Portrait of One of Stafford’s Truest Caretakers

By VICTORIA FORD | Jun 06, 2018
Stafford Founder’s Day Town Crier Steven Brescia.

For Steven Brescia, the annual Stafford Founder’s Day celebration this Saturday, June 9, is more than a fun community event, it’s an integral part of his life story and family history. His parents helped forge the tradition in 1964, and he has participated in it since he was just three months old.

Today, Brescia is an artist, an electrical engineer and Stafford Township’s official town crier.

What is a town crier? Brescia explained: “Before there were newspapers, or people who could read them, a town crier would walk from town to town giving out the latest news, often ringing a bell to get the attention of the people before he gave out the news of the day.

“Town criers are still used in the UK to make big announcements, usually having to do with the royal family.

“The uniform I wear is designed from patterns of the 1750s, when our town was founded, and was indicative of what the English subjects would wear in town. This is, of course, before 1776, so it is not a war uniform, although much of the early patriots just wore what they had handy.”

Brescia is an active member of both the Stafford Township Historical Society, formed in 1964, and the Historic Commission. The society protects and disseminates the town’s history, whereas the commission works with the governing body to protect the town’s historic buildings. With the society, Brescia wears several hats, as treasurer, Cemetery Committee chair and building repairman.

The Cemetery Committee maintains the town’s three cemeteries: the Old Baptist Cemetery at 120 N. Main (Route 9); the Beach Avenue Cemetery at 55 Beach Ave.; and, across the street, the Old Methodist Cemetery at 50 Beach Ave. The cemeteries’ grass can take a single person as long as six hours to cut, he said, but he tries to get five or six volunteers involved so the whole job can be done in one hour.

Building repair is constant on the old buildings, he said. Brescia frequently confers with town historian Timothy Hart about the proper “historical way” to repair the buildings in accordance with their original construction – usually along the lines of what kind of lumber or brick to use.

“I got my interest in the preservation of Stafford history from my parents and the people they surrounded themselves with,” Brescia explained.

Brescia’s parents moved to Stafford separately. His mother, Lillias, and her family moved to Mayetta in 1934, when she was 4 years old. They owned a gas station and a general store on the property where the Octopus’s Garden is now. In college, she met her future husband, Louis Brescia, and the two spent many years traveling around the country for his training in the Navy before deciding to settle down in Manahawkin in 1958.

“My mother loved the stories she would hear from the townsfolk while growing up, and she tried to record them the best she could. She eventually collected them, together with historic pictures of Manahawkin, which my father combined with more modern images, to create Stafford Township: A Pictorial Review, which was published in 1964.”

That same year, along with local families including the Hazeltons, Cervettos, Boerners and others, Brescia’s parents helped form the Stafford Township Historical Society, to become a collector of stories and pictures and to support the history of Stafford Township. At that time, the only building the Society owned was the Old Baptist Church on Route 9.

In the 1980s, Louis Brescia had “a big battle” in the form of gathering money though fund drives for the relocation of the Manahawkin Train Station from the township building on East Bay Avenue to Heritage Park on West Bay Avenue. The move took place in 1990. Steve said he still has “Save Our Station” shirts, buttons and hats in his house somewhere.

When his father died in 1995, his parents were working on an updated version of the Pictorial Review book, which got put on hold for two years before it morphed into the Stafford Chronicles, with the help of a lot of other authors and published in 2001.

“My parents made history sound exciting, and I seemed to be surrounded by Stafford history constantly, from touring aging structures, to townspeople dropping off items to be preserved. And there was always the parade.”

His first time in the Stafford Founders Day Parade, he was just three months old, riding on the front of a tandem bicycle piloted by his parents, with his 2-year-old brother riding on the back.

“We did family floats at first,” he said. “Then we did floats for the Historical Society, and then as part of the Boy Scouts, up until 1982, when I left for college. When I moved back to town in the 1990s, I started doing floats with the Historical Society again. When Larry Bragg retired from his town crier duties in 2002, I was asked if I wanted to portray the town crier, which I have been doing since 2003. I can only hope to equal the 33 years that Larry put in as town crier.

“Fortunately, my wife, Joan, is fairly tolerant of the many hours I dedicate to Stafford history.”

From his mom, Steve inherited his artistic talent, which he has contributed to Manafirkin Brewery in the form of two craft beer labels.

Lillias did drawings of experiments for a professor at Princeton College, Hubert Alyea, according to her son. She also made menus for local restaurants and drawings for classes she taught at Howell High School.

“I was always amazed that she started with a blank piece of paper and made the picture form in front of me with just a pencil,” Brescia said. “I am not sure how much artistic training she had, but I had none. I mostly got comic books and tried to copy them. I have never been paid for any of my art because it seems very sloppy and cartoon-y to me. I fairly much do my drawings now just to amuse myself.”

When he was “dragged” to the new Manafirkin brewery, Steve said, he “hadn’t drawn anything significant in some time.”

The more time he spent there, the more he grew inspired.

“I like the evenings there,” he said, “when everything is winding down and things get subdued. Makes me want to put pen to paper. The bar became my muse, as I would pick a beer off the menu and just draw how it made me feel.

“If you ask real nice, they might let you see all the drawings that never became a beer label.

“The ones I had the most fun with they also seemed to like, and had beer labels made for their cans of Trippin Monkey and Barbel Stout. The only payment I got was a couple pints of beer, which made me quite happy.

“It is rumored that Edgar Allen Poe paid off a bar tab with a poem, so I am quite satisfied with paying one with a sketch.”

victoria@thesandpaper.net

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