Category Archives: Organizations

Sam Appel’s Alice B. Toklas Connection

As a child, Sam Appel created “menus” of cereal and yogurt for her parents — and asked them to pay for their meals.

At Staples High School, she took every culinary class she could. She served as a teaching assistant for instructor Cecily Gans; worked at her summer cooking camp; helped with her catering jobs, and assisted on a cookbook.

Sam was drawn to Chef Gans’ “personality, artistry, and beautiful food.”

She was similarly inspired by English teacher Gus Young. He introduced her to the “art and magic” of food writing.

Not surprisingly, Sam’s college application essay was about food writing.

She had thought about culinary schools. But when she discovered Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration — with its focus on hospitality — she realized that the business side of food was as intriguing as cooking it.

Sam Appel

After graduating from Cornell in 2010, she joined restaurant software company Avero as a consultant. Last May she moved to a marketing position with Chipotle. (Her territory includes Westport — so, coincidentally, she’s involved with their soon-to-be-opened restaurant here.)

Sam loves her job. But she’s just as passionate about the Toklas Society. Named for the legendary cookbook author/creative salon hostess Alice B. Toklas, the 2-year-old nonprofit provides opportunities for empowerment, networking and professional growth to women in the (traditionally male-dominated) food and hospitality industry.

As director of communications, Sam hears plenty of stories about — and is inspired by — female chefs and entrepreneurs.

The Toklas Society has just partnered with Food & Wine Magazine. The prestigious publication and Toklas will feature leaders and rising stars in the food and beverage worlds (on Twitter, follow #foodwinewomen).

Sam Appel is proud that she can support talented women in an industry she loves. She is equally proud that her passion was stirred by 2 key people — Chef Cecily Gans, and English teacher Gus Young — a decade ago at Staples High School.

 

 

Petey Menz’s Hasty Pudding

Wikipedia calls Hasty Pudding “a theatrical student society at Harvard University, known for its burlesque cross-dressing musicals.” They were described by John Wheelwright in 1897 as “a kindly association of men of all ages in a gay evening of simple enjoyment.”

The meaning of “gay” has changed a bit since then. Hasty Pudding has not.

Presented annually since 1844 — except during 3 war years — the comedy productions still feature exactly 12 male performers (6 play men; the other 6 play women). There is a live pit orchestra, but no computers or synthesizers. The plots are silly, the jokes crude, the production values low, the puns anachronistic and sophomoric.

A typical Hasty Pudding show.

A typical Hasty Pudding show. Those guys are lookin’ good!

But it worked for Hasty Pudding members of yore like Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Randolph Hearst, Alan Jay Learner and Jack Lemmon.

And writing the Hasty Pudding show helped launch the careers of — more recently — comedian Mo Rocca, librettist Mark O’Donnell (“Hairspray”), and Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” “Boston Public”).

Petey Menz hopes some of that magic fairy dust rubs off on him.

The 2011 Staples graduate is co-writing the 2015 Hasty Pudding show. In a rare exhibition of burlesque cross-dressing musical genius, he also helped pen last year’s production.

Petey Menz

Petey Menz

The 2nd and 3rd times were the charm for Petey and his freshman roommates. They entered the writing competition as a lark that 1st year. “We didn’t know what we were doing,” he recalls. “But it was fun.”

Harvard students are smart. So Petey and his pals figured out what they needed to do to succeed. In the summer of 2013 they were chosen to write the 2014 show. Last year, they were picked again.

Yeah, it takes that long to write — then produce — the show.

It’s not your average theatrical production. There are 30 or so dates in Cambridge (this year’s opening is February 6). Then it goes on the road, for more performances in New York and (I”m sure there’s a reason for this) Bermuda.

“There’s a lot of spitballing in the beginning,” Petey says of the writing process. (The term refers to brainstorming, not the juvenile game that may seem appropriate to a Hasty Pudding production.)

Eventually, Petey’s team came up with the settings: Victorian England last year, medieval Spain this time. Then they had to create scenes (making sure each character had equal stage time — another tradition), write lyrics, and make sure it was all appropriately sophomorically funny.

The bulk of the work is done during the summer. Because Petey and his co-writers were all in different places, they communicated via Skype and Google Hangouts. (I don’t think that’s the way it was done in 1844.)

Hasty pudding logo

The Hasty Pudding logo

It’s a “self-consciously antique form of theater,” Petey admits. “This is one of the last institutions in the world to do theatrical drag shows. But it’s fun to to beef up what started as a skeletal scene, and it’s rewarding to see that jokes you’ve fine-tuned actually get laughs.”

Petey hopes his 2 years as a Hasty Pudding collaborator will help get him a writing job after he graduates this spring. He’s got a joint concentration in English and art history. [Insert your own finding-a-job joke here.]

Laura Loffredo Offers Adoption Hope

Laura Loffredo is a child of Westport. Her father was the hard-working, generous owner-operator of Belta’s Farm on Bayberry Lane. Her mother helped out there too.

From childhood on Laura wanted to have kids, and be a mom like her own mother.

Laura first babysat at 14. She continued until graduating from Staples in 1995, then earned a BA in psychology at the University of Connecticut and a master’s in community counseling from the University of Bridgeport.

Laura Loffredo

Laura Loffredo

She worked as a mental health counselor and case manager, then went back to school for a 6th-year degree in education. She’s been a teacher for the past 7 years, while also working for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

To this day, Laura remembers crying at TV commercials showing starving children in Africa. At 14, her parents helped her sponsor a little boy overseas. She still recalls his name: Saul Hormiga Donu.

When she got married, Laura and her husband John expected to have children right away. Instead they endured a 6-year struggle that included thousands of dollars spent on 8 failed fertility treatments, and a miscarriage.

“I prayed every night for a baby. The longing inside my heart was unbearable,” Laura says.

“I didn’t understand why God was denying me the one thing I wanted more than anything in the world. I was angry, bitter and heartbroken. I couldn’t breathe.” She calls this “the darkest time of my life.”

When Laura and John finally made the decision to adopt, it was “like a light in the darkness.” For the first time, Laura felt hope.

Laura and  John Loffredo, with their daughter.

Laura and John Loffredo, with their daughter.

The first time she held her minutes-old daughter in her arms, Laura was overcome with emotion. All the pain washed away.

“At that moment, I understood the reason for everything,” she says. “This little girl was always meant to be ours. It just took her a while to come to us.”

But she agonized over all the people who did not have $40,000 to adopt a baby. The thought of not being a mother was overwhelmingly painful.

So Laura adopted a new cause: adoption advocate. She began forming ideas for what is now the Adoption Hope Foundation. Its mission is to provide grants to people who hope to build families through adoption.

The Adoption Hope Foundation is seeking non-profit status. It’s inaugurated a GoFundMe campaign, to cover start-up expenses and initial grants. The goal is to award the 1st funds by the end of the year.

“Adoption is a beautiful gift,” Laura says. “It is a life-altering experience that has allowed me to feel the deepest kind of love imaginable.”

That love extends from her daughter, out to the birth parents who selflessly placed her with Laura and John.

Now, Laura is paying it forward. She’s spreading that love — and the funds needed for it — as far as she can.

(For more information, or to support Laura’s work, click on the Adoption Hope Foundation’s GoFundMe site. To contact Laura directly, email loffredo.laura@gmail.com, or call 203-354-4971.)

Laura and John's daughter. Her outfit says "And baby makes 3."

Laura’s daughter. Her outfit says “baby makes 3.”

Historic Designation Sought For Golden Shadows

The best use of the Baron’s South property is still a subject of debate.

But a group of Westporters want to make sure that whatever it is, it includes Golden Shadows.

The 1959 Colonial Revival-style structure — built as a private residence by the perfume magnate Baron Walter von Langendorff (hence the perfume-scented name “Golden Shadows”) — sits in the middle of the hilly property, between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue.

It’s unoccupied — save for some books stored there by the library, and perhaps some woodland creatures — but it’s still in decent condition.

Golden Shadows, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Golden Shadows, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Golden Shadows is listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory. Last April, the Historic District Commission voted unanimously to support its designation as a Local Historic Landmark Property. Now, concerned Westporters want the RTM to weigh in with their vote too.

“On the heels of the Planning and Zoning Open Space Subcommittee’s January 8 vote to recommend re-zoning Baron’s South as open space,” a petition submitted to the RTM reads, “we thought it might also be an appropriate time to establish similar protections for Golden Shadows.”

The petition says that the home could be re-purposed as office space, event space or some other municipal use. (New Canaan did something similar with Waveny Park; Norwalk did it with Cranbury Park.)

The “landmark” designation would help conserve the building’s historic features, preventing it from demolition or inappropriate alteration, while also permitting the town to earn a grant for a needs assessment and plan of preservation.

A view into the central parlor shows a chandelier and circular staircase.  (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A view into the central parlor shows a chandelier and circular staircase. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The designation would not force the town to do anything. But it does raise Golden Shadow’s profile, and — if passed — flags it as something the RTM deems important.

2015 will see continued debate on Baron’s South. Now, that debate will include a possibly historic landmark home, standing right in its midst.

Food For Thought: Who Sits Where In The School Cafeteria

Martin Luther King said that 11 a.m. Sunday was the most segregated hour of the American week. He was referring to the segregation of white and black churches, of course.

But 11 a.m. weekdays may be the most segregated hour in American schools. That’s lunchtime — and day after day, week after week, the same friends sit at the same tables.

In Westport, the separation is not racial or religious. But it is segregation by friend groups.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

That self-segregation is the basis for this year’s TEAM Westport “Diversity Essay Contest.”

Open to all high school students attending any Westport high school, and Westporters who attend high school elsewhere — and carrying prizes of $1,000, $750 and $500 — the contest asks entrants to describe barriers that prevent students from reaching out to others different from themselves. They should then “identify specific steps you and other students in your high school” can take to help students break down those barriers — “especially in the cafeteria.” Entrants are also asked to discuss the “risks and benefits” of making that effort.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The contest follows last year’s very successful inaugural event. Students were asked to reflect on demographic changes in the US — describing the benefits and challenges of the changes for Westport generally, and him or her personally.

Applications for the contest are available here. The deadline is February 27. “06880” will highlight the winners.

(TEAM Westport is the town’s official committee on multiculturalism. The Westport Library co-sponsors the contest.)

Word On The Street (And We Do Mean “Street”) …

… is that Michael Douglas is making a movie about Westport.

An unconfirmed source says that the famed actor/producer’s new project looks back on his teenage days here. It will focus on his beloved Downshifters – the club that met at the Y to talk about, learn about, work on (and sometimes race) cars.

American Graffiti: Eat your heart out.

In 2013 -- while filming "And So It Goes" in Bridgeport -- Michael Douglas drove Westporter Bill Scheffler's Mercedes.

In 2013 — while filming “And So It Goes” in Bridgeport — Michael Douglas drove Westporter Bill Scheffler’s Mercedes.

Downtown Planning Report: 44 Ideas Worth Examining

After several years, countless meetings and surveys, and endless anticipation, the 1st draft of Westport’s Downtown Master Plan has been made public.

A full house of interested observers was on hand yesterday when the Downtown Steering Committee got a look at the 159-page document.

Now the fun begins.

Larry Untermeyer's spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent beauty -- and potential -- of downtown.

Larry Untermeyer’s spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent charm — and problems — of downtown.

The consultant — Norwalk-based RBA Group — has provided 44 recommendations and strategies. They range from big-picture creative ideas to practical smaller improvements.

Here — drum roll, please — they are:

Near-term

  • Improve and complete the sidewalk network
  • Implement Main Street streetscape improvements
  • Create a new road: Library Lane
  • Redesign Church Lane into a “shared street”
  • Support improvements to Toquet Hall
  • Support the redevelopment of the west side riverfront
  • Build a pedestrian bridge crossing the Saugatuck
  • Create a Westport Arts & Culture Heritage “Trail”
  • Improve pedestrian safety at Post Road crossings
  • Improve pedestrian and vehicular safety at Post Road intersections through traffic signal modifications
  • Redesign Myrtle Road intersections
  • Improve traffic movements at the Route 1/33 intersection
Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

  • Improve the wayfinding system for motorists
  • Develop directional and informational signs for pedestrians
  • Support initiatives to access and connect downtown through transit
  • Provide amenities for transit passengers
  • Provide bicycle parking in downtown
  • Combine and co-manage public and private parking lots (Baldwin lot with Avery Place)
  • Change parking from 1-hour to 2-hour maximum in downtown
  • Implement seasonal valet parking
  • Relocate long-term parking

Short-term

  • Reinvent Jesup Green
  • Coordinate and implement uniform streetscape improvements throughout downtown
  • Support the Westport Cinema Initiative
  • Monitor the relocation of the Westport Arts Center
  • Create new pedestrian passageways
  • Consider the future of Elm Street
Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

  • Redesign Taylor Street into a “shared street”
  • Support the library transformation project
  • Improve the appearance and safety of the Imperial Avenue lot
  • Consider a fee-based system to manage parking in certain locations
  • Redesign Jesup Road
An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking.

An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking. The library is at right.

  • Build a bridge to connect to the Imperial Avenue parking lot
  • Redesign the Main Street/Elm Street intersection
  • Consider implementing a real-time parking information system
  • Create a town-wide bicycle plan

Long-term

  • Transform Parker Harding Plaza
A section of the reimagined Parker Harding Plaza shows much more green along the riverfront.

Reimagined Parker Harding Plaza shows more green along the riverfront.

  • Place a cafe on the green
  • Provide public restrooms
  • Construct a downtown landing
  • Create a barge restaurant
  • Extent the westside riverwalk
  • Combine and co-manage public and private parking lots (Gillespie Center with old Town Hall)
  • Consider providing additional parking supply

Each idea is explored in greater depth. Of course, a section of the report is devoted to financing.

It’s fascinating — and important — reading. If you’ve got a few hours, the report can be downloaded here.

The next stage begins now. The committee will present the report to the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, January 15.

The public gets a crack on Wednesday, January 28, with an open house in the Town Hall auditorium (4:30-9 p.m.), and 2 separate report presentations (5:30 and 7:30 p.m.).

Nothing is chiseled in stone, as 1st Selectman Jim Marpe points out. However, it looks like 2015 will be a year in which downtown might really start to rock.

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

Downtown Westport offers many opportunities for growth and rebirth. (All photos and renderings courtesy of the Downtown Master Plan report)

Downtown Westport offers many opportunities for growth and rebirth. (All photos and renderings courtesy of the Downtown Master Plan report)

 

Masons’ Temple Lodge: Not The Scariest Building In Westport. My Bad.

A couple of years ago I called the Masonic Temple on the Post Road “the spookiest spot in Westport.” In the Comments section, Tony Giunta invited me to come see how un-scary it was.

Recently, the 1964 Staples grad — and current Worshipful Master — repeated the invitation.

The other day, I took him up on his offer. Despite occupying the top 2 floors of a building that also houses a funeral parlor, the building on the corner of the Post Road and Imperial Avenue is not particularly spooky.

Westport's Temple Lodge #65.

Westport’s Temple Lodge #65.

A bit dated, perhaps. But also — as Tony notes — one of “the best-kept secrets in Westport.”

Our Temple Lodge #65 has been around since 1824 — more than a decade before Westport itself was incorporated. After convening at various spots (including National Hall), the local chapter of the centuries-old international organization moved into the then-new building in 1911.

The Masons have been there — meeting the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month — ever since.

There are now about 100 Masons, though a typical meeting draws 40 or so. The lodge includes a parlor, dining room, kitchen, library, foosball room and large meeting room.

The Mason's meeting room.

The Masons’ meeting room.

The meeting room includes a clock from Jason Robards’ estate, and an altar. “We’re not a religious organization. But to join you must have a belief in a Supreme Being,” Tony explained.

“We don’t discuss religion or politics in meetings,” he added. “That causes too much discord.”

Meetings are governed by rituals, but include committee reports, information on the welfare of brothers, and discussions of charitable works.

Tony joined in 2007, after retiring from the Westport Police Department. He’d been a Kiwanis Club member and worked with the Y, but had always wanted to be a Mason.

Tony Giunta, in the meeting room.

Tony Giunta, in the meeting room.

He proudly showed me a list of previous Masters. Well-known Westport names like George Constantikes, Don Goss, Tom Hofstetter, George Underhill, Carl Cirino and Rocco Frank are inscribed in careful calligraphy.

In earlier times, the list included Westporters from famed families like the Fables, Wakemans, Sniffens, Bradleys and Krauses.

As Tony conducted his tour, I realized that the Masonic Lodge is not a scary building. Instead, it’s simple — and historic.

Plus, it’s got a killer view of the Memorial Day parade. Every May, the Masons gather there.

When it’s over, the bagpipers come upstairs. And then the real party begins.

The downtown view, from Temple Lodge #65.

The downtown view, from Temple Lodge #65.

Developing News: White Barn Preserve Under Attack

As Westporters in 2 corners of town — Post Road East near the Southport border, and Saugatuck by I-95 Exit 17 — battle high-density housing, a 3rd neighborhood is also girding for a fight.

Since early 2003, Cranbury Road residents have worked to protect the former Lucille Lortel White Barn Theater property, on the Westport/Norwalk border. Nearby neighborhoods include Newtown Turnpike, and Partrick and Stonybrook Roads.

The White Barn Theatre.

The White Barn Theatre.

According to RTM member Matthew Mandell, then-Governor Jodi Rell secured 5+ acres of open space of the 15-acre property. The rest was to be taken over by the Connecticut Friends School. They would restore the historic theater and build a low-impact green school, instead of 18 houses that had been proposed.

Recently, the school decided not to go forward with its plans. The property now reverts to the Fieber Group — a New Canaan developer — which has applied for a special permit to build at least 21 homes on 7 acres. The theater would be demolished.

A new group called Save Cranbury – Again says that the proposed “conservation development” will include filling in wetlands elsewhere on the property. This may damage “the very drinking water and wildlife resources the easement was meant to protect.”

The original low-impact plan for the "green school."

The original low-impact plan for the “green school” (pink building near center).

Mandell says that the Fieber Group is using “a specific Norwalk zone where the houses are clustered and the number is determined by the amount of acreage. They are including the open space land in their calculations.”

Mandell adds: “This developer was paid by the state, by you and me, for the land to keep as open with public access. Now they are trying to double dip — on top of destroying 3000+ square feet of wetlands and building houses in the wetland setback.” He calls it “a very unsavory plan.”

Mandell says that Norwalk zoning regulations are not as tight as Westport’s — and the city moves quickly. The first planning meeting is Thursday night at Norwalk City Hall (no public comment allowed).

Mandell’s bottom line: “Over-development and its impacts do not observe town lines.”

Save Cranbury - logo

O Christmas Tree … Go Christmas Tree!

Boy Scouts are supposed to do a “good turn” daily.

It’s hard to imagine a better one than what they’ve got planned for Saturday, January 10.

Troop 39 of Westport will pick up your Christmas tree. That once beautiful, now dying and needle-dropping symbol of last month’s holiday cheer can be disposed of with one simple mouse click.

To register for this much-needed service, click here. Then place your tree by your mailbox by 6:30 a.m. on Saturday — yeah, you do have to move it that far yourself — and tape an envelope with your donation to your front door.

The suggested donation is $20 per tree. I’m sure the scouts would not refuse higher amounts.

The Boy Scouts are well known for “good turns” like helping little old ladies across streets. Bush league. In Westport, they help little old ladies — and strapping young men — dispose of big old Christmas trees.

Troop 39 in action.

Troop 39 in action.