Category Archives: YMCA

One Town, One Team

For years, Westport has fielded 2 teams in each youth travel basketball age group. One was sponsored by the Westport Weston Family Y; the other by Westport PAL.

It was tough on kids, and their parents. It diluted the talent pool too.

Westport Y logoNow the 2 programs are joining forces. They’ll conduct joint tryouts, share coaching staffs and collaborate with scheduling practice time and league play, using school courts and the Y.

Following tryouts next month, boys and girls in grades 4 through 8 will be invited to play in a variety of Fairfield County Basketball League age groups and divisions, competing as “Westport PAL in association with the Westport Family YMCA teams.” There will be 15 teams in all.

Officials say the partnership is a response to parents’ concerns about having 2 separate FCBL programs for 1 community.

blog - Westport PAL

Jay Jaranko, senior program director for the Y, calls it “a win-win-win for both organizations, the town of Westport, and we think an even bigger win for the players and their teams.”

Howie Friedman, president of the PAL travel basketball program, says that the partnership with the Y is in line with his organization’s focus on maintaining the proper balance between competitiveness and fairness.

“Our PAL creed of ‘it’s all about the kids’ will truly be served by this collaboration,” he notes.

Last year's 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.

Last year’s 5th grade boys Fairfield County Basketball League champs were a Westport YMCA team.

Bedford Square Picks Up The Pace

Construction continues — and clogs — downtown Westport.

The Bedford Square development is in the concrete-pouring phase. Traffic — and traffic detours — are common in the Church Lane-Elm Street area.

Bedford Square - 3

Meanwhile, around the corner, work is being done at the former YMCA Bedford Building.

Bedford Square 1

Passersby can see that the grand stairway — and much of the interior — is gone. In its place will be a large Antrophologie store, including include a full restaurant, clothing, home and beauty stores, and the BHLDN wedding brand.

Beddford Square - 2
Developers have said the triangular centerpiece of the Bedford Building will remain. The golden “YMCA” letters will be relocated on site, somewhere.

Red Barn — Revisited

Last week — based on a phone call to the Red Barn — I reported that the rumors of the restaurant’s closing were wrong.

I said — based on what I’d been told — that the kitchen was being revamped. New ovens and a natural gas hookup were on the way. Re-opening was set for today (Wednesday, July 8).

A number of readers suggested — publicly and privately — that I was wrong.

A woman said that one of the owners called to tell her that her group’s annual luncheon — held every year in late July — would not happen, because the restaurant had been sold.

A salesperson described going to the Red Barn at midday to pick up a check. No renovation work was underway. In fact, no one was there at all.

Red Barn painting

I called this afternoon — the day I was told they’d reopen. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, I hung up.

Just in case, I checked the website.

It still touts itself as “a unique, rustic place for your next event or function.”

But even more prominently, it still advertises its Mother’s Day specials.

Meanwhile, the Westport Family Y — which everyone in Westport thinks has bought the property, though no real estate transaction has been filed — is not talking either.

The out-of-date (and strangely dark) Red Barn website.

The out-of-date (and strangely dark) Red Barn website.



Red Barn Is NOT Closing

The rumors have swirled for weeks: The Westport Family Y bought the Red Barn. It will be torn down, and used for parking.

The Y is not talking. But the lights were off last night, the parking lot deserted — and Westporters got even more worried.

Red Barn restaurant

You can keep worrying — but only if you wanted to dine there before Wednesday.

The Red Barn is closed because the kitchen is being revamped. They’re adding new ovens, and a natural gas hookup.

It reopens July 8.

At the same place its been all these years: next to Merritt Parkway Exit 41.

You know: Right near the new Y.

New Y CEO: A “People Person” Moves Forward

Pat Riemersma likes to tell stories.

There’s the one about the 300-pound woman in Minnesota. She came into the YMCA where Riemersma was a top executive, and could not even stand up to fill out forms.

Riemersma connected her with a good personal trainer. The woman lost 180 pounds. Now — in her 70s — she leads a life she never dreamed of.

Or the story about the father whose wife had just entered a psychiatric hospital. Riemersma quickly found Y after-school programs for his 3 children, so the man could concentrate on his work during the day.

“I know there are tons of stories about positive impact in Westport too,” Riemersma. “I just don’t know them yet.”

Pat Riemersma

Pat Riemersma

She will. The new Westport Weston Family Y CEO is still settling into her job. But she does not seem like the type of person who spends much time behind a desk.

Riemersma (pronounced REE-mers-mah) is a Midwesterner. Born in Iowa, she entered Central College with the idea of teaching elementary school phys. ed., and coaching high school sports.

But teaching jobs were scarce in 1982. After working at a Girl Scout camp, she got a job as program director at the Siouxland YMCAs. She’s been with Ys ever since.

Much of her work has been in Minnesota. Riemersma has served in a variety of capacities, including vice president of youth development, vice president of operations, and executive director.

From 1989 to 1994 she came east, as program and executive director of the YMCA of Greater Hartford.

“I enjoyed exploring a new part of the country,” she says of her Hartford days. “I met so many wonderful people, and had a chance to help change lives.”

Now — 21 years later — she’s back in Connecticut. She was ready to advance in her career. CEO seemed the next logical step.

She jumped at the Westport opening, and never looked back.

Pat Riemersma, a few days into her new job as CEO of the Westport Weston Family Y.

Pat Riemersma, a few days into her new job as CEO of the Westport Weston Family Y.

“The stars are aligned,” Riemersma says. “My house in Minnesota sold before it went on the market. I found a house in Southport in 1 day. I know I’m in the right place here.”

Her welcome so far has been warm. Y members and Southport neighbors are very friendly. She attended Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis’ retirement sendoff earlier this month, and met a ton of people.

She made 2 trips to Westport before accepting the position. Driving around, she was struck by the area’s beauty. She also is thankful for GPS. “The roads are a lot straighter” in the Midwest, she laughs.

But she knows that this town — and its Y — present challenges.

She spoke with former CEO Helene Weir, who described the back story involving the long process of moving from downtown to the Mahackeno site.

“I’m aware of the past,” Riemersma says. “But I don’t want it to bog me down moving forward.”

So what does “moving forward” mean?

YMCA logoRiemersma will examine programs and internal processes, to see what needs expansion, revision or tweaking. She plans no immediate major overhauls, but she knows that small changes can yield big results.

“Right now I’m focusing on the positive,” she says. “I’m excited about working with this staff, and this community. In 6 months I’ll have a better understanding of the challenges.”

One final question: What’s the new CEO’s own Y workout routine?

“Cardio and weights in the fitness center,” she says. “And I like to work out once a week with a personal trainer.”

Y Announces $5 Million Social Responsibility Fund

Pat Riemersma has been CEO of the Westport Weston Family YMCA for only a week. But her 1st announcement was a big one.

The Y’s 91st annual meeting yesterday was highlighted by the formation of a new Bedford Family Social Responsibility Fund.

With $5 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford — out of $40 million in total she bequeathed to the Y that her grandfather, Edward T. Bedford, founded — as well as from past president and longtime trustee Allen Raymond, the fund will provide grants in areas like child welfare, substance abuse, community service and military outreach. It will also work with faith-based organizations, and serve residents of Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport, in cooperation with neighboring Ys.

The first funds will be distributed in June 2016.

Riemersma’s announcement was made at a fitting site: the Y’s Bedford Family Center is on Allen Raymond Lane.

The Westport Weston Family Y hosted its 1st annual meeting at its new home yesterday.

The Westport Weston Family Y hosted its 1st annual meeting at its new home yesterday.

And The Newest Osprey Nest Is …

… atop the cell tower near Merritt Parkway Exit 41.

Osprey in cell tower at Exit 41 - Jo Ann Davidson

This pair — you can see an adult in the photo above, on top of the middle antenna — has an eye for real estate.

They’re close to the Y and the Red Barn. Not far from downtown.

Plus they’ve found a great way to beat the Merritt and Wilton Road traffic.

(Hat tip and photo: Jo Ann Davidson)

Behind The Bedford Square Construction Fence

Right now, an enormous (though colorful) construction fence defines downtown. It — along with bulldozers and other equipment — will be there for another year and a half, as Church Lane and environs is transformed into Bedford Square.

But the end result should be worth it. Fears that the former Tudor-style YMCA Bedford Building on the Post Road/Main Street corner would go the way of the much-less-loved cement Weeks Pavilion (it’s already been demolished) were allayed yesterday.

Bedford Square Associates unveiled a rendering of the 40,000 square-foot anchor tenant, Anthropologie. The design retains much of the historic aesthetic of the Bedford Building and adjacent firehouse.


Anthropologie’s new Westport location will offer a clothing store, home store, beauty store with salon, bridal store, and a cafe/restaurant in the base of the old firehouse.

Much of the rest of the 110,000 square-foot retail/office/restaurant/residential complex will be in context with the scale and style of the surrounding neighborhood. It includes concealed parking, wider tree-lined sidewalks, public walkways and large courtyards.

The project will be finished in early 2017. At which point we will finally stop calling it “the old Y.”

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.

Nancy Capelle’s Harrowing, Heartfelt Story

Growing up in Greenwich, Nancy Capelle was surrounded by “unspoken expectations about life and careers.” Her father said, “If you can’t put it on your resume, it’s not worth doing.”

After boarding school and Boston University, she climbed the corporate ladder. Nancy rose from paralegal in a Stamford medical malpractice law firm, to compliance roles in larger companies, then associate director at Boehringer Ingelheim.

She’d reached her goal: earn 6 figures before she was 40, and have an expense account. “I thought that meant I was doing something meaningful,” she says.

Nancy Capelle

Nancy Capelle

One Saturday in May 3 years ago, Nancy ran a 5K. It was the first one honoring Sally Kaelin, to benefit Whittingham Cancer Center. Nancy had known Sally, so the event was special.

Back home in Wilton, she felt chest pains. Because she is tall, thin, fit and a non-smoker — and had no family history of heart trouble — Nancy was unconcerned.

But the pain radiated to her sides, back and neck. Then came intense jaw pain.

She googled her symptoms. “I wasted 45 minutes wondering if I had a pulled muscle,” she remembers.

When her husband returned from errands, they called 911.

A paramedic instantly realized she was having a heart attack. Nancy was hustled into an ambulance.

One street from her home, she felt her heart go crazy. “Stay with me!” an EMT shouted.

She couldn’t. She was in cardiac arrest.

The driver pulled over. He and other EMTs sprang into action. They started CPR, and secured defibrillator pads.

Thankfully — because she’s young — Nancy came out of it without being shocked.

heart arrhythmiaBut once again, her heart went into arrhythmia. To correct it, the medics shocked her — while she was conscious. Nancy compares the experience to “being thrown off a 10-story building, and landing on concrete. Or being kicked in front and back simultaneously by a horse.”

It was the right call. Her chest pain subsided. There were no broken ribs.

She’d suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. That tearing of the artery wall is rare — and very dangerous. It disproportionately strikes young women . Most die.

Nancy lived.

After a long leave of absence, she went back to work. She lasted 2 days.

“I couldn’t do it — physically or emotionally,” she says. “I couldn’t sit in meetings, and pretend they matter.” During her months away, only one thing had changed: “Me.”

EMTShe thought about what she really wanted to do. Then it came to her: Become an EMT. “The paramedic was there for me,” she says. “Well, I wanted to be in that seat for someone else.”

Norwalk Community College was a new experience for Nancy. She met a broad range of people she’d never had contact with. “It was fantastic,” she says. “I saw what real life is.”

Nancy passed some very tough tests. In April of 2013 — 11 months after she almost died — she was certified as an EMT. She joined the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps — the same group that saved her life.

In the months since, she has become a CPR instructor for the American Heart Association; created a business — Cardiac Companion — to provide services for cardiac survivors after their rehabilitation ends; earned certification as an EKG technician and will soon be certified as an EMS instructor, and is about to begin work as a Milford Hospital emergency room technician.

So what does all this mean to you?

This Sunday (May 3, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Westport Family YMCA), the Westport Weston Wilton Medical Reserve Corps is sponsoring “Hands For Life.” The goal is to train 2,000 community members in hands-only CPR, and the use of AEDs (automatic external defibrillators).

Training takes just 15 minutes. People of all ages are welcome.

Sponsors and participants prepare for Sunday's "Hands of Life" CPR and AED training at the Westport Family YMCA.

Sponsors and participants prepare for Sunday’s “Hands of Life” CPR and AED training at the Westport Family YMCA.

“We have to be there for each other,” Nancy says. “We all have to know how to react in an emergency.”

She knows better than anyone the importance of CPR and AEDs. She is proud to pass along what she knows. And she is happy that she is still around to put all her cardiac-related activities on her resume.

(For more information, click here; call 203-216-1509, or email