Generous spirit blossoms in memorial tree

Friends, family of Richard Sharkey carry on his memory, tend his park

WILTON — On Sunday, friends and family of Richard Sharkey gathered in an area on Main Street that was once a parking lot. Now, it is a small park, where flowers and trees bloom, and a Farmers’ Market gathers in the summer. The peonies blooming in the park were donated by Sharkey, transplanted there from his personal garden. And Sunday, his friends added another tree — a Kousa Dogwood — in memory of Sharkey, who passed away in May at the age of 69.

The park was one of the accomplishments that Sharkey was most proud of during his long stint as the chair of the Main Street Association, recalled fellow association member Alison Meltzer. Sharkey was chair for many years before retiring last fall due to health reasons related to his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a progressive disease that makes it difficult to breathe. Complications from the disease eventually claimed his life.

Sharkey’s interest in the beautification of Main Street came before he was ever part of the Main Street Association, recalled Mickey Pieterse, the chair of the Main Street Association’s design committee. Originally, the association had applied for a grant for the beautification of the street’s sidewalks and the park, but the process was a long and arduous one, and by the time they had received the money, there wasn’t much left for landscaping the park. After the association held a fundraiser to raise money for plantings, Sharkey approached Pieterse and offered to donate a granite sitting wall to border the park, and two crabapple trees to frame them. He would later go on and donate more plantings and wooden benches.

“He was often contributing money and time,” said Pieterse. “He was just very quietly helpful. He donated so many things. He was so generous with the park and Main Street.”

Her father’s generosity is one of the traits that Sharkey’s daughter, Erin Carter, hears mentioned all the time when people speak of her father to her, she said in a recent phone interview. Carter said she’s not surprised by the description, although her father was never very outspoken about his contributions to the town. But Sharkey had always had a giving heart, she said. He’d lived in Wilton for 22 years, taking up residence in his grandparents’ former home, an old farmhouse built in the 1700s. And he shared that generous heart with everyone around him, she said, from going out of his way to find odd jobs and work around the farm to help support his summer help and get them through the winter, to leaving food for the wildlife that surrounded his home.

After his passing, said Carter, people started to come out of the woodwork with praise for her father, A man he had mentored while working at Hitchner Manufacturing, and those who had worked for her father at his farm all had nothing but good things to say, she said.

“My dad, he was a very loving and generous man. Generous with his family, in both time and money, and generous with his community in time and money. He was fairly humble. I don’t know how many people in the greater community were aware of it.” said Carter. “He often did these quiet things, such as mentoring people, and using his own time and money to help a person progress professionally or personally.”

Sharkey became more involved in giving some of that generous spirit back to Wilton after the death of his wife, Rosa, and his retirement in 2007. Along with the Main Street Association, he was also involved in a business mentoring program known as Service Corps. of Retired Executives, or SCORE, and the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center. And he left his fingerprints forever in the town of Wilton through the development of the Main Street Park.

“He was very much instrumental for the parks downtown,” said Meltzer about Sharkey’s involvement with the Main Street Association. “He was constantly letting us take flowers from his own personal garden to plant downtown.”

Meltzer recalled that on the day that Sharkey died, she took a walk down to the Main Street park, where the tree in his memory is now planted, and took a look at the blooming peonies that are there, donated from Sharkey’s garden.

“It was bittersweet that he didn’t get to see them,” she said.

“I personally found him to be a kind, generous, intelligent and giving individual,” said Association member Lynne Stone. “We will miss him personally and as a force in our community.”

When Sharkey’s health left him unable to continue as president of the association, a fairly new member of the board, David McBee, stepped up to fill his position.

“Richard made so many contributions that I’ve heard about. He was so prolific in his contributions,” said McBee. “I hear that he would do this or that, donating plants for Main Street, and certain signs are his donation. Whenever the organization needed a boost, he was there. And he had just this personality that came off very mild-mannered and genteel. When you were speaking to him, you’d say, ‘This is a beautiful person that I’m talking to.’”

On Sunday, Main Street Association members donated the Kousa Dogwood in Sharkey’s memory, and his family and friends spoke of Sharkey during the dedication. They also wrote down their memories of Sharkey on paper, which were placed in the hole that was dug prior to the planting of the tree. Two of Sharkey’s grandchildren and his daughter Erin put their notes in first, followed by Sharkey’s friends. Pieterse said that her note was a simple thank you and expression of appreciation for all that Sharkey had done for the association, the town and Main Street.

A plaque will be added to the tree at a later date with an inscription dedicated to Sharkey. The Wilton Main Street Association is accepting donations toward Sharkey’s tree. Those who wish to donate should submit checks to the association with “Richard’s Tree” on the memo line of the check.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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