Category Archives: Organizations

Here She Is: The Dragon Lady!

This morning’s post about the new exhibits at the Westport Historical Society included a passing reference to The Dragon Lady.

Several readers commented — quickly and excitedly. They saw her often at Compo Beach, and remembered her floppy hat, black bouffant do, animal print outfits and high heels.

Of course, they wanted to see the photo I mentioned.

It’s hanging on the WHS wall, as part of the Larry Silver exhibit. (The official name is “Woman With Straw Hat, Compo Beach 1985.”)

And now here it is too, on “06880″:

(Copyright Larry Silver, courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York)

Here are 2 more of my favorites. “Boy Standing on Swing” evokes the original Compo playground …

Larry Silver - Boy Standing on Swing

… while “Dancing on the Jetties” shows that while fashions have changed since 1979, kids at the beach have not.

(All copyright Larry Silver photos courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York)

Larry Silver’s Westport Historical Society exhibit includes much more than just Compo Beach. It’s open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 12 to 6 p.m.

Hey! I Know You!

Last night, the Westport Historical Society celebrated 2 new exhibits.

“Larry Silver/Westport Visions” is a fascinating look at our town, through 40 years of remarkable photos. Larry has focused a keen eye on Longshore, downtown, the railroad station — you name it, he’s captured it in a special way.

"Compo Beach Showers" (Photo/Larry Silver, courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery)

“Compo Beach Showers” (Photo/Larry Silver, courtesy of Bruce Silverstein Gallery)

His most remarked-on shot last night may have been the “Dragon Lady”: the striking woman who for years strode up and down Compo in heels. If you didn’t know her, don’t call yourself a Westporter.

Equally intriguing is the 2nd exhibit, in the smaller Mollie Donovan Gallery. “Faces in the Crowd” consists of a few dozen group shots from long (and longer) ago. Class shots, Little League teams, parties — if there was a gathering in Westport, it might be on the wall.

Here’s one, of teenage Hi-Y Club members at the YMCA:

WHS - Hi-Y

And another of a crazy party in the barn at 57 Kings Highway North, owned by Ann Sheffer’s grandparents:

WHS - barn party

But what’s really fun is the interactivity. Each photo has a number; each number has a small notebook. If you recognize someone in any of the photos — Ed Hall, say, or Harold von Schmidt or Dan Woog — you can write where that person is in the photo, and add something about the scene.

Yeah, me. I’m in the WHS exhibit, in the photo below. Go, Apaches!

DW - Little League

(The Westport Historical Society is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Saturday 12-4 p.m.)

Fine Arts Festival Works Out Just Fine

Up in Vermont, Edward Loedding heard the reputation of the Westport Fine Arts Festival: It was a great show, but if you were stuck on Gorham Island, you were dead. It was hot as hell, and very few people ventured over.

So for several years, Loedding did not apply for a spot. Two years ago, he gave it a try.

He was put on Gorham Island — and had a “wonderful” experience. Last year, on Parker Harding Plaza, was even better.

Westport is now a highly prized spot on Loedding’s calendar. And he’s happy wherever he’s assigned.

 

"Sunset Barn," by Edward Loedding.

“Sunset Barn,” by Edward Loedding.

Loedding — a very talent photographer and digital artist — will be in Westport this weekend, for the 41st annual Art Show. (He’s in booth #64-65, along the river.) He joins over 135 artists — 39 of them new — showing works in drawing, mixed media, painting, photography, printmaking, sculpture, watercolor, glass, fiber, wood, jewelry and ceramics.

Plus music, food, street performers, face painters, a magician, a balloon artist and mime.

"Don't mime me," this guy said last year at the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

“Don’t mime me,” this guy said last year at the Westport Fine Arts Festival.

Loedding loves it all — especially the art-lovers.

“A high percentage know what they’re looking for, and appreciate it,” Loedding says. “I do 20 shows a year up and down the East Coast, and that’s not always the case.”

A photographer -- and potential customer -- takes a shot of some intriguing art along the river, in 2011.

A potential customer takes a shot of some intriguing art along the river, in 2011.

Westport’s Elizabeth Marks Juviler will be there too. She’s involved in many local activities — Girl Scout leader, PAL cheerleading coach, Young Women’s League president, Historical Society board member, Westport Country Playhouse staffer — but she is also a noted artist.

Juviler has participated in the Downtown Merchants Association’s “Art About Town” event, and sells in galleries and design stores, but this is her 1st time at the summer show. “As a Westport artist who has purchased art there, I wanted to be in the Fine Arts Festival,” she says. “It’s a goal I set for myself.”

Westport — its landscapes, nature and beach — inspire Juviler’s work. Three years ago, she began incorporating recycled newspapers and magazines onto her canvases. She combines headlines, words, pictures and layers of paint to create art that is “a moment in time.”

Scores of artists — and hundreds of art lovers — will have their time this weekend. And whether they’re on the river or Gorham Island matters not at all.

(The Westport Downtown Merchants Association’s 41st annual Fine Arts Festival is set for this Saturday, July 19 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Sunday, July 20 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., at Parker Harding Plaza and Gorham Island. Meanwhile, across the Post Road, the Westport Library hosts its “best ever” book sale, from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. both days.)

Artists relax near the work on Gorham Island, in 2009.

Artists relax near their work on Gorham Island, in 2009.

Remembering Shirley Land

Shirley Land died last night, surrounded by her family. She was 96.

Shirley’s daughter described her as a “remarkable, kind, upbeat, intelligent, interesting and inquisitive woman. She grabbed life with both hands, and enjoyed it immensely.”  

Shirley was one of the last of a generation of men and women who made a remarkable impact on Westport. In 2008, when she moved to North Carolina to be closer to her family, I wrote a story extolling her virtues. I am honored to reprint it.

As a new generation takes over Westport — altering its physical, political and social landscapes in ways large and small, positive and negative — an older generation fades. Men and women in their 70s, 80s and 90s — the ones who steered our town through the turbulent 1960s; who modernized old cultural icons like the library, and created important new ones like the senior center; who kept the artistic flame burning on stage and in galleries — are moving on.

Some go permanently, through death. Others fade slowly, moving away from Westport into assisted living centers or with their children. That is how things happen in a community, and the world. It is life, and life moves on.

But Westport must remember, and honor, the many folks whose countless hours of service and boundless stores of energy made this place what it was, what it is, and, in many ways, what it will remain for years to come. Which is why the departure of Shirley Land — who leaves Westport next month for North Carolina — cannot go unnoticed.

Shirley Land, loving life.

Shirley Land, loving life.

Land is small in stature — I tower over her, no small feat — but her imprint on our town is huge. Julie Belaga, a former state legislator and candidate for governor, first met her in 1965, when the Belaga family moved to Berndale Drive.

“We were next door neighbors,” Belaga recalled. “From the very start I realized she was a remarkable woman. She was dear, loving, high-energy and every time I turned around she was working on something. The first project I knew about was for underprivileged pre-school children, with Sybil Steinberg, but she went on to work for the bicentennial, the library, the arts — you name it.” Belaga remembered that Land was one of the Westport News’ first EASE columnists.

“Shirley was the best neighbor anyone could have. She was generous and fun. Everyone would be lucky to have Shirley Land as their neighbor.”

Shirley Land and her beloved husband Alex.

Shirley Land and her beloved husband Alex.

Westport got lucky when Land moved here in 1961. Immediately, she volunteered at her 3 children’s schools. “That was natural, because this was such a wonderful small town,” Land said. “I grew up in Chicago, and never lived in a small town. Moving here was a wonderful fluke, but it was the best thing that happened to us and our children.”

Mollie Donovan — no slouch herself in the volunteer department — said, “In 1974 the PTA Council took over the Westport Schools’ Permanent Art Collection. My sister Eve Potts, Dora Stuttman and I worked with Shirley on it. She said it would take a year. Thirty years later, it’s still going strong.

“Shirley is one of the most loyal friends I’ve had,” Donovan praised. “Any committee I ever asked her to serve on, she did, from arts shows on Jesup Green to anything for the historical society. Her energy and creativity are amazing.” Donovan also noted that Land ran “one of the earliest exercise groups in Westport” — at her backyard swimming pool.

In 1974 Land was appointed chairman of Westport’s Bicentennial Committee. Throughout 1976 she helped produce a full and wide-ranging calendar of events, culminating with a Grand Ball at what is now the Levitt Pavilion.

In addition, said former 2nd selectman and dynamo-about-town Betty Lou Cummings, “Shirley really made the Riverwalk come true. She was president of the Friends of the Library. She thought having a brick walkway along the Saugatuck River was a wonderful idea, and she made sure it happened.”

Cummings lauded Land’s “Yes, we can do it!” spirit. “She always had a positive answer. Everyone always turns to her because such a good do-bee. She’s made such a difference in our lives.”

Land’s other accomplishments include leading the United Fund (the precursor to today’s Westport-Weston United Way), and co-founding the Y’s Women organization.

Shirley Land

Shirley Land

More recently, Land turned her attention to the Senior Center. She was an original member of the organization’s Friends group, and served on the center’s policy and planning board. According to director Sue Pfister, “Jack Klinge, the president of the Friends of the Senior Center, says that whenever something absolutely had to get done, he asked Shirley. Then he was sure it would be taken care of.”

Land was active in the center’s home-delivered meals program, organized current events seminars and, with her late husband Alex, participated in aerobic chair activities. “She was so loving, committed and devoted to him, particularly in the final years of his life,” Pfister said.

“She is energetic, informative, well-versed, enthusiastic, upbeat and determined,” Pfister added. “If there was ever a problem, Shirley solved it immediately and correctly. She is so well-respected and loved. I’ll miss her — and so will everyone here.”

Perhaps no organization is more closely entwined with Land’s life than the Westport Public Library. “She was involved with everything here,” said director Maxine Bleiweis. “She reactivated our Friends of the Library group and was president of it. She was an employee here, doing public relations, for 11 years, and then she volunteered. She was the first recipient of our Special Friends award, and no one was more deserving of that honor.”

“It has been a privilege to have her energy and positiveness put to use for the library — as it has been for so many other groups and organizations in town,” Bleiweis added. “Her personal strength and her willingness to do whatever needed to be done, for whatever cause she was working on, are inspirations and examples to everyone.”

Shirley Land was not a big woman, but she had a broad reach throughout Westport.

Shirley Land was not a big woman, but she had a broad reach throughout Westport.

Five weeks from now, on March 31, Land leaves the town she calls “so comfortable. I feel so privileged not to have sat in a corner, but to have gotten to know such a diversity of people through so many activities.” She will miss all that — including walking along Compo Beach, an activity she continued with her husband even when he was sick. “We met everyone there, she said. “And together we solved all the world’s problems.”

Land looks forward to living near her daughter Carol in Chapel Hill and getting involved in the rich cultural and social life of the area. However, she admitted, “At 90 years old, this is a long jump to take. The thought of leaving Westport is a little scary.”

Not nearly as scary as imagining Westport without Shirley Land.

(There will be a small service in North Carolina for Shirley this month, followed by a memorial in Connecticut at a date to be determined.)

And The Results Are (Almost) In

What do you get when you combine 2 “Downtown Visioning” workshops with several surveys?

I have no clue. But you and I can find out a week from Monday (July 21, 7:30 pm, Town Hall).

That’s when downtown consultants The RBA Group present a summary of ideas from those “Your Downtown” events. Over 2,900 residents completed surveys (“an unprecedented, large response rate for a survey of this nature,” a Downtown Steering Committee press release says). 170 people attended the workshops.

 

Westport residents are sharing many opinions about downtown -- including how to tie both sides of the river together.

Westport residents are sharing many opinions about downtown — including how to tie both sides of the river together.

After RBA’s presentation, the Downtown Merchants Association and Youth Commission will share the results of their own, separate surveys. The WDMA asked over 100 merchants about employees’ commuting and parking practices, while the Youth Commission asked Staples students about their ideas for downtown. (Hmmmm…..)

“Charrette” planning sessions will take place in September. Then comes a final downtown master plan. And more meetings.

Whatever the outcome, you can’t say you weren’t asked to be involved.

(For more information, click on www.downtownwestportct.com.)

 

You Can Help Save This Child’s Life…

… or you can turn the page.

Okay, that’s over-dramatic. It’s not a life-or-death situation. And you don’t turn a blog page; you click the “x.”

But here’s the deal. Westport Rotary is all set to host a 17-year-old exchange student. Martin arrives from the Czech Republic on August 17.

Yet until the 1st host family steps up — for a 3 1/2-month period — Martin can’t get a visa.

He seems like a great kid. He likes skiing, tennis, volleyball, golf and hockey. He plays guitar, and is social and adventurous. He looks forward to Westport.

If he can get here.

Anyone can host: families with kids, people without children, empty nesters, you name it.

Rotary ClubMany Stapleites have enjoyed Rotary exchanges abroad. Many Westporters have hosted exchange students. As of yet though, no one has stepped up for Martin.

Host families provide room and board for 3 1/2 months. The student does not need his own bedroom. Major expenses are covered by the student’s natural family, and Rotary provides health insurance plus a small stipend.

You can click the “x” at the top of this page. Or you can contact Fides Østbye (203-858-6694, fidesmo@aol.com), to give Martin his 1st Westport home.

 

CT Challenge Is A Ride For Life

When Staples grad Susan Lloyd lost first her leg, and then her life, to bone cancer, her family could have wallowed in self-pity.

When Fairfield native Jeff Keith lost a leg to cancer at age 12, he could have limped along and watched life from the sidelines.

They did not.

And countless area cancer patients and their families have benefited as a result.

Susan Lloyd

Susan Lloyd

Since 1982, the Susan Fund has awarded hundreds of college scholarships to young people suffering with cancer. Since 2005, Jeff’s CT Challenge has helped cancer survivors live healthier, happier lives through fitness, nutrition, health and support programs. Fittingly, Jeff was one of the first Susan Fund recipients.

The 2 organizations work closely together. For example, the CT Challenge’s Center for Survivorship in Southport hosts the Susan Fund awards ceremony.

And on Saturday, July 26 there are 25, 50, 75 and 100-mile bike rides, all starting at the Fairfield County Hunt Club. A 2-day ride starts the day before in Lakeville, Connecticut, and ends at the Hunt Club.

Over 1,000 riders — all of whom raise money to participate — are expected for this year’s 10th annual event. Last summer, they raised a record $1.65 million.

CT Challenge - 1Part of the funds raised by the bike ride support the Susan Fund. The bulk goes to the CT Challenge Center for Survivorship. It’s the only standalone center of its kind in the country not affiliated with a hospital.

Other money goes to CT Challenge’s yoga program, camp and college scholarships for young cancer survivors, adventure outings for young adult survivors, support for women in lower socioeconomic areas, research projects, outreach services, a speaker series and more.

Last year, nearly 54,000 cancer survivors benefited from CT Challenge programs.

Among the riders this year is Jessica Ellison. A Staples grad and Susan Fund recipient, she’s majoring in molecular biology at Georgetown University. Jessica spent several years at Camp Rising Sun, inspiring youngsters with cancer. She’s now a counselor there, and will join the camp team at the CT Challenge.

Jessica Ellison

Jessica Ellison

Last year, Jessica and her parents rode with the Susan Fund team. This year, there are 2 Susan Fund teams entered in the ride.

Of course, you don’t have to be part of any team to participate. All you have to do is support a cyclist – or get on a bike yourself.

It’s a beautiful ride. Plus, the Lloyd family and Jeff Keith have already shown you the way.

(Click for more information on the CT Challenge bike rides.)

 

Compo Beach — Or Compo “Park”?

If you’ve lived in Westport for more than, say, 6 hours, the reference is clear. “Compo” is “the beach.” “The beach” is “Compo.”

Apparently, AKRF and Lothrop Associates have not lived here for more than 6 hours.

They’re the consultants to the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee. Yet even though “beach” is right there in the title, the consultants’ report frequently refers to the beach as a “park.”

With lifeguards, sand and plenty of water, Compo is a beach.

With lifeguards, sand and plenty of water, Compo is a beach.

The Executive Summary on Page 1 says: “The Compo Beach Master Plan … is intended to serve as a ‘blueprint’ for future improvements to the park.”

The “park” is referenced 3 more times in the Introduction 2 pages later, including this: “The Master Plan evolved from an extensive public outreach campaign … where the community expressed its concerns, ideas and desires for the park.”

No. We did not.

We expressed our concerns, ideas and desires for the beach. Compo is a beach.

As a beach, it has many wonderful attractions: a boardwalk, Joey’s, a playground, athletic fields, a marina, and 2 decorative cannons. Those are important parts of Compo, and we enjoy them all.

But Compo is not a park. It is a beach.

Just because 2 people got married at Compo Beach, we don't call it a chapel. (Photo by Betsy P. Kahn)

Just because 2 people got married at Compo Beach, we don’t call it a chapel. (Photo/Betsy P. Kahn)

Changing nomenclature is not insignificant. There is a reason one side in a long-running debate calls itself “pro-choice,” and the other “pro-life” – instead of  “anti-abortion.”

Recasting our planet’s health as “climate change” rather than “global warming” has reframed that issue. Deniers can no longer simply look at freezing temperatures and major snowstorms, and scoff.

Central is a park. Compo is a beach.

And no consultants’ report will convince me to say — as no one in the history of Westport ever has — “What a beautiful day! Let’s go to the park!”

Any way you frame it, Compo is a beach. It is not a park.

Any way you frame it, Compo is a beach — not a park.

A Taxing Question Is Answered

On Thursday I got my “sewer use charge and benefit assessment” bill.

Last year I paid $257.

This year, the charge was $5,487.00

First, I chewed some aspirin to stave off the heart attack I figured was coming.

Then I wondered: If this is my sewer bill, what will my property tax look like?

But after I did a quick calculation, I realized the increase was 20 times last year’s charge — and there are 20 units in my condo. Obviously, the tax collector charged me for all 20 owners.

Yikes!

Yikes!

Town Hall was already closed for the July 4th holiday. No biggie. I figured I’d call on Monday.

But a simple tax bill mistake is not what makes this story “06880″-worthy. Here’s the great part:

On Saturday I got an email from my upstairs neighbor, cc-ed to every unit owner.

At 12:13 a.m. Friday, she told us, she’d emailed the “Water Pollution Control Authority Coordinator” at the Department of Public Works — the contact for appeals listed on the sewer bill — with the same question I had: Had she been assessed for every owner in our building?

Yes, replied coordinator Bryan Thompson. It was a system error. New bills were being printed, and would be mailed out Monday.

What’s incredible is that Bryan responded less than 8 hours later — at 7:54 a.m.

On July 4th.

“I’m pretty sure no one in the history of the universe has ever gotten back to me that quickly,” my neighbor replied to Bryan.

And, I’d add, I’m pretty sure no one in the history of government, at any level, has ever replied that quickly to any tax complaint on a national holiday.

 

 

Remembering Jack Donovan

Jack Donovan was not as well known as his wife Mollie.

Until her death 3 years ago, she was a tireless volunteer in a variety of causes. From the Historical Society and Westport Arts Center to the Schools’ Permanent Art Collection, everyone knew Mollie Donovan.

Jack and Mollie Donovan, on their wedding day.

Jack and Mollie Donovan, on their wedding day.

Jack was less visible, more low-key. But in his quiet, unassuming way, he too contributed to a variety of causes in town. He offered his pro bono services as an accountant to many, and he was very active — behind the scenes — helping Mollie in every project.

Jack died yesterday morning at 87. His death came the same way he lived: quietly and gently.

His son Dan — who, thanks in part to the love of Westport instilled by his parents — moved back here several years ago, with his wife and their 6 kids — passes along a story that epitomizes Jack Donovan.

“Mom lost a diamond from her wedding ring,” Dan says. “Dad submitted a claim to the insurance company and they got reimbursed.

“A year later, Mom was sweeping under the radiator in their bedroom. Lo and behold, the missing diamond was found.

“Dad promptly wrote a check to the insurance company. They called to ask why. He told them it was for the found diamond. They said no one had ever done that before — and they had no idea what to do with his check!”

Jack Donovan was honest, loyal and smart. He had impeccable integrity. He was a great Westporter and a beloved family man, with values we should all strive to emulate.

Jack Donovan, surrounded by his 12 grandchildren.

Jack Donovan, surrounded by his 12 grandchildren.