Pic Of The Day #1866

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start of the summer beach season — and of lifeguard service. In this morning’s fog, town workers got Compo Beach ready for it all. (Photo/Matt Murray)

Friday Flashback #298

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.

Roundup: Beach Ratings, STG Jellybeans, Downtown Art …

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.

And the results:

  • Burying Hill Beach: A+
  • Sherwood Island State Park: A
  • Compo Beach: B+
  • Old Mill: “Not found.”

Click here for the full report.

=====================================================

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.

How many jellybeans? Start counting!

======================================================

As noted above, this weekend (Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), downtown will hum with the 49th annual Westport Fine Arts Festival.

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.

Click here to learn more.

Julia Contacessi and Michele Poirier-Mozzone. 

====================================================

Irises are in season. And this beauty in a roadside Owenoke garden is perfect for a “Westport … Naturally” close-up.

(Photo/Jonathan Prager)

======================================================

Despite the heaviest summer rain since Save the Sound started its beach rating system, Westport’s waters got pretty good grades (see story above).

Whew!

Arlene And Alexey: United By Ukraine

Nearly 15 years ago, Arlene Gottlieb waited to be seated at a restaurant in Rome.

She and her husband David are 50-year Westport residents. But that night, she was alone.

A young man tapped her shoulder. “Would you like to join my wife and me for dinner?” he asked.

She was surprised, but grateful. As they ate and chatted, they discovered a connection. Alexey and his wife Victoria lived in Kyiv, Ukraine — Arlene’s grandmother’s home.

A friendship formed. Over the years, Arlene and Alexey exchanged emails and texts. He invited the Gottliebs to visit.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Arlene asked how he was doing. He texted back: “It’s getting bad here.” He wanted Victoria and their teenage children to leave. She did not want to go.

Finally, she agreed. Alexey drove his family to the Polish border. Then he returned home, to fight.

Luckily, they’d just gotten Canadian visas. This summer, they planned to visit Victoria’s sister in Toronto. They moved up their departure date. As soon as they could, they flew to Canada.

A couple of weeks ago, Arlene called Alexey. He was underground in Kharkiv, as a sniper.

Victoria told Arlene he needed military equipment. It cost $6,200. Arlene promised to raise the funds.

The Gottliebs’ friends pitched in. A journalist friend of Victoria’s in Odessa made sure it was delivered to him.

The other day, Alexey texted Arlene. He sent photos, of himself with the equipment.

As she described the latest twist in this unlikely friendship, her voice broke.

“I still wonder how and why he picked me out to join him for dinner,” she says. “And how we kept up with each other, through all the years.

“There’s a Jewish word, ‘beshert.’ It means ‘meant to be.’ That’s all I can believe.

“I’m not a praying person. But I pray every day that he is okay.

“This is a love story, all around. I’m just glad we can help Alexey, and help Ukraine.”

David and Arlene Gottlieb

Pic Of The Day #1865

Compo Beach, from the pavilion (Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)

Roundup: Straight White Men, Jewish Teenagers, Martha Stewart …

There’s something new at the Westport Country Playhouse: hosts for the evening.

And they don’t look like anything you’d expect:

Ashton Muniz, one of the Westport Country Playhouse hosts. (Photo/dan Woog)

Ashton Muñiz(above) and Akiko Akita are proud non-straight, non-white non-men. So why are they welcoming guests (with big smiles and ear plugs) to the current production of “Straight White Men”?

As they explain before the curtain rises, it’s because the audience needs to get out of its comfort zone.

And why are those ear plugs necessary? Well, the music that plays as the audience finds its seats is not what you’d normally hear at the historic, near-100-year-old theater.

The show itself is quite funny and unsettling — sometimes simultaneously. Playwright Young Jean Lee is the first Asian-American woman to have a show on Broadway.

She’s not the type of person you’d expect to write “Straight White Men.” But  she — and Ashton and Akiko — are happy to welcome you to it.

(For more information and tickets, click here.) 

=======================================================

In an annual ritual, parents gathered this morning at 5:30 a.m., to set up a wider slide at Kings Highway Elementary School.

Their kids did not see them at work. But a few hours later, they’re sure enjoying it.

(Photo/Frank Rosen)

======================================================

Merkaz is a place for Jewish students from area high schools and congregations to learn, socialize, explore and strengthen their religious identity.

This fall (Mondays from 7 to 9 p.m.), Merkaz offers a Westport location.

Courses include:

  • Merkaz Mahjong
  • Choices on the College Campus
  • Jews in the News
  • Denial and The Holocaust
  • Jewish Humor
  • Superheroes
  • Judaism and the Environment
  • Outstanding Jewish Women
  • Jewish Cooking
  • Broadway and the Jews
  • Jewish Songs and Songwriters
  • Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness
  • College Bound
  • Making Local Change

Click here for more information. MerkazCT.org. Questions? Email Merkaz@JewishPhilanthropyCT.org.

==================================================

Eve Potts writes:

“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. 

=======================================================

Beach-bound traffic was diverted yesterday afternoon, when a moving truck snagged a low-hangiing wire on Hillspoint Road, after pulling out of Edgewater Commons.

The road was reopened a few hours later.

The cause of the Hillspoint Road closure. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

=======================================================

“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.”

Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, the town of Darien is in negotiations to buy the island for “more than $100 million.”

Granted, Cockenoe is no Great Island. And 1969 money is not the same as 2022.

But we got our island for just $200,000. (Hat tip: Adam Stolpen)

Great Island …

… and Cockenoe Island.

======================================================

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.

=======================================================

Relaxing recently for their “Westport … Naturally” closeup at Wakeman Town Farm were these 2 beauties:

(Photo/Lauri Weiser)

======================================================

And finally … in honor of a TV show I would never watch, even though it stars one of Westport’s most famous ex-residents (see story above):

Nate Gibbons Hangs Up His Fire Department Hat

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.”

Pic Of The Day #1864

The Mobi-Mats are out. Summer must be here! (Photo/Tom Lowrie)

Scarice Offers Reflections, Resources

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice writes:

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.

Moving Forward

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.”

Tooker: Prayer Vigil Sunday; No Imminent Threat Here

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker says:

“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.

“Also, our Westport Together alliance is ready to offer support to the broader community at www.westporttogether.org.

“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.”