Soldier, farmer, community stalwart, Beardsley remembered for ‘unmatched’ love of Shelton

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — The city has lost one of the region’s most significant agricultural advocates, one who not only dedicated half his life to promoting organic farming, but also had a three-decade military career and helped found several farmers markets.

Stephen Beardsley Jr., best known as Guy, died Nov. 2 at the age of 91 at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. He was a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, who served on active duty from 1952 to 1980. He had been husband of 50 years to Patricia Ruth Burnett Beardsley, who predeceased him in 2006.

“Guy Beardsley’s love of country and community is legendary,” Terry Jones of Jones Family Farms said. “After a remarkable career in our armed services, he dedicated the second half of his life to not only growing healthy food on his family farm in the White Hills of Shelton, but also as a (Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut) leader in our state.”

Jones said Beardsley’s love for Shelton was unmatched, and through his work on the city’s Economic Development Corporation, he helped grow a renewed and successful downtown.

“His passion for our community never dimmed, right up until his passing in his 90s,” Jones said.

Dan Beardsley, owner of Beardsley’s Cider Mill and Orchard and the newly opened White Hills Distillery, remembered his uncle as a “kind soul that tried harder than anyone I know to find and commend the good in all people and situations. He was a great storyteller, too. I will miss his perpetual happy personality.”

Tom Harbinson, Conservation Commission chair and facilities and infrastructure manager at Jones Family Farms, called Beardsley an inspiration for agriculture, particularly in his focus on organic farming.

Harbinson said when he reflects on Beardsley, he remembers a kind, gentle man who never had a harsh word and made Shelton a better community.

“His service on the Shelton Economic Development Corporation as a director, to help see Shelton thrive economically, while also focusing on preserving land for agricultural purposes such as his own property, really does speak volumes as to the balance that can be achieved in a community,” Harbinson said.

The Beardsleys returned to Connecticut in 1983, after Beardsley’s retirement from the military. The family became passionate about organic farming, which led to the establishment of Beardsley Organic Farms in 1991, later named, Guy’s Eco Garden, off Leavenworth Road.

Beardsley would go on to help found eight local farmers markets, most notably the Downtown Shelton Farmers’ Market.

Since 2009, he has been a co-host on WPKN’s bimonthly “Organic Farm Stand” radio show on 89.5 FM. On the WPKN Facebook page Thursday, Richard Hill, WPKN Board of Directors public affairs director, said the show Beardsley had helped cultivate for more than a decade would proceed as scheduled Thursday.

“The Organic Farm Stand crew, in consultation with (co-host) Suzanne Duesing, has decided to proceed with our scheduled show today,” Hill wrote. “We all felt this is what Guy would have wanted.”

Hill stated that “Guy never missed a show during his 12-year tenure, even when he broke his hip two years ago. He was always ready for action, and we should be, too … in other words, we do our best today in spite of this devastating loss.”

A full radio tribute to Beardsley is planned in the coming weeks, Hill said.

"I feel I've lost a best friend and surrogate older brother,” Hill said.

Hill said Beardsley became a principal participant in 2009 when Bev Corvino's film “A Farmer's Voice” was offered as a premium during WPKN fundraising. Beardsley and his wife were featured in the film, after which Beardsley was invited Guy to be a guest on Hill’s day-time radio show.

“When our program director heard that show she urged us to have Guy back on a regular basis,” Hill said. “So began his 11-year tenure as the star of the show.

"His gravelly voice was a continual source of deep knowledge about organic agriculture and there was no one more persistent and generous in dispensing it,” Hill added. “If Guy would field questions from callers and actively participated in our interviews with a broad range of sustainable food activists. Through it all his good humor, sense of humor and generosity of spirit was a signature of the Organic Farm Stand for so many years.”

Beardsley also served from 1991-95 as commander of the VFW Post 10466, in addition to several volunteer roles, including worship leader, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Huntington. Beardsley served as grand marshal for the most recent Derby-Shelton Memorial Parade.

He is survived by his daughter, Patricia Janelle Beardsley and her husband, Edward Wittkofski, of Shelton; his son, Col. (ret.) Stephen G. Beardsley III, and his wife, Judith, of Olney, Md.; and his son, Eric Burnett Beardsley of Austin, Texas.

He is also survived by his brother, David, of Shelton; five grandchildren, Jan Elizabeth Peer (Beardsley), Caitlin Beardsley Eising, Charlotte Marie Koga (Wittkofski), Stephen Joshua Beardsley, and Zachary James Beardsley; nine great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.

The funeral will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 25 Church St., at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. An outdoor reception will follow.

At the request of the family, contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the Northeast Organic Farm Association of Connecticut (ctnofa.org), 203-408-6819; or WPKN, Bridgeport (wpkn.org), 203-331-9756.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com