Category Archives: religion

Randy Herbertson’s Very Local Visual Brand

Randy Herbertson is a Midwesterner. His wife grew up in California — where she had no idea that ancestors named Barlow and Hurlbutt had roots in this area dating back centuries.

In 1997 Herbertson — a talented, creative marketing executive — was transferred east by Conde Nast. He lived in Westport and commuted to New York, where for many years he owned a branding agency.

In 2013 he had a revelation. “Am I stupid?” he asked himself. “Why can’t I work in Westport too?” (His wife — the lead designer at Terrain — already did.)

Randy Herbertson

Randy Herbertson

He and his business partner, fellow Westporter Geoff Shafer, opened their multimidia design and promotion firm, The Visual Brand, downtown. In the 2 years since, Herbertson — who makes his living observing consumers’ behavior — has saved hours of commuting time each day.

He knew that would happen. What he did not expect was that he’d become part of a flourising, fun downtown community.

Operating out of reclaimed space on Church Lane — a building behind SoNo Baking Company — Herbertson and Shafer have found plenty of local clients. They hang out in cool places.

Herbertson has joined local business organizations. He’s hired Connecticut designers. “I’d never even heard of Western Connecticut State University,” he admits. “But they’ve got a great program, with really good people.”

Herbertson and Shafer found other businesses founded by former New Yorkers. Neat coffee and cocktails and Luxe Wine Bar are two. Westport Wash & Wax and Quality Towing are 2 more. Not everyone aspires to work in New York forever,” Herbertson says.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

From his office — the mail sorting room of the very first Westport post office — Herbertson watches Bedford Square rise.

“It’s a bit of a pain,” he says of the construction. “But it’s exciting. It will be very good overall.”

His marketing eye has been caught by Anthropologie, which will do “some very cool stuff” with their repurposed space.

But, he says, “it’s important to keep the local element downtown — not just the big corporations.” He cites SoNo Baking as “very focused on what this community needs.”

His vision is stirred by the possibilities across the street. A choir member of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Herbertson would love to find an investor, buy the adjacent Seabury Center, and turn it into a performing arts center like the Ridgefield Playhouse.

“I’m really bullish on downtown,” he notes. “We have an opportunity to be really creative. My son lives in West Hartford. They’ve done some pretty cool stuff up there, in an area that used to be not so good. I hope we can do it better.”

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand's website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm's office.

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand’s website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm’s office.

After 2 years, Herbertson says, he’s found “no downsides” to working in Westport. (He still has clients in the city. They’re just a train ride away.)

“It’s completely possible to do everything we did in New York — at a fraction of the cost.”

Plus, there are all those wine bars, coffee shops — and maybe even a performing arts space — just steps away.


Remembering Lou Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett — a member of that great generation of post-war Westporters who helped define this town for half a century — died early today. She was 92 years old.

Lou was a lifelong educator. She began in Greenwich Village in the 1940s, and spent many years in the Westport school system. After she retired, she became a sought-after writing coach. Perhaps best known as a Staples High School English teacher, she was beloved by colleagues and students for her deep wisdom, gentle nature, and genuine concern for everyone she met.

Lucille "Lou" Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett

As a founding member of Temple Israel, she helped create one of the town’s most active social justice institutions. As first principal of its religious school, she made sure that there was as strong an emphasis on current affairs as on Jewish education.

Lou was also a gifted poet. She was published frequently — including 5 collections that explore fearlessly and with intensity her Jewish heritage, her childhood in Brookly, and her maturing to adulthood and old age — and never missed a chance to pass on her love for the craft.

Her son George says:

Mom was humble, fierce in her convictions, devoted, and always focused on the needs of others. I have heard over the years many stories from people I don’t even know about how my mother transformed their lives, or started their careers, or pushed them to take a chance on something in which they believed.

She believed in her students, her children and her friends, and strove to help them see in themselves the strength and beauty she saw in them. She treated every one with honesty and respect.

She was also the connecting tissue for an enormous family ecosystem that now spans 4 generations, and multiple continents.

Lou’s husband, Herb, died this past May, at 93. The Barretts were married for 73 years. Lou is survived by 5 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Tuesday (October 6, 12:30 p.m.), at Temple Israel, with private burial service to follow. The family will sit shiva after hte burial at the home of Marvin and Joan Frimmer in Westport. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, or Temple Israel, Westport.

Sleeping With The Pope

As chairman of Westport’s Parks and Recreation Commission, Charlie Haberstroh takes his job seriously. So the other day he read a long Wall Street Journal story titled “The New Mattress Professionals.” Hey, beds are great spots for recreational activities, right?

Charlie plowed through tons of details about Eve and Casper, Leesa and Keetsa. These startups are apparently turning the mattress industry upside down, with new marketing techniques. One of those is “celebrity endorsements or associations.”

Near the end, this caught Charlie’s eye:

Pope Francis was expected to sleep on a memory foam relaxed firm queen-sized mattress by West Port, Conn.-based online luxury mattress startup Saatva’s Loom & Leaf division. The pontiff visited the Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary near Philadelphia last weekend, according to Stephen Dolan, the seminary’s chief financial officer. Mr. Dolan said the mattress was donated but declined to comment further and referred questions to the company.

Saatva chief executive Ron Rudzin says he is “simply honored and blessed” by the news.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

I could not find a photo of the pope and his mattress. So this will have to do.

Stuart Carlitz, chief executive of Bedding Industries of America, which manufactures Saatva mattresses, says he was approached by representatives from the World Meeting of Families, who asked if he could supply a bed for the Holy Father…. Mr. Carlitz says he donated the Saatva mattress, which retails for $999.

Today is Sunday. That’s a work day for the pope, so I couldn’t call the Vatican to ask how he slept.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That's the Saugatuck River behind him.

Saatva Ron Rudzin, in a press photo. That’s the Saugatuck River behind him.

I had never heard of Saatva — let alone known that it’s headquartered right here in 06880.

I checked the company’s website to learn more about their Westport connection. I could not find much — beyond CEO Rudzin saying he likes to fish in the Saugatuck River — but I did find this:

Saatva is the fastest growing online mattress company in the country. Our honest passion for making each customer happy is the daily mantra. Our non commissioned, courteous and expert representatives give honest “no pressure” guidance. Our teams working in our 14 ‘partnering’ American factories are so proud to be building a luxury product that is healthy for the body and safe for the environment.

Additionally, we believe in building long term friendships with our delivery teams throughout our fulfillment centers. We love the culture that we’ve created as we are a wonderfully diverse and spirited group of employees who enjoy doing our part to keep America building.

So where is Saatva located?

There is no address on their website. BBB Business Review says they’re at 8 Wright Street. puts them at 25 Sylvan Lane South, Suite W.

I would have called headquarters to find out.

But it’s Sunday. Everyone is sleeping in.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.

In addition to sleeping on a Westport mattress, Pope Francis apparently made an unannounced visit to Landtech, the engineering consultant firm in Saugatuck.


Deacon Dave At The Papal Mass

Westport’s own David Clarke of Assumption Church was among the deacons chosen to give communion today at Pope Francis’ Madison Square Garden mass.

He not only had a prominent role — but check out the photo below. There’s a star right above his head!

Deacon Dave Clarke, front and center.

Deacon Dave Clarke, front and center.

In other papal Assumption news, Father Tom Thorne — the Riverside Avenue church pastor — was invited to the White House lawn, for this week’s welcome-to-America reception.

In a town like Westport, there must be many other Francis-related stories. If you’ve got one, click “Comments” to share.

(Hat tip: Nancy Axthelm)

A 2nd Selectman, A Rabbi And A Pope Go Into New York…

Westport 2nd Selectman Avi Kaner was crossing 72nd Street earlier today. Look what he saw:

Meanwhile, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of Westport’s Conservative Synagogue had an even closer encounter with Pope Francis.

As he wrote his congregation earlier today:

This morning, I had the distinct honor of attending the Multi-Religious Gathering with Pope Francis at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It was truly a day in my life that I will never forget.

Pope Francis, at the 9/11 Memorial. (Photo/Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn)

Pope Francis, at the 9/11 Memorial. (Photo/Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn)

In a room filled with clergy and representatives of all religions, the positive energy was palpable and contagious. I sat next to an amazing woman from the Sikh community, and we were surrounded by fellow Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish clergy. The symbolism of sitting together at Ground Zero–where so many lives were lost due to baseless hatred and terror-and instead joining hands in the spirit of peace, was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The humble presence of the Pope and his simple yet powerful plea for unity and reconciliation among all people left our hearts filled spirit and with hope.

As we approach Shabbat and look forward to celebrating Sukkot next week, let us all look forward to the day in which God spreads a sukkat shalom (shelter of peace) over the entire world.

Warm wishes for Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach.

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn and Bishop James Massa, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn.

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn and Bishop James Massa, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn.

The Pope, Stephen Colbert — And Luke Rosenberg

Pope Francis owns the media this week — and Stephen Colbert is no exception. The “Late Show” host devoted last night’s entire show to the charismatic pontiff.

The final segment featured 2 choral groups: The YMCA Jerusalem Youth Chorus (with Christian, Jewish and Muslim youths) and the Choir of St. Jean Baptiste, affiliated with the Upper East Side cathedral of the same name. In the pope’s honor they sang a churchly version of “Joy to the World” (aka “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” the old Three Dog Night ditty).

In the back row was Luke Rosenberg. His day job is choral director at Staples, where he’s taken the program to heavenly heights. One of his side gigs is singing with St. Jean Baptiste.

Luke Rosenberg is 2nd from left in the back row -- he's the guy with the beard.

Luke Rosenberg is 2nd from left in the back row —  the guy with the beard.

English is not Pope Francis’ forte. But if he happened to watch Colbert last night in his hotel room — or perhaps on an iPad in the back seat of his Fiat — chances are he would have found Luke’s choir’s rendition very joyful indeed.

(Click here for the “Late Show” segment. It begins around the 37:00 mark. Despite Pope Francis’ critiques of capitalism, you’ll have to sit through several commercials before it runs.)

Faith In Our River

Beit Chaverim Synagogue was in the middle of the High Holy Days. Saugatuck Congregational Church had its usual worship activities.

But the 2 congregations came together last Sunday, to clean up one of Westport’s most cherished non-denominational resources: the Saugatuck River.

The event grew out of a friendship between Rabbi Greg Wall and Reverend Alison Patton. As they discussed areas of common interest, they organized the joint service project.

Taking advantage of low tide, work crews hauled out (too) many bags of refuse, hazards to humans and wildlife, and stuff that should never have been there.

Like fishing poles. Balls of every shape and size. Countless glass, plastic and styrofoam bottles, cups and packages. A set of false teeth.

And an old TV set.

Taking part in Sunday's interfaith Saugatuck River cleanup. (Photo/Mark Mathias)

Sunday’s interfaith Saugatuck River cleanup was a family affair. From left: Mason, Michael, Jack, Melissa and Kate Banks. (Photo/Mark Mathias)

The Saugatuck force was organized by Staples High School senior Alex Martenson and his mom Stephanie. Among the Beit Chaverim workers were the  Chapman family, 2 parents and 4 daughters who are new to Westport but dove right in.

Rabbi Wall said, “Many participants reflected on how meaningful this type of interfaith collaboration was. We all look forward to more opportunities for all of the faith communities in town to work together. We must make sure our planet — and our Westport — are on the right track to provide for all future generations.”


(Photo/Greg Wall)

(Photo/Greg Wall)

Pope Francis’ Westport Crucifix

Thousands of people will be on hand next Sunday (September 27), as Pope Francis celebrates mass on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. Millions more will watch around the globe.

They’ll admire the crucifix — the centerpiece of the backdrop, hanging on the reredos wall. They may know it was specially designed for the mass.

But they won’t know — unless they read it here — that the crucifix has a Westport connection.

Larry Hoy was commissioned to create the papal crucifix. He’s a longtime local resident — and a veteran of other pope visits.

Hoy made furnishings for Popes John Paul II in Central Park, and Benedict XVI at Ground Zero and Yankee Stadium.

Larry Hoy, with one of his previous papal thrones.

Larry Hoy, with one of his previous papal thrones.

His design this time is in keeping with Pope Francis’ austere aesthetics. It’s constructed of composition gold-leafed wood, rather than the usual real gold leaf.

“Normally we’d use real gold,” Hoy says. “But we were instructed to use the composition gold, which is not a precious metal.”

The cross also has a corpus that was donated by a closed Philadelphia parish church.

“In soccer, 3 goals is called a hat trick,” says Hoy, whose son Dylan played 2 years at Staples and now stars at Wesleyan University.

“The pope’s hat is called a miter. So I guess I have a miter trick.”

Remembering Colin McKenna

The death last week of Rev. Colin McKenna on the train tracks of his native Westport shook his many friends and admirers. 

David Pettee graduated from Staples High School in 1981, the same year Colin graduated from Fairfield Prep. David is now a Florida-based software developer. He sends along this tribute to his friend:

Many of us who grew up with Colin McKenna in Westport are shocked and reeling from the public tragedy that took him from us last week. Colin and I grew up off South Compo Road, across from Longshore, during the 1970s. We went to Saugatuck Elementary (at that time on Bridge Street) and Bedford Junior High (on Riverside Avenue).

Colin McKenna in Ireland, in 1981.

Colin McKenna in Ireland, in 1981.

He was a swimmer, skier, soccer player and neighborhood pal to everyone on Compo Parkway and Round Pond Road. We had so much fun “hacking around” our neighborhood during the summer months. Too many laughs and neighborhood pranks, which went on day and night, to list.

All the kids in the neighborhood took turns riding his homemade go-kart. It was powered by an old lawn mower engine that we kept running, providing hours of fun. In the winter there were snow ball fights and outdoor hockey, day and night, on a frozen Round Pond

I spoke to Colin last July. For those in and around Westport who are wondering what happened and why, there are no easy answers. He died of a difficult brain disorder, a painful and dark reminder of someone who tried to overcome a psychological disorder.

He was well-meaning in his Catholic ministry, and reached out to hundreds in ways that only a priest can. As a former Westporter, I want to acknowledge Colin’s life and the many great memories he made for us.

At the same time, I want to thank all the first responders — Westport Police, Fire and EMS — who tried to save his life.  In addition, thanks to the MTA and its employees, who handled this tragedy with dignity and also tried to save him.

I will remember Colin for a very long time.

Phyllis Kurzer’s Karma Mala

Talk about good karma.

After Westporter Phyllis Kurzer finished yoga teacher training, she wanted to wear a mala (a string of beads or knots, used in praying or meditating) to enhance her spiritual connection.

She could not find a mala with the unique, artistic design and metaphysical properties she was looking for. So she taught herself how to make one.

She found a source in Nepal, and created her first hand-knotted mala with a prayer box pendant.

The interest it generated launched a business. It’s called Karma Mala.

One of Phyllis Kurzer's malas.

One of Phyllis Kurzer’s malas…

Phyllis designs every mala. She acquires pendants from India and other tribal reaches. She pairs them with beautiful semi-precious stones, hand-knotting between each bead.

It’s a meticulous process, but true to tradition.

...and another.

…and another.

Phyllis’ goal is to make malas that are beautiful to wear — and also offer hope to the most vulnerable people.

The Westport artist learned that every year, 20,000 girls are trafficked in Nepal. Within 2 years, most become HIV positive. By age 20, they are dead.

Phyllis discovered the American Himalayan Foundation’s Stop Girl Trafficking project. It prevents young girls from becoming victims of their family’s poverty and desperation, by putting them in school, then weaving a safety net around them.

The program provides everything a girl needs. It then mentors her, and educates her family and community about the dangers of trafficking.

There are now over 10,750 girls in more than 550 schools throughout Nepal. Once enrolled, not a single girl has been lost to trafficking.

Amazingly, Phyllis says, it takes only $100 to keep a girl safe and in school for one year.

Phyllis Kurzer

Phyllis Kurzer

Where does the money come from?

A lot of it comes directly from Karma Mala. Phyllis donates 100% — yes, every penny of profit — to Stop Girl Trafficking. Since she began last year, that’s over $20,000.

Phyllis has just introduced a brand-new collection. Half malas (54-bead malas that can be worn alone, or layered with others), traditional malas, wrist wraps, featherweight designs and gemstone layering necklaces are all available. They’re beautiful to wear, and functional for meditation.

Not to mention, life-changing for vulnerable, at-risk girls, halfway around the world from Westport.

(For more information or to order, click Phyllis’ direct email is For a video on Stop Girl Trafficking, click below. Hat tip: Jamie Camche)