Category Archives: Organizations

In Case You Base Your Vote On More Than Road Signs…

Opinions are like you-know-whats: Everyone’s got ’em.

Westporters know exactly what to do about Baron’s South, the education budget, tree-cutting, downtown parking, Compo Beach, affordable housing, bike lanes, and a thousand different topics.

We are not afraid to share our thousands of different views with our elected officials.

When those officials disagree with us, we think it’s their fault. Even if we did not vote in the election that put them in office.

Knowledge is power.

LWV my town my voteIf you’d like to know exactly who you’re voting for next month — besides seeing their names on lawn signs — come to a pair of League of Women Voters-sponsored debates.

Tomorrow (Monday, October 5) focuses on candidates for the Planning & Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Assessment Appeals.

On Wednesday, October 14, meet Board of Education and Board of Finance hopefuls.

Both sessions are set for Town Hall, at 7 p.m.

But wait! There’s more!

Both days, at 6:15 p.m., voters can meet Representative Town Meeting (RTM) candidates. They’re our unsung civic backbone, with power over everything from final budgets to plastic bags.

Around the world, people continue to die for the right to vote. Here in Westport, you just have to go around the corner.

Coming Soon To Westport: The Wadsworth Arboretum?

Hartford has the Wadsworth Atheneum.

If Lou Mall has his way, Westport may soon have its own Wadsworth Arboretum.

The RTM member has asked our board of selectmen to rename 11.84 acres on Stony Brook Road “the Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum.”

The proposed Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called "Stony Brook property" on this Google Maps Earth view.

The proposed Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum is called “Stony Brook property” on this Google Maps Earth view.

According to Mall, in 1959 Wadsworth sold land on the  corner of Stony Brook and Woodside to the town — for $1. It was purchased for a school, which was never built.

This property, Mall says, “is a priceless gift to generations to come.”

In December 2013, nearby resident Dick Fincher wrote his RTM representatives about the property. He described damage done during a 2009 storm, and expressed concern about the town’s liability to anyone walking on the land. No action was taken, Mall says, due to a lack of funds.

In early spring 2014, 1st  Selectman Jim Marpe asked tree warden Bruce Lindsay to inspect the property. He applied for and received an urban forestry grant. The Planning and Zoning Commission then designated the area as open space. Fincher and neighbor John Howe cleaned up the property, saving a beautiful Norway maple tree.

Land near the proposed Wadsworth Arboretum.

Land near the proposed Wadsworth Arboretum.

Now, Mall says, the land needs a name.

Wadsworth was born in 1887  in New York, and died at her Kings Highway North home in 1962. (Her great-granddaughter, Sarah Cronquist, lives there today.) Wadsworth was a philanthropist, artist and sculptor, and widow of industrialist Dudley Wadsworth.

As founder and president of the Lillian Wadsworth Foundation, she contributed to the Mid-Fairfield County Museum — now called Earthplace — and donated 62 acres to it.

She was also active in the Westport Garden Club, Westport Library, Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Connecticut Antiquarian and Landmark Society and New York Horticultural Society.

The land Mall hopes to name for Wadsworth is heavily wooded. Designated as “passive recreation” space, its location adjacent to Earthplace makes it attractive to nature lovers.

“We have an opportunity to make this parcel the blueprint for neighborhood and volunteer involvement of funding, building and maintaining open space in Westport,” Mall says. “We need to respond as Lillian did, with clear thought and vigorous action.”

(Hat tip: Doug Fincher)

Chrissy’s Story

Life, John Lennon wrote, is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

As a young girl in Fairfield, Chrissy had plans. Growing up — and on into her 20s and 30s — she made many more. But life — messy, real life — kept getting in the way.

Chrissy (who asked that her last name not be used) is African American. She was adopted by a white family. From a young age, she was taunted by other kids for her skin color and curly hair. Her adoptive father once called her a “black bitch.”

But that wasn’t the worst.

Her brother — also adopted, though white — molested her for several years.

Chrissy ran away from home several times. Around 13, she landed in a New Haven home for adolescents. Then the state placed her in Project Return.

The North Compo Road group home offers a safe haven to girls who have suffered severe emotional trauma. It was the stable environment Chrissy needed for years.

She found wonderful support there. Director Susie Basler was a calming presence. Other staff members were kind and understanding. There were “typical girl fights,” Chrissy says, but the girls shared common bonds. “We all had issues and problems. We supported each other. And we knew it was OK to be ourselves.”

Project Return: where girls and young women transform their lives.

Project Return: where girls and young women transform their lives.

She attended Staples — a “great high school,” she says. She had a good group of friends, and a special boyfriend. She led a “semi-normal” life.

But Chrissy missed having a mother, father and siblings who loved and accepted her.

At 19 — perhaps seeking the close-knit family she never had — Chrissy had a son. Four years later, she had another.

Her adoptive parents — by then divorced — did not talk to her during her 1st pregnancy. But they showed up at the hospital after she gave birth, and fell in love with their grandson. They’ve been good grandparents, she says. “Perhaps this is their way of making up for their mistakes.”

At one point, Chrissy sought out her biological parents. She learned that her biological grandparents lived around the corner from her. She’d seen them at restaurants, though she had not known they were related.

When she met them, they were cool to her — because, she says, of her race. They also discouraged their daughter — Chrissy’s biological mother — from seeing her. “The door was constantly shut in my face,” she says.

Chrissy admits, “I’m not perfect. I’ve had issues. But I’m so lucky I was never addicted to drugs, or became a prostitute. A lot of women in my situation do.”

In her search for an ideal family — which never happened — she’s been in therapy. But, she notes, “psychiatrists can only give you direction. You have to put the work in to make something happen.”

Carol Cooper Garey

Carol Cooper Garey

One constant in her life is Carol Cooper Garey. The Westporter met Chrissy years ago, after I wrote a “Woog’s World” Westport News column about a young African American girl who was looking for a family.

Today, Carol is the godmother of Chrissy’s older, college son. “She’s been in my life no matter what,” Chrissy says gratefully. “No matter what mistakes I made, Carol never judged me. I knew she would always support me.”

Chrissy went to school, and earned an associate’s degree. She’s working now on her bachelor’s.

She had an accounting job. But life always throws her curveballs.

Several months ago, she was hit by a truck in Fairfield. She wrecked her spine, and embarked on a long recovery.

Finally, life is looking up. Chrissy is in a relationship — “the most healthy one I’ve ever had,” she says proudly. Though it is hard for her partner to hear what she’s endured, he is extremely supportive.

All of what she’s done takes “a ton of work,” Chrissy says. “It’s not easy. I’ve made a ton of mistakes. But healing is important. I just have to push forward.

“I was stuck for so long. There’s no magic pill. The memories won’t go away. But my work — changing behaviors — can be done.”

One of the most important things, Chrissy says, has been to forgive her abuser. It was “incredibly hard,” and did not happen until very recently.

Yet, she says, it had to be done. Otherwise, she could not have taken the next steps forward.

“I’m still a work in progress,” Chrissy explains.

She says it in a strong, confident voice. She is ready — no, eager — to keep moving ahead.


The Clothes Off Your Back

Westporters have a complex relationship with clothes. We dress pretty casually — wearing shorts to even the nicest restaurants, for instance — but we also fill our closets with some very expensive stuff.

But what happens to those elegant (and pricey) outfits that — after they’ve been worn once for a special occasion — are posted to Facebook or Instagram, and can never be seen again?

What about fabulous 4th-season designer outerwear when the owners become snowbirds?

Think of all those great i-banker suits, ties and accessories when you stop commuting, and start working from home (or at least Starbucks).

And we’ve all got outfits that looked great in the store but have hung in our homes for years, because meh.

Woman's Club salePeople have dropped off all those items — slightly used/gently worn suits, dresses, pants, jackets, blouses, sweaters, gowns, coats, scarves, shoes, jewelry, handbags and hats — at the Westport Woman’s Club.

On Friday and Saturday, October 2-3 (9 a.m.-3 p.m., 44 Imperial Avenue), they’re on sale at a giant Clothing and Accessories Tag Sale and Boutique.

It’s a huge fundraiser for an organization that funds many important programs, in Westport and surrounding towns.

And a great opportunity to find something nice to wear the next time you go out to dinner.

Besides shorts.


You see them every year in late September. College students stand on street corners all around Westport. They smile, dance — and hold out cans, asking for donations.

Plenty of drivers — impressed by their enthusiasm — hand over bills. They feel good, even if they’re not exactly sure what they’re donating to.

This weekend, Taylor Harrington will be one of those students. Just 3 months after graduating from Staples High School, she’s eagerly anticipating her 1st “THON” as a Penn Stater.

Taylor Harrington (left) with fellow 1st-year student Lucy Mester. Both will be "canning" in Westport this weekend.

Taylor Harrington (left) with fellow 1st-year student Lucy Mester. Both will be “canning” in Westport this weekend.

This week, she emailed “06880.” She wants to explain exactly what she — and thousands of classmates — will be doing here, and across the country, on Saturday and Sunday.

She says that Penn State’s THON — which raises money for children with pediatric cancer — is the largest student-run philanthrophy in the world.

Every sorority and fraternity at the school is paired with families who have a child with pediatric cancer. In February, students and family members dance for 46 hours straight, in the basketball arena. They don’t sleep, or even sit. They just come together to raise money for their cause.

The “canning” weekend — in which students dressed in Nittany Lion logowear ask passing drivers for donations — is another way to raise funds.

A typical Penn State "THON," last year. Katie Seel (3rd from left) will be joining Taylor Harrington in Westport this weekend.

A typical Penn State “THON,” last year. Katie Seel (3rd from left) will be joining Taylor Harrington in Westport this weekend.

Taylor first heard about THON when she visited Penn State as a high school junior. Her tour guide raved about the dance marathon.

Taylor watched videos, and got even more psyched. A couple of weeks ago — finally a college student — she rushed Delta Gamma. The sorority has 3 THON families. She can’t wait to know personally the people she is raising money to help.

She is excited to be “canning” in her hometown. Other Staples grads — including Sarah Ellman, Meghan Lonergan, Gwyneth Mulliken and Katelyn Farnen — will also travel with their sororities, to towns in Pennsylvania and New York.

But Taylor is coming home — and bringing 7 sorority sisters along.

They’ll move around, at various sites downtown. If you see her, now you “can” definitely put a face to a name.

One Town, One Team

For years, Westport has fielded 2 teams in each youth travel basketball age group. One was sponsored by the Westport Weston Family Y; the other by Westport PAL.

It was tough on kids, and their parents. It diluted the talent pool too.

Westport Y logoNow the 2 programs are joining forces. They’ll conduct joint tryouts, share coaching staffs and collaborate with scheduling practice time and league play, using school courts and the Y.

Following tryouts next month, boys and girls in grades 4 through 8 will be invited to play in a variety of Fairfield County Basketball League age groups and divisions, competing as “Westport PAL in association with the Westport Family YMCA teams.” There will be 15 teams in all.

Officials say the partnership is a response to parents’ concerns about having 2 separate FCBL programs for 1 community.

blog - Westport PAL

Jay Jaranko, senior program director for the Y, calls it “a win-win-win for both organizations, the town of Westport, and we think an even bigger win for the players and their teams.”

Howie Friedman, president of the PAL travel basketball program, says that the partnership with the Y is in line with his organization’s focus on maintaining the proper balance between competitiveness and fairness.

“Our PAL creed of ‘it’s all about the kids’ will truly be served by this collaboration,” he notes.

Last year's 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.

Last year’s 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.

Get Your Lobster On!

All summer long, Compo’s South Beach is the site of scrumptious-looking lobster bakes.

As summer ends (officially), there’s one last lobster cookout. And everyone is invited.

Westport Rotary‘s LobsterFest is set for this Saturday (September 19, 3-7 p.m.). It’s a great event — 2 lobsters or a New York strip steak plus corn, cole slaw, potato salad and all the beer and wine you can drink — for a great cause (Westport Rotary does amazing service, here and around the globe).

The beach is a fitting spot for lobster, of course. But it’s also familiar territory to Damon Grant. The percussionist headlines this year’s entertainment.

Damon Grant

Damon Grant

Before he became a musician, the world-class sideman — who has worked with Madonna and Parliament Funkadelic, and will be seen soon in “Daredevil” — dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.

Growing up in Norwalk, he had fish tanks all over his parents’ house. During high school, he worked at the Maritime Aquarium.

After a biology teacher turned him off to science, he became increasingly drawn to music. At Norwalk High School, he drummed in nearly every ensemble.

Grant earned a B.A. in jazz performance from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He’s just released a new album, Prevailing Melodies.

He and his fellow musicians will play “mellow, beach-y” music on Saturday. In other words: Music to eat lobster by.

(Tickets are $50 each, available at, at Joey’s By the Shore and from Rotary Club members. Funds generated benefit over 30 local non-profit organizations.)



Well-known fact: Michael Douglas was a teenager in Westport.

Less well-known: He was a member of the Downshifters hot rod club.

Virtually unknown, unless you grew up in Westport in the late 1950s and early ’60s: Westport had a hot rod club.

Meetings were held at the Y.  Members brought their girlfriends — but they sat outside.

Inside, there were formal presentations on cars — carburetors, brake systems, that sort of thing. Dues were collected, officers elected and minutes recorded.

Michael douglas 2

But the Downshifters were not a book club or sewing circle. They found spots around town to race (like “the asphalt near Mahackeno” — presumably, now the entrance to the Y). They “had something to do” with the Dover Drag Strip, just across the state line in Dutchess County.

The Downshifters are now receiving Social Security. The gears they shift are probably automatic.

But the club lives on in the memories of all its members (and their girlfriends, who sat outside).

Charlie Taylor, today.

Charlie Taylor, today.

As part of this weekend’s Staples High School’s Class of 1960 reunion, Charlie Taylor and Mike James will talk about the Downshifters. They’ll show photos and memorabilia, and discuss the possibility of a movie about the group. (Michael Douglas, anyone?)

Charlie and Mike are great storytellers. (They also have intriguing, non-hot-rod back stories. Charlie is a noted Nashville musician, while Mike was a prominent political activist.)

On Saturday though, they’ll concentrate on their Downshifter days. Those engines provided the soundtrack for some of the best times of their lives.

(The Downshifters talk is this Saturday, September 19, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., in the Westport Library 2nd floor seminar room. It’s free, and open to the public.)


Bridge Street Bridge: A Bit Of Background

The recent flurry of posts about the Bridge Street (William Cribari) Bridge prompted Kathie Motes Bennewitz to check in.

The town arts curator writes:

The recent Westport Historical Society exhibit, “Saugatuck@ Work,” addressed the Saugatuck bridge. This original drawing of the bridge (July, 1884) is from the WHS archives:

Bridge Street bridge - original drawing

The WHS exhibit included this information:

The Saugatuck River Bridge carries Route 136 over the Saugatuck River in Westport today. The bridge, built in 1884 and designed by the Union Bridge Company of Buffalo, is the oldest surviving movable bridge in Connecticut and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The movable bridge allows waterborne traffic to easily pass, which was crucial to the area’s maritime economy at the time it was built.

The bridge consists of a 144-foot-long fixed approach span on the eastern side, and a hand-cranked movable span. Both spans are pin-connected Pratt through truss designs made of wrought iron.

In the mid-1980s there was a successful 2-year battle to save and restore this Westport landmark. The battle began when Federal and state officials determined that the 100-year-old structure had rotting floor beams, and steel decking, trusses and girders had fallen into disrepair. Their plan was to build a new bridge, 3 lanes wide and with a higher vertical clearance, with no posted weight restrictions.

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

The Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Library of Congress)

This bridge was never without political controversy. The bridge’s present location was the historic crossing point, as established in 1746 when the Disbrow ferry was established to carry traffic over the Saugatuck River.

However, local merchants and financiers, such as the Jesup family and Horace Staples, built a substantial infrastructure of maritime, financial and commercial facilities upriver at Westport center, and blocked this bridge’s realization for decades. They wanted to force the flow of traffic from Fairfield, Greens Farms and Compo uptown, crossing the river there to reach the depot and wharves to the west.

Yet in the early 1880s, when the needs of overland transport demanded a new bridge in Saugatuck Village, there was little question but that the bridge would have to be built to accommodate the passage of vessels destined not only for Saugatuck itself, but also for the larger port upstream at Westport center.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin's Saugatuck mural.

A detail of the Bridge Street Bridge, from Robert Lambdin’s Saugatuck mural.

Horace Staples admitted late in life that it was the mistake of his life in having the bridge built where it was now [downtown] instead of at Ferry Lane, where the road builders that proposed and where the ferry had been established.

Ironically, the onion trade declined drastically soon after the bridge was opened, rendering moot the reason for erecting the swing bridge rather than a cheaper and less troublesome fixed crossing.

(Kathie adds: The Library of Congress has Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey photographs online. Click here to view.)

Improving Compo Beach, For Nearly 90 Years

In some ways, Compo Beach has changed little since the 1920s.

The sand is nicer. There’s a new jetty. But really, you can’t do too much to a beach.

In many ways, the neighborhood looks the same too. Homes line Soundview Drive, and fill the side streets. They’ve been winterized, modernized and raised to escape hurricanes and floods, but they’ve never lost that great beach vibe.

And after nearly 100 years, a Lane is once again in charge of the Compo Beach Improvement Association.

Back in the day, Joe Lane lived on Soundview. The CBIA was formed in 1928, and he was president. The organization took care of the beach, put floats in the water, and provided lifeguards. It also threw great parties.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction.

In the 1950s, rafts off Compo Beach were a great attraction. But look at those rocks!

Toni Cunningham succeeded Joe, and served for decades as CBIA president. She’s nearing 100 now, and still lives on Soundview. (Her daughter, Gail Cunningham Coen, and Gail’s husband Terry were longtime active CBIA members. Last year, they sold their Soundview home a few doors from Toni, and moved south.)

Three years ago, the torch was passed from Toni to Skip Lane. He’s Joe’s grandson. His father, Paul Lane, is the now retired, much-admired former Staples football coach who (of course) still lives in his own Soundview Drive home.

These days, the CBIA’s main job is taking care of the plantings along Soundview, monitoring issues like traffic and signs.

Skip Lane

Skip Lane

But Skip hopes to broaden the group’s impact. He’s getting more neighbors involved — including those on Minuteman and Bluewater Hill Roads, and around the corner on Hillspoint — and is looking at new projects, like how to add sand to the beach, and remove rocks.

“The beach is fantastic,” Skip says. “But it needs a little TLC.”

Skip now lives on Roosevelt Avenue, off Compo Beach Road.

“Even when I was growing up, I thought the beach could be better,” he says. “Little things like the parking lot bugged me. As much as everyone loves it, it can be polished.”

He is happy to see an influx of young families into the area. “There’s a group of them with little kids. They have parties at the end of Fairfield Avenue nearly every night,” he notes. “That’s the way it used to be. And the way it should be.”

Meanwhile, the Compo Beach Improvement Association is planning a party of its own. With summer renters gone — and some former residents coming back just for this event — the CBIA holds its annual barbecue this Sunday, at the Ned Dimes Marina.

There will be food and drinks. And plenty of back-in-the-day stories from Paul Lane and Toni Cunningham, who knew the beach then and still love it now.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo Beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.

A large wooden bathhouse once stood at Compo; walkways led to the beach. Today this is the site of the playground. The 2-story pavilion (right) is now only 1.