Wilhelmina Dery, Who Fought Eminent Domain, Dies In Her Fort Trumbull Home: The (New London CT) Day, 3/14/06

By Elaine Stoll

New London Lifelong New London resident Wilhelmina Ciavaglia Dery, one of the Fort Trumbull homeowners who took their fight to save their properties from being seized by eminent domain all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, died Monday at age 88.

She died in the same house, at 87 Walbach St., where she was born Feb. 20, 1918, in the first-floor bedroom, to Andrea and Rose Ballestrini Ciavaglia.

Mrs. Dery attended New London schools and graduated from the former Williams Memorial Institute in 1937.

She married Charles F. Dery on February 7, 1945, in St. Joseph's Church.

Mrs. Dery, known to some as ran Ciavaglia's Market, a business started by her parents and later operated with her husband and sons until 1995, from her house on Walbach Street.

The business was the last grocery store in Fort Trumbull by April 1983, when Mrs. Dery recalled growing up in the neighborhood in between attending to her customers.

It was beautiful, she told The Day at the time. It was the most wonderful place to live.

Mrs. Dery's ties to Fort Trumbull stretched back even longer than her 88 years. Her grandmother emigrated there from Italy in the early 1890s, and her family home has stood in the neighborhood since 1905.

She sought to save the Walbach Street home and three others owned by her family as a plaintiff in Kelo v. New London, which the Supreme Court decided against the Fort Trumbull homeowners last June.

Though her name is less recognizable than that of lead plaintiff Susette Kelo, Mrs. Dery was immortalized in the dissenting opinion of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Petitioner Wilhelmina Dery ... lives in a house on Walbach Street that has been in her family for over 100 years. She was born in the house in 1918; her husband, petitioner Charles Dery, moved into the house when they married in 1946. Their son lives next door with his family in the house he received as a wedding gift, and joins his parents in this suit, O'Connor wrote.

O'Connor, joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in the 5-4 decision, argued that the use of eminent domain at Fort Trumbull was essentially different from that upheld by the Supreme Court in previous cases. Those cases allowed governments to transfer land from one private owner to another because the original use harmed society.

Here, in contrast, New London does not claim that Susette Kelo's and Wilhelmina Dery's well-maintained homes are the source of any social harm, O'Connor wrote.

Besides her husband, Mrs. Dery is survived by son Matthew Dery, daughter-in-law Suzanne Dery and grandson Andrew Dery, all of New London.

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