Talking Big Bucks And Milwaukee Bucks With Marc Lasry

There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

But this Sunday at the Westport Library, you can hear — for free — a wide-ranging talk by probably the wealthiest man in a town filled with money.

Marc Lasry. (Photo/Avenue Capital Group)

Marc Lasry. (Photo/Avenue Capital Group)

On August 3 (2 p.m., McManus Room), hedge fund titan Marc Lasry — whose $1.7 billion fortune lands him at #1047 on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires — talks about the US and global economy, and the current investment climate.

Lasry — CEO and co-founder of Avenue Capital Group —  will address why good investments are getting harder to find, regions and industries where his firm is finding them, and how they find them.

And — because there is more to life than hedge funds — Lasry will also discuss his recent purchase of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team, and his hiring of Jason Kidd as coach. Plus Lasry’s interest in politics, philanthropy and comic books.

This being Westport, Lasry will be introduced by fellow resident Arthur Levitt. He’s only the former chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Local D-Day Vets Eligible For “Legion d’Honneur”

Earlier this month, America celebrated the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Each year, the number of folks who remember that occasion — especially those who were there — grows smaller.

The French government is bestowing the “Légion d’Honneur” upon eligible U.S. survivors of that memorable day, as well as eligible U.S. soldiers who fought on French soil and contributed to the liberation of that country.

Legion d'Honneur medal.

Legion d’Honneur medal.

One local man is taking that a step further. Jean-Pierre Lavielle does not work for the French government, or any organization. But he is French — the son of a paratroop officer who fought in World War II — so he decided to look for all eligible veterans living in Connecticut.

The “Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur” was founded by Napoleon in 1802 to reward his soldiers’ gallantry and valiance in combat.

So Jean-Pierre is searching for U.S. veterans who not only were in D-Day or other significant battles for the liberation of France — like the Battle of the Bulge — but who also accomplished something special.

Once he identifies potential recipients, he interviews them. Because they tire easily now, he limits his sessions — at least 6 of them — to 20 minutes each.He collects documents, discharge papers, pictures and newspaper clippings. After double-checking, he files an application with the French Consulate in New York. They contact Paris, where the file is scrutinized.

“This is a race against the clock,” Jean-Pierre says. “Unfortunately, many eligible veterans die every day.”

Any Connecticut veterans who may be eligible for the honor — or their relatives — should email jpl106897@gmail.com, or call him at 203-862-7373 or 203-635-3117.

Bonne chance! Et merci!

 

How Julie Beitman’s Garden Grows

Oldtimers knew the plot of land on the west side of North Avenue, just up from Long Lots, as Rippe’s Farm.

Those who have been here a while remember when a guy named Buster sold fruits and vegetables there, from a roadside stand.

To newcomers it’s a cul-de-sac with homes that — in a nod to its agricultural past — were designed to look in part like silos. Greystone Farm Lane is a nonsensical name created from thin air. It might as well be called Buckingham Palace Drive, or Stonehenge Way.

But it’s a nice, neighborly area. And at least one resident pays homage to the area’s previous life.

The Beitmans' house, and part of the old barn (right).

The Beitmans’ house, and part of the old barn (right).

For the past 12 years, Julie Beitman has lived in the 1st house on the left. An original Rippe barn still sits on her property (it’s transformed into a “man cave,” where her sons play music). She and her husband have unearthed foundations from other farm buildings too.

The nutrient-rich soil is gone — the builder skimmed it off, and sold it for profit — but Julie has coaxed amazing trees and plants out of what is now hard clay.

Julie Beitman, with just some of her plants.

Julie Beitman, with just some of her plants.

She planted 16 fruit trees.

She grows lettuce, tomatoes, 5 varieties of hot peppers, peas, eggplant, grapes, cucumbers, apples, cherries, 3 varieties of plums, and herbs. She and her son Andrew — a rising Staples senior – have cross-bred Bartlett and Bosc pears.

When her string beans grew 40 feet tall, she called in neighborhood kids to pick them.

I didn’t know you could grow cotton in Connecticut, but Julie does. (The seeds came from Israel.)

In the winter, Julie makes maple syrup. This summer, she’ll jar peaches.

Pears ripen in Julie's back yard.

Pears ripen in Julie’s back yard.

She’s a completely self-taught gardener. But she has learned well. Everywhere in her yard, something grows.

“It’s my therapy,” Julie — who also owns a jewelry business, and plans parties on the side — says. “It’s a labor of love.”

But beyond planting, pruning, picking and placing peppers on the ground to keep animals away, she does not do much. “It takes care of itself,” she notes.

She’s being too modest. 1 Greystone Farm Lane is a wonderful bounty.

Mr. Rippe would be very, very proud.

Buster too.

It's a very green summer at 1 Greystone Farm Lane.

It’s a very green summer at 1 Greystone Farm Lane.

 

 

Who You Gonna Call?

Bob Rogers — president of Coastal Tree Experts — has a well-deserved reputation for excellent work, and concern for Westport. Recently, for example, he donated Coastal’s services to Earthplace, for some very important work.

But Bob cares about far more than just customers and their trees.

Recently, he and his company saved not 1, but 2, cats stuck in trees. One was up there for 13 days; the other, 8.

Checking out the scene.

Checking out the scene.

Bob says that he is not in the business of cat rescuing.

But if the job needs to be done, he’s happy to do it.

Just before the rescue, after 8 days in a tree.

Just before the rescue, after 8 days in a tree.

John Weymouth rescues Foo-Foo on Side Hill Road:

(Hat tip to Betsy Pollak)

Katharine Ordway’s Peaceful Preserve

Katharine Ordway was one of those very wealthy, very impressive, semi-mysterious people who lived quietly among us, back in the day.

Her father bought 60% of the stock of a struggling mining company later known as 3M — not a bad career move. She graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota with degrees in botany and art, and later studied biology and land-use planning at Columbia.

Katharine Ordway was equally at home in social settings and outdoors.

Katharine Ordway was equally at home in social settings and outdoors.

After inheriting part of an $18.8 million estate — real money in 1948 — she became (according to Macalester College) second only to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as “a private contributor to natural area conservation in American history.”

The quiet woman  helped save over 31,000 acres of Great Plains prairies, a few Hawaiian islands, and land in many other parts of the country. She is revered by the Nature Conservancy for her philanthropy, commitment and foresight.

She lived for decades in a beautiful home off Goodhill Road in Weston. Today, 62 acres behind her estate comprise the Katharine Ordway Preserve. It’s wooded, riparian (the Saugatuck River runs through it), and very peaceful.

It’s also a secret. Though it was opened in 1979 — the year she died — even some neighbors don’t know it’s there.

A spirited group of nature-lovers do, though. Working with the Nature Conservancy’s Connecticut chapter, they’ve contributed hundreds of man (and woman) hours to the preserve. They’ve cleared brush, removed invasive species, planted specimen trees, created a 2-acre arboretum, and cleaned trails.

Now they want local residents to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

The view from a trail high in the Ordway Preserve.

The view from a trail high in the Ordway Preserve.

The other day, Westporter Bob Fatherley invited me to hike the preserve. We were joined by a few others, including Alec Head of Westport; the Conservancy’s David Gumbart, and Mark Mainieri, the property’s steward.

I learned about the legend of Fred Moore. He was Katharine Ordway’s estate caretaker — as well as Weston’s tree warden and fire marshal.

As we walked, the men talked about the many contributors to the restoration of the preserve. They spoke with pride of the 20 trees donated by Weston Gardens, and the pro bono work provided by Weston Arborists (owned by Fred Moore’s son Jeff).

Hiking the Ridge Trail.

Hiking the Ridge Trail.

The arboretum is particularly impressive. Now rid of high brush and invasive plants, it’s a serene habitat for birds and butterflies. (The preserve also hosts deer, coyotes, and plenty of wild turkeys.)

They talked reverently of Katharine Ordway (who endowed not only this preserve, but also Devil’s Den). “She was a woman of means, but also a woman of the earth,” Bob said. “She was one of the first people to take private capital, and make it work for open space.”

“This is a spot of spiritual refreshment,” Bob added. “It is humbling to take care of it.”

A plaque honors Katharine Ordway.

A plaque honors Katharine Ordway.

Katharine Ordway’s ashes were scattered at her favorite site — a place she visited every October, to enjoy spectacular foliage. It’s high on a hill surrounded by mountain laurel, near a large boulder that bears a plaque. Soon, the Nature Conservancy hopes, a small bench will allow hikers to sit and honor the woman who worked so hard to preserve this land, and hundreds of thousands of other acres around the country.

Katharine’s imprint on the American conservation movement remains large. And — although most of us don’t know it — it is especially strong in the town Katharine Ordway called home.

Literally, in her own back yard.

(The Katharine Ordway Preserve is located at 165 Goodhill Road in Weston. It is open from dawn to dusk — no bikes or pets, though. Note that the base of the entrance is severely rutted!)

Some of the preserve's most ardent supporters, at Kay's Trail. From left: Bob Fatherley, David Gumbart, Lou Bregy, Dave Thompson, Alec Head and Mark Mainieri.

Some of the preserve’s most ardent supporters. From left: Bob Fatherley, David Gumbart, Lou Bregy, Dave Thompson, Alec Head and Mark Mainieri.

Bill Scheffler’s Benz Is A Movie Star

There’s something about Michael Douglas and Westport cars.

Growing up here, he was a member of the Downshifters – the high school club that met at the Y to talk about, learn about, work on (and sometimes race) cars.

Last summer, he filmed “And So It Goes” in Bridgeport. Directed by Rob Reiner, and also starring Diane Keaton, it’s about a self-absorbed realtor suddenly left in charge of a granddaughter he never knew existed until his estranged son drops her off. It was released last week.

Besides the familiar Black Rock scenes (and familiar former Westport actor), there’s a familiar car.

Michael Douglas driving Bill Scheffler's Mercedes.

Michael Douglas driving Bill Scheffler’s Mercedes.

Westporter Bill Scheffler’s 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SE Cabriolet takes a star turn. With the star.

Douglas drives it — and it is featured prominently in the promos.

Scheffler bought the Benz in January 2013, at a Scottsdale auction. It’s a fairly limited production car — about 3100 hard tops and convertibles were made over the model’s 6-year life — and was built to rigorous standards.

The auction catalogue says the 300SE offered “a stirring combination of luxury and performance along with technical specifications better than anything else of its era.”

So how did Scheffler’s car make it onto Rob Reiner’s set?

It was spotted by a “talent scout/car wrangler” while being restored in Stratford.

And so it goes.

Michael Douglas poster

 

 

 

Stupid Party Tricks From DOT

Last month, “06880” reported on a traffic light at the foot of Kings Highway North. The green arrow suddenly — and erroneously — pointed left instead of right, leading drivers directly into ongoing Post Road West traffic.

Today, the light exiting from Playhouse Square shows red and green simultaneously, instead of green only.

Traffic light

The result, of course, is an even longer backup of traffic in Playhouse Square, as drivers try to figure out what the hell is going on.

We’re on Candid Camera, right?

Chip Stephens And Al Gratrix: Westport’s Newest “De-signers”

The town ordinance on signs is pretty clear.

Local organizations can post them for fundraisers: Library book sales, Yankee Doodle Fair, Sunrise Rotary duck race.

Political signs are okay — during election season. As with charity signs, they must be removed promptly.

no signsCommercial signs are strictly regulated. They must be portable. They can’t be attached to a utility pole or fence. They can be displayed only during hours that a business is open. They must be on a “framed chalk board or eraser board.” All of the wording must be hand-drawn. And commercial signs must be located on the property where the business is located.

That’s the theory, anyway.

Anyone with more than 20/2000 vision knows those rules are frequently flouted. Several years ago — in the depths of the recession — 1st Selectman Gordon Joseloff eased the sign regulation. But the ordinance in place now — cited above — is pretty clear.

Al Gratrix is head of the Planning and Zoning Commission‘s enforcement committee. Chip Stephens is the the P&Z chair.

A couple of weeks ago, they started picking up illegal signs. They pulled 100 or so: non-handwritten business signs. Signs advertising office space. Signs for roofers and handymen, tacked 8 feet high on telephone polls.

Al Gratrix with some of the illegal signs.

Al Gratrix with some of the illegal signs…

Just as quickly, the signs reappeared.

Al and Chip went back on the prowl. On Saturday, they yanked 80 more.

Their task may be Sisyphean. (Or, to use a truer Westport reference, dandlelion-esque.)

But it’s an important one. Want to know one of the biggest blights on Westport’s beauty?

The signs are all around us.

...and more signs.

…and more signs.

 

Remembering Buck Iannacone

Alphonse “Buck” Iannacone — the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal, a 61-year PAL volunteer, and a Bronze Star and Purple Heart winner for his military service during the Battle of the Bulge — died Friday. He was 88.

In his 6 decades with PAL, he did just about everything. He was a coach, an organizer, a board member, a field maintenance guy, a fundraiser, and a good friend to thousands of young athletes.

A former US Postal Service worker and local union president, he was also a member of the Saugatuck Volunteer Fire Department, Laurel Athletic Club and a dedicated volunteer with both Special Olympics and Star.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal this year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck's 4 great-grandchild had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck Iannacone (left), the 2012 Memorial Day parade grand marshal that year, with his son and granddaughter. One of Buck’s 4 great-grandchildren had been born 10 days earlier.

Buck received plenty of honors, including a National PAL Award in 2008. He was cited by the Sportsmen of Westport, Norwalk Old Timers and the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance. Three years before leading the Memorial Day parade, he served as grand marshal of Festival Italiano.

But of all the kudos Buck Iannacone got, one was extra special. In 2001 — dressed in caps and gowns, and marching across stage — he and 5 other World War II veterans from Norwalk received high school diplomas.

Like the others, Buck had left school to join the military. The shrapnel he took in the Battle of the Bulge put him in a British hospital for 8 months.

Buck Iannacone served his country well. And — for the last 61 years — he did the same for Westport.

(Services will be held on Wednesday, July 30, at 9:30 a.m. at Harding Funeral Home, 210 Post Road East, and 10 a.m. at Assumption Church, 98 Riverside Avenue. Internment, with full military honors, follows at Assumption Cemetery, Kings Highway North. Friends may visit the family on Tuesday, July 29, from 4-8 p.m. at the Harding Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Buck Iannacone’s name to the Westport PAL Scholarship Fund, c/o Sam Arciola, 50 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880.)

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.

Buck Iannacone and Roberta Troy at the 2009 Italian Festival. He served as grand marshal that year.

 

 

 

CL&P Saves The Ospreys

For months, an osprey nest high above a Fresh Market utility pole has fascinated Westporters.

This morning though, the raptors caused a power outage at the shopping center.

CL&P workers rushed to the scene. Merchants and shoppers gathered to watch, as crew members in 2 large buckets examined the scene.

Osprey nest

Everyone expected the nest to be removed.

Instead, the CL&P guys carefully rerouted the electrical feed a few yards away. The nest was undisturbed.

The utility company has taken a ton of hard knocks in the past few years, over their slow response to natural disasters.

This could have been a disaster of another kind. CL&P’s quick — and very wise — response should have them flying high.