Save Our Stepney Task Force encourages beautification, smart planning

Save Our Stepney Task Force's new officers include, from left, Membership Chairman Lee Hossler, Treasurer Bev Doyle, Vice President Annie Scarano, President Kathie Loehr, Corresponding Secretary Mary Orsillo and Secretary Joan Marr.

A plan to widen Main Street 25 years ago posed a threat to the character of the Stepney section of town. Many of its historic buildings, as well as a section of the green, would have had to be removed to pave the way for the roadwork on Route 25.

Concerned residents Joel Leneker, Joan Verniero and Erich Feucht organized the Save Our Stepney Task Force to take action to protect the history and character of their section of town. Its mission is to identify, document, improve and preserve the area’s history and culture with natural public events, education, beautification and cultural enrichment.

Since then, the nonprofit organization led the effort to build a gazebo on the historic green and established the Stepney Heritage Trail, while the green became known for fun community events, such as the annual Tree Lighting ceremony with Frosty the Snowman.

Leneker served as president of SOS from day one, before stepping down from a leadership role on March 28. He was recently honored during a dinner at Monroe Social.

“It’s time for other people to jump in here,” Leneker said during a phone interview. “I’ll be around. I’m still a member. I think we’ve accomplished a lot since 2001. The need for a group of people to care about preservation and beautification of their community is still as important as it was in 2001.”

Kathy Loehr, who previously served as vice president of SOS, was elected as its new president.

“Our group is in good hands with her as we move forward with the same community focus SOS had 23 years ago,” Leneker said. “I look forward to being an active member.”

“It was remarkable what he was able to do,” Loehr said of Leneker. “It was almost visionary to realize there were a lot of things wrong with the way the town was progressing. Stepney felt like the town’s stepchild. I want to continue his primary thought of, ‘good design benefits the entire community.'”

She said the Save Our Stepney Task Force is still going strong with close to 100 members.

At the dinner, Leneker received several awards, including a dogwood tree, a hand carved cheese board in the shape of Connecticut with a star where Stepney is, and a certificate honoring him for his leadership.

Original founder, Feucht attended the dinner, but Verniero could not make it.

SOS also held an inauguration of its new officers for 2024-2025. Aside from Loehr being promoted to president, Annie Scarano was named vice president, Lee Hossler as membership chairman, Bev Doyle as treasurer, Mary Orsillo as corresponding secretary, and Joan Marr as secretary.

Four objectives

Two of SOS’s original founders, from left, former president Joel Leneker and Erich Feucht, who was treasurer. Missing from the photo is the third founder, Joan Verniero, who served as the task force’s vice president.

Leneker and Hossler compiled a history of accomplishments by SOS over the years. The following mission statement has guided the task force for the past 23 years:

“Save Our Stepney Task Force, Incorporated is organized exclusively to a charitable and educational purpose, more specifically to preserve and enhance the character of the Village of Stepney, Connecticut, incorporated within the Town of Monroe.

The Task Force’s scope of concern will include identifying, documenting, improving and/or preserving historic, culture and natural public events, education, beautification and cultural enrichment. Community involvement and cooperation with other civic groups and the Town of Monroe will be encouraged.”

The organization has approximately 70 members and holds working meetings. It successfully petitioned the state of Connecticut in 2003 to become a 501c3 nonprofit organization that can receive donations.

In 2002, four preservation and beautification objectives were established:

  1. Create a town Historic District around Stepney Green.
  2. Create a Stepney Heritage Trail
  3. Draft and get the Monroe Town Council to approve a Demolition Delay ordinance
  4. Write and have the Town Council approve a Night Sky and Light Pollution ordinance.

Leneker said homeowners turned down the idea of establishing the Upper Stepney/Birdsey’s Plain Historic District in 2005. However, though SOS could not establish a local historic district, it did gain approval as a state historic district through the State Historic District Commission.

SOS established the Stepney Heritage Trail identifying 18 sites within Stepney believed to hold a significant position in Stepney’s history, which should be researched and recognized. For information about the trail and its sites, visit the task force’s website,

Soon after starting the Heritage Trail, SOS raised funds to build the green’s centerpiece: the gazebo.

On December 10, 2001, a demolition delay ordinance was submitted to the Monroe Town Council for its consideration. The ordinance is for buildings slated for demotion that are 50-years or older. It is meant to allow for the opportunity to take pictures of it, purchase the property from the owner, or for the Monroe Historical Society to document the structure.

The Town Council approved the ordinance.

In April of 2009, a Night Sky and Light Pollution ordinance was drafted for the Town Council’s consideration. The purpose of the ordinance was to provide rules and regulations for outdoor lighting within the town of Monroe to:

  1. Promote a safe and pleasant nighttime environment for residents and visitors;
  2. Protect and improve safe travel for all modes of transportation;
  3. Prevent nuisances caused by unnecessary light intensity, direct glare and light trespass;
  4. Protect the ability to view the night sky by restricting unnecessary upward projection of light;
  5. Phase out existing nonconforming fixtures that violate this ordinance, including those owned by the town and other public agencies; and
  6. Promote lighting practices and systems to conserve energy.

SOS members did a lot of research, even reviewing light sky ordinances in Golden and Boulder Colorado, Colo., and Eagle Mountain City, Utah. But the ordinance did not make it out of a Town Council subcommittee.

“While we were unsuccessful in getting the ordinance passed, it did influence the Planning and Zoning Commission to be adopt night sky regulations that are used today,” Leneker said. “We didn’t always win, but in the big picture we did leave an imprint on local government.”

A timeline of Save Our Stepney events & accomplishments:

2002- Organization founded and incorporated with the Secretary of State

First Annual Tree Lighting.

2003- Stepney Farm Day event on the Stepney Green

2004- Organization pursued Dark Sky Ordinance

2005- Great Trees of Monroe Contest held. 1st Annual Picnic

2006- Gazebo built on Stepney Green.  Historic Marker Project initiated.

2007- First Historic Marker installed.

2008- Ice Cream Social hosted on the Green

2008-10- Additional Historic markers installed.

2011- Installation of  9/11  remembrance with 2977  white flags placed in
in honor of each victim.

2012- Organized Hosted clean-up of the Stepney Cemetery in preparation for
Civil War Commemoration.

2013- Civil War Commemoration

2014- Installation of benches on the Green

2015- Color Wrapping of the Gazebo  first Art installation

2016- Flags and poles purchased.  Art Installations  on the Green continue.

2017- 200th anniversary of the Stepney Green and 100th Anniversary of SVFD.
Time capsule buried by both Groups.
First  Spirit of Stepney Graveyard tour
5 Flag poles added to the green in conjunction of the Monroe Lions Club

2018- Blooming Cycles Art on the Green project.
First Installation of Blazing Pumpkins.

2019- Marvelous Machines event

2020- Fairy House Competition  on the Green
Second Spirits of Stepney Graveyard Tour

2021- Donation of Fringe Tree to Stepney Green for Arbor Day
Water truck station in conjunction with Aquarion for playground build

2022- National Night out Booth in conjunction with Monroe PD history and
Prize booth
2023- Stepney Days in honor of the Monroe Bicentennial. History exhibit, Cake
Walks, Carousel, Axe throwing,  bounce house.

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