Cavallaro remembered for being 'dedicated' to community

Friends and family remember Michael-John Cavallaro as friendly, bright and creative soul.

The longtime New Milford resident, 67, died April 8 from a longstanding illness (see obituary, this page).

Cavallaro was known throughout the community as being a steadfast advocate of the community and its history, theater and conservation.

“Michael-John was an integral part of our community and had a passion for conservation and history of our town,” said Mayor Pete Bass Tuesday at press time. “That made him a really special person.”

“He will definitely sorely be missed,” the mayor said.

Cavallaro had a love of the environment, open space and conservation. He was a skilled researcher, talented lecturer and craftsman, and an author and storyteller.

Mayor Bass described Cavallaro’s “commitment” to causes and praised him for the contributions he made that allowed the town to obtain Sega Meadows in the 1990s, and for being among the first individuals to discuss having a river trail in town.

Most recently, Cavallaro served as vice chairman of the Conservation Commission.

“Michael-John was a master storyteller sharing his love of local history with the community through his books, lectures and community service,” said Judy Messer, honorary chapter regent for the Roger Sherman Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

“He was dedicated to historic preservation, one of the DAR three areas of service,” Messer continued.

“His love of historic preservation protected and preserved not only historic treasures but the environment,” she said. “Stone walls that line your town scenic roads and dot the landscape throughout the area were a particular interest to Michael-John.”

“He believed in letting old stone walls ‘sleep’ as they are,” she said. “He inspired us all to see stone walls as an aesthetic asset to all New England towns that reflected our history and heritage.”

Rob Burkhart, chairman of the Northville One-Room Schoolhouse Committee, knew Cavallaro through their common interests in history and the environment.

“He just had a wealth of knowledge,” he said.

“When you asked Michael-John a question about a topic, he always had an answer, even if it wasn’t right away,” Burkhart remembered.

Cavallaro would “quietly” go about and locate the answers the questions, he added.

Burkhart praised Cavallaro for successfully finding historical documents regarding the Northville One-Room Schoolhouse.

“He was a watchdog for conservation and history,” Burkhart said.

Last August, Cavallaro was proud to celebrate the completion of the first phase of a beautification project at Hulton Park.

Cavallaro pitched the concept of planting trees at the park to correspond to the 12 points of a clock face and have the same orientation as the points on a compass.

“In effect, it becomes not only a planting but a kind of calculator that can determine direction and time of day, not unlike ancient features like Stonehenge, but rather a form of treehenge,” Cavallaro said at the time.

Pat Greenspan crossed paths with Cavallaro over the years.

“He was a rather eloquent speaker,” she said. “He was a very positive and ambitious person who stood behind his comments.”

Cavallaro had a passion for music and theater and shared it throughout his life in the community.

In the 1970s, he was a familiar face at “Hoot Night” — similar to open mic night — at the former Marble Dale Pub, where he’d play guitar.

“I don’t remember a ‘Hoot Night” he wasn’t there,” said longtime friend Sonnie Osborne, who performed alongside Cavallaro in several local theater productions.

Cavallaro also directed shows.

He made himself well known for his portrayal of Mark Twain in the two pieces he developed from the author’s work, “Twain Remembers,” in 1991 and “Twain Rides Again,” in 1992 at TheatreWorks in New Milford.

“I think that was the highlight of his theater career,” Osborne said of the Mark Twain performances.

“He was a superb actor and, as a director, brought a lot to us actors,” she said.

Rich Pettibone, who knew Cavallaro through the theater community, agreed.

“He was talented, creative and a very funny performer,” he said.

Cavallaro was a former business owner, operating Pathfinders, The Great Outdoor Store on Bank Street that sold leather goods, walking sticks and guide books.

For some time in the late 1970s, he lived in an apartment that had a balcony and overlooked the street, Osborne recalled.

“He’d be outside on the balcony and wave, greeting passersby,” she said. “He was called the mayor of Bank Street.”