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Notes from the old Noank jail: We lost a quiet leader

“I believe the best way for Groton and the state to correct property tax disparity is a system based on purchase price of the property. In this matter, those who feel compelled to spend large sums of money to live near the water would pay more (property tax) than those who have lived here a long time and made many non-monetary contributions to the community.”

These were Frank Socha’s words as he advocated for changes in the tax codes to support senior citizens who’d poured their hearts into Noank and were now hard-pressed to afford the taxes to stay there in 2006.

Frank was named fire district chairman in the late 1970s, and his community kept him as its faithful leader until he passed, Sept. 10, 2021.

Although Frank, as chairman, was technically also the Noank Fire Commissioner, he rarely asserted that power when it came to emergencies. As a fully qualified firefighter, EMT and fire truck operator, he allowed his own officer staff to lead on the fire-grounds. Frank filled in wherever they needed him, and took orders as if he was just part of the crew. He was never too big or important for any task when it came to neighbors in need. He was always there to listen when neighbors needed to talk — somehow he always had time for people.

Frank tried on a few career hats professionally before finding his true calling — 911 dispatch. He first worked in the Waterford center and then moved to Groton’s emergency call service center across the street from Fitch High School.

His calm demeanor was the perfect match for people dialing during distressed times. In fact, an audio recording of Frank coaching a Navy husband to assist in his wife’s childbirth before the ambulance arrived has been used as an example for local EMT classes. He wouldn’t have told you though — he never bragged.

Having Frank at dispatch made it easy for people to call, stay calm and have faith that help was coming. While listening to our scanner at home, we’ve heard Frank’s patient voice call out different fire companies to respond to everything from routine medical alarms to messy explosions on I-95. Fear never crept into his tone or sped up his cadence. He finally retired in August 2020.

In fact, when one of us met with Frank a few weeks ago, he was still keeping up with village affairs and had strong opinions about the contentious subject of short-term rentals. He was against them for the same reasons he was in favor of the tax abatement policy for senior citizens — Noank depends on its residents, and not on visitors, for the quality of local life.

From 2006: “Looking forward, I see a place like Noank still remaining an attractive target for people of means. Over time, this can change the village and surrounding area. We still need people who live here (full-time) to make wise decisions about our future and hopefully the future for some of our children.”

How right he was — Noank might need at least five exceptional people to replace just Frank. He believed in the simple life of service to the community — he fought for others to be rewarded for their “many non-monetary contributions to the community” when he could have looked the other way.

Frank, if we assessed your past property taxes based on your service to Noank, you wouldn’t owe a dime for generations. Thank you for everything you’ve done for all of us. We miss you already.

Ed Johnson and his daughter Lacy live in Noank.

 

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