Category Archives: History

Roundup: Library Cafe, Granny Rocks, Arts …

=======================================================The Westport Library Café is open again.

Well, sort of. Hours are limited (10 a.m. to 1 p.m.). There’s beverage service only — none of the great Mystic Market treats that were so popular before COVID.

But it’s a start. The gorgeous space by the river no longer seems so empty.

Meanwhile, the library store — filled with gifts, cards, and whatnot — has re-emerged from its hiatus in one of the reading rooms. It’s back on the main floor.

Now all we need are dozens of people hanging out on the Forum steps, speakers on stage every night, and water running once again from the bubblers.

(Photo/Doris Ghitelman)

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The Netflix crew that’s spent several weeks filming “The Noel Diary” in Westport has inconvenienced some residents. They’ve also taken taken over the Westport Country Playhouse parking lot, for use as a staging area. Several large trucks are camped there. Closure of the lot has upset some dog-walking regulars, who prefer that spot to the North Compo lot.

But some were particularly upset yesterday, at the mess left in the northeast corner of the lot. A temporary tent used by the production crew was gone.

And this is what remained:

(Photo/Sara Robbin)

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Lisa Doran’s Greens Farms Elementary School distance learning 1st graders welcomed a very special visitor yesterday.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe took time out of his day to pop into her classroom — via Zoom — to chat.

The students were enthralled — and inquisitive. When one asked what Marpe likes best about his job, he got up from his desk, and grabbed the giant pair of scissors — a present from his wife after his first election. He uses them at ribbon cutting ceremonies, which he says is his favorite task.

Another student asked if he knows everyone in Westport. He said that he knows quite a lot of people — especially since COVID, when he met so many Westporters online.

The next student asked if he was like the president of Westport. That’s a great analogy. And Doran’s class thanked the “president” for spending some quality time with them.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe (lower right), Greens Farms Elementary School teacher Lisa Doran (top row, 2nd from left), and her students on Zoom.

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Speaking of Marpe: In not exactly stop-the-presses news, he has endorsed Jen Tooker and Andrea Lawrence Moore in November’s selectmen’s race..

The pair must still be officially nominated by the Republican Party, at their meeting next month.

Jen Tooker (right) and Andrea Moore.

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The Westport Museum of History & Culture’s walking tour of downtown — uncovering the hidden stories of Black life here, over the centuries — has sold out.

So they’ve added 2 more tours: Friday, June 18 (2 p.m.) and Saturday, June 19th (9:30 a.m.).

Tickets are $10. Reservations are required. Click here to register, and for more information.

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For 2 years, Rosemary Cass has enriched the lives of people 55 and older.

Her “Seeing it Clearly Now” blog inspires everyone — retired or not — to learn new things, find purpose, and explore the arts.

Rosemary has just added a 2nd blog. It’s aimed at a special niche: grandmothers.

She says that “This Granny Rocks” — clever name, no? — provides a place where “grannies can brag about their perfect grandchildren, without everyone rolling their eyes. No judgment here.”

Readers can submit stories, their grandkids’ photos and clever sayings, and warm, nostalgic stories about their own grandmothers. The site will also offer helpful granny information, and advice on the art of grandmothering.

It launched with stories from Joan Isaacson (Westport author of “The Red Velvet Diary”), and Sharon Citrin Goldstein of Fairfield. To learn more, click here.

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The arts are crucial to Westport. But — like anything beautiful — they must be nurtured.

To help, MoCA Westport is hosting an open meeting. Representatives from local arts organizations and 2nd Selectwoman Jen Tooker will talk — and listen — about the best ways to support our arts institutions and community. 

The event is next Monday (June 21, 5 to 6 p.m., outdoors at MoCA, 19 Newtown Turnpike. It’s free; no registration required. Questions? Email ruth@mocawestport.org, or call 203-222-7070.

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Speaking of art: When Harvest Commons renovated their community room, it looked great. But the walls were bare.

So the condominium complex on Post Road East put out a call: Any artistically inclined owners could contribute art.

The result exceeded their expectations. The walls are brimming with Harvest Commons-created works.

Among the donors: familiar names like Rhonda Bloom, Linda and Al Cassuto, Jo Ann Davidson, Judith Orseck Katz and Toby Michaels

“We are finding more talent by the day,” says organizer Peter Swift. “At the rate we’re going, wall space will be the problem.”

Gives new meaning to the term “resident artists,” right?

Some of the art in the Harvest Commons community room.

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Connecticut is one of the healthiest states in the country. Yet there are huge disparities between white people, and those of color.

Wesport’s Unitarian Church — long devoted to social justice — hosts a webinar about health inequities, and what can be done about them (including what audience members can do).

“Racial Health Inequities” is set for June 28 at 7 (p.m.). Guest speaker is Rev. Robyn Anderson, director of the Ministerial Health Fellowship. The event is free to all, but advance registration is required.

The webinar is the Unitarian Church’s second in their series “Revealing History: How We Got Here, Why it Matters.”

Rev. Robyn Anderson

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“Westport … Naturally” turns today to Saugatuck Shores. This is just one of the  scenes Beth Berkowitz walks by — and loves — every day.

(Photo/Beth Berkowitz)

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And finally … on this day in 1967, the 3-day Monterey Pop Festival opened in California. Over 50,000 people were there for the first major American appearances by Jimi Hendrix, the Who and Ravi Shankar; the first large-scale public performance by Janis Joplin and the introduction of Otis Redding to a mass American audience.

If you never watch another “06880” music video, you can’t miss Otis:

Roundup: Fireworks, Juneteenth, Gold’s …

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There are no 4th of July fireworks in Westport this year.

But there were pyrotechnics off Compo last night.

A private party — and anyone else down there around 10 — enjoyed a brief display. As in colonial (okay, pre-pandemic) days, they were launched from a barge offshore.

The event was legit. Police inspected the operation earlier in the evening.

But it sure surprised plenty of folks around town, who heard it.

And their dogs.

Fireworks off Compo Beach last night.

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The Westport Museum of History & Culture honors Juneteenth — the commemoration of the end of slavery in the US — with a special walking program on Westport’s African American history.

The June 19 event (2 to 3:30 p.m.). features guides, who will share stories of the area’s Black community from colonial times through today. It’s based on the museum’s exhibit “Remembered: The History of African Americans in Westport.”

Space is limited to 10 people per tour. Reservations ($10 each) are required, Click here to purchase.

Meanwhile, this Tuesday (June 15, 6 p.m.), the museum will showcase objects related to Black history. It’s part of their Tuesday Treasures program, showcasing objects from the collection not normally on public view.

To watch live and ask questions, visit their Facebook page or YouTube channel.

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For over 60 years, Gold’s Delicatessen has been Westport’s go-to place for pastrami, bagels and lox and more.

And though it did a healthy takeout business over the past 15 months, there’s no surer sign that Westport is back from COVID than this: Gold’s indoor tables are once again open.

So go. Have breakfast or lunch. Sit and schmooze. Just like in 2019.

Or 1959.

Gold’s is back! (Photo/Toby Burns)

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It’s one thing to have a national champion rowing team.

It’s astonishing to have two — and both in the same age group.

That’s what Saugatuck Rowing Club did yesterday. Both girls U-17 teams — 4+ and 8+ won the US Rowing Youth Nationals in Sarasota, Florida.

Congratulations to 8+ rowers Mia Kirkorsky (coxswain), and rowers Claudia Chadwick, Elisabeth Chadwick, Hannah Clemens, Maia Freeman, Isabella Furman, Jane Leahy, Janna Moore and Lauren Schramm. All except Isabell and Lauren are from Westport.

In the 4+ boat: Westporters Victoria Bazarko and Rosie Lundberg, plus Ella Casano, Kelly Kennedy and Alexandra Cowan.

Coaches are Gordon Getsinger, Anna Yamamoto and Mike O’’Hara.

Look for them all back soon, on the river. You’ll know who they are by the gold glinting off the sun.

Saugatuck Rowing Club’s U17 8+ boat: national champs!

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What’s better than a dinner of Pizza Pete’s homemade pies at Wakeman Town Farm with the family?

The same event — but without the kids. (C’mon — admit it!)

An adults-only event — yes, there’s wine — is set for Thursday, June 24 (7 p.m.). The outdoor event includes individual pizzas from Skinny Pines’ Jeff Borofsky, a bottle from The Grapevine, and live music. Click here for details, and tickets.

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Comedy returns to the Remarkable Theater screen this Tuesday (June 15, 8:30 p.m.). “Bridesmaids” tops the bill. Click here for tickets and more information.

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Jocelyn & Chris — their siblings, so I guess they don’t need last names — entertained an appreciative MoCA Westport crowd Friday night.

The outdoor concert was part of their summer-long concert series. Next: a classical piano concert by Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung (Friday, June 25). They’re married, BTW. Click here for tickets and more information.

Jocelyn & Chris entertain at MoCA Westport. (Photo/Maddy Martin)

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“Westport … Naturally” gets lots of gorgeous shots. This is not one of them.

Sherwood Island (Photo/Molly Alger)

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And finally … missing sit-down meals at Gold’s is not anything like what Charles Dickens’ orphans went through. Still, it’s not celebrate the return of the popular deli’s glorious food.

Photo Challenge #336

You’d think a plaque honoring all of Westport’s veterans — “living or dead” — would be located in a prominent spot. Veterans Green, probably. The VFW, perhaps.

You’d also think that because it was dedicated in 1975, plenty of people would remember where it was.

You’d be wrong.

Wendy Crowther, Joyce Barnhart and Michael Calise were the only “06880” readers who knew where last week’s photo challenge can be found. (Click here to see.)

It’s not what our veterans deserve. The plaque is where Long Lots Road feeds into Post Road East, just west of Shearwater Coffee and One River Art (before that, Bertucci’s/Tanglewoods/Clam Box). A memorial flagpole once stood nearby. I can’t imagine many people ever see the plaque now.

Yet there’s a reason it’s there. For several decades, a Doughboy statue graced the median, between the restaurant and the hardware store across the way.

It was relocated 25 or 30 years ago to Veterans Green (though it was not called that then). It’s certainly a more appropriate — and accessible — spot.

Last week’s challenge was fitting: It was the day before Memorial Day. (And today is D-Day.)

This week’s photo has no tie-in to anything — except it’s somewhere in Westport. If you think you know where it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)

Famed Art Colony Studio Up For Sale

Westport has been home to many famous residents. None was more famous than the Fraser family — well, that’s what James Earle Fraser’s 1953 obituary said, anyway.

He was a sculptor who designed the buffalo nickel, the “End of the Trail” sculpture of a Native American slumped over a tired horse, and the Theodore Roosevelt statue at the Museum of Natural History.

Two of James Earle Fraser’s designs.

His wife Laura Gardin Fraser was also an internationally known sculptor. She designed the Congressional Medal of Honor, featuring Charles Lindbergh’s likeness.

The couple knew everyone who was anyone, local historian Mary Gai says. Among the guests who visited were the wives of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, Edsel Ford, Harvey Firestone, Averell Harriman, and George Patton’s family.

The Frasers married in 1913, and moved to Westport the next year. They built a large studio off North Avenue, north of Coleytown Road, where they worked for decades.

The Frasers’ home and former studio, today.

They bought surrounding property to keep their neighborhood quiet. They then sold some land to other sculptors and painters — including former student Lila Wheelock Howard and her illustrator husband Oscar, and Kerr Eby, whose etchings are still sold today.

The Frasers’ foresight — and hospitality — helped make Westport a true 20th-century “artists’ colony.”

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

The Frasers did not just sit home and create art, of course. They helped found the Fairfield County Hunt Club, Westport Beach Club (now Longshore), and Shorehaven Country Club.

But the studio was the center of their lives. It featured stone walls, large doors and windows, and a dark slate roof. Legend has it that the Frasers had bought a villa in Italy, had it disassembled and brought to Westport — along with Italian masons — where it was rebuilt, stone by stone.

Sculptures created inside — including some of the most famous works — were rolled out through 2-story swinging doors.

The original studio, today.

The Frasers’ studio was later bought by Ralph and Betty Alswang. He was a noted theater designer — and, decades after the Frasers, another key contributor to Westport’s artistic life.

The studio — at what is now 2 Fraser Lane — is on the market. Enlarged over the years to 5,650 square feet (and 5 bedrooms), it’s been renovated inside. But the exterior looks much as it must have a century ago.

Several homes with long artistic histories have recently met the wrecking ball. Will this be preserved — or, like James Earle Fraser’s buffalo nickel, become just a faded artifact of an earlier time?

Mediterranean influences are strong on the Frasers’ former house.

Memorial Day Photo Gallery: Part 2

Thanks to all who submitted photos of today’s Memorial Day parade and ceremony. I received hundreds, and can’t run them all.

Today meant a lot to Westporters. It touched our hearts. It made us think about who we are, and what we want to be. And it made us deeply proud of our neighbors, our community, and all who have sacrificed to make this day possible.

World War II veterans like Joe Schachter had a special place of honor … (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

… and there were several cars with them. (Photo/Molly Alger)

Navy veteran Rick Benson (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Leonard Everett Fisher (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Bill Vornkahl — a Korean War veteran — has organized over 65 Westport Memorial Day parades. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Boy Scouts honor the flag. (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

The Fire Department held its annual ceremony, honoring its members who have served. (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

1st Selectman Jim Marpe leads the political contingent … (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

… and the Blue Jays follow. (Photo/Whitney D’Angelo)

The Westport Paddle Club’s float echoed this year’s parade theme: Honoring Women in the Military. The WPC won “Most Creative Float” honors. (Photo/Robbie Guimond)

A Revolutionary War soldier (with sunglasses), aka Miggs Burroughs. One youngster — who really needs to learn history — asked, “Is he a pirate?” (Photo/Dan Woog)

Proud veterans, proud Westporters. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Besides publishing (and taking photos for) Westport Local Press and working as an educator Jaime Bairaktaris volunteers as an EMT. He marched proudly with them today — and wore out his shoes. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Remarkable Theater founder Doug Tirola (left) and Marine Corps veteran Michael Calise share a taste in shirt themes. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Nick Rossi’s Memorial Day Speech: Grandson Honors Grandfather

There is more than a parade to Westport’s Memorial Day celebration.

Every year after the last firefighter, float and Brownie has passed Town Hall, a simple ceremony takes place across the way at Veteran’s Green.

The first selectman honors Westport veterans who died the previous year. There’s a police honor guard and wreath-laying. “Taps” is played.

The grand marshal speaks too. This year, 98-year-old World War II veteran Nick Rossi asked his grandson — also named Nick Rossi — to deliver those remarks.

It was an inspired choice. Nick Jr. — who graduated from Staples High School in 2020, and just completed his freshman year at Boston College — awed the crowd with insightful, inspiring words. Speaking powerfully and from the heart, he said:

Good morning, Westport!

My name is Nick Rossi, and I am the grandson of the grand marshal. It is my honor and privilege to share the stage today with my grandfather, Nicholas Rossi, as we celebrate him and all the veterans we remember today, on this very special Memorial Day holiday.

As most of you know, traditionally the grand marshal is called upon to share some remarks at this ceremony. My grandfather asked me to help him do so this morning, as it is a challenge for him (at almost 99 years of age) to manage this kind of public speaking engagement. So, with Mr. Vornkahl’s blessing, I’d like to share with you a few things I know about Nick Rossi, Senior.

Nick Rossi delivers remarks as his grandfather — the grand marshal — looks on. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Nicholas Rossi was born in Oyster Bay, New York in September of 1922.
Soon after graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and served from December, 1942 through March, 1945. When he enlisted, he was 19 years old ~ the same age that I am right now. It is unimaginable to me what it must have felt like to go off to war as a young man who had barely begun to live his life. It was a selfless sacrifice, not even a choice at that point in time, but an expectation that that generation of young men would enlist and serve our country.

While his parents, who were immigrants from Italy, were filled with anxiety and reluctance, they let him go. Initially drafted into the Infantry, he found his way to the Air Corps. Thinking this was a “safer,” perhaps more elite assignment, he soon learned that there was nothing safe about fighting the war from the skies.
His flight crew was part of the 305th Bombardment Group of the 364th Squadron, assigned to the 8th Air Force Bomber Command in England which flew the B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber in the European Theater. A technical sergeant, he flew multiple bombing missions over Nazi-occupied central Europe. He sat behind the pilot and co-pilot, handling fuel and mechanical issues, and trouble-shooting any technical problems. He became an expert on the B-17 aircraft.

Technical sergeant Nicholas Rossi.

As my grandfather has gotten older, his memory at times fails him. Yet he can still  recount for us in amazing detail what it was like to be part of those terrifying missions, to be shot at relentlessly by the Germans, to watch his comrades fall from the sky under firestorm attack, and then to return from a mission to find that the airman who slept in the bunk above him never returned.

He talks about the attitude that eventually overtook these men — they were resigned to believe that there was a good probability that they, too, would eventually not make it back from the next mission…but they still climbed into their planes for the next flight, ready to go to battle to defend our country.

These recollections are unfathomable to me, and to this day remain disturbing to him. He reminds us how awful war is, and what the price for peace really costs in terms of soldiers’ lives lost. It is on a day like today when we remember, with enormous gratitude, what these men (and women), and all the fallen veterans of war, did to guarantee our freedom, liberty, and democracy. 

How do we even begin to thank them for their sacrifices? 

Nicholas Rossi was discharged from the Army in March, 1945 but remained in Liege, Belgium after the war for several more years. As a civilian, he was employed by the government to work with the American Graves Registration Command for the purpose of locating and identifying unrecovered dead military personnel. “It was not a nice job,” but for my grandfather, it was important work to do, to stay behind and help account for the lost soldiers, as it provided closure for their families, many of whom eventually traveled to Europe to reclaim their sons, husbands, and brothers. Perhaps it provided some closure for him, too, after living through the horrors of World War II. 

When we think about why Memorial Day was established in the first place back in the late 1800s, for the purpose of decorating the graves of the soldiers who died in defense of our country, it seems there is some kind of connection when I think of my grandfather working over the graves of his comrades – it was an emotionally devastating job, but it was his way of honoring them, of giving them dignity and respect, as these servicemen were the true heroes. We remember and honor them today. 

Grand marshal Nick Rossi (Photo/Ted Horowitz)

Upon returning to the States in 1949, my grandfather attended Hofstra University on the GI Bill, earned a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering, and embarked on a career in the furniture industry which he pursued with great success for the next forty-plus years. He met his wife Elizabeth on Long Island during the early years of his professional career and married in 1956, raising five children in the house that he built in Mill Neck, New York. He remained very involved in his community on Long Island, as a member of the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion, the Oyster Bay Italian-American Citizens Club, and the Brookville Country Club.

After my grandmother passed in 2018, my grandfather relocated to Westport to live with our family. While he still considers Oyster Bay his first home, he has truly enjoyed becoming a part of the Westport community. I have been lucky enough to spend more time with him, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, and I believe it’s nothing short of special that three generations of the Rossi lineage are under one roof. After many hours spent working out in the yard gardening or reading the newspapers together, I have picked up on some colorful Italian sayings — and insults — that I’ve brought back with me to campus, as my friends can attest. 

Now in his 99th year, he is delighted to be this year’s grand marshal of the Westport Memorial Day parade, and on his behalf — I would like to extend his genuine gratitude to everyone in this town who has welcomed him, embraced him, and now today — honors him.

The Rossi family stands proudly at today’s Memorial Day ceremony. (Photo/Dan Woog)

In closing, I will echo a prayer that we say in our church, something called the “Prayer of the Faithful”: “For all the men and women who served in the armed forces, for those who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf, let us pray to the Lord.”

On behalf of this year’s grand marshal, my grandfather ~ Nicholas Rossi ~ Thank you for this honor! And thank you to all the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Grand marshal/grandfather Nick Rossi, and his grandson and namesake. (Photo/Dan Woog)

Roundup: Black Bear, Private Ryan, Chad Knight …

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A black bear has been making its way south, from northern Fairfield County. On Saturday, it roamed around the Cranbury area of Norwalk.

Yesterday, the medium-sized mammal lumbered into Westport. Stella Wong spotted it in her Old Hill back yard, around 9 a.m.

“It looked healthy and beautiful,” she reports. Then it headed downhill, toward Wilton Road.

(Photo/Stella Wong)

Later yesterday, the bear was spotted at the Westport Weston Family YMCA, near Mahackeno.

No word on whether it had a membership pass.

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Last night’s Remarkable Theater showing of “Saving Private Ryan” was rained out.

It’s rescheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday, June 1, 8 p.m.). So you can extend your Memorial Day weekend one day.

Click here for ticket information, and future shows.

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Staples High School students raise funds for many worthy projects. They thank their donors, work hard — but in their busy day-to-day worlds, never share the results of their efforts.

Jackson Cregan remembers.

The 9th grader loves Sherwood Island. After raising funds for Friends of Sherwood Island, he sent along this update:

“100%  of your donations were used to purchase seagrass and jute erosion control cloth, trees and shrubs.

“In early April, I helped restore dunes. We planted 2,400 seagrass stems with 18 volunteers. In late April, we planted 125 trees and shrubs with 20 volunteers.

Jackson volunteers there nearly every week. He is learning from Michele Sorensen and other master gardeners. He helps with dune restoration, removing invasive species, tree planting, creating pollinator pathways, and maintenance.

Great work, Jackson! And thanks for letting all of us know what’s going on at our great state park.

Jackson Cregan, with Michele Sorenson.

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Congratulations to Chad Knight!

Yesterday the former Staples High School and Little League World Series star’s current team — Duke University — won the ACC championship, 1-0 over NC State. It was the Blue Devils’ 4th ACC baseball title — but first in 60 years.  

Knight — a 2-time state champion at Staples — batted .272, with 2 home runs, this year.

Chad Knight

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Memorial Day weekend’s rains meant a washout for many local businesses.

News12 sent a crew to Joey’s by the Shore. As expected, sales were slow. The popular deli/market had stocked up on supplies, expecting big crowds. But neighbors were stopping in. And the cameraman got some great shots, of Joey’s and Old Mill Beach.

Click here for the report.

Screenshot from yesterday’s News12 report.

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The Sunrise Rotary Club has missed 2 years’ worth of Great Duck Race fundraising efforts. Which means we haven’t seen Sunny the Duck bobbing in the Saugatuck River for 2 years either.

But the club is marching in today’s Memorial Day parade. And they’re marching with “Little Ralphie,” Sunny’s smaller counterpart.

Club members inflated Ralphie yesterday. They had a blast.

From left: Sunrise Rotary president George Masumian; members Jake Labate, Mark Mathias and Mike Hibbard. Little Ralphie is behind them. (Drone photo/Mark Mathias)

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Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo includes this mommy and her 10 babies. Can you find them all?

(Photo/Molly Alger)

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And finally … B.J. Thomas died yesterday at his home near Dallas, of complications from lung cancer. He was 78.

Though best known for “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” — the song from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” which connected him forever with Westport’s Paul Newman and Weston’s Robert Redford — he had many other successes. Fifteen singles reached the Top 10, and he earned 5 Grammys.

I never liked “Raindrops.” But I sure did appreciate much of the rest of B.J. Thomas’ music. What a voice! (Click here for a full obituary.)

Memorial Day: We Remember

The photo below shows the World War II memorial on Veterans Green, across from Westport Town Hall, where a ceremony takes place after today’s parade (approximately 10:30 a.m.). Other monuments there honor veterans of other wars.

If you’ve been to a Memorial Day ceremony on Veterans Green, you know how meaningful and powerful it is. If you’ve never been: make this the year.

Memorial Day 2021: Tribute To A World War II Hero

Jay Walshon is a longtime Westporter. As Memorial Day nears, he memorializes his father — a World War II veteran — with these loving words:

On May 8, 27 days shy of his 96th birthday, my father Abraham Milton Walshon took his final breath on earth.

Forever he will be my hero.

During my 35 years in emergency medicine I’ve impacted thousands of families and helped save numerous lives. But all that pales in comparison to what my dad did. He helped save civilization from tyranny.

Whereas I worked within controlled confines of safe facilities, using disinfectants and sutures, he practiced in the office of heroism, laboring in mud, muck and mire, foxholes and entrenchments, under duress of bullets, bombs, grenades, and the mortar shells that took too many of his comrades and violated his flesh in 2 separate battles, earning him Purple Hearts among other distinctions of valor: a Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Oak Leaf Cluster, 5 Combat Stars, Occupation and Victory Medals.

Abraham Walshon’s medals

It was unnerving to learn that in one Nazi assault a mere twist of fate or divine intervention permitted the perpetuation of his lineage. My father’s unpublished cathartic memoir’s final punctuation mark forever silenced the unspeakable events of those years.

Captioning his youthful image gazing from page, the June 1943 Jefferson High School yearbook notes that “Milty’s” graduation intentions were Brooklyn College and photography. But by its June publication, my dad knew all that must wait. Like for so many of his youth, World War II interrupted personal plans and desires. He turned 18 on the 4th of that month.

One brother enlisted in Army Air Corps bomber reconnaissance in the Pacific. The other served Coast Guard in the Philippines. For my dad, Army infantry under General Dwight Eisenhower awaited.

Abraham Walshon, on his 1943 enlistment.

Noted by their Thunderbird shoulder sleeve insignia with “Semper Anticus” their motto, his 45th Division battled across Africa, Italy, France and Germany. Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and Rome represented places few tourists can comprehend. Asked later in life why not travel to Europe, he quipped there was no need. He’d seen enough on foot.

Educated under the GI Bill at Packard and Columbia for an unanticipated degree in accounting, my dad set a precedent: the first civilian promoted to deputy inspector general. Base commanders shivered upon his arrival to inspect accounting and procurement records. But any harsh veneer belied the tenderness that lay within.

Forgoing the power and prestige of position so many strive for, Dad prioritized his 68-year love affair with Dorothy and the family they created. He chose to resign the military, rather than uproot our lives to D.C. To my sister and me it never appeared a difficult or regretful decision.

Music filled our Brooklyn childhood home: Jolson, Dorsey, Ella, Satchmo, Steve & Edie, Judy, Barbra, Sammy and Sinatra (who my dad considered a personal friend, having once met him backstage). With his own “Sinatra-esque” vocals that brought him to clubs in NYC, accompanied by his untrained fingers caressing piano keys guided by his remarkable natural ear, our Bensonhurst dwelling was transformed in a fashion only music can do.

Strong, obstinate, sometimes impatient and abrasive (a byproduct of the Depression), proud to a fault, a king of the cha cha, Dad suffered no fools, and was intolerant of superficiality, frivolity, disloyalty or ostentation.  Despite his 5-9, 150-pound stature, he never backed down.

Abraham and Dorothy Walshon’s wedding.

Whereas many fathers emphasized popularity, power and fortune, the virtues of modesty, frugality tempered with generosity, and above all else family, became his guiding light – a wisdom obtained from his life being daily imperiled.

With tenderness at his core, and flowing creativity with generosity until his death, my dad gifted every single loved one a personalized poem recognizing each occasion. Each writing was unique, elegant, tender, permeated with love.  Going through his belongings, we discovered 4 binders titled “The Loving History of the Walshon Family in Poetry and Rhyme.” Each overflowed with every birthday, wedding, bar mitzvah and anniversary poem he wrote over 7 decades. That was my tough dad.

His photography aspiration ultimately “settled” for many “snapshots,” and a handful of 8mm reels capturing the joys of post-war family milestones – my first bath, a wedding, rides at Coney Island – all borne of one man’s personal celebration of survival, validation of freedom’s triumph, and perhaps a subconscious poke in Germany’s eye that we didn’t merely endure. We indeed prevailed.

Losing the love of his life, severing the 68-year earthly bond to my angelic mother Dorothy 4 years ago, irreparably damaged the spirit that ravages of war had only tarnished. Despite incredible strength for a nonagenarian, independence and a continued presence of mind, these past 4 were not easy or kind. The ravages of time ultimately succeeded where the Nazis had failed.

68 years of happy marriage.

As the Army buglers’s solemn melody embraced the mourners present, and I tearfully watched the flag-adorned coffin lowered beside his devoted love of 73 years, my only regret was not knowing them during their innocence of youth, predating the horrors and darkness that no child should witness, yet so many were forced to endure.

My dad was from a generation of boys who were steeled so that those who followed would not be forced to be. They embodied the true meaning of bravery, selflessness and sacrifice in order to make the world a place worth living for we who have followed. “Duty,” “valor,” a time when mere teenagers knew what was at stake and willingly offered the ultimate sacrifice – not one conscription amongst them. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are forever indebted to role models like my dad.

On this Memorial Day we honor, salute and remember the many who have served in freedom’s highest calling – my dad now among them. As for so many others, life will go on, but never the same.

As years pass, our Memorial Day parades may become perfunctory – replete with dogs, burgers, barbecues and beer.  Conversely, they should become increasingly meaningful. In April it was estimated that of the 6.1 million WWII veterans, a mere 100,000 remain living. In 5 years perhaps, only a handful of scores; in 10, none. My dad’s passing lessens that 100,000 by only one – but for my family, as for every other, that is an enormous “one.”

Abraham Milton Walshon is not just my hero – he was ours. I pray that his kind are never again needed.

Abraham Walshon (center) with his family (from left): granddaughter Megan, wife Dorothy, Megan’s husband Jason, grandson Zak, daughter-in-law Caroline and son Jay.

Family Sacrifices: Making Meaning Of Memorial Day

As Westport prepares to celebrate Memorial Day, it’s important to personalize all those who gave their lives for our country. Over 75 years ago, 2 local families did far more than their share.

It may be an American record.

During World War II, 8 of the 12 Cuseo sons left Westport, to enlist in the armed forces.

Fortunately, only one — James — was killed.

The Cuseo family in 1935 or ’36. Daughter Mildred is missing.  Father James and mother Lucy are in the middle.. (Photo courtesy of Woody Klein’s book “Westport, Connecticut.”)

But when the Cuseos’ mother, Lucy, died in 1943, her daughter said it was due to her “broken heart.”

Lucy was buried here with military honors. American Legion members served as pallbearers.

The Cuseos’ contributions to World War II were astonishing. But in terms of sacrifice, none made more than the Wassell family.

Four sons enlisted. All were pilots. Three were killed in action — all within 15 months of each other.

Charles P. “Pete” Wassell

Before the war, Harry — the oldest — helped design fighter planes in Stratford. He, his brother Bud and other Westport men started the Westport Defense Unit, to teach marksmanship.

He enlisted in the Army Air Force after Pearl Harbor. A 2nd lieutenant, he died in Iceland in 1943 while ferrying aircraft to the European Theater.

Frank L. “Bud” Wassell Jr.

Like Harry, Bud left college because of the Depression. The 2 sons worked with their father, Lloyd, in starting the Wassell Organization on Sylvan Road. A very successful businessman, he had worked as personal assistant to George Westinghouse, founder of Westinghouse Electric.

The company invented and sold production control equipment, becoming instrumental in expediting the efficiency of defense contractors. A 1st lieutenant flight commander, Bud was killed in 1943 in a midair collision, while a flight instructor in Florida.

Harry B. Wassell

Pete — a 1940 Staples High School graduate — left Middlebury College to train as a pilot in the Civil Air Patrol. He transferred to the Army Air Force, and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant navigator.

He served in the China/ Burma/India Theater, and died in 1944 after his B-24 aircraft was hit by antiaircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser.

The 4th son — George — was a member of Staples’ Class of 1943. But he left high school in 1942, to enlist as an aviation cadet. Appointed a B-17 aircraft commander at the age of 18, he was recalled from overseas duty when his 3rd brother Pete was killed. He served as a B-17 pilot instructor through the war’s end.

George Wassell with his parents, Lloyd and Georgene, by the Westport train station on Railroad Place in 1943 or ’44.

George turned down a full engineering scholarship to Cornell in order to join his father in the Wassell Organization.

Pete left behind a child, born 2 months after his death. Harry had a daughter, Patty, who lived in Westport for many years. George married Betsy Schuyler in 1945. They raised 6 children in Westport.

George and Betsy Wassell at Longshore, not long after the war.

When Lloyd moved his family to Westport before the war, he and his wife Georgene bought several acres of land on Mayflower Parkway. He built a large house (by 1930s standards), and planned to give building lots to his 6 kids: the 4 boys, and daughters Pat and Betty.

World War II sabotaged all that. But George and Pat did build homes there after the war. George added a pool, 3-hole golf course and tree house. The property became a great attraction for lots of cousins, and tons of neighborhood kids.

Longtime Westporter Jono Walker — George’s nephew — remembers those times fondly.

“The Wassells never dwelled on their tragic history,” he says. “At least none of us kids ever felt it. The house was constantly filled with great joy and life.”

As for George and Betsy: They moved to New Hampshire in 1974. He died in 2010, age 85. Betsy Schuyler Wassell is now 95, healthy and sharp and living in Maine. She looks forward to hosting her annual Wassell reunion in Kennebunkport next month, greeting offspring from as far as the Netherlands.

Pat Wassell McAleenan lost her husband Peter 18 months ago. At last report she was well, and at 95 living in Estes Park, Colorado.

Betty Wassell Watts died just over a year ago, at 100. Her children were by her side.

The Wassell brothers and their parents are all buried at Willowbrook Cemetery.

(Hat tips: Eric Buchroeder, Jono Walker and Bud Wassell)