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DISCLAIMERThis blog is personal opinion, and is not representative of the views of the Westport School District or Board of Education.
The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce hopes for good weather this Sunday — the new date for the twice-postponed Dog Festival.
Hundreds of dog owners (and their dogs) hope so too.
In just 3 years, the event has become one of the most popular on our town’s busy calendar.
On tap at Winslow Park (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.): agility and training demonstrations, goofy competitions (including best dressed, best kisser, best trick and the dog that looks most like its owner), food trucks, plus children’s activities like caricaturists and face painters.
Parking is available at the Westport Country Playhouse. The entrance fee is $10 per person, $25 for a family of 4.
Dogs are free.
Two days later — on Tuesday, June 26 (5:30 to 8:30 p.m.) — the Chamber kicks off its 2nd year of “Tuesdays @ the Train.”
Held at Luciano Park adjacent to the Saugatuck station, it’s a fun way to unwind after work. Stroll off the train (or meet your commuter spouse or friend), then stay for live music, food, beer and wine, and games for all ages.
The Chamber has created another great event. The first, second and third will all be charms.
Amid the swirl of awful news about children in crisis around the world, many Westporters wonder how they can help.
Aarti Khosla — owner of Le Rouge, the artisan chocolate shop on Main Street just past Avery Place — has one idea. She writes:
With the continued moral decay surrounding us, I am upping the effort to raise money for children in crisis. I’m giving 100% of the proceeds from chocolate hearts sold this week.
To keep my sanity during the challenging moral decay surrounding me, I have been busy making “Give a Little Love” chocolate hearts since February of 2017. So far we have sold close to 800 hearts. They’ve been shared in random acts of kindness in and around our community. 10% of the proceeds have been given to charity.
Please help me reach my goal of 1,000 hearts this week. 100% of sales of these hearts will go to help children in crisis.
These chocolate hearts are a great way to say thank you to teachers, school staff, bus drivers and others in our community. Please join me in spreading more love!
The hard-working Aarti had already planned to close for her annual vacation next week. So head down to 190 Main Street today or tomorrow, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Very few “06880” readers ever met Buell Neidlinger. But — thanks to his frequent comments on the blog, always providing nuance and back stories to the topic of the day — many of us knew and admired him.
He lived in Westport from 1938 through the ’50s. He had a long and storied career in music, playing bass with Billy Holliday, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters, the Moody Blues, Barry White, Whitney Houston, Ringo Starr and Bill Monroe.
When he died suddenly of a heart attack in March, at his longtime Washington state home, the “06880” community mourned.
Mary Cookman Schmerker was especially touched. The 1958 Staples High School graduate first got to know Buell when he responded to an “06880” story about the Saugatuck Congregational Church by asking Mary if longtime organist Ella Otis was her grandmother.
Buell was a member of the children’s choir, and remembered Ella.
“I loved the way she would improvise fab modulation sequences between the hymns,” he wrote. “Kinda reminded me of the movie music I heard down at the Fine Arts on Saturday afternoons.
“Anyway, I could tell your grandmother loved music from the way she played. That was my first introduction to that feeling in music, and it made me want to be a musician. I was, and still am in music!”
Buell and Mary exchanged several emails. Once, they spoke briefly by phone.
Buell told Mary that he wished he could revisit his parents’ graves in Evergreen Cemetery. She lives near Houston, but promised Buell she’d take a photo when she got to Westport in the fall. Her mother, brother and grandmother — Ella Otis — are all buried there too.
However, Hurricane Harvey canceled Mary’s trip year.
A couple of weeks ago, she finally made it back to Westport.
“Unfortunately, Buell couldn’t wait for me,” she writes. “He has left us for his eternal home with the Lord.”
But Mary kept her promise. She found his parents’ graves very easily.
Mary wishes she had paced off the distance from Buell’s parents’ graves, to her grandmother’s. They’re very close — just as she felt close to him.
Their paths did not cross in Westport. He was 4 years older. Yet as she read the comments following his death, she learned he grew up in an old house on Clinton Avenue. She lived nearby, on Calumet.
“We would have roamed the same woods, walked the shores of the Saugatuck down to Lees Dam, heard the noise in the summer from Camp Mahackeno, and watched weekend traffic from the bridge over the Merritt Parkway,” she says.
Rereading Buell’s first email, she noted it was sent just over a year ago: June 1, 2017.
“I encourage everyone to ask questions of your elders now while you can,” Mary says. “Share the stories for future generations.
“I am smiling, and thankful to Buell for sharing with me my grandmother’s influence on his life. What a wonderful gesture and gift he has given me, and our children and grandchildren.
“Buell will live on in our hearts. And his music will resonate for a very long time.”
Alert — and uncertain — “06880” reader Lara Willis just sent this photo:
She took it at 12:10 this afternoon, in the parking lot behind Trader Joe’s.
Five minutes later, it was gone.
She’s pretty sure it’s not a rainbow. Hey: It didn’t rain.
If you know what this was, click “Comments” below.
If you just think it looks gorgeous, click “Comments” too.
Last week, Staples Tuition Grants handed out over $300,000 in scholarships to more than 100 graduating seniors, and high school alums already in college.
It was a warm, wonderful evening — a celebration of very hard work by the recipients, as well as all who make the grants possible.
But the highlight may have been the keynote speech, by Dr. Albert Beasley.
Speaking without notes — and without missing a beat — the 90-plus-year-old retired pediatrician talked about the importance of STG, and what it means to him personally. One of the oldest named awards — initiated 45 years ago — honors his late wife and fellow pediatrician, Dr. Jean Beasley.
In his 65 years in Westport, Al Beasley has watched the town grow from a small artists’ colony, through the baby boom, into a suburb filled with businessmen and Wall Street executives.
But he has seen it all through a unique perspective, and with a background different from most people who live here. He shared some of that last week too, in his low-key but inspiring way.
Al’s grandfather, a Harvard-educated Boston attorney, helped found the NAACP. Al’s father also went to Harvard – and became a doctor. His mother graduated from Radcliffe. Those were proud accomplishments, in an era when educational opportunities for black men and women were limited.
Al’s parents wanted him to have a well-rounded education. He got one, at the Walden School and Columbia College. He married a high school friend, Jean. Both earned medical degrees – Al from New York University. Both became pediatricians.
As a captain in the Air Force during the Korean War – based in Houston — Al first experienced overt prejudice. But he persevered, and in 1953 the Beasleys moved to Westport. He wanted his children to experience the same freedom he’d found at the Walden School. The Beasleys rented a home on 11 acres, for $90 a month. They were one of only 5 or so black families in town.
They bought land from a fellow physician, Mal Beinfield. The Beasleys had trouble getting a mortgage – the banks’ excuse was “they did not like contemporary dwellings.” But Westport Bank & Trust Company president Einar Anderson said to the Beasleys’ request for $20,000: “There’s no problem. Let us know when you want it.”
In addition to his professional accomplishments – private practice as a pediatrician; co-founder of Willows Pediatrics; associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, and an emeritus staff member at Norwalk Hospital – Al immersed himself in community work.
He was a pediatrician for the Intercommunity Camp; a member of the Selectman’s Committee for Youth and Human Services; a board of directors member for the United Way; member of the scholar selection committee of A Better Chance of Westport; trustee of Earthplace, where he organized the Green Earth series on health and the environment.
Al’s wife Jean died in 1973. Six years later he married Janet, a native of Berlin and a survivor of a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.
Al says: “When Jean and I moved to Westport in 1953, it was a magical town. It opened its arms to us, welcomed us, and made us feel special.”
Al adds: “My birth certificate said ‘colored.’ Then the preferred term changed to ‘Negro.’ Later it was ‘black,’ then ‘African American.’ I am a man of color, but I like to be accepted for what I have to offer. The town has done exactly that.”
Looking back on his career, Al says,“I’m an activist. I tried to give my utmost to the community, and I think the community appreciates that. This is a wonderful town. I thank everyone who entrusted their most precious commodities – their infants, their children and their young people – to me.”
And we thank Dr. Al Beasley, this week’s Unsung — but Very Deserving — Longtime Hero.
Back in the day, Staples High School seniors spent the last month before graduation marking time.
Stricken with severe cases of senioritis, with classes essentially over and warm weather beckoning, even the most diligent students checked out.
For nearly a decade though, Staples’ senior internship program has provided an excellent bridge between school and the real world.
Last week, over 450 soon-to-be graduates completed their 4-week internships. They worked for marketing and financial services firms; at Town Hall, the police station and in Westport schools. They helped doctors and lawyers, builders and caterers.
They got a taste of commuting, writing lesson plans, being part of a company team. They learned about punctuality and customer service; how to write business emails, answer the phone and (yes) make coffee.
I could highlight any one of 450 interns. But I chose Zach Howard and Alison Lindsey-Noble.
They interned at Aspetuck Land Trust. Part of their work was creating a video.
Together, they interviewed 3 generations of local residents. First, they asked: “What did you do for fun as a kid.”
The grandparent and parent generations talked about being outdoors: fishing, bike riding, playing games, jumping in leaves.
The youngest generation — today’s kids — mentioned video games, computers, watching TV with friends. One talked about rock climbing — the Xbox version, that is.
Asked what they can’t live without, the youngsters said Wi-Fi, technology, cell phones, and TV (“because there’s nothing else to do,” one girl added).
Zach and Alison then asked the older generations why it’s important for kids to go outside.
“To have a good relationship with the natural world,” one said. “You get a healthy perspective on life in general; how we relate to the environment.” That helps everyone make “good life decisions,” he noted.
The video ends with this message: “Aspetuck Land Trust has 45 trailed preserves available to you.”
Now, hopefully — thanks to Zach and Alison’s internship work — some kids may put down their phones, turn off their Wiis, and take a hike.
Click below to see Zach and Alison’s video.
There are only 25 official Heritage Competition horse shows in the US.
This week’s Fairfield County Hunt Club benefit is one of them.
The designation is reserved for long-established competitions that have also made substantial contributions toward the sport, while raising money for charity.
Over 700 international riders participate, at the 97-year-old Hunt Club on Long Lots Road.
It’s a big deal. But despite the elite-sounding name — and of horse shows in general — this one welcomes all of us riff-raff as spectators.
Even better: It’s family-friendly. And free!
In addition to horses and riders, local and national vendors offer home goods, antiques, jewelry and food. (That stuff is not free. Sorry.)
The show — a fundraiser for the Equus Foundation, a Westport-based national non-profit that protects horses while fostering horse-human bonds — begins at 8 a.m. every day this week, and Saturday. There’s action on 3 rings, simultaneously.
The 2 biggest events are the Welcome Stake (Thursday, June 21, 4 p.m.) and Grand Prix (Saturday, June 23, 1:30 p.m.).
If you’ve never been to a horse show, here are a couple of things to know:
During judging, the rider and horse should appear relaxed. The riding should seem effortless.
Riders may be faulted or eliminated for knocking down any part of a jump, exceeding the time limit, “poor presentation of horse or rider,” bucking, stopping in front of a fence, going off course or jumping in the wrong order.
Those are the basics. To learn more, just trot on down to the Hunt Club.