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Norwich — An awkward moment on Oct. 22 turned into an emotional, respectful dedication Wednesday, when the city Public Works Department installed the annual holiday tree in Franklin Square.
The tree was donated to the city by the Deptulski family in memory of their son, Johnathan "Johnny" Deptulski, who was killed on Oct. 21 when a porch stairway collapsed at the Nutmeg Woods Apartments in New London.
"They did a beautiful job," Raymond Deptulski Jr., Johnny's father, said after Wednesday's installation. "They really took a lot of care and paid a lot (of) attention to the tree. They made sure none of the branches were broken. They were very respectful."
Raymond and his wife, June Deptulski, live on Roosevelt Avenue Extension in Preston. Two years ago, the family was clearing trees from their land and offered a blue spruce to the city for the holiday season. The city didn't need a tree that year or last year.
But on Oct. 22, Norwich Public Works Supervisor and Tree Warden Franz Redanz knocked on the family's door to inquire about the tree, now about 23 feet tall. Redanz had no idea that one day earlier, Raymond's son and June's stepson had died in the stair collapse.
The shocked and grief-stricken family quickly turned their thoughts toward a positive outcome. They donated the tree in their son's memory. Raymond Deptulski said his son loved nature and wildlife, making the donation even more fitting.
Along with the Deptulskis, Johnny's mother, Mary Jo Hewitt of Montville, and his sister Kristen Desaulniers attended the tree installation Wednesday.
Johnny Deptulski was remembered as a big-hearted man with a "zest for life," who loved his family. June Deptulski said she was proud that her stepson had written a letter to the editor of The Day in 2005 expressing anger at hateful language aimed at same-sex couples in an earlier letter that had claimed same-sex marriage "would hurt everyone."
Johnny Deptulski wrote that it is more harmful to society to hurl accusations at same-sex couples, saying they are "sinners" or "evil," than it is to allow them to live happily together.
The Deptulskis displayed a copy of the letter at Johnny's funeral, June Deptulski said.