Communities support the Sinish family in memory of late paddler, river advocate, town official
Editor's Note: The family of Mr. Sinish has informed us that he passed away June 14. Our deepest condolences. With their permission, we are updating this story.
By John Fitts
CANTON – One would have been hard pressed to find a bigger advocate of the Farmington River than David Sinish.
An avid paddler, instructor, and conservationist, Sinish was a long-time board member for the Farmington River Watershed Association, a member of the Farmington River Coordinating Committee, a founder of the Connecticut Canoe Racing Association and an original member of the Feasibility Study Committee that laid the foundation for the 1994 national Partnership Wild and Scenic designation of 14 miles (It's now 15.1 miles) of the Farmington River between Hartland and Canton. With those organizations, and others, he spent countless hours paddling, educating, monitoring water quality and so much more.
He was a member of the Canton Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency and was formerly on the Board of Selectmen.
After the June 14 death of Mr. Sinish after a brief time in Hospice Care following a recently discovered and quickly progressing cancer, the paddling community, Canton residents and conservation advocates came together to help the family as they navigate their own difficult waters.
Efforts include a now rescheduled June 25 fundraiser at Collinsville Canoe and Kayak, at which all rental proceeds will go to the family. Staff members at the store are also accepting direct donations for the family.
“David and his family have done so much for the town and the river over the years that we’re happy to be able to help give back to [his family],” said Sue Warner, an owner at Collinsville Canoe and Kayak.
David’s son Colin said it was an evening in late April that he got a call from his sister Jennifer (Sinish) McQueen, who lives in Colorado. She had talked to her dad and knew something in his voice sounded off.
Colin, who lives in Winsted, came down to his parent’s home. His dad was sent, by ambulance, to UConn Health, where doctors discovered a left frontal lobe brain growth the family would learn is a Glioblastoma tumor, known to be fast growing and aggressive, Colin Sinish said.
David Sinish had surgery in early May, but unfortunately doctors could only remove about 85 percent of the tumor, Colin said.
David Sinish spent time in the hospital and a rehabilitation facility but, in time, the family learned that any further treatment, such as chemotherapy, wasn’t a viable option due to a variety of factors, such as weight loss and the nature of the tumor, and would come with very little benefit.
That’s when the family decided to have David Sinish come home and be with his wife Carrie in their Canton home of nearly 50 years.
David Sinish had been acting as primary caregiver for his wife, who is facing mobility challenges and some other health concerns.
The situation has, of course, upended the lives of family members.
Colin said his sister, who works in the environmental field, is taking care of many of the logistical details. Colin, who is a carpenter, left work to care of his parents, with the help of his fiancée Amy Rocco.
In an interview shortly before his dad's death, Colin Sinish noted the support from neighbors, the paddling community, the organizations to which his dad belonged, and so many others. Many have stopped by, sent messages, cards and so much more.
“There’s been so much love,” Colin said. “It’s really touching to know how much he made a big difference in everyone’s lives,” Colin Sinish said.
“I’m so blessed to be surrounded by people who daily come forward offering to help,” he added in a recent social media update. “These months to come will be very hard but we are all in it together.”
David Sinish was 76 years old, the same age as his wife. They had been married for 53 years. Both from Massachusetts, David went to Longmeadow High School and Carryl Sinish to McDuffie School. Still, they both had parents in the medical field and met and fell in love during that time of their lives – when just 17 years old.
David graduated from Ripon College, where he was the captain of his ski team. Carrie went to Syracuse
During a gap year in college, David bought a VW bus, and had a German Shepard named Duke, Colin said. David then traveled cross country, working odd jobs to pay for gas.
"Mom and dad would write letters," Colin Sinish said. "They married after that and had a apartment near Trinity College in Hartford." They moved to Canton around the time Colin, 48, was born.
There, they raised Colin – a Canton High School Class of 1993 and Jennifer, who was a member of the Class of 2000.
The great outdoors was always a big part of their lives. Colin fondly remembers the annual vacations to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Three Mile Island Camp on Lake Winnipesaukee, and the countless canoe races in which his dad would participate.
“We had a big van and we’d travel all through New England,” Colin Sinish said.
There was also his dad’s time building his own kayaks and wood-strip canoes.
And extended family has been an important part of their lives. David Sinish has two brothers and the couple has been grandparents for several years as Colin and Jennifer each have 2 children.
David and Carrie Sinish have been active in many community efforts as well. Carrie is known for her weaving skills and ran a home daycare for several years. She also served on the Canton Board of Education and was involved with Canton Benefit Productions.
David Sinish served on the Board of Selectmen for several years and, was a member of the Canton Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency. He also served on the Board of Assessment Appeals for several years.
David Sinish was also physically distinctive, just about five feet tall, stocky and, until recently, had surprising strength.
“Everyone knows Dave - he’s the short little guy with a big heart,” Colin Sinish said shortly before his dad's death.
David Sinish spent much of his career in the insurance business, but later worked as a Realtor and drove for Favarh. He even drove a limousine for a time. But certainly David Sinish is most known for the time he’s spent on bodies of water like the Farmington River and West Hill Pond – and advocating for their protection.
For many years, David Sinish was an instructor at Collinsville Canoe and Kayak and elsewhere. He was even quoted in a 2001 New York Times article about night jobs, noting how he had to catch the commuter bus from Hartford to Canton so he could get to his gig as head instructor for the Collinsville shop.
He’s been an integral part of the Farmington River Coordinating Committee and has been on the board of the Farmington River Watershed Association since the early 1980s. He served as board president from 1985-1993 and chairman from 1993-2000.
He was a constant advocate, speaker, writer, educator, water quality monitor and more, serving in roles such as an organizer of the FRWA-hosted Eastern Region U.S. Olympic Whitewater Kayak Trials at the Tariffville Gorge. Carrie also participated in water quality monitoring.
“He’s been a long-time advocate and champion of the Farmington River for over 40 years,” said Aimee Petras, executive director of the FRWA, said during a recent visit to the family home days before Mr. Sinish died. “A lot of the accomplishments of the FRWA would not have happened without him.”
Schuyler Thomson, who restores and refurbished old wooden boats, met Sinish through a mutual friend in the winter of 1972.
He had purchased a C-1 style closed canoe needed to learn how to roll it and went to learn how during a rolling class at Suffield Academy pool.
“I got up there and there was this little guy in a kayak that had stripes on the stern, like a bumble bee, paddling furiously around and around the pool to warm up and Bob [Allan] said we’ll let to David show you [how to roll]. That was my introduction to David Sinish.”
He soon learned that Sinish had many interests and talents.
“He lived in a whole lot of different worlds … And he was important in every one of them,” Thomson said. “And then within the canoe world he did so much. He could paddle or sail pretty much anything. I think the only think I don’t think I’ve seen him do is take a wooden canoe on a four-week wilderness canoe trip. He left that to me, but everything else he could do and do well.”
Donations for the family can be mailed to:
c/o Collinsville Canoe & Kayak
PO Box 336