The History of the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation and its first project, the Niantic Bay Boardwalk, has focused on The Dreamers-Andy Pappas and Jay Gionet- who first had this “BIG” idea of a Boardwalk. We have then chronicled the incalculable efforts of The Doers- Bob DeSanto and John Hoye. Then, when the Boardwalk was first completed in 2015, the Foundation turned its focus to improving and supporting the Boardwalk.
None of the enhancements of the next phase in the Boardwalk history could have been possible without the efforts of Dave Putnam, the Director of the East Lyme Parks and Recreation Department. In 1976, Dave- entering sixth grade- arrived with his family from Indiana. Because of his father’s transfer to Connecticut, Dave was making a transition to a new town- a transfer that has benefitted East Lyme in enumerable ways.
Since his fortuitous arrival in 1976, Dave has become one of East Lyme’s Favorite Sons. As an outstanding athlete at East Lyme High School, he was a member of the Basketball team that became ECC champions his senior year in 1982. He then attended Springfield College where he graduated in 1986 with a degree in Recreation Administration.
Shortly after his graduation, he was hired as the Program Coordinator for East Lyme Parks and Recreation where he served from 1986-1993. Then, for the next 12 years, he became the Parks and Recreation Director for the Town of East Hampton, CT.
In 2005, coinciding with the completion of the Boardwalk, Dave returned to East Lyme to become our Parks and Recreation Director. From the very beginning, Dave was an outstanding advocate of Public-Private Partnerships. When the Foundation proposed that we be allowed to sponsor benches to be placed along the Boardwalk, Dave readily agreed, even though it would require much more work for his department in ordering and placing the benches.
In 2015, when the Promise of Tomorrow’s Trees began, Dave again stepped up and agreed to partner with the Foundation to provide to the public the opportunity to sponsor trees in public spaces. Again, this meant that Dave and his Department would have to order and plant the trees. Dave took on that task and was more than willing to himself help in the planting of the very first tree at Town Hall which honors Paul Formica, a Selectman who was invaluable in always being willing to help the Foundation.
Volunteer groups are always welcome into Dave’s office. Volunteers for the Thames West Child and Family Auxiliary have had a long-standing beneficial relationship with Dave and his Department. When Touch a Truck is staged every year at McCook Park, the group relies on Dave to help stage the complete event. His department helps with delivering tables and chairs, moving picnic tables, making electricity available to the “chefs”, and generally making sure each activity area has what it needs. Without the co-operation of the Parks and Rec. Dept., this event would not be possible.
When I asked Dave what he believed were some of his best achievements, he mentioned that he had provided oversight of the many McCook Point Park improvements, such as the Playscape, the Restroom improvements, and The Band Shell, where he co-operated with three non-profit groups- The Rotary, The Lions, and the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation.
Dave has also shown his commitment to provide recreation for all by implementing programming for children with Special Needs. In 2017, he sponsored the iCan Bike program in conjunctions with the Miracle League. Dave said that once he saw the delight on the faces of the participants, “he was hooked”. When the Miracle League of Connecticut wanted to expand, Dave volunteered his time and energy.
In 2019, Dave saw the completion of the regional Miracle League Field at Flanders School, a $550,000 project for which he completely arranged private fund raising. This field will accommodate those with wheelchairs and walkers, making it possible for children with disabilities to participate in sports.
In 2019, he was honored statewide when he was awarded the Connecticut Recreations and Parks Distinguished Service Award. He also earned the Niantic Lions Club Humanitarian of the Year Award and The John Wentworth Good Sports Award from the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance.
As we look to the future, Dave will be pursuing Phase II of the Miracle League Athletic Complex which is designed to include a Playscape and Restroom facility. He also is considering the development of a passive recreational area north of Interstate 95 and an additional picnic pavilion at McCook Point Park.
Dave lives in East Lyme with his wife, Julie Sherman Putnam-another graduate of East Lyme High School, who has kept up the family tradition of excellence in athletics. In 1985, she was the captain of both the basketball and softball teams at E.L. H, earning all-state honors and all ECC honors in basketball. Julie then attended UCONN where, as a four-year starter in softball, she earned Academic All-American Honors in 1989. In 2018, she was inducted into the East Lyme Hall of Fame. She and Dave are the proud parents of Miles and Carlee Putnam.
It cannot be over-stated that Dave’s contributions to the community have been invaluable. The fact that the Niantic Bay Boardwalk is such an important addition to the well-being of the town, would not have been possible without his calm, welcoming ability to service the public and co-operate with its non-profit organizations. He is that unique combination of people skills, organizational skills, and creative vision. Indiana’s loss was truly our gain!
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