Kings Highway Kindness

Kids at Kings Highway Elementary School learn lots of things: Reading. Math. Art. Music.

This month, they’re also learning kindness.

A special initiative emphasizes respect. It’s a school-wide project, involving students, teachers, custodians, secretaries — everyone in the KHS community.

A calendar shows different ways of acting kindly: Pick up trash around school. Leave a friendly note in a library book. Let someone go first.

A new mom in town posted the kindness calendar on Instagram. It soon became one of her most-liked posts ever.

Each class makes a paper link chain, writing acts of kindness they’ve seen or received each day. When all the links are attached, they’ll provide a graphic example of how far individual acts of kindness can extend.

Principal Mary Lou DiBella has noticed children reaching out not just to friends, but other students they don’t know well.

Youngsters have written letters to their bus drivers and bus monitors.

Kings Highway calls this Kindness Month. Odds are good it will last long beyond the end of December.

Pic Of The Day #243

Happy Hanukkah! (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Remembering Denny Davidoff

Denny Davidoff — a Westporter and pioneering advertising agency owner whose work with the Unitarian Universalist church helped shape liberal religion in North America, and inter-religious dialogue globally — died on December 7.

She was 85. In July she was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in her brain.

Denny moved to Westport in 1959 with her husband Jerry — a lawyer and civil liberties advocate. They knew the town well: Both their parents had summer homes here.

In 1960 Denny joined Westport’s Unitarian Church. She became a leader locally, then nationally, fighting for gender equity and against racism. In 1973 she was chosen to be president of Unitarian Universalism’s Women’s  Federation. Her work helped lead to pioneering gender-inclusive language.

From 1992 to 2000 — as moderator, the highest lay position in national leadership — Denny wielded the gavel in what the church itself calls “sometimes unruly” debates. She preached in more than 100 congregations, and mentored generations of ministers and lay leaders.

Denise Davidoff speaks at this year’s General Assembly in New Orleans, her 50th consecutive annual meeting. (Photo/copyright Christopher L. Walton)

Denny held many other leadership positions. Until her illness, she worked for Meadville-Lombard Theological School in Chicago, supporting development of new UU ministers.

Denny was a board member and founder of the Interfaith Alliance, and its foundation. As a director of the Alban Institute, she consulted for congregations of many denominations.

Besides her role in religion, Denny was a leader in Connecticut business and politics. She founded her ad agency in Fairfield in the mid-1960s — the “Mad Men” era. She specialized in advertising for financial institutions.

Denny volunteered for non-profits, including the Westport Library and NEON mental health association in Norwalk. Her longest community service — beginning in 1992, and lasting to her death — was as a director and executive community member of The WorkPlace, helping create and manage programs in Connecticut and nationally.

Denny graduated from Vassar College. After running errands during the 1952 Democratic convention, she remained active in politics — and met her future husband on an election campaign.

In 2006 Jerry and Denny Davidoff received the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism. (Photo/copyright Nancy Pierce)

Denny served on the Westport Democratic Town Committee, and ran ad campaigns for candidates throughout Fairfield County. She also provided advertising for Ella Grasso, the first American woman elected governor without being married to a previous governor.

She and Jerry enjoyed cruising the New England coast on their 38-foot sailboat. At home, she played show tunes and classical compositions on the piano. Jerry died in 2009.

Denny is survived by her sons Douglas of Bridgeport and John of Evanston, Illinois, and 4 grandchildren. A memorial service will be held early next year.

Christmakkah Is Cumin

Staples High and Bedford Middle School students know Christie’s is the place to go after school — and before. (Sometimes during, too).

Neighbors know the country store/deli is the place to go when power is out. Somehow, owner John Hooper keeps everyone fed, hydrated, warm (or cool) and happy.

Now Nicole Gerber knows Christie’s is the place to go for cumin.

(Photo/Katherine Hooper)

She lives on Woody Lane. Christie’s is around the corner — and it’s become her second kitchen.

“I’m in there all the time,” she says.

She’s throwing a large “Christmakkah” dinner party for 25 people today. John is catering.

On Tuesday, she was at the store talking with him. He was in the midst of pulling together a very last-minute request for 15 sandwiches to feed the hungry vendors at the Westport Front Porch Holiday Market at around-the-corner Wakeman Town Farm. (“He happily stepped into the kitchen and made those sandwiches himself, because the kitchen staff was busy with the lunch rush,” Nicole reports.) She told him about her brisket recipe, and went home.

Nicole Gerber at work.

Much closer to her party — while measuring the ingredients — she ran out of cumin.

“The thought of schlepping all the way out to Stop & Shop for one item was unappealing,” she says.

Christie’s was a long shot — it’s a country store, not a supermarket — but she called. John said, “Come on over! I have cumin. How much do you need?”

Two minutes later, he handed Nicole 2 containers filled with the spice.

She asked John how much she owed.

John smiled. “Nothing!” he said. “That’s what I’m here for.”

Nicole Gerber’s cumin.

Nicole has long loved everyone at Christie’s. The staff knows her name, and her kids’ names. They know her “usual” lunch order.

But that cumin story really takes the cake.

Sing We Noel…

The 77th annual Candlelight Concert debuted last night in the Staples High School auditorium. It’s the music department’s gift to the town. Performances are also set for this afternoon and evening.

As it has for more than three-quarters of a century, Candlelight was beautiful, magical and meaningful.

And the light snow just added to the wonder.

Photographer Lynn U. Miller was there to capture the scenes.

For 77 years, Candlelight has featured the lovely “Sing We Noel” processional.

The orchestra performed a stunning “Swan Lake” …

… and orchestra director Adele Valovich took a well-deserved bow.

Candlelight included the symphonic and sophomore bands, led by Nick Mariconda, as well as a variety of choral groups.

Luke Rosenberg directs the Choralaires (formerly the a cappella choir).

Don Rickenback wrote a jolly, North Pole-themed production number.

It wouldn’t be Candlelight without Alice Addicks.

In addition to the traditional “Cans for Candlelight” food drive, members of the Tri-M music honor society collected donations to rebuild music libraries in Texas schools, lost this fall to Hurricane Harvey.

Click below to hear the rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” finale:

(All photos and video/Lynn U. Miller)

First Night: Fun Family Tradition Endures

For the past 4 years, Jim Marpe has been a familiar presence at First Night. Westport’s 1st selectman sits happily at Saugatuck Elementary School, welcoming families to the fun, festive New Year’s Eve event.

As he begins his 2nd term, Marpe is not the only selectman volunteering at the turn-the-calendar celebration. Running mate Jen Tooker will belt out karaoke at Seabury Center on Church Lane.

Jim Marpe takes service to a new level. Every December 31, he volunteers at First Night.

Those are just 2 highlights of our 24th annual First Night. The family-friendly, alcohol-free festival has become an integral part of local life. This year it’s stronger than ever — even as other First Nights around the country have faded away.

Westport’s First Night survives because leaders like Marpe and Tooker — and plenty of area residents — value its small-town ambience, relaxed fun and wide range of activities.

Everyone loves the train guy.

No one knows what 2018 holds. But everyone can count on these December 31 activities:

  • Musical performances from Broadway, movies, jazz and the blues — including Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mark Naftalin, award-winning pianist Chris Coogan, musical theater great Michele Grace and the School of Rock
  • A hypnotist
  • Train displays
  • Saugatuck School’s Kids Park, with indoor bounce houses, dancing, sing-alongs, balloon twisters, caricatures, a Magic Genie and ventriloquist
  • Horse-drawn carriage rides
  • Theater acts
  • Puppet shows
  • Vaudeville
  • A warming fire
  • Stargazing with the Westport Astronomical Society
  • Family Zumba classes
  • Psychic readings
  • Comedy
  • Magic
  • Fireworks by the river

John Videler’s drone captured 2016’s First Night fireworks over Westport.

Sites include Saugatuck Elementary School, Toquet Hall, the Westport Historical Society, Christ & Holy Trinity Church, Seabury Center, Jesup Green and more.

All performances are within walking distance. Free shuttles run from Jesup Green to Saugatuck Elementary.

First Night kicks off at 3:30 p.m., and runs through 10. Fireworks shoot off at 8 p.m.

All you need is a button. They’re $15 each (kids under 2 are free), available online or at Trader Joe’s, Westport Library, Westport Historical Society, and Westport and Weston Town Halls. They’re also for sale on First Night itself at Town Hall and all venues.

Get yours now. They’re going fast.

Just say Jim Marpe and Jen Tooker sent you.

(For more information, click here.)

Pic Of The Day #242

Compo Beach, in yesterday’s snow (Photo/Dave Dellinger)

Closing The Barn Door On Aquarion’s Water Tanks

Back in the day — before Bridgeport Hydraulic built a water storage facility, and Staples High School moved in across the street — North Avenue was farmland.

A couple of decades ago, the Rippe farm and orchard was replaced by Greystone Farm Lane. Developers tossed a bone to the past, designing parts of some of the houses to look like silos.

Which may provide one solution to a controversy now roiling the road.

Aquarion — Bridgeport Hydraulic’s successor — wants to build 2 water tanks at the site it owns. Their 39-foot height concerns neighbors.

Pete Romano has an idea.

The LandTech principal knew that on Wilton Road at Newtown Turnpike, Aquarion used a facade to “hide” some of its equipment.

The Aquarion facility on Wilton Road.

He asked Peter Wormser — an architect at his engineering firm — to design something similar for North Avenue.

The result: 2 “barns.”

LandTech’s rendering of the barn structures for North Avenue. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

“I know Wilton Road is not as big,” Romano says. “And maybe Aquarion needs access on all 4 sides. But it’s an idea. It might get people talking.”

North Avenue will not go back to apple orchards and onion farms.

But perhaps — even with 2 big pumping stations — it can look that way.

 

Friday Flashback #70

Last week’s “06880” story about downtown holiday decorations drew plenty of comments. Many readers recalled with fondness the ghosts of Christmases past. Main Street, they remembered, was alive with lights and garlands. It was a bright, magical winter wonderland.

That may have been true. But not in 1975.

On Christmas Day that year, Fred Cantor drove through town. He captured several scenes. The other day — sparked by the nostalgic debate — he unearthed those photos.

Snow had fallen earlier. The plowed, shoveled and congealed streets and sidewalks have that bleak midwinter look.

There’s nary a star, ornament or whimsical Santa on any pole. You don’t see any twinkling lights either.

The only wreaths are on Sport Mart (far left).

But the view of the Mobil station (now Vineyard Vines) brings back fond memories. Every year — a few days before Christmas — owners Gene and Mary Hallowell lowered the hydraulic lifts. They covered them with table cloths. Then they laid out a feast.

The party was supposed to be for loyal customers. But anyone could wander by for food and (of course) drink.

And everyone did.

Further down Main Street, Fred found this:

The Remarkable Book Shop hummed with activity at holiday time. It was the perfect place for gifts — there were toys, puzzles and trinkets, plus a joyfully eclectic collection of books, maps and whatnot — as well as a great spot for curling up in an easy chair to read, relax or just people-watch.

But the Remarkable Book Shop did not go all out with holiday decorations either. In fact, as Fred’s photo shows, in 1975 there were none.

One place did get into the holiday spirit.

And with good reason: The Corner Spirit Shop — on Wilton Road, at the Post Road West intersection — was one of the most visible spots in town.

Plus — then, as now — a liquor store hops at holiday time.

So of course they threw a couple of wreaths on their windows.

That’s what Westport looked like, 42 years ago this holiday season.

The Sport Mart is gone. Remarkable, too. And — as of a few weeks ago — the building that housed the Corner Spirit Shop is only a fond memory.

Just like some of those Christmas decorations of yore.

Gauging The River Soon Gets Harder

In 2014, an odd contraption appeared on the side of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

It was a tidal gauge and and storm surge monitor. The US Geological Survey installed it, to help improve the town’s warning, mitigation and prevention capabilities. It was funded entirely by the federal government.

Ruth Steinkraus Cohen river gauge.

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Extremely alert “06880” reader Thomas Quealy spotted this on USGS website:

Data collection at the following gage [sic] will be discontinued on December 31, 2017 due to funding reductions from partner agencies. Although historic data will remain accessible, no new data will be collected unless one or more new funding partners are found. Users who can contribute funding for the non-Federal share of costs to continue operation of this streamgage [sic] should contact Timothy Sargent at the USGS New England Water Science Center – Connecticut Office (860-291-6754) or email at tcsargen@usgs.gov.

Which “gage” was listed?

You guessed it: “01209510 Saugatuck River at Route 1 at Westport.”