Story By John Murray

Lisa Stokes Velez grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood with seven brothers in the Stokes Family, and Vin Riddick was so close to the Stokes family, he was like an 8th brother to her.

Both Lisa and Vin loved the Brooklyn neighborhood and championed it across the city of Waterbury. Lisa went on to become the President of the Brooklyn Neighborhood Association for 23 years, and Vin went on to become Lt. Vin Riddick, a rising star in the Waterbury Police Department.

In 2010, at the age of 42, Vin was unexpectedly diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away in September of that year. Lieutenant Riddick was a well-known figure in the Brooklyn community. He put in long hours to improve community relations and prevent crime in his beloved neighborhood.

Vincent Riddick loved the Brooklyn neighborhood of Waterbury where he grew up.

Lisa was devastated at her friend’s death and began championing a park be built in Brooklyn and named for Vin Riddick.

“Lisa had a way about her,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said. “She knew what she wanted, and she believed in the Brooklyn neighborhood.”

O’Leary said Velez could walk into his office and deliver her message with love and respect for her neighbors, and it was impossible to say no to her. Plans began to move forward to acquire a parcel of land and build the Vin Riddick Park in Brooklyn.

Lisa Stokes Velez was proud of her Lithuanian heritage and loved Brooklyn.

Velez worked hard for the park’s creation, collaborating with city and state legislators to acquire the funding to purchase and construct the park.

“It was a project of love,” State Senator Joan Hartley said. “It took time, but Lisa never took her foot off the gas.”

The site of the park at 909 Bank Street was home to the Bobby Allen Bar which burned down in 2012. The majority of the $1.4 million funding for the park came from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) which provides federal funding for projects to improve the quality of life for people with low or moderate incomes.

Shockingly, in 2019, as the park plans were being finalized, Lisa Velez was diagnosed with skin cancer that had spread through her body and she passed away.

“I spoke to her a week before she died,” O’Leary said, “and she still had that demeanor and strength. God took her way too early because her work was far from done. Lisa had an incredible love of Brooklyn and wanted to honor her friend. She was an amazing woman.”

And suddenly the park had a new name, the Vin Riddick and Lisa Stokes Velez Park.

Vernon Riddick Jr. gestured to his father, Vernon Sr., “who everyone knows is Big Vern” as he told stories about growing up in the Brooklyn neighborhood with his brother Vin. Riddick Jr. was the police chief in Waterbury and is now the police chief in West Hartford.

As he addressed a crowd of several hundred gathered together at the Riddick-Stokes Park at 909 Bank Street earlier this month, Mayor O’Leary spent a few minutes talking about skin cancer. O’Leary has had issues of skin cancer on his face and hands, and has been advised to wear sunscreen and a hat when he is outside.

“Skin cancer is the root of many evils,” O’Leary said. “Cover up when you’re outside.”

Members of the Brooklyn Neighborhood Association were decked out in purple, Lisa Velez’s favorite color. Velez was president of the group for 23 years.

Lt. Michael Stokes of the Waterbury Police Department spoke about his only sister, “She was my mother’s favorite daughter,” he joked. And then he spoke emotionally about his sister.

Waterbury Police Lieutenant Michael Stokes.

“She liked to have fun,” Stokes said. “She was always there for her brothers, and she was our biggest cheerleader. She fought for the children of Brooklyn and said they needed a safe place to play. She made it her mission to build this park. Lisa, I know you’re listening… you did it. Mission accomplished. You did it.” •

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