“You Are All Loved”

Nearly every day for the past few years, students arriving at Staples High and Westport’s 2 middle schools have been welcomed by “Happy Birthday” signs. Parents rent them — and choose an appropriate character or theme — on their kids’ big days.

This week, the messages are different. At Staples, a Valentine’s heart tells students: “You Are All Loved.”

“You All Matter” greets Coleytowners. At Bedford, it’s “You Are All Important.”

Bedford Middle School sign

(Photo/Lily Bloomingdale)

The idea came from a group of parents. At a tough time — following the suicides of a Staples teacher and student — they want our kids to know how much they are cared for.

They didn’t have to pay. Critter Cards — the company that supplies the birthday billboards — donated them.

It’s a small gesture. But the smiles this week — from students and staff members alike — have been big.


The other night, Louie ran away.

It was around 10:15. The Mombellos have an invisible fence, but somehow Louie — a 10-month-old puppy — escaped.

Julie Mombello was about to pick up her husband Michael at the train station. She left a frantic voicemail: Find a ride home. She was looking for Louie.

The doors didn’t open at the Green’s Farms platform. Several people missed the stop. Amy Harris and Michael Cohen, who live around the corner from the Mombellos, gave Michael Mombello a ride home. He told them the puppy was missing.

They dropped Michael at his home, on the corner of Long Lots Road and Turkey Hill. Quickly, they returned. They said they thought they’d just seen Louie, running up Linda Lane.



Amy dropped her husband at home, then drove back. She wanted to keep looking.

Julie and her husband searched the streets off Long Lots: Linda Lane, Elmwood, Moss Ledge.

Amy — now accompanied by her son — kept looking too.

Julie Mombello with her other dog, George, at a charity walk in Bridgeport. She is a director of the well-respected Adam J. Lewis Preschool in that city, where she also teaches.

Julie Mombello with her other dog, George, at a charity walk in Bridgeport. She is a director of the well-respected Adam J. Lewis Preschool in that city, where she also teaches.

Around 11;45 p.m., Julie’s cell phone rang. A woman on High Point Road thought she had Louie.

As Julie pulled into that street, a car came down. It was Amy and her son — still searching for Louie.

Julie told Amy she thought they’d found him. Amy pulled over to wait.

When Julie walked out of the High Point house, holding Louie in her arms, Amy and her son came over. They told her how happy and thankful they were he’d been found.

By then it was midnight. Amy — a stranger to Julie a couple of hours earlier — had been out with friends in New York. Julie is sure the last thing Amy wanted to do was look for a lost puppy that wasn’t even hers.

But she did.

Louie and George, the Mombellos' other dog. They're best friends.

Louie and George, the Mombellos’ other dog. They’re best friends.

Julie was overwhelmed by her perseverance, and the kindness of the woman on High Point who got up to see why a dog was barking in her yard at 11:45.

It was cold last week. Louie is little. Julie shudders to think what might have happened.

“This whole experience made us feel like we were living in a small town again, where people actually care about their neighbors,” Julie says.

The next day, she dropped thank-you notes in both families’ mailboxes.

But it was such a feel-good story, she wants to share it with the “06880” world.

PS: A couple of days later, Julie received a note in the mail. The woman on High Point Road thanked Julie for her note, adding that as a life-long dog person, she knows “all about the feelings enmeshed with our canine family members.”

She signed the note “Baba and family.”

Baba Ganoush is her dog.

Sun Shines; Shores Flood

It’s beautiful here in Westport. Sunny, a tad nippy — a typical February 9.

But even on a day like today, Saugatuck Shores worries about water. Betsy P. Kahn photographed these high-tide scenes late this morning:

Saugatuck Shores flooding 1 - Feb 9 2016 - Betsy P Kahn

Saugatuck Shores flooding 2 - Feb 9 2016 - Betsy P Kahn
Betsy was visiting a friend on Marsh Road. She got this far:

Saugatuck Shores flooding 3 - Feb 9 2016 - Betsy P Kahn

(Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

(Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

Meanwhile, not far away on Saugatuck Island, Yvonne Marks captured this much sandier scene:

(Photo/Yvonne Marks)

Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge. (Photo/Yvonne Marks)


Don O’Day Does New Hampshire

Hillary Clinton is energetic and engaging. Marco Rubio is very smart, but not yet ready to be president. Donald Trump is also smart, and dangerous.

That’s not me talking. It’s Don O’Day.

And he has better personal insights into all those candidates than anyone else in Westport.

O’Day — former chair of the Board of Education, and a self-described “Joe Lieberman of the Westport Democratic party” (he supported Jim Marpe for 1st selectman) — just returned from several days in New Hampshire.

He heads north every 4 years, to take a first-hand look at the men and women who — at this early stage of the presidential campaign — crisscross the Granite State, speak to small crowds, mingle afterward, and engage in the type of retail politics that the rest of the country outside of Iowa can only dream about.

Don O'Day (lower right) with presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

Don O’Day (lower right) with presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008.

O’Day has been a political junkie since 1968. As an 11-year-old newspaper delivery boy, he was fascinated by stories about Robert Kennedy’s run for the White House.

He worked on Al Gore’s 1988 race. In 2000, when the Tennessee senator ran again, O’Day left Westport for New Hampshire to help. “It was so cool to see how folks there gathered at diners and VFW halls to see the candidates,” he recalls. “They were as engaged in politics as I am.”

He returned in 2004 and ’08. Board of Ed commitments kept him here 4 years ago. But last week — as he did 8 years ago — O’Day traveled north with his wife Toni and sons Donny, Tom and Michael.

Over the course of a few days O’Day heard all 7 Republican candidates, and both Democrats, speak. He asked questions, gave feedback, and spoke personally with most.

Some encounters confirmed his earlier impressions. Others altered them.

Here — in alphabetical order — are O’Day’s thoughts:

Jeb Bush (at a middle school in Bedford): “He’s personable and decent. He’s accomplished — he helped improve schools in Florida.”

Governor Jeb Bush and Don O'Day.

Governor Jeb Bush and Don O’Day.

When the former governor asked for questions following his talk, O’Day went first. He described Mike Weaver’s dramatic, 15th-round left hook knockout in the 1980 heavyweight championship fight.

Referring to the debate that would be held in a few hours, O’Day told Bush: “You’re Mike Weaver. Throw that punch tonight.”

Bush seemed uncomfortable at first, but thanked O’Day. He said he was the only Republican candidate attacking Trump. Then he shadow-boxed on stage. Afterward, former candidate Lindsey Graham — stumping with Bush — sought O’Day out, and thanked him.

“That night, he was fired up,” O’Day says. “I may have helped!”

Chuck Todd and Ben Carson.

Chuck Todd and Ben Carson.

Ben Carson (Radisson Hotel, Manchester TV taping). O’Day watched the retired neurosurgeon being interviewed by Chuck Todd.

“He seems like a very nice guy, but he’s not someone whose skills are transferable to being president,” O’Day says.

Chris Christie (Strafford Farms Restaurant, Dover): Seated very close to the New Jersey governor, O’Day asked him a challenging question about Social Security means testing.

“He was completely honest,” O’Day says. “He answered my question, point by point. He said the money is not there anymore, and he doesn’t support increasing taxes for it. I can’t support him — but I really liked his honesty.”

Governor Chris Christie, Toni and Michael O'Day.

Governor Chris Christie, Toni and Michael O’Day.

Hillary Clinton (Manchester YMCA and at a dinner in Manchester): The former Secretary of State stuck around to meet voters after her Y talk. “I was pleasantly surprised how engaging she was with everyone,” O’Day says.

Hillary Clinton, Don and Toni O'Day.

Hillary Clinton

He told her how well she’d done in the most recent debate. “She maintained eye contact despite all this distractions.” When he asked for a photo, she took his phone for a selfie. There were problems with the device, which she tried to fix before handing it to an aide who tried unsuccessfully for a shot.

“She’s going non-stop and showing great effort,” O’Day says. “I liked her more than I thought I would. And she’s clearly my wife’s favorite.”

Ted Cruz (Generals Sports Bar & Grill, Weare):  O’Day calls the Texas senator “a little full of himself. He believes he is Reagan. He seems like the kid in school you can’t warm up to.”

The Cruz appearance was the only place O’Day heard an audience member read from a prepared question. This one was about Scripture.

O’Day gave Cruz credit for answering that he is not trying to head up a religious movement. “The President of the United States is the president of all the people,” he said. Still, O’Day got the impression that “he’s doing whatever he thinks is good for Ted Cruz.”

Senator Ted Cruz, Don and Tom O'Day.

Senator Ted Cruz and Tom O’Day.

John Kasich (American Legion Hall, Alton): The Ohio governor was “very engaging and effective.

Governor John Kasich and Don O'Day.

Governor John Kasich and Don O’Day.

“He’s disciplined — the kind of guy who would get the job done. Of everyone running, he seems the one who would cross party lines the most. He’d stick to his guns, but compromise when he had to.”

Marco Rubio (Frank Jones Center, Portsmouth): “I love my little brother,” O’Day says. “But at the end of the day, he’s still my little brother. Rubio needs more seasoning.”

O’Day told the Florida senator he had a far superior answer to a debate question about the “nuclear triad” than Trump — and added that he hadn’t seen anyone in the media mention it. Rubio thanked O’Day. On Sunday morning during a TV interview, Rubio criticized Trump for not knowing anything about that triad.

Toni O'Day with Senator Marco Rubio.

Toni O’Day with Senator Marco Rubio.

Bernie Sanders (Shaheen dinner, Manchester): “There were far more Bernie supporters at that dinner than there were for Hillary. And his people were louder and younger. It brought me back to Robert Kennedy. People gravitate toward him.”

However, O’Day likens the phenomenon to ordering a meal on an expense account: “When the bill comes, you don’t have to pay. I’ve been a banker for 35 years. It’s  not in my best interest to vote for someone who will take down my employer.”

But, O’Day says, “I love what he’s done for politics.”

O’Day was too far away for a good photo of the Vermont senator. His son Donny shot this video:


Donald Trump (Exeter Town Hall): He had the longest line, by far: 600 people. It was the only venue with protesters — and the only one that was an “event,” not a “political rally.”

Donald Trump (Photo/Don O'Day)

Donald Trump (Photo/Don O’Day)

O’Day likens the businessman to Michael Jordan: “He may have been the best basketball player, but he couldn’t shift his skill set to baseball.

“There’s no substance whatever to Trump. I couldn’t see him being president during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We need a president to be calm. Trump speaks before he thinks.”

O’Day returned home Sunday. Yesterday — the day before the primary — he was still stoked.

“Going up there is always awesome,” he says. “Everyone I talk to says they want to do it. You feel like a groupie. But it’s the best civics lesson in the world.”

So will he head to New Hampshire again, in 2020?

“Probably,” O’Day says. “But based on my ‘throw that punch’ comment to Bush, maybe I should be an adviser.”

All Eric Burns, (Nearly) All The Time

It’s tough to counter-program against the Super Bowl pregame show.

Then again, C-SPAN2’s audience is a bit different than the CBS’.

Yesterday, the “BookTV” show aired a 3-hour interview with Eric Burns.

Eric Burns

Eric Burns

The longtime Westport author and media critic talked about his books, including his most recent: The Golden Lad: The Haunting Story of Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt. 

Burns and his host took viewers phone calls, and responded to tweets — for 3 hours. That’s a long time — though mere seconds compared to the pregame telecast.

This Thursday, Burns heads to the Savannah Book Festival. On February 25 he’ll be at the Westport Library, discussing his TR opus.

Meanwhile, if for some reason you were watching CBS instead of CSPAN2 yesterday — but you want 3 hours of Eric Burns — click here.

Wilton Road Developer: We’ll Move. If…

Many Westporters wondered why Garden Homes Management — a Stamford firm without any prior connection here — proposed building a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex on 1.16 acres of land.

Land, in fact, that could not be a less appropriate spot: wedged between a tidal marsh and the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North light — one of the most heavily trafficked, backed-up intersections in town.

Turns out that’s not the only place they’re looking.

Or all they want.

In a letter to First Selectman Jim Marpe dated January 25 — but not received at Town Hall until February 1 — Garden Homes president Richard K. Freedman offers to “relocate” the project away from 122 Wilton Road.

Garden Homes Management CorporationFreedman says his offer is in response to Westport’s concerns that the tiny parcel is not the place for the 15 affordable housing units Garden Homes will include in the project.

Freedman says there is “unequivocally” no other site in Westport economically viable for affordable housing.

However, he writes, “the answer changes if the town provides a subsidy.”

Freedman would like Westport to buy the property — then pay his company $1.5 to $2 million to cover Garden Homes’ land, engineering and legal costs. And its profit.

Then, he continues, the town can buy the property. And also pay for “all expenses to re-design the project for the same 48 units on a new site.”

“In the spirit of working constructively,” Freedman offers 4 suggestions:

  1.  “793 Post Road E., 2.4 acres — listed for $3,100,000, previously under contract, now available.” This is the 2-story residential-looking commercial building next to Westport Wash & Wax, at the foot of Long Lots Road. Most recently, it housed a stationery store.
  2. “1480 Post Road E., 1.63 acres — listed for $4,295,000, confirmed to be available.” This is the Rogers Septic Tank property, next to the Exxon gas station and across from the old Blockbuster.
  3. “447 Riverside  Ave., 1.0 acres — listed for $1,900,000, confirmed to be available, an ideal location for transit-oriented development.” This is the site of a 4-bedroom, 1,685-square foot house. The riverfront property includes a dock.
  4. “The former Jaeger property, 4+ acres, town-owned.” Freedman says there was an 8-30g (affordable housing) proposal for 67 units here in 2001; the town bought it for $4.2 million. It was used to expand the adjacent Long Lots School parking lot. The Community Garden also shares the site.

“My offer is open-ended,” Freedman’s letter concludes. “You may reply at your leisure, or not at all. I also welcome suggestions for other sites.

“In the meantime, my efforts to build affordable housing at 122 Wilton Road will continue as planned.”

One of the sites Garden Homes says is available for apartments -- including affordable housing -- is 793 Post Road East. Located between New Country Toyota (left on map above) and the former Bertucci's (right), the site is zoned partially for business, partially for residence.

One of the sites Garden Homes says is available for apartments — including affordable housing — is 793 Post Road East. Located between New Country Toyota (left on map above) and the former Bertucci’s (center), the site is zoned part business, part residential. (Photo/Loopnet.com)

Another property -- 447 Riverside Avenue -- is on the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Zillow.com)

Another property — 447 Riverside Avenue — is on the Saugatuck River. (Photo/Zillow.com)



Remembering Joe Folino

Joe Folino — the former Staples golf and ice hockey coach who is in the national High School Coaches Hall of Fame, and a star hockey player himself for Boston University — has died.

Folino suffered an aortic aneurysm. He was 89 years old, and lived in Boca Raton, Florida.

Joe Folino

His day job was teaching typing and business at Staples. But he was best known as a 2-sport coach. He stressed fundamentals, and produced winners.

Folino came to Staples not long after earning All-East hockey honors at BU in 1950. He played semi-pro hockey, then helped start the Wreckers’ program and coached them when they played at the Post Road rink (near what is now Lansdowne condominiums).

Among his Staples golfers was former PGA tour member Brian Claar.

Folino was inducted in the High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 2004. His record at Staples in both sports was 535-86-6. His teams won 6 state golf championships.

After retiring, Folino founded Golf Haus International, an instructional company. He also advised a high school golf team in Florida.

His survivors include his wife, Lorraine, and a daughter and son. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

(Hat tip: Wally Meyer)

Doggin’ It

Westport’s annual calendar is packed with celebrations.

With the rest of America, we honor service members (Memorial Day, Veterans Day), high school students (Graduation Day) and ourselves (4th of July).

Locally, we single out artists (Westport Arts Awards), Saugatuck (Slice), even barbecue chefs (Blues, Views & BBQ).

On Sunday, June 5 we add one more group: dogs.

Westport’s 1st-ever Dog Festival is set for Winslow Park. All day long, there will be contests (Best Trick, Best Tail Wagger, Dog That Most Resembles Its Owner), demonstrations (rescue dogs, police dogs, guide dogs) and lectures.

Dogs: Start practicing now for the obstacle course!

Dogs: Start practicing now for the obstacle course!

Plus (of course!) a doggie obstacle course, food trucks and more.

Everyone canine-related can come: pets and owners, sure, but also groomers, sitters, veterinarians, vendors (dog food, dog supplies…) and non-profits.

The event is sponsored by the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, in association with TAILS, a spay and neutering group. (No word yet on whether they’ll offer fixing services on the spot.) (Or on Spot, ho ho.)

Merchants and sponsors can sign up now. Click here for details; email matthew@westportwestonchamber.com, or call 203-227-9234.

I guess this confirms it: Westport is really going to the dogs.

Dog festival promo

The Real Super Bowl Has Already Been Played

Touch football this morning at Compo:

(Photo/Anne Hardy)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Anne Hardy)

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #58

Once again, “06880” readers prove there is no nook or cranny of Westport they don’t recognize.

Last week’s photo challenge — a stone lion — took us to the furthest corner of town. As 8 of you knew, it’s 1 of 2 statues on Beachside Avenue, a few feet from the Southport line. They stand at the driveway entrance to Mortimer and Mimi Levitt’s home. (To see the photo and all the guesses, click here.)

Congratulations to Robie Spector, Rich Stein, Wendy Cusick, Sandy Soennichsen, Dan Aron, Joyce Barnhart, Seth Braunstein and Bobbie Herman, for knowing all your lions.

What about this week’s challenge? It comes from Johanna Rossi:

Oh My 06880 - February 7, 2016 - Johanna Rossi

If you think you know where you’ve seen this sign, click “Comments” below.

Please keep your comments PG-rated.