Westport Y: Suddenly $40 Million Richer

A capital campaign for a new Westport Weston YMCA  fell short of its goal earlier this decade. So the Mahackeno facility — called the Bedford Family Center — was broken into 2 phases.

Phase I opened last fall, with an airy fitness center, gleaming new pool, well-lit exercise rooms, nice new gym and a much-needed child’s play space. The site was purchased decades ago — with the generous help of Frederick T. Bedford, Ruth’s father.

The new YMCA -- known as the Bedford Family Center -- at Mahackeno.

The new YMCA — known as the Bedford Family Center — at Mahackeno.

But the new Y lacks other amenities, like childcare, gymnastics and racquetball. And the locker rooms are badly cramped. Y officials promised they’d be added some vague time later, during Phase II.

Phase II suddenly seems a lot closer to reality.

The Y announced today that it has received $40 million from the estate of Ruth Bedford. The last surviving granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford — a director of Standard Oil and founder of the Westport Y, among many other philanthropic projects — died last June, at 99.

Norwalk Hospital logoYet this is not Ruth Bedford’s only astonishing gift. She also left $40 million to Norwalk Hospital. She loved that institution too — and volunteered there, logging almost 17,000 hours in the gift shop, over 5 decades. (A previous gift from E.T. Bedford, decades ago, enabled the hospital to double its patient capacity.)

But wait! There’s more! Another $40 million bequest — believed to be the largest ever to an all-girls’ school — went to Foxcroft, a tiny private girls school in Virginia that was Bedford’s alma mater.

The Y’s plans for the fallen-from-the-sky money are not yet set.

Officials say they will use it for “current and future capital development needs” — perhaps including new locker rooms? — and “to endow programs for wellness and youth in a way that honors the tradition of the Bedford family legacy.”

For nearly a century, that legacy has enriched Westport. It continues to do so, even after death.

12 responses to “Westport Y: Suddenly $40 Million Richer

  1. I love stories like this — Ruth Bedford (RIP) was/IS a gift that keeps on giving.

  2. Scott E. Brodie


    What wonderful news. The Bedford legacy to Westport is amazing.

    Perhaps you can fill us in on one more item: The direct connection between Horace Staples and Staples High School is well known. What is the story behind the naming of Bedford Elementary School and Bedford Junior High School? If they were the specific beneficiaries of Bedford gifts or bequests, I never heard tell of it.

    • That’s a great question, Scott. According to Woody Klein’s history of Westport, Edward T. Bedford’s “donations to Westport life in the early 1900s were almost always of the matching fund variety — given with the intent to encourage the community to become involved. His foresight was responsible for the building of Bedford Junior High in 1924 (now King’s Highway), Bedford Elementary School (now Town Hall), Green’s Farms School, and much more.”

      But that’s all. Woody doesn’t say HOW E.T. Bedford was “responsible” for those buildings. All I know is that when Bedford Junior High opened in 1926, it relieved the by-then-overcrowded Staples High School (the original building on Riverside Avenue) of 245 students.

  3. don l bergmann

    I had known the background, but only now have learned of the huge amount. It is great news for the Y. It also confirms that the Y has no need to receive $3 million of State bond funds to pay the Y’s costs to re-do Exit 41 on the Merritt required to accommodate its new facility.. That has been a contentious issue. Presumably those within State government who supported this “gift” from the State will withdraw their support. I opposed the State funds because the Y had committed to bear the full cost. Now the $3 million can be used for true public purposes.
    Don Bergmann

    • Bart Shuldman

      Don-Fairfield County gets the lowest percentage amount of state funds back to what we give. With the ‘Y’ benefitting so many, why do you want to hurt them? Why not use the $40 million to continue to build a better Y for all of us?

      Eventually all must understand the Y has moved and not continue to beat them up. And my tax dollars going to Hartford can be spent on the Exit 41, instead of helping Bridgewater move to Stamford (I know it will now not happen).

      I will hope the $40 million will be used to expand the Y and bring back those services the first phase could not offer. And watch as the value of the Y to Westport is felt by most in Westport, including the value of our homes.

    • James Holmes

      The Y paid to remediate the mess the State created, they should absolutely be reimbursed for doing so and the fact that you don’t support such an important local institution makes me question who you actually think you’re supposed to be representing.

  4. Westport – amazing. What a town. We have been so blessed to have people like Ruth Bedford, who was a classic example of what wealth ought to bring with it – the compelling desire for service that betters the lives we’ve touched. Can’t wait to earn my first $120 million – and a half – so I can top her contributions. Now, who to give it to…

  5. sandy johnson

    We certainly have been blessed by people like Ruth Bedford who used her wealth for so many worthwhile things!!!
    I feel so blessed to be able to have a pool (both the downtown Y and it’s new location) as it certainly helps my arthritis!!
    My one complaint about the lovely new Y (and I have made this complaint known to others) is the size of the small pool. Yes, the Y is a family oriented place as it should be. BUT the small pool was not designed all with the thought of Ruth Sherman and her senior classes – or for any seniors. I use both pools, but some seniors only use the warm pool , and it is difficult when
    a class is involved. However, after stating all that, I am grateful!!!!!

  6. Hi Dan,  I am such a computer nerd!!   Don’t know if the above will get sent if I do it this way

  7. Richard Jaffe

    Let’s move the Y to where we can all get to it.

    • I was strongly opposed to moving the Y from downtown. But I was wrong. I worried about traffic on Wilton Road. That has not materialized. It’s only 1.5 miles from downtown, and easy to get to. Plenty of people jump on the Merritt from Exit 42 to 41. It’s also attracted new members from area towns, who find it very easy to get to. The new location is not the issue I thought it would be.

  8. Bart Shuldman

    It is sad that the Y was not able to move to Barons South. So while some like to beat up on the Y, you should also beat up on Dianne Farrell and others. They had the chance. And remember the excuse regarding the land seemed to go away when the senior housing project came up. Somehow that was ok but not the Y. Just think of the Y and the senior center together. oh well.

    But that is behind us and the new Y is working out. Dan is right-no traffic issues and easy to get to. And seems to be attracting more. The facility is very nice and we can only hope they expand and add back some of the services they could not afford when they first opened.

    We have a great value and asset in Westport-and it’s called the Y.