Gunther family proud of honor

Former state Sen. George “Doc” Gunther cared a lot about the environment, including Long Beach.

To hear his daughters talk about it, the town’s less decorated beach would not be what it is today if not for his efforts. After all, they were with him at the beach in April 25, 1964, as Gunther and a group of Girl Scouts planted beach grass, helping to make sure the beach did not erode away.

“He was always doing something with conservation,” said Pattie Haselman, Gunther’s eldest daughter, remembering placing the grass in the sand to protect what has become a great asset for the town.

It was also a place where the Gunther family spent plenty of time in the warmer months, said Haselman.

“We always went to Long Beach. Sometimes we went to Short Beach. Short Beach is nice, but Long Beach was where we were all the time,” said Haselman, now living in Fredericksburg, Va. “Short beach was nice. I’m not knocking it, but it would be crowded there.”

For that work as well as all the other tasks Gunther performed as the longest serving state senator, the town is recognizing him.

The entrance leading to Long Beach will be named George “Doc” Gunther Way after the Town Council voted earlier this month to bestow the honor on the longtime 21st District state senator.  

In the resolution approved by council members at the council’s June 11 meeting, Gunther was honored for his work in the state legislature “where he introduced bills that would come to redefine environmental policy for our state.” He also co-authored the first legislation to preserve tidal wetlands.

Gunther, a Republican, served as the 21st District state senator from 1966 to 2006. The district covers most of Stratford, all of Shelton and portions of Monroe and Seymour. Gunther died in 2012. 

Haselman said Gunther’s family is very excited about the honor, given his 20 years in the Senate and prior service to the town on the Board of Education and Town Council. In addition to his work in Hartford, Gunther was also instrumental in starting the Air and Space Museum near the Stratford Army Engine Plant.

“We lost a lot of time with our dad because he was always doing something for the town, getting his bills up to Harford. Forty years is a long time to do something like that,” he said.

Karla Gunther Mazzey, Gunther’s youngest daughter, said she remembered her father asking about conservation programs in Germany when the family traveled there.

“He was always a conservationist,” said Mazzey, who still resides in Stratford. She also remembered him catching shad in the Housatonic River.

“It [the honor] is long overdue,” she said.

Stacy Phillips, Gunther’s granddaughter, said Gunther would be humbled by having the stretch leading to Long Beach named for him. While Phillips did not grow up in Stratford, she and her family have visited Long Beach when they visited from Northern Virginia. She was also familiar with her grandfather’s concern for marine life, fisheries and Long Island Sound.

“He was extremely sarcastic and never minced words, but he’d be humbled,” said Phillips, who works for the U.S. Department of Justice. “He spent his life working for the town of Stratford, giving back and doing what was in the best interests of the people. It wasn’t about being Republican or Democrat. It was about what the people wanted.”

The daughters hope to attend a naming ceremony for the new way soon as their mother, Priscilla Gunther, is almost 95 years old and they would like for her to see her husband’s name honored.

Michael Downes, a spokesman for Mayor Laura Hoydick, said no date has been set yet for a dedication of Doc Gunther Way.