Finding Miss Malbin

In July 2014, Hazel Malbin had just retired. She’d been a teacher for 35 years. The last 24 were in Westport. The 4th graders and their parents at Long Lots School loved her, and gave her a great sendoff. She was ready for the next stage of life.

Now, Hazel had time for things like Facebook. One Saturday morning she idly checked out a page for Greenfield Girls’ Primary School in Cape Town. She’d grown up in the South African city, and that’s where she started her teaching career.

Miss Malbin with her Grade 5 class, in 1975.

Miss Malbin with her Grade 5 class, in 1975.

One post caught her eye. “Does anyone know what happened to Miss Malbin?” asked Tanya Baron.

“Here I am!” she replied.

The response was immediate. Former Grade 5 students flooded the page with responses. Among the most intriguing was one from Tanya. A high school English teacher herself, she thanked her long-ago instructor for inspiring her life’s work.

Hazel and her husband had already planned their 1st big post-retirement trip. The following April, they’d head to South Africa. She’d never forgotten her native country. All during her Westport career, she’d included lessons about growing up with white privilege during apartheid. Her Long Lots retirement gift was a butterfly garden bench, with a quote from Nelson Mandela.

When she retired in 2014, Hazel Malbin was honored with a bench in Long Lots' butterfly garden. The plaque includes a quote from Nelson Mandela.

When she retired in 2014, Hazel Malbin was honored with a bench in Long Lots’ butterfly garden. The plaque includes a quote from Nelson Mandela.

On Facebook, she told her former students about her upcoming trip. That was all they needed to hear.

“One of my ‘little girls’ said they’d make a party for me,” Hazel says. So a few months ago, she headed home. She left a week before her husband, to immerse herself in memories.

The party was wonderful. More than 25 women came. Her former students were now in their 50s. One brought her mother. She’d been Hazel’s “room mother.”

Another flew in from 1000 miles away. She’s a teacher now, and a writer. She said, “I had to be here.”

Today, Hazel Malbin looks the same age as her former "girls." She's standing, 4th from left. The proteas are South Africa's national flower.

Today, Hazel Malbin looks the same age as her former “girls.” She’s standing, 4th from left. The proteas are South Africa’s national flower.

Hazel was just 21 when she started teaching. Looking back, she feels amazed.

“In Westport we have paraprofessionals, support services, help for everything,” she says. “In Cape Town I had 38 girls, all by myself. And this was a top school! I apologized to them if I had not given them everything they needed. They said they loved having me. We were all so young!”

The “girls” — who Hazel says now look indistinguishable from herself — shared stories of their year together. Some remembered lines from Shakespeare she’d recited. Others recalled her platform heels, and the perfume she’d worn.

“Their life stories were etched on their faces,” Hazel notes. “Yet I could still see the little 10-year-olds hidden in those sunny smiles.”

After the party, one woman insisted Hazel come to her house. She wanted her former teacher to meet her husband, children and mother.

“It was all so special to me,” Hazel says. “I’d just closed a chapter in Westport. Then I had this lovely party in South Africa. I never expected anything like that. It was so unplanned, meeting these girls from 1975. Now we’re friends on Facebook.”

One woman brought her Grade 5 report card to the party. Hazel says, "How simple it was!" She adds, "I am utterly embarrassed by the comments I wrote."

One woman brought her Grade 5 report card to the party. Hazel says, “How simple it was!” She is also “utterly embarrassed” at the comments she wrote.

Hazel calls teaching “an incredible journey. If you’re fortunate, you affect people’s lives for years to come. They, in turn, enrich you in so many ways. But to be transported literally fast forward across a continent, and be immersed in a gathering of your classroom 40 years earlier is surreal.”

Hazel says that Westport offered “such a rewarding career. I worked with brilliant colleagues, and made lifelong friends with parents as well. But even those relationships, and being nominated for Teacher of the Year, can’t compare with finding my original class. There’s nothing like being 21, straight out of Teachers’ College, armed only with a piece of chalk, a smile, enthusiasm, and the excitement of a classroom to call your own.”

Soon, Hazel heads back to South Africa. She’ll travel with her daughter — and see her “girls” again. When she returns, she’ll go back to her post-retirement life — which includes tutoring elementary and middle schoolers in reading and writing.

But none of the stories she uses with her current students can match the one she recently relived, with her oldest ones.

(Former student  Tanya Baron Matthews offered her perspective of the reunion on her own blog, “Making a Difference.” Click here for that story. Hat tip: Kerstin Rao)

Hazel Malbin, in a South African vineyard. She returns to her native country next week.

Hazel Malbin, in a South African vineyard. She returns to her native country next week.

Purchasing Pearl’s

Before DaPietro’s — way before — there was Pearl’s.

From 1972 to ’85, Paula Pastorelli Schooler owned the popular fondue place on Riverside Avenue.

The restaurant is long gone. But her legendary salad dressing lives on.

Paula pretty much sells it out of her trunk now. After all these years, she’s looking to do something different with it. Perhaps a marketer or promoter could help her reach more customers. Maybe a partner could join her. If someone wants to buy the business or name, she’s willing to talk.

If you are a fan of Pearl’s — the restaurant or the dressing — and want more information, email Paula directly:

Paula Schooler, with her Pearl's dressing. (Photo/Mary Ellen Hendricks)

Paula Schooler, with her Pearl’s dressing. (Photo/Mary Ellen Hendricks)

Oh My 06880 — Photo Challenge #48

Last week’s photo challenge was the toughest ever. It also drew the most comments.

It took over 50 guesses — and some transcontinental teamwork — but Bobbie Herman finally identified the spot in Westport where you can find both the Confederate battle flag and a swastika.

They’re part of posters hanging in the Staples High School auditorium. One was for Players’ long-ago production “John’s Brown Body”; the other was for the more recent “Cabaret.” Click here to see the photos, and read all the back-and-forth.

This week’s photo challenge may be tough too. So here’s a clue: It was taken outdoors. Click “Comments” below if you know where.

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

David Pogue Says, Basically: Have A Great Life

Last year, David Pogue offered his millions of fans “the basics”: tips and shortcuts about technology that some of us use every day. Others are gob-smacked by them.

None of us know everything. For every person with no clue that pressing any button on the side or top of a phone instantly stops it from ringing (duh!), there’s another who is amazed to learn that double-clicking any word is the best way to highlight it (whoa!).

That book — Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life — sold so well that his publisher gave him a contract for 2 more.

David Pogue BasicsThe Westport-based tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American) and TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) has just published the follow-up: Pogue’s Basics: Life/Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Life.

Why expand from technology to life?

“I went for low-hanging fruit,” Pogue admits. “I’m a shortcut person. I know a lot about things like health and restaurants.”

And cars. In Basics: Life, you’ll learn how to find which side of your rental car the gas tank is on. Just look at the gas-pump icon on the dashboard. A little triangle points to the left or right. Wow!

Food, too. Wrapping a cucumber or lettuce in a paper towel, then placing it in a plastic bag in a refrigerator keeps it from getting soft and gross. Holy mackerel!

As for cleaning a microwave of caked-on, exploded food: Put a bowl half-full of water inside. Turn it on high for 5 minutes; wipe with a paper towel. Who knew?

Pogue crowd-sourced these tips through Twitter. Several dozen folks contributed ideas. There is wisdom in crowds. But no one is wiser at passing them along than David Pogue.

So what will his next book be?

Well, he has 3 kids. Perhaps essential tips to raising teenagers that no one bothered to tell you.

That could be his best seller ever.

(To buy Pogue’s Basics: Life on Amazon, click here.)

David Pogue passed along some favorite tips at a recent TED Talk.

David Pogue passed along some favorite tips at a recent TED Talk.

Special Olympics Swimming Makes A Splash

Marshall and Johanna Kiev do not see the glass as half full. The Westport couple find it overflowing.

When their daughter Chloe broke her arm playing on the monkey bars at Coleytown Elementary School, the Kievs spearheaded a drive for a better playground.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

To help Chloe — who has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that includes heart problems and developmental delays — enjoy activities with friends and classmates, Marshall and Johanna worked with the Westport school system to add Special Olympics Unified Sports to its already very successful Staples High School project. Unified Sports teams include youngsters with and without disabilities. A full elementary program begins this winter.

At the same time, the Kievs approached the Westport Weston Family Y about a more traditional Special Olympics program. They loved the idea.

The result: Registration for the Y’s new swim offering begins Monday (November 30).

Youth ages 8 to 21 years old will learn or improve their swimming abilities. They’ll compete on a team. In June, they’ll join the Special Olympics Summer Games in New Haven.

Westport Y logoSpecial Olympics Swimming will run year-round. Eight-week sessions begin in January, with sessions each Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Practices will be age- and ability-coordinated, coordinated by a certified swim coach and volunteer assistants.

The Kievs led a fundraising effort — a Halloween party — with many generous attendees. So there’s no cost to participants. The Y will help cover any additional funds.

The entire Kiev family is thrilled about the new program — but no one more than Chloe. “I’m so excited to swim and win medals and have my friends come and watch me,” she says.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email  To read more about the Kievs and Chloe’s Williams Syndrome, click here.)

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Bayberry Backyard

Unseasonably warm weather produces some unusual images.

This was the scene in Ellen Wentworth’s backyard this morning.

(Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

(Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

She lives off Bayberry Lane. The Merritt Parkway is close — but today it seemed far, far away.

Mill Pond Magic

Westporters had much to be thankful for yesterday.

Those living on the Sherwood Mill Pond appreciate scenes like this every day.

The rest give thanks that “06880” reader Jose Villaluz captured it for us, before sitting down to his Turkey Day feast:

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Jose Villaluz)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Jose Villaluz)

Dozens Of Students Dodge Cops

Occasionally, Westport kids run from cops. Earlier this week, they ran toward them.

And threw dodgeballs at their heads.

The cops threw them right back.

In fact, cops and kids were on the same team. They played with and against each other, in the Westport Youth Commission’s annual “Dodge a Cop” event.

The Dodge-a-Cop winners! Standing from left: Deputy police chief Foti Koskinas, "coach" Mac Barecca, Sam Ahlgrim, Jason Nelson, Noah Staffa, Joe Pravder. Front: Grant Sirlin.

The Dodge-a-Cop winners! From left: deputy police chief Foti Koskinas, “coach” Mac Barecca, Grant Sirlin, Sam Ahlgrim, Jason Nelson, Noah Staffa, Joe Pravder.

Staples’ Teen Awareness Group co-sponsored the event. Students paid to play. It was a fundraiser for the Chris Lemone College Fund. Lemone, Staples’ outreach counselor and longtime TAG advisor, died earlier this fall.

The dodgeball tournament — held in the Staples fieldhouse — drew over 100 students. They came from every social group: athletes, actors, robotics team members, you name it.

An all-girls team high-fives their cop. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

An all-girls team high-fives their cop. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)

Each of the 26 teams had at least 1 police officer.

A cop fires in the line of duty. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

A cop fires in the line of duty. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)

As they hurled dodgeballs at each other — and shared pizza — it was hard to tell who had a better time, the cops or the kids.

There was plenty of action all night at the Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball event. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

There was plenty of action all night at the Dodge-a-Cop dodgeball event. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)

Striking a pose. (Photo/Caroline O'Kane)

Striking a pose. (Photo/Caroline O’Kane)


Stew’s Lucky Turkey

Alert “06880” photographer Lynn U. Miller was at Stew Leonard’s yesterday morning.

(“Don’t ask why anyone in their right mind would be at Stew’s the morning of Thanksgiving,” she says.)

She spotted this gigantic billboard:

Stew Leonard's 1

The lucky turkey is not — as at least one customer thought — the bird selected for dinner at Stew’s home.

No — the “lucky turkey’ is actually on display in an enclosure at the entrance to the World’s Largest Dairy Store.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

The lucky turkey — which lives to celebrate another day — is named Madison. Someone at the front desk told Lynn she (the turkey) is named for Stew Jr.’s daughter.

Sure, President Obama can pardon a turkey. Far more impressive for Stew to do so — saving countless kids from asking their parents, “Is that our dinner?”

Giving Thanks

Thank you.

Thank you to Westport, for being — despite the ease and frequency with which we/I often knock it — a wonderful, warm, creative, arts-supporting, involved and ever-evolving community.

Thank you to all who make it so. As Westport prepares for the future — with new retail and residential developments on both sides of the river downtown, and in Saugatuck; with bridge repairs in various states of discussion and (in)action, and many more changes in store — we are not all on the same page. But in our own way, each of us wants what is best for our town. And, thankfully, we are nowhere near as dysfunctional as Washington.

Thank you to the people I spend so much time with: Westport’s teenagers. You are smart, passionate, compassionate and clever. You work far harder than I did when I was at Staples. You’ve got far more pressures on you than I had. Yet you handle it all with maturity and poise (most of the time). And you do it with plenty of smiles.

Thank you to the readers of “06880.” You are never without opinions, information and feedback. You feed me ideas and photos. You read my words at 5 a.m., noon and midnight. And when I tell you sorry, I can’t post a story about your lost cat/upcoming book signing/daughter’s lemonade stand, you (for the most part) understand.

Those are my thanks, this Thanksgiving day 2015. I’d love to hear yours. And — more importantly — so would everyone else in this great “06880” community. Just click “Comments” below.

Thank you!

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I'm not a turkey.

I am thankful I live in a beautiful town. I am also thankful I’m not a turkey.