Category Archives: People

Finding Miss Malbin

In July 2014, Hazel Malbin had just retired. She’d been a teacher for 35 years. The last 24 were in Westport. The 4th graders and their parents at Long Lots School loved her, and gave her a great sendoff. She was ready for the next stage of life.

Now, Hazel had time for things like Facebook. One Saturday morning she idly checked out a page for Greenfield Girls’ Primary School in Cape Town. She’d grown up in the South African city, and that’s where she started her teaching career.

Miss Malbin with her Grade 5 class, in 1975.

Miss Malbin with her Grade 5 class, in 1975.

One post caught her eye. “Does anyone know what happened to Miss Malbin?” asked Tanya Baron.

“Here I am!” she replied.

The response was immediate. Former Grade 5 students flooded the page with responses. Among the most intriguing was one from Tanya. A high school English teacher herself, she thanked her long-ago instructor for inspiring her life’s work.

Hazel and her husband had already planned their 1st big post-retirement trip. The following April, they’d head to South Africa. She’d never forgotten her native country. All during her Westport career, she’d included lessons about growing up with white privilege during apartheid. Her Long Lots retirement gift was a butterfly garden bench, with a quote from Nelson Mandela.

When she retired in 2014, Hazel Malbin was honored with a bench in Long Lots' butterfly garden. The plaque includes a quote from Nelson Mandela.

When she retired in 2014, Hazel Malbin was honored with a bench in Long Lots’ butterfly garden. The plaque includes a quote from Nelson Mandela.

On Facebook, she told her former students about her upcoming trip. That was all they needed to hear.

“One of my ‘little girls’ said they’d make a party for me,” Hazel says. So a few months ago, she headed home. She left a week before her husband, to immerse herself in memories.

The party was wonderful. More than 25 women came. Her former students were now in their 50s. One brought her mother. She’d been Hazel’s “room mother.”

Another flew in from 1000 miles away. She’s a teacher now, and a writer. She said, “I had to be here.”

Today, Hazel Malbin looks the same age as her former "girls." She's standing, 4th from left. The proteas are South Africa's national flower.

Today, Hazel Malbin looks the same age as her former “girls.” She’s standing, 4th from left. The proteas are South Africa’s national flower.

Hazel was just 21 when she started teaching. Looking back, she feels amazed.

“In Westport we have paraprofessionals, support services, help for everything,” she says. “In Cape Town I had 38 girls, all by myself. And this was a top school! I apologized to them if I had not given them everything they needed. They said they loved having me. We were all so young!”

The “girls” — who Hazel says now look indistinguishable from herself — shared stories of their year together. Some remembered lines from Shakespeare she’d recited. Others recalled her platform heels, and the perfume she’d worn.

“Their life stories were etched on their faces,” Hazel notes. “Yet I could still see the little 10-year-olds hidden in those sunny smiles.”

After the party, one woman insisted Hazel come to her house. She wanted her former teacher to meet her husband, children and mother.

“It was all so special to me,” Hazel says. “I’d just closed a chapter in Westport. Then I had this lovely party in South Africa. I never expected anything like that. It was so unplanned, meeting these girls from 1975. Now we’re friends on Facebook.”

One woman brought her Grade 5 report card to the party. Hazel says, "How simple it was!" She adds, "I am utterly embarrassed by the comments I wrote."

One woman brought her Grade 5 report card to the party. Hazel says, “How simple it was!” She is also “utterly embarrassed” at the comments she wrote.

Hazel calls teaching “an incredible journey. If you’re fortunate, you affect people’s lives for years to come. They, in turn, enrich you in so many ways. But to be transported literally fast forward across a continent, and be immersed in a gathering of your classroom 40 years earlier is surreal.”

Hazel says that Westport offered “such a rewarding career. I worked with brilliant colleagues, and made lifelong friends with parents as well. But even those relationships, and being nominated for Teacher of the Year, can’t compare with finding my original class. There’s nothing like being 21, straight out of Teachers’ College, armed only with a piece of chalk, a smile, enthusiasm, and the excitement of a classroom to call your own.”

Soon, Hazel heads back to South Africa. She’ll travel with her daughter — and see her “girls” again. When she returns, she’ll go back to her post-retirement life — which includes tutoring elementary and middle schoolers in reading and writing.

But none of the stories she uses with her current students can match the one she recently relived, with her oldest ones.

(Former student  Tanya Baron Matthews offered her perspective of the reunion on her own blog, “Making a Difference.” Click here for that story. Hat tip: Kerstin Rao)

Hazel Malbin, in a South African vineyard. She returns to her native country next week.

Hazel Malbin, in a South African vineyard. She returns to her native country next week.

Purchasing Pearl’s

Before DaPietro’s — way before — there was Pearl’s.

From 1972 to ’85, Paula Pastorelli Schooler owned the popular fondue place on Riverside Avenue.

The restaurant is long gone. But her legendary salad dressing lives on.

Paula pretty much sells it out of her trunk now. After all these years, she’s looking to do something different with it. Perhaps a marketer or promoter could help her reach more customers. Maybe a partner could join her. If someone wants to buy the business or name, she’s willing to talk.

If you are a fan of Pearl’s — the restaurant or the dressing — and want more information, email Paula directly:

Paula Schooler, with her Pearl's dressing. (Photo/Mary Ellen Hendricks)

Paula Schooler, with her Pearl’s dressing. (Photo/Mary Ellen Hendricks)

David Pogue Says, Basically: Have A Great Life

Last year, David Pogue offered his millions of fans “the basics”: tips and shortcuts about technology that some of us use every day. Others are gob-smacked by them.

None of us know everything. For every person with no clue that pressing any button on the side or top of a phone instantly stops it from ringing (duh!), there’s another who is amazed to learn that double-clicking any word is the best way to highlight it (whoa!).

That book — Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life — sold so well that his publisher gave him a contract for 2 more.

David Pogue BasicsThe Westport-based tech writer (Yahoo, New York Times, Scientific American) and TV correspondent (“CBS News Sunday Morning,” PBS “Nova Science Now”) has just published the follow-up: Pogue’s Basics: Life/Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Life.

Why expand from technology to life?

“I went for low-hanging fruit,” Pogue admits. “I’m a shortcut person. I know a lot about things like health and restaurants.”

And cars. In Basics: Life, you’ll learn how to find which side of your rental car the gas tank is on. Just look at the gas-pump icon on the dashboard. A little triangle points to the left or right. Wow!

Food, too. Wrapping a cucumber or lettuce in a paper towel, then placing it in a plastic bag in a refrigerator keeps it from getting soft and gross. Holy mackerel!

As for cleaning a microwave of caked-on, exploded food: Put a bowl half-full of water inside. Turn it on high for 5 minutes; wipe with a paper towel. Who knew?

Pogue crowd-sourced these tips through Twitter. Several dozen folks contributed ideas. There is wisdom in crowds. But no one is wiser at passing them along than David Pogue.

So what will his next book be?

Well, he has 3 kids. Perhaps essential tips to raising teenagers that no one bothered to tell you.

That could be his best seller ever.

(To buy Pogue’s Basics: Life on Amazon, click here.)

David Pogue passed along some favorite tips at a recent TED Talk.

David Pogue passed along some favorite tips at a recent TED Talk.

Special Olympics Swimming Makes A Splash

Marshall and Johanna Kiev do not see the glass as half full. The Westport couple find it overflowing.

When their daughter Chloe broke her arm playing on the monkey bars at Coleytown Elementary School, the Kievs spearheaded a drive for a better playground.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

Chloe Kiev, after a recent horse show.

To help Chloe — who has Williams Syndrome, a genetic disorder that includes heart problems and developmental delays — enjoy activities with friends and classmates, Marshall and Johanna worked with the Westport school system to add Special Olympics Unified Sports to its already very successful Staples High School project. Unified Sports teams include youngsters with and without disabilities. A full elementary program begins this winter.

At the same time, the Kievs approached the Westport Weston Family Y about a more traditional Special Olympics program. They loved the idea.

The result: Registration for the Y’s new swim offering begins Monday (November 30).

Youth ages 8 to 21 years old will learn or improve their swimming abilities. They’ll compete on a team. In June, they’ll join the Special Olympics Summer Games in New Haven.

Westport Y logoSpecial Olympics Swimming will run year-round. Eight-week sessions begin in January, with sessions each Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Practices will be age- and ability-coordinated, coordinated by a certified swim coach and volunteer assistants.

The Kievs led a fundraising effort — a Halloween party — with many generous attendees. So there’s no cost to participants. The Y will help cover any additional funds.

The entire Kiev family is thrilled about the new program — but no one more than Chloe. “I’m so excited to swim and win medals and have my friends come and watch me,” she says.

(For more information on the Westport Y’s Special Olympics swim program, click here; call Jay Jaronko at 203-226-8983, or email  To read more about the Kievs and Chloe’s Williams Syndrome, click here.)

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Eddie, Chloe and Ben Kiev.

Stew’s Lucky Turkey

Alert “06880” photographer Lynn U. Miller was at Stew Leonard’s yesterday morning.

(“Don’t ask why anyone in their right mind would be at Stew’s the morning of Thanksgiving,” she says.)

She spotted this gigantic billboard:

Stew Leonard's 1

The lucky turkey is not — as at least one customer thought — the bird selected for dinner at Stew’s home.

No — the “lucky turkey’ is actually on display in an enclosure at the entrance to the World’s Largest Dairy Store.

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

The lucky turkey — which lives to celebrate another day — is named Madison. Someone at the front desk told Lynn she (the turkey) is named for Stew Jr.’s daughter.

Sure, President Obama can pardon a turkey. Far more impressive for Stew to do so — saving countless kids from asking their parents, “Is that our dinner?”

Just So You Know: The Gift Of Gab

For an organization that is all about sharing stories, Just So You Know stays pretty quiet.

Since 2007, the Westport-based non-profit has partnered with hospitals and cancer support groups around the country. They’ve helped hundreds of people diagnosed with serious illnesses talk, reminisce, ask and answer questions. Sharing stories is a way to connect meaningfully with loved ones and close friends.

The project began when Gail Addlestone — a friend of Westporter Robin Weinberg — was diagnosed with breast cancer. Gail — who was pregnant — wanted to spend quality time with family and friends. She also hoped to find a way to tell her as-yet-unborn daughter the things a little girl should hear from her mom.

Just So You Know logo

Both goals were accomplished when Robin set up a video camera. Her questions enabled Gail to share stories — big events, small moments, important milestones and finally-funny embarrassments. The women chatted and laughed for hours.

To help others do the same, Just So You Know was born. “It’s more than fun, rewarding and deeply satisfying,” Robin says. “Research shows that storytelling is a powerful, universal way to make sense of things. It’s especially therapeutic as part of coping with a life-changing or threatening illness.”

This holiday season, Westporters can videotape their own stories. Robin is opening her first pop-up recording studio here.

It’s a great way for folks to tape stories, then share them with anyone they wish (via a flash drive, after editing). The videos can be given as gifts to relatives and friends. They can also be passed on to future generations. (With permission, the interviews will be posted on Just So You Know’s website.)

A variety of folks record videos for Just So You Know.

A variety of people record videos for Just So You Know.

But Westport’s pop-up studio is also a fundraiser. The $50 fee helps Just So You Know offer its programs to people living with serious illnesses.

Any combination can record stories: spouses, siblings, entire families, friend groups, grandparents and grandchildren, co-workers, teachers and students — you name it.

Some bring props or photos. Others read stories. There are no rules (beyond a 30-minute time limit). Whatever is meaningful is good.

They say talk is cheap.

Nope. Thanks to Just So You Know, it’s priceless.

(Just So You Know’s pop-up recording studio is set for Westfair Shopping Center, 1767 Post Road East — opposite Super Stop & Shop — from December 5 to 13. To reserve a session, click here. For more information — including how to bring Just So You Know to your organization — click on

Ken Bernhard: Syrian Crisis Is Of “Biblical Proportions”

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, more than 30 governors have said their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Connecticut’s Democratic governor, on the other hand, personally welcomed a family diverted from Indianapolis to New Haven.

A former Republican legislator from Westport thinks that’s great.

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard

Ken Bernhard is not just reacting to the news of the day. He’s been concerned with refugees’ plights  since the crisis began several years ago. A noted attorney, he helped found The Syria Fund. That 501(c)(3) provides education, medical supplies, household goods and food to families living in dire, desperate areas underserved by large, mainstream organizations.

Bernhard’s humanitarian efforts began at a typical suburban setting: a cocktail party. A woman who’d studied in Syria told him about the refugee crisis brewing in the Mideast.

Bernhard had taught under a UNESCO program in Jordan. He recalled the “lovely, hospitable, generous people” he’d met, and vowed to help.

The refugees who began fleeing Syria nearly a year ago are primarily middle class, he says. Rich and poor Syrians left a long time ago; store owners and professionals thought they’d be able to “hunker down.” Now they’re leaving their embattled land with only what they can carry. Up to 80,000 are jammed into temporary camps.

Syria Fund logoWestporters have reacted “very generously” to his pleas for help through the Syria Fund, Bernhard says.

The former elected official — he’s been Westport’s 3rd selectman and served 4 terms in the Connecticut General Assembly, including a stint as assistant minority leader — is wary of politicians who “advocate simple solutions to complex situations.”

The US has been actively involved in the Middle East for 70 years, he notes. Our actions — like supporting the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein (“until we turned against him”) — have helped sow the seeds of the current dangerous problems.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to the humanitarian crisis that’s partly the result of our own actions,” Bernhard says. “We’ve had the advantage of an ocean between here and there. Now we’ve got a choice with these refugees: step up or not.”

He is not naive about the need for security. But, he insists, “the process to get here is so arduous. These are people who have been seeking sanctuary for years. In 2 trips over there, I’ve never seen people hostile to the US.”

He adds, “what are these millions of people fleeing Syria supposed to do? If we don’t help, the problem will migrate. We’ll have to deal with it somewhere else.”

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Many current Syrian refugees are middle class, Ken Bernhard says.

Bernhard calls the conditions in the migrants’ camps appalling. Families sit idle in the hot (and cold) desert. Children grow up there knowing no other life. “If we don’t educate them, and give them employment and prospects for hope, these are the young men who will turn to ISIS,” he says.

He is proud of what The Syria Fund has accomplished — with help from his fellow Westporters. As long as refugees need aid, he’ll continue raising funds.

“This is America. This is Westport,” Bernhard says. “It’s a mass migration — a crisis of biblical proportions. We’re witnesses to it. We all have an obligation to step up and do something about it.”

(To learn more about The Syria Fund, including how to contribute, click here.)


Happy 100th, Howard Munce!

Mark your calendars, Westport. On Friday, Howard Munce turns 100.

Howard Munce at work.

Howard Munce at work.

In a town long known for its great artists, illustrators and painters, he’s a towering figure. Howard’s resume — advertising director, graphic designer, sculptor, cartoonist, book author, teacher — ranks him with the most prominent creative folks in our history.

He served his country in World War II, seeing action as a Marine platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal.

He’s served his town too. Howard has been an honorary board member of the Westport Arts Center. For over 25 years, he volunteered as graphics director for the Westport Library.

Whenever he was asked to help — donating dozens of paintings and illustrations to the Permanent Art Collection; curating exhibits for the Westport Historical Society; mentoring young artists — he always said “of course.”

Howard Munce epitomizes 2 of our community’s proudest traits: our arts heritage, and our spirit of giving back.

He’s been a proud Westporter since 1935. He came here to live with family friends, while commuting to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. One of his first jobs was modeling for famed artist Harold von Schmidt.

Westport has been an important part of Howard’s life ever since. And he’s been an even more important part of ours.

What do you give a man who has seen and done everything? How about a townwide ton of birthday wishes?

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

(Birthday card/Denise Woods. Photo on right/Lawrence Untermeyer)

Just click “Comments” below. Howard does not get on the computer much, but his daughter and home health care aide look forward to reading them to him.

Here’s my contribution:

Howard, happy hundred! Thank you for all you have done, for all of us. You have made Westport a far better place, and my life is far richer for knowing you. May your momentous day be as bright as your ever-present smile!

What’s yours?



Surprise! Merritt Parkway North Avenue Bridge Work Will Not Be Done By Promised Date Of Late October

In mid-September, the state Department of Transportation installed a temporary traffic light on North Avenue. That allowed alternating 1-way traffic to flow over the Merritt Parkway bridge. Repairs had begun in June, and were expected to be done in late August.

Two things happened almost immediately:

  • Traffic returned to normal.
  • Repair work stopped.

It has not resumed. There were not the promised round-the-clock shifts. There were not 2 shifts. There was not enough 1 guy standing there, putting out orange cones for no good reason at all.

There was no way DOT could meet its 2nd completion date — late October — unless an entire Army Corps of Engineers division parachuted in. And then worked harder than they ever had in history. Including wartime.

Scaffolding underneath the Merritt Parkway bridge -- shown here at North Avenue last month -- has been struck 9 times since mid-June.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge, when actual work was being done.

The spectacular lack of work has continued for over a month. Today, the selectman’s office announced that “unforeseen engineering problems” will further delay the repairs.

With winter coming, the new completion date is “expected to shift to” … June 2016.

And not June 1, you eager beavers. No — June 30, 2016.

“Fortunately,” the news release chirps, “the alternating single lane will continue to operate during the winter months.”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe — whose office has repeatedly pushed DOT to please get to work — calls the latest development “a major disappointment to us all.”

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

DOT has told the town “there is no alternative solution at this time.” DOT has assured the town that “it will make all accommodations necessary to leave the bridge job site in a condition whereby snow plows can operate in the winter and that the bridge can be safely traversed.”

I ran the press release through Google Translate. Here’s its translation of DOT-talk:

“Hey, shit happens. Don’t worry. Our latest promise is only 10 months later than the original one. See ya! PS: Hope there’s not a lot of snow this winter.”

The press release concludes with DOT’s official explanation for the delay:

Due to numerous accidental strikes by unauthorized oversized vehicles on the Merritt Parkway (Rte. 15), the integrity of the temporary support system became compromised. The Contractor removed the lower support beam of the system on September 13, 2015 to assess the damage and make repairs. A revised design for a different system providing additional clearance was submitted for review to the District on November 2, 2015.

Due to this delay, which pushed temperature sensitive work into the winter season the Department and the Contractor agreed to resume work in the spring, given the additional challenges, risks and costs of winter weather work. The Town of Westport was also informed and coordinated with to ensure local traffic was accommodated for safe passage over the one lane bridge during the winter.

In the next few weeks the Contractor will conduct dowel bar pull-out tests to verify the condition of the concrete and install additional drainage on the North bound right shoulder of Rte. 15 to alleviate water runoff on the roadway and potential icing issues. The jobsite will be secured for the winter and any height restriction signs on Rte. 15 will be removed or covered until construction resumes in the spring of 2016. We estimate a revised completion date prior to June 30, 2016.

DOT logo


Tommy Greenwald Hangs At The White House

Tommy Greenwald spent Monday practicing his command to the taxi driver: “The White House, please.”

When he actually got in the cab, he added: “And not for the tour.”

He and his wife, Cathy Utz, were headed for the Alexander Hamilton gate on 15th Street. After 3 airport-like security screenings — and an “unglamorous” entrance through a tent area, rather than “strolling through the front door,” as he’d imagined — the Westport couple entered the White House.

Tommy — a longtime Westporter and Staples Class of 1979 grad — is a co-founder of Spotco. The New York agency specializes in Broadway and entertainment advertising. A client is fellow Westport resident Harvey Weinstein.

Tommy Greenwald invitationThe film executive helped arrange “Broadway Day” at the White House. Students from across the country came together to enjoy performances, and learn about acting, singing and dancing. Andrew Lloyd Webber was there. Kristin Chenoweth served as host.

Michelle Obama welcomed everyone to her home. (Her husband was on a business trip, to Turkey.) Among the guests — thanks to Weinstein — were Tommy and Cathy. He got them tickets, because Tommy had created a pro bono video for the event. It airs Thanksgiving night on TLC (Optimum channel 28, 8 p.m.).

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Cathy Utz and George Washington.

Neither Tommy nor Cathy had been in the White House before. He borrowed a tie from his son Joe. “I hadn’t worn one in 7 years,” Tommy notes. “That was the most stressful part — figuring out what to wear so I wouldn’t get tossed out.”

After being herded into a holding area — filled with things like “Benjamin Harrison’s dinner setting,” Tommy says — the group filed into the East Room. Tommy says it’s “just like any other small performance space, except for all the military people there.”

Three days after the Paris attacks, he and Cathy felt grateful to meet the men and women who protect America.

Michelle Obama - photo Tommy Greenwald

First Lady Michelle Obama enters the East Room. (Photo/Tommy Greenwald)

The First Lady strode in. “She looked fine!” Tommy says.

She gave an introductory speech; then the hour-long concert began. That was followed by a “big nosh cocktail reception.”

It was like any other social event, Tommy says, “except every room was ridiculously gorgeous, with portraits of presidents and first ladies.”

There was nothing saying “White House” that he could steal, he says — “just napkins in the bathroom.” He took a few, for his office staff in New York.

“I was hoping for better tchotchkes,” Tommy admits. “Still, it was great.”

Being around Broadway and film stars, Tommy says, “I’m usually pretty jaded. But sitting 5 feet from Michelle Obama was pretty cool. My wife said she’s never seen me so wide-eyed.”

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know -- but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber sat at just a few minutes earlier.

Tommy Greenwald at the White House piano. I asked if it was the same one Richard Nixon played. Tommy did not know — but it was definitely the one Andrew Lloyd Webber used just a few minutes earlier.

Once the concert was over though, all the “incredible organization” ended. Tommy calls it “an interestingly informal free-for-all.”

Soon enough, it was back in a taxi. I did not ask Tommy what he told his driver on the return trip.