News12 Now “As Local As New Jersey Gets”

Cablevision has a funny way of “more effectively and consistently” delivering “high-quality hyper-local news” to Fairfield County viewers.

They’ve gotten rid of the guy who did it for more than 3 decades, and replaced him with someone 2 states away.

The familiar face of Tom Appleby.

Tom Appleby — the steady pro who guided area residents through hurricanes and blizzards; reported on murders, budget battles, zoning issues and lost pets, and since 1984 has been the face of News12 for countless local residents — is the most prominent victim of Cablevision’s new owner’s cost-cutting measures.

In addition to shutting a call center in Shelton and back-office operation in Stratford — affecting 600 jobs — new owner Altice has moved nearly all News12 production work from Norwalk to Edison, New Jersey. Only a skeleton staff of reporters and videographers remains on Norwalk’s Cross Street.

Appleby was more than a familiar news anchor. He served as Cablevision’s vice president, general manager and news director. He helped win many awards, including numerous Emmys.

Appleby is a true pro. A Dartmouth grad — with a master’s and Ph.D. in English language and literature from the University of Michigan — he also hosted a weekend public affairs show, “Focus on Connecticut.”

News12 has served as a valuable proving ground for countless reporters and anchors, just starting their careers. Many have moved on to bigger stations, far beyond Fairfield County.

But through 6 presidents since the Reagan Administration — or, more locally, throughout the terms of 1st selectmen Bill Seiden, Martha Hauhuth, Doug Wood, Joe Arcudi, Diane Farrell, Gordon Joseloff and Jim Marpe — Tom Appleby has been there for us.

He never left for a larger market. He reported stories, delivered news, mentored talent, and — most importantly — cared deeply about all of Fairfield County, and everyone in it.

Now Cablevision has left him.

And left the rest of us with an empty slogan: “As local as local news gets.”

Delivered from right around the corner, in Edison, New Jersey.

Town Throws Cold Water On Firefighters’ Negotiations

As politicians, taxpayers and other stakeholders debate next year’s town budget, much of the focus is on education. That’s no surprise: It comprises the bulk of our spending; it involves kids and buildings, and everyone has their own school experiences to draw on, good or bad.

But we pay for many other services. Most are less visible than education. Lots of those negotiations take place outside the public eye.

One of those involves firefighters’ benefits and pensions. The other day, Nick Marsan laid out their case. It’s got some surprising twists — like a proposal to take away death benefits for families of firefighters killed in the line of duty. There are also decreases in healthcare for firefighters and their families after retirement.

Nick Marsan

The firefighters’ pension contract — which is different from the work contract — expired last summer. Marsan — president of the 64-member Westport Uniformed Firefighters Local 1081 — and his team met with town officials for a few negotiating sessions.

After what Marsan calls “a short process,” the town declared an impasse. The contract is now in the hands of state-appointed arbitrators.

The union president is disappointed. “We walked into negotiations expecting the town was not going to change anything for existing personnel,” Marsan says. “We thought we’d be talking about future hires only.” Instead, the town also included current firefighters in their pension proposals.

Marsan says the town “pulled the rug out from people who have been here 25, 30 years. They now might have to make hasty decisions to protect benefits they’ve worked all their careers to achieve. They could lose 6% of what they’d get if they retire now, and possibly cost-of-living benefits.”

The proposal to take away family benefits for a firefighter killed in action is particularly disheartening.

“I’m speaking for my brothers and sisters. I think we’re a class act,” Marsan says.

“We go above and beyond, to provide a service to the town. We do it with a smile. We’ll never not be there for residents. But I think this is an ideological attack on us.”

Marsan notes, “I have a master’s degree. I could be in the private sector. People don’t join the fire service to get rich. We come, we work hard, we sacrifice 30 years of our lives for the municipality.

“We leave with aches and pains. We’re 68% more susceptible to cancer than the general population. All we ask is continued support for our retirement, and the benefits we were promised.”

He knows that “pensions” is a political minefield these days. But, Marsan says, there are a number of misconceptions about firefighters’ benefits. He says that pensions are based on base salary only — not overtime. His members pay 10% of their salaries into the pension fund. Westport’s fund, he says, is “one of the best in the state.”

He continues: “I’m a big boy. I’ve been through a lot worse than this — I’ve been in combat overseas. But this is tough to watch, especially for guys who have been here a lot longer than I have, and will do anything for the town.”

He appreciates the “brand” of Westport, and recites its “jewels”: “incredible beaches, a beautiful library, great arts, a fantastic education system.”

But, he says, “people who buy homes here also know the fire and police services are top-notch.”

Marsan concludes, “This is a living, breathing town. We’re not looking to break the bank. We choose this profession, and we know we’ll spend a lot of time away from our families.

“I don’t live in a vacuum. I understand the town has responsibilities to taxpayers. But we are a human resource. We should be valued.

“We just want to be taken care of. If I die in the line of duty, I want to make sure my wife and kid are taken care of.”

An arbitration decision could be made by mid-May.

Heat Kills!

Last summer, a Ridgefield toddler died when he was left inside a parked car.

Brandon Malin — a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader — thought of that, when he saw “Heat Kills” signs in Fairfield parking lots. He knows that every year, children and pets are left in cars that quickly become sweltering — even on mild days.

But Brandon did more than think.

He acted.

With the support of Westport Animal Shelter Advocates, First Selectman Jim Marpe and other town officials, he’s creating signs. They’ll remind drivers not to leave kids — or pets — in closed vehicles, especially in warm weather.

The signs will be installed in town-owned parking lots, where police feel the risk is greatest. Possibilities include Parker Harding, the Baldwin lot, the beaches, Longshore and library.

After the initial rollout, Brandon will contact owners of private parking lots too.

Right now he’s working with the Staples High School art department on the design.

He’s also trying to raise the $2,500 needed to produce the signs. All donations are tax deductible, and the target deadline is April 8. Click here to help!

But whether you donate or not, remember one thing: Heat Kills!

Brandon Malin and his dog Cali.

 

Happy Mom And Pop Business Day!

Today is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day!

Chances are you either

  1. forgot or
  2. never knew

about this auspicious event.

No problem!

You can either

  1. send a card or
  2. click “Comments” below, to give a shout-out to your favorite Westport ma-and-pa stores.

And then you can do something really fun:

Actually go to a locally owned business, and buy something.

It’s their day!

I don’t play favorites. But if I did, I’d give a shout-out to Indulge by Mersene, on Railroad Place across from the train station. Here’s Mersene herself, with some of her many unique, amazing creations.

Sono Baking To Close; Aux Delices Moves In

Two years ago, SoNo Baking Company took over the downtown coffee shop space vacated by Java.

The popular mini-chain — with branches in Norwalk and Darien — drew 150 to 200 people a day, 300 on weekends. Customers came to eat and meet — despite the noise and dust of the Bedford Square construction project, diagonally across Church Lane.

But now — the moment the retail/restaurant/residential complex is opening — SoNo Baking is closing. Owner John Barricelli expects to sell his final coffees, pastries and salads by Easter.

Plenty to choose from at SoNo Baking Company.

Moving in is Aux Delices. They’ll keep their other Westport store next to Carvel. This will be the 5th location, with 2 in Greenwich and 1 in Darien. Aux Delices offers imported and local foods, freshly baked desserts and full-service catering.

“The rent was astronomical,” laments SoNo owner John Barricelli. “We couldn’t pay what we owed on coffee and cake. We fell behind, and it got to be a huge burden. I’ve never walked away from a bill in my life.

“If we were going in now, we might have had a chance. But the numbers didn’t add up.

“To make it there we needed alcohol, and to be open 24/7. For some reason, at 2 p.m. downtown gets very quiet. We had plenty of people in the morning, and until 2. But with the average check of $10 to $15 — you do the math.”

Barricelli calls SoNo’s closing “very sad.”

But he’s not giving up on Westport. He’s looking for another site near Southport — close to their previous location, near A&J’s Farm Stand.

And speaking of farmers: SoNo Baking was an original vendor at the Westport Farmers’ Market.

They’ll still be there this summer.

Welcome Back!

Westport’s favorite winter snowbird has returned home.

Okay. This snowbird is actually an osprey bird.

Alert — and nature-loving – “06880” reader Wendy Crowther spotted the much-loved raptor this morning. He was perched at his usual spot: the nesting platform near Fresh Market.

(He started out here on a utility pole. But in 2014 Eversource — then called CL&P — relocated the nest a few yards away, to avoid short circuits. The original pole now has a black protector, making it unsuitable for nesting.)

So far we haven’t seen his mate. Perhaps this year they traveled separately.

Wendy Crowther was driving this morning, and could not get a photo of the osprey. But here’s what the osprey looked like just over a year ago — on March 26, 2016. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Remembering Bruno Arcudi

Former 1st selectman Joe may be the most well-known Arcudi.

But his 6 siblings were also quite accomplished. In the mid-20th century, they were the pride of Saugatuck.

Bruno Arcudi — who died on March 17 in Buffalo, at 93 — has a particularly intriguing story.

The son of Italian immigrants Carmelo and Mary Arcudi, he graduated from Staples High School in 1941,  then from Yale University in 1944 in an accelerated program. He immediately entered the Army Air Force, and served as a navigator during World War II.

Bruno Arcudi

He returned to Yale for a Ph.D. He taught at Yale, Rutgers and the University of California-Berkeley before serving his country again, with the United States Information Agency in Brazil and Italy.

Arcudi completed his teaching career as head of the Italian department at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

But it was during his stint as chairman of Westport’s Board of Education — a role he assumed while earning his doctorate at Yale — that he made his most enduring mark on his home town.

In 1954, Westport desperately needed a new high school. The Staples building on Riverside Avenue (now Saugatuck Elementary School) was bursting at its postwar baby boom seams.

Arcudi and superintendent of schools Gerhardt Rast decided that a minimum of 25 acres was needed for a new site. The board decided to buy at least 30.

The high school on Riverside Avenue (shown here from a yearbook, with the alma mater) was very crowded when Bruno Arcudi chaired the Board of Education.

Four sites were considered. One was Blue Ribbon Farm, a 53-acre tract on Cross Highway.

Another was George Gyurkovics’ 23 acres on West Parish Road, near the state police barracks (the current site of Walgreens).

The 3rd site was the Masiello family’s 35 acres on Cross Highway. But it was low-lying, vulnerable to flooding, and the least attractive of the 4 choices.

The 4th was a 67-acre parcel on North Avenue between Cross Highway and Long Lots Road, owned by George May. The hilly land seemed perfect — except for one thing.

Army engineers had just identified the area as a launching station for Nike guided missiles. The Army was building a defensive ring around Bridgeport — home to many key manufacturing plants. The high ground and sub-surface rock made the May property the perfect location for a Nike site.

A typical Nike site — much like the North Avenue one. Missiles were buried underground.

Arcudi and the Board of Ed hoped that a large expanse of trees could separate the Nike site from the school. RTM moderator Herb Baldwin appointed Ralph Sheffer chairman of a 5-man committee to determine if the May property could be shared with a new high school “without impairing the national defense.”

The Army gave assurances that the missiles would never be fired — except, of course, in response to an actual enemy attack — and that all fuel and explosives would be stored underground, with rigid safety precautions.

A safety expert from the US Rubber Company added, “Explosive and gasoline being trucked along the Post Road every day constitute more danger to Bedford Junior High School [now Kings Highway Elementary] and the Green’s Farms Elementary School than the Nike would to the high school.”‘

The RTM was left to decide whether joint tenancy between the Army and Staples High School would work.

They agreed it could. After a number of delays — involving design work, budget and construction — the new Staples High School opened on September 4, 1958. Just north of it, the Army occupied its new Nike missile site. Today, we know that property as Bedford Middle School.

But none of it would have happened without Bruno Arcudi.

(Bruno Arcudi is survived by 3 sons, Charles, Anthony and John; 2 grandsons, Joseph and Zachary; and 5 siblings, Rose DiMartino, Anna Malootian, Elvira Ebling, Angela McKelvey and Joe Arcudi. He was predeceased by his brother John, and ex-wife Lynn. A memorial mass is set for Saturday, May 6, at noon at Assumption Church.)

The “new” Staples, circa 1959. The auditorium (center left) and gym (large building in the rear, near the track) are the only original structures remaining today.

Ryan Milligan’s New York Times Success, Puzzlingly

Two years ago, Ryan Milligan had his 1st crossword puzzle published in the New York Times.

Today he’s got his 2nd.

Not bad for a 27-year-old.

Ryan Milligan

Long before he graduated from Staples High School in 2008, Ryan was solving Times crosswords with his dad.

In 11th grade he began creating his own. He’d print 150 copies, and leave them in the lobby. By lunchtime, they’d be gone.

His first puzzles, he admits, were “truly terrible.”

Today’s is a typical Tuesday one. It’s clever, but not unsolvable. Clues and answers range from pop culture and sports to Edgar Allen Poe and commercial names.

Ryan says that this puzzle required “significantly less editing” than his debut.

I won’t give away the theme. But if you want a “clue,” check the headline of this story.

(To read what the New York Times crossword community is saying about Ryan Milligan’s puzzle, click here.)

Today’s puzzle

 

Jack Norman’s Very Positive Direction

Jack Norman’s parents divorced when he was young. His dad had a drinking problem. When he lost his job, Jack’s mother picked up a second job, to support Jack and his younger brother.

One day when Jack was 13, he stayed home from his school sick. His dad came to take care of him. When Jack woke from a nap and asked for a sandwich, his father stood up — and passed out. He’d been drinking all morning.

Jack cut off all contact with him. Two months later, his father died.

Soon, Jack’s mom — 1985 Staples High School graduate Jen Rago — returned to her hometown from Atlanta. She’d be closer to her family, and her sons could attend better schools.

Jack thrived as a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader. The next year, at Staples High, he discovered Players and the Teen Awareness Group. He stage managed 18 shows, as well as music department and other performances. He served as TAG’s treasurer; this year as a senior, he’s president.

Last summer, he worked at A Child’s Place. He also babysits through CrossFit Westport’s daycare program.

Jack Norman, working behind the scenes as stage manager. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Jack is a role model for many students. Through TAG, he talks to freshman health classes about the challenges of growing up, and the toll addiction takes on individuals and their families. He is open about his life, and the devastating effects of his father’s alcoholism.

Now, Jack is reaching an even broader audience. “Jack’s Story” has been posted on Positive Directions’ website. And he’s featured in the organization’s new PSA.

When the non-profit mental health and addictive behaviors education/ prevention program asked for volunteers to share their stories, Jack never hesitated.

His TAG presentations — which began when he was a sophomore — have convinced him of the importance of letting students know they’re not alone.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have resources, and a support system,” the articulate, insightful and very energetic teenager says.

“My mom has been there for me. Mr. Frimmer at Coleytown, and the theater family at Staples, they’ve been great too.”

So Jack talks — at Staples, and now online. He describes growing up with an alcoholic father. His painful decision to cut off contact. Writing something that was read at the funeral.

When he first moved to Westport, Jack says, new friends asked about his parents. Jack tried to protect them from hearing the truth.

However, he soon realized, “death is a reality. If you can’t talk about it, it consumes you.” TAG gave him the opportunity to break down the stigma surrounding addiction, and to encourage, empower and inspire many others.

Jack Norman

The day after one of Jack’s talks, a freshman approached him during a Players rehearsal. Tearfully, she said she was sorry for his loss.

“I’m okay,” Jack replied. “But how are you?”

“It’s just good to know other people understand,” she said simply. They hugged.

“Knowing someone felt less alone, that’s very satisfying,” Jack says. Even if they don’t tell him everything, he’s helped them take one step on a long journey.

The Positive Directions PSA does the same thing. “The whole idea is to get the message out there,” Jack explains. That message is: It can happen to anyone.

This fall, Jack heads to college. He hopes to study stage management.

And he knows he will continue to speak up.

Bereaved Kids Enjoy Great Camp Experience

When Darren was 10 years old, his father committed suicide. Like many children who have lost a parent or sibling, he felt not only the sting of death, but isolation from his peers. He was different, he thought, from every other kid.

Fortunately, he attended Experience Camp. Every summer, bereaved youngsters come together for a week. Most of their time is spent in typical camp activities — swimming, arts and crafts, campfires.

But with the guidance of licensed clinicians, they find opportunities to share their life stories with kids who are just like them.

Darren did not say a word all week about his situation. Nevertheless, he came back the next year. And the year after. The year after that, too.

Finally — in his 4th summer at “ExCamp” — a counselor told Darren privately that he too had lost his father to suicide. Tentatively, Darren opened up.

The next year, Darren became a leader. Today, he’s a counselor helping other kids share their own stories.

To Sara Deren, that’s what ExCamp is all about. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, she says. But caring support allows hundreds of youngsters to move on from the trauma of losing a loved one.

Deren is a Westporter. And Experience Camps — which has grown from one site and 27 kids in 2009, to a network of 4 camps in New York, California and Georgia, with 200 volunteers serving 500 boys and girls ages 9 to 16 a year — is headquartered right here in Westport.

Jon and Sara Deren

Deren never went to summer camp. She had a high-powered career in financial services. But she married into a camp family. Her husband Jon owned Camp Manitou for boys in Maine.

Deren quickly learned about the wonders of camp. She and her husband also recognized that its high price prevented many youngsters from enjoying the growth of a summer in the woods.

In 2008 they formed a foundation, with the broad mission of providing a camp experience to those who could not afford it. When they learned that Tapawingo — another Maine camp — ran a bereavement program for girls, they realized they could fulfill their goal by setting up a parallel week for boys.

Experience Camp began the next year. It ran the week after Manitou’s regular session ended.

Using crayons, campers express their feelings after someone very close has died.

It filled a crucial need. “For a kid, death can be incredibly isolating,” Deren says. “Feeling ‘less normal’ than everyone else — and not having a way to express it — can lead to detrimental actions, sometimes years later. This gives kids a place where they don’t feel alone. A lot of times it’s the only place where everyone understands what they’re going through.”

Many campers return each year, Deren adds, “because grief changes too.”

Darren — the boy who grew into a leader, after 4 years of silence — is one example of the wonders of Ex Camp. There are many more.

Steven’s father spent years in a vegetative state after a car accident, before finally dying. A year later, Steven’s mother succumbed to cancer. An only child with no other relatives, he was adopted by the woman who nursed his mother before she died.

Despite his horrific childhood, Steven had not lost his smart, articulate, mature personality. At the camp’s talent competition he recited all the presidents’ names — backward and forward — and held up a sign about running for president. He was named “Mr. ManEx” (Manitou Experience).

Campers rushed the stage to embrace him. “For the first time, he experienced a real family,” Deren says.

He returns to Ex Camp every year, “paying it forward.”

Deren serves as executive director of Experience Camps. Her office is in downtown Westport, right above Brooks Brothers (coincidentally, just down the hall from another Maine camp, Laurel).

She loves her work. Now — in addition to planning 4 summer sessions — she’s looking ahead to year-round efforts. “We do camp really well,” Deren says. “But we also want a way for kids to stay connected all year long.”

One of her jobs is fundraising. No child pays anything — including bus transportation to and from camp.

It costs $1,000 for a week at camp. That’s all covered, thanks to individual donations, foundation grants and fundraisers.

A week at Experience Camp is filled with fun.

All the hard work is worth it.

“The feeling of fulfillment — of making a difference, and giving other people an opportunity to make a difference too — is fantastic,” Deren says.

“Our supporters, our volunteers, our campers — everyone works together to create a microcosm of how the world should operate: with acceptance and inclusion.

“Being able to provide a way for kids to thrive, to find happiness and lightness in an otherwise dark time — what an incredible privilege.”

(Click here to learn more about Experience Camps. Click here for a series of powerful videos, and here for resources for helping youngsters deal with grief.)