Sandra Kersten Chalk, former director of New London Landmarks, dies

New London — Sandra Kersten Chalk, the woman who spent a decade protecting the city’s historic assets and educating people about them, died this week at her home in Washington state. She was 81.

Friends say she died last week at her home in Friday Harbor, two months after she was diagnosed with cancer.

Chalk is a former city resident who served as the executive director of the nonprofit New London Landmarks from 2003 to 2013, during an era when battles were waged over Fort Trumbull and the possible sale of Riverside Park.

She had lived with her late husband in a historical home on Starr Street, where she grew heirloom tomatoes and poured her heart into civic activities with organizations that included New London Main Street and Flock Theatre.

“She was one of the real leaders in the community on the preservation side,” said Chalk’s close friend and longtime Landmarks board member Lloyd Beachy.

Beachy said Chalk was one of the “prime movers” in calling attention to Hodges Square, an area of the city that had become isolated after the construction of Interstate 95 and the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

“I think she thought that neighborhood deserved better,” Beachy said. “She was the one that pulled people together that cared about it.”

Chalk also was involved in helping gather public momentum in a campaign to stop the city from selling a portion of Riverside Park to the U.S. Coast Guard, which Chalk once called critical to re-energizing the east New London neighborhood.

Rabble-rouser Kathleen Mitchell, who founded the Friends of Riverside Park with Ronna Stuller, said Chalk’s work was somewhat in contrast to her own.

“My motto is publicity fuels the machine. I got all of the publicity but in the background was Sandy Chalk. Sandy wasn’t the type to get out there and yell and do the things I did but, boy, she was a fighter,” Mitchell said.

Landmarks, during Chalk’s time had obtained a $100,000 state “creative placemaking” grant to help in design work for Hodges Square, Crystal Avenue and Riverside Park that is still used today. Landmarks, during Chalk’s time there, helped in the redesign of the Parade at the foot of State Street.

"Sandra's passion for urban planning led her to always consider the big picture. As executive director of New London Landmarks, she not only fought to save individual buildings, but also advocated for transit-oriented development, a demolition delay ordinance, and, most importantly, for the preservation and improvement of Riverside Park,” said New London Landmarks Executive Director Laura Natusch.

“I hope New Londoners pause to remember her when enjoying this park which we so nearly lost," Natusch said.

Chalk also helped redefine the role of the executive director at Landmarks, increasing the amount of programming by the group and raising more awareness of it.

“When she found a worthy cause, she would jump in wholeheartedly,” said Deborah Donovan, Chalk’s friend and Starr Street neighbor. “She was really very active in getting people engaged in New London issues. She loved New London. ”

Chalk, who also authored several history books, moved to Washington to be closer to her family.

“She enjoyed living out there but we always hoped she would come back,” Beachy said.

g.smith@theday.com

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