On Monday, Westport celebrates Memorial Day with a parade.
It’s a decades-long town tradition — one of those events that makes this a true community. Veterans, first responders, school bands, civic organizations — they’re all there, marching proudly in honor of the men and women who gave their lives so that we could, well, have a parade.
I don’t know who Robert Mull is. But a couple of years ago, he uploaded a video of Westport’s 1961 Memorial Day parade to YouTube.
I also don’t know how Fred Cantor found it. But the loyal “06880” reader did, and forwarded it along.
It’s a great way to kick off this holiday weekend. The video reminds us of the importance of this timeless tradition. Much remains as it is today — though there is also a float commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. A similar float today would remember the recent end of World War I.
One thing has definitely changed. Westport is bigger than it was 61 years ago — but crowds at our parade are smaller.
So: If you’re not marching on Monday, head to Riverside Avenue, the Post Road or Myrtle Avenue. Then stay for the short but moving ceremony on Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.
Let’s show those 1961 folks what we’ve got!
Meanwhile, Susan Eastman — widow of 1960 Staples High School graduate, and daughter-in-law of noted children’s book author/illustrator P D Eastman — sent these photos from the 1958 Memorial Day parade.
The 2 shots below show the Bedford Junior High School marching band and a group of Brownies, rounding the still-familiar Post Road corner from Riverside Avenue:
And here is the famed E.O. Nigel Cholmeley-Jones. For years, he was a fixture in our Memorial Day parade. A lieutenant in World War I, as a child he had been photographed with Walt Whitman.
Save the Sound has just released grades for more than 200 Connecticut, Long Island and New York state beaches.
Local and regional health departments collect fecal indicator bacteria samples during the swimming months. High counts of fecal indicator bacteria and related pathogens can make people sick, and can be associated with untreated sewage or polluted storm water entering the waters at or near a beach.
Rain often brings polluted storm water to Long Island Sound beaches. Precipitation in the area from May to August 2021 — the period covered by the ratings — were the highest recorded since 2003, when the project began.
Next week, Staples Tuition Grants will hand out $400,000 in scholarships to graduating seniors and current college students.
That’s a lot of money. It’s the result of a lot of donations and fundraising.
One of those efforts is this weekend, during the Westport Fine Arts Festival. STG has a booth on Main Street, by J. Crew. For $10, you can guess the number of blue and white (naturally) jellybeans in the jar.
The jar will then appear at the Memorial Day parade, and will be at Summer Shopping Day in front of Manna Toast on June 18.
Winners get part of the prize, and gift certificates to local restaurants. The bulk of the money helps fund STG grants. The contest ends June 22.
The weekend after that (Saturday, June 4, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.), the Sorelle Gallery on Church Lane hosts artists Julia Contacessi and Michele Poirier-Mozzone for their new “Light Affects” show, with an opening reception.
“There is a new Optimum store in the Fresh Market plaza. We noticed the sign this week. We have questions about billing, so we decided to pay a visit.
“An incredible, bright and knowledgeable young man named Alex answered all our questions quickly and completely. it was a very different experience from our visit to the Norwalk office.
“Alex said they’ve been in town since December, but the sign just recently went up and nobody knows they are here. I want to let Westport know that Optimum is here, and has a really great guy on board.”
Speaking of (relatively) new businesses: More than a year after opening — in the middle of COVID — The Porch @ Christie’s held its official ribbon-cutting yesterday.
It was a quick, informal and friendly ceremony — just like the Cross Highway deli itself. The icing on the cake: free cookies, from the Porch’s partner Sweet P Bakery.
Cutting the Porch ribbon (from left): consultant Mark Moeller..2nd Selectwoman Andrea Moore, owners Bill and Andrea Pecoriello, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, marketing director Betsy Weissman, Sweet P Bakery head pastry chef Terri Cahn, manager Iby Rivera.
“The Great American Tag Sale with Martha Stewart” aired last night.
ABC previewed it: “Martha Stewart, known for turning everyday living into an art form, is ready to part ways with pieces from her vast collection of furniture, art and housewares in this new 1-hour special. Over the years, Martha has amassed an assortment of items that ranges from fine art to knickknacks.
“During the special, she will regale viewers with fond memories of how these beloved items were acquired and offer expert advice on how to execute a successful tag sale. Alongside her team of event planners, Martha will host a series of tag sale events including an exclusive cocktail party for celebrities and neighbors to preview the sale.”
I did not watch the show. In fact, there are 27,298.331 things I would have done before I’d even think of watching it.
But — as someone who remembers when the lifestyle guru/ businesswoman/wrtier/television personality/chef/inmate lived in Westport (and the stories that circulated here) — I wonder how many of of items (both fine art and knicknacks) have a Westport back story. (Hat tip: Betsy Pollak)
How much of Martha Stewart’s tag sale started on Turkey Hill?
Last month, “06880” reported that Great Island — the 60-acre property off the Darien coast with a stable, riding rings, “grand house,” and whiskey and wine cellar with contents dating back to Prohibition, all once owned by the Steinkraus family of Westport — was for sale.
It was called “the largest private island ever to be offered for sale on the East Coast.”
Congratulations to May’s Staples High School Students of the Month: jnior Jordyn Goldshore, sophomores Michael Blishteyn and Kervin Joseph, and freshmen Jonah Bernstein and Davi Da Silva.
Principal Stafford Thomas said they were chosen for helping make their school “a welcoming place for peers and teachers. They are the ‘glue’ of the Staples community: the type of kind, cheerful, hard-working, trustworthy students who keep the high school together, making it the special place it is.”
Staples High School Students of the Month (from left): Michael Blishteyn, Jonah Bernstein, Davi Da Silva, Kervin Joseph. Missing: Jordyn Goldshore.
Nate Gibbons may be the only fire marshal in America who graduated from Choate and Yale, and whose resume includes radio DJ, cable TV director and video producer.
Soon, Gibbons could be the only ex-fire marshal with that resume.
The Westport Fire Department icon retires May 31. He’s spent 27 years here, in roles that also include public information officer. Before that, he was a volunteer firefighter.
Long before that — as a kid growing up not far from the Greens Farms fire station — he rode along as trucks responded to brush fires. (“You can’t do that today,” he notes.)
Gibbons has had long, fulfilling careers, both before and with the WFD. The other day he sat in the central firehouse. As firefighters trained outside using a wrecked vehicle, and a call sent them scrambling into action, he reflected on all those years.
Westport fire marshal Nate Gibbons.
After creating a production studio on Post Road West, and his own company in Norwalk, Gibbons traveled the world making corporate training films.
The Fire Department of New York and a fire magazine were early clients. Working closely on scripts and shoots, he bonded with fire officials. But the constant travel burned him out.
“You should be a firefighter!” they told him. He took tests, was #1 on the Westport list, sold his company and — despite taking a pay cut from 6 figures to $26,000 his first year — never looked back.
“I was outside. I developed great relationships. Every day was exciting, and a challenge,” Gibbons says. “I thrived.”
Firefighter Nate Gibbons, in action.
with his experience as a DJ — he was a calm, clear, compassionate, just-humorous-enough and very educational voice on WWPT-FM in the days after storms like Sandy, Henri and Isaias.
From how to take care of your generator and how to conserve ice, to trivia like the difference between flotsam and jetsam, Gibbons kept residents safe and sane in tough, unelectrified times.
As a fire inspector and marshal, he spent countless hours reviewing site plans. He talked with stakeholders, walked construction sites and mediated conflicting demands, all so that his colleagues would have fewer calls to answer — and we’d all be safer.
Nate Gibbons, through the years.
It’s impossible to know exactly how many disasters his work prevented. But the fact that Westport has not had an issue in years — no major fires, no problems with emergency vehicle access, none of those things we never think about until they happen — did not happen by, um, accident.
Not all of that is due to Gibbons’ vigilance, of course. He notes that a sharp decrease in smoking has led to a similar drop in fires caused by cigarettes. And public education about drinking and driving has lessened dramatically the number of extrications the WFD performs. (Another reason: improved automotive design and technology.)
Other changes are less positive. When Gibbons first started, many co-workers lived in Westport, or nearby. Changing housing patterns — and salaries that lag behind — mean that some firefighters live as far away as Brookfield, Killingworth and Mystic.
Gone are the days when, even off duty, they could respond within minutes to a call.
Nate Gibbons was called one day for a possible hazardous material. No one knew what was inside a large container. It turned out to be a few pounds of marijuana.
Looking ahead 5 years, Gibbons says that the WFD’s biggest challenge will be related to those same changing housing patterns, including many new apartments. Fighting fires in “podium-style” buildings (those built over parking garages) is hard. Renters are not always as safety-conscious as homeowners.
Fortunately, he says, many of Westport’s biggest new residences have fire alarms, and are built with safety in mind.
He’s also proud that Westport has invested in thing like hazmat protection and marine firefighting, and training. “These guys drill all the time,” Gibbons notes.
Gibbons’ service to Westport includes years as a union official. He fought for many things, including additional firefighters on trucks.
He’s seen “terrible things” in his time here, he says: two young children who drowned in a swimming pool, and horrific accidents on I-95.
But, he notes, “in what other job could I deliver a baby without being a doctor?” It happened at Sherwood Island one hot summer day.
“I was more scared than at any fire,” he recalls. But his training kicked in. He got the baby out, cut the umbilical cord, put it on its mother’s chest — and heard it cry.
Quick decisions are part of that training. And, Gibbons notes, making a wrong decision is better than making none at all. At least you can change a wrong decision.
His best decision ever was “taking this job.” His mother was opposed. His father loved it. His wife Elizabeth has always been behind him.
Nate Gibbons’ wife has always supported him — even when his public information duties meant he’d be away from home, right after storms or other disasters, for days at a time. Here he records a daily briefing for WWPT-FM.
Another good decision was to retire. Gibbons is just 65. But, he says, “It’s time. I’ve got a great guy backing me up. It’s his time now. I’ve got an obligation to let other people move up.”
After retirement, Gibbons will spend time fixing up the Spicer Road farmhouse he recently bought.
He’ll also have more to spend with his wife. He worked 13 straight days after Superstorm Sandy. Westporters hung on to his every word, with his frequent updates on WWPT.
We will miss his soothing voice, and wise words. We’ll miss too his behind-the-scenes work, making our town safer for everyone who lives, works and passes through it.
But — based on that impressive and eclectic résumé — Nate Gibbons is just warming up for his next act.
BONUS FEATURE: I asked soon-to-retire Nate Gibbons for any last message to Westporters. Instantly, he said: “Have working smoke detectors. Have an escape plan, and practice it. Not just for fires — there are plenty of guns, and plenty of kooks, out there. Keep your head on a swivel. And don’t just have Plan B. Have Plans C, D and E.”
I want to run, I want to hide. I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside. I want to reach out and touch the flame, where the streets have no name.
17-year-old me heard the words of an Irish poet, and interpreted them simply as a license to drive faster. The pulsating rhythms and escalating sounds just made my dad’s car go faster, or so it seemed.
In a quiet, saddened state, 51-year-old me heard these words last night and somehow found solace. That same energy began to rush through me. But with each pounding step on the pavement, running from something, or to something, I used that energy to push to find some sliver of transcendent hope.
As the son of a professional musician, it should come as no surprise that I’ve always had music to accompany me on my journey. Whether it is to celebrate, to inspire, to comfort, or to ignite, I’ve always had music to help me transcend.
I saw this today. I found transcendent hope within the walls of our schools today. I saw this in our schools, with your children, led by some of the very best.
Superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice, earlier this year at Long Lots Elementary School.
I pounded my feet on the floor of a preschool classroom with about a dozen raucous little friends to the music of Laurie Berkner. I kneeled on the carpet of a kindergarten classroom pondering the many ways my new friends can compose the number 9 with unifix cubes. I watched a herd of middle schoolers soak up Mother Nature’s best during their recess. In each school I visited, I found countless professionals who came with their very best today.
Our building principals worked to provide guidance to our faculty and support staff before the school day even began. Our partners with the Westport Police Department were ready and willing to provide reassurance with their visibility. We even had our second successful coordinated emergency response in one week, as the Fire and Police Departments helped impeccably address a small electrical fire at Long Lots Elementary School.
In all of these examples, I saw nothing but professionalism and expertise. The type of professionalism and expertise that inspires me to transcend the moment. The hurt is still there, but a sliver of transcendent hope emerged from those that serve your children and our community.
We are not perfect. We are a system composed of imperfect people. But today, on the backs of our team, we took a baby step towards transcending.
If I’ve learned anything as a father, and as an educator, it is that our kids are watching us. Every move. They saw us in action today and I could not be more proud of our team.
I wanted to provide a broad overview to the entire school community, but as we move forward, building principals will continue to communicate any necessary information related to events leading up to the last day of school.
There will be increased patrols across our campuses and we will have additional police presence on campus during elementary school field days. Fortunately, our team regularly practices drills and reviews our protocols at the building level, and we will continue to remain vigilant, doing our best to ensure the highest standards of safety. If you have specific questions related to your child’s school I encourage you to contact your building principal.
If you need assistance in speaking with your child about Tuesday’s tragedy, here are some resources that you might find helpful:
Click here for “Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers.”
Click here for “How to Talk to Kids About School Shootings.”
“My heart is aching today as we collectively grieve the loss of innocent lives in Uvalde, Texas.
“Our Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston will convene a prayer vigil on Sunday (May 29) at 2 p.m. on Veteran’s Green in front of Town Hall to allow us to come together to mourn, show our support and just be together as a community in the wake of this tragedy. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to join.
“There is no imminent threat in Westport. However, we will have a strong police presence at our schools and throughout our community to ensure our residents, our kids, our educators, our business owners and our visitors feel safe. Our principals, educators and psychological services teams will be available to our students at every level who would like to speak to them.
“But that is not enough. Congress must pass legislation that protects all of us with common sense gun regulations consistent with Second Amendment rights. We cannot endure another tragedy like this. Action must be taken.”
In the wake of yesterday’s elementary school shooting in Texas, police officers were assigned today to all 8 Westport school buildings.
Around noon, the officer at Long Lots Elementary School was alerted to an odor of smoke in the auditorium. Seeing smoke, the officer activated the fire alarm to evacuate the school.
The Westport Fire Department responded with 4 engines, 1 ladder truck, the safety officer and shift commander.
The first arriving unit found the school evacuated and a small fire burning in the wall of the auditorium. The police officer who found the fire had used an extinguisher to put out most of the fire. The fire department gained access to the inside of the wall and extinguished the remaining fire.
The auditorium is behind the main entrance to Long Lots Elementary School.
The small fire was contained to a wall in the auditorium. An investigation by the Westport fire marshal’s office determined the cause to be an electrical short.
Students and staff returned inside shortly before 1 p.m. Out of an abundance of caution, students were dismissed at 1:15 for the rest of the school day.
The fire department was assisted on scene by the Fairfield Fire Department, Westport Police Department and Westport EMS. There were no injuries to first responders, students or staff.
The Westport Fire Department notes, “The quick actions of the police officer and execution of a well-practiced evacuation plan contributed to this successful operation.”
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