PLYMOUTH-The nation knew him as Ted Baxter, the bumbling newscaster on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but Terryville will always remember him as Teddy Konopka, the bright, young Polish boy who worked his way to Hollywood and made it big.
Ted Knight, Terryville's favorite son, died of cancer Tuesday at his Pacific Palisades home, his wife and three children at his side. He was 62.
He was born Dec. 7, 1923, on Allen Street in Terryville as Tadeus Wladyslaw Konopka. Town residents and family said this morning that Knight never forgot his Polish heritage or his roots.
Most fondly remember the day when in 1976, when he returned here and was the Grand Marshal for the town's bicentennial parade. During the festivities over 500 Terryville residents celebrated his success at a testimonial dinner that was sold out three months in advance.
"Everyone knew Ted, of course, as the showman," the actor's cousin, Matilda Levandoski, of Plymouth said this morning. "But he was a family person too. He loved his family very, very much and he was always proud of being from Terryville."
Knight was hospitalized last year for removal of a cancerous growth from his urinary tract. Levandoski said he had been ill with cancer for some time. He returned to the hospital earlier this month for treatments, she said.
Family members had planned to visit Knight in September, Levandoski said, estimating that Knight had 80100 relatives in the PlymouthBristolWaterbury area.
"He was proud to be from this town. It didn't matter to him that he was from a small town. Anybody could talk to him," Mayor Donna Warkoski said this morning. "He was so proud of his heritage. "
Warkoski said flags at town offices would fly at half mast until Friday when a private memorial service will be held in the Los Angeles area.
Knight was raised at a small house at 18 Allen St. His father was a Polish immigrant and was a bartender in town for many years. His mother was a housewife.
He graduated from Terryville High School in 1943. Henry Kornacki, a lifelong friend of Knight's, who was the toastmaster at the testimonial dinner in 1976, said he best remembers Knight "as an incredibly funloving person."
Kornacki, who attended grade school to high school with Knight, said he knew when they were in high school that his friend would have a future in show business.
"He was always pulling jokes and mimicking people. He was a great imitator," he said. "He was always a very bright person. The town will miss him dearly. "
The parade and testimonial dinner, he said, "were shining moments in Terryville history."
[Ted Knight accepts an Emmy]
Kornacki said he and Knight and their other school friends separated after graduating from high school, entering the service.
Knight received five battle stars during World War II and was one of the first Allied soldiers to enter Berlin.
Knight was also a boyhood friend of Charles Freimuth Jr., Terryville's former fire chief, who visited Knight in 1984. Warkoski said at the time, Knight told Freimuth that he would try to make it back to his hometown to serve as the grand marshal of the Plymouth Fire Department's 75th anniversary parade this year.
"He was just a great guy, very warm," said Helen Grabowski, who cochaired the 1976 testimonial dinner. "He had a fantastic memory. All along the parade route he would say hi to people and he knew everyone by their first name."
"What impressed me the most was that he was away for so many years. but when he was here, he still knew everyone and was so friendly," said Father Steve Ptaszynski of St. Casmir's, the church he attended when visiting family here.
In March 1984, Knight appeared with Lucy Dukenski, a former Terryville school teacher, on the television program "This is your Life."
Dukenski said this morning that she was considered Knight's favorite teacher. Now retired and living in Stratford, she said Knight referred to her as "the first love of my life."
She said she was shocked to hear about his death.
"He was such a beautiful person. I just tingled every time I saw him," she said. Dukenski said she felt lucky because she was able to see him everyday from his television programs.
"We always exchanged Christmas cards. Sometimes there was a little note in Polish," she said, adding that she had planned to write to him because she was concerned about his illness.
[The Bristol Press, Wednesday, August 27, 1986]