Philanthropist ups Derby donation to $4 million
DERBY — Earlier this month Joan A. Payden threw out the first pitch for opening day of the city’s Little League season.
Then she served as keynote speaker during the city’s second annual High School Athletic Hall of Fame induction.
Now Payden, who is the chief executive officer, president and founder of Payden & Rygel, a $110 billion asset management firm with offices in the U.S. and overseas, opened up her checkbook again — bringing the tally of her donations to $4 million for the city.
This time she donated another $1.5 million for the reconstruction of the high school baseball field and for building a state of the art field house/community center and museum on the Leo F. Ryan Sports Complex.
“We were all taken aback when we learned of the additional donation Thursday,” said Art Gerckens, a second ward aldermen. “It was such wonderful news. Everyone is very excited to have a first-class project in this small city. Maybe it’ll be be a destination site.”
“Her generosity is overwhelming,” added Carmen DiCenso, a Derby football coach, Ansonia businessman and now president of the Board of Aldermen. “I find her very genuine, gracious and down-to-earth.”
DiCenso said city officials took her around the city earlier this month including a visit to City Hall where she met Mayor Anita Dugatto. She watched as City/Town Clerk Marc Garofalo looked up her father Joseph’s birth records and saw Elizabeth Street where her dad, a Derby High athlete and valedictorian, grew up.
In his memory his daughter began funding an annual $6,000 scholarship for the high school valedictorian.
Now she’s taken on reconstructing the athletic field house and baseball field — a sport her father and late brother, Bill, loved, according to Superintendent of Schools Matthew Conway.
“When she was here she was thanking everyone for being so generous with their time,” DiCenso said. “What she is doing is something that the community will enjoy long after we’re all gone.”
The additional $1.5 million brings to $4 million the amount Payden, a California resident, has donated.
After graduating from Derby High, Payden’s father attended Yale University’s Sheffield Scientific School of Engineering. He interrupted his studies to enlist in the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ Aviation Division when World War I broke out.
Wanting to fly but unable to do so because the U.S. had no air force, Payden went to England. There he flew missions as a fighter pilot for the Royal Flying Corps.
After the war he completed his degree at Yale and joined Union Carbide. He later became CEO of Union Carbide Java in Indonesia.
“All she keeps saying is ‘do it but do it right,’ ” said Mark Izzo, the business manager for the city’s Board of Education. “What she’s doing isn’t just for the school, its for the community.”
And if all goes as planned the relocated baseball field will rival many minor league ballparks with the possibility of a Red Monster wall—similar to the green one in Boston.
“We’re still doing the geological surveys,” Izzo said. “We’d like the outfield facing the hill that leads to the Middle School. We’d love to have a stairway leading down from the Middle School to the seats and a retaining wall with a terrace and seating—like the Green Monster at Fenway Park. But we’ll paint it red and call it the Red Monster.”
Why not? After all Derby High is nicknamed the Red Raiders.
And the former one-floor clubhouse/storage center at the entrance to the football field? That’ll be demolished.
“From what I understand the field house will be three stories and located between the football and baseball fields,” said DiCenso.
The bottom floor would have two separate locker rooms with individual showers, bathroom and a concession stand.
DiCenso said the second floor is planned to overlook the football field which in a separate project using a $2.9 million state grant is being outfitted with artificial turf and being rimmed by a new artificial turf running track.
The third floor is proposed to have a press box overlooking the baseball field.
The preliminary plans also call for the inclusion of a kitchen, a community meeting room and a sports-related museum.
Although the Payden project is “still early in the game,” Izzo said “it looks like it’s going to be quite a facility. It’s going to be a treasure for years to come.”
He said Peter de Bretteville, a Hamden architect chosen by Payden to handle her projects is working closely with the architect from Kaestle Boos Associates Inc. of New Britain, the city’s project manager for the redesign and construction of an artificial turf football field and running track at the Leo F. Ryan Sports Complex. Kaestle Boos designed the minor league stadium that housed the Eastern League’s Double AA New Britain Rock Cats for years and now serves as the homefield for the New Britain Bees who play in the same Atlantic League as the Bridgeport Bluefish.
Additionally Izzo said Payden is staying involved with the progress through her cousin, who lives in Oxford.
“All this boggles the mind, doesn’t it?’ suggested DiCenso, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in Derby, the state’s smallest city. “I thank God for Ms. Payden.”