Category Archives: Organizations

Debra Haffner Prays With The President

The email was exciting: President Obama invites you to the annual Easter Prayer Breakfast, held in the East Room the day after Palm Sunday.

“White House invitations are always a little mysterious,” says Rev. Debra Haffner, president of the Westport-based Religious Institute. She thinks it may have been because her multi-faith organization — which advocates for sexual health, education and justice — has supported contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act.

This was Rev. Haffner’s 3rd trip to the White House. But it was the smallest gathering — 150 clergy — and, in many ways, the most moving.

“Some people call these events ‘window dressing,’” she said. “But it was very profound.”

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

President Obama opened his remarks by citing the shootings the previous day at 2 Jewish facilities in Kansas. He said that no one should be fearful when they pray, and called on members of all faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance that leads to anti-Semitism, hatred and violence.

Rev. Haffner — who laughs that she may have been “the 1st Jewish-Unitarian Universalist minister” at the event — had walked over from her hotel with Pastor Joel Hunter. He leads a 20,000-member mega-church in Orlando, and gave the opening prayer.

“People across the theological spectrum prayed together,” Rev. Haffner notes. “There was a very inclusive message, in a very diverse room.”

Dr. Otis Moss — who took over at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ after Rev. Jeremiah Wright stepped down — gave a powerful sermon. The black theologian tied together Anne Frank, Martin Luther King and the Easter celebration in a “spellbinding” way, Dr. Haffner says.

She was seated very near the front. Her table included Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the 40,000-plus Hispanic Evangelical Association. Rev. Haffner told him about the Religious Institute’s Safer Congregations movement — keeping children and vulnerable adults safe from abuse and harassment — and says, “There’s a good chance we will work together on it.”

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Also at their table: Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the 1st female head of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the end of the breakfast, President Obama looked around. No one was scheduled to give the closing prayer, so he asked Rev. Gene Robinson — the retired openly gay Episcopal bishop — to give the benediction. He was as surprised as anyone, but spoke movingly, off the cuff.

“Starting with Joel and ending with Gene really shows the broad theological spectrum” of the day — and the administration — Rev. Haffner says.

After the breakfast, President Obama greeted the clergy. Rev. Haffner’s table was 1st — and she was the 1st member of her group that he spoke with.

Returning to Westport from Washington, Rev. Haffner reflected on the day — and all that came before it.

“My grandparents immigrated from Poland and Ukraine,” she says. “I don’t think they could ever have imagined this.”

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

 

This h communities and society.

While You And I Slept This Morning…

…Kelly Konstanty, Morgan Mermagen and Mike Grant were on the run.

The trio ran through Westport, in Stage 315 of the One Run for Boston. The charity event — for One Fund Boston, which supports victims of last year’s horrific Boston Marathon bombing — began March 16 in Los Angeles. It ends tomorrow in Massachusetts, a week before the Marathon.

So far, over $410,000 has been raised, by 1,990 runners.

Morgan Mermagen, Mike Grant and Kelly Konstanty, after finishing their Westport to Bridgeport run.

Morgan Mermagen, Mike Grant and Kelly Konstanty, after finishing their Westport to Bridgeport run.

The trio received the baton downtown, around 4:30 a.m., from a group that started in Darien. Kelly, Morgan and Mike ran to Bridgeport, arriving there around 6:05.

Kelly has run the Boston Marathon before, but can’t this year. This is her way of showing support for “Boston Strong.” 

Grant adds, “If you are trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target. We run for those who can’t.”

The runners thanked the Westport Police for their escort, and their supporters who cheered them on.

Congratulations, Kelly, Morgan and Mike. You did more before dawn today than many of us will achieve all weekend!

The Public Can Now See The Compo Beach Plan

Many of us are talking about it. But — unless we crowded around an easel before the start of Wednesday’s contentious Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee meeting — we have not yet seen the plan.

Here it is:

Part of the plan. A link to the full plan -- in a much larger format -- is at the end of this story.

Part of the new design. A link to the full plan — in a much larger format — is at the end of this story.

It includes:

  • New gatehouse, with a longer entrance now opposite Bradley Street
  • Arrival court, main building, bathing beach plaza area and extended boardwalk
  • Long pedestrian pathway beginning at Owenoke
  • New marina buildings, and marina promenade
  • Fenced camp area, with new camp building
  • New South Beach pavilion, bathhouse and central activity lawn
  • Planted dunes and berms
  • Curb separation and pedestrian walkway on Soudview Drive.

Click here to view the PDF. Warning: It takes a while to load.

The wait — to see what all the discussion is about — is worth it.

 

 

 

Orphenians Tap Chanticleer’s Talent

Chanticleer is a 36-year-old, San Francisco-based ensemble. The New Yorker called them “the world’s reigning male chorus.”

Orphenians is a 56-year-old elite choir at Staples. Director Luke Rosenberg is working hard to make them the world’s reigning a cappella chorus — at least, at the high school level.

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

On Wednesday, Chanticleer visited Darien High School for a choral festival. Participating were their hosts, plus choirs from Staples, Westhill-Stamford and Brewster Highs.

It was a long, intense but joyful day. First, everyone rehearsed 2 pre-selected pieces as a mass choir, under the direction of Chanticleer’s musical director.

Each high school choir then performed its own selected repertoire, for the other schools to enjoy. Next came Orphenians’ special 90-minute workshop with 3 members of Chanticleer.

The evening concert showed off each individual choir. Finally, Chanticleer combined with all several hundred students for 2 tutti numbers: Monteverdi’s “Si Ch’io vorrei morire” and Andre Thomas’ “Rockin’ Jerusalem.”

Here’s an iPhone recording of Orphenians performing “Tap-Tap.” You can hear the group live at Staples, later this spring.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

 

Skip Lane: “Imagine Sand And Sea Grass, Not Steel And Chrome”

Skip Lane is a native Westporter, former professional football player and current realtor who grew up on Soundview Drive. He’s also a member of the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee.

Yesterday he emailed “06880.” Emphasizing that he is speaking only for himself, he offers these insights into the current — and, he hopes, future — state of the beach:

Our volunteer committee was organized to improve the overall beach experience. Collectively the committee has hundreds of years of experience at the beach, but we all acknowledge that beach life has changed.

The number of people using it all year round, and the number of walkers and runners, has increased dramatically.

Skip Lane

Skip Lane

Our 1st goal is to address these people, and make the beach more accessible for these activities. We think we have done so, by adding a pedestrian path from one end of the beach to the other.

Our 2nd concern is the queuing of cars trying to get into the beach. I think the proposed plan addresses this as well.

The bathhouse is a disgrace. It needs to be updated and storm-proofed.

The big issue of public concern seems to be the proposal to move cars away from our beautiful beach.

If you go to any beautiful beach on the East Coast, you do not see any cars parked along the actual shore. From Cape Cod to Nantucket, the natural beauty of the shore is protected. The beaches are differentiated from parking lots. Why should we park on ours?

Our committee examined other beaches along the coast. We decided our beach would be much more natural and beautiful if we moved the cars back, and made the beach a beach. God forbid Westporters have to walk an extra 30 yards.

An East Coast beach with sand dunes, not parking.

An East Coast beach with sand dunes, not parking.

I recommend everyone go and walk Fairfield beach, Sherwood Island, Hammonaset and most beaches north of that. Compo will never be a state park, but do know that those parks were designed by professionals who had the natural beauty of the beach in mind.

I understand the issue of senior citizens, and I think we need to address them.

But imagine you are in your beach chair. You turn around and see sand and sea grass, instead of steel and chrome. It’s a tad less convenient, but imagine the difference. That is all I ask.

(The committee’s next meeting is Wednesday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall Room 201. To follow the progress of the committee, and make comments, click here.)

 

Compo Beach Improvement Chair: “We Hear You Loud And Clear”

Town Hall’s Room 201 was jammed like the fireworks today, as the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee met for the 1st time since Mike Calise’s public letter lamenting the proposed elimination of perimeter parking.

Chairman Andy Moss opened the meeting by acknowledging the SRO crowd. He said that the committee — whose charge is to “refresh our much-loved town asset” — would define its success by achieving compromise.

“We have no illusions we will please everyone,” the former Parks and Recreation Commission chair added.

Moss noted that the committee was examining issues relating to safety, traffic flow, improving South Beach, pedestrian and bike access and more.

Early arrivals examined a proposed Compo Beach site plan, before today's meeting.

Early arrivals examined a proposed Compo Beach site plan, before today’s meeting.

An unidentified consultant to the committee described the new beach plan. It includes a new entrance area opposite Bradley Street; a roundabout; an “activity area,” and 700 paved (“or gravel,” she quickly added) parking spaces.

A self-described 52-year resident of the town shouted, “Have there been many pedestrian accidents?”

Parks and Rec director Stuart McCarthy described the desire to keep cars and pedestrians separate. He emphasized that the plan was “conceptual,” and that the town and various boards would make the final decision.

Several speakers noted the importance of easy access to the beach for elderly users, and families with small children. A comment about New Yorkers taking “all the early spots” drew applause.

Committee member Skip Lane compared the new plan to a state park like Hammonasset or Sherwood Island, with centralized parking. In response, several speakers said that what is right for a state park does not work well for a town beach.

That caused an audience member to yell, “We’re fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. Please tell me the problem. I’ve been here since 1970, and I came because of Compo. It’s spectacular!”

Westporters never tire of the views from Compo.

Westporters never tire of life at Compo.

Moss pointed out various areas that need improvement: the brick wall near Joey’s destroyed by Hurricane Sandy; traffic that backs up to Owenoke; port-a-potties on South Beach.

“Rather than fixing things piecemeal, we’re looking at the big picture,” he said.

When RTM member Jack Klinge said that he was very pleased with the proposed new entrance and bathhouse, but had been asked by “hundreds” of seniors to protect convenient access to the bathhouse, Moss reiterated: “That’s coming through loud and clear.”

The back-and-forth continued. Bob Driscoll said, “I’ve been coming to the beach for 80 years, and it’s worked out pretty damn well.”

Every day at the beach is not, well, a day at the beach.  But even storm clouds can be beautiful.

Every day at the beach is not, well, a day at the beach. But even storm clouds can be beautiful.

A self-described “traffic and logistics guy” claimed the committee was taking a traffic and safety problem, and turning it into “a major reconstruction.”

Moss repeated, “I hear the concerns about parking along the beach. That’s very important to hear.”

Recent Staples graduate Hannah Dickison had the last word. “I’ve seen a lot of changes here in 10 years,” she said. “Please don’t chip away at the beach too.”

After most of the crowd left, the committee turned its attention to policy issues. Among other things, they discussed the removal of the skate park, and the importance of parking revenue from out-of-towners.

(The committee’s next meeting is Wednesday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall Room 201. To follow the progress of the committee, and make comments, click here.)

 

 

 

2 Quick Days, 2 Big Meetings

Whatever your passion — the beach, historic preservation or downtown — Westport’s got a meeting for you.

Today at 5:30 p.m., the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee meets at Town Hall (Room 201). Based on the 79 comments (and counting) to Mike Calise’s plea to retain perimeter parking near the sand — and 0 in favor — it should be interesting.

Tomorrow (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the Planning and Zoning Commission will hear presentations from 2 committees: Village District and Downtown Steering.

It’s a work session, meaning the public can observe but not participate. Here’s what observers will see:

The Village District Committee, chaired by Historic District Commission chair Randy Henkels, will present information from their consulting group, headed by Steven Cecil from Boston.

Finding the right balance between old and new: an eternal downtown question. (Photo/Craig Schwartz)

Finding the right balance between old and new: an eternal downtown question. (Photo/Craig Schwartz)

The presentation will describe exactly what a Village District offers Westport, in terms of preservation of buildings and historic character. It’s part of a state-funded project to promote preservation in Connecticut; reports can be utilized by a town and its land-use agencies.

Tomorrow’s report may describe regulations and restrictions that have been successfully implemented in other Connecticut towns (including being upheld against court challenges.)

The Downtown Steering Committee — chaired by Dewey Loselle — has asked its consulting group, RBA, to to present Phase 1 of its project. It’s a baseline traffic study of the extended downtown area.

The study will include a computer-animated vision of traffic patterns, which can serve as a tool to evaluate the impact of traffic on forthcoming land-use proposals.

Some of the most infamous Post Road intersections have been studied, including Wilton Road and Riverside Avenue, and Compo Roads North and South.

Charming, no?

Charming, no?

Phase 2 — the vision of downtown, regarding traffic flow, parking, greening of the riverfront, the size and mix of commercial buildings, and residences — will be touched upon tomorrow too.

The train has not yet left the station, regarding Compo, historic preservation or downtown.

But it has pulled in. If you’re a Westporter who cares about this town, get on board.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Susan Wynkoop

Susan Wynkoop died last night, of pancreatic cancer. She was 60 years old.

Susan Wynkoop

Susan Wynkoop

Susan was a special Westporter: one of those passionate, always-ready-to-help, very effective yet down-to-earth people who quietly (and in so many ways) make this town special.

Susan had a fascinating life story. She was past president of the Westport Historical Society, a deacon at Southport Congregational Church, and among the 1st 200 women hired by the FBI. After 12 years with the agency, she became director of the FBI Foundation’s Oral History Project.

From 1990 until yesterday, she lived in the oldest house in Westport. Built around 1683, it’s the only pre-1700 structure in the entire town.

Passionate about preservation, she gained WHS “local landmark” certification for the home. As a result, it can never be torn down.

Susan Wynkoop did many things in her too-short life. That may be her greatest legacy of all.

The Wynkoops' home: 187 Long Lots Road. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

The Wynkoops’ home: 187 Long Lots Road. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

(To read about Susan’s FBI career, click here. For a story on her historic Westport house, click here.)

Wise Words, From Bob And Judy Rosenkranz

Just over 3 years ago, Bob Rosenkranz retired after a long career as an endodontist on Boston’s North Shore. Married half a century, he and his wife Judy — a former phys ed. teacher — had to decide, “What do we do after we grow up?”

They figured they’d split time between their 2nd house in Vermont, and a gated community in Florida.

Their daughter Robin, son-in-law Matt Leon and 3 grandchildren — Jake, Josh and Jessica — had lived in Westport for nearly a decade. Whenever Bob and Judy visited, they stayed in Norwalk hotels. They’d take the grandkids to the usual dining spots — McDonald’s, Swanky Frank’s — and the tried-and-true recreational areas, like the beach.

Bob and Judy didn’t know much about Westport. But one day, they had dinner — by themselves — at Positano’s. They saw a Richard Dreyfuss performance at the Westport Country Playhouse. The next day, they took the train to New York, and stayed overnight. Both had grown up in Brooklyn. They remembered the city from the 1960s. It had changed dramatically, for the better.

Not the "wise men" Judy and Bob met. These guys don't play tennis.

Not the “wise men” Judy and Bob met. These guys don’t play tennis.

Judy — who played tennis with women 20 years younger at home — and Bob visited the Westport Tennis Club. They saw a bunch of older guys playing — quite well — and heard talk about the “Wise Men.” A man named Otis spent an hour chatting with them. “In Massachusetts, no men play tennis in the morning,” Bob says.

Judy broached the subject with Robin and Matt: How would they feel if she and Bob moved to Westport? The “kids” were all for it.

Judy and Bob talked to a realtor, but weren’t sure what they wanted. A rental? Condo? Nothing felt right.

Through a series of coincidences — including friend-of-a-friend stories — they bought the perfect house, off Partrick Road.

Then things really started to happen.

Bob and Judy found great new friends with older couples. They joined 2 film groups. The Fairfield University extended education program. A book club. A bridge group.

Bob joined the Y’s Men (he now knew how it was spelled). He joined 2 regular tennis games, plus 1 of platform tennis. He plays bocce. He hikes.

These are the "Y's Men." They are a very active group. The only thing they don't do is ride camels.

These are the real “Y’s Men.” They are a very active group. The only thing they don’t do is ride camels.

“I don’t know if these guys are former Fortune 500 CEOs or cobblers,” he says. “It doesn’t matter. They’re great!”

He is inspired by Y’s Men like Kurt Rosenfeld and Gun Moen, who is 87 and still skis, plays bridge and poker, and hits the speed bag.

Judy hooked up with a Manhattan art tour group, led by Westporter Joyce Zimmerman. She got involved with the Y’s Women.

She too plays platform tennis — outdoors, in January. She’s also in 4 other tennis games.

Bob and Judy Rosenkranz, in a rare quiet moment at home.

Bob and Judy Rosenkranz, in a rare quiet moment at home.

The couple dines out often. They love Westport’s restaurants, including Jewish-style delis Gold’s and Oscar’s. (In their previous life, the nearest deli was 35 miles away, in Newton.) They call the choices in supermarkets “phenomenal.”

As for shopping, it’s “fantastic — accessible and easy.”

They show off the library, beach — and many other parts of Westport — to out-of-town friends. They are awed by Staples Players performances, and love the Playhouse (especially the recent Harlem Dancers show).

I should note here that Judy and Bob are 2 of the warmest, most outgoing and funniest people that I have ever met. They also seem to have found a fantastic balance between doing things as a couple, and on their own. Still, their excitement about their new home town is astonishing.

“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Judy says.

“I don’t have enough hours in the day,” Bob adds. And then he starts describing all the great hiking spots he’s found, like Sherwood Island in the off-season.

Many longtime Westporters have never been to Sherwood Island State Park. The Rosenkranzes love it.

Many longtime Westporters have never been to Sherwood Island State Park. The Rosenkranzes love it.

What’s nice to hear — beyond so many great words about Westport – is that, as Judy says, “people who have been here 30 or 40 years are opening up their lives to new people like us.”

But don’t think the Rosenkranzes spend all their time playing tennis, dining out and going to shows. They’ve cooked dinners for the Gillespie Center, done other volunteer work, and are always on the lookout for ways to give back.

Plus, of course, there are the grandkids. Judy and Bob were “mesmerized” by a recent Long Lots music concert (“there was no dissonance at all — and they had a whole ensemble with steel drums!”), and they are faithful attendees at endless soccer, baseball and lacrosse games.

Nor do they just travel between Westport and New York. They recently returned from a trip to Patagonia. (The region, not the store.)

But Bob and Judy always come back — physically, and during our conversation — to the wonders of their new home town.

“We love it here,” they keep saying.

Almost as much as we love having them here.

 

Mike Calise: “I Have Concerns About The Compo Beach Improvements”

Mike Calise

Mike Calise

Mike Calise is a familiar figure in Westport. Whether selling real estate, riding in his Jeep with the top down and doors off, or — most typically — walking on Compo Beach in every season, the 1958 Staples graduate and Marine Corps veteran has a native’s feel for the rhythms of our town.

Mike is following the news of the Compo re-imagining closely. The other day, he wrote to “06880.” Mike said:

I have become increasingly concerned with the direction the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee is taking. My read on the citizens forum I attended last fall was that most residents were comfortable with Compo as it is. They did call for improvements in the concession and bathhouse area, and an additional bathroom area at South Beach.

Although people talked about other wish list items, such as mini-golf, most everyone stated that they preferred the current beach configuration. A reconfiguration of the entrances was high on the Recreation Commission’s agenda, and most found that acceptable. Beyond that it was: It’s not broke. Don’t fix it.

Everyone loves Compo Beach. But this serene view belies a discussion that's brewing about changes to traffic patterns.

Everyone loves Compo Beach. But this serene view belies a discussion that’s brewing about changes to traffic patterns.

The committee, however — along with the consultants — has pursued a completely different path. They are moving toward an internal parking lot, with minimal parking opportunities beyond that.

They have developed a plan that eliminates all perimeter parking. No parking along the beach edge, from the bathhouses to the cannons. No parking in front of the grills at South Beach. No parking in the boat launch area. And greatly reduced parking at the marinas. They favor an internal parking area with its own traffic loop in and out of the beach (the “half loop”). Although the full drive through the beach roadway is currently in the plan, there is strong sentiment to eliminate it, along with the perimeter parking.

Since time immemorial -- well, for many decades -- cars have parked close to the shore.

Since time immemorial — well, for many decades — cars have parked close to the shore.

Their theory is that people need to get out of their cars and walk. In taking this position they have completely ignored young families with lots of gear and children, older adults who may not have the ability or desire to walk long distances toting gear, and boaters with fishing gear and supplies.

As you know, the beach is used in many different ways, on a year-round basis.

During the winter people spend time in their cars just enjoying the views. In summer the grills are heavily used. Having easy access to vehicles — especially for families with young children — is a great asset, and far safer than having to walk across a roadway to access cars for unexpected needs.

There's nothing like a sunset on Compo's South Beach.  A plan being considered would move cars further away from this -- and other -- beach areas.

There’s nothing like a sunset on Compo’s South Beach. A plan being considered would move cars further away from this — and other — beach areas.

Being able to park at the edge of the beach between the bathhouse and the cannons to tailgate or just put a chair on the sand is important to many. I have seen this done regularly. In short, the ease of access which is enjoyed and cherished by all is under threat of elimination.

As part of this substantive change, the committee is planning walkways and drop off points. All are in the design stage.

The committee meets every other Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in Room 201 of Town Hall. The next meeting is this Wednesday (April 9). These meetings are informal, and all who wish to speak are given an opportunity.

This is truly a time where resident opinions are important!

According to plans, a new entrance to the beach would be constructed near Roosevelt Road (opposite the marina). Traffic would loop through the center of the beach, further from the marina, South Beach and the "regular" beach than it does now.

According to plans, a new entrance to the beach would be constructed near the marina. Traffic would loop through the center of the beach, further from the boats, South Beach and the “regular” beach than it does now. (Photo/Katherine Hooper)