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    Sunday, September 25, 2022
     

    ʽEverybody looked out for everybody’: Thames River Apartments live on with annual reunion

     
     
    Friends Linda David-Paul, left, and Cathy Hudak hug as they talk during a reunion for former Thames River Apartments residents at Riverside Park in New London on Saturday, August 27, 2022. The two women grew up in the apartments on Crystal Avenue in the 1970s and 1980s. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Friends Donnel Johnson, left, Miriam Torres and Ada Santos, laugh before posing for a photo during a reunion for former Thames River Apartments residents at Riverside Park in New London on Saturday, August 27, 2022. The three grew up together in the Crystal Avenue apartments in the1980s. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Efraín Domínguez takes a selfie with other former residents during a reunion for former Thames River Apartments residents at Riverside Park in New London on Saturday, August 27, 2022. The friends grew up together in the Crystal Avenue apartments. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    A t-shirt reads “Crystal is more than a place” during a reunion for former Thames River Apartments residents at Riverside Park in New London on Saturday, August 27, 2022. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Former resident Daniel Duncan, right, gives a fist bump to Gwen Williams, who worked at the Thames River Apartments, when she told him of her recent retirement during a reunion for former Thames River Apartments residents at Riverside Park in New London on Saturday, August 27, 2022. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Miguel Ramos throws a bag as he plays cornhole during a reunion for former Thames River Apartments residents at Riverside Park in New London on Saturday, August 27, 2022. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)
    Darline Betancourt, left, laughs with John Robinson and his grandson John John Grant Robinson, 11, during a reunion for former Thames River Apartments residents at Riverside Park in New London on Saturday, August 27, 2022. Robinson grew up in the Crystal Avenue apartments and Betancourt grew up in New London visiting him and other friends there. (Sarah Gordon / The Day)

    New London ‒ Laughs and classic R&B and rap music filled the air at Riverside Park Saturday as friends and family who used to be neighbors at the Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue reunited.

    One group of friends remembered when someone’s grandmother ran a candy store and they would help her sell it — admitting to taking one or two for themselves or the girl they were trying to impress.

    “Crystal is more than a place; it is the people,” was the theme for this year’s gathering of former residents of the apartment complex who have had a reunion for the past five years. Those in attendance were mostly people who lived at the apartments in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

    This year’s reunion comes a few months after the apartment buildings were demolished. The complex closed in 2018 after the city’s housing authority received funding from HUD for its demolition.

    Chris Silva, one of the main organizers, said he woke up one morning in 2017 and saw news on Facebook that the city had finalized the decision to close and demolish the apartments he grew up in.

    His core group of friends went to the complex that day to reminisce and tell stories, pointing at their old apartments and looking at how so much had changed.

    Silva and his friends pitched in to make a reunion happen at Riverside Park where they could have a cookout, listen to music and enjoy some time together. He said at first it was just the older crowd, those that lived there in the 1970s and 80s.

    “This was our childhood that was coming down,” he said during an interview this past May. “We needed something to keep us together.”

    Silva, alongside his friends Donnell Johnson and Ray Johnson, have organized every reunion after that and every year it brings someone new.

    “Everybody looked out for everybody,” said Donnell Johnson about how he remembers his time there from the 1970s to the early ’90s.

    Silva said the motto is “Bring your memories and make new ones.”

    With the help of his wife, Silva sells t-shirts in advance and at the event to pay for the food and entertainment. Any funds left are donated to different local youth sports programs to sponsor a kid.

    Tara Fine lived in the apartments from when she was born in 1971 to when she left for Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1989. She lived in the A building with her three brothers and sister. Fine, now living in Florida and working in finance, has returned every year except last year to the reunion.

    “This was my family,” Fine said, waving her arm to those at the reunion. “Current generations won’t appreciate what we had at Crystal.”

    Growing up there, Fine said her mindset was wanting to get out of the complex, but as soon as she left, she wanted to come back.

    “You never forget home and what made you,” she said.

    Fine said she comes back every year to check in with people with whom she shares fundamental memories.

    “Only people who grew up there can tell you how special it was,” she said.

    Since opening in 1967, the Thames River Apartments had been the subject of turmoil and controversy, and those who lived there said they were tainted by an outside perception they had little to no control over.

    While some seek to forget their time there, others like to dwell in the memories — or as displayed by Saturday’s event — gather and make new ones.

    One way or another, they said, the time they spent on Crystal Avenue has shaped them into who they are.

    j.vazquez@theday.com

     

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