Cactus Jack Would Be Proud On This Night

The character of any town is best imparted through its characters — and those who are respectful enough to honor their memories.

And this is the story of a character whose selflessness inspired a few disciples to keep his good name eternal through a charitable organization bearing his name.

This, too, is the story of how the Cactus Jack Foundation will serve the people of Waterford with an idea not merely overdue, but one that will immortalize the town's athletic history.

Cactus Jack, otherwise known as Edwin Evento, died of cancer in 1977, after leading a life that took him from Hollywood, as a western movie stunt man, to Waterford, where he lived, and served, for 42 years. In the town's starting lineup of philanthropists, activists and volunteers, Cactus Jack hit cleanup.

“Here's the kind of guy he was,” says Gene Ryan, a member of the foundation's board of directors. “If someone was in trouble, Cactus Jack would say, ‘Let's do a spaghetti dinner for him.' He'd put it together and then give the family all the money.”

And so in Cactus Jack's memory comes the Cactus Jack Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization to aid individuals, families and other charitable associations in southeastern Connecticut. Before the late, great Mickey Vendetto died of cancer in 2001, foundation money helped Mickey's wish to be realized: a carousel at Ocean Beach so gravely ill children could have a pony ride.

The foundation, which raises money through an annual golf tournament and Valentine's Day dance, has created a third fund-raiser. “Fund-raiser,” though, doesn't feel like an appropriate word for what should be one of the most laudable events in recent Waterford history: the inaugural Waterford Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

The foundation has scheduled the event for Saturday, Nov. 30, two days after Thanksgiving, at Ocean Beach's Port-n-Starboard.

Foundation directors have called the first group of inductees the “Mount Rushmore Class,” the Four Horsemen of Waterford sports history:

• The late, great Dick Cipriani, the former football coach and athletic director at Waterford High School, of whom protgs like Fitch coach Mike Emery still speak reverently today.

• Francis X. “Doc” Sweeney, who started the high school athletic program, having coached boys' basketball, soccer, cross-country, track and field, golf, swimming, football and girls' basketball.

• Gerry Rousseau, the once and future king of Waterford baseball, who won 510 games, 16 league and five state championships in 36 seasons.

• Howard Christensen, who started the baseball program with Rousseau, acting as Rousseau's assistant for 28 years and 335 junior varsity wins.

Fancy, for a minute, if even half the people whose lives the Four Horsemen touched showed up to honor them at the dinner. That's why anybody who gets only the slightest bit wistful about their playing days, or what the honorees mean to them, need to contact foundation treasurer John Ryan at 444-2050 for tickets. They may be purchased at the Waterford Town Hall, Park & Recreation Department, Hughie's, Silva's Package Store, the Golden Spur Package Store and other Waterford businesses.

Tickets are $30 apiece. A 6 p.m. cocktail hour precedes a 7 p.m. dinner. All proceeds will benefit the Cactus Jack Foundation.

“We think this is something that the town has really needed and will serve it well,” John Ryan said.

The Waterford Athletic Hall of Fame will, eventually, be on display at the Community Center near the high school. It's quite likely some of you have been thinking of other worthy inductees, to which Cactus Jack Foundation officials have a two-word response: patience, people. Board members realize the town's history and hope that as the years pass, inductions will come for a grand list.

Meantime, the region — not just Waterford — ought to sell out Port-n-Starboard for the inaugural dinner. The money goes to the noblest of causes. The evening honors the noblest of people.

Cactus Jack would be proud.

This is the opinion of Day assistant sports editor Mike DiMauro
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