Category Archives: Beach

Jim Marpe: 1st Selectman Looks Back — And Ahead

In 2005, Jim Marpe found himself on the Board of Education.

He’d spent 28 years with Accenture, retiring 3 years earlier as a senior partner. His career had taken him to Chicago, Copenhagen, then New York. That final move in 1989 brought Marpe, his wife Mary Ellen and daughter Samantha to Westport. They came — as so many do — for the schools and amenities.

In retirement Marpe played golf, enjoyed his boat and traveled. But growing up in modest circumstances in Canton, Ohio, his parents had always emphasized giving back to the community. And Accenture had always emphasized lifelong learning, he says.

So when Republican Town Committee chair Pete Wolgast asked if he’d be interested in a suddenly vacant seat on the Board of Ed, he was intrigued.

First Selectman Jim Marpe

Marpe put his management and financial talents to use, in an area that accounts for 2/3 of Westport’s total budget. He was elected to 2 subsequent terms, and served as vice chair.

In 2013, 1st Selectman Gordon Joseloff announced he would not run for a 3rd term. Marpe realized this was a chance to apply his organizational and management skills in another meaningful way. He also hoped to repair what had become a difficult relationship between the Board of Education and Town Hall.

He and running mate Avi Kaner won. Instead of 8 schools, Marpe now oversaw 16 direct reports. Each ran a “different business. Even the Fire Department is very different from the Police Department,” he notes.

His job was to “keep people out of their silos.” Monthly staff meetings brought all department heads into the same room. He met regularly with each head and deputy. His goal was to create a team that served the town in a coordinated way.

He inherited “high-quality people, who understand Westport.” His job was to coach them, and help them reach their potential.

Marpe has decided not to run for a 3rd term. Now 74, heading toward his 2nd retirement, he looks back on nearly 8 years of accomplishments. He and his administration have made their mark in areas like the Downtown Plan and Implementation Committee, Baron’s South, Senior Center, Longshore Inn and golf course, First Responder Civilian Review Panel, pension reform, sustainability, the new combined Public Safety Dispatch Center, Greens Farms railroad station, even the town website.

He has kept the mill rate remarkably stable, despite economic volatility at the state and federal levels.

At the January 2020 “State of the Town” meeting, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe described another year with no property tax increase.

But nothing could have prepared the town’s chief executive for a year like 2020.

Responding to COVID — a global pandemic that quickly became very local, with Westport the site of one of the nation’s first super-spreader events — demanded every tool in Marpe’s box.

He gathered and analyzed hard data. He made tough decisions, like closing beaches and the Senior Center. He communicated complex ideas to jittery residents, with empathy and understanding.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe’s first COVID news conference at Town Hall — before mask wearing became well publicized.

In the midst of all that came protests over racial injustice. A month later, Hurricane Isaias knocked out power for many Westporters, for up to a week.

Marpe is proud of his team’s responses to those events. But he also cites less-noticed accomplishments.

Working with Jim Ross and the Commission on People with Disabilities opened his eyes, and expanded his thinking. That propelled his push for greater accessibility at Compo Beach.

A new walkway and bathrooms were controversial. But, Marpe says, “when I see someone who’s physically impaired enjoying a picnic or sunset there now, I get emotional.”

The new South Beach boardwalk increases accessibility and adds safety.

His strong relationship with Police Chief Foti Koskinas, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey and Connecticut Anti-Defamation League director Steve Ginsburg  (a Westport resident) helped the town navigate the Black Lives Matter and subsequent Asian-American protests.

When he came into office, Marpe admits, “I didn’t expect to encounter things like that. But they’re a part of the job, just like cutting the ribbon at a new business opening, and seeing how excited people are to open up here.”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe brings oversized scissors to ribbon cuttings for new stores, restaurants, even (as shown here) law firms.

Not everyone is happy with how everything works in Westport, he knows. “But if someone contacts me with a reasonable request, and I can help solve their problem, and along the way make the community better, that’s my job.”

He feels grateful for the opportunity to get to know a broad swath of Westport — people he might not have met, businesses and organizations outside of his own interests.

“It’s fascinating what makes up Westport,” Marpe says. “Not a lot of communities our size have that tapestry. My appreciation for this town grows every day.”

Marpe served on the Homes with Hope board since the 1990s (along with many others, like the Westport Weston Family YMCA, Westport Rotary Club and Greens Farms Congregational Church). He is awed by the work these organizations — and so many others — do to make life better for overlooked or marginalized people.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is a Rotary Club member. When volunteers were needed for the LobsterFest, he and his wife Mary Ellen pitched in.

At the same time, he appreciates the town’s long commitment to the arts. (His wife Mary Ellen is the former owner and director of the Westport Academy of Dance.) As 1st selectman, he created the new positions of townwide arts curator and poet laureate.

For the past 7 years, Marpe has been on call 24/7. While on the golf course — even on rare vacations — his phone rings. The recent birth of his grandson made the decision to not run again a bit easier.

His successor will face many challenges. A bureaucratic morass at the state and federal levels has prevented Marpe from moving forward on Saugatuck River dredging.

“We have to do it,” he says firmly. “If we don’t it will silt up, with real consequences for what makes Westport unique, even among shoreline towns.”

He worked across the aisle with Lieutenant Governor Bysewiez and state legislators Will Haskell and Jonathan Steinberg to address traffic issues at the Post Road/Wilton Road/Riverside Avenue intersection downtown, and Main Street/Weston Road/Easton Road near Merritt Parkway Exit 42. “Unfortunately, that’s still the way I found it,” he says.

Plans for Baron’s South will be revealed in 2 or 3 months. But finding the best use for the Golden Shadows building on the property remains a challenge.

And of course, debate continues on the fate of the William F. Cribari Bridge.

The next first selectman will face controversy over the future of the William F. Cribari Bridge (Photo/Chuck Greenlee)

But Marpe is excited for the future of Westport. “Downtown feels good again. It’s still the heartbeat of our community — along with Saugatuck, our other ‘downtown.'”

When he hands his swipe card to his successor 7 months from now, what advice can he give?

“Getting into this office involves political activity,” Marpe says. “But once you’re in, it’s about management, like metrics and budgets, and leadership — people skills. It’s the same as any business.

“But what’s different from running a business is that this is a democracy. Boards and commissions have a lot of say. You have to work with those leaders and members. They’re part of the process.”

He’s pleased to have a strong relationship with the superintendent of schools, Thomas Scarice — a goal when he first ran for 1st selectman, in 2013.

Back then, Jim Marpe had never heard the word “coronavirus.” He did not know the name “Isaias.”

Seven years later, they are now 2 parts of his long, and very impressive, legacy.

Jim Marpe walks his daughter Samantha down the aisle. He looks forward to spending time with his new grandson,

Fred Cantor: Seeing Westport Through SoCal Eyes

“06880” readers know Fred Cantor as an avid commenter, with a keen eye for Westport’s history, and a passion for its present and future. He’s also a multi-talented writer, movie and play producer, and attorney

Fred Cantor (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

The 1971 Staples High School graduate has had health issues, so for the past few years he and his wife Debbie have spent winters in Southern California. They were there last year, when the pandemic (and his doctor’s advice) turned a few months’ stay into more than a year. It was the longest time he’d been away from Westport since moving here at age 10.

After 17 months, Fred and Debbie are back. Here’s what he sees.

The first thing that grabbed our attention coming off Exit 17 was the empty train station parking lot. We had read about the large number of people working at home, but that was an eye-opener.

Yet then, almost instantly, there were old welcome sights: the approach to the distinctive Cribari Bridge — with early signs of spring (daffodils in full bloom) — and just past the bridge, 19th-century homes with yards fronted by quintessential New England stone walls or wrought-iron fences.

Daffodils near the William F. Cribari Bridge.

I don’t think Debbie and I crossed a bridge over a river once in our area of SoCal— and certainly not a bridge on the National Register of Historic Places — even before the pandemic, when we did more driving. Southern California has much natural beauty, but in the area of Orange County where we rented, numerous rivers and streams are certainly not among them.

And historic 19th century homes — well, they did not exist there. Some of those towns were created in the 1960s or later.

Handsome home on Bridge Street.

Westport’s historic homes, stone walls, rivers and meandering tributaries — such as can be seen along Ford Road — are among the sights I missed the most.

The scene along Ford Road.

Forsythias blooming all around Westport were another “welcome home” sign; that too was much rarer in our part of SoCal.

Forsythia blooms outside a 1930 Imperial Avenue home.

Heading to the beach, I had to stop at Joey’s By The Shore at its new location. I hoped to see Joey after all this time. but he’s away.

Back in business: Joey’s by the Shore.

That reinforced my feelings that, while many of us embrace longtime local establishments, it is largely the proprietors we really have such warm feelings about. That was certainly true when the Nistico family switched its restaurant operation from the Arrow to the Red Barn.

Walking across the street to Old Mill Beach instantly reminded me why that has long been a personal favorite. It’s not only beautiful; it’s often serene, as exemplified by a couple quietly reading their iPad and newspaper on a nearly empty beach.

Old Mill Beach.

When I was away I stayed in touch with Westport friends via email, texts, social media, occasional phone calls and Zoom.

I followed local Westport news via “06880,” so in certain respects I didn’t feel 3,000 miles away from what was happening here.  By contrast, I vividly recall the summer of 1964. I was at camp in Pennsylvania, and learned of my Little League team winning the Minor League World Series a week after the fact, when I received a letter from my parents with a clipping from the Town Crier.

The most difficult thing about being so far away was not being able to see our 93- and 95-year-old moms. Daily phone calls and occasional FaceTime calls didn’t quite suffice.

So that first weekend back in town generated a teary reunion hug between Debbie and her mom. It was coupled with a culinary discovery: delicious mini-babka at the new Kneads Bakery, which we all enjoyed at their outdoor dining area.

Fred’s wife Debbie Silberstein, Debbie’s mother and aide, at Kneads Bakery. (All photos/Fred Cantor)

That first weekend back also generated our first experience with traffic. At 4 p.m. Saturday there was a big backup on Bridge Street toward Saugatuck. Traffic crawled on 95, spilling over onto local streets.

Other than on the single-lane canyon road leading to Laguna Beach, we never experienced major backups in SoCal. The main local roads have 3 lanes in each direction — with an additional two left-hand turn lanes at major intersections.

During that traffic tie-up on Bridge Street I witnessed an “only in Westport” moment (and something I had never seen in close to 60 years here). Moving right by the traffic on a highly unusual mode of transit were two cyclists on penny-farthings (you can look it up🤨).

Seeing that, I knew for sure I was back in Westport!

Roundup: Memorial Day Parade, Yankee Doodle Fair, Waterspout …

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In one more sign of approaching normalcy, the town is moving forward with plans for an actual Memorial Day parade.

This year’s theme for the float contest is “Honoring Women Veterans.” Certificates will be awarded for Best Development of Theme, Best Youth Organization Float, Most Creative, Best Community Organization, Most Colorful, and the Best Overall Float.

If past form holds true, the Y’s Men will win the Overall award. They’ve won it nearly every year for the past 20 or so.

And the only reason the Y’s Men did not win in 2020, 2017 or 2016 was because there were no parades. (COVID last year; rain those other 2.)

Weather and COVID permitting, this year’s event begins at 9 a.m. on May 31, at Saugatuck Elementary School. Veterans — and thousands of others — will march north on Riverside Avenue, trn right on Post Road East, then continue to Myrtle Avenue.

 

The Y’s Men’s float won, as usual, in 2012. This one honored Korean War veterans — complete with freezing mist.

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The Memorial Day parade is not the only tradition that’s returning.

The Westport Woman’s Club’s Yankee Doodle Fair returns this year — but not in its century-old mid-June, end-of-school, welcome-summer slot.

Yesterday, the Board of Selectmen approved the event for September 23 through the 26th.

So it will be a start-of-school, welcome-fall fair.

But it’s still at the Woman’s Club site on Imperial Avenue.

Even after 100 years, little changes.

The 2017 Yankee Doodle Fair (Drone photo/Ryan Collins)

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Yesterday was spring-like — warm and mostly sunny. Guy Sherman wanted to  photograph a few interesting clouds over Saugatuck Shores.

He got a bonus: this rare and remarkable waterspout:

(Photo/Guy Sherman)

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A month ago, the old wood-shingled house at 19 Soundview Drive bore a demolition sign.

Then it was gone.

Now the home — one of the oldest, as-yet-unrenovated along the Compo exit road– has been painted and spiffed up. It looks eager to greet renters and beachgoers.

And ready to last another 100 years.

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The Learning Community Day School celebrates its 50th anniversary on April 28th.

The institution — housed for many years on Hillspoint Road — is not just patting themselves on the back. They’re raising money for kindergarten scholarships, with their first-ever golf outing.

It’s set for Monday, April 26 at Longshore. Check-in and breakfast are 9 a.m.; tee times start at 10 a.m. You can play 9 or 18 holes.

The cost is $250 per player, $900 for a foursome. You can form your own twosome or foursome, or be paired up.

Popup Bagels and Manny’s Ultimate Bloody Mary Mix are sponsoring food and drinks. Of course, there are prizes and giveaways.

For more information, email learning_community@yahoo.com or call 203-227-8394.

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Longtime Westport resident Judith Portner Sappern died peacefully on Saturday. She was 88 years old.

The Rumson, New Jersey native was an adventurer who, after serving as managing editor of her high school newspaper, took the unusual step at the time to go out of state for college. A

t the University of Connecticut she served as president of Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority, made lifelong friends and fell in love with Donald Sappern. Married shortly after graduation, they started a telephone answering service in Norwalk.  As Don’s career progressed and he became a successful insurance executive, Judy managed office operations and bookkeeping.

Judy Sappern

As the couple’s children grew, Judy helped with their studies and supported every interest, from the choir room and pool to the baseball diamond and the rock band that practiced in the basement. She fed generations of Staples High School students who used their nearby house on Wedgewood Lane as a home base throughout the day.

Judy pursued a master’s degree in social work, and volunteered at Norwalk Hospital. She loved helping others work through tough times, and passed that empathy on to her children. When not at the hospital or office, Judy worked on needlepoint, and played golf or bridge with friends. She also became a personal computer enthusiast and fanatical supporter of UConn basketball.

She was preceded in death by her husband of 63 years, Donald, and her older sister Joyce Cooper. Judy is survived by her children, Laurie Sappern Gaugler  (Dean), and Matthew (Rianne), both of Fairfield, and Adam (Margot)of Bethel, Vermont. Judy enjoyed frequent visits and calls with her 7 grandchildren: Billy, Chloe, Brian, Geoffrey, Rachel, Carly and Tobey. She is also survived by her beloved sister-in-law, Pietrina Sappern of Milford.

A memorial service will be held when travel and gathering is less limited. Memorial contributions in Judy’s memory can be made to the IGA Nephropathy Foundation, PO Box 1322, Wall, New Jersey 07727.

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And finally … sure, the IRS has extended this year’s filing deadline to May 17. But April 15 will always be, um, special.

 

Pic Of The Day #1458

Peaceful Compo morning (Photo/Roseann Spengler)

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Sherwood Mill Pond (Photo/Zvi Cole)

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The weekend in Westport. A beautiful Saturday …

These Park Lane trees were planted in 1960 (Photo/Elisabeth Keane)

Magnolia reflections on Post Road West (Photo/Amy Schneider)

… bracketed by Friday and Sunday clouds and fog.

Sherwood Island State Park (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Old Hill Road (Photo/Luisa Francoeur)

Compo Beach (Molly Alger)

 

 

Photo Challenge #328

Last week’s Photo Challenge showed a close-up of a bit of the Compo Beach playground. It was kind of obvious, even though I cropped Patricia McMahon’s image as closely as I could. (Click here to see.)

But leave it to Rick Benson — who has forgotten more about Westport than I’ve ever known — to provide the back story:

This is a wheel from the original playground, taken down in April 1989 to make room for the first Robert Leathers Community Built playground.

When that wore out and the current one was built, this was relocated again to the “new playground.”

The “original playground” Rick refers to was actually just a monkey bar, swing set and whirligig adjacent to the basketball courts.

The plan for the first Leathers playground created an enormous controversy.

Playground opponents — no, that’s not an oxymoron — feared a ruined beach vista. They worried the swings and ladders would be a magnet for out-of-towners, or taken over by beer-drinking, pot-smoking, sex-having teenagers.

The playground controversy brought the first — and only — death threat of 1st selectwoman Marty Hauhuth’s tenure.

Anti-playground activists obtained a court injunction. (They were not playing around.)

As soon as it was lifted, construction began. It was a magical weekend.

The playground quickly became one of Westport’s prime attractions. It did not ruin the view; it enhanced it. And the only problem now is that on beautiful days, too many people use it.

Congratulations to (besides Rick) Rich Stein, Totney Benson, Andrew Colabella, Evan Stein, John Richers and James Weisz.

All knew where to find last week’s Photo Challenge. Even if they didn’t all know as much about it as Rick does.

How about this week’s puzzle? If you know where in Westport you’d see this, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Gene Borio)

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Low tide clamming on Long Island Sound (Photo/Ferdinand Jahnel)

Roundup: Remarkable Theater, Clear Cutting, Coffee An’ …

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Art imitated life last night, at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

A 40-foot movie screen was erected for the Remarkable Theater’s 2nd season — and a cameraman was there to film it.

The (metaphorical) curtain rises tonight at 7:30 p.m., with “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” “Sneak previews” follow through Tuesday. Click here for details and tickets.

(Photo/Doug Tirola)

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A reader writes:

“We residents on Pequot Trail are very upset by this week’s clear cutting of a lovely wooded area that provided privacy for multiple properties around the entrance to our street. Every time I turn onto the street now, my heart sinks.

“We’re sad enough that the charming house is being torn down — we get that this is inevitable — but did all of the mature trees and coveted privacy for multiple homes need to be callously destroyed?

“I called the town and was told that initiatives to restrict tree cutting have failed multiple times. I wonder what needs to happen to get our town, which prides itself on being so ‘green,’ to put a stop to this kind of environmental desecration?

“To preempt  any comments about ‘city people’ moving in, this property was bought by a Westport family. That makes it so much more disappointing.

Clear cutting, around the house that will be demolished.

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When COVID canceled last year’s annual plant sale, the Westport Garden Club planted a sign: “See You in 2021.”

True to their promise, this year’s in-person (sale is set for Friday, May 14 (9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.). The new location is Jesup Green.

Gardeners can purchase plants the day of the sale, or online starting May 1. Click here for information.

Online orders will be available for curbside pick-up. And club members will be on hand during the sale to offer expert advice.

In more Garden Club news: “Friday Flowers,” the campaign initiated in the dark days of last spring to lift spirits and beautify the town, returns this summer. The first installation (May 7) is at Saugatuck Congregational Church. Floral arrangements made by club members will be displayed each Friday through Labor Day.

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The annual Compo Beach grooming project is underway. As the weather turns nice — and more folks are vaccinated — it comes not a moment too soon.

The work is impressive to watch on the ground.

And even more impressive by drone.

(Photo/Daniel Johnson)

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For a long while, Coffee An’ was open for takeout only.

They’ve now got indoor seating too. It’s limited, socially distanced, safe — and within amazing aroma distance of their wide selection of donuts (an’ more).

There are plenty of great breakfast and lunch places in town. Coffee An’ is at the topo of any list.

(Photo/Katherine Bruan)

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Amy Mandelbaum is vice president of the OUT Foundation, which encourages the LGBTQ community to participate in fitness, health and wellness activities.

She also owns CrossFit Westport. There’s no better place to encourage the inclusion she champions.

So on Saturday, April 17 (9:30 a.m. to noon), her gym — just over the Norwalk line, at 19 Willard Road — sponsors an “OUT Athletics” event. The warmup and workout is fun, doable — and everyone is welcome.

There’s food, coffee, and gift bags from sponsors like Garnier and Goodr sunglasses. Each heat lasts 45 minutes to an hour; then comes (socially distant) socializing.

For more or information or to sign up, click here.

Amy Mandelbaum

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With little rainfall and low humidity recently, Westport’s brush fire danger is high.

The Fire Department responded to 2 brush fires yesterday — simultaneously.

The one on Sherwood Island Connector was quickly extinguished. The other — between Parsell Lane and I-95 — brought 30 firefighters and officers from Westport and Fairfield, with 7 engines and 1 ladder. It burned 3 1/2  acres, but there was no property damage or injuries.

Westport Firefighters were dispatched to two simultaneous brush fires, one on the Sherwood Island Connector at Nyala Farms Road and the other on Parsell Lane.

Be careful out there!

(Photo courtesy of Westport Fire Department)

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This is amazing! Who would have guessed that “the friendliest curbside experience in America” is located right here in Westport? At our Fresh Market!

A cynic might demand proof.

I just want to know: Is this “the friendliest curbside experience” for supermarkets throughout America only? Or does it include everything: restaurants, bookstores, hardware stores, liquor stores, whatever?

Either way, this is very, very impressive.

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If you missed Monday night’s TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Essay Contest livestream — or read the essays on “06880” the next day, and want to watch the winners’ powerful deliveries — click below.

Spoiler alert: They’re great.

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“06880” has faithfully reported on ospreys: their return, their nests, even their empty platforms.

But they’re not the only wildlife to admire. Sherwood Mill Pond teems with more than ospreys. Matt Murray snapped this shot of a heron yesterday.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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And finally … today is the birthday of songwriter Yip Harburg. He was born on the Lower East Side in 1896. he survived the blacklist of the 1950s, and died in 1981.

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Surveying the scene at Compo Beach (Photo/Bruce Borner)