Category Archives: People

Day On Bald Mountain

Jono Walker’s family — the Bennetts — settled in Westport in the 1700s. They lived on South Compo Road through the early 21st century.

Jono is in Pennsylvania now, but his roots here remain strong. The other day, Googling for background info on a piece he’s writing, he found a few “06880” posts about Bald Mountain. He sent along this excerpt from his longer story.

Skonk!

My snowball splattered the middle of another Redcoat’s roof. Not a bad shot.

Snow-packed Imperial Avenue was directly below the steep hill I perched on top of. It was harder than you’d think for this wily Minuteman, on his home terrain, to hit the hapless British soldiers. I’d been at it for half an hour, and hadn’t made a perfect shot — the driver’s side windshield — but the accuracy of my sniper fire on that blustery February morning was steadily improving.

The site of this ambuscade was Bald Mountain, a 90-foot promontory overlooking the Saugatuck River. The name always confused me. The rounded top of the bean-shaped hill was covered in towering hemlocks, looking nothing close to bald.

blog - Bald Mountain

From its summit I peered over the brow, at the Gault Field Little League diamond covered in snow. Directly across the river, red-bricked Bedford Junior High and gold-bricked Assumption Church gleamed in the morning sun.

Upriver, I saw the stand of trees surrounding the Woman’s Club and police station. Further away, just over the roof of the Fairfield Furniture Store on the far side of the river, was Old Hill. 200 years earlier 1,000 Minutemen dug in, lying in ambush hoping to wreak havoc on an advancing column of Redcoats.

The Gaults were just starting to gouge out the eastern perimeter of Bald Mountain in those days, felling trees and mining the moraine for sand and gravel. It would take 20 years to flatten the place, at which point they paved a road and built a dozen McMansions on the level ground that had been a rolling hill ever since the last Ice Age.

For thousands of years the Paugussett Indians maintained a fishing and trading post in the “faire fields” and salt marshes around Bald Mountain. They called the place Machamux (“the beautiful land”).

In 1661 the Paugussetts were hoodwinked into selling a portion of their lands east of Bald Mountain (today’s Green’s Farms) to the newly established town of Fairfield for 13 woolen coats, plus a little wampum.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

It only took another decade or so for the rest of Machamux — from today’s Sherwood Island west to the Saugatuck River, and north to the Aspetuck River — to be appropriated by colonists. By the early 1680s all of modern-day Westport was settled by dozens of industrious freemen and their burgeoning families.

Among them were my ancestors Thomas, James and John Bennett. They were granted nearly 1200 acres. The land they “improved” ran on either side of today’s South Compo Road, from roughly the Post Road south to what was once called Bennett’s Rocks (the jagged granite outcropping now bisected by Narrow Rocks Road).

Within their property was a steep-sided hill rising from the marshy banks of the Saugatuck River. They eventually cleared it for pasture, and it became known as Bald Mountain.

At 10 years old I knew nothing about this history, beyond a vague awareness of that patriotic military action atop Old Hill. So there I was, armed and ready — a brave patriot using his insider’s knowledge of the local landscape to defend his homeland from the foreign invader.

Bald Mountain.

Bald Mountain.

The enemy approached: a bright red Studebaker negotiating the wide turn around the base of Bald Mountain. My snowball landed with a splatter more spectacular than I could have dreamed, right on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The car skidded along the snow bank. Out sprang the driver, scanning the hillside. He was a surprisingly young soldier — and mad. When he spotted me high above him he shook his fist, swore, dashed across the road and up the hill.

But — like his hapless forebears — this man’s entire military strategy (and his attire) were ill-suited to the wilds of the new world. The enemy was angered and dangerous, fully capable of rendering me to shreds, yet dressed in slippery business shoes, he was completely outfoxed.

I watched his 3 vain attempts to scale the formidable redoubt. Then I calmly turned, melting into the deep and shadowy woods, unbowed and ready to fight another day.

 

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Last Ollie For The Skate Park

Everyone’s talking about the big changes proposed by the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee: a new entrance, renovation of the bathhouses, elimination of perimeter parking.

Hardly anyone has mentioned a smaller plan: the end of the skate park.

Eddie Kim knows the stereotypes of skateboarders: “hooligans, drug dealers and delinquents.” He also knows the Compo park attracts a wide variety of people, like a fearless 8-year-old girl who loves riding down ramps.

She loves the park, and would be devastated to see it close.

The Compo Beach skatepark

The Compo Beach skate park.

Kim works at the park. But during the school year he’s a teacher. He practices Bikram yoga daily, and founded his own theater company. He’s a skater too. For him, skating is a creative way to relieve stress.

Kim wants Westporters to see the value of the skate park, and the community that has grown around it. He asked several regulars to offer insights. One of the most eloquent is James Bowles, a Staples freshman.

James knows that many people can’t understand why he’s spent “every free minute” of the past 6 years on a skateboard.

He says that when he was 6, at Long Lots Elementary School, he was diagnosed with OCD. For the next couple of years he hated his life. But the moment he set foot in the Compo skate park — “heading into the great unknown” — he was hooked.

His fears and stresses vanished. He was hooked.

He visited the park every day. He dreamed of skateboarding at night. He met his best friends there. They’re different ages, but they gave him a sense of self-worth, of potential, of community. That’s something every kid needs.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

The Compo Beach skate park draws quite a mixed crowd.

This summer, James worked as a counselor-in-training at the Compo Beach Skate Camp. “Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they finally roll away from a trick they worked extremely hard to land is mesmerizing,” he says. Some of them may have been going through their own troubles, as he had.

He adds:

Even though I’m still young, I’ve seen bad things happen to good people. Kids my age are swept up into partying, drinking and general idiocy. Most people assume that because I skateboard, I get caught up in that sort of stuff.

I believe that if it weren’t for skateboarding, I would have been more likely to do that. The amount of times I’ve turned down plans to do ludicrous things, because I wanted to go skate, is enough to know I’m doing something right. Skateboarding has been one of the best investments of my time.

James says that the freedom of skateboarding has allowed him to work through his OCD. It has also helped him learn to be polite, pick up after himself, and look after others.

“Compo has always been a safe haven for people to skate legally,” he notes. “It’s a space where parents feel safe leaving their children. Compo has been my favorite place for 6 years, and I can’t imagine what losing the park would be like.”

Plenty of skaters gained confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Plenty of skaters gain confidence and a sense of independence at the park.

Others agree. University of Colorado sophomore Casey Hausman made lifelong friends at the Compo park. “It’s a great community,” he says. “Everyone is supportive. Kids don’t need to worry about disappointing teammates or parents. Any progress is encouraged and applauded by everyone, no matter what the skill level.”

Kim Celotto’s 13- and 8-year-old boys have been skateboarding at Compo for years. She calls the instructors “patient, wonderful teachers who all the boarders look up to and admire. They learn skills and confidence, while having fun with friends.”

And, she says, skateboarding’s emphasis on fun and individual growth — not “fierce competition” — appeals to youngsters who may not be interested in team sports.

Parent Debra Newman has seen many kids flocking to the park in 90-degree weather, with no shade. “Would we rather have them sitting in front of the TV, exercising their thumbs?” she wonders.

But the final word belongs to James Bowles, the OCD sufferer who found a haven and a home at the Compo Beach skate park:

“I know that the argument of a 14-year-old high school freshman hardly compares to that of a town representative. But I hope anyone reading this will see my point of view.”

After Nearly 50 Years, The Remains Come Home

The last time the Remains played in Fairfield County was 1966. The legendary rock group was a few months away from opening for the Beatles, on that legendary band’s final tour. Now they were at Staples High School, the alma mater of half their members: guitarist/vocalist Barry Tashian and keyboardist Billy Briggs.

Rock critic Jon Landau had already described the Remains as “how you told a stranger about rock ‘n’ roll.”

That 1966 gig was to raise money for the Orphenians’ — Staples’ select choral group — upcoming tour of the Virgin Islands.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

Westporters and Remains Barry Tashian (left) and Bill Briggs flank Staples music director John Ohanian in 1966.

After that Beatles tour, the Remains broke up. Rolling Stone magazine later called them “a religious totem of all that was manic and marvelous about mid-’60s pop.”

They reunited a decade later, for a few dates. But Tashian joined Emmy Lou Harris’ band, and moved to California. In the 1990s, he and his wife — 1964 Staples grad Holly Kimball — formed a Nashville-based duo.

Then, in the mid-’90s, a promoter invited them to play in Spain. They were up for it — and so were their rabid European fans. They played a couple of dates every year since.

In June 2013 they rocked the Bell House in Brooklyn. They were excited about their half-century return to this area: a gig in Fairfield this past April.

But in February, drummer Chip Damiani died of a brain hemorrhage.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum's opening reception for its rock 'n' roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

In January, Chip Damiani attended the Fairfield History Museum’s opening reception for its rock ‘n’ roll exhibit. He posed in front of posters of his legendary band, the Reamins.

The loss of their “brother” — whose pounding drums helped drive the group to cult status in the 1960s, and who still played as energetically 5 decades later — stunned the 3 remaining Remains.

But the show must go on. In August — the day after Holly’s 50th Staples reunion, where she and Barry (SHS ’63) played and sang — the band auditioned new drummers. They chose George Correia, who played with Clarence Clemmons and, Tashian says, “locked right in to what we do.”

On Friday, September 26, the Remains return to Fairfield County for the 1st time since 1966. They venue is the Fairfield Theatre Company (7:45 p.m.), and they are as amped as when they played with the Beatles (and Bobby Hebb, the Cyrkle and the Ronettes).

The Remains, back in the day.

The Remains, back in the day.

“When Chip died, we really understood the saying ‘You don’t miss your water till your well runs dry,” Tashian says.

“Losing Chip makes us appreciate what we have even more. We look at each other and say, ‘How could it be 50 years?’ But it is. And we’re committed to each other — to our brothers — totally. We’re spread across Massachusetts, New Jersey and Nashville, but we really are a family.”

In just a few days, they’ll see plenty of Westport fans who for years have been part of that Remains family too.

(For information and tickets to the Remains’ September 26 show, click here.)

Marine Police Make A “Swell” Save

Today’s Westport Historical Society kayak trip to Cockenoe Island was not exactly a day at the beach. WHS executive director Sue Gold writes:

Our 5th annual trip was hardly smooth rowing, as we quickly found out once we were a half mile offshore.

The swells were high, even though no boats were in sight. We were about 25 strong, but although the spirit was willing, Mother Nature was not.

The scene from a previous Westport Historical Society kayak trip to Cockenoe Island. This year's weather was less pleasant.

The scene from a previous Westport Historical Society kayak trip to Cockenoe Island. This year’s weather was less pleasant.

Our 2-person kayak was overwhelmed by relentless waves. Though both of us are strong and seasoned boaters, we were captive to the water that quickly filled our boat. We were forced to evacuate, fortunately onto a nearby sandbar.

We were like drowned rats, cold and shivering in the water with a boat we had no way to bail out. Peter Jennings expertly handled his safety boat to get us out of the water, but it was Bob Myer of the Westport Marine Police Unit who saved the day.

He got the kayak in his motor boat, pulled us on board, covered me with a medical blanket (my teeth were chattering), and got us back to the marina safe and sound. He then went out and rescued others on the tour as well.

Everyone got back safely. We applaud the Westport Police Department, who are there in a heartbeat to provide the most caring, compassionate and exceptional service to all in need.

One of the Westport Police Marine Unit's 2 boats. (Photo/Westportct.gov)

One of the Westport Police Marine Unit’s 2 boats. (Photo/Westportct.gov)

PS: Once we got back and my partner tossed me the car keys from the boat — well, they never made it into my hands. They now lie on the bottom of the Sound.

Fortunately, a diver overheard our dilemma and said he’s happy to take a look next week and fetch them for us. The giving never stops.

Ode To Jordan’s Joe: The Sequel

Last December, “06880” reported on Jordan Teske’s blog, “365 Days With Joe.” For a full year, the 1999 Staples graduate promised daily posts about Trader Joe’s: her favorite store thing in the world.

She’s nearing the home stretch, with less than 50 days to go. As the year winds down, Jordan’s ardor for all things Joe has not waned.

If anything, it’s increased dramatically.

Last Valentine’s Day, Jordan’s home store — on 72nd and Broadway in New York — held a “Love Letter to Joe. contest” She won. The lovely prize: a love letter from Joe, flowers and chocolate.

Jordan Teske, outside her New York City Trader Joe's.

Jordan Teske, outside her New York City Trader Joe’s.

Waiting in line last month, she saw a sign for another contest. This was called “Kingdomwide King Joseph Fairy Tale.”

Crazy! Jordan writes children’s fairy tales or a living, and for the past year has been working on a documentary about royalty.

So she wrote a fairy tale called “King Joseph’s Magical Carrot Cake of Many Colors.” The moral of the story was that children should eat Trader Joe’s vegetables. The idea came from overhearing parents in line sharing secrets on how to disguise vegetables in their kids’ food.

Trader Joes logoThe fairy tale incorporated (of course) Trader Joe’s food throughout. She included a carrot cake recipe — all with TJ ingredients.

And even though the contest was technically for children — Jordan won. Again.

Also last month, Trader Joe’s Biggest Fan had her very own storytelling hour in “her” New York store.

Perched on (ahem) beer boxes, toddlers listened raptly to Jordan’s stories. The staff presented her with flowers, a card, and a Trader Joe’s gift card they labeled “manna.”

Employees called her their “Favorite Customer of All Time,” and named her the store’s “Official VIP Customer.” A flyer thanked Jordan for her commitment to the 72nd and Broadway store — which she walks to every day, a 3.2-mile round trip, from her Upper East Side apartment — and advertised her blog.

Jordan Teske with her carrot cake fairy tale, and a Trader Joe's flyer promoting her blog.

Jordan Teske with her carrot cake fairy tale, and a Trader Joe’s flyer promoting her blog.

“It was the best way to finish this year-long Trader Joe’s fete,” Jordan says.

“I’ve taught myself how to cook and eat. I’ve lost a bit of weight, and survived in the most expensive city on earth without a full-time job, solely on Trader Joe’s.”

Sounds like a good reason to celebrate.

Perhaps with a little King Joseph of Struedlburg’s plumcot pudding?

Honoring Greg LaValla

Greg LaValla is a much-loved PAL football coach.

He’s also involved in a tough battle with cancer.

Some of his young players made a video to let him know how much he means to them, and how much they miss him on the field.

They’ll also honor him this Friday night (September 12). At halftime of Staples’ opening game of the 2014 football season, Greg will be added to the distinguished list of names on the Wreckers’ Wall of Fame.

His players will be there, wearing their game uniforms. They’ll sit together.

They’ll be tight and together. Just like all the other teams Greg has coached, so well and for so long.

Steve And Toni Rubin Say Goodbye (Y’All)

35 years ago, Steve Rubin’s medical and surgical supply company was considering a move from Long Island to Norwalk.

Steve and his wife Toni lived in Douglaston, Queens. They began talking about moving to “the country.” Their friends thought they were crazy. They sort of did, too.

“We both grew up in New York City,” Steve says. “For us, Westport was the edge of the earth, before it cracks off.”

But fresh air, and a produce stand on North Avenue, lured them in. The Rubins rented the big white Rippe house, next to 7 acres of corn farmed by a guy named Buster.

“We truly felt like we lived on a farm,” Steve recalls. “We fell in love with this place.”

Toni and Steve Rubin.

Toni and Steve Rubin.

The 1st folks they met were Betsy Wacker — from Welcome Wagon — and her husband Watts. George Underhill, from the town tax office, soon became a good friend too. All 3 introduced the Rubins to many aspects of their new home town.

Steve’s company never moved to Norwalk. He spent 5 years commuting to New York.

Then, 23 years ago — at age 47 — he suffered a heart attack.

The Rubins’ Westport friends responded immediately. Meals poured in. People drove him to the doctor. They did whatever they could for the couple.

Steve Rubin

Steve Rubin

The heart attack led Steve to retire from his stressful work. He got a job with Westport’s Parks & Rec Department, manning the Compo gate.

He organized workers for the Compo Beach playground construction project. He joined the Y’s Men. Toni created the Respect program, for children with special needs.

“It snowballed,” Steve says. “It was like we’d lived here 100 years. This town has a magic effect. It makes people feel like natives.”

The Rubins’ activities grew. Steve spent many years as the voice of Festival Italiano. He did not stop until the last raffle ticket was sold. “I made a whole bunch of new friends there too,” he says.

Perhaps his most important contribution began the day he complained to Gordon Joseloff about “some safety issue.” Joseloff — at the time the moderator of the Representative Town Meeting — urged him to run for the legislative body.

Earlier this month — almost 20 years later — Rubin resigned from the RTM. In an emotional farewell, he announced that he and Toni are moving to Charleston, South Carolina.

Steve and Toni Rubin's t-shirts say it all. He adds, "I could not have done any of this without my wife and best friend."

Steve and Toni Rubin’s t-shirts say it all. He adds, “I could not have done any of this without my wife and best friend.”

The impending move is “bittersweet,” Steve admits. After a couple of years of consideration, the lure of warmer winters and a lower cost of living was too good to pass up.

“We don’t want to wait until, god forbid, we’re too old to do it,” Steve says.

The Rubins don’t know a soul in Charleston. But, he notes, “We didn’t know anyone when we moved here. We did it before, and we’ll do it again.”

Steve adds, “we’ll love this town forever. There are so many great people here. It seems like Westport is filled with mensches.”

Steve Rubin in the Memorial Day parade.

Steve Rubin in the Memorial Day parade.

The Rubins leave knowing they’ve made a major mark on their adopted home town. Their name appears on the quilt at Town Hall, the library River of Names and brickwalk, the Wall of Honor at the Staples football field and the Longshore pool wall mosaic.

They’ll miss the many activities they’ve participated in, and enriched: the Memorial Day parade. First Night. PAL fireworks. Downtown trick-or-treating.

They’ll miss Compo, Longshore and Saugatuck. “We’ll even miss the Post Road and Main Street,” Steve laughs.

They’ll miss Westport a lot. But not as much as we will miss Steve and Toni Rubin.

Phoebe And Her Phantastic Phriends

A Westport girl named Phoebe was 11 years old — just finishing 6th grade — when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The malignant bone tumor is usually seen in teenagers.

At Sloan Kettering she was treated wonderfully. But it was tough: grueling chemotherapy, plus numerous surgeries on her leg.

In September of 2011, she underwent a groundbreaking surgery. She was the 1st patient in New York to try a new device that uses magnetic force. After 2 years on crutches, she could walk again.

Phoebe’s positive spirit was unwavering. She and her family went on a vacation that included scuba diving.

Phoebe (right) and her friends.

Phoebe (right) and her friends.

She worked hard in 8th grade to prepare for Staples. Always an avid athlete, she found a new sport — archery — in which to compete.

Phoebe also became involved in volunteer organizations. Knowing how much support and love she had received, she wanted to give back.

On March 1, 2013, during her 2-year anniversary checkup for being cancer-free from osteosarcoma, Phoebe was diagnosed with secondary acute myeloid leukemia.

She endured more terrible chemo, and 8 days in intensive care.

On May 23, 2013, Phoebe received a bone marrow transplant. Her sister Hallie — a perfect match — was the donor.

Phoebe’s intelligence, kindness and inner strength kept herself, her family and friends going. Now post-transplant, she is getting back to “normal” life.

 

She appreciates every second of it. And that is why she was inspired to start “Phoebe’s Phriends”: to help find a cure for pediatric cancers.

The xxx is a colorful event, for sure.

The Colorflash 5K run promises to be a colorful event, for sure.

At 10 a.m. on Sunday, September 21, the Phriends group — now a 501(c)3 — sponsors a “Colorflash 5K” run. It’s a great distance to run (or walk) — and fun. Participants will be splashed with color dust at 4 stations. Post-race festivities include food trucks.

All proceeds will be donated to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for Pediatric Cancer Research.

“06880” gets 10 to 15 requests a day to publicize worthwhile events. Westport is filled with them, and it’s tough to say no. But “06880” is a blog, not a community calendar.

Every so often, though, a fundraiser comes through that is so special — with such a compelling back story — that I gladly say “sure!”

No matter what else you are doing on Sunday, September 21, Phoebe and her Phriends deserve our support.

(Registration is $25 pre-race; $35 the day of the race. Of course, larger donations are accepted too. For details, click here.) 

Phoebe's Phriends logo

The Calm After The Storm

Once today’s storm passed, Fred Cantor headed to Compo Beach. Here’s the serene scene:

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

Plus, he reports, Joey’s was open.

Hail, Yes: In The Wake Of Today’s Storm

From Green’s Farms to Saugatuck Shores, today’s quick but very intense storm produced some amazing images.

Plus plenty of downed wires.

As of 7:15 p.m., over 400 Westport CL&P customers were without power.

This was the scene on Hyde Lane, between Long Lots and Maple Avenue. With the downed transformer, outages were reported throughout the Hunt Club area:

(Photo/Nick Blaikie)

(Photo/Nick Blaikie)

Nearby, this tree on Long Lots road near Peabody Lane blocked traffic — though a neighbor tried to help:

(Photo/Randall Hammond)

(Photo/Randall Hammond)

Several miles away, a tree on Great Marsh Road — across from the Saugatuck Harbor Yacht Club — was split by lightning:

September 6 2014 storm - tree hit lightning Great Marsh Road

A car was struck by a falling tree near Southport. Fortunately, no one was hurt:

September 6 2014 storm - Dale Najarian car

John Kantor, owner of Longshore Sailing School, reports: “No hail on the immediate coast, but big time rain and some strong gusts. We chain down our boats for weather like this so they don’t leave our zip code, but it didn’t prevent a capsize or two. No damage. Just a pulse raiser. After Irene and Sandy this was a relatively minor inconvenience.”

(Photo/John Kantor)

(Photo/John Kantor)

Bart Shuldman took this photo, as rain and hail pelted down:

(Photo/Bart Shuldman)

(Photo/Bart Shuldman)

Meanwhile, the Sasco construction site near Super Stop & Shop was awash:

(Photo/Steve Rubin)

(Photo/Steve Rubin)

More thunderstorms are possible tonight. Be careful out there.