Joe Valiante’s Badge, George Bush’s Library

Joe Valiante spent 35 years with the Westport Fire Department. He fought some of the town’s toughest fires, and rose through the ranks to become assistant chief.

When he was not working, the 1961 Staples High School graduate rode with New York City’s Rescue 1. Based on 43rd Street near the Intrepid, the elite company faces situations seldom seen in Westport.

But nothing could have prepared them for September 11, 2001.

The next day, Valiante rode with them to the still-smoldering World Trade Center. For a week he worked the bucket brigade, hauling material from the site.

Joe Valiante (center, in white) working at Ground Zero.

Valiante was there 4 days later, when President Bush addressed the volunteers through a bullhorn.

Valiante was back a year later too, on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. In fact, he was in the honor guard (with fellow local firefighter Todd Denke). After the ceremony, Bush stopped to chat.

Joe Valiante and George W. Bush, on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. Just before the photographer took this photo, a Secret Service agent diverted the president’s attention.

Valiante then gave the president his Westport assistant fire chief badge.

The next year, Valiante retired. From time to time, he wondered what became of his gift.

Joe Valiante’s Westport Fire Department badge.

Last January, Valiante took his grandson to Trump Tower. They watched a parade of famous people — Ben Carson, Kellyanne Conway, Senator Joe Manchin and others — head through the lobby to meet the president-elect.

Fox News correspondent John Roberts was there as well. Valiante asked if he knew what happens to the gifts people give to presidents. Roberts told him to contact the George W. Bush Presidential Library, at Southern Methodist University.

Valiante emailed the curator. Then he forgot about it.

A month ago, a library official got back to Valiante. She knew exactly where his Westport badge was.

It’s in the permanent collection.

Joe Valiante has not been down to Dallas to see it. But he doesn’t have to.

Just knowing it’s there makes him proud.

The front page of the New York Post on September 12, 2002. Joe Valiante (white hat) is in the lower right corner.

 

Pic Of The Day #186

Downtown at night, from Bedford Square. (Photo/Katherine Bruan)

Friday Flashback #62

The recent kerfuffle over photographs near the Compo Beach showers inspired alert reader Bruce Erickson to send this photo along.

His mother — Florence Brotherton Carlson — is at the far left, with 3 bathing beauty friends. The date was sometime in the 1930s.

Florence has lived here for her entire life. When she was a child, her parents rented a big house off Riverside Avenue. They paid $17 a month.

If  you’ve got memories of 1930s Westport — or you’ve heard stories from your parents (or grandparents) — click “Comments” below. Beach and real estate tales are particularly welcome.

Mat Jacowleff’s Pints: The Sequel

Last month, “06880” shined a spotlight on Mat Jacowleff. The 2015 Staples High School graduate — now a Northeastern University junior — has encouraged dozens of his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers to donate hundreds of pints of blood to Boston Children’s Hospital.

But that’s hardly the end of the story.

Evan Sheiber is a young boy born with only 1 pumping chamber in his heart. Like Mat, he too is a Westporter.

Evan had a blood transfusion during open heart surgery a year ago. He’ll need another in his next operation. When Evan’s mom Britt saw the “06880” story, she posted a thank-you on Mat’s Facebook page. (Like Mat too, Evan was featured on “06880,” last spring.)

Evan is also the star of an inspiring video, produced this past summer by Boston Children’s Hospital.

The video inspired Mat and his fellow blood donors to write cards to Evan.

Last week, Mat delivered them.

There were over 100. All, Britt says, were “incredibly thoughtful and sweet.”

A few of Evan’s many cards.

One young man wrote: “Hey Evan. I’m a student at Northeastern. Just wanted to say I’m rooting for you buddy. Thank you for showing me what courage is. Much love buddy. Chris Li. ”

Another said, “Dear Evan, You are an inspiration to all the brothers at Northeastern in Delta Tau Delta. Keep Fighting. “

A third read, “Surf’s Up. Ride the wave to greatness.”

And this: “ While we’ve never met in person, you’ve left a lasting impact on me. You inspire me to give back and help every day.”

Britt read each one to her son. He’s only 1 1/2 — not yet old enough to fully understand the words — but he loved the colorful drawings.

Evan enjoys his cards.

Britt put them in Evan’s safe-keeping box. She’ll read them to him again, when he is 3 or 4 — before his next open heart surgery.

“I know they will encourage him to be brave, and to fight. Some will make him laugh,” she says.

“I am deeply touched by these college students. This is such a selfless act. These college students took time away from their crazy schedules to write thoughtful notes to my heart warrior, my son Evan.”

Britt and her husband Brett (!) have 3 boys (including Evan’s twin James), and 1 daughter.

She will be “incredibly proud” if her 4 children grow up to be the kind of fine young adults who give back to their communities.

You know — just like those inspired by her and Evan’s fellow Westporter, Mat Jacowleff.

Pic Of The Day #185

Sherwood Mill Pond, as seen from Hummock Island (Photo/Nico Eisenberger)

1 Wilton Road: Demolition Is Halted

For several days, Westporters watched with mounting concern as 1 Wilton Road — the little building at the always-clogged intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue — was slowly reduced to its skeleton.

This morning, “06880” posted reader Wendy Crowther’s concerns.

Earlier this evening, I heard from Wendy again. She writes:

Following a site visit today that included a Westport building official, the Westport Historic District Commission, the owner of 1 Wilton Road, a representative from the Westport Preservation Alliance and other interested parties, it was agreed that the scope of work done represents a demolition.

Consequently, the work will be temporarily halted on the original structure (although construction of an addition will continue) while the owner obtains a retroactive demolition permit.

1 Wilton Road, front view. The Wright Street office building looms behind it. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The demolition permit will be subject to an automatic 180-day delay period because the building is over 50 years old.  A waiver of the balance of the 180-day delay period will be reviewed at the Historic District Commission’s regularly scheduled public hearing on November 14.

At that hearing, the public will have an opportunity to directly comment on the matter. It is hoped that the owner of 1 Wilton Road will now consider reconstructing more of the structure’s original appearance so as to preserve some historic continuity and to permit the building to read as the beloved house that has witnessed so much change itself.

Wendy concludes:

If you love this quaint and undeniably historic house, we encourage you to continue to weigh in, both here on “06880” and at November’s HDC public hearing.

1 Wilton Road, before the demolition.

Candidates’ Voter Guide: 2017

Before every local election for years, Westport’s League of Women Voters distributed a Voters’ Guide. Filled with biographies of candidates for every office — and, more importantly, their responses to very direct questions about key issues — they helped many Westporters decide who to vote for.

Back in the day, nearly every Westporter got those guides through the Westport News. Recently, they’ve been distributed with the Minuteman. Unfortunately, most of us have asked — with varying degrees of success — for that paper to stop littering our driveways.

Fortunately, the LWV Voters’ Guide is now online.

So if you want to know where the candidates for selectmen; the Boards of Education, Finance and Assessment Appeals; Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Zoning Board of Appeals, plus all 9 RTM districts, stand — as well as where to vote, get absentee ballots, even how to register — click here.

And — on November 7 — don’t forget to vote!

 

1 Wilton Road: The Sequel

Earlier this month, “06880” reported on 1 Wilton Road. The quaint little building at the traffic-choked intersection with Post Road West and Riverside Avenue was going to be renovated by — and serve as headquarters for — the Vita Design Group.

1 Wilton Road, circa 1975. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

The renovation now looks like a demolition. “0688o” reader — and amateur historian — Wendy Crowther writes:

Morley Boyd and I have been watching the goings-on at 1 Wilton Road. We are disturbed by what has been happening there. Plenty of others have come to us expressing similar concerns. We’ve been looking into it, and thought readers might be interested in knowing a little more.  

The little house was built in 1830 – 5 years before Westport was founded — and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s been a grocery store, a vulcanizing business, a tire and battery emporium, a spirit shop and a knitting supply source.

But now it’s been shorn of its charming 19th century Italianate-style side addition, and just about everything else too — doors, windows, walls, siding, even the chimney – as part of a redevelopment project.

1 Wilton Road, from the rear. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Though the owner has characterized this as a renovation, many Westporters have asked if this is actually demolition. The Historic District Commission says yes. The Building Department says no.

Either way, one thing is clear: The intersection that Westporters love to hate was, until recently, pretty well preserved in terms of historic streetscape. With the major changes coming to 1 Wilton Road, the loss of this building’s original features and charming qualities will no doubt be missed by many.

1 Wilton Road, front view. The Wright Street office building looms behind it. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Candidates, Voters Meet And Mingle

If — as Tip O’Neill said — all politics is local, then Westport was the center of last night’s political universe.

A “meet and mingle” event — co-sponsored by the Westport Moms and Westport Front Porch social media groups — drew several dozen candidates, and many more interested voters, to the Westport Country Playhouse.

The 4 first selectperson candidates (and 2 running mates) spoke. Board of Finance, Board of Ed, Planning and Zoning and Zoning Board of Appeals hopefuls introduced themselves. RTM candidates were there too.

This is a decidedly local election. Aquarion’s water towers, the Cribari/Bridge Street Bridge, Compo Beach, taxes, historic preservation — those and many other issues are on voters’ minds.

We all had a chance to ask questions, get answers, and assess the men and women seeking our votes.

We looked them in the eye, and they looked in ours.

Locally at least, “politics” is not a dirty word.

Author Jane Green — founder of Westport Front Porch — addresses the large Westport Country Playhouse crowd.

Diana Kuen’s CharityRaggs

Diana Kuen’s blog is called Girl Reinvented.

That’s an apt name. In 2010 she quit her life running a successful publishing business, managing and producing travel sections for the New York Times and Boston Globe — with summers spent in the Hamptons, and winters snowboarding in Vermont — to take a long road trip across America.

She gave up her apartment. For nearly a year, she lived in a camper.

It was the first time she’d ever slowed down, and figured out what really mattered to her.

Diana Kuen, on the road.

The epochal journey helped her rejuvenate the right side of her brain. “It sat pretty dormant for years while I ran in the hamster wheel,” Kuen says.

In the summer of 2016 — still exploring new passions — she learned how to sew. She also took a Brooklyn screen printing workshop (“because, why the hell not?”).

Kuen became so excited, she formed a textile company making whimsical dish towels. Soon her creations were in 120 Camping World stores nationwide.

Faith and risk have carried her far. All the way, in fact, to Westport.

While living with her brother in Fairfield, she found the Saugatuck Rowing Club. She fell in love with the neighborhood and its people.

Now she lives nearby. She rides her bike to the club, where she coaches rowing. She teaches standup paddleboard and runs clambakes for Downunder.

She’s also got her own textile business — 2, actually. There’s DishRaggs, and a charitable brand extension called CharityRaggs. She gives part of her earnings to worthy organizations, including Autism Speaks, animal rights and rescue groups, the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and Sandy Hook Promise.

“Each towel is a labor of love, a work of art, and a little piece of me,” Kuen says. “Think of DishRaggs the same way you might hang a framed picture on your wall.”

They’re fun and whimsical, with sayings, photos and logos.

And — because Kuen has just been here a few months, but loves “06880” (both the town and the blog) — there are a few special “06880” DishRaggs too. (With matching gift bag!) Each sale benefits this blog.

Diane Kuen’s “06880” towel.

From now through November 15, Kuen offers 20% off all full-price DishRaggs (CharityRaggs excluded).

Get your holiday shopping done early! Find the perfect hostess gift! Support “06880”!

Just click here for Kuen’s entire collection; click here for the “06880” items. At checkout, use the promo code “06880” (without the quotation marks).

The next time you see the way cool — and very generous — Diana Kuen, be sure to thank her.

And welcome her to “06880.”

Diane Kuen’s “06880” gift bag.