Category Archives: Children

“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.

Special Carnival Honors A Very Special Girl

Last year, all Leah Rondon wanted for her 6th birthday was dinner with her parents and brothers, and Peachwave for dessert.

This year is different. Leah was killed in August, just a few days before starting 1st grade. Her death devastated her hometown of Ansonia — and Bedford Middle School, where her mother Colleen is a much-loved science teacher.

Leah Rondon's 6th birthday treat.

Leah Rondon’s 6th birthday treat.

Leah’s birthday is soon. To honor her memory — and give something back to others — her family will celebrate with a carnival for elementary school children.

It will be held next Saturday (February 6), from 12-3 p.m. The site is Kolbe Cathedral — the Bridgeport High School where Leah’s dad, Henry, is principal.

The carnival includes games, food, raffles and entertainment. Kids everywhere (and their parents) are invited. Admission is free — but money spent on tickets for individual events will go to a scholarship fund, for a senior girl at Kolbe hoping to attend college.

Colleen says: “We hope this will be a great time for kids and their families, during an otherwise dreary and cold time of year. We are ready to memorialize our daughter in a happy and positive way.”

The Rondons’ world was rocked when Leah — riding in a wagon at a friend’s house — was struck by a car. They knew that joyous occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Leah’s birthday would be tough.

“Leah was always having fun,” Colleen says. “We have so many memories of her enjoying the regular routine of a child’s life: going to school, playing in the yard, attending camp, competing in soccer, basketball and softball.”

Leah Rondon

Leah Rondon

In just 6 1/2 years of life, Colleen says, Leah made her mark. “She was fun-loving and joyful. She made other people laugh and be happy too.

“Having a carnival to provide some fun for other kids continues to bring those joyful memories to us. Raising money to help high school students continue their education is a bonus.”

Most students at Kolbe Cathedral need help for college.

Colleen hopes that the girl who receives scholarship help from the carnival will be like Leah: someone who loves school, is involved in it, and is genuinely kind to others.

And like Leah, she will be a winner.

(If you can’t be at the carnival on Saturday but would like to help, there is a “Donate” button on the upper left side of the Kolbe main home page: http://www.kolbecaths.org. Hat tip: Julia McNamee)

 

 

Girl On A Jetty

Betsy P. Kahn took this photo yesterday. But she could have snapped it any day, any season, any year.

The Compo Beach jetties are timeless. They’re a place for anyone — of any age — to walk (carefully!).

And to stop, sit, and gaze in awe at the wonders all around.

(Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Click on or hover over to enlarge. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Maggie Kneip’s Amazing Journey: Now Everyone Knows

In the 1980s, life was good for Maggie Kneip. Her handsome husband was a rising star at the Wall Street Journal. They were raising a 3-year-old daughter and newborn son in hip Hoboken. She had great friends, and a loving family.

Suddenly, within 9 months, her husband was dead of AIDS.

Then her real ordeal began.

Over the next 3 decades Maggie’s story became a symbol of perseverance, growth and triumph. It’s also a story with plenty of Westport connections.

Last month, she shared it with the world.

Now Everyone Will Know: The Perfect Husband, His Shattering Secret, My Rediscovered Life was published on December 1 — World AIDS Day. Exploring themes of sexuality, love, humanity,  the damaging nature of family secrets and the power of truth, it’s an important book for all Westporters — even without the local ties.

Maggie Kneip and John Andrew.

Maggie Kneip and John Andrew.

Maggie writes with unflinching honesty and great grace about her life before and after her husband, John Andrew — Brown University graduate, dynamic personality, great lover — was diagnosed with what in those days was a devastating, stigmatizing death sentence.

She describes her growing realization of the hidden life he led as a closeted gay man, and her reaction when she learns of his diagnosis — just weeks after the birth of their 2nd child: “I had to see him. I had to kill him.”

But Maggie set aside her anger, and tried passionately to keep her husband alive. Caring for 2 youngsters and a husband dying a gruesome death seems a herculean task. It was made even harder by her fears that she and her children were also infected — and the revulsive reactions of a few “friends.”

John died in March of 1991, age 36. Maggie felt angry, betrayed, traumatized, heartbroken and desolate.

Maggie Kneip and her children, in June 1991. Her husband had died 3 months earlier.

Maggie Kneip and her children, in June 1991. Her husband had died 3 months earlier.

John’s brother Robert — who lived in Westport — mourned him one way. Maggie was different. She needed to protect her children. They learned never to tell anyone how their father died.

Hoping for a new start, Maggie got a job in publishing. She moved to the Upper East Side. A few years later at work she met a great woman, who lived in Westport.

Though she’d had a bad experience here once, when she brought John to visit his brother, she decided to leave her small New York apartment for a “perfect turn-of-the-century, walk-to-town, fixer-upper, below-budget saltbox” in Westport.

Her friend introduced her to a circle of “unfettered, insouciant and creative women.” Maggie helped form a book club, with women she grew close to.

Maggie Kneip (Photo/David Dreyfuss)

Maggie Kneip (Photo/David Dreyfuss)

But she avoided all mention of John. She walled herself off from her kids’ friends’ parents, avoiding conversations and even friendships.

Her husband still haunted her dreams. As her son got older, he looked more and more like  his father. But as Maggie’s children went through Staples — successful and active — they did not want to talk about him.

Maggie lost her publishing job. She became an empty nester. It was not until her kids — separately, at their college graduations — surprised her by saying they’d been thinking about their dad, that she decided it was time to tell her story.

So she wrote. And set herself free.

In a writing class at the 92nd Street Y, Maggie met a published author who’d grown up in Westport. Melissa Kirsch was moved by Maggie, and encouraged her to turn her short pieces into a memoir.

Maggie was also inspired by Sarah Herz. The former Westport teacher — a national expert in children’s literature, who died last year — became one of her mentors.

Sarah Herz and Maggie Kneip at Westport's Blue Lemon restaurant.

Sarah Herz and Maggie Kneip at Westport’s Blue Lemon restaurant.

Finding a publisher was not easy. “AIDS is over,” she heard. And, “We don’t know how to market this.” As well as: “This woman is angry.”

She’s not. Her writing is insightful, honest and strong. But with no publisher willing to take a chance, Maggie self-published.

The result is a remarkable book. Yet as powerful as it is for readers, Maggie’s memoir has also meant a great deal to her.

Today, Maggie senses a subtle shift in her approach to people. “I’m engaging more. And I’m less judgmental of others,” she says.

She’s become more involved at Temple Israel. She joined a women’s group, something inconceivable a few years ago.

“I think I’m more easy to talk to now,” Maggie says. “I’m happier.”

Maggie Kneip book cover

Maggie praises her beloved book group for being part of the Westport that helped her grow. As members talked about their lives — including the ups and downs in their own marriages — she realized that keeping a secret kept her from connecting with others.

Her book — with an afterword from former Westporter and noted psychologist Dale Atkins — has been well received. “People appreciate my honesty,” Maggie says. “They say it reminds them of that AIDS era, and the people they’ve lost.” She’s been surprised by how many readers are spouses in mixed-orientation marriages.

Now Everyone Will Know acknowledges the power of secrets, and provides a portrait in courage for moving beyond fear and shame.

Maggie’s husband John lived a hidden life. Now she’s come out of her own closet — as the wife of a gay spouse, and the widow of an AIDS victim.

She — along with her children, John’s friends from Brown, and Wall Street Journal colleagues — participate each year in the New York AIDS Walk. They raise funds for this still-awful disease.

And, finally, they talk about John.

(For more information, or to buy Now Everyone Will Know, click on www.maggiekneip.com. Hat tip: Lori Andrews) 

Blizzard of 2016: Late Afternoon Report

We’ve still got a few more hours of this. So put another log on the fire, open up one more bottle of wine, and enjoy these wonderful views of Westport in winter. (Click on or hover over to enlarge)

Snow bunny #1...

Snow bunny #1…

...snow bunny #2...

…snow bunny #2…

...and #3. (Photos above/Irene Penny)

…and #3. (Photos above/Irene Penny)

...and another. (Photos/John Videler)

One view from John Videler…

One view from John Videler...

…and another, with a bit of color from the flag. (Photo/John Videler)

Compo Beach, from the (relative) comfort of a Soundview Drive home. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Compo Beach, from the (relative) comfort of a Soundview Drive home. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

No picnics today on South Beach! (Photo/Briana Walegir)

No picnics today on South Beach! (Photo/Briana Walegir)

You know that old saying about "neither snow nor rain..."? (Photo/Fred Cantor)

You know that old saying about “neither snow nor rain…”? (Photo/Fred Cantor)

No word from Metro-North on whether (weather?) there was "Good Service" today. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

No word from Metro-North on whether (weather?) there was “Good Service” today. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

It was slow going -- just as the sign says -- on Saugatuck Shores today. (Photo/Gene Borio)

It was slow going — just as the sign says — on Saugatuck Shores today. (Photo/Gene Borio)

A serene scene on Highland Road. Look closely though: That's an unplowed driveway there at the bottom of the photo. (Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

A serene scene on Highland Road. Look closely though: That’s an unplowed driveway at the bottom of the photo. (Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

Blizzard bonus feature: Seagulls were out surfing at Compo. Thanks to Dee Dee Scanlin, Chip Stephens and Betsy Pollak for sharing!

 

AEDs Are Already Ready

Less than 3 months ago, a Staples High School student suffered cardiac arrest while watching a soccer game.

Quick action by trainers and bystanders — including CPR, and the use of an AED by the father of a player — saved the teenager’s life.

An equally speedy response has brought dozens of AEDs — portable defibrillators —  to every school in Westport.

The Adam Greenlee Foundation — named for another student brought back to life a year earlier — partnered with the school district and Westport PAL. Within weeks, they’d raised over $85,000.

Last week, 26 AEDs were installed in school gyms and other important locations. The one below was mounted near the Staples cafeteria.

AED

Another 22 AEDs, with travel cases, were given to schools for use on field trips and sports events outside of Westport.

This spring, 17 more will be installed in outdoor cases, for athletic fields and recess areas. Ten others have been given to PAL, for use at sports events outside town.

It was an amazingly rapid — and crucial life-saving — community effort.

Just imagine: If the state Department of Transportation worked at this pace, the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge would already be repaired. The North Compo/Main Street/Clinton Avenue realignment would be finished. And the Bridge Street bridge renovation would be over and done, somehow pleasing every single Westporter.

Fresh Air Fund: Summer Is Almost Here!

In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone. The US celebrated its centennial. George Armstrong Custer and his troops met Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

And the Fresh Air Fund prepared to give its first kids a summer outside New York City.

140 years later, no one uses a landline. We’re closer to our tricentennial than our centennial. Here in Connecticut, Native Americans own the 2nd largest casino in the country.

The Fresh Air Fund is still going strong. But they can’t do it without us.

Fresh Air Fund logoNow’s the time for the group to line up host families. It’s winter — but summer is not far away (organizationally speaking). As the Fresh Air Fund starts planning, here’s the story of one family’s experience. It ran last year — but it’s a good way to warm your heart again this winter.

————————————————————-

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 student, 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.”

(For more information on hosting a Fresh Air child, 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.

Happy 90th, Joan Walsh Anglund!

Damn! “06880” missed Joan Walsh Anglund’s 90th birthday by a day.

I’m sure she’d have something wise, clever — and very, very soothing — to say about that.

The poet/author/illustrator — who spent many years in Westport, and raised her children here — wrote over 120 children’s and inspirational books. They’ve sold more than 50 million copies, and been translated into 17 languages.

Joan Walsh Anglund quote

Among her most famous quotes:

  • Do not be sad that you have suffered. Be glad that you have lived.
  • Life is in the living. Love is in the giving.
  • Where is the yesterday that worried us so?

Wikipedia says that last year, a US Postal Service stamp commemorating Maya Angelou contained Anglund’s quote “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song” — seemingly tying it to Angelou.

That’s not the first time. President Obama wrongly attributed the sentence to Angelou when he presented the 2013 National Medal of Arts and Humanities to her.

“I hope it’s successful,” Anglund said of the stamp when it was issued.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, Staples High School principal James Calkins — who spoke often of the importance of love — frequently quoted Anglund to the student body.

"Do You Love Someone?" -- one of Joan Walsh Anglund's many illustrated books.

“Do You Love Someone?” — one of Joan Walsh Anglund’s many illustrated books.

When Calkins left Staples, Anglund’s daughter — a student there — thanked him using her mother’s words: “I did not hear the words you said. Instead, I heard the love.”

A website dedicated to Anglund lists a few of her famous fans: Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Elizabeth, Cary Grant, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Ethel Kennedy, Carol Burnett, Helen Hayes, Phyllis Diller, Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Rosemary Clooney, Shirley Jones, the Emperor of Japan and Elizabeth Taylor.

And, it adds helpfully, “etc.”

“06880”  joins Joan Walsh Anglund’s many admirers — in Westport, and the world — in saying: “Happy 90th birthday!”

Or, to quote herself: “A (person’s) health can be judged by which he takes two at a time: pills or stairs.”

 

Gone Fishin’

You don’t always see a kid — or anyone, for that matter — fishing in the Compo Beach boat basin.

Nor do you usually see — these days — a kid fishing anywhere.

But alert “06880” reader Steve Axthelm saw this scene earlier today:

Compo Beach boat basin - January 2, 2016 - Steve Axthelm

Maybe someone’s New Year’s resolution was to put down electronic devices, and get outside more.

Or maybe the fish were just biting.

First Night: First Photos

Westport’s 22nd annual First Night celebration kicked off this afternoon.

The weather was perfect — no rain, sleet or ice, but just enough of a wintry nip in the air to make it New England-y — as kids, parents and grandparents strolled from site to site.

First Night continues through 10 p.m. tonight. Fireworks are set for 7:30 at Jesup Green — right near an outdoor warming fire, stargazing telescope and kettle corn.

Happy New Year!

A mother wrangles her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house.

A mother wrangles her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house.

A face painter gets ready for action.

A face painter gets ready for action.

First Night can't happen without volunteers. The crew at Saugatuck Elementary School included (from left) First Selectman Jim Marpe, his wife Mary Ellen, Rob Hauck and Johanna Rossi.

First Night can’t happen without volunteers. The crew at Saugatuck Elementary School included (from left) First Selectman Jim Marpe, his wife Mary Ellen, Rob Hauck and Johanna Rossi.

Dennis the Train Man is a popular attraction at the library. A retired conductor, he punches a ticket for a very intrigued youngster.

Dennis the Train Man is a popular attraction at the library. The retired conductor punches a ticket for a very intrigued youngster.

The Survivors provided swing music in the Westport Library's Great Hall.

The Survivors provided swing music in the Westport Library’s Great Hall.

Buses provide transportation between downtown and Saugatuck Elementary School. Enjoy the crane -- it won't be there for First Night 2017.

Buses provide transportation between downtown and Saugatuck Elementary School. Enjoy the crane — it won’t be there for First Night 2017.

The Westport Astronomical Society sets up a telescope outside the library. With the sun down now, the viewing is great.

The Westport Astronomical Society sets up a telescope outside the library. With the sun down now, the viewing is better than when this photo was taken.

A mixture of old and new: horse-drawn carriage rides passes Bedford Square construction on Church Lane.

A mixture of old and new: a horse-drawn carriage passes Bedford Square construction on Church Lane.

Barbara Pearson-Rac -- shown here at Town Hall -- is the mastermind behind Westport's First Night.

Barbara Pearson-Rac — shown here at Town Hall — is the mastermind behind Westport’s First Night.

First Night 2016 - program guide