You may have seen him out front of the Stop & Shop store in Berlin, Connecticut, attempting to get you to sign a petition against the referendum for the $80 million Berlin High School renovation, and then against the $70 million Berlin High School renovation, or perhaps against the trash pickup change, or perhaps some other referendum or town meeting vote. John Kilian is a citizen of Berlin, Connecticut in the truest sense of the word. He attends every town meeting twice a month, regularly standing up at the meeting, often alone without the presence or support of other citizens, speaking on behalf of seniors and other taxpayers, opposing tax increases, supporting freedom of information, and the like. He off-handedly mentioned that he never misses a meeting and has, on occasion, even chastised a mayor for missing a town meeting, an event that he apparently regards as sacred as Sunday mass. Perhaps you even saw John on channel 96 at 6 PM Wednesday or Sunday nights following a town meeting when they are broadcasted publicly on cable TV.
Although John is 77 years old, he still has a lot of fight in him. When I spoke to him yesterday, I thought that I was speaking to a George Patton or a Douglas MacArthur because he impressed me as being a warrior, a soldier, ready to do battle with what he perceives as excessive spending of the citizens tax dollars or any issue infringing upon the rights of the citizens of Berlin. I was humbled speaking with him, hearing him recount detail after detail of town meeting incidents and events that I would have had to spend months researching in the minutes of the meetings to uncover. He may be 77 years old, but he has the memory and mind of a twenty year old.
Perhaps John Kilian’s youthful fighting spirit comes from his origins. If my remedial math is correct, I place his birthdate in Poland in 1934. I suspect that he may have witnessed the Nazi invasion and destruction of his homeland and other unspeakable horrors. Perhaps he saw and remembers the slaughter of innocent Poles by SS killers, or perhaps he lived with his family or apart from them in one of those many work camps the Nazis set up for slave labor, where millions of “inmates” were worked and starved to death. I can only imagine the hardships he may have endured.
I recall him telling me that he served in our armed forces in 1953 at the end of the Korean War, and then worked at Stanley Works while attending a technology school in Hartford for three and one-half years, and upon graduating, worked at Fafnirs in New Britain. He lived on Clinton Street in New Britain for a awhile before making his permanent home for many years in Berlin, residing in a home off the Chamberlain Highway.
When I read that only 7% of our citizens voted in the referendum of our town’s budget, I am moved by the significance John Kilian places in the privileges of the right to vote for representatives of government, the right to have a voice in the legislation of laws and budgets, and the right to assemble with others to discuss our governance. In Poland during the Nazi occupation, there were no rights of the people, there were no privileges, there were no votes, there were no opportunities to speak and assemble—all those rights our forefathers held sacred and many died for. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Kilian cherishes these values and privileges so dearly today, rights that perhaps many of us take for granted. John is a civics lesson in the flesh.
I recently published an announcement seeking out individuals to form a property owners association in order to be more involved in our town government. And who was one of the first to respond to my announcement? None other than John Kilian. At 77 years of age he puts me and many others to shame.
So I just wanted to thank John for all of his tireless hours and days outside Stop & Shop, in inclement weather, and for all of his attendance for me at all of those town meetings that I missed and took for granted. I just wanted to say to John, thank you for being a good citizen, and thank you for speaking up on my behalf. It takes courage to stand up, typically alone, and speak out for what one believes to be just and right. I suspect that John believes that the right of free speech is a sacred right, an inalienable right, and a blessed right that many people in countries today still do not have. I suspect that John Kilian knows and cherishes its value from his own personal past experience of an oppressive and ruthless Nazi regime. To his credit, John Kilian is not afraid, if need be, to stand alone to exercise that right. As a famous general once remarked, “old soldiers never die….”