This Saturday (June 27), Westport marks its 50th jUNe Day.
For half a century on the last Saturday of June, we’ve welcomed guests from the UN. Lawyers, staff members, security guards — they and their families come here for a full day of sports, beach-going, shopping and fun.
You’d think the organizers would go all out to celebrate 50 years. They’d plan great new activities. Shoot off fireworks. Bring Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to town for a ceremonial something.
Not gonna happen.
In keeping with the theme of jUNe Day — a low-key chance for UN workers to get out of the city, and Westport to show off its beauty and hospitality — the event will consist of the usual: a brief hello at Saugatuck Elementary School (10:30 a.m.), then the rest of the day filled with soccer, tennis and golf; tours of Earthplace, the Westport Historical Society, downtown and the Westport Arts Center — and of course, Compo Beach.
Okay, the welcome ceremony will include Senator Richard Blumenthal and recent UN special coordinator for the Ebola risis Tony Banbury. But Banbury lives in Westport. And Blumenthal shows up anywhere there’s a camera.
For all the joy, fun and relaxation it brings more than 300 UN folks and their families, jUNe Day is organized by a tiny group. Just a few core volunteers plan everything. (UN, and every other governmental organization: Take note!)
Michaela MacColl got involved 15 years ago, at the invitation of jUNe Day founder Ruth Steinkraus Cohen. MacColl — whose day job is children’s author — liked what she saw. When Steinkraus Cohen died, MacColl took over.
“I love Westport, but sometimes I’m frustrated by the homogeneity,” MacColl — a 20-year resident — says. “For one day, things are different.” Last year, 35 countries were represented at jUNe Day. (Their flags are the ones you’ll see flying on the appropriately named Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge this Saturday.)
“It’s always nice to see people gob-smacked by Westport’s beauty,” MacColl says. “But they also meet very kind people here. Westporters really like showing off the town, and they help out in any way they can.”
Local businesses do too. Most of the food is donated by area businesses. (The kitchen is run by a teenager, William Amon.)
Little things stand out. A Syrian family is always the first to arrive, MacColl says. They’ve come every year since their son was born. He’s 20 now.
The weather is usually fantastic. One year though, it rained hard. A Filipino man came, with 2 small children. He told MacColl he’d considered staying in New York. But when he thought about how much work Westport put into the event, he realized he had to be here.
Fifty years is indeed a great achievement. But you won’t see or hear jUNe Day organizers boasting about it on Saturday.
They’ll be too busy helping 300 guests, from all over the globe.
(Volunteers are always needed. To help, contact Andrea Dostal: 203-526-3275; firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, contact Michaela MacColl at 203-227-9461, or Bill Hass at 203-454-7685.)