Newcomers: We Need You!

I’ve been writing a lot of “Remembering…” posts lately.

In just 3 months, Westport has lost many memorable residents. Doris Jacoby, Lee Greenberg, Shirley Mellor, Jack Shiller, Joan McCarthy, Gloria Cole Sugarman, Matt Johnson … they and several other notable men and women died.

Lee Greenberg was an important part of Westport from the 1940s through her death last month at 103.

They left lasting imprints on our town. The arts, recreation, religion, medicine, human rights, youth activities — no part of Westport life was untouched by their efforts and energy.

Some of their contributions were professional. Much of it was volunteer work. All of it made our town a better place.

Many of those men and women were longtime Westporters. They were active into their 80s, 90s, even (Lee Greenberg) their 100s.

But they began when they were in their 30s and 40s,

Now it’s time for a new generation to take their place.

Specifically, all you newcomers.

The past year has seen an influx of arrivals unrivaled since the 1950s. The impetus then was the post-war baby boom. Today, it’s a global pandemic.

But the opportunity is the same: a chance to make a mark on your community.

You chose this place over others for reasons — the schools perhaps, or the beaches, Longshore, the Library, the arts, the restaurants, the sense you got that people here really care about the environment, social justice and neighbors in need.

An iconic Longshore scene. (Photo/Robert Augustyn)

Whatever those reasons, they are part of something bigger: community. You got the sense that Westport is more than just a collection of nice homes in a beautiful setting.

You understood, perhaps without realizing it, that Westport is a place where people get involved.

None of the many parts that make up Westport happened because they were destined to. They exist because people made them happen.

And they will continue to exist because — and only if — other people take up the cause.

We have Longshore because a group of officials — elected and volunteer — had the foresight to buy a failing country club moments before a developer snatched the land to build 180 homes.

We have an outstanding school system because we support it. With our tax dollars, sure — but also with countless volunteers, who give untold hours to every aspect of it.

We have music and arts and civic organizations and sustainable agriculture and sports teams and a remarkable Remarkable Theater and a ride-on-demand program for the same reason.

People had a vision. People cared. People acted.

The Remarkable Theater was a pop-up hit last summer.

Now it’s the newcomers’ turn. Every group in town needs help.

We need you because you are smart. You are energetic. You are motivated. You are young.

First, we need you to step up. Then we need you to take over.

Whatever your interest, there is a spot for you.

The Westport Young Woman’s League. The Westport Woman’s Club. AWARE.

Earthplace. Wakeman Town Farm. Friends of Sherwood Island. Aspetuck Land Trust.

Boy Scouts. Girl Scouts.

The Westport Arts Advisory Committee. Westport Permanent Art Collections. MoCA Westport. The Westport Country Playhouse.

The Westport Country Playhouse is 90 years old. New blood will keep it going for another 90.

Westport PAL. Westport Soccer Association. Westport Baseball and Softball. Any other sport you can think of.

The Westport Weston Family YMCA. The Senior Center.

PTAs. The Westport Library. The Maker Faire.

Al’s Angels.

TEAM Westport.

The Democratic Party. The Republican Party. The League of Women Voters. The Representative Town Meeting. Every board and commission in town.

You can’t do it all. You can’t do it alone.

But if you pick one or two areas of interest — and every other newcomer does the same — then we’ll have enough volunteer man and womanpower to propel this place to unfathomable heights.

And 40 years from now, whoever is writing the 2061 version of “06880” will remember your legacy too.

Pic Of The Day #1414

Compo Beach pavilion (Photo/Judith Katz)

Roundup: Scam Alert, Girls Basketball, Be Prepared …

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I get over 250 emails a day. I’m pretty good at separating the real “06880” readers from the fakes, frauds and grifters.

But the “free piano” story I posted yesterday is — despite its perfect grammar and syntax — probably a scam. A reader warned me that he’d heard the same story.

I Googled “piano sale fraud,” and found this, from a music educators’ website:

I wanted CEOMTA to be aware of a recent iteration of the “free” piano scam. One of our members received an unsolicited email from someone claiming to be an elderly woman who was downsizing and looking to give away her late husband’s piano to a loving home.

The piano was a Yamaha baby grand. The email came from a legitimate sounding Gmail account and included several pictures. The teacher did have an interested student, so the student made contact and arranged the delivery with a moving company they were referred to.

However, the moving company was a fake. Although they sent a convincing invoice that included details like the size and weight of the piano, the parents realized after payment that the invoice had a different name than the company they were originally referred to.

After being contacted again regarding the discrepancy, the moving company immediately took down their website and the family were unable to get back the money they had already sent. The original email said that she got the teacher’s name from a friend in her piano teacher’s association, so please be careful if you are contacted with a similar sounding situation.

So, if you contacted “Charles Webb”: I hope you did not get into any financial transaction with “him.” If you did: cancel immediately. My profuse apologies!

The piano offer is a scam.

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The Staples High School girls basketball team is on a hot streak. The Wreckers are undefeated — 6-0 — in FCIAC play.

Last Friday they went to Cold Fusion. When it opens this spring, the gelato shop will be one of the hottest spots in town.

On a cool afternoon, 22 varsity and junior varsity girls spent some bonding team decorating the storefront, during construction.

It was their way of making Main Street look a little brighter — and of bringing a bit of attention to a truly great team.

Go get ’em, girls. You give new meaning to the hoops term “in the paint.”

Staples girls basketball scores at Cold Fusion (Photo/Justin DeVellis)

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Jesse Levin believes in being prepared.

The 2003 Staples High School graduate owns the Readiness Collective — an emergency training club and outfitter. He’s had a pop-up shop in Bedford Square.

Now he’s offering a special Civilian Medical Course. The material — which includes Basic Life Support and Tactical Combat Casualty Care national certifications — adapts combat life-saving techniques to everyday emergencies.

Two US Army Special Forces medics, a Special Ops surgical team leader and a flight nurse will prepare people with the skills and confidence to provide medical care to themselves and their families, in the critical time before first responders arrive.

Hiking accident? Car crash? Active shooter scenario? Whatever you worry about: Be prepared.

The course runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 5, 6 and 7 at the Readiness Collective in Norwalk’s SoNo Collection. Click here to register.

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And finally … today in 1998, “Titanic” became the first film to gross over $1 billion worldwide. “You jump, I jump!”

Happy Birthday! “06880” Turns 12!

364 days a year, “06880” chugs along quietly.

A few times each day, I post something: a 5 a.m. feature story. Breaking news. A roundup of upcoming events, new business openings, whatever. An Unsung Hero, Friday Flashback or Photo Challenge. Every night at 9, a Pic of the Day.

I do it all as my contribution to Westport. One day a year, I ask you for a contribution to “06880.”

I do it on the anniversary of my blog’s birth. It began in early March, 2009. In 12 years I have not missed a day of posting — ever.

This man is smiling because he loves writing “06880.” (Photo/Pam Einarsen)

Last year’s “please contribute” story came 10 days before Westport changed forever.

When our schools, stores, restaurants, library, Y — and everything else — shut down, I worried I would have nothing to write about.

Hah!

For the past year, I’ve worked harder and longer at “06880” than ever. I’ve written about how to get COVID help, and how to help others. The pandemic’s effect on people, businesses, the town and the world. I began the daily Roundup and Saturday art gallery.

When WestportNow folded, I added obituaries and a bit of meeting coverage. I hope to do more.

“06880” is now, pretty much, my full-time gig. I spend nearly every waking hour working for you.

You see the stories I write. But there’s so much more.

I conduct interviews and research. I take, find and edit photos. I moderate the comments section. I answer every single email.

When a natural disaster like Tropical Storm Isaias hits, I find a place with power to work. And I keep working.

When Isaias hit, “06880” provided information on road closures, where to get help, and how to help others. (Photo/John Kantor)

I even spend my own money on “06880,” on software upgrades, hosting — and keeping this space ad-free.

Which is why this year, more than ever, I hope you will respond to my once-a-year appeal for donations.

I’m honored that more than 11,000 of you are daily (free!) subscribers. Another 5,000 to 80,000 check in each day, without subscribing.

I love you all. But only a small percentage of you contribute each year.

That means the vast majority of you enjoy my 1,200+ stories a year, and our wonderful online community, for free. You are, to use the technical term, moochers.

So: If you like what you read, please consider supporting “06880.” Click here for details (via credit card, check, Venmo or PayPal) — or scroll to the bottom.

Am I worth $1 a month? $1 a week? Perhaps (my choice!) $1 a day. Choose whatever amount you’re comfortable with. It’s greatly appreciated!

I hope that if “06880” has ever:

  • made you laugh, cry, think or wonder
  • spurred you to go to an event, read a book, try a restaurant or patronize a store
  • helped you meet a neighbor, or connect with an old friend
  • kept you up to date in a blizzard, hurricane, windstorm or power outage
  • made you feel connected to your new town (or the place you grew up)
  • alerted you to a new housing or zoning development
  • provided a forum for you to rant about an issue, rave about a place, or complain about my own personal politics
  • delivered news about a favorite person, place or thing
  • galvanized you to support a cause
  • publicized your event, book, appearance or concert
  • published your photo
  • honored someone you loved or admired, or gave them a kind “Remembering …” sendoff
  • connected you to your hometown from many miles away
  • saved you time or money
  • opened a window on Westport’s history, helped you think about its future, introduced you to someone in town you never knew, or helped you look at someone or someplace in a new way
  • inspired you
  • made you sit up and say “Wow!” (or “Holy f—!”)

you will consider tossing something my way. First-time supporters are joyfully welcomed!

Just a suggestion.

Thanks for 12 great years. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, whether anyone sends an anniversary gift or not. I’ll still answer every email.

It’s all part of “06880.” It’s my honor and privilege to help share it with you.

You can donate by PayPal or credit card: click here. It’s easy, safe — and you don’t even need a PayPal account. 

Checks can be mailed to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Put “06880” on the memo line. It won’t do anything for the IRS, but it may help you remember at tax time why you sent me something.

I’m also on Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Thank you!

Pics Of The Day #1413

Compo Beach, late winter

(Photos/Lauri Weiser)

Remembering Bob Comstock

Robert “Bob” Comstock — a legendary New Jersey reporter and journalist, who moved to Westport nearly 20 years ago to be near his daughter and grandsons — died earlier this month, from complications of COVID-19. He was 93.

He was active here in the Unitarian Church and Y’s Men. But many Westport friends may not have known of his background.

Robert Comstock (Photo/Bob Brush for NorthJersey.com)

He was editor of The Record for more than a decade; press director for Governor Brendan Byrne; associate professor at Rutgers University, and a public relations executive.

According to The Record: 

Described by one former reporter as running The Record’s newsroom with “an iron fist and a velvet glove,” Comstock oversaw the newspaper in the pre-internet age when print was still king. His tenure at the helm of the paper covered everything from the Iran hostage crisis to President Ronald Reagan being shot to the Challenger space shuttle explosion and the Iran-Contra scandal of the late 1980s.

Former governor Tom Kean called Comstock “a first class guy. He did a tremendous job for the paper and the state. He was not a Republican, so we had some disagreements along the way. But always in friendship. You could disagree with him/ But you never lost respect for him.”

A New York City native, his mother had come to the US from Australia to tour on the the vaudeville circuit with her sister and parents. His father was an insurance salesman during the depression.

After graduating from Ridgewood High School he joined the Navy, shortly before World War II ended. He then attended Rutgers as a journalism major. Doing presswork for summer stock theater in Corning, New York he worked withBurt Lahr, Kim Hunter, June Havoc, Zasu Pitts and Jerry Orbach.

At The Record, former columnist John Cichowski said, “He was the political editor and a damn good one. He had such insights into how politics worked. Who all the movers and shakers were. He was able to straddle those boundaries between how to present the news objectively, yet still use the solid contacts with these people.”

Robert Comstock with President Carter.

Stints with Byrne, Rutgers and in public relations followed. Comstock was a member of the NJ Public Broadcasting Authority, the NJ Committee for Humanities, the advisory committee on Judicial Conduct of the NJ Supreme Court, and a trustee of the Bergen Museum of Art and Science.

Comstock was predeceased by his wife Barbara Corner Comstock, to whom he was married for 59 years, and sister Doris Auger. He is survived by daughter Kate Comstock Davis; son Eric Taylor Comstock; grandsons Alexander, Benjamin and Theodore Davis; his son, Eric Taylor Comstock, and his sister, Margot Comstock Tommervik.

A memorial celebration will be held in the fall. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the ACLU or Rutgers University Scholarship Fund.

(Click here for Bob Comstock’s full obituary.)

Barbara and Bob Comstock.

Classic Westport Art For Sale

Longtime Westporter Martha Nachman is downsizing. She has a few items that might interest “06880” readers.

One is a nice Naiad Einsel framed poster of the Westport Schools Spring Art Show at Jesup Green.

She also has a number of Al Willmott’s small prints of Westport scenes.

Ned Dimes Marina (Don Willmott)

Church Lane (Don Willmott)

Many are in great shape. Some have stains.

]UPDATE: ALL THE PIECES HAVE BEEN SOLD!]

Saugatuck: Old Riverside Avenue (Don Willmott)

Greens Farms train station (Don Willmott)

 

Photo Challenge #322

Last week’s questions should not have been: “Where in Westport would you see this?”

It should be: “When did you first see it?”

Tons of readers quickly identified Molly Alger’s image as the bathrooms (aka “bathhouses”) at Sherwood Island State Park. It’s at the western end, past the concession stand and near the Nature Center. (Click here to see.)

For years, Connecticut’s first state park — 232 acres of prime beach, woods and walking trails, smack in the middle of Westport’s shoreline — was our town’s best-kept secret.

Then COVID struck. Compo was closed. It opened soon, though to limited capacity.

Seeking wide-open spaces, room to exercise and much-needed beauty, Westporters “discovered” Sherwood Island.

It’s a wonderful place. It’s particularly beautiful now, in the starkness and solitude of winter.

Plus, it’s free.

Congratulations to Pat Saviano, Fred Cantor, Nicholas Eisenberger, Diane Bosch, Ralph Balducci, Bruce Salvo, Jalna Jaeger, Lou Weinsberg, Stephen Axthelm, Judy Reid, Wendy Schaefer, Phil Kann, Hehenberger, Barbara Jay, Lawrence Zlatkin, Robert Grodman and Mary Ann Batsell.

You know your town. Let’s hope more Westporters enjoy this state park in our own back yard too.

Now: Can you identify this scene? One hint: It is not at Sherwood Island.

If you know where in Westport’s you would see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Mark Jacobs)

Roundup: Baby Grand, Deer, More

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Who wants a Yamaha Baby Grand Piano — for free?

Very generous “06880” reader Charles Webb is offering the model DGB1CD to anyone who wants it. (The recipient of the gift pay moving costs from Tennessee, where it’s in storage).

The piano was played by his wife, who died last year. The beautiful instrument is in impeccable condition.

Charles is downsizing, so he must part with it. He wants the piano to go a good, passionate, music-loving home.

Interested? Email webbc631@gmail.com.

Charles Webb’s baby grand piano.

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It’s getting warmer every day.

But the ice on Nash’s Pond was still thick enough on Friday to support these deer.

They — and all the rest of us humans — must tread carefully in the days ahead.

(Photo/Donald Ercole)

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And finally … on this day in 1983, the final episode of “M*A*S*H” aired. It drew nearly 106 million viewers — still the record for the largest audience of a US season finale.

Remote Learning: The View From A Staples Student’s Screen

Whatever it’s called — distance learning, remote education, Zoom school — the experience of students today is unlike anything, anywhere, in history.

What’s it like to study — and live — in the Age of COVID? Staples High School junior Jason Stein reports: 

For nearly a year, high school students have lived in an apocalyptic world. Since September Staples has been split into 2 cohorts. We were in school only 2 days a week. That meant being on our computers for over 18 hours a week, with little interaction with our peers.

Starting tomorrow there are 4 cohorts, meaning 3 in-school days a week. The other 2 will be remote.

Among many challenges in high school, both social and academic, the computer screen continues to be my biggest.

Jason Stein

School, homework, even extracurricular activities require the use of computers. Avoiding screens seems fantastical. Every day I spend at least 8 hours on my computer: 6 for school, at least 2 hours for homework and other responsibilities.

This has taken a toll on me both physically and mentally. Ironically, teachers have no choice but to assign us hours of homework while still saying “make sure you get outside” before class ends.

However, with the large chunk of free time remote learning has given me, I have successfully reduced my screen time by exploring new hobbies I would otherwise not have time to do. Since the pandemic began I learned to cook pastries, meals and snacks. From fried rice to cinnamon buns, expanding my cooking portfolio helped me learn new skills away from the digital world.

Our screens have not only absorbed our day-to-day lives; they have acted as barriers between us and our social lives. Although the hybrid model allows students to be in school part of the week, the social experience is dismal. With everyone spread apart in the classroom and at the lunch table, making friends is difficult. Additionally, due to the hybrid schedule, students are limited in our already impaired social lives to only 50% of students.

With mixed feelings about social distancing and masks, meeting friends outside of school can also be tricky. Nevertheless, technology can be a bridge in socialization when interaction with peers seems non-existent. Apps such as Discord have helped my friends and me cope through the pandemic by providing a place to casually chat and catch up. Even fun party games, like online Pictionary and trivia, have helped me maintain my social life by creating a friendly way to meet new people online.

The same tools that Staples students use for school and extracurriculars (like this “We the People” prep session can also help maintain social lives.

Contrarily, online tools can be limiting, especially in keeping students’ engagement during class.

On Zoom teachers use a variety of methods to try to engage their students. The most popular are breakout rooms. In smaller groups, teachers hope students can experience the same one-to-one discussions that occur in a normal classroom setting.

Although this method can be somewhat successful, it falls short on multiple aspects. In the absence of constant teacher supervision, breakout rooms can counterintuitively create quiet and sometimes awkward spaces where students are unproductive.

A typical school day for Jason Stein.

Another Zoom tool teachers use is the chat box, a way they can ask material-based questions that don’t require students to speak out loud to the class. This can be beneficial by allowing students to talk to the teacher more privately. The other side of this, however, is that class conversations are less open and engaging.

These problems not only exist within the classroom, but also in clubs and extracurriculars.

As a founder of the Staples chess team, I struggled with how to keep club members engaged. With participation dwindling and the annual club fair cancelled, my co-founder and I were anxious to find a way to retain normalcy within our club.

A pre-COVID meeting of the Staples Chess Club.

Through online resources, we figured out how to host online chess tournaments. We now have friendly competitions within our club, and even plan online tournaments with nearby high school chess teams.

Disregarding the many negative effects remote learning has had on Staples students, many benefits make the high school experience less stressful. The absence of commuting allows students to sleep in late. Private Zoom calls make after-school help more accessible.

Even with these benefits, the Staples High School experience has been lacking in many ways. After all, technology is just a tool. Without the conventional teacher-to-student classroom setting, Zoom cannot reproduce the same motivation to students within their homes.

As we strive for pre-Covid conditions, all I can do is hope that with time, I will be able to have a normal high school experience again.