come in, it will be their decision whether to display the cross in coming years."
Full Circle Farming partners John Motsinger and Adam Mantzaris have signed a five-year lease with the town to tenant farm Happy Acres, starting Jan. 1.
"The Judd family has taken the (Happy Acres) cross in and are displaying it on their property on Route 37," O'Connor said. "Crosses have gone up all along the route. It's really quite wonderful."
First Selectman Clay Cope said the cross had been lit last year by the farmer working for the trust then overseeing the farm.
He said he had received emails at the time from two residents who felt the town should not display religious symbols.
"This year, someone asked if the cross would go up and I asked the town attorney for his opinion," Cope said. "I think it is a wonderful testament to this season of faith to see all of the crosses going up around town. But I couldn't put the town at risk of a lawsuit."
Not all residents are bristling over the selectmen's decision.
Joanna Wozniak-Brown, president of the Friends of Happy Acres, noted circumstances have changed since Hapanowich owned the farm.
"Over many years, Tony erected the lighted cross on the silo and it became a local tradition," she said. "I understand why some people are upset. However, the circumstances have changed. Issues of church and state, lease terms and community must take precedence."
Wozniak-Brown said her group hopes the discussions now ongoing about the cross can be channeled and directed toward how to make the farm an "inclusive experience" for all of the community.