Category Archives: Looking back

Wes Craven’s Westport

News of Wes Craven’s death brought this note from Chris Grimm:

He filmed his first feature, “Last House on the Left,” partially in Westport.

The graveyard scene was at Merritt Parkway exit 41, but what was the house where much of the filming took place? Nobody seems to know!

The film was produced by Westporter Sean Cunningham.

According to Wikipedia, “Last House” was made on a modest budget of $87,000. It was released in the US on August 30, 1972 — 43 years ago yesterday — and grossed over $3 million domestically.

If you remember the filming — particularly the house or other sites used — click “Comments” below.

Last House on the Left

 

Amazing Adoption Reunion Story, To Start Your Week Right

Less than 2 weeks ago, “06880” highlighted a new state law, allowing adult adoptees the right to see their original birth certificate. The hook was John Suggs, a Westport forensic genetic geneaologist who helps adults find their birth families.

I figured the story would resonate with adoptees. I suspected some might contact John.

But I had no idea it would be so life-changing — and certainly not so quickly.

Almost immediately after the story ran, John received an email from a regular reader: Mary Lou Cookman (now Mary Lou Schmerker) of Texas.

John called her, and learned her story.

John Suggs

John Suggs

Mary Lou is a native Westporter — Staples High School Class of 1958 — who was transplanted to Texas in the early 1970s. She’d read the “06880” piece, and wondered if John could help.

She did not have the exact dates. But sometime in the mid-1950s, the daughter of a friend of her grandmother gave birth to a baby girl.

The baby’s father had left town. The baby’s mother had to wear a metal back brace, making it very difficult to care for the infant. The baby’s mother and widowed grandmother lived alone on Evergreen Avenue.

They received great help from their Westport friends — including Mary Lou’s family. All took turns helping care for the baby. For a while, the little girl lived in Mary Lou’s home.

Ultimately the birth mother accepted that she could not continue to care for her child. She made the wrenching decision to give her up for adoption.

Left behind in Mary Lou’s house was a sterling silver baby cup, engraved with the child’s initials. Around 4 decades ago, Mary Lou’s mother gave it to her for safekeeping.

Mary Lou still had that precious cup. She polished it regularly — always hoping to find a way to return it, and tell the owner how much she had been loved and adored, and how talented and special her mother and grandmother were.

John leaped into action.

Mary Lou provided a few names and personal details. In less than a week — despite starting with an incorrect birth date — our intrepid forensic genetic genealogist struck gold. The baby girl is now a grandmother named Linda Ogden. She still lives in Fairfield County.

Mary Lou quickly flew north from Texas. She carried the sterling silver baby cup on the plane. Yesterday afternoon, they were together for the first time in nearly 7 decades.

Linda Ogden (left), Mary Lou Schmerker, and the long-lost sterling silver baby cup.

Linda Ogden (left), Mary Lou Schmerker, and the long-lost sterling silver baby cup.

Mary Lou — the only living person left who personally knew Linda’s birth mother and grandmother — told stories about them. She assured Linda that both women loved her dearly.

And she gave back the sterling silver baby cup that had been left behind in Westport, all those years ago.

Linda Ogden, John Suggs and Mary Lou Schmerker share a laugh yesterday.

Linda Ogden, John Suggs and Mary Lou Schmerker share a laugh yesterday.

1st Day Of School!

In honor of the 1st day of the 2015-16 school year, “06880” celebrates the very 1st day of a new school.

Back in 1953, Coleytown Elementary School opened its then-modern doors. Fred Cantor — an indefatigable researcher and (more importantly) 1965 Coleytown El grad — has unearthed a fascinating scrapbook documenting that initial year.

Created by 5th graders Marcia Sorisi, Karen Olson and Jan Pontius, it offers an intriguing look into bygone days.

For example, famed Saturday Evening Post and US postage stamp illustrator Stevan Dohanos created a mural for the lobby of the new building his young children attended.

Called “American Heritage,” it showed scenes like the Liberty Bell, flag and “American Indians.” Below, he puts the finishing touches on 1 of the 3 panels.

Coleytown El - Stevan DohanosTelevision was relatively new in 1953. Here’s how the school reacted:

Coleytown El - TV

The librarian — Mrs. Stevenson — said: “Nowadays … if children don’t become readers when they are small, they probably never will.”

Interscholastic sports were big in Westport’s elementary schools (in 1953, the others were Greens Farms, Bedford and Saugatuck). Besides the Coleytown baseball team — in spiffy Major League-type uniforms below — there were reports of the 6th grade girls playing Bedford in kickball, and the boys basketball team meeting Bedford as a fundraiser.

Coleytown El - interscholastic baseball

The 5th graders wrote about everyone getting polio shots — without any kind of anti-vaccine movement — as well as a “Dental Honor Roll.”

Coleytown El - Dental honor roll

The young Coleytown El students did plenty of writing, back in the day. Patricia Ferrone analyzed why she liked the school: “It is very modern. The teachers are very nice.” Also, Mrs. James gave gum chewing days. And there were water fountains, a built-in sink, maps of the world, plate lunches and a health room.Coleytown El - Why I like by Patricia Ferrone

One more tidbit from the scrapbook: the creation of a class newspaper. The goal was to experience “the task which faces newsmen in collecting the news.”

The editor-in-chief was a boy named Gordon Joseloff. Sounds like the experience served him well. Before winning 2 terms as 1st selectman, Joseloff was a CBS  correspondent, senior producer and bureau chief in New York, Moscow and Tokyo. Today, he’s editor and publisher of WestportNow.com.

If you’ve got memories of your 1st year in a new Westport school — or elementary school memories of any kind from here — click “Comments” below. Let’s celebrate the school year ahead with a fun look back!

(Hat tips: Fred Cantor and Carol Borrman)

Downshifting With Michael Douglas

Westporters who grew up here in the late 1950s and early ’60s remember Michael Douglas. The son of actor Kirk Douglas did not go to Staples — he’s a Choate grad — but he was friends with many who did.

He’s been gone for decades. Does he remember Westport at all?

Apparently. Check out a recent post on his personal Facebook page:

Michael douglas 2

The Downshifters were legends. To read more about them, click here.

To learn more about Michael Douglas, join Netflix.

(Hat tip: Bill Banks)

You Can Go Home (To Coleytown El) Again

In 1963, Fred Cantor’s parents moved to Easton Road from Queens. Two years later he graduated from Coleytown Elementary School, just down the street.

To mark that 50th anniversary, a small group — Fred, Nancy Saipe, Leslie Schine, Andy Lewis, Jeff Wilkins, Dan Magida and Cherie Flom Quain — arranged a literal stroll down memory lane. Principal Janna Sirowich and her assistant Carol Borrman helped them take a tour of the current school on Tuesday. Here’s Fred’s report:

Coleytown was K-6 during our time there — the peak years of the baby boom era. Our 1965 photo shows 97 kids in 6th grade. We had 3 teachers, so that’s 32-33 students per class!

Coleytown Elementary School's graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Coleytown Elementary School’s graduating 6th graders, in 1965.

Most in our group had not been back inside in decades. Some long-lost or fuzzy memories were jogged during our visit.

There was no formal auditorium at Coleytown. The gym with a stage on the side doubled as the auditorium. We had an annual Christmas concert there. Parents sat in rows of folding chairs on the basketball court.

The gym/stage space brought back memories of a graduation ceremony. Boys and girls walked in from the playground. We were lined up by height, from shortest to tallest.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

The rear view of Coleytown Elementary School, before expansion and modernization.

Walking down the corridors and visiting old classrooms evoked other images from the distant past:

  • Nap time in kindergarten, where kids stretched out on giant towels.
  • A particularly unruly 3rd grader who was disciplined regularly by having his desk placed in the hallway.
  • Developing a newspaper-reading habit for current events discussions, by clipping stories on topics like civil rights and space exploration.

Everyone remembered recess fondly. Popular games were 4-square and “maul the ball carrier” (tackling the kid with the ball — an activity schools might not embrace today).

Report cards have certainly evolved over 50 years. Our 5th grade math classes were divided into “fast,” “high average” and “low average” tracks. We were also graded on “penmanship.”

Fred Cantor's report card.

Fred Cantor’s 5th grade report card. It’s quite a bit different from those used today. According to teacher Miss Belz, Fred “made good progress this year.”

At this stage of life, thinking back on those early childhood years elicits thoughts of classmates and friends no longer with us.

Those feelings were particularly poignant this week. Our classmate Andy Lewis — who looked very forward to the tour — died of an apparent heart attack just days before he was to head to Westport.

My last email exchange with Andy was about our Coleytown experiences. He said he’d walked home for lunch “if the menu was bad, like fish sticks.”

Andy’s sudden death is also a reminder that we never know what the future holds. We should be grateful for every opportunity to reunite with old friends.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

Old friends gather in the Coleytown Elementary School gym (from left): Cherie Flom Quain, Fred Cantor, Jeff Wilkins, Nancy Saipe, Dan Magida, Leslie Schine.

Cockenoe Kodachrome

It’s been decades since Bill Whitbeck lived in Westport. (Westport, Connecticut, that is. He’s now in the beautiful seaside town of Westport, Washington.)

But he remembers fondly his days on Cockenoe. That’s the island a mile off Compo. (Which Westport now owns, having bought it in 1968 to save it — and us — from a proposal to build a nuclear power plant there. Click here for that unbelievable story.)

Still, he did not realize how many times his family visited Cockenoe until his father died, and the Whitbecks examined thousands of old 35mm slides.

It seemed like every other roll of film taken during the summers showed camping on the island.

The other day, Bill sent some of the images, from 1958 to ’60.

Bill Whitbeck's sister Joanne, neighbor Bobby Bittner, Bill (waving) and his mom, at the highest area of the sandbar. 1958.

Bill Whitbeck’s sister Joanne, neighbor Bobby Bittner, Bill (waving) and his mom, at the highest area of the sandbar in 1958.

“We brought tents, camping gear and food for the weekend,” Bill recalls. “We’d camp on the western side’s long sandbar. From current photos I’ve seen, it’s almost gone from erosion.”

Other prime campsites were nestled in the trees on the southern side of the island, on higher ground with little trails leading to them. Those sites were usually snatched up first. But if Bill’s family got there early enough on Friday afternoon, they snagged a site for the weekend.

Bill Whitbeck (with pail), his mother, sister and a neighbor digging clams on Cockenoe’s sandbar, now almost totally gone.  This stretch between the sandbar and the higher part of the island in the distance was covered at high tide, though it was shallow enough to walk between the two in 1958.

Bill Whitbeck (with pail), his mother, sister and a neighbor digging clams on Cockenoe’s sandbar, now almost totally gone. This stretch between the sandbar and the higher part of the island in the distance was covered at high tide, though it was shallow enough to walk between the two in 1958.

I was struck by the quality of the colors, and composition of the photos. I told Bill that they seemed like a Life magazine spread on the Kennedys at Cape Cod.

“The colors haven’t faded after almost 60 years,” he agrees.

“Kodachrome film used layers of dyes, as opposed to silver halide crystals found in other transparency films, like Ektachrome of Fujichrome. The silver crystals give most film their ‘grain’.”

Bill Whitbeck, his sister’s fiance, and 2 sisters on the 16-foot outboard his father built. This was its maiden voyage. It was so new, he had not yet installed the windshield. The photo was taken inside Cockenoe’s bay, a perfect anchorage, surrounded by the island’s horseshoe shape. Check out the wooden boats -- there was no fiberglass in 1959.

Bill Whitbeck, his sister’s fiance, and 2 sisters on the maiden voyage of a 16-foot outboard his father built. It was so new, he had not yet installed a windshield. The photo was taken in Cockenoe’s bay, a perfect anchorage, surrounded by the island’s horseshoe shape. Check out the wooden boats — there was no fiberglass in 1959.

In 1994, Bill took his dad for one more walk around the island. He died a few years later.

Breakfast on the south side of Cockenoe, in 1959. The bay is behind young Bill Whitbeck. In the distance to the left is Sprite Island; Saugatuck Shores (still undeveloped) is to the right.

Breakfast on the south side of Cockenoe, in 1959. The bay is behind young Bill Whitbeck. In the distance to the left is Sprite Island; Saugatuck Shores (still undeveloped) is to the right.

Looking east from the camp site in 1959. Some large Army-style tents are on the beach. Families would set them up, then stay on the island for weeks at a time. They made runs back to town once or twice a week for supplies. Whitbeck remembers during a few summers, enterprising young boys would go to Cockenoe on Sunday mornings with blocks of ice, and copies of the Sunday New York Times, Herald Tribune and Daily News, to sell to boaters and campers on the island!

Looking east from the camp site in 1959. Some large Army-style tents are on the beach. Families would set them up, then stay on the island for weeks at a time. They made runs back to town once or twice a week for supplies. Whitbeck remembers during a few summers, enterprising young boys would go to Cockenoe on Sunday mornings with blocks of ice, and copies of the Sunday New York Times, Herald Tribune and Daily News, to sell to boaters and campers on the island.

 

 

“Highway 61 Revisited” — Revisited

Harvey Brooks — the legendary bassist who played with Miles Davis, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, and Phil Ochs — now lives in Israel.

But for many years, he was a Westport resident. Before that, however — perhaps most famously — he was in the studio with Bob Dylan. They recorded the groundbreaking album “Highway 61 Revisited” exactly 50 years ago today: July 28, 1965.

Today, Brooks posted this story on Facebook. It’s one his many Westport friends — and countless Dylan and Brooks fans around the world — will enjoy.

———————————————————–

It was July 28, 1965. I was playing a gig in Manhattan. During a break, I went next door to eat at the Burger Heaven, when I got a phone call from Al Kooper. I’m playing on this album with Bob Dylan and they need a bass player – are you doing anything?

That phone call would change my life.

The next day — 50 years ago today — I drove from Queens to Manhattan. I was soon in an elevator on the way to play for Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” album at Columbia Studio A at 777 Seventh Avenue. I opened the door to the control room, took a deep breath and entered.

Highway 61 Revisited

The first person I saw was Albert Grossman, Dylan’s manager. Grossman had long gray hair tied in a ponytail and wore round, tinted wire-rimmed glasses. I thought he looked like Benjamin Franklin. A thin, frizzy-haired guy dressed in jeans and boots was standing in the front of the mixing console listening to a playback of “Like a Rolling Stone.” I assumed it was Bob Dylan, though I didn’t know him or what he looked like at the time.

When the music stopped, Albert said, who are you? I told him who, what and why. Dylan said “hi” and went back to listening. Al Kooper then came in to make the official introduction. It was all very cryptic and brief.

I walked into the studio, took out my Fender bass and started to tune it. My instrument was strung with La Bella flat wounds which I still use. I plugged in the Ampeg B-15 amplifier which was provided by the studio. It sounded warm and percussive. The B-15 was my gig amp as well.

Though I was only 21 years old, I had already played many club gigs with a range of performers. I had worked with varying styles and felt I could adapt to about anything on the fly. So I was comfortable in the studio, and ready for anything Dylan could throw my way.

Suddenly, the studio door burst open. In stormed Michael Bloomfield, a moving ball of energy. He wore penny loafers, jeans, a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and had a Fender Telecaster hanging over his shoulder. Bloomfield’s hair was as electric as his smile. It was the first time I had met or even heard of him.

Harvey Brooks and Mike Bloomfield - recording Highway 61

Harvey Brooks (sitting) and Mike Bloomfield (lying on the floor).

At the first session, Joe Macho Jr. had played bass. He had been replaced by Russ Savakus who Dylan didn’t like either. Dylan wanted someone new for the rest of the sessions. Kooper recommended me to Dylan. Dylan needed to be comfortable with his bass player. Kooper knew I had a good feel and adapted quickly.

For Dylan, it was not enough to be a skilled studio musician. He wanted musicians who could adapt quickly to his style. I admitted to him that I hadn’t heard any of his music before the session, but was really impressed by “Like a Rolling Stone,” which I first heard when I walked into the studio.

“Well, these are a little different,” Bob responded. I assumed he meant from his past work, but Bob was bit vague. He gave me a crooked smile and then lit up a cigarette.

New producer Bob Johnston, a Columbia staff producer from Nashville, was already producing Patti Page when he got the Dylan assignment.

Johnston had a “documentary” approach that allowed him to capture fleeting moments in the studio. Frustrated by the technical bureaucracy at the Columbia studio, he ordered several tape machines brought into the control room, so he could keep one running at all times in order to capture anything Dylan might want to keep. That tactic worked quite well.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan's manager.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan’s manager.

Though the first session for “Highway 61 Revisited” had been only 2 weeks earlier, a lot had happened in the interim. “Like a Rolling Stone,” recorded at the first session, had been released and caught on like fire.

Only 4 days earlier, Dylan had been booed when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival. It was a pivotal time in his career. He was beginning the transition from being a “pure” folk artist to a rock and roll performer.

Now we were at the 2nd session, my 1st, uncertain of what was on Dylan’s mind. In a few minutes he came out of the control room and started to sing the first of 3 songs we would work on that day.

Dylan sang the first, “Tombstone Blues,” a few times. There were no chord charts. It was all done by ear. As a habit, I made a few quick chord charts for myself as I listened to him perform. Everyone focused on Dylan, watching for every nuance. Then, the band went for it.

As we began recording, Dylan was still working on the lyrics. He was constantly editing as we recorded. I thought that was a really amazing way that he worked. His guitar or piano part was the guiding element through each song. Every musician in that room was glued to him. We would play until Dylan felt something was right. His poker face never revealed what he was thinking.

Harvey Brooks (left) and Mike Bloomfield, when they played together in Electric Flag (a few years after the Dylan session).

Harvey Brooks (left) and Mike Bloomfield, when they played together in Electric Flag (a few years after the Dylan session).

It might have taken a couple of takes for everyone to lock in. There were mistakes of course, but they didn’t matter to Dylan. If the feel was there and the performance was successful, that’s all that mattered. In real life, that’s the way it is. If the overall performance happens, there is always something there. Bob would go into the control room and listen. Johnston may have been the producer keeping the tape rolling, but it was all Dylan deciding what felt right and what didn’t.

Bloomfield’s fiery guitar parts accented Dylan’s phrasing. He was a very explosive guitar player and didn’t settle back into things. He was aggressive and a little bit in front of it. My goal is finding a part that makes the the groove happen. Dylan set the feel and direction with his rhythm. My bass parts reflected what I got from him.

Most of my early playing experience had been in R&B bands that performed Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson tunes, or songs by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Playing with Dylan created a totally new category. I call it “jump in and go for it.”

We recorded “It Takes a Lot to Laugh” and “Positively 4th Street” the same way. Masters for the 3 songs were successfully recorded on July 29. (“Positively 4th Street” was issued as a single only.)

At the close of the session that 1st night Dylan attempted to record “Desolation Row,” accompanied only by Al on electric guitar and me on bass. There was no drummer. This electric version was eventually released in 2005, on “The Bootleg Series Volume 7” album.

Our producer had a love of and even a bias toward Nashville musicians. It became an underlying topic during the session about how good they were. He kept talking about how cool Nashville is. I felt his comments were disparaging to us. I felt Johnston thought of us as New York bumpkins in a way.

This Nashville bias played into “Desolation Row.” I thought the version without drums that I did with Al that night was slower and definitely more soulful. We really liked it. Clearly, Johnston thought otherwise. On August 2, 5 more takes were done on “Desolation Row.” However, the version of the song ultimately used on the album was recorded at an overdub session on August 4.

When I left the studio after the final session, I didn’t have a sense of whether or not we had created a hit record. I did know, however, that all the songs felt good. They felt solid. I now understand that’s why “Highway 61 Revisited” was a successful record. In all the takes Bob chose, he made sure he got what he wanted from each song. He knew what he wanted. It’s an amazing talent that really knows what they want.

Harvey Brooks today.

Harvey Brooks today.

Remembering Jinny Parker

Jinny Parker — legendary Staples High School field hockey, volleyball, track coach and physical education teacher; national champion (women’s track team); fierce and outspoken girls’ sports advocate; state leader, and all-around great woman — died July 9 in New Hampshire. She was 90 years old.

(And yes, it’s spelled with a “J.” Throughout her 26 years at Staples, people wrote her name as “Ginny.” They still do, when referring to the school’s field hockey field, named in 2002 for her. But around that time, she signed a letter to me “Jinny.” I asked her about it. “All my life they’ve been writing it wrong,” she said. “I never bothered to correct them.”)

Sue Windrick —  one of the many former athletes who revered her, and stayed in touch for decades after graduation — says: “I loved that woman! I learned what it meant to work hard, to work as a team, because of Miss Parker. I would do anything to make her proud of me. I thank her for taking a chance on a mediocre field hockey lover, and saying, ‘You can always do more than you think you can.'”

Deb Holliday Kintigh adds: “She was a gem in my treasure box.”

In 2004, as I was writing my history of Staples — 120+ Years Of A+ Education — I asked “The Old Gray Mare” (her field hockey athletes sang the song on bus rides home, and her license plate read “TOGM”) for an interview. She responded to my questions by email. Here’s what she said:

——————————————————-

After 8 years of teaching, I gave it up for a year at Boston University to get my master’s. Not entirely a good move, for while I was well qualified, I was not affordable. So when I got wind of an opening at Staples I applied, went down and was interviewed by [principal] Stan Lorenzen and [athletic director] Frank Dornfeld. I was offered a job, and I took it. I never regretted my hasty choice.

Jinny Parker

Jinny Parker

I was very nervous about following Karen Sniffen, a legend. The p.e. program had all the usual stuff – team sports, tennis and badminton – about which I knew nothing. I changed it to stunts and tumbling, and got away with it. Interscholastic sports were field hockey, basketball and softball. I was paid an extra $150 a year to coach field hockey, basketball, softball, tennis, cheerleading and intramurals. Our girls ran the gamut from jocks to duds but we had fun, and we did pretty well with what we had.

In those days the “official” view of girls’ sports was very apprehensive. They focused on play days and sports days – nothing too strenuous. I attended various area and state meetings, and didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or get mad. I had coached in Maine and New Hampshire and never lost a kid, so that attitude drove me nuts.

The period from 1955 to 1981 saw tremendous changes in both p.e. and sports for girls. The “wise ones” finally discovered that girls were tougher than they thought, and had the same desires for activities that boys did.

We had a well-rounded program, and I think some of the gym-haters actually learned something and even enjoyed it. Some kids were horrified, though, when they were given written tests on sports rules. They said, “I thought you were a gym teacher, not an English teacher.” Yeah, spelling and penmanship counted.

Jinny Parker, during her Staples High School days.

Jinny Parker, during her Staples High School days.

Interscholastic sports were something else. I was privileged to become a state committee member. We met monthly, and quietly tried to move girls’ sports to an equal plane with boys’. It worked, but there were quite a few bumps in the road.

Our first “breakthrough” came when we wanted to have a state volleyball tournament, as most schools could scrape up a team. Only the referees knew the rules, and they whistled like mad. At noon we had a conference and sort of got things straight. It was one heck of a learning experience.

There was a real nice bunch of young coaches in Connecticut, and we all had the same idea: good girls’ sports. All the hard work was done long before anyone even thought of Title IX. Most of us had the good fortune to work for good athletic directors, who let us move ahead. Budgets were always a problem, so progress was slow.

But the programs you see today in Connecticut were well underway in the ‘60s. My national champs in track were in 1966! I look back fondly on those building years, even though most of us are now retired, and most people think it took the feds to give girls the great athletic opportunities they enjoy today. But Connecticut was way out ahead, and the CIAC [state organization], FCIAC [Fairfield County league] and DGWS [Division for Girls’ and Women’s Sports] were responsible.

I was also fortunate to work with Frank Dornfeld and Albie Loeffler. They let me and my colleagues do what we thought best for our programs. They were gentlemen in all the interactions I ever had with them. Men and women often had different ideas about the p.e. program, as can be expected, but there were few conflicts – mostly who gets which gym or field space, and for how long.

Lowlights followed shortly after the birth of Title IX, though I don’t think there was any valid connection. I’m talking about the advent of coed p.e. classes. Our giant computer spit out 25-30 kids’ cards per class. It made little difference what a kid wanted, or where he or she really belonged. I felt worst for the little immature sophomore boys who got stuck in a class with me – by then old enough to be their grandmother – and who could be flattened by some of the girl varsity basketball players who were in that class too. Those little guys could have profited from a male role model, not an old goat like me.

Jinny Parker coaching field hockey in 1970. The Staples High School field is now named for her.

Jinny Parker coaching field hockey in 1970. The Staples High School field is now named for her.

But Staples certainly was a special place, or I wouldn’t have stayed for 26 years. I never aspired to college work or administration, so I couldn’t ever think why I should leave. No one ever threatened to fire me, though one chap might have liked to try.

Westport sure grew while I was there, but along the way I met some very nice people – parents mostly, as well as Tip Schaefer, Lou Nistico, Joe Cuseo, Jim Calkins and a host of others.

I probably would be a failure today, as discipline was a prime component in my dealings with kids. I hear from a lot of them from time to time, and I haven’t found they suffered much. I made mistakes, but not bad ones, I guess.

I spent 3 years teaching in a paper mill town – kids with green teeth, and 2 sisters who liked p.e. because they could shower. They lived in a tarpaper shack in the woods. They taught me a lot.

Westport was a shock after that, for the kids had everything and didn’t know it. I think Westport parents want only what is best for their kids, but as a child of the Great Depression, I am convinced that a batch of diversity is an excellent learning tool.

(For Jinny Parker’s full obituary, click here. A graveside committal service is scheduled for Thursday, August 6, 2 p.m. at the North Newport Cemetery in New Hampshire. Memorial contributions may be made to the Senior Citizens’ Outreach Program: Sullivan County Nutrition Services, c/o Wendy Callum, P.O. Box 387, Newport, NH 03773. 

Happy 90th, Tauck!

Exactly 90 years ago this month, Arthur Tauck Sr. rented a Studebaker. He brought 6 strangers on a 1,100-mile sales trip through the Berkshires, Adirondacks and Catskills. (He was selling his invention: a coin tray for banks that’s still used today. That’s a whole other story.)

It was the 1st “escorted motor tour” in history. That month, a new industry was born.

The first-ever Tauck tour.

The first-ever Tauck tour.

“Tauck Tours” soon expanded. Arthur Sr. ran motor coach trips to the Poconos, Nova Scotia, Virginia, Niagara Falls and Ontario.

The young company used guts and creativity to weather the Depression. They launched a special tour to the 1933 Chicago Exposition, then added a Florida cruise and Gaspé Peninsula trip.

Big ads for new tours ran in East Coast newspapers on a fateful Sunday: December 7, 1941. World War II ended those plans, but in 1947 Tauck Tours roared back.

Arthur Tauck Jr.

Arthur Tauck Jr.

Arthur Tauck Jr. took the helm in 1958. Soon, the company won a key legal battle in the Supreme Court. The coast was clear for private air charter services — and once again, Tauck Tours led the way.

In the 1960s, Tauck expanded westward. They won the right to host guests at National Parks hotels; linked the Canadian Rockies to the West Coast by motor coach; added Hawaii itineraries, and introduced helicopter sightseeing.

The Wilton Road headquarters.

The Wilton Road headquarters.

In the 1970s, the company moved its headquarters from New York City to Westport. The first tiny office on Wilton Road, across from Save the Children, grew several times. They added space at the Vigilant Firehouse (now Neat) across the street; the Mews office complex across from Compo Shopping Center, then consolidated everyone on Post Road West.

During the ’80s, when the classic “Fall Foliage” tours were done, tour directors came to Arthur Jr.’s and other family members’ Westport houses to unwind and debrief. For 5 straight weeks, this town was Tauck Tours’ home away from home.

As the 3rd generation — Peter, Robin and Chuck — emerged as leaders, Tauck Tours went global. There were “Yellow Roads of Europe” tours; small ship and European riverboat cruises, and land tours in the South Pacific, Central America, China and Southeast Asia.

The Tauck family also spearheaded the restoration of the Inn at National Hall — and donated the old-fashioned streetlights lining the nearby Post Road bridge.

The 2nd and 3rd Tauck generations (from left): Peter, Chuck, Robin, Ronnie and her husband Arthur Jr., Liz. Most live (or have lived) in Westport. Missing: Kiki.

The 2nd and 3rd Tauck generations (from left): Peter, Chuck, Robin, Ronnie and her husband Arthur Jr., Liz. Most live (or have lived) in Westport. Missing: Kiki.

Moving just across the Norwalk border to the Norden complex, Tauck continued to grow and innovate. Trips with a service component; one-of-a-kind special events; intergenerational tours; tie-ins with Ken Burns and BBC Earth, plus new itineraries in Africa, India, South America, Antarctica (soon: Cuba) — all beckon younger, adventure-oriented travelers.

Tauck has done it without losing the personal touch of that first Studebaker tour. The number of repeat guests is the envy of the industry. Recently, the company was named one of the best places in Connecticut to work.

Tauck logo

Tauck celebrates 90 years today, with a company-wide party.

They’ve also flown in 20 former tour directors — folks who remember the New England touring days, and parties here — for a gala get-together tomorrow. It’s at Arthur Jr.’s house, of course — not far from where Robin and Chuck live.

Tauck hosts hundreds of thousands of guests, and boasts 500 employees. But it’s still a family business.

And its heart is still in Westport.

BONUS FEATURE: Click below to see Arthur Tauck Jr. talk about the founding of the company:

Guarding Joyful Memories

Forty years ago last summer, Jaws terrorized America.

After work, a group of Westport lifeguards went to Post Cinema, to see what all the buzz was about.

The next day, guard chief Will Luedke told his crew to swim to the buoys. “That was the fastest I’ve ever swum in my life,” one recalls.

That story was one of dozens told — and retold — yesterday. Nearly 2 dozen men and women who spent summers in the 1970s at Compo Beach (and, occasionally, Longshore and Burying Hill) gathered for their 2nd annual reunion.

Lifeguard reunion host Ann Becker Moore, with former guard Bill Bellock.

Lifeguard reunion host Ann Becker Moore, with former guard Bill Bellock.

They ate lobster (which they seldom did, back in the day).

They drank beer (which they often did).

But mostly, they told stories. They laughed. And they looked back with awe on the friendships, the camaraderie and the job that was — hands down — one of the best times of all their lives.

Lifeguards - slide show

The reunion featured a slide show. Not much has changed in 40 years.

The days spent on the guard stands and in the shack were memorable. They did important work — keeping swimmers safe, providing first aid, finding lost kids — but they did it as a tight, fun-loving group.

The nights were even more memorable. They had their own basketball team, in a summer league. When someone’s parents were out of town, they partied. And if there was no party, they headed to one of Westport’s then-many bars.

One day, a call came from the Parks and Recreation Department office. Please stop wearing your red lifeguard jackets when you’re out at night, they were told. Too many people see you at too many different places.

Mary (Hughes) Treschita has many fond memories of her lifeguarding days.

Mary (Hughes) Treschita has fond memories of her lifeguarding days.

Mike Wolf — who went on to be Connecticut’s head FBI agent — brought a 40-year-old jacket to last night’s reunion, held at the rented beach-area home of self-described “lifeguard groupie” Ann Becker Moore. It was regarded with awe by the men and women who once worse them.

(It was also the object of much speculation. The jackets were supposed to be turned in at the end of the summer, not kept.)

The guards came from all over. Pam Washburn lives in California. Luedke — now an attorney — flew up from Texas. “I would have crawled here if I had to,” he said.

“It’s like we never left,” noted Dave Jones, who drove from Rhode Island.

Mary Treschita — back then, she was Mary Hughes — called those years “the prime of our lives. We still talk about the same things, and laugh the same way we did back then.”

“Sure, it was a job,” Jim Rodenbush added. “But boy, did we have fun.”

After a lobster dinner, the former guards wandered over to Compo for a nighttime group shot.

After dinner, the former guards wandered over to Compo for a nighttime group photo.