Category Archives: People

Westporters Sustain Choate

Choate Rosemary Hall — the prestigious private school in Wallingford — boasts the Kohler Environmental Center. It’s the 1st teaching and research center in US secondary education, a model of self-sustaining architecture, and the 1st education structure to achieve LEED certification by the US Green Building Council.

Students live and learn in the building, which is nearly “off the grid.” Electricity is produced on-site, and they grow their own food.

Choate's Kohler Center

Choate’s Kohler Center

When the Kohler Center received a big award on Thursday from the American Institute of Architects’ New York chapter, several Westporters were more than interested observers.

Kevin Smith was the principal architect. He’s a partner in the international firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects (and, with his wife Deirdre O’Farrelly, designed the Christ & Holy Trinity Church’s Branson Hall).

Westport’s Landtech provided site planning, and civil and environment engineering services, for the project.

As for “Kohler”: The project was written by Herbert Kohler, of plumbing products fame. He’s a Choate grad. When he was a football quarterback there — back in the day — he handed the ball off to a halfback named Earl Smith.

Earl has lived in Westport for years — and was a longtime Staples assistant football coach, under Paul Lane.

 

Matt Debenham’s Clean Treats

Eli Debenham is a Staples High School sophomore. His dad, Matt — a fiction writer and teacher — recently branched out into the brownie-baking-and-selling business.

Not just any brownies.

Paleo brownies.

Matt Debenham

Matt Debenham

He got into it via his wife’s thyroid specialist. It took 5 months to come up with a recipe that didn’t taste like a caveman who’s been dead for 35,000 years.

Baking — and selling — brownies (paleo or obesity-o) online is not easy. Matt learned about commercial kitchens (he uses one in Saugatuck, at night). He learned about bar codes, labels, shipping, and thousands of other quasi-related-to-baking things.

But Clean Treats is up and running. So is the Clean Plate Club, a food blog for paleo eaters. (Gluten-free ones too.) It features recipes, links to kitchen equipment, and posts about visits to free-range, chemical-free farms.

Matt’s is an interesting story, about something that (of course) morphed from a sideline hobby into a full-fledged, taking-over-his-life business.

Yet many other Westporters have similar tales. Why is this one “06880-worthy”?

A Clean Treat brownie.

A Clean Treat brownie.

Well, it involves food, which everyone loves. Desserts, especially.

Matt’s doing all the right things, marketing-wise.

And Eli asked me to write about it. It’s his Christmas gift, from a son to his dad.

Merry Christmas, Matt! I’m sure Santa will love those Clean Treat brownies you leave out for him on Christmas Eve.

 

Westport’s Cubans React To Thaw

Yesterday’s announcement by Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro of a new relationship between their 2 nations surprised Americans and Cubans alike.

The news was particularly stunning for the small number of Westporters with Cuban heritage.

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux

Yvonne Sabin Claveloux is a 1983 graduate of Staples High School. She grew up here, but her parents are Cuban. She says:

I think it’s time, but I have very mixed feelings. On the positive side, this gives hope that it will open dialogue to address issues in a diplomatic level.

On the negative, it will give the Castros a lifeline at a moment when they are desperate due to Venezuela’s crash due to decline in oil prices. There are also no concessions regarding the human rights of the Cuban people.

Tony Hernandez is 80 years old. He was born and raised in Cuba, but left in 1960. He says:

I feel that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba’s communist regime is a very positive step. It ends 53 years of isolation, and simultaneously eases all the vicissitudes and misery the Cuban people have been suffering.

His daughter, Maite Hernandez, says:

I  just read that 7 million tourists are expected to visit Cuba, as opposed to 2 million in the past year. On the one hand, the flow of visitors and the money they bring will definitely boost the economy of Cuba, at a time where they have run out of countries to support them. I just hope this will translate to a better economic level for the local Cubans.

It remains to be seen whether  human rights issues will be addressed. There can be no compromise regarding this matter. Otherwise this move by President Obama will be seen as political, with the only purpose of securing himself a place in the history books.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Maite Hernandez and her father Tony.

Mark Naftalin Named To Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Westporter Mark Naftalin is going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And not just to see the exhibits.

The keyboardist will be inducted in April, along with fellow members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The seminal blues-rock band joins Ringo Starr, Green Day, Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Bill Withers in the “Class of 2015.”

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Mark Naftalin (3rd from left) with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

According to the Hall of Fame website, Naftalin — along with bandmates including Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop –

converted the country-blues purists and turned on the Fillmore generation to the pleasures of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon and Elmore James. With the release of their blues-drenched debut album in the fall of 1965, and its adventurous “East-West” followup in the summer of 1966, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band kicked open a door that brought a defining new edge to rock and roll.

 

And they played at Monterey:

 

After leaving the band in 1968, Naftalin — the son of former Minneapolis mayor Arthur Naftalin — produced records, concerts, festivals and radio shows.

He started his own label, recording with Duane Allman, Canned Heat, Percy Mayfield, John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Big Joe Turner and James Cotton.

He’s been a sideman on over 100 albums — including the great jangly piano riff on Brewer & Shipley’s “One Toke Over the Line.”

 

Last night, Naftalin reflected on what he calls “a great honor.” He is proud of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s interracial makeup; grateful to have worked with such creative, energetic musicians, and gratified that from the 1960s through today, people tell him the group’s music meant something to them.

“We’ve gotten fervent testimonials that we helped get someone through high school, college or Vietnam,” Naftalin said.

“And a number of musicians have said they were drawn to exploring blues music because of our influence. It’s a real privilege to be a little part of that.”

Mark Naftalin today.

Mark Naftalin today.

He and his wife Ellen — a 1967 Staples High School grad — started coming to Westport in 1991, the year they got married in the house she grew up in. They moved here permanently in 2002.

Naftalin will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April. You can go to Cleveland for the ceremony.

Or you can head to the Westport Historical Society on December 31. From 6-8 p.m. he’s at the electric piano, part of his 7th annual First Night gig.

You can catch “Mark Naftalin and Friends” at the Pequot Library too, the weekend of January 17-18. He’ll play the Steinway concert grand.

It’s a long way from Monterey to Westport. But that detour to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile.

 

Estelle Margolis Makes Myrtle Avenue A Neighborhood

Most people drive down Myrtle Avenue on their way to — or from — somewhere else.

Some head to Town Hall, or the Westport Historical Society. Others use it as a shortcut to or from town.

But to the folks who live in the handsome homes there, Myrtle Avenue is not a narrow through street. It’s a neighborhood.

In the hustle and bustle of modern Westport life, though, it seldom felt like one.

Myrtle Avenue: grace, beauty -- and neighborliness -- in the heart of downtown.

Myrtle Avenue: grace, beauty — and neighborliness — in the heart of downtown.

Last year, Estelle Margolis — she lives at #72 — invited everyone to her lovingly maintained 1790 home. Neighbors Rondi Charleston and Page Englehart helped plan the get-together.

Over 2 dozen neighbors showed up. Some were old-timers; others had just moved in. They talked about who they were, where they came from, and what brought them to Westport.

They named themselves the MAGs — for Myrtle Avenue Gang — and shared e-mail addresses.

Since then, they’ve had more cocktail parties in various homes. They arrive early, and stay late.

Beyond the food and drink, Estelle says, “We’ve found out how everyone on the street is interesting, caring and kind.”

The most recent MAG party was last Sunday. It’s a busy time of year, but plenty of people came. In the holiday spirit, Estelle asked them to bring kids’ books. They’ll be delivered to a Bridgeport home for abused mothers and children.

Estellel Margolis (center), surrounded by Myrtle Avenue neighbors. (Photo/Rondi Charleston)

Estellel Margolis (center), surrounded by Myrtle Avenue neighbors. (Photo/Rondi Charleston)

“MAGs are now much more than neighbors,” Estelle says. “We are dear friends, very close by, all available for help that any one of us might need.”

“Estelle brought us together in the spirit of love and support, as only she can,” notes Rondi Charleston. “We are so grateful for her.”

“We feel very lucky we landed on Myrtle Avenue,” Estelle says, speaking for so many MAGs.

“We’re in the heart of downtown Westport — and as close to heaven as we can get!”

 

Josh Koskoff Takes On The NRA

In 2005, President Bush signed into law a bill pushed by the NRA. It shields gun manufacturers from most forms of civil litigation.

But yesterday — the day after the 2nd anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre — 10 Newtown families sued Bushmaster Firearms, the maker of the gun used in that rampage.

Josh Koskoff

Josh Koskoff

Josh Koskoff represents the victims. Last night, the 1984 Staples High School graduate and longtime Westport resident talked to Rachel Maddow about that wrongful death suit.

It’s a tough case, he admitted. Gun manufacturers have broad immunity.

“This is an industry that makes the world’s most dangerous product,” he said. “But you can’t sue them.”

However, he told the MSNBC host, he’s undaunted. His clients are “so worthy.” He and his colleagues at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder believe they have found a way to win.

“We’ve got a case here,” the attorney told Maddow.

Josh Koskoff on "Rachel Maddow" last night.

Josh Koskoff on “Rachel Maddow” last night.

It’s clear he feels a personal stake in this battle.

“If we didn’t take this case — in our own backyard — we might as well just fold up,” he said.

Maddow said that Bushmaster refused to comment.

(To see the Koskoff interview, click on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”)

(Hat tip to Peter Propp)

 

 

Candlelight Concert Rings In The Holiday Season

Tonight’s Candlelight Concert — the 1st show of the 2-day, 74th annual gift to the town from the Staples High School music department — wowed a packed auditorium.

Hundreds of singers and musicians performed sophisticated pieces with aplomb. They threw in a PDQ Bach number, and the world premiere of a global warming-themed production number by Don Rickenbach.

And, of course, the timeless “Sing We Noel” processional, and rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” finale, serve as fitting bookends for one of Westport’s favorite events of the year.

"Now let hosannas ring..." (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

“Now let hosannas ring…” (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The chorus and chorale, with accompanist Dr. Robert Kwan. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The chorus and chorale, with accompanist Dr. Robert Kwan. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The a cappella choir, directed by Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The a cappella choir, directed by Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Adele Valovich leads the symphonic orchestra.

Adele Valovich leads the symphonic orchestra. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Nick Mariconda and the symphonic band. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Nick Mariconda and the symphonic band. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

There was a lot going on during the clever production number. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

A lot went on during the clever production number. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

At the end of the "Hallelujah Chorus," the audience was invited to return next year -- when the Candlelight Concerts celebrates its 75th anniversary. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

At the end of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” the audience was invited to return next year — when the Candlelight Concerts celebrates its 75th anniversary. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

 

 

 

Remembering Kevin Brawley

Kevin Brawley — the easygoing owner of a number of popular Westport restaurants — died this past weekend. He was 59 years old.

2178700 (1)Kevin was a wrestler at Bedford Junior High and Staples High School (Class of 1973). Later, he and Danny Horelick opened Dunville’s, on Saugatuck Avenue. It quickly became one of Westport’s favorite gathering spots.

Kevin’s next venture was Tavern on Main. Decades later, little has changed from his original vision.

He later opened the River House on Riverside Avenue.

Tavern on MainKevin worked — and enjoyed — long hours at his businesses. He mentored dozens of employees, who themselves went on to own many local restaurants.

Friend, classmate and former wrestling teammate Chip Stephens says:

Kevin will be remembered for his gravelly voice and infectious laugh, his smile and being a host with the most, his huge circle of friends, and his ability to create and run dining and drinking establishments. Two of them still exist after decades — something very rare today.

 

David Pogue’s “Duh!”

Imagine if you drove a car for years, but never knew that by lifting the little thing on the side of the steering wheel, you could let other drivers know that you planned to turn left or right.

Or if you thought that you had to use the up and down arrows on your TV remote to change channels, rather than simply clicking on the numbers.

Yeah, laugh now. When it comes to computers, laptops, smartphones, e-readers, printers, browsers, email and social networks, we all don’t know certain basics.

For instance:

  • Hitting the space bar is the same as clicking on the scroll bar — and a lot easier.
  • You can silence your cellphone immediately by clicking any button — volume, the on/off switch, whatever.
  • Google can act as a currency translator, flight tracker and Roman numeral converter.

You probably knew some of that. You probably did not know all.

And — until now — no has one collected all that “basic-except-no-one-ever-told-me” information in one place.

Pogues Basics - book coverThe job fell to David Pogue. The Westport resident — who has spent his career explaining technology to the masses, via books, videos, the New York Times and now Yahoo — has just written “Pogue’s Basics: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life.”

It will be published tomorrow (Tuesday, December 9). The tips are a lot shorter than the title.

Pogue first realized the need for a manual — a “driver’s ed course” for tech — a decade ago. He watched in horror as a receptionist agonizingly tried to highlight one word in a Word document. Her cursor kept missing it.

Finally, Pogue asked, “Why don’t you just double-click on the word?”

“Oh my God!” she screamed. She had no idea.

In 2008, Pogue wrote a Times piece on his 25 favorite tips. The comments section exploded, as readers shared their own I-thought-everyone-knew ideas.

Two years ago, Pogue gave a TED talk. In 6 minutes, he raced through 10 tips. It was clear that very few folks in the highly educated, high-functioning audience knew that during a PowerPoint presentation, hitting “B” on a keyboard blacks out the screen, allowing everyone to focus on you and not your slide. (Bonus tip: Hitting “W” whites out the screen.)

David Pogue, hard at work. Did you know that if you open a laptop, you can access all of its features?

David Pogue, hard at work. Did you know that if you open a laptop, you can access all of its features?

The book followed. Now everyone — well, everyone who buys it — will know that hitting the space bar twice on a smartphone automatically inserts a period and space, then capitalizes the next letter you type. (You knew that, right?)

I told Pogue that I don’t know 95% of what Microsoft Word does. I can create columns, insert tildes and Greek letters, and get word counts, all of which I’ve been asked to share by clueless others. But they know other Word tricks I don’t even know I don’t know.

“That’s fine,” Pogue says. “No one uses more than 5% of Microsoft Word. It’s not your fault. My job is to make sure you know which 5% to use.”

Microsoft Word

Click on Pogue’s Basics to order this immensely helpful guide. It’s available in print or as an e-book. And if you don’t know all the ways to get the most out of your e-reader — well, what are you waiting for?

PS: I’m sure you know this, but on the very off chance you don’t:

  • “Airplane mode” charges your phone twice as quickly.
  • Both iPads and Androids have ways to keep your tablet screen from rotating.
  • On YouTube, hitting “J” on your keyboard jumps the video back 10 seconds; “L” moves it ahead 10 seconds.

(Click on this TED video to see the talk that started it all.)

Eagle Scout Project Comes To “Fruition”

Who wants to build a pergola at the Community Gardens?

That was the challenge offered to all Boy Scouts in town, by Ellen Greenberg.

Brendan Wisniewski was the first to respond. He wanted an Eagle Scout project that would benefit the community in a lasting way. This was perfect.

After meeting with Ellen, Lou Weinberg and Nick Mancini — all Community  Gardeners — Brendan conducted research online. He figured out the size, materials and structural integrity of the pergola, then created a detailed plan including time frame, help needed, cost and drawings.

Former Troop 39 scoutmaster Tony Giunta helped. Fellow scouts offered their assistance. Guided by Brendan’s father Mark (current Troop 39 scoutmaster) and his mother Jeanne (troop committee member), construction began.

Over 175 volunteer hours later, the pergola is finished. A few hurdles remain, but Brendan should soon join his brother John in the Eagle Scout ranks.

And Nick Mancini’s grape vines will have a home.

Brendan Wisniewski's pergola.

Brendan Wisniewski’s pergola.

(Hat tip to Johanna Rossi)