Category Archives: Organizations

Finding Westport Heroes At The Fallen Firefighters Memorial

Douglass Taft Davidoff is a Staples grad from a notable Westport family. His late father Jerry was, and his mother Denny still is, longtime civic volunteers, in areas ranging from education and politics to religion. Doug is now a Massachusetts-based writer, editor and marketer.

He writes:

Several weeks ago, near Bradley International Airport north of Hartford, I noticed a sign for the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial. It pointed down a road leading to the back of the airfield.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

I wondered if I would find anyone from Westport, so I followed the road. I did not know that I would find one of the most beloved figures from my childhood. In fact, I did not know if Westport had anyone remembered at this memorial. I had no idea whether Westport had lost any firefighters in the line of duty.

The road led to the Connecticut Fire Academy. The area is heavily wooded. Despite being next door to New England’s second-busiest jetport, it is serene and quiet.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial features a call box, from back in the day.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial features a call box, from back in the day.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located beside the Fire Academy, is a plinth with panels inscribed with the names of state firefighters lost in the line of duty. A polished marble slab carries the state seal, the memorial’s name, and a depiction of firefighters designed by a New Britain firefighter.

The names on the panels are randomized; they are not in alphabetical order, name of municipality or year of death. This forces visitors to appreciate many names of many fallen firefighters from many communities before coming upon the firefighter or community for which they are searching.

Five Westport firefighters from 2 deadly Westport fires are memorialized in this place.

Four of the 5 died together on May 2, 1946, when a truck exploded on the Post Road, near Sylvan Road: Frank L. Dennert, Francis P. Dunnigan, John H. Gallagher and Dominick Zeoli. You can read about the disaster here and here.

But I was stunned — and then I wept — when I discovered the name of a Westporter who meant a lot to me growing up during the 1960s and 1970s. I had no idea that George H. Cardozo had died of a heart attack during a Dec. 2, 2000, house fire on Marion Road. Nor did I know that he was honored on the state firefighters’ memorial.

George Cardozo's name, at the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

George Cardozo’s name, at the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

George, a commercial photographer, photojournalist and volunteer firefighter, lived with his wife Marion and their 2 daughters on Meadowbrook Lane, off Long Lots Road. The Cardozos and my parents socialized often and sailed together. The Cardozo daughters were babysitters for my brother and me. George was also a cousin of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo.

George was the photographer for the Westport Fire Department. Details of George’s death are here and here. The Westport Fire Department remembered its fallen members from the 1946 and 2000 fires on Memorial Day 2007.

I left a stone on top of the panel for George, and a stone on top of each panel bearing a name for Firefighters Dennert, Dunigan, Gallagher, and Zeoli.

And then I left a stone on the Fairfield County bench — right in front of the memorial — to remember everyone in the fire service, and all public services, who have given their careers and their lives to make Westport and its neighboring communities so special.

Stone left on the Fairfield County bench. (All photos/Douglass Taft Davidoff)

Stone left on the Fairfield County bench. (All photos/Douglass Taft Davidoff)

Qdoba, SHS And ALS

Qdoba — the new Mexican restaurant that will enliven/add to the traffic chaos of Playhouse Square — had a special pre-opening tonight.

Everything was on the house. Diners were asked to make a donation — 100% of which went to Staples High School athletics.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

The Qdoba crew, working hard tonight.

Qdoba opens for real on Monday. From 5-9 p.m., pay whatever you want. 100% of the proceeds will go to the local ALS Association.

That’s a far better deal than pouring an ice bucket on your head.

Welcome to Westport, Qdoba.

And ¡muchas gracias!

Earthplace Adds Own Transportation

Earthplace‘s after-school enrichment program will continue as usual this fall. Thanks to an agreement with a private transportation provider, students will travel directly from all 5 Westport elementary schools, to the sanctuary and museum.

Public transportation has ended. The Federal Transit Administration ruled that Westport’s after-school shuttle bus was an unauthorized public transit service route.

Earthplace worked with the Westport Transit District and Sandy Evangelista, transportation coordinator for the Westport public schools, to secure the alternate service.

“The loss of this public service puts the financial burden for transportation on Earthplace,” the organization says. “However, we recognize that this program is vital to working parents who need to know that their child will have a seamless transition from school to an afternoon of fun and learning.”

Earthplace

Digging An ALS Challenge

You’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: the video craze in which someone pours (or has poured) ice water over his or her head, and challenges others do the same within 24 hours. If not, they make a donation to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Plenty of folks are doing it creatively, wetly and freezingly. The videos are clever and funny.

But you’d have to go a long way to top this, from Westporter Jake Sussman:

Jake dedicated his video — created with the help of Peter Greenberg, of Able Construction — to a contractor who died of ALS. Jake also donated $100 to the ALS Foundation.

He hopes his video goes viral. Feel free to pass it along — and take the Ice Bucket Challenge yourself, too!

Jim Marpe: Federal Response To Transit District Request Coming Soon

Tonight, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe released this statement regarding the Westport Transit District:

In response to the “06880” story regarding transit service for some of our after-school programs, I would like to provide additional information on this evolving situation and update Westporters as to what your elected representatives and transit directors have been doing to find both short and long term solutions to this unexpected event.

In early July the Federal Transit Administration notified the Norwalk Transit District of its determination that the after-school bus service that NTD operates on behalf of Westport is an unauthorized public transit service route. The stops and clientele primarily involve students and, as such, the service was deemed equivalent to a “school bus service” and thus was “non-compliant” with Federal transit regulations.

Without getting into a long explanation of those regulations, suffice it to say that NTD and the Westport Transit District were given only 30 days to present a plan to become compliant or lose Federal funding (approximately 65% of the total program cost) for these after-school routes and the use of the NTD buses.

The Norwalk Transit District operates Westport's buses.

The Norwalk Transit District operates Westport’s buses.

This program has successfully operated for over 30 years in Westport. The program had recently passed its triennial Federal review, so its sudden disqualification came as a surprise. Unfortunately, the short time frame given to address the problem does not give us time to develop a solution in a manner which would meet the new federal interpretation of the regulations. Ultimately this may not be possible at all.

As soon as we were alerted to the problem by the NTD, the Selectman’s Office, in conjunction with State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and the Westport Transit directors, began a multi-avenue effort to find solutions. With the new school year upon us, and with hundreds of students, their parents and the programs counting on this service, our first and primary initiative has been to obtain a stay of this ruling. We are seeking a 5-month extension of our funding and continued use of the buses until January 1, 2015 so that an alternative solution can be found.

DOT logoToward this end, we have formally applied for an extension to the appropriate FTA administrator as well as to the Connecticut Department of Transportation, which is supporting our appeal. We have also been working closely with our state and federal representatives. Senators Blumenthal and Murphy and Congressman Himes have all signed a joint letter to the FTA strongly supporting Westport’s request for an extension.

Today I received a phone call from the FTA administrator in response to our letters and phone calls.  She informed me that relevant FTA officials will meet tomorrow  (Tuesday) to review our request, and expect to give us a response no later than this Wednesday.

In the interim, we have been exhaustively examining all other options to provide alternate service through other bus service providers in the region. The unfortunate reality is that, at this late date, most bus service providers are fully utilized at the time of the day when we would need 3 more buses to provide the service. There is very little additional bus capacity in our area at this moment.

If our request for an extension is granted, our objective will be to find a way to restructure our current program so that it is considered “compliant” by the FTA.  Alternatively, by working with programs and families, we can seek to find an alternative method of providing after-school transit services.

Hopefully on Wednesday we will have a positive response from the FTA so that we will not have to deal with the disruption and difficulty that the immediate cessation of this important service will cause. I will keep you informed.

Update: Earthplace, Temple Israel, And The Future Of Westport Transit

An “06880” post earlier today reported that the after-school Westport Transit District bus routes serving Earthplace and Temple Israel would be suspended indefinitely.

“06880” has learned that last-ditch negotiations may provide a solution. But time is running out.

EarthplaceThe reason for the suspension of the routes is cessation of federal funds. Because the route is geared to students traveling from schools to afternoon activities — but not run by a school district — it is out of compliance with government regulations.

If the funds are cut, dozens of Westport parents will have to figure how to get their kids to Earthplace programs, and religious education.

One result, of course, would be more cars on the road.

Temple IsraelBroader issues include: What’s the future of the Westport Transit District? How does it fit in with other area organizations? How do we live and move around in town? Is there any role for mass transportation, suburb-style?

A number of folks are working hard, seeking a resolution. State Representative Jonathan Steinberg, First Selectman Jim Marpe and town operations director Dewey Loselle, the WTD’s Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cederbaum, along with Earthplace and Temple Israel officials, have pulled many levers seeking a stay of execution — or at least a delay.

There are many layers to this onion. Stay tuned as Westport peels them back, one by one.

A Westport Transit District bus.

A Westport Transit District bus.

Lifeguard Olympics: Everyone Into The Water!

They save lives. They comfort lost children. They also compete in rescue board relays, 1-mile runs, a jetty-to-jetty swim, beach volleyball and a relay race.

They’re the Compo Beach lifeguards. On Friday night — after stowing their walkie-talkies and zinc oxide — the very fit, very tan guards hosted their Longshore counterparts in a “Lifeguard Olympics.”

Kyle Mikesh of Compo Beach (left) and Will Brant of Longshore fly into the water, at the start of the rescue board relay race. (Photo/Justin Rende)

Kyle Mikesh of Compo Beach (left) and Will Brant of Longshore fly into the water, at the start of the rescue board relay race. (Photo/Justin Rende)

The friendly (I guess) competition — sponsored by Westport Parks and Recreation — was a continuation of a tradition established years ago, when teams from Norwalk and Fairfield competed. (That’s why every night’s we’re-now-off-duty announcement mentions the “award-winning Compo Beach lifeguards”).

Compo guards practice for the volleyball event.

Compo guards practice for the volleyball event.

Friday’s event drew a large, appreciative crowd. They saw one more side to Westport’s superb lifeguards, who truly do it all.

Connor Weiler is very proud to be a Compo Beach lifeguard.

Connor Weiler is very proud to be a Compo Beach lifeguard.

The Compo guards. Front (from left): Emily Harris, Dylan Schattman, Justin Rende, Kaitlyn Mello, Connor Weiler, Emma Mikesh, Kara Millington, Alex Mirabile. Back: Red Siecienski, Kyle Mikesh, Casey Searl. Not pictured: Callie Collins, Hannah Mello.

The Compo guards…

...and their Longshore foes.

…and their Longshore foes. (Photo/Justin Rende)

 

Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer Headline Best-Ever Blues, Views & BBQ Fest

When it comes to blues music, Westport is not exactly Chicago or Memphis.

And when you’re talking barbecue, Kansas City and Atlanta come to mind far quicker than this place.

But over the past 6 years — thanks to the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival — the Westport Downtown Merchants Association has done a phenomenal job putting our town on the music and culinary maps.

The 7th annual event — set for Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31 on Labor Day weekend — will make all previous ones look like county fairs.

Spin Doctors will headline this year's Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Spin Doctors will headline this year’s Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

Blues, rock, brass and funk fans will be blown away by the lineup. The WDMA has signed Spin Doctors, Rick Derringer and a host of other big names — Bill Kirchen, Pop Chubby, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Raw Oyster Cult and Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, to name a few — and rented the new Levitt Pavilion for 2 days of fantastic entertainment.

There’s 9 hours of music each day, for the very cool pre-pay price of $50 Saturday and $25 Sunday ($60 and $30 respectively, at the door). A 2-day pass is just $70 — and kids under 12 are free, with a paying adult.

(For Westporters only — and only through August 17 — the Saturday all-access pass is $40. The regular pre-sale price is $50; on-site, it’s $60.)

Meanwhile, the “Family Fun Fest” — in the library and Imperial Avenue parking lots — features plenty of food (including Bobby Q’s, but also from Blue Lemon, Meltmobile, Rolling Cones and others, plus of course a worthy selection of beverages); the always popular BBQ competition; rib- and pie-eating contests; cooking demonstrations; music (including School of Rock kids); bouncy stuff, and all that jazz.

And the price for that has been cut, from $25 last year to just $10. Kids 12 and under go free.

The Packin' Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The Packin’ Heat BBQ team always provides hot competition. (Photo/MIke Thut)

The WDMA does a great job — often without proper credit — promoting free community events, like the Fine Arts Festival, Halloween Parade and Art About Town. They donate to other non-profits, and with projects like Tunnel Vision they beautify downtown.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is the WDMA’s signature event. In just 2 weeks, Westport will be smokin’.

(For advance tickets and more information, click on http://www.bluesviewsbbq.com or call 203-505-8716. Gates open at 11 a.m. Music starts at noon, and goes straight through to 9:30 p.m.)

Big Sam's Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Big Sam’s Funky Nation will also perform at the Blues, Views & BBQ Fest. (Photo/Adam McCullough)

Westport Wins “Fan Favorite Town” Award

Forget CNN Money‘s “50 Best Small Towns” in America, and their “Top 10 Earning Towns.”  Those are as ridiculous as Newsweek’s rankings of high schools, which give points for the number of kids who take AP tests — whether they pass them or not.

But the Connecticut Fan-Favorite Town of the Year. Now that’s an honor.

And of course, Westport won it. You think I’d write about it if we were 12th?

The contest was organized by the Connecticut Office of Tourism. First Selectman Jim Marpe accepted the award on FOX CT this morning.

A video created by 5th graders Clara Holleman, Sydney Newman and Sutton Lindau, and taped and edited by recent Staples grad Claudine Brantley, helped drive votes. So did posts on the town’s social media sites, as well as (I like to think) a piece about the contest on “06880.”

As winner, Westport receives:

  • Advertising support from the Connecticut Office of Tourism
  • National and in-state public relations support
  • Editorial feature in the 2015 Official Connecticut Visitor’s Guide
  • Week-long social media feature across the Connecticut Office of Tourism’s social channels
  • And, of course, a plaque.

PS: Compo Beach was chosen as the most popular destination within Westport. They needed a contest to figure that out?

Well, Happy Birthday, Betty Lou!

Betty Lou Cummings turns 80 years old today.

In honor of that milestone, here is an “06880” post from 2011. Nothing says “Betty Lou” better than this.

Generations of Westporters know Betty Lou Cummings as Westport’s #1 cheerleader.

Whether serving as 2nd selectman or leading projects like the Apple Festival, Riverwalk or library’s River of Names, Betty Lou is a big civic booster.

Some Westporters know that Betty Lou’s enthusiasm comes naturally:  She was a cheerleader at Michigan State.

What many don’t know is that she was 1 of the first female cheerleaders there — or in the entire Big 10.

Recently, Betty Lou returned to her native state.  The occasion was bittersweet — she and her husband Tom said goodbye to his mother, who died recently at 103 — but she also stopped by her alma mater’s alumni association.

When they heard her history, they taped her — for their archives, and YouTube.

In 1954, Betty Lou says, 200 students tried out for the cheerleading squad.  Only 6 were chosen.  Four — like her — were blonde.

“We were famous all over Michigan,” she says.  Nearly all cheerleaders at the time were male.

In the video, she talks about her work with Westport’s Senior Center.  Every Super Bowl Sunday, she leads cheers at the annual party — with her green and white Spartans pompoms.

She also says that instead of accompanying the squad to the Rose Bowl, she got married.  Her father objected:  She could get married any time — but there was only one Rose Bowl.

At the end of the video, Betty Lou gives a rousing Michigan State cheer.

She hasn’t lost a beat.