As a longtime local reporter, over the years I’ve gotten a number of calls like the one I received Friday evening.
“Just wanted you to know that Luis DePina passed away this afternoon,” the phone message said.
These calls are always difficult, especially when it involves someone I have covered and respected for years. When he retired suddenly in July, it was hard to imagine the Norwich Recreation Department without Lou at the helm, checking on all the sports fields and the Spaulding Pond swimming area and the tennis courts. I recall his repeated efforts to get money in the city budget to upgrade those courts. It never happened.
He fought hard and won a different battle years ago to build a new recreation complex in Taftville. One former city official who recalled that effort suggested DePina’s name be added to the Raymond Ouellet Taftville Recreation Park, named for the longtime Taftville alderman who died several years ago.
Just two -weeks before he died, the City Council voted unanimously to name the recreation field t the corner of Mohegan and Reynolds roads – across from Lou’s office – for him. “That’s not enough,” the former city official said.
In recent years DePina wrote and championed a plan to reopen the YMCA with a public-private partnership that would involve several local city agencies, nonprofits, schools and even for-profit ventures. Many people were skeptical, but DePina was convinced the plan would be economically viable to create a regional recreational and water sports center there.
Talk fizzled on that plan in recent months as DePina’s health concerns took precedence. The defunct YMCA building remains vacant.
On Friday evening DePina’s family will host “A Celebration of Lou’s Life” at the Holiday Inn off Route 82 at Exit 80 from Interstate 395 in Norwich from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Funeral arrangements will be private for the family only, so this is the public’s chance to come and tell his wife, three children and other family how much he meant to the city.
Lou’s family is setting up a memorial scholarship fund in his name and will announce details soon.
So for now, your words and stories are what they want to hear.