Category Archives: Organizations

This Old House #5

Last week’s house — the most recent in a series seeking readers’ help identifying homes photographed for a 1930s WPA project — remains a mystery. It probably no longer stands on Riverside Avenue — but it may. No one seems sure. (Click here to see the photo, then scroll down for readers’ comments.)

This week’s house carries identification on the back of the photo: “Cross Highway — near Bayberry or Great Hill Rd. Westport.”

This Old House 5 - April 1, 2015

Hmmm….interesting. Cross Highway near Bayberry narrows it down. But there is no “Great Hill Road” in Westport. Weston, yes — but it’s not adjacent to Cross Highway or Bayberry.

If you think you know where this house stands — or once stood, if it’s been torn down — click “Comments” below. Information is needed for an upcoming Historical Society exhibit on preservation in Westport.

Luis Cruz Dreams Big — And Makes Us All Proud

Every March, the A Better Chance “Dream Event” is one of the greatest feel-good galas of the year.

Each time, the graduating seniors’ speeches are the highlights of the entire evening.

But Luis Cruz’s speech Saturday night to an overflow crowd ranks among the best ever.

The only senior among this year’s 8 ABC scholars, he wowed the crowd with his insights, passion and compassion. Here is an edited version of his remarks:

This program has meant a lot to me and my family. It is because of people like you that I was given this opportunity — to live in one of the best communities in the entire country.

The 2014-15 A Better Chance scholars. Luis Cruz is 2nd from right.

The 2014-15 A Better Chance scholars. Luis Cruz is 2nd from right.

Leaving Newark to see the A Better Chance program for the 1st time, I was filled with mixed emotions. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leave the life I knew — the ice cream trucks marking the rhythm of the day as they repeatedly passed my apartment; seeing and hearing kids playing in the open fire hydrants, and watching the sea of kids riding their bicycles toward the park, which I used to do every Friday with my friends, until my mom took away my bike because she didn’t want me to get hit by a car.

Pulling into Westport I saw big homes, with big yards, with big cars, parked in front of their big homes. There was grass everywhere — green and perfectly trimmed. Instead of crowds of people, there was a parade of SUVs. Joggers and deer shared the roads.

I remembered my middle school, with its security guards in every hallway. In Newark there were fist fights, food fights and paper fights. My classmates cared only about their reputation and looking fresh. No one really cared about school.

In Westport, it’s pretty funny to me that the richest kids come to school looking so ruffled. Kids in Newark wouldn’t be caught dead looking that poor.

When the principal visited a class in Newark, that meant another lecture. In Westport, it means that Mr. Dodig wants to know how I’m fitting in and what I did last weekend.

A Better ChanceThe A Better Chance program has allowed me to take advantage of many opportunities in Westport. I have grown a lot from all of these experiences, especially from joining the great athletic programs at Staples.

Luis explained how — although he was “a bad soccer player and a terrible runner,” and had a very difficult time with the fitness demands — freshman coach Chris O’Dell took him aside.

He asked me the most important question of my teen life: “Do you want to keep going? It won’t get any easier from here.”

I hesitated, as I was in such pain and agony.

I just went with my gut.

“Yes, Coach O’Dell. I’ll take that challenge.” From that day on, I never looked back.

Luis fell in love with running. He joined the indoor and outdoor track teams. He worked hard, and improved steadily. The next fall he ran cross country. To laughter, he said, “I didn’t even know that was a sport.”

Luis Cruz: cross country star.

Luis Cruz: cross country star.

At the New England Outdoor Championship, in spring of sophomore year, Luis earned  All-New England status.

I was so proud of myself. I wanted to tell everyone what I had just accomplished. The only sad part was that my parents weren’t there to see it. All I could do was send them a video and show them my medal. But what really counted is that they knew I had worked hard for this.

That day marked my growth as a runner, from the slowest to the fastest. That is the physical evidence of the powerful impact of A Better Chance. I learned something these past 4 years: “If no one else sees it for you, you must see it for yourself.”

Luis Cruz at the A Better Chance Dream Event, flanked by his teammate and great friend Oliver Hickson, and his track coach Laddie Lawrence.

Luis Cruz at the A Better Chance Dream Event, flanked by his teammate and great friend Oliver Hickson, and his track coach Laddie Lawrence. (Photo/Jessica Sochol)

Luis traveled to Costa Rica, for a summer program. It opened his eyes to even more possibilities.

I realized that humans have the power to make a difference. This is why I am considering becoming an engineer. Solving real-world problems, using my talents in mathematics, is how I want to effect positive change in the world.

On the surface, it was an easy decision to join A Better Chance, to go to a school with all the resources a student could possibly need. My mother and father were proud of me for making the decision to explore a different way of life, yet they were silent on the car ride to Connecticut. We all knew that the next 4 years were ones we wouldn’t get back in terms of being a family.

My parents never got to see me pick my first pumpkin. They missed the chance to see me break the 5-minute-mile barrier. They never got to see me play soccer on a team with uniforms and real cleats. They weren’t there to comfort me when I lost a race for my team because I dropped the baton.

But they will be there when I graduate high school. And I know they will be there when I graduate college!

A proud Luis Cruz, and his equally proud family.

A proud Luis Cruz, and his equally proud family. (Photo/Jessica Sochol)

It has been difficult at times, living between 2 very different communities and cultures. But the sacrifice has paid off in my achievements, both academically and socially.

I will have more choices than my parents had. I marvel now that my parents have survived in a country where they barely speak the languages. I am also amazed and thankful that they realized that education is the key to a better life.

After thanking his parents emotionally — “Te amo Mami y Papi. Gracias para todo” — Luis concluded:

My parents and I talk nearly every day. They are nothing like typical teen conversations. I have so much to say to them, because all of my experiences are new to all of us. I remember buying my 1st pair of Sperry Topsiders. While that is not an event worth discussing for some, for me it was a milestone. My parents and I talked about it forever — once I told them that they were shoes.

Now, in less than 3 months I will become the 1st person in my immediate family to go to college. Just like Forrest Gump, I went from being average to being a winner.

I am Luis Cruz, aka Papi, your friend. Thank you!

(To learn more about A Better Chance, click here.)

Remember “Kunepiam”?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story about a strange engraving, on an equally strange door, set in the brick wall that separates the train station parking lot from the lovely Stony Point homes just beyond it.

The engraving said “Kunepiam.” It was surrounded by what look like Native American pictograms, and perhaps settlers.

Kunepiam

No one was quite sure where it came from, or what it meant. “06880” readers thought it might have been part of witchcraft; perhaps a Christian symbol; maybe even more modern than anyone imagined. Mary Palmieri Gai wondered if it came from the Native American word meaning “long water land,” which Quinnipiac College was named after.

Yesterday, the Westport Library reference department posted the definitive answer. Most readers may have missed it — they were busy mourning the impending end of Mario’s, just across the tracks — so here is the complete result of what the researchers found.

But first, cue the applause for our library!

—————————————————

We started working on this question a few weeks ago when we saw this post. We are happy to report that “kunepiam” is derived from the Algonquin word “koonepeam,” meaning “thou art welcome.”

Our success in finding this answer was due to the extra effort made by Lucianne Lavin, director of research and collections at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut. She reached out to Carl Masthay, retired medical editor, linguist, and Algonquianist, who in turn reached out to Dr. Ives Goddard, a nationally known professional, senior linguist and curator in the anthropology department at the Smithsonian Institution. He was the linguistic and technical editor for the Handbook of North American Indians, and is a specialist in Algonquian languages.

Here is Dr. Goddard’s answer:

Westport Library logo“If (considering the picture at 06880, Westport, Conn.) you look up “welcome” in Trumbull’s Natick Dictionary [page 343], you find koonepeam ‘(thou art) welcome’ (cited from Josiah Cotton, with no page [1830]). I type “oo” for Eliot’s digraph (rendered “8” in Goddard & Bragdon: Native Writings in Massachusett, 1988). Some knowledgeable person has slightly re-spelled this, perhaps someone at the Bureau of American Ethnology that a letter was referred to. The word is a calque* on the English (“you come well”) but perhaps in use in Cotton’s day. “

[Ives Goddard, pers. com., 25 March 2015. Carl Masthay’s note: “Natick” is now referred to as “Massachusett.” Morphemes**: k-ooni-pia-m ‘you-well-come-animate.final’.]

Mr. Masthay suggested that a small plate be installed next to the stone to help “clear up this issue for eternity.”

Please reach out to us for any follow-up questions or reference questions in general!

– Susan Luchars, Margie Frelich-Den, and Dennis Barrow, Reference Department, Westport Public Library 203 291 4840, ref@westportlibrary.org

*The meaning of “calque”: a loan translation, especially one resulting from bilingual interference in which the internal structure of a borrowed word or phrase is maintained but its morphemes are replaced by those of the native language, as German halbinsel for peninsula. (Dictionary.com)

**The meaning of “morpheme”: any of the minimal grammatical units of a language, each constituting a word or meaningful part of a word, that cannot be divided into smaller independent grammatical parts, as the, write, or the -ed of waited (Dictionary.com)

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Amazing. Now all we need to know is:

  • How do you pronounce it?
  • And how did it get there?

Minuteman Speaks Up For Autism Awareness

The Minuteman has been many things during his 100-plus years in town: Santa Claus. Easter bunny. Anti-war protester.

Today, however, may be the 1st time he’s an advocate for autism awareness.

Minuteman - Autism Awareness 2

Our town hero looks very sharp — and committed — with his Autism Speaks hat, sweatshirt, bag and water bottles.

(Hat tip: Stacey Henske)

 

Today’s The Day For A Library Shout-Out

How do you love the Westport Library?

Let the Institute of Museum and Library Services count the ways.

Our library is a finalist for the IMLS’ National Medal. It’s the highest honor for extraordinary public service, recognizing institutions that go waaay above and beyond as community anchors.

Each finalist gets 1 day for patrons to share stories on the IMLS Facebook page. Westport’s day is today: Thursday, March 26.

If you’ve got a Facebook account, click this link. “Like” the page, and post stories, fun facts, photos, videos — anything you’d like to share about the Westport Library. (Include the hashtag #NationalMedal too.)

Library museum page

Be creative. After all, this is Westport!

The IMLS says that the volume of posts doesn’t play into which finalist wins — but hey, you never know.

Technologically challenged? Don’t have a Facebook account? Head over to the Westport Library. Their staff will be happy to help you out!

This Old House #4

Last week’s house — the most recent in a series seeking readers’ help identifying homes photographed for a 1930s WPA project — remains a mystery.

Though the caption on the back said “Coleytown,” readers thought it might have been located as far away as Edge Hill Road. Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten is still trying to track down the answer. (Click here for that story, and comments.)

This week’s house seems to be easy. The back carries clear identification — “Allen (Bailin). Riverside Avenue.” But no one at the WHS — including Bob Gault, whose company has been on Riverside since 1863 — can pin it down.

This Old House - March 25, 2015

It’s pretty clear that this house was torn down. But where exactly did it stand? What took its place?

If you think you know, click “Comments” below. Information is needed for an upcoming Historical Society exhibit on preservation in Westport.

Remembering Walt Reed

Walt Reed’s death last week, at 97, marks the end of one more link to Westport’s arts colony past.

Reed — a leading illustrator, art historian and author of books on illustration and illustrators, including fellow Westporter Harold von Schmidt — founded the Illustration House gallery here in 1974. One of the 1st of its kind, the company is now headquartered in New York.

Walt Reed, in his Westport studio.

Walt Reed, in his Westport studio.

“Walt was a wonderful, quiet, sweet, mild man who taught us all a lot about the early Westport illustrators,” says Eve Potts, who worked closely with him on a number of projects.

“Walt was always willing to share his knowledge, always helpful no matter how small or large the task you asked him to help with.”

James Gurney says: “Genial, good-natured and enthusiastic, he almost single-handedly pioneered illustration history as a field of research. He legitimized original illustration artwork as a category for collectors.”

One of Walt Reed's books on the history of illustration.

One of Walt Reed’s books on the history of illustration.

Reed was born in Texas. He went to art school at Pratt. During World War II he was a conscientious objector, working instead in the Dakotas for the government. After the war, he aided in European reconstruction efforts.

In the 1950s Reed was an instructor at Westport-based Famous Artists School. In 2012, the Norman Rockwell Museum honored him with its 1st-ever Distinguished Scholar Award.

The last time Potts saw Reed was at the opening of a Westport Historical Society exhibit on stamps produced by Westport artists.

He was part of that group. In 1976, he’d created a series of 50 stamps depicting state flags, to honor the American bicentennial.

(For an in-depth story on Walt Reed’s influence on the art world, click here.)

Finding America’s Best Folk Art, Right Here At Home

You’d expect one of the world’s most extensive collections of American folk art carvings to be housed in a museum — the Wadsworth Atheneum perhaps, or the Smithsonian.

It’s not.

Bob Levine shows off a wood carving of General Custer.

Bob Levine shows off a wood carving of General Custer.

But you’d never guess that this amazing array of pieces — 800 wood carvings, of everyone from Pocahontas and Knute Rockne to Charles Lindbergh and Hillary Clinton — is right here in Westport.

In a private home. Whose owners have twice converted garage space into warm, artifact-filled rooms, now overflowing with American historical figures, events and icons.

Anne and Bob Levine married in 1987. She’s a 1964 Staples graduate; he’s a Brooklyn native who’s lived here since 1969.

A month after their wedding, they went to a Westport Arts Center exhibit on folk art. They knew  nothing about the subject. But Bob — who in addition to being a neurologist, author, former owner of Anacapri restaurant and marathon runner, was a woodcarver in his youth — and his wife were intrigued.

They bought a couple of inexpensive pieces. Then they added a few more items. Soon they were going to antique shows and auctions, and scouring eBay, building — without even realizing it – a world-class collection.

Today it spills through every room of their unpretentious home. From the outside, you’d never know it’s there. Once you step inside, it’s everywhere.

A visitor to the Levines' home is greeted by an array of Uncle Sams.

A visitor to the Levines’ home is greeted by an array of Uncle Sams.

The first thing you see is a collection of Uncle Sams, in every imaginable pose. A World War I piece shows Kaiser Wilhelm bowing at Sam’s feet.

One room contains perhaps America’s largest collection of whirligigs, along with frontier pieces. But the crown jewel is a fantastically detailed diorama of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet, bought at a Christie’s auction. Each member is individually carved. An electric chandelier shines overhead.

President Roosevelt -- and each of his cabinet members -- is carved in exquisite detail.

President Roosevelt — and each of his cabinet members — is carved in exquisite detail.

Most of the folk artists are self-taught. Few are well known. Most are dead. Woodcarving is a dying art, Levine says.

He and Anne show me John and Abigail Adams, Henry Clay, Sitting Bull. There are lots of Lincolns: Abe as a young man, as president, wearing classical garb. Nearby are Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, George Armstrong Custer.

“These are beautiful works of art,” Bob says. “But most of them were done just as a hobby, to give as gifts, or keep as decorations in the home.”

Each has a story. He shows off a carving of a Japanese soldier, surrendering in World War II. It was done by a disabled American soldier, as therapy. The piece rests atop a wooden box — where the soldier kept his medal.

There is great detail too in this carving of Pocahontas and John Smith.

There is great detail too in this carving of Pocahontas and John Smith.

In another room, Levine points to a carving of Ronald Reagan. It was created by a woman — a rarity in a male-dominated field — from Tennessee. In 2008, the Levines called her to commission a carving of President-elect Obama. They learned the artist — a full-time hairdresser — was semi-illiterate. She needed help sending it by mail.

The Levines commissioned another piece: a carving of the flag-raising in New York, after 9/11. That artist was losing his vision to macular degeneration. It was the last work he ever did.

The couple do not know every artist in their collection. Many are anonymous. But they know the story behind each piece — where they found this Thomas Edison, why there are so many carvings of show girls, how come William McKinley was so popular back in the day.

The Levines love their whirligigs -- movable wind toys.

The Levines love their whirligigs — movable wind toys.

There is hardly any room left in the Levines’ home for new works. Which is why Bob (who in retirement runs the neurology clinic at Norwalk Hospital, serves with Americares, and is writing 2 more books) and Anne (who after retiring from her job managing an architectural office volunteers for the Westport Historical Society, Westport Schools Permanent Arts Collection and Norwalk Hospital) are now giving away some of their precious collection.

It will go to the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, for a show next year.

That’s the oldest public art museum in America. However, Bob says, it has almost no folk art.

No wonder. The best collection in the country is 60 miles away, right here in Bob and Anne Levine’s Westport home.

Anne Levine stands with a life-size carving of Uncle Sam.

Anne Levine stands with a life-size carving of Uncle Sam.

Westport Y: Suddenly $40 Million Richer

A capital campaign for a new Westport Weston YMCA  fell short of its goal earlier this decade. So the Mahackeno facility — called the Bedford Family Center — was broken into 2 phases.

Phase I opened last fall, with an airy fitness center, gleaming new pool, well-lit exercise rooms, nice new gym and a much-needed child’s play space. The site was purchased decades ago — with the generous help of Frederick T. Bedford, Ruth’s father.

The new YMCA -- known as the Bedford Family Center -- at Mahackeno.

The new YMCA — known as the Bedford Family Center — at Mahackeno.

But the new Y lacks other amenities, like childcare, gymnastics and racquetball. And the locker rooms are badly cramped. Y officials promised they’d be added some vague time later, during Phase II.

Phase II suddenly seems a lot closer to reality.

The Y announced today that it has received $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford. The last surviving granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford — a director of Standard Oil and founder of the Westport Y, among many other philanthropic projects — died last June, at 99.

Norwalk Hospital logoYet this is not Ruth Bedford’s only astonishing gift. She also left $40 million to Norwalk Hospital. She loved that institution too — and volunteered there, logging almost 17,000 hours in the gift shop, over 5 decades. (A previous gift from E.T. Bedford, decades ago, enabled the hospital to double its patient capacity.)

But wait! There’s more! Another $40 million bequest — believed to be the largest ever to an all-girls’ school — went to Foxcroft, a tiny private girls school in Virginia that was Bedford’s alma mater.

The Y’s plans for the fallen-from-the-sky money are not yet set.

Officials say they will use it for “current and future capital development needs” — perhaps including new locker rooms? — and “to endow programs for wellness and youth in a way that honors the tradition of the Bedford family legacy.”

For nearly a century, that legacy has enriched Westport. It continues to do so, even after death.

Westport Woman’s Clubs: In 19th-Century Home, Addressing 21st-Century Issues

Bedford Hall — the Westport Woman’s Club‘s newly renovated, recently dedicated event space — is very modern.

Costing $120,000, it includes a state-of-the-art AV/home theater system, recessed and cove LED lighting, new halogen stage lights, and much more. It will be Westport’s go-to space for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, art shows, memorial services and much more, for years to come.

But its story begins 108 years ago.

In 1907, a group of Westport women decided to do something about the muddy, horse manure-filled streets of downtown. They put on a fair, raised money, and built sidewalks.

By 1925, the Westport Improvement Association had added sidewalks -- and gotten rid of mud and manure on Main Street. The entrance to what became the Westport Woman's Club (the "Bedford House" portion of the YMCA) is on the right side of this 1925 photo.

By 1925, the Westport Town Improvement Association had added sidewalks — and gotten rid of mud and manure on Main Street. The entrance to what became the Westport Woman’s Club (the “Bedford House” portion of the YMCA) is on the right side in this 1925 photo.

That “sanitary” project led to others: bathrooms at Compo Beach. Hot lunches and vaccinations (!) in the schools. More sidewalks on Compo Road.

A few years later, when E.T. Bedford was building his YMCA, that same group of women — now called the Westport Town Improvement Association — asked what he was doing for the ladies. He modified the Y’s design, giving them a separate entrance on Main Street. It was called “Bedford House.”

That’s where the Westport Woman’s Club — as it was known by the 1930s — held art shows, conducted dental screenings, handed out scholarships and hosted the visiting nurses’ offices.

“It was a very popular club to be in,” says current WWC president Dorothy Curran. “It was also the de facto health department in town.”

WWC logoIn 1945, as men returned from war and new families began moving to Westport, demands on the Y space increased. Bedford’s son Frederick continued his father’s commitment to the Woman’s Club, buying an 1881 house at 44 Imperial Avenue for the organization to use.

It was a beautiful waterfront home, with a big veranda. But it was in disrepair. And because there was no meeting space inside, it sat unused for 5 years.

In 1950, as the Saugatuck Church prepared to move its 1832 meetinghouse from the Post Road/North Compo corner, several hundred feet across US 1 (to its present site near Myrtle Avenue), it put its 1866 Sunday school building on the market for $2,000.

The WWC was interested. It would cost another $18,000 to move it to Imperial Avenue, and renovate the interior. Frederick Bedford agreed to pay half the cost of the purchase, moving and renovation price.

In September 1950 — a couple of weeks after the church made its slow, famous trek across the Post Road — the 2nd, less famous building was cut in half. The 2 sections then made their own journey west.

Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church's Sunday School building move hang in its current  home on Imperial Avenue.

Photos depicting the Saugatuck Congregational Church’s Sunday School building move hang in its current home on Imperial Avenue.

When the Sunday school building was reassembled and joined to the Imperial Avenue house, the clapboard matched. “It was meant to be!” Curran says.

A kitchen was added. Dedicated the following June, the hall was used for the WWC’s active theater club, and rented to outside groups.

Over the years, the room grew old. Rental income dropped.

The gazebo and gardens are a lot lovelier in spring, summer and fall.

The gazebo and gardens are a lot lovelier in spring, summer and fall.

But the space is great. It’s centrally located. There’s a garden with a gazebo, for wedding photos ops. And so much parking! In 1955 the WWC granted the town 2 acres of riparian rights. The land was filled in, and now the club has 100 parking spaces to use in perpetuity.

Westport is one of only 2 Woman’s Clubs in the state with their own clubhouse. (The other is in Greenwich.) They share space with 2 tenants: Connecticut Braille Association, and the Westport Young Woman’s League.

The WYWL was formed in 1956, when a group of younger Woman’s Club members realized they were doing much of the group’s work, but had no representation on the board. The split made the New York Times.

Westport Woman's Club president Dorothy Curran stands proudly outside the organization's Imperial Avenue home.

Westport Woman’s Club president Dorothy Curran stands proudly outside the organization’s Imperial Avenue home.

At the time, the Young Woman’s upper age limit was 35. It became 40, then 50. Now there is no limit at all.

Today, the median age of Woman’s Club members is “a bit older” than the Young Woman’s group, Curran says. But in many ways the 2 clubs are similar.

The WWYL organizes the Minute Man Race and CraftWestport, and awards many grants.

The WWC runs the Yankee Doodle Fair, art shows, the Nutcracker Tea, Curio Cottage, Westport food pantry — and donates to many of the same organizations as the WWYL.

Which brings us back to the new Bedford Hall. The $120,000 project — funded mostly by Lea Ruegg and her son Erhart, and completed in January with a stage, Steinway baby grand piano, maple floors, crown moldings and seating for over 100 people — will be the site this Wednesday (March 18, 12-1:30 pm) of the 1st-ever event co-sponsored by the Westport Woman’s Club and Westport Young Woman’s League.

A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.

A Steinway piano and modern lighting are just 2 features of the new Bedford Hall stage.

It’s a panel, breakout discussion and brown bag lunch on the topic: “What is the role of women’s volunteer service organizations in the 21st century?” The public is welcome.

After so much help from 2 philanthropic Bedfords, it’s fitting that 44 Imperial Avenue finally has a “Bedford Hall.”

And fitting too, that a pair of well-run, very generous women’s organizations — both born in the 20th century — are joining forces in their shared 19th-century home, to address 21st-century women’s issues.

(For information on renting Bedford Hall, contact Susan Loselle: 203-227-4240 or 203-246-9258; westportwomansclub@sbcglobal.net or seloselle@gmail.com)

The handsome, 19th-century interior leads into the modern Bedford Hall (rear).

A handsome, 19th-century interior leads into the modern Bedford Hall (rear).