Tony Hapanowich's legacy lives on in Sherman

On many a sunny morning, former Sherman First Selectman Tony Hapanowich could be found working around the barns of Happy Acres.

His warm smile and jovial nature are only a memory now in the town he called home throughout his life. Hapanowich, 85, died Aug. 28.

His iconic 92-acre farm, Happy Acres, will continue on in perpetuity, owned and maintained by the town of Sherman.

The town purchased the property in 2010 for $2.9 million and granted Hapanowich a life estate to live on and work the farm until his death.

"Everything's in place now the way it should be," Hapanowich said in May 2010.

"Now when I leave this life, I will know things will be taken care of. It gives me great peace of mind."

Hapanowich spent his 85 years at the farm on Route 39 and Tabor Road. His father had bought the farm in 1921.

He carried memories of the town's past. He would share tales of people cutting ice from a nearby pond to fill up the farm's ice house, or of his father cutting and splitting locust trees by hand to fence the farm fields.

Preserving Happy Acres was his dream.

"I actually was a neighbor of Tony's for a time," said First Selectman Clay Cope. "Personally, I will miss his figure out on the farm property. As first selectman, I am grateful for his contributions to the town and for maintaining so beautifully the jewel of this community, Happy Acres."

Saturday, Aug. 24, was "Happy Acres Farm Day" in Sherman.

The farm property was opened to the public. Selectwoman Andrea O'Connor reflected on Hapanowich's joy that day.

"Tony was so incredibly proud of all he'd done with the farm," O'Connor said. "It's bittersweet. He was so absolutely thrilled Saturday and took ill Sunday."

"Our hope is, for as long as possible, to continue the operation of Happy Acres as Tony had done," she added. "He wanted so much to pass down Sherman's heritage of farming."

The Happy Acres Foundation was established by Hapanowich. O'Connor said Saturday final stages are being put in place for town takeover of managing the farm. The foundation will be the focal point.

Hapanowich's nephew, Frank Pruchnick Jr., has been asked to take over management of Happy Acres, said O'Connor who, as first selectman, worked with Hapanowich in securing the farm for the town.

"Tony set up a trust, which we will be learning more about in the next few days," O'Connor said. "The town is named in it."

Hapanowich served as selectman in Sherman from July 1973 to Dec. 4, 1992.

He was then appointed first selectman with the death of first selectman Kenneth Grant.

Grant has also worked with Frank Pruchnick Jr, who has been asked to manage Happy Acres. He was pleased to hear Pruchnick has been asked to take over that role.

Hapanowich remained first selectman until July 1997.

"I've known Tony the whole time I've been town clerk," said Carol Havens. "He was a selectman back when I started this job. He's played a big role in the town. He will be missed."

Havens' daughter, Alice, groomed and showed Hereford cows from the farm for Hapanowich in the 1990s.

The fireplace mantle in the farmhouse was filled with ribbons and photos from prizes won at fairs in Goshen, Bridgewater, Durham and Springfield, Mass.

"He was a great guy," said longtime friend and former selectman Gary Albert. "He cared about people and his town and his cows."

"He could tell you a little bit about everything in the town," he added. "I never heard him say a bad thing abut anybody. He made some generous donations but never wanted any hoopla. It was always on the QT."

Ken Grant, son of former first selectman Kenneth Grant, has worked with Frank Pruchnick Jr. and is pleased to hear Pruchnick has been asked to take over the farm's direction.

He also fondly recalls his experiecnes with Hapanowich.

"Tony was a great friend. He was like a father to me," he said. "I worked with Joe (Pruchnick) and Tony at the farm from the time I was in high school and for about 20 years."

"He liked his cows," Grant added. "He knew them better than anything."

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Photography by Carol Kaliff