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Neighbors & Newcomers: New President, New Ways To Build Community

Elizabeth Haynes jokes that with all the new arrivals from New York, Westport should be called “the 6th borough.”

She’s not one of them. A Michigan native, she came east after high school “3 or 4 lifetimes ago,” and moved here from New Jersey’s Bergen County with her 2 girls in 2018.

But — after living up and down the East Coast all her adult life — Elizabeth feels “very much at home” in Westport.

Now — as the new president of Neighbors & Newcomers — it’s her job to help recent residents bond with more established  ones, so that all feel a sense of community.

Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth joined N&N as soon as she moved in. She appreciated that it was not just a welcome wagon, for newcomers only. “It spoke to the character of Westport,” she says. “People here have strong roots, but they embrace new people. There’s an eagerness to grow.”

Informal events had an “organic feel,” she notes. “There are lots of ‘Events’ — with a capital ‘E’ — in Westport. I loved Neighbors & Newcomers’ coffees, wine get-togethers, cooking lessons at someone’s house. It was very neighborly.”

COVID-19 put a halt to gatherings like those. As she takes over from president Jenifer Gilbert — who moved to Texas — Elizabeth must lead a social group at a time when social distancing is crucial. Most in-person meetings have been suspended, or dramatically curtailed.

Yet, she notes, “if there was ever a time we needed community, it’s now. It’s poignant and painful to try to build community in a way we’re not used to, or want to. I feel a big responsibility to Westport.”

But, she says confidently, “We’re up to it.”

Elizabeth points to wine-and-cheese tastings. “Maybe we can partner with local businesses to have wine and cheese delivered to homes, or picked up. We might have a small gathering somewhere, with everyone else on Zoom.”

In 2015, Neighbors & Newcomers enjoyed wine and fun at Painting With a Twist …

Two informal bring-your-own coffees are planned for this week, near the brick pavilion at Compo Beach. One is today (Tuesday, September 15, 9:30 a.m.). The other is Thursday (September 17, 1 p.m.). The morning and afternoon times follow the bifurcated school schedule. Social distancing and masks will be enforced (and a beach sticker is needed to park).

“We’ll take advantage of the nice weather as long as we can,” Elizabeth says. “When it gets colder, we’ll come up with creative ideas. We’re open to anything.”

The Book Club, Kayaking Club and Walking Club will all continue, with adjustments as needed. The end-of-the-year holiday party — a great event — “may look different,” Elizabeth acknowledges. “But we won’t cancel it. We’ll figure something out.”

… and a hike in the woods.

As for all those “6th borough” newcomers: Elizabeth is excited to have them join neighbors who have been here longer: whether 2 years like her, or much longer.

“My impression is the families arriving from New York, with younger kids, are exceptionally friendly, outgoing, and eager to make connections and put down roots,” Elizabeth says.

“Right now, we’ve got an incredible opportunity for all of us to really enrich this great community.”

“Neighbors & Newcomers wants to support not only residents, but local merchants and restaurants as much as possible. If anyone has a great idea or wants to brainstorm, let us know!” Email presidentnnwestport@gmail.com, or click on the website or Facebook page.

Peter Bryniczka: Carrying On A Long Legal Tradition

One semester before graduating from law school in his native Poland, Peter Bryniczka’s grandfather joined the military. He became an officer, and fought General Rommel in North Africa.

Later, posted to England as a bomber attached to the RAF, he met an American nurse from Maryland. She too was helping the British war effort.

They married, and moved to the States. Peter’s grandfather worked for the Polish Embassy, then for the newly established United Nations in Lake Success, just over the Throgs Neck Bridge.

He commuted from Teaneck, New Jersey, so the Bryniczkas looked for some place closer. They had friends in New Canaan, and talked to a realtor there.

“With a last name like yours, you might be more comfortable in Westport,” she said.

The Bryniczkas bought a house on Greens Farms Road, near Sasco Creek. It was very quiet; I-95 had not yet been completed.

Their son Jan walked to Long Lots Junior High through cornfields. He graduated from Staples High School in 1963, then the University of Connecticut Law School. He was hired by Wake, See & Dimes — one of Westport’s most prestigious firms — and practiced at the 27 Imperial Avenue office for decades. His name too was added, as a partner.

27 Imperial Avenue, longtime home of Wake See Dimes & Bryniczka.

Wake, See, Dimes & Bryniczka merged with the Milford firm Berchem Moses. They opened a Westport office on the Post Road, across from Fortuna’s.

Jan’s son Peter grew up in Westport. He also went to Staples, where he played hockey and baseball, and joined the orchestra. After graduating in 1997, he headed to Wesleyan University. Then — following his father’s footsteps — he went to UConn Law School.

Peter’s interviewed a boutique Cos Cob firm: Schoonmaker, George, Colin & Blomberg. They specialized in divorce law, which Bryniczka thought “sounds horrible.”

Peter Bryniczka

But “they were the first lawyers interested in me and my background, not the classes I took,” Bryniczka says. “They were like a little family.”

He appreciated the opportunity to work with people go through difficult life circumstances. The work was never dull. He joined them after passing the bar. He thinks he is the only person from his law school class who — 16 years later — is still with the same firm.

Bryniczka was made a partner in 2013. Last January — just as his father’s had been — his name was added to the firm.

He and his wife Erica have a son (almost 7), and daughter (5). They live less than a mile from Peter’s grandfather’s house. As of this month, Bryniczka no longer commutes every day to Greenwich.

Schoonmaker, George, Colin, Blomberg, Bryniczka & Welsh just opened a Westport office. The idea makes sense: Many clients live in Westport, and nearby towns.

Bryniczka’s new digs are on the 2nd floor of 180 Post Road East. From his window he sees his father’s old office, on Imperial Avenue.

Peter Bryniczka’s new office.

Across Bay Street is Design Within Reach. For decades, that building was the Westport post office. Bryniczka accompanied his father every Saturday to the law firm, then up the short hill to pick up mail. He still remembers the PO Box number: 777.

Peter Bryniczka has many growing-up memories in Westport: buying his first baseball glove at Schaefer’s. The model trains every Christmas in Swezey’s Jewelers Main Street window. Slices at Westport Pizzeria.

Now — in a new era — he is back working a few steps from there. He knows that no one ever wants to hire a family or divorce lawyer, but he is proud to offer those services in his home town.

And who knows? When his children visit him at his office, they too might be inspired to become attorneys.

Decades from now, they may be the third generations of Bryniczkas practicing here. They have a proud tradition to live up to.

And — despite what a New Canaan realtor thought, back in the 1950s — a great name.

Friday Flashback #207

At the start of the beach season, our Friday Flashback featured Chubby Lane’s — the long-time, much loved Compo Beach concession located where the volleyball courts are now.

It drew (of course) dozens of comments.

But Chubby’s was hardly the first food service at the beach.

Jim Gray made a collage of concession stand postcards that predate Chubby’s by decades.

They were way before my time. I don’t know the back story for any of them. The buildings changed over the years — but you can tell it’s the same spot, by the distinctive small turret at the top of each one.

(Photo collage courtesy of Jim Gray)

If you have any information on any of these iterations, click “Comments” below.

Mike McCreesh Zooms Toward An Ironman

Mike McCreesh is a runner. He started doing it for hockey practice in high school, and soon enjoyed it almost as much as playing.

He never stopped running, through marathon experiences that include a New York snowstorm, and Boston nor’easter, heat wave and bombing.

When his and his wife Dana’s toddler Brent was undergoing cancer treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital, Mike was quarantined due to his son’s immuno-suppression. Mike ran up and down the hospital stairs to burn off stress.

Mike McCreesh

Dana signed him up for the Pan Mass Challenge, a 192-mile bike ride fundraiser across Masssachusetts. He had not ridden since he had a paper route, and spent the next few years learning proper techniques.

For the next decade Mike ran and biked, while cheering his daughters on in their swim meets for the Westport Y Water Rats.

Mike and his eldest daughter Madi dabbled in Sprint triathlons (a .46 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike and 3.1 mile run) at Compo Beach. Mike suffered through the swims, but had a great time otherwise.

His youngest daughter Kira joined in. Team McCreesh placed 2nd in the relay division of Tri Ridgefield.

Mike set goals: Olympic triathlons (.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run), then a half Ironman (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run), ending with the ultimate prize, a full Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).

To do it though, he had to learn how to really swim.

Mike McCreesh, ready to swim.

Ellen Johnston was just the person. She had taught all 3 of his children how to swim in the Fairfield County Hunt Club pool, and as director of competitive swimming for the Westport Weston Family Y and Water Rat head coach.

Ellen was named YMCA National Coach of the Year in 2015, and Connecticut Coach of the Year several times.

Still, Mike wondered: Could she teach someone so set in his ways?

After just one lesson, Mike radically altered his stroke from childhood choppiness to a one with proper breaths.

With plenty of practice, Mike eventually almost passed for a slower version of one of Ellen’s Water Rats.

Mike — whose fulltime gig is president of Battea Class Action Services — continued with triathlon coaching at Sherpa Fitness. In 2016 he completed the Florida Ironman; 2 years later, he did one in Maryland. He was getting ready for another Ironman this October in 2020, but the pandemic ended that dream.

Mike’s dedication to triathlons extends to reading. Dana gives him books on the subject for holidays. One of his favorites is Will McGough’s Swim, Bike, Bonk: Confessions of a Reluctant Triathlete.

Dana read it too, and related to its insights about how Ironman training impacts a family’s quality of life.

Dana’s interest in the book transcended triathlons. She helps the Pequot Library with their “Meet the Author” series. She thought McGough would be a great, funny speaker. Unfortunately, he’s a travel writer who split his time between Colorado and Hawaii.

But the coronavirus that canceled Mike’s Barcelona triathlon gives him a chance to help the Southport library.

Next Tuesday (August 25, 4 p.m.), Mike will interview Will McGough via Zoom. They’ll chat about Mike’s training for an Ironman (which Will covers like an exotic foreign country). “It will be lighthearted and fun,” Mike promises.

Which running 26.2 miles, biking 112 miles and swimming 2.4 miles — even with the right form — definitely is not.

(The Zoom interview is free, but pre-registration is required. Click here to register, and for more information.) 

Mike and Dana McCreesh, after one of his races.

Unsung Hero #156

Lawrence Weisman writes:

I want to pay tribute to the generosity of Bernie Izzo, of Izzo & Son Country Gardens.

For the past 2 years Bernie has contributed truckloads of plantings and design services to create gardens at The Fairfield County House in Stamford, a non-profit facility providing compassionate end-of-life care to Fairfield County residents.

Bernie Izzo

Without expectation of publicity or compensation, Bernie has unhesitatingly donated and delivered material, and the services of his staff, to create several gardens on the property.

This year a landscape architect specified an extensive list of plants, grasses and flowers. Bernie sourced it all. He bought, stored and cared for the material until he had everything that was specified, Then he had it loaded onto 2 trucks and taken to the house, where it was planted in designated locations.

Earlier, when the house first opened, Bernie designed and supplied the original landscaping and foundation plantings and installed it — all without charge.

The Fairfield County House would not be where it is without Bernie Izzo.

[OPINION] Patience, Please!

Alert, observant and insightful “06880” reader Iain Bruce writes:

In the first 3 days after Isaias I bicycled about 125 miles in Westport, Norwalk, Wilton, Weston, Easton and Fairfield. The breadth and intensity of the destruction is astounding, as bad as or worse than Sandy. I fear that folks who are excoriating CL&P and UI may lack perspective.

The electric grid is large and complex. Getting electricity to any particular place suffers from the limitations of what is built and the laws of physics. The grid covers not only Westport but all our neighboring towns, and is an interconnected and integrated whole. It has to be reassembled in a logical order with legitimate competing priorities (safety, police/fire, population density, etc.), but always subject to those limitations of structure and physics.

I have cycled on numerous roads where huge decades-old hardwoods (oak, maple, hickory) have been split asunder and taken out all the wires in 4 or 5 places over less than a mile. I’ve passed through by walking the bike across a lot of yards, over walls, and under trees where cars cannot go (and bicycles probably ought not).

Several days after Isaias, this was still the scene on Charcoal Hill Road. (Photo/Pat Blaufuss)

One example will suffice. On Friday I saw a UI crew working to repair huge damage at the intersection of Redding Road and Hull’s Farm in Fairfield. When they finish this large-in-its-own-right job after several hours it will probably restore power to approximately nobody, because 700 feet farther north on Redding Road another tree has taken out the wires, and 1,000 or so feet north of that, a large tree is suspended by electric cables above the street.

Half a mile farther north, Cross Highway is closed on both sides of Merwins Road with wires down and transformers smashed amidst arboreal carnage. This all in a mile or so of travel. Multiply this by hundreds of miles of grid in Westport and surrounding towns, and you should have at least an inkling of the scale of the problem.

Many of your readers do understand this, but people calling the utilities callous, careless, or worse seem themselves uninformed at best. Patience would be in order.

Post-Isaias, Day 4: Fingers Crossed …

Last night, Eversource said:

  • Over 1,000 crews have been deployed, with “hundreds more” arriving.
  • A list of estimated restoration projects will be available today on the Eversource.com website.
  • Some customers may lose power as a necessary step for crews to make repairs safely for others.
  • Customers without power may have equipment damage, like meter boxes or the pipe and wire running from the meter box to the home. That damage may require an electrician or contractor to repair. Eversource will let customers know if such repairs are necessary,

6:15 a.m. today: Half of the dozen or so utility trucks parked near the police station, on Jesup Road. A few minutes later, crews began arriving. On we go! (Photo/Peter Nussbaum)


Meanwhile, yesterday the Department of Public Works led an effort — assisted by Eversource line crews and Knapp tree service — to clear and open a number of through roads and side streets. They include Sterling Drive, Buena Vista and Compo Hill; Minute Man Hill; Compo Parkway; South Compo at Narrow Rocks; Rocky Ridge Road (an enormous effort, and site of a visit by an entourage with Governor Ned Lamont, Senator Richard Blumenthal and 1st Selectman Jim Marpe; Stoneboat Rd,, and Quarter Mile Road.

Today they’ll work on Crooked Mike and the northwest corner of town, then the Sturges Highway neighborhood.

The goal is to open all remaining no access/dead end-type streets by sunset tonight.

Workers yesterday at Stoneboat Road. (Photo/C. Swan)


“06880” has learned — but cannot confirm — that one National Guard unit is headed to Westport today, lending physical (and moral) support. Another may be deployed to Weston.


Westporters are angry — and getting angrier — at Eversource.

But its workers are not its management. Utility crews — and those from mutual aid companies — are doing very dangerous work, for long hours (sometimes double shifts).

Here’s an important message from JD Dworkow:

“I spoke to some of them. They’re up here from South Carolina. Can we remind some of our fellow citizens to be nice to them? Offer them cold water and praise? Not complain?”

Preach!


Wakeman Town Farm’s farm stand is open today, until 1 p.m. They say:

“It’s tomato time, with the season’s best variety of everyone’s favorite tomatoes, plus a rainbow of Farm flowers. Our farmer and volunteers have worked hard to bring you the best organic produce grown right here at 134 Cross Highway. Stop by for veggies, our own honey from Wakeman’s honeybees, and WTF logowear, including our popular masks, gaiters and WTF market totes.”


Manna Toast has a ton of food they’d prepared for the week.

“Hurricane Meal Boxes” can be ordered by 3 p.m., then picked up at their Hub Kitchen (across from the Post Road drive-thru Starbucks) between 4 and 5 p.m. today.

The menu includes toast boards, salads, soups, sides and desserts. Power outage tip: You can briefly grill your sourdough slices to achieve toasty goodness.

Call 203-628-4677 or email info@manntoast.com. Click here for the website.


The National Weather Service has confirmed that a tornado did strike Westport on Tuesday, as part of Isaias’ storm system.

Confirmation came in large part thanks to Scott Pecoriello. He’s the 2015 Staples High School graduate, now a full time meteorologist, who is as spot-on as any forecaster anywhere.

He tells “06880”:

“Tornado confirmed! EF1 with winds up to 105 mph. I had a conversation with the NWS in NY yesterday. They surveyed the damage remotely using a combo of radar, my video, and reports from EMS in Westport.

“Originally my company, Weather Optics (which specializes in impact forecasts for highly disruptive weather events like this one) knew the tornado threat was high, but I was still somehow shocked I was there at the exact location and exact time it formed.

“Another tidbit: This was the first time a tornado hit the state of Connecticut from a tropical system.”

Scott Pecoriello took this photo at Compo Beach on Tuesday, which the National Weather Service used to confirm a tornado.


“06880” has posted tons of Isaias-related photos (see above). Here’s a “greatest hits” video, courtesy of Cabry Lueker:


And yes, work continues around town. Two scenes from late yesterday, on Rocky Ridge Road:

(Photos/C. Swa )

A Tu B’Av To Remember

The email heading yesterday was “Look what you started.”

Uh oh. I’ve tried to do my best in this crazy post-Isaias world. What had I done now?

Instead, alert “06880” reader Ken Kantor’s message made my day. If not my week, month and year. Sure, the bar is low in 2020. But read on:

Dan, I want to share a special moment from today that was partially your doing.

I am a Staples High School grad (Class of 1986). I moved back to Westport 10 years ago with my wife and 2 daughters.

I read your “06880” post this morning about charging stations and WiFi at The Conservative Synagogue. My family went over to charge all our devices and let our girls update their Tik Toks. The building was closed due to COVID-19, but they had charging stations setup under a tent outside.

I soon realized that we were at temple on our 16th wedding anniversary, standing under a tent (which can double as a “chuppah” — a Jewish ceremonial canopy under which a Jewish couple stands during their wedding ceremony). So, I thought: What a perfect moment to renew my wedding vows with my beautiful wife Rachel!

I knocked on the door to see if Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn would be willing to perform an impromptu ceremony. The staff said the rabbi had left, but they would call him.

He very graciously came back to the temple. During the mini-ceremony, Rabbi Wiederhorn noted that this is also the week of a small Jewish holiday, Tu B’Av. In modern Israel it is celebrated as a holiday of love, similar to Valentine’s Day. So, another good sign!

From right: Rachel and Ken Kantor, with Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn.

Thank you to Rabbi Wiederhorn for the wedding ceremony and the WiFi! Thank you Dan for unknowingly setting this up! And thank you to my wife for marrying me again — in a parking lot, while charging our devices, while social distancing, and while completely embarrassing our 2 teenage daughters, Ruby Kantor (grade 9) and Emma Kantor (grade 8)!

Happy anniversary — and Tu B’Av!

 

Pics Of The Day #1205 (Isaias Edition)

Richmondville Avenue (Photo/Arlene Yolles)

Saugatuck Avenue #1 …

… Saugatuck Avenue #2 …

… and Saugatuck Avenue #3 (Photos/Scott Singer)

Hales Road (Patricia McMahon)

One view of Prospect and Hillandale …

… and another (Photos/Samuel Wang)

Grove Point Road, where …

… everyone beyond #17 is stuck (Photos/John Kantor)

Meanwhile, at Compo Beach … (Photo/Jay Walshon)

And — with the power out — some emergency supplies (Photo/Matt Murray)

NOTE: The Westport Library will be closed tomorrow.

Isaias Is Here

Over 5,600 Westport customers –including “06880” — are without power, as the remnants of Hurricane Isaiah have hit.

Downed trees and wires litter roads around town. Officials urge residents to stay home.