The Gift Of John Dodig

What do you give a principal who has given everything to his school?

How about a photo of him in his best “giving” mode?

But not just any photo. This is John Dodig.

And as the wildly popular principal prepares to retire after 11 years at Staples High — and 47 in the field of education — the school’s PTA turned to one of Westport’s best and most creative photographers: Miggs Burroughs.

Dodig received the unique gift this morning, in a special ceremony in the sun-splashed courtyard. First Selectman Jim Marpe, administrators and colleagues spoke — and so, very eloquently, did current students Jaime Bairaktaris and Nick Massoud, and graduate Michael Sixsmith.

Each speaker had stories. But all circled back to a common theme: Dodig’s greatest gifts were his passion, compassion, empathy, vision, willingness to listen, ability to be bold, and deep love for every single teenager and adult in his building.

Which leads to the gift he got today. Burroughs — a 1963 Staples grad — is well known for his lenticular images. They’re 2 separate shots; they change, depending on the angle you’re viewing from. (You can see 16 of them in the tunnel connecting Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.)

One view of John Dodig's lenticular photo...

One view of John Dodig’s lenticular photo…

Burroughs took the photos last month. (Dodig did not know why he was being photographed.) One shot shows a crowd of students streaming around the principal, as he stands in the school’s foyer. That’s a typical spot for him; for over a decade he has greeted thousands of students every morning and between classes — asking how their latest game or performance went, complimenting them on an achievement, answering their questions or merely saying hello.

It’s a diverse mix of students — just as Dodig is fond of noting the diversity that really is a hallmark of Staples High. In the middle of it all, the principal wears his trademark smile.

...and the other.

…and the other.

The 2nd shot shows a lone student casually studying. She sits on the school seal that frames the foyer. The school motto — which Dodig has embraced and personified — stands out: “Respsect for Life.”

Burroughs produced 2 copies of the lenticular photo. One will hang at Staples. The other is Dodig’s to keep — and cherish — forever.

dodig

Spencer Brockman’s Special Racing Formula

Plenty of Staples students follow their parents into the same profession. I-banking, the corporate world, arts and entertainment — it’s natural to keep doing what you’ve been brought up around.

Spencer Brockman is a race car driver. Quite a switch for a Westport kid, huh?

Spencer Brockman in action.

Spencer Brockman in action.

Not really. Spencer’s dad — Michael — raced nearly every form of car and truck from Watkins Glen to Baja. He was a teammate (and friend) of fellow Westporter Paul Newman. Michael later served as chief test driver for Motor Trend magazine. Today he owns a Volvo dealership in Milford.

But that “family business” angle isn’t the most impressive thing about this story.

It’s that Spencer is still only a freshman at Staples High School.

Spencer Brockman -- or Doogie Howser?

Spencer Brockman — or Doogie Howser?

At age 9 — just a few years ago — Spencer raced go-karts. He won the first race he was in, and was named Rookie of the Year. Now he’s moved up to full-size Formula cars.

Spencer looks like — well, a high school freshman. The kind you’d want your kid to hang out with (or date).

But his polite, cherubic demeanor grows animated as he talks about racing. “I love the adrenaline rush,” he says.

Though only 15, he already has his Sports Car Club of America license. He got it after completing a training school in California last year. He learned how to control a full-size race car.

In his case, that’s a Formula 2000, 2-liter, 4-cylinder, 210-horse vehicle. It goes 150 miles an hour.

He’s raced from New York and Atlanta to the West Coast. He’s in the middle class in his series. There are minimum ages, but no maximums. Most of his fellow racers are in their 20s. One — in his 50s — was racing loooong before Spencer was born.

None are younger than Spencer.

Spencer and Michael Brockman, in a quiet moment. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Spencer and Michael Brockman, in a quiet moment. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

He finished 4th in his first pro race, at Palm Beach this past February. He admits he was nervous — but he was hooked.

He won his very next time — in the rain.

“I just try to learn every track,” Spencer says. As if that explains how a 15-year-old kid from Westport can be one of the top drivers in his series, a mere 3 months after he began.

His father helps, of course, with tips. His mother “loves what I do,” Spencer says. But she does not watch him compete. (He calls her after every race.)

His friends don’t realize how difficult auto racing is. “I’m not just sitting in a car,” Spencer notes. “It’s very physical. There’s no power steering. When you’re trying to force the car into a turn at high speed, you need a lot of physical strength. And cardio.” He goes to the gym every day, paying particular attention to his neck.

Balancing schoolwork is not easy. There are weekday races, as well as weekends. “I know I have to keep my grades up. Otherwise I won’t be able to race. That would be really bad,” Spencer says.

Spencer Brockman, doing what he loves.

Spencer Brockman, doing what he loves.

He’s learned plenty of non-school lessons on the track. “Focus is huge,” he says. So is sportsmanship. “Racers are really respectful. We’re all friends. But that fades once we start.”

His first bad wreck came a month ago, in Atlanta. He went into a turn too fast. The car slid badly, on wet grass. Spencer hit the tire barrier.

No biggie. His crew fixed the car, and he’s back for more.

Spencer Brockman in a racing Camaro's driver's seat. The car -- originally co-owned by his father and Paul Newman -- is now co-owned by Michael and Spencer. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Spencer Brockman in a racing Camaro’s driver’s seat. The car — originally co-owned by his father and Paul Newman — is now co-owned by Michael and Spencer. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

His goal is Formula 1 in Europe — the “creme de la creme,” he says. To do that, he’ll have to keep improving.

Spencer also needs sponsors. He and his dad are searching for them right now. Maybe they can hit up some i-bankers — you know, that other type of father-son duos in Westport.

(To learn more, search for “Spencer Brockman Racing” on Facebook. For sponsorship information, email spencerbrockman@gmail.com)

Batten Down The Hatches!

Storm clouds gathered over Old Mill Beach late this afternoon — and Patricia McMahon snapped this dramatic photo.

Storm over Old Mill

An hour — and an inch of rain later — the sun was back out.

Remembering Kenny Of Gold’s

For half a century, Gold’s Delicatessen has been a Westport icon.

And for more than 40 years, it was managed lovingly by Kenny Spigarolo.

He died Tuesday, age 91.

Bill Ryan passed the news to “06880.” He said simply, “Anyone who had Kenny wait on them felt better when they left than when they came in — and not just because of the food.”

Kenny Spigarolo

Kenny Spigarolo

Kenny graduated from Roger Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, and attended Kansas State University before proudly serving during World War II. While in the Army he ran the largest PX in Kassell, Germany, where he met and married the love of his life, Hildegard.

After the war he managed his family’s business, Spigarolo’s Market in Bridgeport. Then, for 4 decades at Gold’s, he made his mark on thousands of Westporters.

He was an “original” University of Connecticut women’s basketball fan, and a lifetime member of the Germania Schwaben Club, where he and Hildegard danced and socialized. He earned a special Red Cross award, for donating hundreds of pints of blood.

Calling hours are tomorrow (Friday, May 29), 4-8 p.m. in the Lesko & Polke Funeral Home, 1209 Post Road, Fairfield. His funeral will begin in the funeral home on Saturday at 9:15 a.m., with a Mass of Christian Burial to follow in St. Thomas Church at 10. His interment with full military honor will take place in Mountain Grove Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Homes for the Brave, 655 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604, by donating a pint of blood through a local American Red Cross chapter. To sign his guest register, click here.

Broadway Salutes Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray — a very talented member of Staples Players in the 1970s, who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died in February 2013, of a massive heart attack. He was 55.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin met his wife, Dodie Pettit, in “Phantom.” She starred in “Cats” on Broadway, and worked with Staples Players in a summer production of that show.

For the past 15 months, she has been recording a tribute CD for Kevin. She gathered over 170 Broadway singers, including 10 from the “Phantom” cast, 3 Tony Award winners, and cast members from “Miss Saigon,” “The King and I,” “Titanic,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and more. Each had a personal connection to Kevin and Dodie. All donated their talent.

Westport is well represented, by Terry Eldh, Adam Riegler, Paul McKibbins, and of course Dodie.

Westport was an integral part of Kevin’s life. He was born and raised here. He attended Westport schools. Dodie still lives in the town he loved.

So she is particularly proud that the CD will be showcased for the 1st time on WWPT-FM (90.3). This Saturday (May 30, 4-5 p.m.), the Staples High School radio station will play songs during the “Adam and George” show.

Dodie will chat about the CD, and performers will call in to share their stories.

Kevin Gray CDAll proceeds go to scholarships in Kevin’s name, at his alma mater Duke University, and the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where he taught (and where the Kevin Gray Foundation was organized by Westporters Peter Byrne and Jamie Wisser).

(Don’t live in the WWPT-FM listening area? No problem! Click here to listen to the livestream. The CD is available for sale on iTunes, Amazon and by clicking here).

Splash Into Pearl

The news that everyone figured was coming, has come: There will be no restaurant or outdoor patio bar at Longshore this summer.

As reported yesterday on WestportNow, “Pearl of Longshore” will replace Splash as the dining-and-drinking establishment across from the 1st tee.

But Pearl won’t open until mid-December. New owners BNG Partners — led by Westporter Marc Backon — need that time to renovate the kitchen and dining space. When they’re ready, they’ll offer “Mediterranean-style seafood” in the summer, with additional “meat and game” dishes the rest of the year.

Sounds good — and worth waiting for.

In the meantime, plenty of folks have to find a new summer spot for after-work drinks.

There are plenty of choices. But none with the view and ambience of the patio bar at Longshore.

The patio bar at Longshore (right in photo above) was a perfect place for summer socializing.

The patio bar at Longshore (right in photo above) was a perfect place for summer socializing.

Be Part Of Westport’s Photographic History!

In 1981, Max Kaplan had already owned his art supply store for 24 years.

Shirley Mellor had worked there for over a decade. She and Max had been married for 5.

That July, Westport photographer Nancy Wayman assembled Max, Shirley, the staff at Max’s Art Supplies, and 100 or so artists who made the store their own personal hangout.

The result was a photo that captured Westport: its arts colony sensibility, its mom-and-pop shops, its downtown funkitude.

The famous 1981 photo. Max Kaplan and Shirley Mellor are in the center of the front row.

The famous 1981 photo. Max wears a tie in the front row; Shirley Mellor is next to him, on the left.

A lot has changed in 34 years. Max and Nancy Wayman died. Max’s closed in August.

In a few days, the sign comes down for the final time.

But before it does, there’s time for one last group photo.

All Westporters — artists, loyal customers, friends, and folks with no artistic talent whatsoever — are invited to gather in front of Max’s this Saturday (May 30), at 5 p.m. There will be one last photo — and Shirley wants as many people as possible to squeeze in. (If you want in, be there by 4:30 — the shutter clicks at 5 sharp, and it will take a while to organize.)

If you don’t know where Max’s was: It stood directly across from the old Y.

And if that sentence doesn’t say something about the changing face of downtown Westport, I don’t know what does.

Fresh Air Fund: 1 Week, 1 Lifetime Of Memories

The idea is great: Host a Fresh Air Fund child for a week. Give a city kid time in the country. Do something good, in one small way.

The concerns, though, can be overwhelming: Bring a stranger into my home? What will we do for 7 days? What will my kids think?

The reality, fortunately, is fantastic. Fresh Air Fund hosts find that the week flies by. There is plenty to do — but sometimes the best is to just open the door and let ’em play outside. And the benefits — to you and your kids — are incalculable.

For the past 5 years, Nikki Gorman and her family hosted a boy named JJ. Any initial worries  melted away when — as soon as he got off the bus from New York — JJ started talking sports with her sons.

JJ enjoyed swimming...

JJ enjoyed swimming…

“The kids spent a lot of time just playing,” Nikki says. Pool, basketball, swimming, hanging in the hot tub — that’s how most of the days went.

There were trips to the beach, a Bluefish game and more. Many camps enroll  Fresh Air Fund youngsters at reduced rates; JJ loved the Fairfield University basketball camp.

Sure, he was a bit homesick at first. But when JJ returned home, Nikki says “it felt like a piece of our family was missing.”

That family appreciated the chance to share their life and possessions, and provide JJ with new experiences. It also gave her children “excitement about things that used to feel ordinary.”

...hanging out...

…hanging out…

They quickly understood that JJ did not have the advantages and resources that they did, Nikki notes. “It made them generous with him in a way that siblings are not typically with each other. Each one competed to see who could give JJ more in terms of attention, things or adventures. It makes a mom proud.”

She and her husband have found JJ’s enthusiasm “infectious.” He has been “a role model for keeping a great attitude in the face of adversity, and valuing family above all. We feel so lucky to have him in our lives.”

Nikki strongly recommends the Fresh Air Fund to “any family trying to instill perspective, and an understanding of the world outside of suburbia.”

...and the beach.

…and the beach.

Her son, Noah Lomnitz, agrees. As a Staples High School sophomore, he now realizes “the profound impact these friends had on my outlook on life.” He recognizes a “subtle sense of entitlement” in Westport, but says helping host JJ has made him “more generous, tolerant and kindhearted.”

He adds: “The Fresh Air Fund has had a profound impact on my life, and I’m sure JJ’s life as well. I would recommend it to anyone in Westport for a new perspective on the world, whether you have kids or not. It’s only 1 week, for a lifetime of memories.”

(An information session for anyone interested in hosting a Fresh Air Fund child will be held tomorrow — Friday, May 29, from 12-1 p.m. —  at Village Pediatrics, 156 Kings Highway North, Westport. Dr. Nikki Gorman will answer questions. To learn more about the Fresh Air Fund program, contact Nicole Heath at 203-829-8196 or click here.)

JJ and his hosts, before boarding the bus after his week in Westport.

JJ and his hosts, before boarding the bus after his week in Westport.

Cedar Point’s National Showcase Regatta

Unless you’re actually out on the Sound, most Westporters’ knowledge of regattas is limited to watching far-off boats, and hearing an occasional horn.

So most of us don’t know that Cedar Point Yacht Club is hosting a major race this month. The OneDesign series draws J/70 and Lightning class sailors from Maine to Minnesota, and abroad.

It’s gotten so large that this year it’s split into 2 parts. The races for sport boats under 26 feet were held earlier. This weekend (May 30-31), the club hosts larger boats.

Conditions were challenging in mid-May: a light rain, swirling fog, little breeze. But 170 sailors waited out the rain and fog, finally competing in a national showcase for Westport sailboat racing.

Long Island Sound can get crowded with racers. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

Long Island Sound can get crowded with racers. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

This crew is based in Africa. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

This crew is based in Africa. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

Bodo and Nick van der Wense, in Turbo  Duck. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

Bodo and Nick van der Wense, in Turbo Duck. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

Sometimes you race. Sometimes you wait. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

Sometimes you race. Sometimes you wait. (Photo/Richard Gordon)

Bill Walker and Allan Stern of Westport in the lead. They finished 10th in the J/70 race. (Photo/Hank Sykes)

Bill Walker and Allan Stern of Westport in the lead. They finished 10th in the J/70 race. (Photo/Hank Sykes)

This Old House #15

Last week’s mystery house — identified only as somewhere in Green’s Farms — remains unidentified. (Click here to see it, with comments.)

This week’s house is also described only as “Green’s Farms.” It too will be tough to identify definitively (if it still stands — no one knows.)

This Old House - May 27, 2015

Like all houses in this series, it was photographed during the 1930s, for a WPA project. The Westport Historical Society is attempting to identify as many “mystery houses” as possible, prior to an upcoming exhibit.

If you think you know where in Green’s Farms this is (or was), click “Comments.”