Westport History Museum Removes Historic Name

Ann Sheffer is a native Westporter. The Staples High School Class of 1966 graduate’s family arrived here nearly a century ago.

Her father Ralph served on the RTM for 16 years, 10 as moderator. He chaired the Nike Site Committee, which managed the difficult task of bringing two military facilities to town, on North Avenue and Bayberry Lane. As chief fundraiser for the Westport Library, he helped spearhead the move from the Post Road to its present location.

Ann’s mother Betty was an active town volunteer. After her death at a young age, the Betty R. Sheffer Foundation provided major funding for arts, education, health care and history projects.

Ann Sheffer

Ann has carried on the family tradition. She is involved in literally dozens of town committees and events, including arts, education, history and culture.

For many years, the main exhibition space at the Westport Historical Society was called the Sheffer Gallery.

The institution’s name change — it is now the Westport Museum for History & Culture — as well as new leadership has brought many changes. Among them: The Sheffer Gallery will now be called the Daniel E. Offutt III Exhibition Hall.

A number of Westporters who were long associated with the WHS have expressed dismay at the changes — including the renaming of the Sheffer Gallery. Ann Sheffer is among them. She sent this open letter to the Westport History Museum:

Last week I drove by Wheeler House. I was pleased to see that the bricks that I bought to commemorate my family’s tenure in Westport are still there (and my husband Bill’s name is now spelled correctly), as are Miss Liberty and Uncle Sam, who have graced the porch or lawn of the house since we donated them in 2000 as part of the Millennium celebration.

Bricks bought by Ann Sheffer and her husband Bill Scheffler, honoring the extended Sheffer family.

As the bricks note, my family has been part of Westport since 1930, and also very involved with the Westport Historical Society. I don’t want to recite all of the volunteer positions we’ve held, contributions to the archives we’ve made, and most significantly, the major contribution to the expansion of the building, which resulted in the naming of the Exhibition Hall in honor of my parents.

So I was dismayed to receive a letter from your board president, Sara Krasne, with the following vague, disingenuous “notice” that the Westport History Museum had received “a significant donation for the purpose of upgrading the exhibition hall to a modern, state-of-the-art standard in return for naming the hall after the donor.”

First, it’s very unprofessional of you to send me a letter rather than speaking to me in person — and trying to understate the fact that you are taking my parents’ names off of the Exhibition Hall. I’m disappointed that you don’t value our history of support for the organization enough to be honest about what you are doing.

Second, it is a fairly serious breach of faith and fiduciary responsibility to remove a donor’s name from a building without having the courtesy to ask their permission.

“Uncle Sam” and “Miss Liberty” — donated to the Westport Historical Society in 2000 by Ann Sheffer and Bill Scheffler — were almost sold last year. They still remain at what is now the Westport Museum for History & Culture. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

I would note that my family’s contributions are recognized by a number of other cultural organizations in town, most notably the Westport Library — whose director, Bill Harmer, called me as soon as the plans for the recent renovation were announced, to discuss how we would like our family’s name to be displayed in the new design.  Not only were we delighted to be consulted, but his approach resulted in our making additional contributions.

I’m very disappointed that an organization that is ostensibly dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history of Westport would be so insensitive and dismissive of the historical contributions that have insured their existence.

I have no interest in any further discussion with you. But I sincerely hope that you will not treat other donors in such a dismissive fashion, and that you will make an effort to honor the founding principles of the Westport Historical Society despite your name change.

Westport is, as we often say, a special place, with a long history worth celebrating — and the Westport History Museum has a responsibility to preserve that history in an ethical and professional manner.

 I asked executive director Ramin Ganeshram to respond. She emailed back: “Please find the official press release regarding the exciting opportunity to upgrade the Exhibition Hall in order to continue the Museum’s transformative path toward excellence in providing world class exhibits in the tradition of our award-winning ‘Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport.'”

Here is that press release, dated Friday, January 10 but suddenly sent yesterday morning:

Westport Museum (formerly Westport Historical Society) is honored to announce that it will be naming its main exhibit hall after local philanthropist Daniel E. Offutt, III following a significant donation from the Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust. Mr. Offutt, who lived in Weston, was a generous donor to many local nonprofits both during his lifetime and via his estate.

The gift is the largest single donation ever received by the Museum. The main exhibit hall was formerly named after Ralph & Betty Sheffer, longtime supporters of the Museum who provided the major funding to complete the space in 2002.

“We are thrilled to be able to name this significant cultural resource after Mr. Offutt who was a generous and active member in the local community. His interest and support has helped many cultural organizations here and around the nation,” says Ramin Ganeshram, Executive Director of Westport Museum. “I only wish Mr. Offutt were with us to see the value his good work will bring to this and surrounding communities.”

Daniel Offutt had a lifetime interest in history and in art as both a collector and an artist. A self-described “farmer,” he was more aptly described as a “Renaissance Man”: a tennis player, traveler, sailor, metal sculptor, wood worker, fixer of anything, collector of everything, lover of projects, stock market investor, and a good friend. Mr. Offutt lived for more than 30 years in Weston, Connecticut in a house that he built himself.

The gift from Mr. Offutt’s Trust will enable Westport Museum to make much needed upgrades to its main exhibit hall, in keeping with national museum standards to provide quality experiences with universal access to the widest audience. The goal of upgrading exhibit spaces at the Museum is part of a multi-year strategic initiative to create a world class regional Museum in Westport.

“As Trustee, I am pleased to support the growth and improvement envisioned for the Museum,” said Richard H. Orenstein. “Working with Ramin has been an easy and creative endeavor.”

“Thanks to this significant gift we will be able to create our next ground-breaking exhibit with the highest standards in mind,” said Ganeshram. The first exhibit to open in the newly remodeled space will be in late 2020 about Westport’s indigenous people who inhabited the town and surrounds for 7500 years before European colonization.

While the name change is effective immediately, a plaque will be formally installed to rename the gallery “The Daniel E. Offutt III Exhibition Hall at Westport Museum” at a ceremony to take place at the opening of the 2020 indigenous people’s exhibit in November.

132 responses to “Westport History Museum Removes Historic Name

  1. What a shame it is that the “Historical Society” can now be bought by the largest donation and that it’s director, Ms. Ganeshram eschews long term loyalty in favor of flash in the pan glitter; worse, that she assumes a letter saying “we trashed your family name because we got paid to do so” would, in any way. satisfy.

  2. Roberta Tager

    Big Ouch!☹️

    Sent from my iPhone Bobbi


  3. While Westport includes several philanthropic families who deserve recognition, what the Sheffer family has done in Westport goes a step beyond. I’ve known Ann and the rest of the family for over 30 years, and not only have they been generous with contributions to the library, historical society, and other Westport institutions, they have been generous with their time as volunteers. (All while remaining approachable and down-to-Earth).

    These are people who love Westport, have supported just about every reasonable cause presented to them, and have left an indelible mark on the town. The events described are an unreasonable slap in the face to Ann and her late parents. The Historical Society making a misstep like this is ironic and sad.

    The Sheffer family deserves much better than this, and I’d recommend that others withhold their financial support of the historical society until this matter is corrected.

  4. What I would have done, if I were a member of the the Sheffer family, is a when I made my “ donation” I would have insisted on a legal document guaranteeing that the Sheffer name would always remain! Since that wasn’t done, how about a group of 20 or so people pooling their money to donate double what this guy Offutt donated under the condition his name will be forever removed from the building and the name Westport Historical Society be reinstated. I don’t like the idea of this guy buying his way into Westport history. Are we for sale to the highest bidder? This doesn’t sit right with me. I want his name off the building! Come on Westport- do the right thing.

  5. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA MA JDE

    When I heard they had decided to rename the WHS, I knew they wouldn’t stop there. What’s next? Reminds me of the removal of the tile wall at the library only much, much worse. This is the grossest of insults to the Sheffer family and thus to us all.

    • Can anything be done legally to have this guy’s name removed? Is there a legal document which was signed that would prevent his name from being removed? If a legal document exists, who signed it on behalf of the Westport Historical Society? Did they have the legal right to do this? This doesn’t sit well with me.

  6. John Coniglio

    It’s very ironic that the Historical Society puts such little emphasis on the many contributions of the Sheffer family to all things Westport and its cultural history. I agree with Mark’s comments above. This wrong should be righted ASAP!

  7. I share in the outrage expressed by other commenters. What is most puzzling – why must the Sheffer name be removed completely? Is there no way to honor both names?! Did the more recent donor insist on exclusivity (which would seem preposterous)? Could this betrayal have been avoided simply by figuring out how to accommodate both names of note? If the hall is being updated by the Trust, could they not have a plaque installed near the entrance with information on the Sheffer Family’s prior contribution and value at the former WHS? This seems like a problem that may have been easily avoidable with some thought and care.

  8. Ramin Ganeshram and Susan Krasne, “Have you no sense of decency? At long last, have you no sense of decency?”*

    (*Look it up, it is historic.)

  9. I am horrified by this indignity, Ann your parents legacy is very important to this town! It underscores the terrible way this town has treated not only contributors but it’s history in general which is ironic, going back to the library mural—what decision was made about this other than storage. Westport lives up to the stereotype of money money money when it favors the contributor of the month rather than contributions of all kinds that have come over the years. As a 68 year resident I am furious. Ann, I am very sorry. This is not ok.

  10. Sally Kellogg

    I agree with Ann…a courtesy call was in order. Is Capt. Allen still on exhibit? He was my great, great grandfather.

    • Billy Nistico

      Hi Sally, it’s been so long since we’ve seen each other- So sorry to see of your moms passing. Sending my thoughts from the West Coast and hoping all is happy otherwise. Billy

  11. Ashley Skatoff

    I am only an 11 year resident and this bothers me deeply. Poor leadership, poor decision making, poor vision, poor execution, poor communication. When people are giving time and money for good things, it should be win-win. The world is big enough for all generous people. Small people don’t work that way and they will keep things small no matter what they name it or build.

  12. I hope everyone will remember how this family was treated before they donate any of there time or money to this organization. Just very sad!

  13. Perhaps the Daniel E. Offutt, III Charitable Trust can donate more money and have the name changed to The Weston Museum of History and Wealth…. and then Westport can collect donations to have the Westport Historical Society moved to Weston.
    Hell, with enough money we can switch the names of the towns!

  14. I had the pleasure of meeting Ann Sheffer when she hosted a Staples reunion party at her home years ago. I was brought by one of her classmates, Pat Brennecke. No more gracious and generous a lady exists, and I feel her pain over this. Certainly a courtesy call was in order. BUT every museum I know renames rooms when someone comes along with a new and larger donation for renovations. I’ve been shocked to notice it during the last 10 years, but it’s just the way the non-profits with buildings work. How else to raise new money with naming opportunities without enlarging the place? I agree it’s a shame, but it happens all the time.

    • Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA MA JDE

      Doesn’t make it right Bill and doesn’t mean it should be inevitable. IMHO if you lose your history you risk losing your future.

  15. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA MA JDE

    This should raise the question of who truly owns the right to use “Westport” in its name. Maybe town’s fathers should seek an injunction whereby the “culture” museum relinquishes Westport in its name/branding etc and the town population funds the establishment of a history center that truly respects the townspeople and their history. Of course all artifacts that were donated to the cultural center should immediately be revoked and returned to their donors.

  16. Eric Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA MA JDE

    I was a Staples wrestler with the late Doug Sheffer back in the 60’s.?Even though at 5’ 7” I was taller than Doug I nonetheless looked up to him. The Sheffer family and its contributions to the quality of life are part of the fabric of this town.

  17. Ann, Westport is a changed town. It is NOT the town in which we grew up. Before I moved to Florida last November, I gave the Playhouse a picture of the original Playhouse painted by one of Westport’s original artists, Sam Brown. I NEVER even received a thank you for a piece of Westport history that I hope is being cherished.

    Amy L Kaplan Staples ’68 and Max’s daughter

    • Captain Jeff Northrop

      I have two Sam Brown paintings and they are staying with me. Max was wonderful, and missed.

      • i have other paintings by Sam hanging in my house as he was a fixture in ours. I just thought the Playhouse would appreciated that particular painting.

    • Linda Gramatky Smith

      Oh, Amy, this was wrong. I hope Sam Brown’s painting is prominently displayed. Your dad was the best (“Max’s”).

  18. Kristan Hamlin

    The Sheffer family contribution to WHS goes far beyond what is described here. Ann’s own contributions have been substantial. When I was on WHS’s Board of Directors as the Chair of Fundraising, I organized an art festival in 2011 to celebrate arts in Westport to raise money to name the Mollie Donovan gallery at WHS. Ann Sheffer paid out of her own pocket to rent the barn at the Westport Country Playhouse and used her connections as a major contributor to the Playhouse to secure the barn venue for this monumental arts festival.
    We invited only local artists, and they participated in large part because Ann shared her deep knowledge of the history of arts in Westport and connections, and gave me who the great names since the hey day of the arts were, and connected me with them — some of whom were still alive. For those artists who were not still alive, she connected me with their families to get them to contribute their art for the sale. The arts festival fundraiser was spectacularly successful in large part because of all Ann did to make it a success. Ann participated with her time, expertise in the arts, connections, money, and with her ideas. She brought all that and more to her contributions to the WHS over many, many years. She also contributed when I co-chaired the 2010 Longshore 50th celebration, in which we raised money to document the history of Longshore.

    With all due respect to Ramin who is relatively new to our community, the name “Offutt” means virtually nothing to the history of Westport. The Sheffers, in contrast, have participated in celebrating the arts and preserving Westport’s history for decades, whether it is through their contributions at the RTM, buying and preserving the Longshore Park for our community, decades of work and contributions at the Playhouse, the Library or WHS, the Sheffers have been there with their time, money, ideas and efforts. The Gallery was named after them because of both their amazing financial support of the WHS not just once, but over many decades, and also because of the many WHS projects and fundraisers at which the Sheffers rolled up their sleeves and helped by contributing their own time and ideas.
    I am happy Mr. Offutt gave money once, and he SHOULD get some room named after him there. But pushing aside the name of the Sheffers to take their gallery recognition?

    The name “Offutt” should be taken “off it,” put elsewhere at WHS, and the name Sheffer should be put back on the gallery where it belongs. Please respect Westport’s history, Ramin, and begin to understand all the Sheffers have done for WHS over many years, DECADES before you ever became involved at WHS relatively recently.

  19. So sad, irresponsible and just plain stupid. Why alienate and disrespect a family that has done more for arts and culture in Westport than any other? Unfortunately, this is one more in a long list of devoted volunteers and benefactors that this new regime has unceremoniously kicked to the curb – full disclosure – myself included. They have eviscerated the WHS of its institutional history and its community spirit. If the WHS is incapable of appreciating that the only currency that matters are dedicated families like the Sheffers, then perhaps it’s time for the board to make some changes before their entire organization become history.

  20. Ann, I’m so sorry. Your family didn’t deserve to be treated this way. The Westport Historical Society has two left feet and something that almost seems like a mean streak. Relative to the general thread of this discussion, I would like to point out one other thing: it’s supported, in part, by Westport taxpayers – and the new town budget is now under review.

  21. I keep hearing in my head “What’s in a name”?! I have had the great fortune of knowing, working, and being around the Sheffer family. Kind, generous, and participatory people. Not only did they give money, they gave time. So what’s in a name not much, but to quote the beautiful Jen Garner “what’s in your wallet”!!! And now we know it’s buying influence!! Or naming rights…. the towns people have spoken loud and clear, and they are not cool with this. If we are celebrating the history of our fine town put a name with long history. Other wise let’s be truthful. This is a classless and majorly disrespectful action and I call BULLSHIT!!!! There are many other words I’d say but I know my family reads this and they know what I want to say

  22. This shows a lack of true knowledge of the history a total lack of sensitivity to those who have contributed so much to the history of Westport. The new regime is out of control and totally out of touch with Westport. They need a history lesson…. Don’t try to re-write history. Shame on you for your insensitivity to one of the greatest contributing families and benefactors and overall insensitivity to the organization as a whole. WHS forever!

  23. Matthew Mandell

    Sad. So what in another 20 years another big donation will wipe this guy’s name off too? This is not how it should be done.

    Time to rethink this folks. You can’t just remove history.

  24. Ramin – “I only wish Mr. Offutt were with us to see the value his good work will bring to this and surrounding communities.”

    You mean the value of his “good money”….

    Here’s an idea to make sure we eliminate the old and bring in the new:
    Change the name to The Surrounding Community Museum Of Social Justice, Equality And Fairness.
    (except where donations are concerned)

  25. Bill Boyd. Staples '66

    The Sheffer family has done so much for the town for so long…..this is such a dishonorable classless act….hopefully it will be resolved soon.

  26. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    I’ve long since moved away from Westport and don’t personally know the Sheffer family but agree with everyone else here that this move by the WHS is an insult and just wrong. As others have noted this sad episode compares to the library and the tile mural project that was unceremoniously scrapped and placed in storage. New management comes in (are they even from Westport?) with no sense of the town’s culture or history and dump on people who’ve devoted so much of their time and money in the past. The concept of ‘in perpetuity’ is fungible to these bureaucrats- the dollar is what counts. At least they sent her a letter, I’m surprised they didn’t give her the bad news by text message. There has to be a way to honor both families appropriately.

  27. Trish Leavitt

    For an organization that is “dedicated to preserving, presenting and celebrating the history of Westport since its founding in 1889”, they do seem intent on erasing history and legacy. I was looking in their description of the new donor of what his connection to Westport was, and it still seems unclear. I would be a little hesitant to donate until they figure out a vision- although it used to be pretty clear to me.

  28. Shame, shame, shame! I graduated with Ann Sheffer- It is so apparent that Westport is now all about money and not core history of the town.
    This is just another huge breakdown in the amazing town I grew up in.

  29. Arline Gertzoff

    This change is simply outrageous and I was dumbfounded when I read it .I have known Ann for more than fifty years and she is one of the most generous and down to earth people I have ever met.Not consulting her family is totally unacceptable.Her family has given so much to the Town including opening their home to countless political ,cultural, and social events.Renaming does happen but this is clearly not the way to do it.

  30. Perhaps, with 31 comments, ALL NEGATIVE ,
    Geneshram will get the message.

  31. No doubt the capital raised by the Offitt contribution was significant. I hope so, because I’d like this organization to continue to survive, as big a challenge as that has been. I wonder, however, if the board fully considered the long-term -loss- of capital that’s going to come as town-wide disaffection with the fallout from “rebranding” may well lead to donor abandonment on a wide scale.

  32. This is outrageous! They notified Ann via a nonsense letter? Pick up the phone, have a conversation, anyone who knows Ann knows she would have found a way to make this work. She has opened her home, her energy, her friends and her family up to countless important endeavors over and over and over again and this is the thanks she and her family get for decades upon decades of service to the community? Let me join the chorus of others on this thread who are beyond upset at this boneheaded decision. More importantly, let me join everyone in thanking Ann and her family for all they have given Westport.

  33. Ellen Lautenberg

    As has already been said by many, this is outrageous and disrespectful. A towns institutions should reflect it’s character and honor those that have worked so hard to support it. I didn’t like the name change from the WHS for starters but this is much worse. There certainly would have been room to retain the recognition of Ann and Bill and negotiate a different type of acknowledgement for a new donor. This should be changed.

  34. A sneaky and low class snarky move by WHS. Ann Sheffer and Westport deserves better than this slap in the face. WHS should keep the Sheffer Gallery name and re-allocate the new donor’s name to other assets or programs.

  35. Eric E. Bosch

    I’ve lived here since 1963. I understand that change is required in Westport, just as it is in all communities. This act however, demonstrates a clear failure in understanding our community, the people of Westport, and what makes our town thrive.
    Certainly there is a way to acheive a win-win here, and with a small amount of thought, fix this wrong and apologize to Ann and her family. The question that needs to be asked is, what’s the mission of this organization if its actions ostracize everyone?

  36. Arlene Avellanet

    If Ramin Ganeshram‘a only response to Ann Sheffer’s note is to provide the Museum’s press release, she is, in no particular order; clueless, offensive and ill-suited to her position.

    Many commenters have provided excellent ways amends can be made. The Westport Museum and its Board should take heed.

  37. Totney Benson

    I am profoundly saddened by this announcement. I have personally witnessed the extreme generosity of the Sheffer’s over the 40 years we have been in Westport, for almost any cause they were asked to support. Ann and her family are the epitome of giving spirits, the best examples of supporting a community they love. We should all aspire to be so kind, in either financial donations or time volunteering and supporting. This is truly disappointing treatment of such an esteemed family legacy.

  38. Jacque O'Brien

    I went online and looked up the man who made this donation. Indeed he was an impressive gentleman. That being said, I read several of the articles and noted that his donations have spanned across several states and to many different organizations. A couple of those recipients named a new classroom or building after him…they did not change an existing one. One article entitled “Church Receives $1.4 Million in Gifts from Daniel E. Offutt, III Trust” from Alexandria, Virginia said nothing about a name change to any portion of the church or its’ property.
    In simplest terms, one should not feel compelled to change anything. Why would you ever change the name of the previous donor, the Sheffer family whose history lies in Westport and who gave just as generously in their time.

  39. Amy Pietrasanta

    I agree with everything everyone has said here *except* — many have said that it’s apparent “Westport is now all about money” but I think the outrage shows that’s just not true!

    I’m horrified by what the WHS did but I’m so heartened by the seemingly unanimous response of everyone who lives in Westport. I may be naive but I have faith that the will of the town can right this wrong…

  40. I have been involved with the Westport Historical Society for over 25 years as President, board member, and volunteer on more committees and events than I care to count. I have never met Mr Offutt and to my knowledge he has not served WHS in any capacity. What will you say when asked why the main gallery has been named after him? “He’s a guy who lived in the next town who’s Trust gave a one time major gift.” Disappointing and sad.

  41. Michael Calise

    The jettison of the Westport Historical Society name was a potent indication of the future of this organization. Charlotte Partridge Darby is probably turning in her grave!

  42. I’m embarrassed for Westport and sad for the Sheffer family who deserve much better than this. Shameful
    Marty Hauhuth

  43. This is a total disgrace.

  44. My father was born in Westport in 1912, and I’ve known Ann since kindergarten at Coleytown Elementary. Our family has owned commercial property on Main Street, and I have maintained close connections to Westport – although I now live in Wilton. The above comments are a tribute to the Sheffer family, and, ironically, Ann’s letter shows what class and dignity she has. I will not be renewing my membership.

  45. At best, this was an incredibly ham-fisted move.

    While not nearly of the scale, it makes me think or how sensibly Lincoln Center has worked with the families of original naming donors while transitioning to new “naming donors ” who provide the funds to modernize facilities.

    Compared to that, this seems like it is about the Westport Historical Society (or whatever we’re calling it now) just taking the money and run.

  46. A lovely donation by the current and a slap in the face to the Sheffer family totally avoidable with an Executive Director who has any expertise in major gifts. This was handled abominably and I understand why Ann is enraged. A face to face conversation about having received this major gift with Ann and a way to integrate both would have been on tone.

    Sorry Ann, this has become the way, hasn’t it? The biggest name names the field, the performing arts center, until the next major donation comes along…. It’s insensitive and it is tone deaf to the town as well. I remember when the Westport Historical Society was just that. No names attached.

    The executive director should get out from hiding behind her press release which is obnoxious, and go to Ann’s house with flowers and wine and a huge apology for the insult that their tone-deafness put upon their family and their legacy of generosity which deserves respect.

    And placement.

  47. Total disgrace indeed..In honor of my mother who volunteered there for many years (as well as many others) it will always be the Westport Historical Society and The Sheffer Gallery to me.

    • Arline Gertzoff

      Wally I asked about the name change and was told “Historical Society is old fashioned”???Still don’t get it Like the Art Center name change I guess a new direction?

  48. I do NOT believe what I’m reading here. Ann Sheffer, and her family are what are our past, present and future is all about. This family has always been selfless in helping the greater good of our community.
    No words….support and in agreement with all my fellow residents above who are outraged.

  49. Dennis Jackson

    How ironic that a Historical Society should have such a short memory. How low that that (re)naming rights went to the highest bidder. Certainly the Offutts should be honored for their generosity, but to condition it on the aggrandizement of their own name at the expense of the good name and long-standing good works of the Sheffer family is shameful. Such an insensitive and offensive act could stain both the WHS and the Offutt name for the foreseeable future. The parties should reconsider and find another way to honor one important contributor without dishonoring the other.

  50. The action by the Westport Historical Society and its Board is shocking and shameful. I don’t understand the need for the name change which “erases” the Sheffers’ generous contributions and endless volunteer hours at the Westport Historical Society.
    Since there already exists the Daniel E.Offutt III Archives and Collections at the Westport Historical Society, renaming the Exhibit Hall is even more puzzling.

  51. Westporters have spoken! Without the Sheffers there would be no Historical Society exhibit space. Ann and her family were always involved in every way with what was the center of celebrating Westport’s dynamic story.
    “In perpetuity” means more than seven years (when I, as WHS board president in 2003, cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Sheffer Gallery). And so it should not be renamed!

    • Kate Mozier-Tichy

      If that was said in the original donation agreement, they could have a legal battle on their hands.

  52. JJ—I find it interesting that you are the only person trying to come to the defense of what clearly was a terrible decision on several levels.

    By the way, I’m not a friend of Ann Sheffer’s but I am well aware of her generosity to the town over the years.

    As for my involvement with the WHS: I am not wealthy and thus have not been a big donor of any kind. I am just a longtime resident who has enjoyed their exhibits over the years, and I have donated some items/memorabilia to their archives. I also co-curated an exhibit in 2017 and, as part of that, helped arrange a couple of fundraising events at the former WHS in connection with that exhibit.

    I recently received my membership renewal form. I have decided I will not renew—until and unless this situation is remedied in some fashion.

    PS: is the Westport Museum willing to publicize the amount of the donation? I have frequently seen in connection with the announcement of other non-profit naming rights the amount of the contribution. Also, with such a major turnover in the administration including longtime Board members, how do the current executives know for sure that this is the largest donation in the history of the Historical Society?

  53. Would it be interesting to see the minutes of the WHS advisory board vote to see the name change resolution and vote that dishonored the Sheffers?

    • What if I told you I found out this was an “open bidding” procedure and the “prize” went to the highest bidder? This would be illegal. Any attorney want to get involved?

  54. Excerpt from an e-mail I received: “ And I can also attest, but again you didn’t hear it from me, that yes, the Executive Director was very open about renaming galleries for the highest bidder.“

  55. Wouldn’t some of us like to see the WHS name change resolution and advisory board member votes?

    • Who is the Executive Director? That person is ultimately responsible. We need an attorney to step in! Is Tom Sargent still practicing on Imperial Ave? (I’m too far away and removed from today’s Westport.)

    • yes Dick. I would.

  56. Kate Mozier-Tichy

    Not surprised based on my time working there.

  57. Judith Marks-White

    For tried and true Westporters it will always remain The Westport Historical Society, and the Sheffer name will continue to shine brightly. It is an utter disgrace, and an anomaly, to imagine it any other way.
    Judith Marks-White

  58. Who had the legal authority to do this? From what I was told, this was open for bid. These people are employees and I doubt they can legally do what they just did! Is there an attorney out there who is sympathetic and can look into this?

  59. Jean Whitehead

    Add my name to the list. This is nuts. And hugely insulting. And certainly avoidable. I’m amazed the board went along with it. How could they not feel uncomfortable, disregarding a family like the Sheffers?

  60. Billy Nistico

    Hi Ann and Bill, I am dumbfounded by what has happened. This can’t be left swept under the rug!

  61. New excerpt from an e-mail: “Ultimately it would have been Ramin, the executive director, or Sara Krasne, the chair of the board”

  62. Elise Plate Russi

    The current Executive Director and Board Chair are the WHS (always will be WHS in my mind) leaders. Current board members are also fiduciaries who must have voted on the organization name change and gallery name change.

    In my mind, both name changes are inconsistent with the purpose and history of the organization and large donations in the past made by Ann Sheffer, the Van Orden family, and countless others. The names changes obviously were not discussed or vetted with historical large donors. That’s a major error, in my opinion.

    The gallery barn was renovated in 2002. Many exhibits have been held there. What exactly is WHS planning to do this gallery/barn given all the money spent in the recent past? Are they considering tearing it down and rebuilding? Why so much money?

    Finally, for those of you asking about what can be done legally, other than getting the board and it’s leadership to do the right thing, apologize privately and publicly, and change back the names, Connecticut has an Assistant Attorney General for Nonprofits and complaints can be directed there. If you feel the organization has lost the public trust, that’s where to turn. Nonprofits get tax breaks and in return must abide by all applicable federal and state laws.

  63. Kate Mozier-Tichy

    Yes, but often the old names are incorporated into the new name, thus why you get hyphenated names of places. If you go the website, the archives have been renamed in honor of Offutt, as well. Did both parts of the organization need to be named for him? By doing so, they erased two former donors’ contributions.
    And sometimes, legal action can be taken. Many large gifts to historical organizations have stipulations included. This has actually caused problems for some museums. Here’s an interesting article on it: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/05/arts/design/museums-grapple-with-onerous-restrictions-on-donations.html

    Basically, I think they best option would have been to honor both donors, acknowledging the importance of both contributions over time.

  64. Anne-Marie Grey

    How short-sighted and poorly thought through. Poor donor stewardship seems to be a trend in Westport with the tile wall at the Library and this latest donation. All of this could have been avoided with proper consultation and discussion with the donors. Let’s hope we get a meaningful response from the Museum’s Executive Director and Board chair.

    • So far, I have not received any communication from anyone associated with the Westport Museum for History & Culture.

      • John F. Suggs

        That is interesting Dan because you have been hearing literally all day from people proudly associated with the Westport Historical Society.

      • Arlene Avellanet

        Pet their website, they are closed until Jan 20

        • They are closed until January 20 (for inventory). But people are there every day. They absolutely know that Westporters are talking.

  65. For Ann and Bill and all the WHS supporters over the last many years, I agree—this is all very disturbing. One thing that is largely overlooked in the whole story is how much sweat equity Ann, her family members and everyone else has put in to make and keep the former Westport Historical Society a wonderful destination within Westport.
    The volunteers have tirelessly contributed their time, even physically (moving furniture, doing yard work—whatever it took!) for many years. It cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
    The commitment to preserving Westport’s history has always been unflagging thanks to the dedicated supporters and volunteers and all Westporters have been the lucky beneficiaries of it. I hope this sentiment can be stoked back to life, after this unfortunate episode.

  66. John F. Suggs

    For those who are interested, here is the list of the current WHS board members – and its advisory committee:


    • Where’s the Ganeshram woman’s name among all those folks?

    • John, thanks for posting this. I see four names on the Board of Directors—Nancy Axthelm, Ken Bernhard, Robert Mitchell, and Deej Webb—who comment on “06880” from time to time.

      I’m sure many readers here would love to hear their take on this and especially whether the Board made the ultimate decision on this (and, if so, what the vote was).

  67. David Warburg

    The Board of Directors should be ashamed to have sold their souls to the dollar signs! Certainly, the donor Daniel E. Offutt, III would understand this is a perfect example of erasing the history of Westport and spreading passivity about who we are and where we came from.
    This must be undone!

  68. Andrew Colabella

    So now we’re in the business of buying our history? Making profit off of defacing history? Destroying the story of our town?

    This is disgraceful.

    The Sheffer family was here long before all of us, and the name should be KEPT, HONORED & PRESERVED.

  69. Perhaps people should look at the bright side of this and the future possibilities…
    Given enough money, Westport could have the Daniel Offutt bridge in Saugatuck, or perhaps the Daniel Offutt Marina at Compo.
    How about Daniel Offutt Green downtown?
    I believe Daniel Offutt High School has a nice ring to it…
    Think of all the good that money could “bring to this and surrounding communities.”

  70. This is a real slap in the face. Unprofessional and rude. Why would anyone trust this organization in the future?

  71. Thomas Anderson

    This is a real slap in the face. Unprofessional and rude. Why would anyone trust this organization in the future?

  72. Juliana Sloane Fulbright

    I even don’t have to read the whole letter! I am ashamed that someone I have never heard of gave $ so what , it’s easy to give $s if you have $. The sheffers have been around a long time and I am mad and sorrowful her parents were taken off when they gave so much to this town!!

  73. Juliana Sloane Fulbright

    Never going there again!! My grandfather Thomas Sloane Jr. had an exhibition there 4 years ago and it was good, he was a photographer doing old houses in Westport over 100 years then in the 20’s and 30’s and most of them, the houses were still there! They have very interesting exhibits sometimes but I won’t see any more!!!

    • Thomas Anderson

      I wanted to add something to my earlier post. Ann and her husband are Westport royalty when it comes to the arts. This new team should wake up.

  74. Audrey Doniger

    This really is terrible…in fact it stinks! So sorry Ann,Miggs and what was The Westport Historical Society….this is not the Westport in which I chose to spend the rest of my life!

  75. Kathleen Bennewitz

    Westport is indeed a special place, as Eve Potts book is titled, as is anything that has to do with the Sheffer family. When I first moved here in high school, I became entranced and fascinated by the cultural history of this town, and having returned later in 2004, I still remain very much captivated by it and that has also been encouraged by the example of Ann Sheffer, Bill Scheffler and the larger legacy of the Rabinowitz family that goes back here to the 1930s.

    Through my longtime official and unofficial involvement with the Westport arts community, I have become aware and appreciative of the Sheffer family’s support and encouragement, which has been generous, unselfish and paramount TO THIS DAY. At the same time, I have always been aware of the unbridled pride that Ann takes in her family, past and present, and their legacy, not only patrons but also as doers and influencers via their inspirational love of Westport and its history and its residents, as so do many of the commenters.

    I am proud to say that I guest curated three exhibitions in the “Sheffer Gallery” — one on the history of Saugatuck (created because Ann called and said “we have another mural to save!”), one on Larry Silver’s “Westport Vistions,” and a third on the 20th anniversary of Westport Arts Advisory’s Art Awards, which Ann had so much to do with! Nothing could have been better or more inspiring than mounting these exhibitions in the WHS’s “Sheffer” gallery, a space by its naming alone that reflected the spirit of their long, collective and multifaceted commitment to the organization and dedication to preserving–and celebrating– Westport’s past and present. A sad day and disappointing decision indeed.

  76. Susan Gold Falkenstein

    My first reaction to hearing of the Exciting News from the Westport Museum announcing this generous gift was ” Kudos to them” – what an honor to receive this acknowledgement. However, once the news of the Gallery Name change, I feel I need to share my surprise in that someone like Ramin who is passionate about Westport history would totally ignore “the human factor” in her abrupt decision. As former Executive Director of the Westport Historical Society for eleven years, I am deeply indebted to the people who have shared their enormous talents with the organization to make it a place that truly buzzed with vibrancy, friendship and dedication. I loved every minute of my tenure and feel blessed to have been part of such a wonderful organization. I am at a point in my life where you recognize so clearly that what truly matters is being authentic and kind. I feel that Westporters have made it abundantly clear that “fairness matters”. I am proud of people for speaking their voice, for sharing their ties to Westport and how much they love this town, a place we all can be proud of. I hope that in the end, a decision to do the right thing will happen.Peace, Peace, Peace is what I hope for the Westport Museum.

  77. I am a member of the Historical Society, and this disappoints! I actually worked for the Historical Society running their summer camp and being a docent to all the Third Grade classes; Ann Sheffer was instrumental in my being hired back some years. I have shared program ideas generously on several occasions with newer, younger staff. All institutions should change, evolve, attract new energies, staff and creativity. I applaud Westport’s efforts to diversify staff and content. But on several fronts, this move is shortsighted and wrong. By the grace of career choices or genes some inherit money. What I’ve seen Ann Sheffer do throughout her adult life is, not only write generous checks, but pitch in with hard work and vision to continue building institutions we treasure in this community. Our families were friends and linked often through enthusiasms to support education and the arts. Much of what I value in Westport has been helped by the Scheffer philanthropy (Westport Country Playhouse, the Library, Staples scholarship, the WHS). I am also aware of the generous gifts the man who has recently died has made on multiple fronts. Gratitude and praise, I honor those who have more, to give generously, and improve organizations and public spaces! But this does NOT require throwing past donors, might I be crass and say ALIVE DONORS, under the proverbial bus! Was this decision led by new-to-Westport peeps on the Board? New leadership with lack of knowledge of local history and philanthropy? Did some peeps not DO THEIR HOMEWORK? Why not expand the names that grace the door or building? Surely in a town stretching to include new and more kinds of people, there is a feasible way to credit the generosity (over decades) of people who give back to their community; it’s smart and the right path. The erasure of past donors is not a path to a healthy historical society no matter what the new name for this organization is. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

  78. I’d like to know if Mr Offutt who is deceased requested OTHER NAMES BE REMOVED. Several organizations have recently benefited. Some comments make that assumption. I’m aware of several organizations whose fundraising got major lifts from his gifts as they go into 2020. But was this a demand he made in his Will, or a poor move on the part of current leadership at the Historical Society? It’s an important piece of information and certainly if it was a decision made by unknowledgeable, newer to Westport personnel—they might have to eat crow—but a sensitive revision of plans is easy to accommodate. I do not assume, as some have, that this decision resides with the wealthy man who has departed demanding for his name and GIFT to erase previous donors.

    • Kate Mozier-Tichy

      Well, since the Archives are named after him as well, it seems odd that he would demand that. And others have mentioned he has donated to organizations that didn’t name anything after him.

  79. Nina Strreitfeld

    As a Westport resident for half a century I have witnessed and admired the many wonderful contributions of the Sheffers to our beloved town. This decision of the Westport Historical Society’s leadership is not just sad but reprehensible. I fully support the views of Miggs Burroughs, Morley Boyd, Jimmy Izzo, and others printed here, who have themselves contributed substantially to Westport. Surely the recent major donor can be recognized for his gift in some other, more suitable way. This decision should be reconsidered and reversed.

  80. When I checked the Westport Historical Society/”Museum for History & Culture” website yesterday, Dan Woog’s name is removed from the Advisory Council. I am very disturbed at what I’m seeing. About a year ago, I gave a family heirloom to the Westport Historical Society and signed a paper giving the WHS full control of it. I now want it returned because there isn’t a Westport Historical Society anymore. When I get back from Florida next month, I’m sending a registered letter requesting to come pick it up.

  81. Elaine Marino

    I learned a lot about “renaming” from this Philanthropy Roundtable article:


    While the WHS appears to be within its right to change the name of the gallery, it certainly handled it in an unprofessional, disrespectful and uncaring manner. I “unsubscribed” from the WHS’ email contact list today and expressed my displeasure with the handling of the Sheffer matter under the “Why are you unsubscribing?” comment box.

  82. Katherine Mozier-Tichy

    That is a very good question. Sara Krasne, in addition to being the chair of the board, is also the archives manager. Cheryl Bliss is the collections manager. I cannot speak to their specific education, though.

    • Kate Mozier-Tichy

      If I remember correctly, Cheryl has been there for quite a few years and was very passionate about Westport history, having been here for so long. I assisted Sara in some things for a while and I learned a lot from her. She taught me the archival basics (storage, handling, etc) and now I’m in graduate school for library sciences in order to go into the field myself.

      • Cheryl is also a member of the Westport Historic District Commission (HDC). At one point, I noticed that three WHS people were concurrently serving as political appointees on the HDC. Now it’s down to two. From what I’ve observed, this is not the best practice.

  83. If changing the name of the exhibition hall was a requirement by the Daniel E Offutt III Trust (was it?), then perhaps the name could have been shared with the Sheffer’s to honor both important contributors? I hope membership drops to reflect how wrong the choices the new director is making.

  84. Why is it relevant that the board chair is the youngest in the Historical Society’s history? Weird to be self congratulating oneself in an “apology letter” and also it communicates that perhaps she wasn’t ready.

  85. Congratulations to the WHS for receiving such a major donation! Its staff is full of capable, hard-working women who we should all admire. The fact that people are as incensed about this as they are isn’t surprising, but it’s still very annoying. You all should have better things to do with your time.

    • Melanie: It does SEEM a waste of time to bitch to the extent we have about name changes and such; the more so because the changes came with significant “funding” for a supposedly eleemosynary institution.
      However, in this case, the bitching is well deserved, I think, because the name changes were done in such an underhanded and “secret” way and the name removed is such an iconic one regarding the history and purpose of the original Historical Society.

    • We do have better things to do with our time, but lifetime Westporters who have contributed in many ways to the culture of our town hate to see all of that lost. Money is only one contribution. Time, effort, dedication should be valued just as much if not more.

      • I see your point. Realistically, however, the Westport Museum is an organization that heavily relies on donations for its programming. It’s not a very large organization, so a donation of this size means everything, and it will certainly improve their already excellent work in archiving our town’s history. I believe that if you truly care about contributing to the town’s culture, you should feel happy that the museum received a large grant before you feel upset about a name change.

        The insults and pettiness I’ve seen in many comments suggest that Westporters have motives other than preserving history. With everything else going on in this town and in the world, there is no reason to put this much energy into shaming people for changing letters above a gallery.

        • It’s more than “changing letters above a gallery,” Melanie. It’s dishonoring a family that contributed so much of their time, effort and financial assistance. I can’t think of any family that has done more than the Sheffers for Westport.

        • “there is no reason to put this much energy into shaming people for changing letters above a gallery”
          And therein lies at least part of the problem…they don’t see the history in a name, they just see a bunch of letters that can be rearranged for dollars.

          • Bob, yours is one of the most insightful comments I’ve read in connection with this controversy. Thanks for that.

            • Yo, Morley and Bob,
              That level of ignorance and lack of concern on their part is no excuse and does only give MORE credence to all the hoopla…not less.

              • Dan, I might have read Bob’s comment differently than others, but I’m pretty sure it was not offered up to excuse anything.

                • Surely it was and attempt to provide an excuse, Morley.
                  It excused the name removal, as I read it, by referring the act as the removal of some letters by folks who don’t know the history of Westport or the importance thereof and are, in any case, willing to trade that history for money.

                  • I always appreciate your view Dan and should probably have let Bob speak for himself. I just thought his remark that this organization seemed to view its donors as merely an amalgam of random letters void of any contextual significance was intended as a pointedly critical observation, not air cover.

                  • Dan,
                    I don’t see how it excuses anything…and I wrote it. It was meant to show as you stated…. “That level of ignorance and lack of concern on their part”.
                    I thought it was clear.
                    I guess not.

        • Werner Liepolt

          Westport’s history is nothing if not a remembering of the people who shaped her.

        • Those of us who are lifetime Westporters have a vested interest in the town more than donating money to get our names on a building. Those people will be long gone when the lifetimers are still there. We don’t want the history of the town forgotten for a few dollars.

  86. Lecturing Westporters to find “better use of their time” than being concerned about the Westport Historical Society is dismissive and demeaning. Of course, it IS much more than a name change. I read the feedback from citizens not as “pettiness” but rather as genuine heartfelt concern about the status and stewardship of a beloved Westport institution. I am surprised that nobody from WHS has reached out to Westporters including Dan Woog to meet them in dialogue. That’s the way to a positive resolution. The angst about “Museumgate” has flourished in part because of the deafening silence.