Category Archives: Children

Friday Flashback #173

After more than 2 decades of “First Night”s, Tuesday marks the 2nd New Year’s Eve without the long tradition.

It ended last year. Several factors — including fewer volunteers, decreasing corporate sponsors and dropping attendance — led to the end of the family-friendly, alcohol-free event.

In a few years, First Night will join other season celebrations — Festival Italiano, anyone? — in the “remember when?” category.

For now, here’s a fond look back at First Nights past:

Horse-drawn sleighs roamed downtown. Photo/Dan Woog)

Fireworks over the Saugatuck (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

A mother wrangles her young son at the Saugatuck Elementary School bounce house. (Photo/Dan Woog)

The Westport Astronomical Society hauled out some serious telescopes. (Photo/Dan Woog)

And, for good measure, let’s remember the Christmas crane that towered over Westport just 4 years ago, during the construction of Bedford Square.

(Photo/Wendy Cusick)

 

Middle School Hearts Dave Parise

Dave Parise — part of a longtime, well-known Westport family — was born with a genetic heart defect.

Obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was not noticeable when he was young. He wrestled, ran, and played football and baseball while growing up.

After graduating from Staples High School in 1976 he helped coach there, and joined the custodial staff. But in his early 40s he went on medication. A defibrillator was implanted. He developed blood pressure problems and a heart murmur. He took 9 medications, twice a day.

This past April, Dave was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Chemo and radiation exacerbated his heart condition.

In early October, while walking his dog at Southport Beach, David passed out. He was taken to Bridgeport Hospital.

Dave Parise, in the hospital.

On October 18 he underwent open-heart surgery. An adverse reaction to his blood thinner kept him in the hospital for 12 days.

Back home, he was in excruciating pain. He had pericarditis — an inflammation near the heart — and then complications from bleeding. He endured a second open-heart surgery, this time in New York.

It’s been a rough year for Dave and his wife Anne.

But the day before Thanksgiving, he got a call from Paul Coppola, assistant principal at Trumbull’s Madison Middle School. David’s been a custodian in that town for the past 5 years.

Students and staff have been uplifted by his friendliness, generosity and vibrant personality. He loves kids, and knows virtually every Madison student well.

The youngsters wanted to know where “Dr. Clean” had been. (His other nicknames: Mr. All-American Red White and Blue, and Dr. Patriot.)

One morning, Coppola called. They were  having a pep rally for him, he told Dave. They were singing songs and cheering — all via FaceTime.

Dave beamed. His spirits soared.

He can’t wait to get back to his school, his staff and his kids, and make his building shine again.

Dave Parise, flanked by his daughter Mary and wife Anne.

(Hat tip: Jack Backiel)

Longshore Kids’ Wall Resurfaces At Library

Nearly 20 years ago, 1,400 Westport middle school students created what is believed to be the largest piece of public art in Fairfield County.

Designed by students in their art classrooms — with help from noted artists Katherine Ross and Miggs Burroughs — the “Kids’ Wall” rose 8 feet high, and stretched 44 feet wide.

Costing $18,000 — donated by dozens of individuals and organizations — it included 1,500 pounds of tile and adhesive, 1,000 pounds of “Wonder Board” (tile backing), and 200 pounds of grout.

There are 64 panels, 500 pieces of broken tile, and other objects on each panel. That’s 32,000 individual pieces on the mural, give or take a few.

Each panel was completed in one 50-minute art class. There were 64 classes, covering every 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grader in town.

The Kids’ Wall, at Longshore.

The approval process took 2 years. The Planning & Zoning Commission, Architectural Review Board, Parks & Recreation Department, Public Works, Police Department, Conservation Commission, RTM, Arts Advisory Council and Board of Selectmen all weighed in

Finally, it was done. The Kids’ Wall was unveiled near the Longshore pool on May 28, 2000.

It’s still there.

But it’s also at the Westport Library.

Just inside the upper parking lot entrance, there’s an exhibit celebrating the 20th anniversary. It includes a 1/3-scale banner of the wall, plus newspaper stories and more.

The Kids’ Wall exhibit at the library.(From left): Artists Miggs Burroughs and Katherine Ross; outgoing Library exhibits director Chris Timmons; incoming exhibits director Carol Erger-Fass.

Somehow, this enormous public art project never got the publicity it deserved. If you go to the Longshore pool or sailing school, you see it.

But no one else does — or even knows about it.

The “transformed” library opened 3 months ago. Perhaps this exhibit will transform the little-known Kids’ Wall into an artistic treasure, known far and wide.

Or at least beyond Longshore.

KIDS’ WALL BONUS: Click below for a video on the making of the mural:

Looking Back At An Unsung Hero: Snow Day Edition

Alert “06880” reader and native Westporter Seth Van Beever writes:

The unsung hero of every child in Westport on a snow day was John La Barca at WMMM. We listened closely to the alphabetical school closings announcements.

A snow day was all about going to Birchwood Country Club to go sledding.

Oh yeah. I remember. Every 10 minutes or so, John would start: Ansonia, Amity Regional, Bethel…

It was an agonizing wait. Who cared about Our Lady of Fatima? Did it even exist?

But then — right after “Weston…” we would hear “Westport.”

And all would be right with the world.

In addition to Birchwood, Winslow Park (pictured this past March) and Greens Farms Elementary School are great sledding spots. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Pics Of The Day #964

Last night, Wakeman Town Farm invited everyone to its Christmas tree lighting …

… and as soon as the lights went on …

… the kids got down to business. (Photos/Betsy P. Kahn)

Pic Of The Day #962

A gaggle of children joins 1st Selectman Jim Marpe (center), 2nd Selectman Jen Tooker (left) and the Staples Orphenians, to count down before Westport’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony this evening, at Town Hall.

The Christmas tree, in front of Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue. (Photos/Dan Woog)

Sofia’s Abuela

As a veteran language arts teacher, Paul Ferrante makes sure to expose his Westport middle school students to a multicultural array of writers.

And as a published author himself, Ferrante encourages his pupils to enter writing contests. In his 13 years teaching in Mount Vernon, New York, and 20 years at Bedford and Coleytown, approximately 70 students have won awards.

When Altice USA — the parent company of Optimum and News12 — announced a Hispanic Heritage Month essay contest, Ferrante passed the info on. The prompt: Write about a Latino person, past or present, who inspires you to dream big.

Five of Ferrante’s Bedford Middle School students entered. Most wrote about people they knew from books, culture or history.

Sofia Alarcon wrote about her grandmother.

Sofia Alarcon

The 7th grader described her abuela’s life: A political dissident in Argentina who made it her mission to free adults from poverty by teaching them to read and write, Edith Staheli and her husband were arrested by the government.

He disappeared; she was deported. She returned years later — after working in exile for social justice — to educate the poor.

Sofia wrote:

My grandmother inspires me to always give my all and nothing less, and to help those less fortunate than me. She inspires me to try hard, because you don’t know if you can do something if you don’t try. It is her strength that inspires me to fight till the end and this strength motivates me to never stop believing in a more just and equal world.

Because she didn’t stop.

It was a beautiful, insightful essay, Ferrante says.

The judges agreed. They awarded Sofia first prize — and a $1,500 scholarship.

“Her personal stake comes through loud and clear,” Ferrante notes. “Sofia created a passionate tone. And her narrative hook brings the story full circle, in the conclusion.”

The award “couldn’t happen to a nicer person,” he adds.

Sofia’s grandmother, Edith Staheli.

It’s particularly meaningful for 2 reasons, Sofia’s mother Natalia Frias-Staheli, says.

For one, Sofia thinks of herself as a “STEM” — science, technology, engineering and math — person. In writing the essay, Ferrante encouraged her to push outside her comfort zone.

For another, Sofia’s grandmother died suddenly in September. She was just 66, with many projects still ahead.

Felicitaciones, Sofia. You are already dreaming big!

2 Ways To Make A Difference

Westporters care.

We care about our friends and neighbors. We care about kids and older folks in need, here and in nearby towns and cities.

We want to help — particularly in this holiday season.

But we don’t always know how.

Here are a couple of great ideas.


The Westport Police Department Local Union #2080 and Police Benevolent Association host an annual Holiday Toy Drive. Thousands of donations benefit underprivileged children throughout Fairfield County, and beyond.

Westport police officers will accept new, unopened and unwrapped toys — and cash donations — in the ASF Sports parking lot (1560 Post Road East) on Saturdays and Sundays, December 7, 8, 14 and 15 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Collection boxes are set up now through December 15 at:

  • Westport Police Department, 50 Jesup Road (24 hours a day)
  • Westport Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue (weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
  • ASF Sports, 1560 Post Road East (weekdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sundays 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Questions? Email jruggiero@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-6017.


In recent years, Bridgeport’s Cesar Batalla School has become a favorite destination for Westporters hoping to help youngsters enjoy the holidays.

The school serves children in high poverty brackets. Some live in shelters. 100% are fed breakfast and lunch at school.

Their families have no money for basic necessities — let alone holiday gifts.

Westporters can provide some of those gifts, for children in pre-K through 3rd grade.

It’s easy: Click here to order online from Amazon. Orders from the Wish List will be shipped directly to the school. They are also accepting donations at the Family Resource Center in the school (606 Howard Avenue, Bridgeport).  Call 203-579-8526 for drop-off times. For more information, email blabrador@bridgeportedu.net.

If interested, act now! Gifts will be given by Santa on December 19.

In past years, Westporters donated these gifts to the Cesar Batalla School.

 

“Bye Bye Birdie”; Hello Tisdale!

“Bye Bye Birdie” is a staple of student drama troupes. What can you say about it that hasn’t already been said?

In the case of this weekend’s performances at Bedford Middle School: plenty.

The show features students from both Bedford and Coleytown Schools, so it should be a blockbuster.

Oliver Hallgarten, and admirers. (Photo/January Stewart)

In keeping with the theme, there’s a special ice cream social sock hop prior to the Saturday matinee. It includes ice cream from Saugatuck Sweets, hula hoop and dance contests, and free funky socks.

But that’s not the big news.

The sock hop is a benefit for the Turnaround Arts program. That’s a national arts education project with schools that face daunting educational challenges.

Bedford’s Turnaround Arts partner is the Jettie S. Tisdale School in Bridgeport. Together, Tisdale students are developing their talents and voices.

After each season’s show, Bedford donates its set, costumes and props — plus a donation from a raffle and promotions — to support Tisdale’s next production.

Andrew Maskoff and Ellie Cohen, in Bedford Company’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” (Photo/January Stewart)

But it does not stop there. After their show, Tisdale passes those resources on to another Turnaround Arts school. Then of course, they do the same…

The ice cream social and sock hop begin at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday (November 23). Raffles will take place at all “Bye Bye Birdie” performances (Friday and Saturday, November 22 and 23, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.). Click here for tickets, and more information.

Enjoy the show! It’s sure to make you “put on a happy face.”

Curtain Call For “A Christmas Story”

“A Christmas Story: The Musical” plays at Curtain Call in Stamford, now through December 14.

But many ties to Westport make this a true hometown show.

The story starts with the Kweskin Theater, Curtain Call’s home. Al Pia was its founding artistic director — and for many years, the highly esteemed director of Staples Players as well.

One of Pia’s high school actors was Ben Frimmer. He’s now the director of “A Christmas Story” — and director of Coleytown Company, the well-regarded middle school troupe.

Justin Paul (Photo/Dan Woog)

A couple of decades ago, Justin Paul acted for Frimmer at Coleytown. After graduating from Staples in 2003, and then the University of Michigan, Paul and his songwriting partner, Benj Pasek, rocketed to stardom. They’ve won Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards for works like “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land.”

Another work — “A Christmas Story: The Musical” — enjoyed a Broadway run. With great music and splashy production numbers, it quickly became a holiday classic.

And, in Stamford, a Westport holiday classic. Frimmer has cast several current and former students in the production: Matthew Bukzin, Cooper Gusick, Gavin Jamali, Julie Lloyd, Imogen Medoff, Sarah Peterson and Ari Sklar.

Westport youngsters in “A Christmas Story: The musical.” Front row (from left): Gavin Jamali, Cooper Gusick Ari Sklar. Rear: Matthew Bukzin, Imogen Medoff,.Jamali.

Frimmer’s own son Ari plays Ralphie Parker.

Ari Frimmer, as Ralphie.

Even Curtain Call executive director and producer for “A Christmas Story” has a local connection. Lou Ursone was mentored by Pia.

Plenty of Westporters will be heading to Stamford to see this production. But they’ll feel as if they never left home.

(“A Christmas Story: The Musical” is performed Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday afternoons at 2. In addition, there are Thursday evening performances on December 5 and 12, and Saturday matinees on December 7 and 14. For tickets and more information, click here or call 203-461-6358, ext. 36.)