Category Archives: People

Finding Westport Heroes At The Fallen Firefighters Memorial

Douglass Taft Davidoff is a Staples grad from a notable Westport family. His father Jerry and mother Denny were longtime civic volunteers, in areas ranging from education and politics to religion. Doug is now a Massachusetts-based writer, editor and marketer.

He writes:

Several weeks ago, near Bradley International Airport north of Hartford, I noticed a sign for the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial. It pointed down a road leading to the back of the airfield.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

I wondered if I would find anyone from Westport, so I followed the road. I did not know that I would find one of the most beloved figures from my childhood. In fact, I did not know if Westport had anyone remembered at this memorial. I had no idea whether Westport had lost any firefighters in the line of duty.

The road led to the Connecticut Fire Academy. The area is heavily wooded. Despite being next door to New England’s second-busiest jetport, it is serene and quiet.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial features a call box, from back in the day.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial features a call box, from back in the day.

The Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial, located beside the Fire Academy, is a plinth with panels inscribed with the names of state firefighters lost in the line of duty. A polished marble slab carries the state seal, the memorial’s name, and a depiction of firefighters designed by a New Britain firefighter.

The names on the panels are randomized; they are not in alphabetical order, name of municipality or year of death. This forces visitors to appreciate many names of many fallen firefighters from many communities before coming upon the firefighter or community for which they are searching.

Five Westport firefighters from 2 deadly Westport fires are memorialized in this place.

Four of the 5 died together on May 2, 1946, when a truck exploded on the Post Road, near Sylvan Road: Frank L. Dennert, Francis P. Dunnigan, John H. Gallagher and Dominick Zeoli. You can read about the disaster here and here.

But I was stunned — and then I wept — when I discovered the name of a Westporter who meant a lot to me growing up during the 1960s and 1970s. I had no idea that George H. Cardozo had died of a heart attack during a Dec. 2, 2000, house fire on Marion Road. Nor did I know that he was honored on the state firefighters’ memorial.

George Cardozo's name, at the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

George Cardozo’s name, at the Connecticut Fallen Firefighters Memorial.

George, a commercial photographer, photojournalist and volunteer firefighter, lived with his wife Marion and their 2 daughters on Meadowbrook Lane, off Long Lots Road. The Cardozos and my parents socialized often and sailed together. The Cardozo daughters were babysitters for my brother and me. George was also a cousin of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo.

George was the photographer for the Westport Fire Department. Details of George’s death are here and here. The Westport Fire Department remembered its fallen members from the 1946 and 2000 fires on Memorial Day 2007.

I left a stone on top of the panel for George, and a stone on top of each panel bearing a name for Firefighters Dennert, Dunigan, Gallagher, and Zeoli.

And then I left a stone on the Fairfield County bench — right in front of the memorial — to remember everyone in the fire service, and all public services, who have given their careers and their lives to make Westport and its neighboring communities so special.

Stone left on the Fairfield County bench. (All photos/Douglass Taft Davidoff)

Stone left on the Fairfield County bench. (All photos/Douglass Taft Davidoff)

Peter Flatow: Assessments, Inspections And The Status Quo

Alert “06880” reader Peter Flatow writes:

Last week I read a news story about the upcoming revaluation of real estate. When I learned that appraisers would enter my home, my reaction was negative. (Not about the revaluation. I agree it needs to be done – periodically).

I told Dan I’d like to research the topic for “06880.” Here’s what I found.

First, I would like to thank the RTM members who responded to my email or spoke with me in person. Also thanks to town assessor Paul Friia for his thoughtful and prompt responses to my questions.

I learned that no one must grant access to their home. It is voluntary. So much for my concern.

Paul reports, “the 2005 revaluation resulted in interior inspections of just under 60% of the properties in Westport.” Reading the enabling legislation (which is almost unreadable) and state reports on the internet, I found what’s required: a statistical assessment every 5 years, and a physical assessment every 10.

Would an interior inspection change the assessed value of this Westport home?

Would an interior inspection change the assessed value of this Westport home?

What is unclear (at least to me) is the rationale to include a voluntary internal inspection as part of the physical inspection. Fairness is inferred: The more data, the more accurate the assessment.

As anyone who analyzes data will tell you, accuracy (and fairness) diminish when samples are not equally drawn and consistent. Assessments are to some degree subjective because no two homes are exactly alike, so adding the variable of some homes having both internal and external assessments, and some not, would in my opinion make them less alike (less fair). While this all started as a feeling of invasion of privacy, it has turned into a question about whether our elected officials question what they are being asked to approve. Are they in a “maintain the status quo” mentality?

I asked Paul if, when the reappraisal RFP went out, he asked for the cost of just an exterior reassessment.

He said he did not, “because that wasn’t part of the scope of services that we were looking for.  I have always been under the opinion that the better the data that we have, the better chance we have at being fair and accurate.” I totally agree with the last sentence.

This is not critical of Paul. He is doing what has been done, and he is expected to do. But what if we began to question the status quo? What if we ask, “does this still make sense?” What would the town save if only an external (all that is required by law) “physical inspection” were conducted?

Every corporation I have ever worked with continually looks for ways to save money (improve profits) by changing or stopping unnecessary practices. What if all levels of government did the same thing?

Max’s Time To Go

After reading yesterday’s “06880” post about the final days of Max’s Art Supplies, local artist Miggs Burroughs hustled down to the store he’s loved for so many years.

He wanted the iconic Karron’s Jewelry clock, rescued once from another Westport store and long a symbol of the famed art store.

He was just a minute late. Sherri Wolfgang — a close friend — had already bought it. She told Miggs she’d wanted it since she was 8 years old, and bought her first sketch pad at Max’s.

“At least I got to take this historic photo with Shirley Mellor, Rita Ross Englebardt, Jay Cimbak, Nina Royce and Sherri, who was in tears the whole time,” Miggs says. “It was very emotional moment for everyone.”

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak.

The clock and (from left) Nina Royce, Rita Ross Englebardt, Sherri Wolfgang, Shirley Mellor, Jay Cimbak. (Photo/MIggs Burroughs)

 

Sand And Silt In The Saugatuck River

Last week, alert — and environmentally conscious — “06880” reader Scott Smith stood at Parker Harding Plaza and looked at the Saugatuck River.

It was low tide. Very low tide.

(Photo/Scott Smith)

(Photo/Scott Smith)

He was amazed at how much gravel and fill has been deposited on the upstream side of the bridge, and how shallow this section of the tidal river has become. He knows the muck continues all the way further downstream.

Scott says:

I wonder what would happen if, instead of the 2-3 inches of rain we got a couple of days earlier, we received the 13 inches that fell on Long Island. I’m no marine engineer, but it seems we’re at risk of some serious wash-outs, starting with our Post Road bridge and no doubt possibly affecting our waterway through Saugatuck, out to the Sound. The river today is nothing like it was when barges and other vessels docked all the way to downtown.

I’ve heard that Norwalk is undertaking a dredging project for its river and harbor. Is this something to add to our already lengthy list of Westport capital improvement projects?

What do you think? Is the state of our river dire enough to spend money on it? What would we gain? Are there unintended consequences — positive or negative?

Click “Comments” below. And please use your full, real name.

Counting Down The Minutes At Max’s

The countdown has begun for Max’s Art Supplies. The legendary 59-year-old downtown store’s last day of business is Saturday, August 30.

Much of the stock has already been sold. But intriguing items remain. They include:

  • a vintage Karron’s Jewelry clock
  • a set of 32 oak flat shelves that holds 30″ x 40″ paper
  • an oak drawer 95 1/2″ long by 25″ deep
  • a paper cutter
  • an artograph
  • a never-opened “winner waxer
  • Letrasets
Some of the special items still available at Max's.

Some of the special items still available at Max’s.

  • Paper of all kinds
  • Sign cloth
  • Picture frames and mats
  • Pens
  • Fabric paint
  • Dyes
  • Markers
  • Back-to-school stuff galore
  • Plenty of fixtures
A few of the fixtures being sold at Max's.

A few of the fixtures being sold at Max’s.

The day after closing — Sunday, August 31 (2 p.m.). — owner Shirley Mellor and her staff will hold a “festive celebration” to say goodbye to the community. A special invitation goes to “the artists who have long been with us, and will always be a part of our extended family.”

One more bit of Max’s news: Jay Cimbak, the master picture framer there for the past 25 years, will be the new manager at Rockwell Art and Framing in Westport. It’s just a few doors east of Max’s, on the Post Road.

For nearly 6 decades, Shirley and the rest of the Max’s crew have served Westport with distinction. They’re going out with plenty of class.

More at Max's Art Supplies.

More at Max’s Art Supplies.

The Big Five-Oh

“06880” is fair game for just about every story — so long as there’s a Westport angle. 

I try to avoid missing-pet posts — though I did cover the expensive, long-running search for Andy, the lost corgi — and I turn down nearly every request about a Staples High School reunion. Trust me, I say to myself: No one cares about your little get-together. (My official response is more tactful.)

But Staples’ Class of 1964 reunion last weekend merits a mention. For one thing, the 50th is a Big Deal.

For another, it was a kick-ass class that came of age at an important time in Staples — and world — history.

For a 3rd, I gave a tour of the new Staples building to nearly 100 reunees. They truly loved what they saw, and appreciated the school they’d attended. They returned to Westport with the wisdom of adulthood, and the enthusiasm of teenagers. I had a blast, but they had an even better time. 

The Staples Class of 1964  included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members -- Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

The Staples Class of 1964 included many outstanding actors, singers and athletes. Two members — Paul McNulty (2nd from left) and Laddie Lawrence (6th from left) are back at Staples now, coaching lacrosse and track respectively.

So here — thanks to Barbara Range Szepesi, Arline Gertzoff and Bill Martin — is their report.

Many of them more than 100 members of the Class of ’64 who gathered last weekend were reunion first-timers who faced the experience with trepidation, deferring registration until the last possible moment. Others came only because another class member promised to be there. While many members of the class live locally, others came from all over the country: California, Florida, Nevada, North Dakota, Tennessee.

What happened was nothing short of amazing: the rekindling of friendships and more after 50 years of separation, the mixing of a vast cross-section of class members who might never have interacted during a normal school day, the bonding power of shared experience then and 3 days now.

The celebration kicked off Friday night, August 8, at SoNo Brewhouse. Gordon Hall, a beloved history teacher at Staples, reminisced with students he fondly remembered and just had to see.  Jack White, a pillar of education in Weston, shared memories with pupils who once were bused to Staples (there was no high school in the then-small town).

On Saturday morning, a large cohort toured the new Staples, so very different from the California-style campus of 50 years ago. Astonishment at how much the school has changed mixed with the realization of the great education we received there. We were the class that started senior year traumatized by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and seeing the “Ask not…” plaque from our class in the new courtyard only heightened our remembrances.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

When the Class of 1964 entered Staples, the school consisted of 6 separate buildings. Walking between them was often an adventure.

The gala reunion dinner was held at the Red Barn on Saturday night. Classmates feasted and were entertained by members of their own class. Eric Multhaup, Melody James, Sylvia Robinson Corrigan and Bettina Walton updated songs of the ’60s for today. Mike Haydn played both Mozart and an original piano piece, accompanied by Bill Reardon on the drums. Bill Briggs and Linda Clifford performed a duet. Holly Kimball Tashian and husband Barry Tashian (’63) played selections from their Nashville repertoire.

As memorialized in a poem written for the occasion by Josh Markel, it was a time for reflection and celebration. So much changed in the course of 50 years, not the least of which was hair color (or lack thereof). We had married or not, had children and grandchildren, sometimes divorced and started over again.  Careers spanned law, medicine and teaching; drama, art and music; business, social work, and beyond.

On Sunday classmates socialized at Compo Beach, a favorite haunt of 50 years ago. There, before a final class picture, quietly singing “Amazing Grace,” we approached the water and tossed 43 red roses into the Sound for the classmates we have lost and still hold dear.

Everyone stayed until the day ended with handshakes, hugs, and the hope to meet again in 5 years.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

43 red roses honor members of the Class of 1964 who are gone.

JP Vellotti’s Woodstock

Alert — and multi-talented — “06880” reader JP Vellotti notes that this weekend is the 45th anniversary of Woodstock.

The Westporter wasn’t there in 1969 — but 20 years ago this weekend, he was. Sort of.

JP was a stage photographer at Woodstock 1994, a festival produced by Michael Lang 25 years after the original. JP thinks it was billed as “Two More Days of Peace and Music,” but suggests a more realistic title: “A week of mud, poor sanitation and no sleep.”

Pepsi had a special promotion, with special labels on 2-liter bottles. "Who the hell would keep a plastic bottle at a 3-day concert?" JP Vellotti asks. "They were all discarded and mushed up." Some can be seen here. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Pepsi had a special promotion, with special labels on 2-liter bottles. “Who the hell would keep a plastic bottle at a 3-day concert?” JP Vellotti asks. “They were all discarded and mushed up.” Some are seen here. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

But he was 21 years old, and it was a golden opportunity. He’d worked for a while at CamerArts downtown. He’d freelanced for Brooks Newspaper, and became the 1st staff photographer at the Minuteman.

Along the way he met Joe Sia, a rock photographer who lived in Fairfield. Joe took JP under his wing. “Although he never helped improve my technical ability,” JP says, “he certainly showed me the ropes of how to get into a concert, with or without credentials.” Woodstock 1994 was no different.

Joe was a stage photographer for the original Woodstock. His photo of Joe Cocker made the cover of Rolling Stone.

Henry Rollins played an "angry" set, JP Vellotti says, "and got the crowd going. It rained, and he encouraged the crowd to throw mud at us." (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Henry Rollins played an “angry” set, JP Vellotti says, “and got the crowd going. It rained, and he encouraged the crowd to throw mud at us.” (Photo/JP Vellotti)

At the last minute — desperate for an all-access pass — Joe and JP decided to try a magazine outside the traditional music press. JP suggested Glamour.

Joe convinced them it would be an interesting story, showing who was “fashionable” that weekend. They took the pitch. All Glamour wanted was 20 prints a week later.

These 2 were waiting for Metallica to perform. The crowd had written things in mud on the barricade. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

These 2 were waiting for Metallica to perform. The crowd had written things in mud on the barricade. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

Joe and JP finished the assignment in an hour — and had the whole weekend to do what they wanted.

The crowd shot is one of his favorites. “You generally face the stage,” JP explains. “But suddenly, I turned around. Never having seen 300,000 people before, I can tell you, in a term genuine to 1969: ‘It blew my mind, man.'”

Woodstock 94 crowd - JP Vellotti

“We thought Glamour would hate the photos because everyone was muddy,” JP adds.

“But they loved them. I think ran about 10.”

The Red Hot Chili Peppers came onstage dressed like light bulbs, and rocked the hell out of the crowd. Later, they dressed like Hendrix. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

The Red Hot Chili Peppers came onstage dressed like light bulbs, and rocked the hell out of the crowd. Later, they dressed like Hendrix. (Photo/JP Vellotti)

JP Vellotti, in front of a guitar signed by all the Woodstock 94 performers. (Photo/Joe Sia)

JP Vellotti, in front of a guitar signed by Woodstock 94 performers. (Photo/Joe Sia)

 

Lynn And James’ Roadside Adventure

An alert “06880” reader who asked to be identified only as Andy writes:

Many folks in Westport do their best to help keep our town great. Here’s a story about 2 of them.

My weekend bike route takes me down Saugatuck Avenue, and ends at the Cedar Point Yacht Club. On the 1st  weekend of the month, I usually ride by Lynn and James picking up roadside trash. They’re easy to spot, with a purpose-made trash grabber in one hand and a large plastic bag in the other. James used to fill up plastic grocery bags. But they were outlawed, so he now uses regular garbage bags.

James and Lynn, hard at work.

James and Lynn, hard at work.

Their “trash pick-up route” is about 1 1/2 miles long — 3 miles round trip. The 2-hour gig begins on Saugatuck Avenue (New Haven side of the train station), and goes up Duck Pond Road onto Harbor Drive. Lynn and James cover both sides of the road.

The roadside trash usually fills 4 large plastic bags. In order of frequency: cigarette butts, cigarette boxes, drink cup lids and fast food packaging.

These 2 fine folks preferred I not use their last names in the article. But if you pass them on the road one weekend day, feel free to slow down and salute these terrific neighbors of ours.

 

262,672 Gallons

On Tuesday the Y began filling its new 10-lane, 25-yard lap pool at Mahackeno.

After a final coat of plaster was applied to the pool shell, Ellen Johnston — the Y’s Water Rat head coach and swim program director — took a ceremonial turn with the hose.

Y pool being filled

Just 24 hours later, here’s what it looked like:

Y pool nearly filled

Now the water will be conditioned for at least 10 days. Then it will be inspected, and certified for public use.

The Y will open the new facility when every area is ready. They’re shooting for early September.

Meanwhile, everyone into the pool — the soon-to-be-old one, downtown.

Digging An ALS Challenge

You’ve probably heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: the video craze in which someone pours (or has poured) ice water over his or her head, and challenges others do the same within 24 hours. If not, they make a donation to fight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Plenty of folks are doing it creatively, wetly and freezingly. The videos are clever and funny.

But you’d have to go a long way to top this, from Westporter Jake Sussman:

Jake dedicated his video — created with the help of Peter Greenberg, of Able Construction — to a contractor who died of ALS. Jake also donated $100 to the ALS Foundation.

He hopes his video goes viral. Feel free to pass it along — and take the Ice Bucket Challenge yourself, too!