Category Archives: People

Jaime Bairaktaris: “Mr. Dodig, Thank You For Making A Difference In My Life”

Among the many speeches extolling retiring principal John Dodig at a PTA ceremony this morning at Staples, some of the best came from students.

Current junior Jaime Bairaktaris began by talking about moving from Redding to Westport in December of 8th grade — then, a few months later, having to adjust to a new, big high school. He dreaded the 1st day:

I got off my bus, after sitting next to some senior that I swore had to have been 25 years old (full beard, at least 7 feet tall, music blaring), and walked up to the brick building with blue windows.

Jaime Bairaktaris

Jaime Bairaktaris

Coming through a new door is a challenge for anybody. Who knows what’s on the other side? We, as a species, are afraid of the different, cautious of the unknown, proficient at avoiding vulnerability.

But on that other side was a man, smartly dressed and smiling, welcoming me to my first day of high school. He wore a name tag that read “Dodig” (which I pronounced “dodd­ig” for quite some time).

Then Jaime asked the audience to do a little exercise.

We’ll only work 17 muscles,­ but they’re the most important muscles in our body. I need you all to smile — teeth showing and all.

It’ll be 4 years ago this September, but I still remember that he was smiling when I walked through those front doors. A smile is such a simple gesture — remember, just 17 muscles — yet so many people seem to underestimate the power of those muscles.

I’m now a rising senior, jaded in my ways, and well on my way to college. In these three years I’ve learned a lot. But most importantly I can now determine who’s a good person to keep around in life, and who isn’t.

Mr. Dodig was there to help in those times when I found those choice few who maybe weren’t keepers, but he didn’t treat them as typical trouble­makers. Mr. Dodig treated those students as teenagers who were bound to make mistakes, just like we all are. He guided them to make better choices, and now I speak with some of those same kids on a daily basis.

John Dodig received this gift earlier today: a lenticular photo (showing 2 images), by Miggs Burroughs.

John Dodig received this gift earlier today: a lenticular photo (showing 2 images), by Miggs Burroughs.

Throughout my life I will learn many things. Some I’ll take with me; some I will not. The most important lessons I’ve learned from Mr. Dodig are ones that will aid me throughout my life, and should be life lessons for all of us here today.

If I will remember anything from my time here, let it be the importance and immense power that a single smile can have on somebody’s day, and how to accept and forgive others ­even in a world where that may not be the easiest or most popular choice to make.

So Mr. Dodig, I thank you for making a difference in my life and the lives of countless others throughout your 11 years here at Staples High School. I hope as you look back on your days at Staples, thinking about all of the students you’ve watched pass through that front lobby in the morning, and about everybody you’ve been able to help over the years, that you can smile just as much as you’ve made us smile.

The Gift Of John Dodig

What do you give a principal who has given everything to his school?

How about a photo of him in his best “giving” mode?

But not just any photo. This is John Dodig.

And as the wildly popular principal prepares to retire after 11 years at Staples High — and 47 in the field of education — the school’s PTA turned to one of Westport’s best and most creative photographers: Miggs Burroughs.

Dodig received the unique gift this morning, in a special ceremony in the sun-splashed courtyard. First Selectman Jim Marpe, administrators and colleagues spoke — and so, very eloquently, did current students Jaime Bairaktaris and Nick Massoud, and graduate Michael Sixsmith.

Each speaker had stories. But all circled back to a common theme: Dodig’s greatest gifts were his passion, compassion, empathy, vision, willingness to listen, ability to be bold, and deep love for every single teenager and adult in his building.

Which leads to the gift he got today. Burroughs — a 1963 Staples grad — is well known for his lenticular images. They’re 2 separate shots; they change, depending on the angle you’re viewing from. (You can see 16 of them in the tunnel connecting Main Street and Parker Harding Plaza.)

One view of John Dodig's lenticular photo...

One view of John Dodig’s lenticular photo…

Burroughs took the photos last month. (Dodig did not know why he was being photographed.) One shot shows a crowd of students streaming around the principal, as he stands in the school’s foyer. That’s a typical spot for him; for over a decade he has greeted thousands of students every morning and between classes — asking how their latest game or performance went, complimenting them on an achievement, answering their questions or merely saying hello.

It’s a diverse mix of students — just as Dodig is fond of noting the diversity that really is a hallmark of Staples High. In the middle of it all, the principal wears his trademark smile.

...and the other.

…and the other.

The 2nd shot shows a lone student casually studying. She sits on the school seal that frames the foyer. The school motto — which Dodig has embraced and personified — stands out: “Respsect for Life.”

Burroughs produced 2 copies of the lenticular photo. One will hang at Staples. The other is Dodig’s to keep — and cherish — forever.

dodig

Remembering Kenny Of Gold’s

For half a century, Gold’s Delicatessen has been a Westport icon.

And for more than 40 years, it was managed lovingly by Kenny Spigarolo.

He died Tuesday, age 91.

Bill Ryan passed the news to “06880.” He said simply, “Anyone who had Kenny wait on them felt better when they left than when they came in — and not just because of the food.”

Kenny Spigarolo

Kenny Spigarolo

Kenny graduated from Roger Ludlowe High School in Fairfield, and attended Kansas State University before proudly serving during World War II. While in the Army he ran the largest PX in Kassell, Germany, where he met and married the love of his life, Hildegard.

After the war he managed his family’s business, Spigarolo’s Market in Bridgeport. Then, for 4 decades at Gold’s, he made his mark on thousands of Westporters.

He was an “original” University of Connecticut women’s basketball fan, and a lifetime member of the Germania Schwaben Club, where he and Hildegard danced and socialized. He earned a special Red Cross award, for donating hundreds of pints of blood.

Calling hours are tomorrow (Friday, May 29), 4-8 p.m. in the Lesko & Polke Funeral Home, 1209 Post Road, Fairfield. His funeral will begin in the funeral home on Saturday at 9:15 a.m., with a Mass of Christian Burial to follow in St. Thomas Church at 10. His interment with full military honor will take place in Mountain Grove Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Homes for the Brave, 655 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, Connecticut 06604, by donating a pint of blood through a local American Red Cross chapter. To sign his guest register, click here.

Broadway Salutes Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray — a very talented member of Staples Players in the 1970s, who became the youngest actor to play the lead role in “Phantom of the Opera,” and acted in or directed more than 150 productions — died in February 2013, of a massive heart attack. He was 55.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin Gray and Dodie Pettit.

Kevin met his wife, Dodie Pettit, in “Phantom.” She starred in “Cats” on Broadway, and worked with Staples Players in a summer production of that show.

For the past 15 months, she has been recording a tribute CD for Kevin. She gathered over 170 Broadway singers, including 10 from the “Phantom” cast, 3 Tony Award winners, and cast members from “Miss Saigon,” “The King and I,” “Titanic,” “Jekyll and Hyde” and more. Each had a personal connection to Kevin and Dodie. All donated their talent.

Westport is well represented, by Terry Eldh, Adam Riegler, Paul McKibbins, and of course Dodie.

Westport was an integral part of Kevin’s life. He was born and raised here. He attended Westport schools. Dodie still lives in the town he loved.

So she is particularly proud that the CD will be showcased for the 1st time on WWPT-FM (90.3). This Saturday (May 30, 4-5 p.m.), the Staples High School radio station will play songs during the “Adam and George” show.

Dodie will chat about the CD, and performers will call in to share their stories.

Kevin Gray CDAll proceeds go to scholarships in Kevin’s name, at his alma mater Duke University, and the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, where he taught (and where the Kevin Gray Foundation was organized by Westporters Peter Byrne and Jamie Wisser).

(Don’t live in the WWPT-FM listening area? No problem! Click here to listen to the livestream. The CD is available for sale on iTunes, Amazon and by clicking here).

Be Part Of Westport’s Photographic History!

In 1981, Max Kaplan had already owned his art supply store for 24 years.

Shirley Mellor had worked there for over a decade. She and Max had been married for 5.

That July, Westport photographer Nancy Wayman assembled Max, Shirley, the staff at Max’s Art Supplies, and 100 or so artists who made the store their own personal hangout.

The result was a photo that captured Westport: its arts colony sensibility, its mom-and-pop shops, its downtown funkitude.

The famous 1981 photo. Max Kaplan and Shirley Mellor are in the center of the front row.

The famous 1981 photo. Max wears a tie in the front row; Shirley Mellor is next to him, on the left.

A lot has changed in 34 years. Max and Nancy Wayman died. Max’s closed in August.

In a few days, the sign comes down for the final time.

But before it does, there’s time for one last group photo.

All Westporters — artists, loyal customers, friends, and folks with no artistic talent whatsoever — are invited to gather in front of Max’s this Saturday (May 30), at 5 p.m. There will be one last photo — and Shirley wants as many people as possible to squeeze in. (If you want in, be there by 4:30 — the shutter clicks at 5 sharp, and it will take a while to organize.)

If you don’t know where Max’s was: It stood directly across from the old Y.

And if that sentence doesn’t say something about the changing face of downtown Westport, I don’t know what does.

Shelley Somers Withdraws As Staples Principal Candidate

Central Middle School principal Shelley Somers has bowed out of consideration as Staples High School’s new principal.

In an email to parents, the lone finalist for the position said:

Good morning. After a long day yesterday at Staples High School, I have withdrawn my name for consideration for the principal position. As I talked with the various groups of stakeholders in Westport, I realized how important Central and Greenwich are to me.

I look forward to working to create a safe and challenging environment at Central Middle School that meets the needs of all of our students. I feel certain that in collaboration with you, my leadership team, and my teachers and staff, Central will continue to grow and to thrive.

Shelley Somers met with administrators, staff members, students and community members yesterday at Staples. She has since decided to withdraw from consideration as Staples' next principal.

Shelley Somers at Staples yesterday. She has withdrawn from consideration as Staples’ next principal.

Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon said:

I think this is a tremendous loss to the children, staff and families of Westport. The search committee and I unanimously recommended Shelley Somers because we had great faith that she would continue the great tradition established by John Dodig.

Landon said that the search for a successor to Dodig — who retires in June after 11 years as Staples’ principal — will now focus on an interim appointment.

Landon said that the interim principal would not be someone from inside the Westport school system. “Choosing someone from inside does not allow for a full and open process” when a choice is then made for a permanent principal, he said.

However, he noted, current district administrators and employees are welcome to be part of the search process.

John Dodig Celebration Set For Friday

John Dodig’s friends, fans — and of course, former students and parents — are invited to a celebration of his 11 years as Staples High School principal.

The coffee event is set for this Friday (May 29), at 9 a.m. in the Staples courtyard.

A couple of speakers will say a couple of words. Dodig will also speak (more eloquently than anyone else, as usual). There will be time for mingling too.

See you there!

This year, John Dodig "graduates" with the Class of 2015.

This year, John Dodig “graduates” with the Class of 2015.

 

Marty Hauhuth Moves In Positive Directions

In the next month, several pillars of Westport life — men and women who for decades have made this place special — will retire: Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis. Staples principal John Dodig. Parks & Rec head Stuart McCarthy.

Add one more name to the list: Marty Hauhuth.

She may not be as well known — though Westporters of a certain age remember her as first selectman from 1985-89.

Marty Hauhuth

Marty Hauhuth

For the past 24 years, she’s served as the low-key — but highly effective — executive director of Positive Directions. That’s the non-profit providing mental health and addiction counseling, alcohol and substance abuse education and prevention, and support programs in Westport, Weston, Wilton and Fairfield.

Positive Directions serves anyone, of any age — regardless of ability to pay — with evaluations and referrals. It treats anxiety, depression, and addictive and destructive behaviors of all kinds.

One of Marty’s last projects was a survey of all Westport students grades 7-12, and their parents. It showed that — in large part due to her efforts —

  • Tobacco, alcohol and marijuana youth use has steadily declined since 2000
  • “Past 30-day use of alcohol” has decreased dramatically in grades 7-10
  • From 2011-14, Westport youth “early use of alcohol” has decreased substantially
  • Westport youth marijuana use has declined, and overall use is lower than in some neighboring towns.

Positive DirectionsMarty was a founding member of Positive Youth Development, a Westport coalition that arms parents and youngsters with information to make good choices — and counseling for those who struggle.

Positive Directions celebrates Marty’s contributions (and retirement) on Wednesday, June 3 (4:30-6:30 p.m., Saugatuck Congregational Church  Fellowship  Room).

Other honors include a tribute book (click “Comments” below and add stories and accolades, or mail to Positive Directions, 420 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880), and contributions in her name to the organization (click here).

Marty downplays her role in Positive Directions. But, she admits, “I look forward to the celebration. I hope to see a lot of friends there.”

The nicest gift she could get, she says, is “to come visit and support Positive Directions.”

Staples Principal Finalist Meets The Public

Shelley Somers — unanimously picked by a search committee as the only finalist candidate for the principalship of Staples High School — met with parents and other Westporters this morning.

She sat with students during lunch, and will meet with administrators and staff members later today. The Board of Education — all 7 of whose members were at this morning’s forum — will meet in executive session at 5:30 p.m. today to discuss Somers’ candidacy.

Shelley Somers, this morning at Staples High School.

Shelley Somers, this morning at Staples High School.

This morning, after superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon noted Somers’ qualifications — English teacher, department chair, assistant principal and head of an arts, communications and technology school in 2 South Carolina districts; current principal at Central Middle School in Greenwich, where she was recently named Connecticut PTA Middle School Principal of the Year — she stepped up to the podium.

Somers began the session with 100 members of the public by acknowledging difficulties she had in the 1990s, when she owned a daycare center in East Granby, Connecticut. She miscounted the number of children attending an event, causing one child to remain in a vehicle.

“It’s still very difficult for me to talk about this,” Somers said. It has caused her “sadness and shame,” but also shaped her life today.

“I dot all my i’s and cross all my t’s,” she said. “This has taught me humility. I understand the importance of seeking help, gaining trust and moving on. I go to sleep with this at night, and wake up with it in the morning. I carry this with me in my heart. It has helped me very much, as an educator and a person.”

Somers noted that being principal is a “complex job.” She said that while in previous administrative positions she was hired to “fix things,” her role at Staples would be “to take a great school and figure out how to make it greater. You don’t do that by sitting in your office.”

Being a principal requires “a good ear,” she said — something she has learned to develop not only with students, but her own 4 daughters.

Board of Education members listen as a questioner addresses Staples principal candidate Shelley Somers.

Board of Education members listen as a questioner addresses Staples principal candidate Shelley Somers.

A questioner asked how she would adapt to Staples.

“I’m an educator,” Somers replied. “I don’t see myself as ‘a middle school principal.’ I have experience at all levels, as a teacher and an administrator. I’ve learned a lot about how to make good decisions.

“It was never my intent to stay in middle school — though I love it dearly,” she added.

At Central, she said, “I walked into a building with challenges. I spent a lot of time listening. I knew just being optimistic would not be enough.”

She cited her “open door policy. Parents knew I was there to help them and their children navigate the middle schools years. Parents learned I was a student advocate.”

The Board of Education may vote tonight on a new principal of Staples High School.

The Board of Education meets in executive sesssion tonight on a new principal of Staples High School.

Somers drew applause when — in response to a question about the Smarter Balance testing that was introduced this year — she said, “I don’t think junior year is the best place to put it.”

She reiterated her focus on students. “They’re the reason I got into education,” Somers said. “I am accessible to them. That’s number one with me.”

In reply to a question about a principal’s priorities, she said her top three are physical and emotional safety; availability and listening; and instructional leadership.

One questioner wondered about the “learning curve” needed for a new principal in a new school.

“Sure,” she agreed. “But I am prepared to make decisions.” She said she would talk to current principal John Dodig, and recognized the “strong administrative staff and student support teams” already in place.

Finally, someone asked Somers about the future. “I have younger kids,” the parent said. “I’ll be here for the next decade.”

“So will I,” she replied.

Collin Carroll’s Incredible Ironman Tale

At Staples High School, Collin Carroll led an active life. He captained the rugby team, and served as president of the EMS Explorers program.

Collin Carroll, as a Staples High School student.

Collin Carroll, as a Staples High School student.

He went on to the University of North Carolina, graduating a year early with a major in communications and a minor in environmental studies.

He earned certification as a personal trainer, and worked first in Denver, now New York. He’s fascinated with the human body: how it works, and how to make it better. This fall, he’ll enter Columbia University’s pre-med program.

That’s the short story: high-achieving Staples students climbs the ladder of opportunity and success.

Here’s the longer version.

In 2009, as a Staples junior, Collin was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Fortunately, the painful, debilitating disease was soon brought under control. For a couple of years, he felt good.

But in the spring of 2011 — as UNC finals started — Colin’s symptoms reappeared. His health deteriorated. He calls the 4-month period from April to August “very, very dark.”

By the 2nd week of classes in September, he’d lost so much blood he could not walk up a flight of stairs. A trip to the emergency room turned into a week in the hospital.

Fortunately — again — a drug regimen worked. Slowly, he started to feel better.

Amazingly, in the midst of his darkest days, Collin had signed up for an Ironman competition. “I wasn’t playing rugby, so I wanted a new challenge,” he explains, as if every sufferer of a severe bowel inflammation wants to swim 2.4 miles, ride 112 miles on a bike, then run a marathon — without a break.

He could not begin training until January. But within 7 months, he was in good enough shape to complete the particularly rugged Lake Placid Ironman.

Collin Carroll competes in the Lake Placid Ironman.

Collin Carroll competes in the Lake Placid Ironman.

Competing against experienced Ironman athletes — none of them probably suffering from ulcerative colitis — Colin finished in 13 hours, 15 minutes. He was 20th in his age group, and in the top half of all competitors.

“It made a huge difference in my life,” he says — again as if this is no big deal. Though he does add, “It was just as hard as everyone said.”

The low point came midway through the marathon, he says. “You’ve finished all the biking and swimming. You’ve already run 13 miles — and you’ve still got 13 more to go.”

But, he notes, crossing the finish line was “the best I’ve ever felt. It was much better than graduating from school.”

He pauses. “I feel bad for my future wife. Marriage might not be as great as finishing an Ironman.”

Collin Carroll -- proud (and successful) Ironman finisher.

Collin Carroll — proud (and successful) Ironman finisher.

He ran the next 2 Lake Placid Ironmans too, improving to 12:45 and 10:53 respectively. (Note: Those are hours and minutes. An Ironman is quite a way to spend half your day.)

Yet Collin will not compete in Lake Placid this year. Instead he’s doing the Ironman Maryland.

He chose that Eastern Shore event because it’s linked with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America. Collin hopes to raise $5,000 for the organization, which works to find a cure for diseases like ulcerative colitis.

CCF

“I’m doing this for people who aren’t lucky enough to have what I have — who can’t run an Ironman because they can’t get out of bed,” Collin says.

“My time was so chilling and dark. I know what that feels like — and I know that could be me again someday. Right now, I’m just doing what I can.”

Ironman Maryland is in October. Collin’s already begun fundraising (click here to help).

But he’s also looking beyond the fall.

When the Ironman is over, Collin hopes to train people with Crohn’s and colitis, to run their own races.