Category Archives: Organizations

Local Playwright Scores At The Fringe

With 200 theater and dance offerings at venues spread throughout the East Village and Lower East Side — the New York International Fringe Festival has something for everyone.

TimeOut New York says:

The wild variety of Fringe offerings includes musicals, experimental pieces, classical revivals and ramshackle new works about small penises, Lena Dunham and pretty much every subject in between. Some may go on to glory (like Fringe Festival alumni “Urinetown” and “Silence! The Musical”), while others will fade into well-deserved obscurity.

One of those shows — perhaps the next “Urinetown”? — is “To Each Their Own.” It was written by Westporter Tracy Knight Narang.

The 5-actor show is about a couple who — after years of infertility — suddenly become pregnant. Soon, however, big moral issues and dark family secrets threaten their marriage.

It’s been called “provocative,” “intriguing” and “beautifully directed.”

To Each Their Own

The 1st 2 performances sold out. The next — and last — 2 are set for this Saturday (August 29, 7 p.m.) and Sunday (August 30, 12 p.m.) at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk Street.

Support your local playwright! Buy tickets here.

(Hat tip: Martha Aasen)

Westport Helps Waltersville’s Garden Grow

Westport has a long history with Waltersville School. For years, Staples High School world language students have volunteered at the K-8 facility across the street from the former Father Panik Village in Bridgeport.

Now another group has stepped up. Last spring, the school wanted to transform a barren courtyard into something more inviting. They asked the Westport Garden Club to help.

The low-key — but very committed — 90-year-old organization said “of course!” The result: 4 beautiful perennial gardens.

The Westport Garden Club was joined by Pivot Ministries, a Waltersville neighbor. Labor, design and plants were all donated.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Westporters and Bridgeporters work together at the Waltersville School.

Yesterday’s ribbon-cutting yesterday was a festive affair. School staff, Garden Club members and Pivot Ministries helpers joined together to celebrate.

The opening of Waltersville School this year will be very joyful indeed.

Lindsay Runkel’s Journey Forward

Lindsay Runkel’s family moved to Westport in 1993. She attended the Nature Center nursery school, then moved step by step through the school system.

Lindsay was a free spirit — a bit alternative but sweet, beautiful and very smart.

She attended college in Arizona, then moved back senior year to finish her degree in nursing at the University of Connecticut-Stamford.

Lindsay worked hard throughout high school and college to help pay her way. Burgers seemed to be a theme: She was hired by both Five Guys and Shake Shack.

Always physically active, Lindsay grew passionate about mountain biking. Through a shop in Ridgefield, she went on weekend biking excursions.

Last October 5, Lindsay and a group were riding in New Hampshire. Near the end of the day, Lindsay landed the wrong way on a jump. Her spine was severed.

She spent several weeks at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston. Just before Thanksgiving, she came home to Westport. A carpenter friend turned a downstairs office into a wheelchair-accessible bedroom and bathroom, and outfitted the main floor with ramps.

Lindsay Runkel

Lindsay Runkel

Lindsay did rehab at Burke Hospital in White Plains for as long as her insurance lasted.

She also learned of Journey Forward. The rehab facility combines exercise and neuromuscular stimulation in the belief that if muscles do not atrophy, a person may regain feeling and some movement. Lindsay’s parents drive her to Journey Forward twice a week for sessions. She is doing amazingly well for someone in her condition.

Lindsay also goes a few times each week to TTEndurance in Westport, to pedal an adaptive bike with her hands.

Her family is coping as best they can, though times for them are tough too. Meanwhile, Lindsay talks of returning to college, driving and living a full life.

To help with her Journey Forward costs, friends and relatives have organized a fundraiser. It’s set for SoulCycle on Saturday, September 12 (check-in 1:30 p.m., ride 2-2:45 p.m.). The suggested donation is $50 per ride.

To register, click here. For more information, contact Casey Berg: 203-984-8914; caseyberg1@gmail.com.

 

Bill Harmer: New Librarian For A New Era

Libraries, says Bill Harmer, are “places of connections.”

In one of his first library jobs, he met a mother and daughter. The younger woman had just been diagnosed with a very serious cancer. Day after day, Harmer helped them research the disease and treatment options.

One day, they brought flowers. “You’ve done more for us than our doctors have,” they said.

“Those are the moments that happen in this profession,” Harmer says. “It’s almost like a calling.”

The librarian has been “called” to a new position. Last month, he became executive director of the Westport Library.

Bill Harmer, in his new digs.

Bill Harmer, in his new digs.

Maxine Bleiweis is a very tough act to follow. But with passion, energy, creativity and a community-minded sense of purpose, Harmer seems poised to pick up exactly where she left off.

His path to Westport was “meandering,” he says. “I wandered in the forest of journalism and publishing.” His experience with libraries had been limited to “checking out books.” But the publishing job introduced him to reference sections, and the company paid for his graduate degree in library and information science.

He spent the past 9 years at the Chelsea District Library in Michigan, near Ann Arbor. His achievements included moving a rural library into a 30,000-square foot, state-of-the-art downtown building. He quadrupled his budget and staff, and turned the library into a beloved community asset.

He put the library on sound financial footing, during tough times. A millage increase passed by a landslide — just a few years after the bond issue to build the new library had squeaked by.

Harmer loved Chelsea, and his very innovative library. And Chelsea loved him.

Bill Harmer's old digs.

Bill Harmer’s old digs.

But when he saw a posting for the Westport job, he was intrigued. Harmer felt a “kinship” with this library’s vision and philosophy. He already knew about the Maker Space.

As he researched Westport’s broad and diverse programming, and saw the “talent, expertise and resources” of the community, he recognized a great opportunity. “People here have their hands in the arts, business, you name it. There’s the Maker creativity. And the library engages everyone, of all ages. It really is a community resource, from birth to death.”

The proposed transformation of the library for the 21st century was truly exciting.

“Ten or 15 years ago, no one could have predicted where libraries would be today,” Harmer says. “Chelsea’s building is beautiful, but we’ve found physical limitations. I love the flexibility in Westport’s plans. The potential to engage people, do exciting things and have an impact on the community are enormous.”

The Westport Library provides a warm home for all.

The Westport Library provides a warm home for all.

One of those “exciting things” occurred on his very first day of work. Salman Rushdie agreed to give the Malloy Lecture in the Arts in October. Harmer takes no credit for that coup — it was in the works before he arrived — but it was a vivid reminder that in this town, and with this library’s staff, “people make things happen.”

He’s spending his first weeks getting the lay of the land: talking personally with employees and patrons, learning the budget, figuring next steps for the Maker Space.

He’s also immersing himself in Westport. He’s meeting with Rotary clubs. Miggs Burroughs gave him a “Tunnel Vision” tour.

Jeff Wieser showed off the Gillespie Center. “I love what it does, and that it’s right across the street from us,” Harmer says. He’s made plans for his staff to prepare and serve a meal there.

Harmer is learning about the Y, Senior Center, Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Merchants Association and Arts Center. He hopes to collaborate with town organizations as much as possible.

He’s grateful for the “well-oiled machine” that Bleiweis left, and her “incredible legacy.”

He knows he’s filling big shoes. He knows too that expectations are high. Fortunately, Harmer says, “there are plenty of outstanding people, in the library and the community, to make sure we keep innovating and making a difference.”

Bill Harmer arrived in Westport in time for the summer Book Sale.

Bill Harmer arrived in Westport in time for the summer Book Sale.

Every move — career and personal — is filled with challenges. Was there one moment when Harmer realized that — despite those challenges — he’d made a good decision to come here?

It came quickly, he says. He decided to come a week before his official start date, to see what the huge Summer Book Sale was all about. An easy 2-day, 2-car drive east with his wife and 3 children ended with a horrendous, Friday traffic jam on I-95.

That evening coincided with the library staff’s annual Compo cookout. After 2 hours of gridlock, the family’s nerves were frayed. Just to be social, they headed to the beach.

“Before we set foot on the sand, a dozen staff members swept in,” Harmer says with awe. “They fed us, gave us a warm welcome, and made us feel part of their family.

“We saw the entire staff. There was a breeze, and a beautiful sunset. As we drove away, my wife and I knew we’d made the right move.”

 

 

Farmers’ Photo Fan Favorites

Two of our town’s most creative institutions — the Westport Farmers’ Market and Westport Arts Center — have teamed up to showcase the creativity of one of our town’s most important assets: our kids.

The Young Shoots Digital Photography Competition highlights images taken all summer long at the Farmers’ Market.

The remarkable shots — from every angle imaginable — pulse with life. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, people — they’re all there, showing off the vitality of the Thursday market in colorful, imaginative ways.

If you like what you see (and you will) you can vote for your favorite. There are 3 age groups: 8-11, 12-14, 15-18. But hurry: voting closes at midnight tomorrow, Sunday, August 23.

Winners will have their work shown in a gallery-like setting at Sugar & Olives (a favorite Farmers’ Market vendor), and will receive a membership to the Arts Center. Really though, virtually every image is a winner.

Click here for the photos, and to vote. Warning: Don’t do it on an empty stomach.

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

(Photo/Shira Friedman)

Ken Bernhard’s Missions Of Mercy

Ken Bernhard is a very busy man. But not too busy to help others in need.

The longtime Westport attorney and former state legislator is deeply committed to 2 important ventures.

One is Soles4Souls. Founded as a relief organization after philanthropists and shoe executives provided footwear to people impacted by the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the non-profit has distributed 22 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries (and all 50 US states).

A few years ago, Bernhard helped collect over 700 pairs in Westport. He’s organized another collection this month. Collection boxes are set up in Town Hall and the Senior Center. More than 150 pairs of shoes have already been donated this year. Breaking that 700 mark should be a walk in the park.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

Part of the informational sign at Town Hall.

In October, Bernhard heads to Jordan. With an Arab-speaking colleague, he’ll purchase and deliver everything from toothpaste to school supplies — to Syrian refugees. He’s helped set up the 501(c)(3) Syria fund, under the umbrella of Helping Jordan Refugees and Mercy Corps.

“When I listened to the news about millions of refugees who have lost so much, and endured incalculable suffering through no fault of their own — ending up in bleak compounds with nothing but a will to survive — I thought I and our community should do something to help.”

If a busy guy like Ken Bernhard can find time to help these 2 excellent causes, the rest of us can pitch in too. Donations made payable to The Syria Fund should be sent to Ken Bernhard, 11 Woods Grove Rd., Westport, CT 06880; online, click on TheSyriaFund.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.

Ken Bernhard is collecting donations for supplies to help Syrian children.

Smokin’ The Westport Blues

As a new member of the Westport Downtown Merchants Association 8 years ago, Bob LeRose wanted to make an impact on the area.

LeRose — the “Bobby” of Bobby Q’s restaurant — zeroed in on his 2 passions: barbecue and music.

The result — organized in conjunction with the DMA, 2nd selectman Shelly Kassen, the Westport Library and Levitt Pavilion — was the 1st-ever Blues, Views & BBQ Festival.

The name might be a bit clunky — what’s up with “views”? — but it quickly became a fixture of the downtown late-summer scene. Its attraction spread far beyond Westport — kind of like Festival Italiano — but like that Saugatuck celebration of yore, it’s still ours.

Westport's Emergency Medical Services staff participated in last yeear's hotly contested barbecue competition.

Westport’s Emergency Medical Services staff participated in last year’s hotly contested barbecue competition.

The 8th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is set for Labor Day weekend (September 5 and 6) at the Levitt Pavilion and library and Imperial Avenue parking lots.

Once again, there’s kick-ass music (including Westport’s own Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin); cooking demonstrations by top local chefs (including Da Pietro’s, Vespa and of course Bobby Q’s); rib- and pie-eating contests; bull riding; a drum circle; kids’ activities (from bounce houses to face painting), and the very popular Kansas City Barbeque Society competition.

The Levitt Pavilion is the perfect spot to hear great, get-up-and-move blues. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Levitt Pavilion is the perfect spot to hear great, get-up-and-move blues. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

A specialty food court is filled with wood-fired, grilled and roasted meats, and handcrafted beer.

New this year: a “People’s Choice Wing Contest.” Whole Foods is donating the goods.

I’ve heard a few snarky comments about the price (tickets range from $30 for Sunday bought in advance, to $85 for a two-day pass bought onsite). Children under 12 are free with a paying adult.

But the event sells out. And plenty of out-of-towners seem thrilled to be there.

This couple was VERY happy to be at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

This couple was VERY happy to be at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

More importantly, it’s a way for the DMA to continue their great job of keeping downtown attractive and lively; promoting commerce, culture and community, and bringing something unique and fun to the area.

The DMA uses its funds to improve downtown. They also support other organizations like the Westport Woman’s Club, Rotary, Levitt, Library and First Night.

The Blues, Views & BBQ Festival does not fall out of the sky. It costs money to produce. There are bands and police to hire, port-a-potties and fencing to pay for, signs and programs to produce, tents to erect, and clean-up to be done.

Oh, yeah: rental for the Levitt too. (Plus sound guys, lighting guys, and ribs for the bands.)

Vegans are welcome at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. But meat-lovers will have an especially great time.

Vegans are welcome at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival. But meat-lovers will have an especially great time.

It’s all worth it. As Bobby LeRose says, “Thousands of people support this event each year. We get support from everyone. We see smiles all around. People are so happy with the music, food, activities and sense of community.

“You just don’t see this caliber of talent on one stage for the price we charge this close to home, in our beautiful and intimate Levitt Pavilion.”

Westport was recently named one of Connecticut’s 10 Most Boring Towns. Any of the thousands of happy folks who ever heard 2 days of fantastic music, scarfed down ribs, ridden a bull or done anything else fun at the Blues, Views & BBQ Festival would beg to differ.

(The 8th annual Blues, Views & BBQ Festival is set for Saturday, September 5 [11 a.m.-10 p.m.] and Sunday, September 6 [11 a.m.-9 p.m.] For ticket options, daily schedule, and entry forms for the eating and BBQ competitions, click on www.bluesviewsbbq.com.) 

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Aaron Donovan’s Aquatic Adventure: Part 2

Yesterday, “06880” reported on the 1st day and night of Aaron and Susan Donovan’s journey by 18-foot kayak/pedal boat/sailboat, from Westport to New York City. In real life, Aaron — a 1994 Staples High School grad — serves as media liaison for the MTA.

Here is Part 2 of his story:

Aaron and Susan were in luck. On day 2 — and for the next 2 days– the prevailing westerly wind shifted out of the east. There was no need to lengthen the trip by tacking. Winds were a perfect 10-15 knots.

Off Darien, they encountered a sailing school. Aaron remembered his own summers at Pequot Yacht Club. It was “one of the greatest, most fun and educational things I did as a kid.”

They had 3 islands to choose from off Greenwich. They threaded the boat between Island Beach and Great Captain Island, landing briefly on Calf Island. It’s a publicly accessible bird sanctuary, but overnight permits are available only in advance, after submitting a “wildlife studies curriculum,” along with proof of knowledge of how to perform CPR (!).

Aaron and Susan had not done that. They considered pitching their tent on the boat — after all, that is not camping on the island.

But they pushed on, and pedaled through breakwaters and up the Byram River. They landed at the dock behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

Pitching a tent behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

Pitching a tent behind Bartaco in Port Chester.

The staff was very helpful. Aaron and Susan’s 2 main concerns were food, and recharging their phones, computers and homemade GPS.

Aaron learned that his boat was actually parked in the last slip owned by Ebb Tide Marina. He offered a damp $50 bill, and they had a spot for the night.

Aaron and Susan wandered around downtown Port Chester and its waterfront park, had an excellent dinner, then pitched their tent on the boat.

Sleeping behind a bar was surprisingly quiet. Until 2 a.m., that is, when a crew of loud, laughing people returned to a power boat docked next door. A woman fell into the water. Her friends fished her out, and they left. “Thankfully, they did not hit us,” Aaron says.

Day 3 was the smoothest yet. Aaron and Susan evaded some treacherous rocks off Manursing Island, then made a beeline for Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Surprisingly, they saw the towers of the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges before spotting the lighthouse.

Execution Rocks Lighthouse, as seen from Aaron and Susan Donovan's boat.

Execution Rocks Lighthouse, as seen from Aaron and Susan Donovan’s boat.

When they got there, hosts Craig Morrison and Linell Lukesh — representatives of a nonprofit that bought the island and lighthouse for $1 — were sitting in lounge chairs in their yard (actually, a grassless, concrete and rocky slope).

Docking was tough. Except for a metal ladder going straight to the sea floor, the entire island is surrounded by riprap — large granite boulders that serve as a breakwater to prevent erosion.

Craig pointed to a newly installed open mooring. It took a bit of maneuvering and hard work, but finally they landed.

The lighthouse was the highlight of Aaron’s trip. From the top, they could see Port Jefferson, Stamford, New Rochelle and Manhattan. There were 2 regattas underway, and plenty of fishermen in shallow-draft motorboats.

The Manhattan skyline, as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

The Manhattan skyline, as seen from the top of the lighthouse.

Craig and Linell barbecued, then Aaron and Susan retired to their room.

The lighthouse has 2 guest rooms, each with 2 cots. The charge is $300 per room — tax-deductible, as a donation to the lighthouse preservation fund. But they’re open on Saturday nights only.

If you want to get there without kayaking/pedaling/sailing from Westport, take the Port Washington Water Taxi. It’s a 15-minute ride to the island.

(Tomorrow: Days 4-5)

Susan and Aaron Donovan, standing at the top of Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Susan and Aaron Donovan, standing at the top of Execution Rocks Lighthouse.

Picture Wendy Nylen’s Gallery

For 20 years, Picture This owner Wendy Nylen enjoyed a good relationship with her landlord.

Her art gallery and custom framing shop was in Village Center, aka “the strip mall with Dunkin’ Donuts opposite Fresh Market.”

Six years ago, her lease ran out. Since then, she rented on a month-to-month basis.

Last year, Equity One bought the shopping center. They offered Wendy a new lease — almost exactly double what she’d been paying. They would not negotiate.

Wendy moved out (to the former Great Cakes, just down the road). She paid Equity One the rent and property taxes, up to her move date.

Picture This in its new location, the former Great Cakes. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

Picture This in its new location, the former Great Cakes. (Photo/Billy Scalzi)

The owners now claim she owes $576.73, for some maintenance charges — not damage to the space — and for removing the sign. Wendy says that neither were her responsibility while Kowalsky owned the building.

She told Equity One exactly that, and noted that she had no lease with them.

Wendy was rewarded with a letter from a law firm threatening to sue her business — and “enter litigation against the principals on a personal basis should the corporate judgment appear uncollectible.”

“They may be counting on the fact that hiring a lawyer to defend myself would cost me more than the amount they claim,” Wendy notes. “I find this bullying and despicable. What do you think?”

Hey, don’t ask me. Ask the readers of “06880.” I’m sure they’ve got opinions!

Downshifting With Michael Douglas

Westporters who grew up here in the late 1950s and early ’60s remember Michael Douglas. The son of actor Kirk Douglas did not go to Staples — he’s a Choate grad — but he was friends with many who did.

He’s been gone for decades. Does he remember Westport at all?

Apparently. Check out a recent post on his personal Facebook page:

Michael douglas 2

The Downshifters were legends. To read more about them, click here.

To learn more about Michael Douglas, join Netflix.

(Hat tip: Bill Banks)